How should we Respond When the Public Defend Our guide Dogs?

David Griffith considers how an Owner should respond when the public raise Guide Dog issues on our behalf.

Recently a highly publicized video of an aggressive commuter on a London Tube escalator, frustrated at his inability to shove past a Guide dog, showed him receiving condemnation from fellow passengers. I don’t know if this video has raised awareness but I have twice in the last week received similar unsolicited support from members of the public.

Today a row broke out in my local shop. Interestingly this occurred because the shop owner and his assistant, both Turkish Muslims, were determined to defend my guide Dog. If nothing else it demonstrates how inaccurate and unhelpful the stereotypical assumption is that all Muslims have negative attitudes towards Guide Dogs. Nyle guided me into the shop as usual but apparently a customer attempted to move Nyle away by kneeing him. Actually although I did feel Nyle move slightly I was oblivious to any actual contact. The chances are then that the action of this customer was not particularly violent. Nevertheless first of all the Shop Assistant and then the Shop Owner reprimanded the customer for doing this. They pointed out that my dog was a Guide dog and only trying to do his job. I think in the early years of my partnership with Nyle they were uncertain about Nyle’s status but they were clearly converts by now, having watched how essential he is to me.

The customer was embarrassed. She responded by denying that she had done anything. She became increasingly aggressive and noisy as the shop workers did not accept her account. Nyle actually became a little nervous at the kerfuffle and certainly needed a cuddle and reassurance on our returned home.

I was unsure of how to respond to the argument which had no input from me. I tried to make mollifying noises. After the customer stormed out of the shop I decided my best response was simply to express gratitude to the shop keeper and his assistant. They pressed my hand supportively when I received my change so I hope it was all OK.

This was the second time in a week that members of the Public had sprung, to our defence.

A few days ago Nyle guided me from a train to the ticket barriers at London Liverpool Street Station. I called out for Staff Assistance as normal. As I did not get any response, a passenger asked if they could help. I asked if they could bring our presence to the attention of staff. To cut a long story short it appeared that 4 members of staff were watching us but making no attempt to approach or assist. They were apparently keeping their distance despite my calling for help. I had heard from underground Staff that there were some issues with some overground rail staff “scared of Guide Dogs”. This possibly under lied what ostensibly seemed very unhelpful behaviour. The problem was, however, that this odd behaviour started to seriously annoy members of the public. One passenger said he could not believe it and asked if I had to put up with this all the time. Pretty soon I heard several passengers confronting the Overground staff and demanding that they assist. I heard the staff in turn protesting that the passengers should stop shouting at them. Eventually a more helpful member of staff arrived so the situation did not deteriorate further.

A few months ago a taxi driver was reluctant to pick up my guide Dog. I started to discuss this but then a neighbour intervened angrily on my behalf. After a few minutes I actually got a call from the cab office asking me to stop this person attacking the cab. The cab office said that the Driver claimed the neighbour was kicking the car. I certainly did not hear any kicking and this was probably an exaggeration by the Driver in a desperate attempt to achieve some higher moral ground. I have not met this neighbour before or since but the Cab Driver did eventually agree to pick up Nyle and myself, though I have had more relaxing cab journeys.

Over the years I have had to adopt strategies to deal with access denials or cope with people with difficult attitudes. The taking up of issues by others on our behalf twice over the last week has reminded me that I have never really thought through strategies for dealing with unsolicited advocacy. I am not aware of any guidance from Guide Dogs on this either.

Clearly, on the one hand, it is very positive that members of the public feel that they should support and defend our legal rights. On the other hand it does feel strange if a conflict erupts in our defence in which we have limited or no control.

How should I respond? Should I try to keep matters calm? Should I weigh in enthusiastically in support of those trying to assist us?

The first calming approach risks undermining and disappointing people trying to support us. The second, more supportive approach, risk escalating the conflict by adding the fuel of personal emotional heat.

Despite this risk of escalation my instinct is that simply standing by is not desirable, and if at all possible you need to try and assert some kind of control. This is not always simple or even possible. In the Liverpool Street example the relevant staff did not approach me closely enough for me to engage at all.

Despite this I feel that efforts at engagement and control are more desirable than simply adopting a victim status. In the end your input and knowledge as a Guide Dog Owner may be critical. If the Access denial is serious the best support members of the public can provide is to act as witnesses. They can provide important support by witnessing the access denial and, just as importantly, help record and identify the illegal perpetrators. This could be by taking names, photos, or recording staff and vehicle registration numbers. Finally they can provide contact details to provide future witness testimony. This requirement may not be at all obvious to members of the public caught in the heat of the moment. Such a pragmatic evidence gathering approach can at the same time help calm an issue whilst reassuring supportive members of the public that we are grateful for their genuine assistance. This evidence base approach could hopefully redirect heat into a calmer process, if necessary judicial process, where these issues are best resolved.

Of course a judgement has to be made on a case by case basis. In some cases, as with my local shop keepers, simply expressing gratitude is probably the best approach. There was certainly no access denial involved.

It is likely that only approaches rather than hard and fast rules apply in managing these situations. Nevertheless I am very interested to hear from others both of their experiences and what strategies they adopt.

David Griffith.


Review of Executive case for Victor Reader Trek.

Review of Executive case for Victor Reader Trek.

I took delivery of the Executive case for my victor Reader trek yesterday.

For those not familiar with the Trek, this is a combined personal GPS and Book Reading solution designed to assist blind and visually Impaired Users. It effectively upgrades, combines and replaces two previous Humanware products, The Trekker Breeze, a standalone personal GPS solution, and the Victor Reader Stream, a portable media device providing convenient playing of Talking Books, Music, eBooks, and a range of online services including; Internet Radio and Podcasts alongside other services. The products are popular, especially for those people who are not comfortable with touch screen devices. All Humanware Products are driven by use of highly tactile buttons.

Owners of the Executive case for the old victor Reader Stream will be instantly familiar with the look, feel and functionality of this new case.

It feels very similar to the Stream version.

The case is leather and a definite upgrade on the silicon case provided by Humanware.

As with the Stream version your Trek is inserted into the case by unclipping the catch button at the base of the case and sliding the unit in, and then refastening the button.

It is a very snug fit and may require some pressing to make everything fit properly, finally allowing the case to be re-secured.

You will want to power your unit down before commencing this process to prevent accidental activation of buttons on your Trek.

As with the stream version there is a zip pocket for carrying spare SD cards in the keyboard cover flap. Also, as with the old Stream Version, this flap is secured to the main case by a strong magnetic catch.

The case is provided with a wrist strap attached and a neck lanyard strap. I immediately removed the wrist strap and attached the lanyard. This is attached with easy to attach clips to ringlets on the case.

In use I found there are some immediate functional benefits to using this case over the originally supplied case. Personally I found the keyboard cover provided on the original case very flimsy. The flap, although similarly magnetically attached also tended to detach. The Executive version feels more secure although I have yet to use it outside. It feels like it will protect the unit more reliably from adverse weather.

More immediately using this keyboard flap has instantly improved my Trek experience. A personal experience with the trek is that the buttons seem much more sensitive than the Stream and consequentially prone to accidental activation by it simply bumping against me and other objects. Even if you put the Trek into key lock mode you would get the lock message which can be annoying.

I am pleased to report that the more robust flap of the replacement Executive Case version has, so far, removed this problem. The Trek is far more resilient to accidental keyboard activation. However it is still possible to activate the buttons through the keyboard flap, although a very slightly firmer press is required.

So pressing the keyboard flap at the top in the middle will cycle the Trek through GPS orientation, Online and offline Book Reading Modes. Pressing the keyboard flap at the bottom in the middle will play / pause as normal. For other functions I personally normally open the flap to access the keyboard directly, especially if I am storing SD cards in the zip pocket.

The other immediate upgrade I personally found was the lanyard. The strap originally provided by Humanware is over the top for the size of the unit. It is far too wide and unnecessarily bulky, more suitable for carrying a large bag or even suitcase rather than a small electronic device. The replacement lanyard is only about a tenth of the width of the original strap but easily strong enough. The lanyard has enough flexibility in length that it could feasibly be use either as a neck lanyard or an over the shoulder strap.

The downside with this case is price. I think most sighted people would be amazed that you have to pay over £50 for a case of this type. It certainly feels overpriced for what you get. However it is a specialist case for a small specialist market which explains part of the price hike. Yet, as I personally use my Trek for several hours a day, every single day, and this improvement in functionality and ease of use provided by this case is worth the money, and does not feel an unwarranted luxury. If you were only to be an occasional user of the Trek this calculation may differ.

The Executive Case is available from the Accessories section of the Humanware website.

David Griffith