Me and My Guide Dog’s Journey, so far!

Me and my guide dog’s journey began around 5 years ago, which you can read all about by clicking here.

Last month, I had a potential guide dog match stay at home with me for one night and this included practicing walking together.  My Guide Dog Mobility Instructor and I both felt that it went very well.  As a result, I started my training at the end of August, and I am currently training with my first guide dog.

It has been amazing to learn different commands on how my guide dog can safely guide me, how I can spend him, which means taking him to the toilet, and how to pick up the mess.  Also, what his feeding patterns are like and how to understand his actions and behaviour.  Moreover, I learned different techniques of navigating steps, train stations, narrow spaces, busy and cluttered pavements, taking him on a free run and so much more!

I am sure you will get to meet my guide dog soon.  In the meanwhile, here are some tips I can share with you about guide dogs: firstly, you should always ask if you can say hello or stroke them.  A guide dog could be working and therefore a distraction could, potentially, put both the owner and the guide dog at harm.  Secondly, always be mindful with food around guide dogs.  They are trained not to scavenge, but they cannot be at fault if temptation arises.  Grapes and chocolate are definitely a no-no as these can be poisonous for them.  Lastly, if you’re playing with a guide dog, try not to get them too excited as they like to play back, and it will be difficult for the owner to calm them down.  Also, if a guide dog is settled and calm, then it is best to wait until they are active again before interacting.

With my guide dog, I have managed to walk to my train station, get onto the platform, get onto the train, out the other end and walk to my office.  This is something I haven’t done since December 2016 after losing a bit more sight.  I am now also able to walk to my bus stop and get the bus and go to my local shopping centre, confidently.  I also learnt the route to my hairdressers, doctors and chemist.  It feels so fantastic to just go somewhere when I want and not when others can take me!

Of course, I still have a lot to learn whilst on my guide dog training.  However, just 3 weeks in, I feel my guide dog has made a huge change; independence wise and helping me to be out in the fresh air as opposed to being cooped up in taxis.

Adapting to waking up early and making sure I have all his belongings that I may need when out and about, as well as factoring him into my life, has been an easy adjustment to make.  My family simply adore him, and when he is not working the harness comes off.  We love playing with him, watching him play with his toys and taking him out on his free runs.

You can follow updates on my guide dog progress by following my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/visualeyeswithbhavini

Bhavini smiling with her guide dog.

Written by Bhavini Makwana, ELVis Activities Coordinator

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Polk Boom Bit Bluetooth Speaker Review

There are many uses to which vision impaired people put their mobile phones.  One of the most exciting of these is the ability to find their way around independently using GPS navigation.  There are a number of apps that can help with this including Blind Square, RNIB Navigator, Google Maps and Apple Maps to name just a few.  The subject of which GPS app is best definitely deserves to be discussed in a separate article.

Many visually impaired people do not have enough sight to use the IPhone comfortably for map reading so spoken announcements of current location and what is nearby as well as turn by turn directions can be extremely helpful.

One of the greatest difficulties visually impaired people experience when using a smart phone for navigation is being able to hear what the phone is speaking while still being able to hear sound of things going on around them.  Most headphones are not ideal for this since they reduce the sound from outside sources which can make walking somewhat unsafe.  There are headphones such as the AfterShokz Trekz Titanium which cost around £90 which conduct sound through the skull rather than covering the ears, but these are much more expensive than the Boom Bit.

The Polk Boom Bit is a very small wearable speaker with a metal spring clip that can attach to clothing such as a shirt collar, a coat or a t-shirt.  It connects to your phone by Bluetooth so there are no trailing wires.  The Boom Bit measures 7.5 x 3.5 x 2 centimetres and it weighs 36.3 grams.  It is controlled using 2 small rubberised buttons which are easy to feel, though some may find it difficult to press both buttons at the same time.  This is necessary to turn the speaker on and off.

Despite its small size and weight, the Boom Bit has surprisingly loud sound.  It’s not great for music, but it’s fine for speech.

The Polk Boom Bit does have a speaker phone built in. This works okay when taking calls but it’s not really up to the job when it comes to working with Siri or dictating text, so if you need to do this you can easily turn off the speaker.

The Polk Boom Bit Bluetooth speaker costs around £25 on Amazon and it can be found for as little as £15 on eBay.

Here’s the Amazon link to the Polk Boom Bit Bluetooth speaker:  https://www.amazon.co.uk/Polk-BOOM-Clip-Bluetooth-Speaker/dp/B01HIS5O7A

Polk Boom Bit
The Polk Boom Bit Bluetooth speaker in different colours, including cyan, black, white & pale green, red and yellow.

Written Graham Page, ELVis Assistive Technology Adviser

 

My Margate Experience with Beyond Sight Loss

We traveled as a group to Margate on Thursday 28th June.  There was very good community spirit among the members.  Each of the members had a different experience of the outing because of their childhood memories of visiting the beach town.

The weather was nice and sunny, and you could feel the cool breeze.  It was nice to walk along the beach front.  I really enjoyed it!

For lunch, we ate at a fish and chips restaurant on the promenade.  The food was reasonably priced and was cooked fresh.  I thought the customer service was fantastic as all the staff were very friendly and attentive to the group’s needs.

As I spoke to each of the members individually, I learned that some of the older members were slightly disappointed that their memories of Margate have been eroded over the years, but I didn’t let this dampen their spirit.

When I finished my lunch, I decided to explore the old part of the town.  I was pleased to see the old-fashioned sweet shop I used to visit had survived, so I bought a few treats to bring back home for my family.  Also, I came across graffiti art of the Trotter family from the comedy show ‘Only Fools and Horses’, which I loved watching.  The art was big and the colours were bold enough for me and some of the members with sight to appreciate.  It was a very nice piece of art work!

We had split into several groups as there were so many of us, and at the end of the day we regrouped and shared what we had done on our visit.

I enjoyed myself and would like to say thank you to all the organisers and volunteers who work hard to keep us safe and arrange the outings.

Margate1
Photo of the Beyond Sight Loss members eating fish and chips at a seaside restaurant in Margate.
Margate2
Photo of a mural (wall art) featuring the Trotter family from the TV comedy show ‘Only Fools and Horses’. The mural features Del Boy, Rodney and Grandpa who are all characters in the TV show.

Written by Christine Maker, ELVis member