With COVID-19 measures comes a new set of challenges for people experiencing blindness and visual impairment, and for their dogs
Editor’s note: having worked with my first guide Deacon for 10-years and my current guide Parker for the last 7-years. This article struck a chord on the challenges of social distancing and the importance of guide dog awareness by the Public.
by Libby Dowsett | 19 Apr 2020
The first complaint came in through the guide dog training school’s main phone line.
A caller was angry because a guide dog and its handler had come in close contact with her while walking down a street.
“When the dog passed them on the sidewalk, the dog brushed up against the person slightly,” said Michelle Barlak, public relations specialist for The Seeing Eye in Morristown, N.J. “The person became offended because they thought the Seeing Eye team was ignoring social distancing.”
It didn’t take long for an employee to explain to the caller that the guide dog handler was most likely blind, not a sighted instructor, as the caller had assumed.
“People just don’t realize the dogs are not trained for something like this,” Barlak said, “and I don’t think they stop to think about the guide dog users’ experience, either.”
Guide dog training schools from New Jersey to Oregon are rushing to adapt to a long list of challenges created by COVID-19 and new safety restrictions.
“If you see someone working with a Seeing Eye dog, you should know the dog doesn’t know what social distancing means,” said attorney Melissa Allman, The Seeing Eye’s advocacy and government relations specialist. “I am also trying to be aware and conscious of social distancing, but I can’t know if you are there if you don’t speak up and take the first step to social distance.”
Allman said it’s easy for people on the streets to become absorbed in their cellphones and assume no one is around them, so she is proud that The Seeing Eye, the world’s first guide dog school, is launching a new social distancing public awareness campaign.
The Seeing Eye is using social media to circulate an illustration and five tips that explain why it’s important for sighted people to keep their social distance from guide dogs and their handlers, communicate openly if they approach such a team and keep pet dogs away from working dogs.
Barlak said when people see the social media post, most respond, “Oh wow, I didn’t think about that! I’m glad you said something.”
Seeing Eye’s social media post:
Now more than ever, it’s important to practice etiquette around Seeing Eye teams. We've creatd an infographic to spread the word, and we have updated our 5 tips to reflect today's new social norms. Please read through them and share with your friends and family. We appreciate your help in spreading the word!
1. Guide dogs don’t understand social distancing. Please help keep a safe distance by staying 6 feet away.
2. Please don’t let your pet near a guide dog, even if your pet is leashed. Even allowing your pet to visit or “say hi”, for just a moment can cause the guide dog to lose focus on the important job he has to do.
3. It’s helpful to let a person who is blind know that you are nearby and tell them if you have a dog with you.
4. Do not pet the guide dog, call the dog’s name, make eye contact, feed or talk to the dog. It’s always best to treat the dog as if he is not there.
5. Do not shout directions, take the person by the arm or interrupt them, especially when they are crossing the street. Always ask the person if they need help first.
For full article by Libby Dowsett click on link below:
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