[nagdu] Guides at NFB training centers

Julie J. julielj at neb.rr.com
Sun Aug 30 11:55:20 UTC 2015


A few thoughts...

First I do not believe that guide dogs and canes are diametrically opposed, 
as you previously asserted I said.  I believe they are different, but that 
many of the skills are similar or overlapping.  I believe that orientation 
skills are the much, much larger part of orientation and mobility training. 
Folks learn to use a guide dog for mobility in less than a month.  I also 
believe that you can learn to use a cane strictly for mobility in that time. 
However the larger orientation skills take months and months to learn and 

I've said before that it is preferable to learn orientation skills while 
using a cane.  This is because it causes you to learn without confusing a 
dog or inadvertently relying on input from the dog.  Here's an 
example...early in O&M training here at our center, people learn the skill 
of identifying where the door out of a room is, even if they are the only 
person in the room.   This skill is the predecessor to more advanced skills 
like mall travel where you need to be able to recognize when you pass a 
certain store or leave one area of the mall for another and the like when 
there is no distinct doorway.  Here's the thing though, if you are a dog 
user, even if you do not cue the dog to find the door, it is going to be the 
obvious thing and they are going to suggest it.  The person may never pick 
up on the subtle indications of where that door is.  They don't learn that 
base skill to be able to build on it later and perhaps later the dog doesn't 
know which way to go in the mall because there is no obvious choice. Because 
the person hasn't learned to recognize other clues in the environment, they 
don't know how to direct the dog.

Raven, you seem to have very good O&M skills.  For you it may make little 
difference if you went through center training with a cane or dog, but 
having worked at a center, I can absolutely tell you that the huge majority 
of people are not like you.  They are attending the center training because 
they need to better their skills, all of their skills.    We do have people 
attend our center with their guide dog.  Here they work their dog in their 
free time, before and after classes and at the lunch break.  As the training 
progresses, the dog is incorporated into travel class and other times.  By 
the very end of training, the person will be back to working the dog the 
majority of the time.

We all know that dogs get sick,  tragic things happen and eventually the dog 
will need to retire.  For about 99.9% of us this means using a cane when the 
dog is unavailable.   It's unrealistic to think that someone will be able to 
work their dog 100% of the time for the person's entire lifetime.   So if 
you don't have decent cane skills this means you are going to need a human 
guide, put your life on hold or have two dogs at all times. Seems to me 
having learned to use a cane would be a good base skill to have.

I know that all of the programs have requirements about being able to use a 
cane or show that you have good O&M skills.  But let's be brutally honest 
with ourselves for a minute,  we all know that what passes for good O&M 
skills varies widely from program to program.  I also cannot begin to count 
the number of stories I have heard from people who attended a program and 
had classmates who couldn't find their way around without significant help. 
To me it's pretty clear that folks with guide dogs do not all have good 
orientation skills.  Perhaps we could work with the guide dog programs to 
help them better understand the importance of acquiring good orientation 
training before getting a dog.

You made the argument that a dog is your preferred mobility tool and the 
center programs should support that decision.  I think they do, but that 
they also recognize that a dog is a mobility tool and that there is more to 
independent travel than mobility.    What if a person went to a center and 
said they use GPS, so they don't need to learn orientation skills?  that 
would be silly and no one would think that a good idea.  GPS only goes so 
far in getting you where you want to go.  It doesn't tell you when it's safe 
to cross the street, when there are stairs, when there's road construction 
or when a kid has parked his bike across the sidewalk.  If someone went to a 
center and said they didn't need to learn to use the stovetop because they 
were going to eat microwave dinners for the rest of their life, no one would 
think that a good idea either.   The centers recognize that personal 
independence through skill training includes a wide variety of skills.  It 
means moving out of your comfort zone and learning new things.  Perhaps 
there are people who only use the microwave to cook, but the point is that 
after center training that's a choice, not a necessity.  To me that's what 
it's really about, having the choice to pick from a wide variety of skills 
to find the one that best fits the particular situation I find myself in.


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