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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Guide Dogs, Discrimination and Enforcement – Is Religion Relevant?

 

The unlawful discrimination experienced by many Guide Dog users is a constant drain on our energies. Many, if not most Guide Dog owners will know the low level tension we experience every time we book a Taxi or enter an unfamiliar restaurant. Will this activity, normal and a source of comfort for most others, result in our case in an access denial, causing aggravation, argument and confrontation.

 

The law is on our side and is completely unambiguous, I know of no unsuccessful legal claims made by a Guide Dog Owner in relation to discrimination. Increasingly though this issue of discrimination is being associated with religious belief, especially Muslim belief.

 

This is how the Daily Telegraph reported a case on the 26 January  2017.

“A Muslim taxi driver refused to take a blind couple with a guide dog because of his religion.

Charles Bloch, 22, and Jessica Graham 21, had booked a cab with a Leicester firm. The couple are registered blind and had Mr Bloch’s dog, Carlo,
with them. Abandi Jamal Kassim would not let the dog into his cab,
saying:
“It is about my religion.”

Mr Kassim, 43, yesterday admitted a breach of the Equality Act when
he appeared before the city’s magistrates. He was fined £340 and
ordered
to pay £50 compensation.”

 

There are 2 points of interest for me from this reporting. The first is the amount of fine and compensation paid. 

 

Last year I had a similar incident where a Taxi Driver refused to pick me up because I had a Guide Dog. The initial defence mounted by the firm was to deny that I had ever had a booking for a Cab which is obviously the default response in reaction to complaint. However luckily I had retained the confirmation text sent to my phone by the firm giving the vehicle model and registration number.

 

Consequentially, in my case also, the discriminating Cab Driver pleaded guilty and was fined of £750 including compensation of £250. Whilst each case must be judged on its merits it does seem odd that nuisance and distress to me personally is assessed at £250 whilst the equivalent detriment for a couple is assessed at only £50.

These sums are also thrown into shocking contrast when we consider the sums awarded in County Court cases. In October 2016 the Evening Standard reported on how a Limehouse Newsagent who had refused access to an assistance dog had been told to pay combined fines and costs totalling £22,000.

 

 The Truth though is that I am not sure that I would want fines of this nature for my Taxi Discrimination claims. The prospect of a £22,000 liability is potentially life crippling for most people, creating a debt burden likely to affect traders and their family for a life time. I want to amend behaviour but not at the cost of ruining lives for service providers and their families.

 

What is a more constant discomfort for me is the focus and alignment of reports of discrimination against Guide Dogs Users as emanating from those who follow Islam as a faith. In my discrimination case I was at pains to; at no time investigate the religious attitudes of the driver who discriminated against me. I have experienced negatives attitudes to my dog from people from many backgrounds. I am concerned however that the issue of Discrimination, completely unjustifiable in itself, is now being used as a racist stick to beat a beleaguered Muslim Community with. 

 

Guide Dogs as a An organisation has pointed to the existence of successful Guide Dog partnerships operating in Muslim families, examples of Mosques where special arrangements are made to accommodate Guide Dogs accompanying Muslim worshippers have been cited in Television documentaries, and most importantly that the Muslim Parliament has issues a Fatwa declaring that it is wrong for Muslims to discriminate against people requiring a Working dog like a Guide Dog. This is not to deny that work has to be done in raising awareness amongst the Muslim as well as other communities but a necessary relationship between having a Muslim faith and consequent discrimination against Guide Dogs is simply not there. To that extent the Driver cited in the Telegraph report was ignorant of the tenets of his own faith.

 

There are other personal reasons why I am so discomforted by attempt to join my anti-discrimination bandwagon by people with potentially racist motives. I was brought up in a family environment where I was taught that racism was wrong and a great social evil. I took these attitudes into my younger political life, and whilst I do not retain all of the ideals of my radical youth my commitment to anti-racism has remain strong.

 

Part of the reason for this comes from just a personal insight into the great cancerous evil racism can create. In my youth I joined an organisation called Rock against Racism. In that connection I did, for two memorable nights act as a bodyguard for Tom Robinson, of 2-4-6 Motorway and Sing if you’re Glad to be Gay fame. Tom Robinson had received threats of violence from a neo Nazi group for daring to perform as an openly gay musician. As I was, at the time, reasonably sighted and 6ft 4 I decided, along with some friends of similar stature,   to offer protection. We apparently provided enough deterrent to persuade these Neo Nazis to not to follow through on their threat. 

 

After that my life started to change though. I eventually had to endure constant harassment. Much of this was irksome and not dangerous. I would be woken up in the middle of the night by the Gas Board responding to hoax alerts of leaking gas, ditto for being disturbed by the Fire Brigade with hoax calls about fire in my house. I was plagued by people knocking on my door responding to adverts placed, in my name, in the local paper claiming I was selling cars and other items  for absurdly low prices. Every week I started to receive goods on approval and trial, ranging from Bullworkers to the Complete Beatles Single Collection, ordered falsely in my name, requiring me to arrange to return these items.

 

Some threats were more explicit. I started to receive death threats in the mail, accusing me of the crime of being a “Traitor to the Aryan Race”. I received Funeral Cards inviting me to my own funeral. I received letters threatening me that if I continued my anti-racism stance I would be targeted for elimination. I was at apparently level 8 in the list of racial enemies and that by the time I reached level 10 I would be dead. 

 

The next stage was more overt. My home started to be targeted. I had paint daubed all over my front door. Windows in my house were smashed when bricks were thrown through them. Sadly it was the windows of completely uninvolved women in a flat downstairs that had their windows mistakenly broken. I took all the evidence to the Police and predictably, for the time, they simply laughed and in effect told me that they had more sympathy with my racist harassers. I cannot prove it but I formed the very strong impression that they knew who was behind the campaign and actually were prepared to collude with it. Such was life in the 1970s. It was bad enough as a single man; I cannot imagine the stress this would all have caused if this was to have happened at a later time with the wife and children I was to eventually live with.

 

Now I am clear that the behaviour of this ignorant racist scum who were never in the end brave enough to face me in person represents the actions of a very small minority. However I was aware that I was having an insight into the world of harassment that black, Asian, Jewish and Muslim families have had to daily endure for years. It is one thing to know about harassment in theory. It is completely different when it is personal.

 

I also realised that the actions of the ignorant racists can only flourish in an atmosphere of the general racist climate. This is the real danger of the casual racist.  They provide the succour and confidence for the malignant few.

 

So I will never budge against my commitment to anti-racism. It is a dangerous cancer which destroys trusts in communities and destroys the prospect of positive social development.

 

I want support for the right to use my Guide Dog because I believe in a society where discrimination is wrong and ultimately evil. I do not want this to be a stick with which to beat the Muslim Community. I will stand shoulder to shoulder with Muslims against ignorant Islamophobia. Discrimination against Muslims because of their faith and discrimination against people because of their disability comes from the same evil well. If we are to learn anything from the past and the experience of the 30s in the uncertain future we face, it is the need to support each other rather than raising the bitter hostile face of racism and indifference to the needs of those who may be strangers in our midst. 

 

David Griffith

 

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Nyle at Class

Nyle at Class

 

When I recently enrolled on a History class I faced a mobility challenge. The class was held outside Walthamstow, in Wanstead,  an area unfamiliar to us.

 

For the first time in a while then,  my Guide Dog Nyle had to learn a completely new route. 

 

Sue, my wife, helped us by accompanying us on a test route survey. We failed though, unfortunately, to remember the first rule of route planning. Survey the route completely before training your dog.

 

 In order to reach our return Bus Stop Nyle needed  to Guide me across the A12 where it crosses Wanstead High Street. . This is obviously a busy and major crossing with traffic traversing at high speed. We focussed over much on this busy crossing, failing to spot a further difficult crossing beyond the A12. We discovered that going this first route presented risks. 

 

We eventually worked out that by adjusting our route to a different crossing point we could use a longer but safer route. The problem was that Nyle obviously did not agree and insisted on guiding me to the original unsafe crossing point. He could tell it was the quicker of the available routes.

 

We reached an impasse. However a phone call to Guide Dogs trainer Dave Watson elicited some useful advice. The next week, armed with a tube of Primula soft cheese we returned to the problematic crossing. Sue placed a big lump of cheese on the required Pelican pole and we walked back a few paces. Nyle was suddenly much more interested in finding this crossing. We gradually worked our way back, each time placing cheese on the pole. Nyle assessed us as eccentric, placing food for him on a pole but he did not complain.  Eventually he lost complete interest in the original unsafe crossing.

 

 The only problem then was the confusion of pedestrians on the day, one of whom was obviously bewildered, attempting to remove the cheese as Nyle and I were arriving on a test run.

 

Since then it has been pretty much plain sailing and Nyle has guided me home safely on many occasions.

However, the first class contained drama of a different kind. On arrival we discovered that another Guide Dog, May, was attending the class with her owner Chris.

After initial excitement we thought our dogs would settle in the normal way. Surprisingly May cried and whimpered throughout this first class.

 We were both a little mortified, thinking Nyle had somehow unsettled May. However what transpired was that all our assumptions were completely wrong. May’s cries were nothing to do with Nyle.   She was actually unwell with stomach pains. Happily a visit to the Vets resolved this for May and since then they have behaved immaculately in the class, obviously jointly fascinated in hearing the accounts of Victorian London.

 

So Nyle has eventually gained another of his multitude of strings for his Guiding bow. It is a sobering reflection that without his help there is no practical chance that I would even have considered attempting to attend this class in an unfamiliar area. Another indication of the precious treasure that is our Guide Dogs.

 

David Griffith

 

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