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.

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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.

https://store.humanware.com/heu/victor-reader-trek-deluxe-carrying-case.html

David Griffith

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Spending a Good Time with Nyle

David Griffith looks at the business end of owning a Guide dog and argues it is never OK to leave even bagged poo in the gutter.

An inevitable consequence of owning a dog is getting to grips with managing Dog Poo. This is no small issue. For some visually impaired people it is the single biggest obstacle to owning a Guide dog. Before I had Nyle I had some anxieties myself. I think this is only natural. I suspect we have some evolutionary hardwiring which gives us an aversion to handling poo. Over millennia this aversion probably helped protect us from disease and boosted the survival chances of those who possess this repugnance.

Nowadays I have a sense of triumph when I locate and deal with Nyle’s spend. This reflects the sad level of my retreating ambitions.

However there is a lot of technique involved with the stress free management of dog poo. I personally had little training in this regard. For what it is worth here is my advice to spending a good time with your dog.

Nyle never spends in his expensively constructed pen. He has always been like this. Even on Hotel training he would only spend in the street. As he is a superb guide Dog in nearly all other respects this is a worthwhile compromise. Actually in truth I also find it much easier to deal with spends in the street, rather than crouching, blindly sweeping with my hand across a pen in a failed effort to locate poo.

The first thing of course is to make sure that you never go out without poo bags. I have a belt and braces approach, carrying bags both in my pocket and my ruck sack.

The second thing is to not use bespoke Dog poo bags. I have never come across a bag that is big enough. The size of a poo bag does not relate to the size of poo. For a blind person the size should instead relate to the size of your hands. The bag has at to be least big enough to completely cover your entire hand, front and back. Admittedly I have big hands but if, like me, you have an aversion to actually touching dog poo then the security of knowing that all of your hand is safely protected inside a bag is essential. I use pedal bin liners available from any supermarket. These liners also have the advantage that they have tie handles which make tying up far easier. They also make it easier to fix the bag onto a rucksack or other part of your clothing to carry for disposal.

Thirdly always open up the bags before you go out, especially in winter. As it is the Devil’s own job trying to open a flat packed plastic bag with frozen numb fingers. Cold is not the only issue, it can be just as difficult opening and controlling a bag in windy weather.

Fourthly, I suggest a Blind person should invest in finger less gloves. I have lost count of the number of normal gloves I have lost, taking them off whilst trying to deal with dog poo. For a blind person your hands and fingers are your eyes when trying to feel and putting normal gloves on is the sighted equivalent of trying to find poo with a blind fold on. Fingerless gloves solve this problem. They are also great for handling location GPS devices or a touch screen phone.

Finally for the complete belt and braces preparation make sure you have a small pocket sized bottle of alcohol rub hand sanitiser to reassure you of protection if, despite all these precautions you get some poo on your hand.

Now to technique and disposal. Nyle will normally always signal he is about to do a poo by circling. I drop the harness and let him circle. Once he stops I follow the lead and edge towards him and gently feel for his crouch so I will be prepared to locate his spend.

Having covered my hand with a big bag I feel for the poo and sweep around, if necessary with a second bag to make sure I have located all the poo. With the poo safely in my hand I reverse the bag and tie it up, and then reinforce against smells by placing a second bag over the first. I then tie these bags to my leather white cane holder, (available from the RNIB) which is turn clipped onto the chest strap of my rucksack. I dispose when I get to a bin.

If however you are going to a hospital, café pub or shop, and you cannot see a bin to make an appropriate disposal, you have more of a problem. You cannot really enter such an establishment with bags of dog poo hanging from you.

The advice I received from Guide dogs was to safely locate a gutter in this situation and carefully place the bagged dog poo there. I now consider this to be poor advice. It has on a couple of occasions provoked complaints from residents. I explained that I was following advice and was unable to see a bin but on reflection still feel that they had a point. It is also I realise, with a little preparation from myself entirely avoidable.

What I have done is purchase a dog poo holder. I do not use this routinely but I always carry it for those situations, , when I need to retrieve dog poo and cannot find a bin to dispose of it. I purchased the Muksak Dog Poo/Poop Holder from Amazon for £17.99. It is like a clip on Tupperware box, with a lanyard which also clips onto the box. I now routinely carry this in the outer pocket of my rucksack and if necessary Nyle’s bags of poo are discretely stored away in a smell proof container before entering any sensitive environment. I find this Tupperware like device convenient but now realise that of course you could in fact just use a cheap conventional Tupperware to substitute with. I would personally avoid the material type bag dog poo holders also sold on Amazon. The dog poo holder needs washing after every use to remove smells even when the poo is already in 2 bags. As it is plastic, this is no real issue. A squirt of fairy liquid plus water and paper towel does the job in seconds. I imagine a material based dog poo holder would be far more of a hassle and the feedback reviews on Amazon on these alternative devices seem to bear this out.

So my personal view is that guide dogs should amend the guttering disposal advice and instead urge all guide dog Owners to invest in discrete Dog Poo Holders. In practice I use the device rarely. Most of the time I can carry and dispose of poo in the normal way. But today for example Nyle did a poo whilst on a free run, just prior to our arriving at a café. The dog poo holder really comes into its own then. It is a small adjustment that we should all make to ensure our environment is cleaner and less offensive to our neighbours. It must be better than littering even the Gutter and is a small behaviour modification for us to ensure better community relations.

David Griffith

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Echo Fun with Nyle

David Griffith discovers a surprising interaction between his Echo and his Guide Dog.

My guide Dog Nyle is pretty indifferent to most forms of technology. He shows little interest in our Television. he normally hunkers down on his vet bed or if I am on the floor comes in for a cuddle. This may have something to do with the limitations of our ancient 21inch non flat screen, non-wide screen TV. I have no motivation in paying money for screen technology I cannot see. My wife Sue does not seem too bothered and the old box suffices for the rare TV she watches. In any case the only times Nyle has apparently shown any interest in watching is if Fireworks are showing or his One Man and his Dog DVD is playing.

This indifference to technology abruptly changed today. Some months ago I bought an Amazon Echo Dot. This is a new audio gadget which are wonderful for blind people. As they are voice activated they require no vision. I use my Echo Dot for telling the time, setting timers whilst cooking, getting the news and weather, playing radio stations and podcasts. What is relevant for this story though is the ability of the Echo to provide timed reminders.

When I got up this morning I asked my Echo to remind me to order Dog Food at 9.15. When 9.15 rolled around the Echo played the Reminder tone and the Alexa voice called out “This is a reminder – Order dog Food”. A few seconds later the tone played again and the reminder was repeated. To my surprise I heard Nyle get up, GIVE a big shake and then padded excitedly up to me. He seemed to approve of Alexa’s reminder.

Intrigued I decided to test this. I asked the Echo Dot to set a reminder for 2pm. When asked what I wanted to be reminded of I simply said “There’s a good boy Nyle”.

I waited, interested to see if there was any repeat of the interaction.. Sure enough when 2PM CAME AROUND THE Echo play its reminder tone. When the Echo said “There’s a good boy Nyle”, he got up, stretched and again came to me for a cuddle. HE DEFINITELY SEEMED TO BE REACTING TO THE Echo.

This made me wonder about further uses of this technology. Perhaps echo reminders could be used to reassure Nyle on the rare occasions that he is left at home? Maybe the message could simply repeat “there’s a good boy Nyle”, or even “Dave will be home soon”.

This may seem a little farfetched but I am convinced that our dogs hear and understand much more than we give them credit for. For example, at our Archaeology class tonight a speaker described how he had excavated dog kennels in the Old Street area of London, including a description of the dog bones he had discovered. Nyle who normally just lays under my table got up at this point and became quite excited, walking around with his blanket in his mouth, much to the amusement of the rest of the class. I think there was little doubt that he had at least recognised the words kennels, dogs and bones. The class teacher used the opportunity to take Nyle to the front and demonstrate the location of some of the bones found.

Before doing anything I will test Nyle’s reaction to the Echo by asking Sue to watch him covertly. I don’t want him to be confused and/or disturbed by announcements in my absence. I will err on the side of caution.

It is all just a bit of fun really but it did make me wonder if any other Guide Dogs, or Dogs in general, are interacting with this technology. Is this a common reaction or is Nyle unusual in listening to the Echo? Perhaps I will set off a chain of experiments around the country.

David Griffith

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A Free Accessible Backup Option for Blind Computer Users

David Griffith finds a hidden gem in a Dos Bat file in Windows.

Blind computer Users have a greater than usual reliance on secure digital data. Paper copies of important documents have obvious access obstacles. You may need sighted help to find and retrieve the relevant document before the struggle to read it begins. It is much easier to store all your important documents digitally. On a computer tablet or phone a simple file search will reveal your document ready for reading with access software. The downside is that data loss for any reason is much more disastrous for us. So a secure and regular backup strategy is essential.

A mainstay of many Blind computer Users over the last 10 years has been the excellent and accessible freeware utility Karen’s Replicator. I was disappointed then to discover that Replicator would no longer install after an update on my Windows 10 PC.

Google revealed others had encountered this problem and that sadly this programmer had passed away. There was no chance of an app update.

Initially I tried another freeware utility called Cobian Backup. Whilst it is sort of usable it is by no means straightforward for a Blind User. I was able, largely through trial and error, to create a Backup Job but I found too many of the controls were unlabelled in terms of what function they provided. It did work but the big downside was that it appeared to copy complete folders of files and directories, no matter what the archive attribute was set to.

Computers set “archive” attribute on files to enable backup programs to avoid having to continually copy every file when a backup is launched. With this feature only those files which are new or which have been changed are copied. So you may have 2,000 files but if only 4 are new or have been changed your backup program should only copy across those 4 files and leave alone the 1,996 files it has previously backed up.

Disappointingly when I ran Cobian it proceeded to overwrite and copy all my documents across to the backup drive even though it had been previously backed up by Replicator. I needed a backup that only copied new or changed files.

It may be that Cobian can be tweaked to prevent this happening but I decided to look elsewhere.

Another option suggested is Syncback Free. This may well suit some and certainly some blind people are using it. However I found the interface is a little unintuitive. You can set up a new profile but the wizard on the first screen at least does not talk to you and simply says edit. I assume you can type or paste a source to back up from here but it is not immediately clear. However with a bit of sighted help or experimentation you may well find this app useful. You can get free or a paid version. For most home users I think the free version would suffice. You can download the program from;

http://www.2brightsparks.com.

In the end though I have personally decided to use a tiny one line Dos bat file script. I will copy the command line I used below at the end of the blog. So far it seems to be working flawlessly in performing the job that Karen’s replicator used to do with one caveat.

Unlike Replicator it not an app scheduled to run at a certain time automatically in the background. Researching on Google, though it appears possible that this can be set up as a task in the Windows 10 task Scheduler. If I achieve this I will report back on this blog.

Another option would be to place the Bat file in the start-up folder. This will mean it will run automatically every time windows start. As I say I will report back on options.

So to create this backup bat script is easy.

You need to create a text document using Notepad and use the command at the end of the blog. In this command line you will need to replace what is currently my own source drive and backup directory locations with your own. In this script my main documents folder on drive D that is “D:\Documents” is copied to a backup folder on drive K, that is, K:\Backup\Docs /. Replace these terms with your own folder paths.

The easiest way of getting a folder path is to use a free utility called copy path. Using this you simply right click or bring up the context menu on the folder you want to backup and the full path of the folder or file is copied to the clipboard when you select copy path from the resulting menu. You can then paste it into the script.

Do the same to get the path for the destination backup drive folder.

Below is a Dropbox link to the free copy path utility.

https://www.dropbox.com/s/th7uywg94lif8s9/CopyPathSetup.exe?dl=0.

So open notepad and copy and paste the line at the end of the blog and then edit this line to put in your own desired source and backup folder locations.

When you save the file simply give it a file extension bat rather than the default txt. So for example you could call it backup.bat.

That is pretty much it. Now pressing enter on it anywhere in explorer should run the script and your backup should be created. The next time you run the script it should simply update the backup.

It appears to work absolutely fine here on my Windows 10 system but of usual the caveat with these things is to use it at your own risk.

This script copy new /changed file and directories from one drive to a Backup drive and set the attributes so that the folders and drives will not be further copied unless they have been modified.

There are a lot of command switches in this one line script. It will be too long to copy all their functions here but will do so in another blog if it is required.

A few further notes.

If the script line is split in whatever you are reading this blog in then join it back together in your bat file in Notepad. There needs to be a space between each part of the command so check this if you have to join it back together again.

However if there are spaces in your actual folder path I believe you need to surround it with quotes. It might be easier just to rename the folder you are backing up so it does not have spaces in it.

Using Jaws you can monitor the file backup by using the jaws cursor to read the command window which comes up after you have started the bat file. All this will generally tell you in the name of the file being backed up at that particular time but at least you will know it is working and has not gone to sleep.

Lastly although this seems to me suitable for blind computer users it is of course readily used by anybody, sighted or not.

So finally here is the command to be copied.

xcopy D:\Documents K:\Backup\Docs /D /E /C /R /H /I /K /Y

I hope it is useful for some.

David Griffith

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Blind Mailing – Some tips on Accessing windows Mail

When Windows 10 first appeared there were several parts of the OS which did not work well with Access technology. Even now many of the Windows Store Apps remain difficult for a Blind person to use. It is only now that core features like Edge are becoming serious options for a Blind Computer User.

One App that has definitely come a long way is Windows Mail. This App, virtually unusable, with the first version of Windows 10, is now increasingly supported by both the Jaws and NVDA Screen readers. There was a time when it was impossible to hear what you were typing in Windows Mail. No longer. It has become an important part of the Blind Accessibility Tool Kit.

Personally I am increasingly using Windows Mail for the quick perusal of emails. It is very snappy and I particularly like the automatic preview reading. This helps me easily get rid of the annoying short one liner chatty emails from email lists without having to open them.

It has effectively replaced Thunderbird for me as my second email client after Microsoft Outlook.

A Blind computer user’s enjoyment of Mail can be greatly increased by adopting just a few useful strategies. These tips may be obvious to some people, especially to those who have some sight, but the following realisations have helped me a lot.

1. Regaining focus.

Reading an email in mail it seemed initially a little weird.

After reading a message I press escape to close the email. However I am not then returned to the Message list as I would have expected but the navigation button. Originally this resulted in my tabbing around trying to find the message list. Eventually I realised that the Navigation Button was just one tab element to the right of the message list. This is obvious to someone who can see but not to a screen reader user. Now I routinely press shift tab after pressing escape and I am immediately and reliably returned to the message list again. This is part of my muscle memory now.

2. Loading Message.

From time to time Windows Mail will announce loading – which once more seemed to get me lost and inhibit the reading of emails.

However yet again simply press shift tab and you will be instantly

Returned to the message list.

3. Managing and deleting threads.

It took me a while to get to grips with managing threads. Windows Mail automatically opens threads as you focus on and move down the list of emails. As a consequence I Initially found it difficult to delete whole threads because of this behaviour. As soon as you focus on the thread it opens to individual emails. I like the ability to delete whole threads that I am not interested in. . The solution is easy. Focus anywhere in the message threads and press the left arrow repeatedly until you hear Jaws announce collapsed. As soon as you hear collapsed press the delete key and the whole thread will be deleted.

4. Use Outlook Shortcuts.

Finally I have discovered that actually many of the shortcut keystrokes that work in Microsoft Outlook also work in Windows Mail. For example use control Y to bring up the list of email folders, this is vastly easier than tabbing repeatedly to the function you want. Control plus enter will send an email just as it does in Outlook and control R for reply etc. Nearly all the shortcuts are here.

So Windows Mail is a little bit of a toy app but with these strategies it is very easy to use. It is a breeze to set up. It respect and reacts properly to security standards of all the major email providers like Google and Yahoo. I personally find it very quick and responsive and I am increasingly

Using it.

David Griffith

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More Dumb Lifts Across The Pond

It is always interesting to get feedback on the blogs I write. The wonderful thing about the internet is that this feedback can come from thousands of miles away. I was fascinated to learn from Dan Weiner that we are not alone in suffering the problem of Dumb Lifts in the UK. Dan is a guide dog user From the USA who contacted me to share his experiences.

To recap there is a problem Blind People experience where there are banks of 2 or more lifts. It is not at all easy to tell which lift has opened its doors and you can play mad musical lifts dashing from one to another trying to feel the open door before the lift closes. I argued in my last post that all our lives could be made much easier if lifts were that little bit smarter, and announced not just that they had arrived but which lift had arrived, for example Lift 3, Doors opening.

Dan lives in Florida, and at the time he describes he was working on a very big Military Base in Maryland. With his permission I have copied his account here. Dan takes up the story.

“David a very nicely written blog. I’ll address the issue of lifts, or as we here like to say elevators–smile. I can only hear in one ear and I’m not good at sound localization, therefore the old thing about telling a blind man in this case, me "follow my voice" doesn’t work. So when I was working there was a bank of six elevators, count them, six, and they were somehow at angles to each other, it was almost a circle shape with elevators spread out. So you’d hear the ping but by the time I located the right one it had closed. I’d ask for help and many times I’d be given such wonderful rejoinders as "why doesn’t your dog find it" or "can’t you hear where the elevator is". One lady told me that a lady, Andrea, worked in the building, she’s blind and had no problems so why did I have to ask for help. My pride had to combat with my need for help and I explained that I’m happy for Andrea (who I happen to know is partially sighted) but that I have a hearing problem and I needed her help, then she asked the formerly mentioned question "why won’t your dog find it" by this time we had both missed the elevator but apparently it was more important for the lady in question to make me feel that I’d done something wrong or my dog was inadequate–lol. I said in frustration, "good question, why don’t you ask him, he’s standing right there.”

I suppose we’re just inefficient or lazy–smile after all why should I ever want to do anything myself when people are just so helpful–sarcasm alert.

Anyway, that bank of lifts was a nightmare and if I thought it was bad with a dog, the days I went with a cane because my dog was sick and having an operation ended up really showing me how hard that bank of lifts was.

That’s one thing I don’t miss about my job, those gosh darned elevators, actually Evan, my hound at the time, was getting great about finding elevator open doors but by the time we got there, they’d closed–smile

So, thanks for the blog and I’m glad you’re on the list.

Great to meet you.”

Great to meet you too Dan. Many thanks to Dan for sharing his experiences. I think he describes the problem much more vividly and entertainingly than I did. It only goes to show that although thousands of miles separate guide Dog Users we often share hauntingly similar issues. It is time for guide dogs as an organisation to take this up I think.

David Griffith.

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Dumb Lifts and Idling Cars-A Blind Man’s Lament

David Griffith explains why some lifts are dumb and some Car drivers are even dumber.

The other day I was standing in front of a particularly difficult bank of 3 lifts. I decided to call out for help- as recommended by guide Dogs.

“Is anybody there?”

A cool middle class female voice replied from behind me –“No-there is nobody here.”

I thought of writing a Cartesian Philosophical piece on why somebody should consider that they are a nobody but instead I thought I would focus on why I needed help in the first place.

As I am blind I cannot see lift doors open. As I am hearing impaired I most often do not hear them open either. The solution I use normally is to place my hand on the actual lift door so that when the door opens I can feel it has arrived.

This works fine for single lifts but serious problems emerge when there are more than 1 lift servicing the floor. On this particular floor in question there were 3 lift doors each separated by a gap of about 8 feet.

To be fair the lift announce when they arrive by saying doors opening and then lift going up or down.

However in one crucial respect they are completely dumb. They do not announce which of the 3 lift they are.

As a consequence I normally have to play a mad game of musical lifts chasing between each lift and feeling each door to identify which lift has arrived. A Depressing amount of time I arrive at the correct lift only to hear the fateful announcement “doors closing”. On a bad day I can miss several lifts

On the Ground floor there are normally people around who can help but on floors 6 7 or 8 you are much less likely to find somebody who will admit to being somebody who could help.

Actually this can be a problem not just for blind people. One day I tried to catch a lift in the company of a woman using crutches. Even though she could see she could not make the distance to the lift in time before the door closed. In the end after both missing some lifts we made a deal. She directed me by voice to the requisite lift door and I held the doors open until she could join me.

All this hassle could be overcome by a teensy weensy adjustment in the software of the lift announcement program. Instead of a bell sound to announce the lift coming it should simply say Lift 1 going down. Adding a lift number to the announcement could make all our lives easier. So Lift 2 Doors Opening is massively more helpful for me than simply a vague Doors opening announcement.

So my appeal is for lifts to stop being so dumb and become just that little bit smarter.

Which brings me neatly to idling Car Drivers. They are well documented reasons why Drivers who sit parked, idling their engines are causing entirely avoidable harm to the environment because of pure laziness. They do not want the hassle of stopping and starting a car engine. There is another less well known reason as to why this behaviour is profoundly anti-social.

Idling cars are an issue for nearly all blind pedestrians whether they are using a Guide Dog or not. An idling car can, especially in my case mask the sound of another car coming down the road. The general advice then is not to cross a road where a car is idling. On some crossings you have no safe alternative however.

I have a guide Dog that is very cautious and will simply not cross the road if he hears a Car nearby with its engine running. I could try and override this caution but if I did I would in turn be taking an unacceptable risk. What if my dog is not simply responding to the idling car but has spotted a more dangerous moving car beyond it.

The other day I was stuck for 5 minutes at a crossing until a driver opened his door and leaned out to shout it was OK to cross. I had to shout back that his idling car was causing anxiety for my dog and he finally, grumpily turned his engine off where upon Nyle was perfectly happy to cross the road.

At least this car driver talked to me. Apparently according to other sighted pedestrians many drivers respond to my waiting by their idling cars by either waving their hand furiously or flashing their headlight to indicate I should cross. I hate to be critical of Drivers but flashing headlights and waving arms at a blind person does seem to me amongst the dumber attempts at communication I have heard of.

Most idling drivers simply hoot their horns at me, not realising that all Guide Dogs Owners are strictly taught not to cross a road on a hoot. Hoots are not directional, and a Blind person has no safe knowledge that the hoot is meant for them. It could just as easily be another car hooting to warn a pedestrian to get off the road.

So my appeal for the day is to have more smart lifts and car drivers.. With a little more intelligence all our lives could be made a lot easier.

David Griffith

Sent from Mail for Windows 10

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Why a Guide Dog Needs a White Stick

Using a White Cane may be counter intuitive for a blind Guide Dog User but David Grifit explains why it is essential.

 

Guide dog Mobility Instructors are normally great. However, when I was first introduced to Training 6 years ago, before I even got Nyle, an instructor, who shall remain nameless, told me that I should never use a white Stick with a Guide Dog. Her argument was that my using a cane would “confuse my dog”.

In many other areas this Instructor trained me effectively but I am afraid not in this particular area.  I was reminded of this issue when I recently met another guide Dog owner who had also received this advice. In her case it is now causing her problems. So it appears I was not alone. Now reflecting on several years of working with Nyle I now believe that this is the single worst piece of guide dog advice I have ever received. Certainly for a completely blind guide dog user this is dangerous policy. In the years since I have talked with other Guide Dog Mobility Instructors who agree with me. This blog is written just in case anybody else gets this poor instruction. To explain why this advice was so unfortunate I will recount a journey with Nyle I undertook a couple of weeks ago.

ON this day we travelled on a regular, routine trip to Bart’s Hospital, but on this day all sorts of unexpected complications occurred.

The first problem is that our local Train Station was unstaffed. No assistance was available. This is an especial issue here as it has one of the most dangerous gaps between the train and the platform I have ever encountered. In fact on a couple of occasions I have fallen down this gap, the second occasions necessitating several months of hospital and nurse home visits. I was obviously anxious not to repeat this. There is simply no way a dog can safely lead you across this gap. You have to perform a Basil Fawlty type lunge to bridge the gap successfully.

When I heard the train coming I ask Nyle to find the door. This he faithfully did. Now however I had to drop the harness and allow Nyle to leap across. Now I pulled out my white stick and checked the gap between the train and the platform. I was able to find the right side of the door. Whilst at the same time checking I was not about to slip. Now , slipping the loop of my stick over my wrist, and whilst still holding Nyle’s lead with my left hand , I grasped the side of the door with my right hand and was able to haul myself safely on. This is not a straightforward manoeuvre but practice makes it easier.

As train gaps go this is an extreme chasm but using a combination of Nyle and a stick I was able to get on safely. Nyle could find the door, something I would otherwise find difficult, but I needed the stick to safely navigate the gap.

After departing the train with no issue and catching a tube we exited the Barbican Station as normal. Nyle started to guide me down Aldersgate. However after 50 yards Nyle came to a stop. Now the point is that however skilled your dog is, and I think Nyle is superb, he cannot talk to you. Without a white stick I would have been forced to slowly shuffle forward to try and feel with feet and hands what was worrying Nyle. With a cane I was able to easily and safely identify that there were two problems. Firstly there were major roadworks which had completely blocked the pavement, but more particularly there was an extremely dangerous ramp which had been constructed to direct you onto the road. Nyle had every reason to be worried. I found it was actually a trip hazard, with the front lip of the ramp curled up into the air. I think it was dangerous for people who could see, let alone those who could not. If I had not had a stick I would almost certainly have fallen. I was however able to step over the danger. Once safely pass the hazard Nyle was perfectly happy to lead me alongside the roadworks and then pull me back onto the pavement. Without my white stick there would have been too much pressure on Nyle, he may have eventually thought he had no choice but to try guiding me over this trip menace.

After attending the hospital we found another issue. Just outside, after Nyle led me to a Pelican crossing, I put out my hand to feel for the push button control box. To my confusion I felt only fresh air. I was instantly disorientated – had Nyle brought me to the right crossing? Pulling out my cane I again investigated. It turned out that the box had been removed. However using my stick I was able to find another box the other end of the tactile area which allowed us to cross safely.

After repeating the negotiation back through the Aldersgate roadworks with a combination of Nyle and my cane, we returned to the Barbican station, only to find that in the short time we were away, this station also had become unstaffed. After the difficult previous experience,  which I covered in my last blog, we now had a technique to deal with this. Nyle guided me down to the relevant platform, where I then put my back against the wall and called out for sighted help. Basically I ask somebody to inform me when our train was at the platform so I knew with certainty I could safely board the train. I then again asked Nyle to “find the door”.

Ironically at the Barbican there is the extreme opposite difficulty to the problem I had earlier. There is virtually no gap between the tube and the platform and the tube is flush level with the platform. This means is that if I simply let Nyle guide me onto the train I will have no sensation or awareness of when I have entered the train. The problem is that there is completely level footing. This can result in uncertainty, am I on the train or not? It can also result in a stumble or a fall if you are standing on the tube and it departs before you have found a hand hold.

The solution is again to use a white stick. As Nyle guides me to the door of the tube I simply let my stick, with its rollerball tip, roll across the ground as he leads me onto the train. My stick will click when it meets the inch wide gap between the train and the platform giving me perfect feedback as to when I have embarked.

So finally back to our local station. I asked Nyle as usual to find the stairs down to the station exit. However on this occasion when he stopped at the top flight of stairs I was yet again waving my hand in thin air. I was unable to feel my normal handrail I use to guide us down. It turned out that the station, in their wisdom had replaced the old handrail. The new rail, unlike the old rail, did not protrude beyond the top of the stairs. This is actually in breach of building regulations. You should be able to feel a handrail before you start to descend steps for safety reason.  Nevertheless with this new rail I discovered you need to be on the lip of the first step before you can feel it. This is obviously dangerous but after swishing my hand uselessly I had to again resort to using my white stick. I was then able to discover the location of this new perilous handrail on the cusp of the stairs.

Recently I asked the guide Dog owner who had received similar advice not to use her cane what she did when her dog stopped because of roadworks and other problems. She told me that all she could do was to return home.  She is feeling increasingly trapped because of all the building works where she lives. This cannot be right.

Now all this sounds stressful for what should, for me,  be a routine journey to the Hospital, and to an extent it was. However just imagine how much extra stress would have been involved if I had not taken a white stick. Accidents would have been more likely on at least 4 occasions. There would have been some stress for me but perhaps more importantly enormous stress and pressure would have been placed on Nyle. On this journey using my cane did not “confuse” Nyle. It enabled us to clarify options.

90% or even 95% of the time Nyle deals with problems, I am sure most of the time without me even being aware of it. However I will always carry my stick folded up in its leather case for those occasions in which Nyle needs help. It is only fair on your dog.

David Griffith.

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Today A Guide Dog Saved My Life, Seriously, Again.

Today my guide Dog Nyle saves me from catastrophe. When you hear people saying that their guide Dogs save their life you wonder sometimes if there is exaggeration for effect. I will describe the events which occurred today and let you make your own judgement.

 

Every 2 weeks Nyle assists me by taking me to Bart’s Hospital to receive injection to help control my severe asthma. This journey involves us travelling to and from the Barbican Tube station where Nyle then guides me to and from the Hospital. We have done this journey for 2 years and have relied on Underground Staff to assist us with departing the Tube and on return boarding the correct train back. Unfortunately with increasing staff cuts on the underground network it is more and more difficult to receive help at the Barbican.

 

Today whilst staffs were available to assist us on arrival, on our returned no staffs were present. There is a help button at the Barbican but I have never managed to receive a response.

 

I therefore decided today to rely on Nyle to get me back through the station. I should explain at this point that I am completely blind and also deaf. I could offer no guidance or help to Nyle in navigating through the station so I asked if a member of the public could follow us to make sure he found the correct platform. This helpful person assisted and confirmed that Nyle had found the right stairs and the appropriate platform for Liverpool Street.

 

This is where things started to go seriously wrong.

 

The first thing that happened is that I heard this helpful member of the public say “ah – here is your train coming now, it is an Aldgate train, but that will be ok for Liverpool Street.

 

The next thing I heard, almost immediately, after this, was a train coming in to the station. , I therefore started to move forward, asking Nyle to find the door. Nyle seemed strangely hesitant and pulled me to the right going down the platform. I kept on saying find the door, but he would not go towards the train. I grew anxious that I would miss the train so started to shuffle forward with my hand outstretched to try and feel the train. As soon as I did this Nyle did something he had never done before in the 4 years I have had him. Rather than being beside me he swung around in front of me and completely blocked my path and stopped me dead. I was saying Nyle we will miss the train but he was completely implacable and refused to move.

 

It was only then that a passenger on the platform said”, actually there is no train here”. A shiver went through me as I worked out what had happened.

  • 1. The train I had heard coming in was not on my platform at all but on the platform opposite.
  • 2. When the member of public had said to me Ah here is your train she was looking at and referring to not any train physically at the platform at all but was staring at an indicator/departure board announcing the next tube destination and arrival.

 

It was a situation ripe for catastrophic misunderstanding but it appears my Guide Dog was the one who was really clued up and knew what was happening.

 

I have no idea if Nyle has ever been trained to stop anybody falling off a platform. He has certainly never had this sort of training in all the time I have had him so if he was trained it was years ago. Whether it was his instincts to protect me, which he demonstrates in smaller ways daily, or his deep seated training I do not know.

 

  • Either way I guess it is time to acknowledge my debt not just to Nyle but all the people who help produce this amazing, loving and clever dog. Madge and Clive Tierney his puppy walkers, Tim Howells and the other Guide Dog trainers who worked with Nyle. Without their hard work and Nyle’s commitment I could well be in Bart’s Hospital for more serious reasons tonight. My dog wants a cuddle now so I guess fair enough; I have to keep my side of the bargain.

 

David Griffith

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unfortunately as an apparent reflection in the staff cuts across the network we are finding that the Barbican station is left unstaffed with no assistance available.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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