Monthly Archives: April 2018

Mobility Update: My Guide Sessions 15 and 16

With everything that’s been going on recently, last week I just completely forgot to write about my My Guide session with Jenny. So in this post I’ll write about last week’s My Guide session as well as the one I had on Thursday.

Last week, when Thursday rolled around, the weather was gorgeous. We were predicted temperatures as high as 27 degrees and everyone was a bit more cheerful for it. Technically, it was the week we were supposed to do the route to my sister’s school but due to the lovely weather, I text Jenny that morning and asked if it’d be ok if we swapped routes and practiced the leisurely walk along the shore instead. Her response, definitely, proved my own thoughts about changing route.

It has to be said, walking along the shore and into Woolston in that kind of weather is exactly what that route is made for. It was wonderful. Jenny described all the scenery and greenery and we just strolled along the seafront talking about anything and everything we could think of. Although, as it was so warm, it was a bit of a relief to get to Coffee Mac’s for something refreshing. I had a glass of milk and a slice of banana loaf — at last, they had it! — and Jenny had her usual americano with hot milk on the side. It was nice to cool off in the shop but it would have been even nicer if they’d had air conditioning!

The walk back was equally nice. Just being out in the sunshine made me feel good. It was nice to have the chance to enjoy the good weather and of course it meant I daydreamed about doing the same with a four-legged furry companion at my side.

This Thursday, we did what we should have been doing the week before and headed to my sister’s school. One perk of waiting a week was that I had my replacement Victor Reader Trek up and running and ready to record the new route. The route itself is quite simple and I don’t think it’ll take long to memorise. There’s a few lampposts and electrical boxes and opportunities for cars parked on the pavement but they’re all things I’ll learn to avoid in time. Also, there’s a few crossings that I’m going to have to take carefully to begin with as, if I wasn’t paying enough attention, there’s potential for me to take the crossing from the wrong direction and end up in the middle of busy roads. But these are all things I’ll learn with time. The route is at least an hour each way and involves many crossings. It’s definitely more of a necessity walk than a pleasure walk like the Woolston route. But I think it could become nice with time. Plus, if I master this route, I’ll be able to master getting to my grandparents house to visit them as it’s mostly the same route with a different bit at the end. Jenny and I have already discussed learning this after we’ve completed the routes I’m currently practising. Learning how to get to my grandparents would be very beneficial as, as a family, we visit them at least once weekly and knowing the route independently would mean I could just pop round and see them if I fancied.

Unfortunately, during the route I discovered my replacement Victor Reader Trek had problems too. It was doing the same thing as my previous unit and becoming unresponsive whilst recording a route. Unlike my first Trek, this one only seems to do it when I ask it to perform another action during route recording. There may seem a simple solution to this: don’t ask it to do anything else? That would work if it didn’t become unresponsive after I press the button to end the recording of the route. The worst part about this is that, when I do press the button to end recording, the unit becomes unresponsive and all current recording is lost. This happened to me on both the outward and return trips of the school route, meaning I still don’t have the route recorded. Of course, this meant another call to HumanWare when I got home. They’ve been dealing with me a lot lately as not only have I had problems with my trek but I managed to knock a whole pint of black currant squash over my BrailleNote Apex last week. Luckily, a very nice blind man who happens to work for HumanWare saw my plea for a replacement unit advertised on the selling products email list for blind people and managed to get me a loan unit from HumanWare while they repaired my unit. To begin with, it looked as if the liquid hadn’t done much damage. At first, the Braille Display looked a bit knackered but by the morning it all seemed to be working well. I was dubious though and was advised to send it in to be looked at anyway as it probably wouldn’t be reliable. As I have my final assignments for both modules and then their exams coming in the next six weeks, I didn’t want to risk hanging on to an unreliable machine and something happening to it during my exam so I couldn’t complete the exam or my work was lost. So I sent it into HumanWare, who very kindly loaned me another unit free of charge, but unfortunately was phoned to be told that there was much more damage than the Braille display as I’d thought. The whole right-hand side of mykeyboard had stopped working. So the whole board that powers the Apex needed to be replacing. The short version of the story is that it has cost me around £700 and will be returned to me Tuesday. To be fair, I can’t fault the prompt service and if it means I’ll have my machine back to me, fully working and all cleaned up by the time I need it for my exam, I can’t complain. My bank account of course wishes the cost had been a lot lower but I suppose it’ll teach me to be more careful, even if it was a total accident. Perks of being a blind person, I suppose.

As for my Trek dilemma, HumanWare are sending another courier out to collect the replacement unit on Tuesday and they’re going to check it over again. If it’s fixable, they’ll sort it and send it back to me. If not, they’ll send me another new unit after checking the issue I’m having isn’t present in that one too. This is again all free of charge so I can’t complain. I just hope that the problem is either fixed or the new unit really doesn’t have any problems. I paid over £500 for the device and sadly there’s been problems since the beginning. The worst part is it’s a device I love having and having the support of the GPS orientation has been great in boosting my confidence in times when I’m uncertain about exactly where I am on a route. Having the GPS as backup is so reassuring and I wouldn’t want to be without it since getting used to it from Trekker Breeze. Fingers crossed the issue gets solved.

Sadly, I’m not able to have another My Guide session for a while. Poor Jenny has to go in for an operation next week and although its routine, it comes with a long recovery time. I’m just hopeful the operation doesn’t cause Jenny too much pain and she’s back to normal as soon as possible. As for me and My Guide, well that’ll wait as long as it takes. Health is infinitely more important than me learning some quite frankly unnecessary routes. Hopefully, we’ll be back to it in a month to six weeks’ time, whenever Jenny feels she’s ready. I’m in no hurry at all. I’m really chuffed with the progress ive made so far with the routes we’re currently learning. The school route is definitely a work in progress but I don’t think it’ll be long until ive fully mastered the Woolston route. A month or so off will be a very good test of my memory. I’m very grateful to Jenny for all the time, effort and dedication she’s put into helping me with these routes, especially now the aim for learning for them isn’t going to be achieved for the foreseeable. I wish I could say different on that front. Today, I received my response from Southampton’s service delivery manager after sending her my letter of decision and explanation after our appeal meeting on 9th April. I told her most of my ideas of how to improve on my interaction and dog handling, including my friend Jemma’s offer of me becoming a border for her guide dog Ollie and also taking Ollie out during my My Guide sessions to get used to lead walking a dog. I also asked if there was a way the Southampton team could help me gain some experience of dog handling and interaction with working dogs but the letter said they’re unable to offer anything like this, or any work experience or volunteering opportunities within the centre. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t gutted. They’ve also advised that I shouldn’t be taking Ollie out during my My Guide sessions as it’s not in the agreement and not something they’d expect their volunteers to have to do. I feel a little frustrated by this response. I put in all the ideas ive had about trying to improve on the areas they’ve brought up as reasons why they can’t accept me for a dog but the tone of the letter is that many of my ideas aren’t feasible and even if I did do all these things and improve on those areas, it still might not be enough. Of course, that’s just me being pessimistic I suppose. But I can’t help how I think and feel. Sometimes it really does feel like a closed door, like I’m not good enough and never will be. Someone told me it isn’t personal but it sure feels like it. Obviously, that doens’t mean I’m giving up. I’m still going to do everything I can to one day, hopefully one day in the near future instead of years and years away, become a guide dog owner. I can say something now: if ever I get the chance to be a guide dog parent again, I won’t let that four-pawed furry thing go no matter what. Although it still feels like the right decision and the fact that she’s now living as a pet proves the decision was right, sometimes I do wish I’d have hung onto Zena, could have done something to make things better, fought for the support I deserved with my first partnership. I didn’t think I did anymore, but god how I miss that furry little menace. She caused me more headaches and heartache than happiness but god I miss her. It’s nearly a year on — in fact tomorrow is 10 months since Zena was taken away — but I still think about her every single day, still wonder how she’s doing and still give the cuddly pyjama-wearing build a bear namesake dog Kieran bought me after I let her go an extra tight hug every single night before I go to sleep. I miss the free runs, the walks and even the standing in the pouring rain until she did her business. Even though I’m fully aware that’s not how a paternship should have been, I’m a liar if I said I wouldn’t take that back now if I could. Because I would, without hesitating. It wasn’t good for me and it’s partly why I’m in the mess with Guide Dogs that I am, but at least I went out almost daily with the mobility aid I want. At least there was some pleasure, even if not much, in the independent walks I had. But that’s hindsight and wishing and something that can never happen. I need to focus on the future, on doing absolutely everything I can to ensure one day I have a new furry companion, hopefully one who spends when I ask and doesn’t walk me into quite so many lampposts… but hey, if not, no worries… so that’s the plan: once again, I’m going to work on everything I, and those who are supporting me, can think of to make my chances of being a guide dog owner more likely.

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Mobility Update: The outcome of my Guide Dogs Further Assessment, and My Guide session 14

Originally, I was just going to write my usual My Guide update, describing how things went with the walk and talking about banana cake as usual. But I’ve finally decided that now is the right time to blog about my Further Assessment with Guide Dogs, the outcome and what had happened since as before now I only said that things didn’t quite go as I’d have hoped. The usual My Guide update will be below.

The assessment day itself was as I expected in the way that we did all the things I expected to and I felt nervous and wobbly the whole way through. It started with an informal greeting and explanation of how the day was going to pan out. Each member of staff introduced themselves and then we went around our little circle and introduced ourselves. The first thing I noticed was that another applicant had bought a family member with them when I’d been advised I shouldn’t really bring anyone. But I wasn’t bothered. I hoped it maybe made me look a bit independent not having my parents sat either side of me like I was 5 years old… Even if I did have to get my dad to take the day off work and drive me there. After the introductions were over, we were split up to do things individually. The first thing I got to do was obedience, having the dog on my left-hand side and trying to get it to walk nicely to heel, praising it every time it put a paw right by treating it with the kibble in the treat bag I’d been provided with and had strapped around my waist. When I had Zena I loved all the accessories that came with being a dog owner and if I ever have another dog I’ll definitely be getting one of the dog treat bags I borrowed during the Further Assessment. When I had Zena, the treat bags I tried out were quite fiddly, all with drawstring closures, but this one had a magnetic closure to the treat compartment which meant every time — and there were loads of times! — I needed to grab a treat quickly and give it to the dog as a reward for whatever good behaviour it had presented, I was able to grab it easily and fuss-free.

I felt a bit wobbly during the obedience section of the day. I’d felt nervous since the moment I’d been told I’d been put forward for Further Assessment but actually being there with the instructors and the dogs was a whole other story. The fear of getting a no, being told I was unsuitable, being told I’d never have a Guide Dog was so high it was unbelievable. But I tried my best. I tried following their instructions, commanding and rewarding the dogs in the way they told me too. It just didn’t feel like I was getting anything right.

After I finished the obedience section, I went out with the instructors to do a long cane walk. To begin with, I’d been terrified at this prospect as it was out walking with my cane in an area that was totally brand new to me. I thought maybe they’d expect me to start picking up some of the block route and I knew that just wouldn’t happen. But that part went quite well; they directed me where to go and I just walked. I was asked to cross a road safely which I did no worries. After that the real nerves came in; it was short handle walk with the instructor time. It just so happens that this is my least favourite thing to do with Guide Dogs to do. It just feels so forced and fake and definitely like they’re judging your every move. I know that’s a daft thing to say as the whole day is an assessment day but that section of it particularly feels like a test. And it wasn’t a test I passed, that’s for sure, and I knew that there and then. During the harness walk, one of the instructors started asking questions about Zena. This made me more nervous. It felt as if I was expected to know things I didn’t, be confident when working a dog in a harness and I wasn’t, mainly because the way Seeing Dogs did things and the way Guide Dogs do things are polar opposites. Perhaps back in the olden days were similar. I’m sure Seeing Dogs’ trainer does things how he remembers from when he trained with Guide Dogs in the 80s but their methods have changed a lot lately, especially with the positive reinforcement training coming into play fully. Literally every time a dog does something right it’s the most enthusiastic praise you can muster and a treat at the ready. The biggest fuss has to be made out of the smallest good behaviour on the dog’s part just to reinforce its training. After I hurriedly tried to explain the differences Seeing Dogs has that I know of from Guide Dogs, I tried to focus on making my commands and vocal tone the best I could during the remainder of the short handle walk. But it just didn’t feel good. I felt like I was expected to get everything right. Whether this was a pressure they put on you to get the best out of you or something that was totally in my head I don’t know. But of course I should’ve been at my best. This getting a dog has been a goal of mine for years and years. But I just couldn’t get the right tone and pitch of voice they wanted. I tried and tried and I thought it improved a bit. But after the short handle walk, I just felt like I’d completely screwed my chances up. Add to that the bad feelings during the obedience session and I really thought my chances were up.

Then, it was lunchtime. Nobody really talked to anyone. The applicants were dotted around the room and the instructors were all together. I didn’t really mind. I wasn’t feeling confident about things right then and thought if anyone tried to chat to me I’d probably melt into a blubbering wreck for no apparent reason. Lunch didn’t last long though and we were soon back to the necessary tasks. My next thing to do was a proper working dog walk, the bit I’d been looking forward to ever since deciding to never put Zena in harness again. First, I walked with the dog I’d done obedience with. She was a tiny and very energetic little black Labrador and I thought our walk together went well. Not perfect, far from it, but much improved from the short handle walk earlier. I didn’t get the vocal bits right most of the time, I knew that, but I tried to keep improving on it during the walk and every now and then one of the instructors would praise me for a good bit of vocal praising. After that, I went out with a different dog, this one a big Labrador/retriever cross who I was told had just had his matching visit and would be on class very soon. This walk was a lot harder. This dog needed much more encouragement even to move let alone do the right things. The instructors explained that was his nervousness around new handlers. To be fair, mix that with my nervousness and it probably wasn’t destined to be the perfect walk. But it went ok for some parts. I kept trying to improve on my vocal praise and kept trying to take what the instructors were saying on board about my handling of the dog.

Once the harness walks were done, it was my turn to have a go at grooming and play time. This time, I worked with another little black Labrador, actually the cousin of the one I’d done obedience and my first harness walk with. I groomed her with a bristle brush, a comb and a zoom groom, something I was very happy to see as it had been a piece of equipment I’d used with Zena. I thought grooming time went quite well. I checked that I was doing the right things with the instructor that was with me and I seemed to be doing things right and the dog seemed quite happy with my grooming. Afterwards, we had a little playtime but she didn’t seem all that interested. Because it looked quite nice outside, the instructor suggested we all go out and sit on the benches. We did a bit more obedience whilst outside, practising the “wait” command with the dogs. Mine seemed a master at it and didn’t move once. She was very interested in the other person and dog that were out there with us though.

When we went back inside, that was the end of the day. The dogs were taken away to be put in the vans, we were thanked for coming and told we’d probably hear the outcome by the end of the following week as case reviews took a little while to be put in place. Dad turned up ten minutes later to take me away and I was glad the day was over, although feeling quite a bit more optimistic than I had in the morning. Although things hadn’t been perfect, I thought I’d done a good job and tried really hard to show that I could definitely make progress in the future should they decide I was ready to be put on the waiting list. I updated all my family and friends with positive news, telling them I hadn’t been perfect but I thought it might just have been enough.

Of course, I now know it was far from it. A day later, on Wednesday the 14th, I got a call in the afternoon from one of the staff members who had been at the assessment day to tell me that actually the case reviews had been completed that morning and much quicker than they’d expected and that she had my outcome for me. That being that the team had decided I was completely unsuitable for a Guide Dog due to the fact that my vocal praise and interaction with the dogs had been very poor and that actually my work in harness hadn’t been that great either. My problem solving abilities whilst working the dogs just hadn’t been good enough. To say I was crushed was an understatement. At first, I just couldn’t speak. I asked the instructor if there was no way they could reconsider, if there was anything I could do and if this was their final decision. No, no, yes, came the response. I was told that I did have the right to appeal if I was unhappy with the decision but that that was the only decision left available to me. When I hung up the phone, my dad, who hadn’t been with me during the call but who had answered the phone when it rang, was hovering hopefully in the background to hear the verdict; and couldnt believe his ears when I told him what they’d said.

The prospect of explaining the situation to everyone I know that has been following my progress with Guide Dogs over the years seemed daunting. How did I tell them I wasn’t good enough? How did I tell them how I felt about this? How did I explain that my mind was absolutely scrambled with the whole situation? My first call was to my Mum, who had been pre-warned by my dad that the news wasn’t good but who was absolutely dumbfounded when I explained things fully. My next messages were almost simultaneously to my two Guide Dog gurus, the two people I go to with every Guide Dog query or thought or feeling: Imi and Tiny. Both responded swiftly. Tiny by ringing me even though he was at work and Imi by picking up on the first ring. Both were shocked and didn’t seem to quite believe what I was telling them. Both apologised endlessly. Both tried to reassure me. Both tried to suggest how we could move forward from this point. But nothing was sinking in for me. I was just listening to their voices knowing they’d be my voices of reason throughout everything to come. They always are. All I knew was that I couldn’t let go of this yet. I had to fight it until I had no fight left, got the answer I wanted or an alternative to work on. Being unsuitable for a Guide Dog just wasn’t sitting well with me. If I was on assessment day, surely there was something I could do to rectify that? Surely this couldn’t be my only answer?

By the end of the day, I was certain I was going to appeal. I’d wobbled a bit, worrying maybe Guide Dogs were right, maybe the Seeing Dogs trainer had been right too. Maybe I was kidding myself. But Imi and Tiny didn’t think so. Without saying so they seemed to be silently agreeing with my mind that I should appeal the decision.

So appeal it I did. Over the next couple of weeks, with Imi and Tiny editing my original copy, we composed a letter that everyone seemed mostly happy with. In the end, the draft I sent to the Guide Dogs complaints team in Reading was the draft I was happy with. Just to be safe, I sent a copy via email and by post to the addresses provided. But I didn’t even need to send the printed copy in the end. To add to this, both Imi and my friend Jemma wrote supporting letters to assist mine in getting my point across fully. I really appreciated these and the words both wrote meant a lot to me. I felt that they both supported my letter well and got across the points I was trying to say from other perspectives. I sent the letters on the Tuesday evening before I caught the train up to see my brother and his family and got an almost immediate automatic response. A day later, I got an email telling me the complaint was being passed on to the southampton team and I could hope to hear from them soon. The necessary time they had to respond in before I could make any further comments was 15 working days. I didn’t expect them to take that long as I thought it would be quite unprofessional but I didn’t expect the response quite as swiftly as I got it. Only a day later, on the Thursday, I came down from having a shower to discover I had a voicemail from the Southampton Mobility Team’s service delivery manager asking if a meeting at my house with herself and their senior practitioner, actually the member of staff who had rang me to tell me the decision, on Monday 9th April at 2:30 would be ok? They wanted to come and discuss the decision they’d made and the response I’d made to it in my letter. I didn’t reply immediately. It was about to be the bank holiday and I was up visiting my brother. I wanted that time to be hassle free time not worrying about Guide Dogs or uni or anything else. So when I got home from his, I rang Guide Dogs and told them that her offer of a meeting suited me just fine. As soon as I’d got the call, I’d spoken to both Imi and Tiny, of course, and asked Tiny if he could do me the massive favour of being in attendance for the meeting. I didn’t fancy doing it on my own and didn’t think my parents were the right people to be there, not because they don’t have my best interests in mind, they do, but just because I think for them they are too emotionally attached and can’t see beyond the fact that Guide Dogs aren’t giving me what I desire. It wouldn’t matter to them if Guide Dogs’ reasons for not giving me a dog were totally justified; to them no reason is good enough and I appreciate their loyalty. But I knew Tiny would see things clearly. He’d fight my battles with me unless he thought I was wrong and then, subtly, he’d let me know I was fighting a losing battle. Amazingly, Tiny agreed; he checked with his wife and then confirmed not long after I asked him that they’d be there. His only advice was that I gave Guide Dogs fair warning that he was going to be in attendance so that they didn’t get defensive about it on arrival. I just emailed the team an amendment to my phone call to let them know and the response that arrived the same day was positive.

The appeal first stage meeting took place last Monday as scheduled. In my appeal process leaflet that I got with my assessment outcome letter, it explained all about the process of the appeal and what to expect. The first stage is, once the notification of appeal has been received, your local team will be informed and contact you to arrange an informal meeting to try and resolve the situation. This has to be with the service delivery manager of your team so that, if you don’t feel things have been resolved, the second stage can come into play. This is asking your team to have the case reviewed by a service delivery manager of another team. If that team don’t give you the outcome you want and you still feel you have grounds to continue, you can progress to the third stage of the appeal. The leaflet doesn’t describe what happens in the third stage but warns that the decision here is final. Tiny and his wife arrived three quarters of an hour before the southampton team so that we could discuss how we were going to angle the meeting. I just asked Tiny that he speak up if I don’t seem to be finding my voice or any time he felt he needed to. So that’s what he did. I recorded the whole meeting for my own listening afterwards and instead of taking notes. I did this at my mobility assessment in July and found it very helpful. The meeting was very intense. There were lots of questions asked, points made and helpful interjections from Tiny. I think, had he not been there, I would have completely fallen apart without Tiny’s input. He was great and I cannot stress how much I appreciated him coming and voicing his own opinions and thoughts to support me.

However, Guide Dogs are unmoving with their decision. To them, I’m still not suitable and my interaction with the dogs and the way I handle them in harness just isn’t what they’re looking for in a prospective Guide Dog owner. I didn’t expect them to change their mind. But it was good, in hindsight, to hear them explain fully where I’d gone wrong and why they’d made their decision. One thing that did change, however, was the finality of the decision. From the letter I received and the way the appeal process leaflet is worded, it made it seem that if they said no now and my appeal wasn’t successful, that meant I’d never be suitable for a dog, that this decision really was final. That’s not the case. Apparently, I can reapply in the future and I would be completely reassessed and my suitably be reconsidered for a dog. That, if nothing else, was reassuring to hear on Monday. After the meeting, I wasn’t feeling particularly optimistic about much. To be fair, I wasn’t feeling anything much at all, just absolute gratitude to Tiny and his wife for coming and relief that the meeting was over. But I was soon thinking things through, possibly not quite with a clear head at first but at least starting to make sense of things. During the meeting, it was made quite clear that I have two main areas I need to improve on before they would reconsider me for a dog: the way I interact with the dogs in all aspects of having one and the way I handle a dog in harness. The staff implied, though, that if I mastered the way I interact with the dogs, the way I handle them would probably improve on its own. Interaction is key, and the way I do it even more so. The only suggestions the staff gave me of ways to improve how I interact with dogs was to volunteer at a rescue centre. I am going to attempt to do this. Ive emailed my employment adviser to ask if she could help me find positions working with dogs. I’m also hoping to spend as much time as I can with friends and their Guide Dogs so that I can take note of how they are with their dogs and maybe even join in with things like grooming, free runs and play time. If anyone reading this has any other suggestions on how I can improve the way I interact with dogs please please let me know. Although Southampton think I’m unsuitable at the moment, I want to change their minds. I know I’m not going to change their minds overnight and it’s going to take a lot of work on my part to get to the point where my interaction with dogs is what they’re looking for but I’m willing to try. It doesn’t matter how many times they tell me not now for whatever reason, that won’t dampen my intense want for a Guide Dog. I’m still certain it would be the right mobility aid for me. I just need to make myself the right kind of applicant for a dog. I didn’t expect it to be this difficult but I’m not giving up. However long it takes to get that yes, it’ll be worth it. I’m not expecting it to be easy or any time soon. But I am intending it to happen sometime. Perhaps I need to be volunteering for someone or in actual work before I apply again. Maybe that will help, having a real routine of leaving the house in place. Perhaps having all my routes completed with My Guide will also help. All I know is that I’m at a point in my mindset where I’m at peace with their decision. I have Imi to thank for much of that for listening to my ramblings and guiding me in the right direction with my thoughts. I’m not totally happy with the decision. A bit of me still feels maybe a lot of the things they’re commenting on would be things I could progress with during training should I be matched with a dog. But perhaps I’m wrong. I’m sure when I eventually get to a point of being accepted and matched I’ll fully understand what they’re trying to tell me. From the Further Assessment day, most of me understands why they’ve said what they have about the handling and interaction. I was very uncertain with my commands and the way I used the lead and harness and I knew on the day that my vocal interaction wasn’t great. Maybe the improvements were true. They just weren’t quite improved enough for the team.

So there’s my plan. Continue trying my best to be the right kind of applicant. Carry on working on my routes with Jenny until I’m at a point where I know them fully. I want to have all my routes under my belt before I consider reapplying. In the meantime, I will find a way to spend as much time with as many dogs as I possibly can to work on my interaction skills. Also, I will persevere trying to find volunteering and employment positions in hope that these will open up more opportunities for needing a Guide Dog. I intend to email the southampton team at the end of next week when I have an appropriate draft written outlining my plans, asking for any help they can offer and telling them that I’m still as determined as I’ve ever been that one day I will be a Guide Dog owner. Their service delivery manager seemed like a very reasonable person and I feel that with her in charge there’s a possibility that the team are viewing me differently to how I presumed. I thought that they’d taken on board the negative comments given to them by Seeing Dogs’ trainer and this was probably counting against me. But they’ve reassured me that that wasn’t the case and the service delivery manager gave Tiny her word that any future dealings with me wouldn’t have any mention of Seeing Dogs in them. So I’m hopeful. Secretly terrified nothing I do will ever be enough to be suitable, but a little hopeful that if I really work my socks off with my routes, finding some kind of out-of-the-house routine and working on my interaction skills I’ll one day have done enough to be the kind of applicant they’re looking for. I can only try my best like I have been all this time and hopefully one day it will pay off the way I thought learning my routes and putting so much effort into that would. I’m determined that next time I apply, when Ive done everything I think I need to and am at a point where I think they’ll say yes, they really will say yes and I’ll be successful. But for now it’s just working on getting to that point. So without further ramble, here’s the account of Thursday’s My Guide session.

After a little break, on Thursday I was back to route learning, back to walking the pretty much hour-long walk into Woolston with Jenny. We’ve missed two weeks of My Guide because we’ve both been busy. The first Thursday we missed was because I was up in Stoke-On-Trent visiting my brother and his lovely little family and meeting my new niece for the very first time. Then, Jenny was away visiting her family the following Thursday so it was agreed that we’d just miss those weeks out. But yesterday we were back to it and, as a little added bonus, the weather had perked up for us too.

The outward journey into Woolston went quite well. I’d been a bit worried that I wouldn’t remember much of the route after having such a big break but my memory proved me wrong. Just after my last My Guide post, my Victor Reader Trek was returned to me with a new battery free of charge as according to HumanWare that had been the reason for its malfunction. However, not long into the journey yesterday — literally just after I’d walked out of my front door and powered on the unit — I discovered that HumanWare had been mistaken as not only was it not fixed, it was worse! I sent it away because when in orientation mode, the unit would suddenly and without warning stop working and become unresponsive to any button press, even the hard reset that’s supposed to revive it. But yesterday not only was it doing that, it was also telling me I didn’t have any maps installed and so it couldn’t access my location or any route instructions. It could still use my landmarks and some of these were still quite accurate for the 20 minutes that the Trek worked. Safe to say it’s definitely not fixed. Once I realised it wasn’t helping, I decided to do the route unaided. The Trek was annoying rather than helping me so I thought it was best that I just ignore it altogether. This is a good mind testing opportunity for me, seeing if I can remember where to go without the prompts from the Trek or assistance from Jenny. Mostly, I seemed to do quite well, especially considering I haven’t practised that route in a while.

As usual, we stopped in Coffee Mac’s for a little break. I decided I didn’t fancy apple juice so instead had a glass of milk. They didn’t have my favourite banana cake again so I decided to go for a slice of their homemade coffee and walnut cake. It was very different to my banana cake with butter icing filling and topping. Jenny had her usual Americano with hot milk on the side and treated herself to a toasted tea cake. I think we both agreed it was a very nice snack.

The walk home was just as successful, I felt, even if the weather wasn’t quite as nice. I seemed to remember which direction to go in and where crossings were. The only thing I’m not very good at without the Trek’s prompting is which street I’m on, have just left or am approaching. But I think this will come with more practice.

When we arrived back at my house, I was feeling quite tired. I thought this was probably due to the fact that we’d had a couple of weeks off and I hadn’t done that route for a while as even before our little break the last session was spent testing out the route to my sister’s school. That’s our plan for next week; now Jenny knows exactly where the school is and as long as my Trek is back in time, we should be able to record the new route and I should start retaining some of it, especially as Dad and I have walked it a few times.

Once we’d scheduled in our next two sessions and Jenny left, i went upstairs and phoned HumanWare. I wanted the malfunctioning Trek situation sorted asap, especially as it’s only recently supposed to have been fixed and I still haven’t really had it all that long. The person I spoke to on the phone was more than helpful and seemed quite surprised I was still having problems with the unit. His reaction seemed similar to mine and he agreed almost immediately that HumanWare would send a courier for the unit. I expected him to tell me they’d look at it and fix the issue but he said as the unit had already been in for repair once before not that long ago, they’d just issue me a brand new unit. To be honest, I think this is the best course of action as even if the missing maps are an easy issue to solve, the fact that they’ve already tried to fix the other orientation problems and failed suggests that the unit itself is faulty. They collected the unit yesterday and I’m hoping to have a replacement before my next My Guide session next Thursday. Although, there would be nothing wrong with trying to do the route unassisted by technology. But we’ll just have to wait and see. All I know is that I’m going to work hard on learning these routes and so having Jenny’s support and help is still vital for me.

PS: I just want to add a huge thank you to everyone who has supported me in any way during my Guide Dog journey, from when I was 14 right through having Zena last year, letting her go and then reapplying to Guide Dogs last year. Your support has been priceless to me and I can’t say thank you enough. From anyone who has read these rambling posts to those who have listened to me blabber on and on about having a Guide Dog, I appreciate you all. Special thanks to Imi and Tiny, of course. Without you both, I wouldn’t be anywhere with this situation. Tiny, your support always humbles me and I always appreciate any advice or opinion you have, even if I don’t agree immediately. Also, you coming to my meeting and offering your never ending support means the world to me, even more so as it was your wife’s birthday. I will appreciate it indefinitely and hope I’ll forever have your support with my Guide Dog journey and anything else I trouble you with. Imi, will what do I say? You’re my twin, my sister, my saving grace, usually my voice of reason. My world wouldn’t be the same without you and I’m so thankful we met almost 5 years ago. I hope I’ll always have you to advise me on any decisions I’m making. I hope you’ll always be able to make me see when I’m going wrong. I hope you’ll continue to put up with my incessant running commentary of my brain’s digest, mostly about Guide Dogs haha. I don’t know where I’d be if you didn’t. But you are always more than welcome to tell me to shut up; I won’t blame you. Thank you for everything you do for me, you truly are my soul sister for life and I’m here for you always, no matter what.

Open Uni: racing towards the end of my 3rd year of study

So here’s I am, at the beginning of April 2018, six months in and racing towards the end of my third year of Open University study. How on this earth I’ve reached this point already, I couldn’t tell you… But I have. Around this time three whole long years ago, I was at college, The Royal National College for the Blind in Hereford, wondering what the heck I was going to do with myself post June 13th; because by this point I’d already figured out I was leaving as quickly as I possibly could. Even then I don’t think I was really allowed to leave when I could. But back then I didn’t give a damn. I still don’t. But it is strange how your feelings towards things change over time, especially in hindsight. Now that I’ve been looking back on that segment of my life for quite some time, I wish I’d let it run its course, wish I hadn’t been so rushed to firmly leave it all behind me. But I did. And somewhere around this time three years ago, I was introduced to the idea of The Open University. I’d never heard of it until that employment support/further education/hell on earth session. That session when I was basically in unsweetened words told that I was wasting everyone’s time by being there if I didn’t come up with a serious plan about my plans for life after the little bubble I was in. Of course, I wasn’t listening to them. I did not care about a word they were saying, except for the hurtful ones that stung and sank in, like they always do. I wasn’t interested in furthering my education. I was interested in getting employed and supporting myself. I didn’t want to be sitting in classrooms again for at least the following three years studying towards a degree I didn’t really give a damn about. But they were adamant that that was the right path; for my benefit or for the college’s success rate I wasn’t too sure. But by this point three years ago, employment prospects weren’t looking bright. I still had no idea whatsoever what I wanted to do job-wise, let alone having a career! All I knew was that I wanted out of that situation, that college, that bubble and nothing whatsoever to do with anything similar anytime soon. So university? Not a chance in hell! But then that day. That day I was worn down to the point of tears. So frustrated by nobody listening to my ideas, which to be fair were few and mostly futile. Then those words: distance learning… The Open University… a different pathway… studying from home… a tailor-made degree… And I knew that was it. If they could cater for my additional needs, if there was a likely chance I wouldnt fall flat on my face attempting this thing and if, at long bloody last, it would shut those who’d been going on and on and on endlessly at me about going to university up, that was the answer. The Open University was the way.

So I signed up. At first, to study an open degree, a degree containing six modules of my choosing of any particular subjects I fancied. It didn’t’t have to follow any pattern, rule, particular subject area. It was all down to me. And after being told what I should do by so many people for so long, that sounded so refreshing to me. Plus, it meant I got things my way: studying from home and working towards something that might enhance my end goal of gaining employment. It all looked good. Even the signing up process was fairly simple. No UCAS. No writing special letters to get a place. Not even any pass grades necessary to secure me a spot on the cours. Just a uni application, student finance application and hope that everything went through smoothly.

Clearly, as I’m three years into the crazy journey, things went more than smoothly. In fact, I was accepted long before the deadline date of my first year and got stuck in straight away. Ive never received a score lower than the required pass mark of 40% and I haven’t quit, yet… No, I’m too close to that end goal to dare now. It would be throwing far too much away at a stupid point to do so. But I’m not as close to that end goal as I planned to be three years ago; three years ago when I signed up to the open degree, I planned to do two modules per year and be finishing my studies just after my21st birthday this May, ready to go and grab a job with both hands this summer. But due to my forever changing mind, that didn’t happen. My first year of study went perfectly. I studied AA100: the arts past and present, my first module, from October 2015 through to May 2016. In February 2016, I decided to add a second module to my calendar and began studying K101, my first Health and Social Care module. Then, in October 2016, I was signed up to complete my first full Literature module, A230. But then I changed my mind and decided I wanted to work towards a Health and Social Care degree instead. So the student support team successfully swapped my course from A230 to K118, telling me that K101 would count towards my now preferred degree but sadly my AA100 credits were useless. I was a bit sad about that as it had been the first module I’d chosen to do and I had enjoyed it. Just not as much as the Health and Social Care ones. Last year, I completed K118 by mid May and discovered I’d passed it in the July, by which point I’d registered to study my current modules. Because I was brave last July, I went back to my intended plan of doing two modules per year and therefore completing the degree quicker. I chose K217 and K240 to make up the whole Level 2 segment of my degree. And I’ve thoroughly enjoyed both modules, honestly. Doing two Level 2 modules side by side is a challenge and I’m not sure yet if I’m going to tackle two Level 3 modules simultaneously next year or not. It just depends on what other things I have going on, I’ve also been working with an employment support officer from my local council and I’m hoping soon something will come of that. Even if it’s only some voluntary work, it’ll be something to boost my CV.

Studying two modules side by side has given me some variation though, despite my struggles. It’s meant that when I’m getting bored of one module’s content, I can switch to studying the other one and not get too bored. It’s quite a lonely study choice, though, I feel. Having the supportive tutors is great and the support of the Facebook groups set up for each module is also a bonus. But there’s no face to face stuff any more. When I first started, there was monthly-ish face to face tutorials local to you to attend, which gave you an opportunity to discuss your study progress not only with your tutor but with fellow students. I was always too miserable to go and I think the university found that less and less people were attending the face to face sessions so called them off. There’s still the occasional day school for each module, but after the one I attended at the start of AA100 I’d never go to another. I just found it a complete waste of my time. Not only that but it was in Reading, a good little while away from me, and I had to take my parents to help me out. Not something I fancy doing again.

Recently, I’ve figured out how the tutor group and online forums work. Due to my still lacking ICT skills, I only ever attempted and failed to use the forums before. But now I’ve figured out how they work, for my future modules I’m going to make more of an effort to use them because now I can see how beneficial they are not only for communicating with your tutor in an alternative way to email, but with other students too. It might make future modules feel less isolating. I think OU would definitely be better if I was doing other things too; for example, a part-time job or voluntary role. But I still think, overall, it was the right pathway for me to take and I can’t wait to graduate either next summer or the summer after.

Currently, I’m completing the last two TMA’s (Tutor Marked Assignments) I have to do this academic year, one for each module. One deadline is the 26th of this month and the other is the 10th of May. Naturally, I’m currently working more on the one with the sooner deadline, which is for K217 and is 2500 words. It felt more complicated and hard work from the assignment guidance, too, so I want to get most of it done to the best of my ability before I even consider tackling the other one. Plus, if I don’t have time to tackle it until after the April 26th deadline, I still have two weeks to finish it before its own deadline. After that, I then have the exam components of both modules, K217’s an EMA (Examiner marked assignment), and for K240 my first OU exam. K217’s EMA question has already been released. It’s a follow-on project from TMA05, the one I’m currently working on. In TMA05, I have to write an interim report on a case study from the six we have to choose from about which types of health and social care services, in a locality of our choosing, can make the case study’s fictional character’s life better… it’s quite a mouthful! The case study I’ve chosen is about a 32-year-old man who’s recently been diagnosed with high-functioning Autism. Before his diagnosis, he worked and had an active life but gradually the stress and anxiety became too much for him and he withdrew into himself, losing his job in the process. His two main focuses are gaining employment again and getting into a relationship with someone. He’s also interested in joint a self-advocacy service in his local area to find support. Other support groups for people with Autism are also an option to him. His parents aren’t very understanding of his diagnosis but his brother is very supportive and wants to help in any way possible. So I have to chose a target audience to aim my report at and write it to them, using appropriate language and correct and factual sources to validate what I’m writing. I’m writing mine to informal carers of those who have a diagnosis of Autism, such as the main character’s brother, to inform them of what services are available to them and their relative. I’m basing my report in Hampshire, England, being my home county. You have to specify why you’ve chosen the particular case study and other than write “well this one looked good”, I thought I’d do a better job and explain that I’m hoping to go into a health and social care type of job after my degree, maybe even working with people with Autism, and so writing this report and conducting the research it requires allows me to delve deeper into that field and gain more insight into it than I would have had otherwise. So far, I’ve written a basic introduction to my report and started some of the sub-headings. Ive filled in a couple of them with some statistical and factual information I’ve found online. Ive started writing my reference list just so I don’t find myself miles behind with it when I’ve finished the report and having to comb through it to find all the references I made. I think keeping on top of the reference list will be very useful in helping ensure I’m including all the right information. It’s going to be a lengthy piece of work, I’m already feeling that, but I’m miles ahead with it compared to where I was with it this time last week. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing with it this time last week and was terrified I wasn’t going to be able to do much with it, resulting in a really low assignment score on my record, dragging my overall percentage down. Thankfully, I have a great tutor and had a lightbulb-ish moment and managed to pull something that doesn’t sound completely rubbish together. Next week, I’m hoping to get a lot further ahead with it. I’m hoping to have written a lot of the sections out and done a lot of the formatting. I know I still have a while until the deadline yet but I want to get it done asap. There’s still the other module’s TMA to consider and then the EMA. And exam, neither of which will be easy. I don’t want to lose any marks from hurriedly submitting something that isn’t that great, especially this late in the course. I’ve already had to do that once this academic year and that wasn’t a proud moment.

Ive done pretty well assignment score wise this year. I think the lowest I’ve had this year is possibly 63% but I’m more than happy with that as it’s still a safe 23% above the required pass of 40. Other than that, my scores have most been in the 70s range, the highest being 78. I’m happy with that, especially considering I’m studying two Level 2 modules simultaneously. I’d expected the scores for both modules to be lower and was going to settle for somewhere in the 50s for all assignments this year as long as it meant I passed both modules. But I’ve outdone my expectations, which is always a nice feeling. The only score I have to worry about is my latest submission for K240, which hasn’t been returned to me yet. I submitted it half finished, something I’ve never done for me, and at quite a low standard. But to be honest, I was just glad it got submitted at all. That was two weeks ago Monday and I’m still nervously awaiting the score. Luckily, my other two scores so far for K240 should make up for it if it is particularly bad like I’m predicting. Hopefully, though, as the final TMA for K240 doesn’t look to difficult from the assignment guidance and note taking I’ve done, I should be able to achieve quite a high score for it which will mean that the three decent TMA scores will keep the overall grade pretty high even with one low score, even if that score is worth 30% of the overall continuous mark, which in itself is worth 50% of the total mark for this module…

But there’s no point in panicking about it, getting wound up in percentages and scores and what ifs. I should pass and that’s all that matters. Unless something dramatically bad happens in my K240 exam, I should pass two Level 2 modules in one academic year. And for me, that’ll be an achievement and a “look, I can do it!”

So roughly two months left to go. The exam date if the 5th of June and that’s also my EMA deadline too. I’m hoping to have my EMA completed by the 27th of May, really, as that’s the date Kieran is coming to stay for my birthday and means I’ll only have to do revision for my K240 exam while he’s here. But we’ll just have to see. I’m not rushing my EMA, especially as it’s so important for my grade. But I’m sure I’ll do fine. I know that my panic about running out of time won’t reflect these words in about a week’s time, but I’m sure I’ll do fine… I have done two years running and things have been going really well running two modules side by side this year so there’s no reason why that can’t continue for the exam period too. I’ll be a really lucky girl if it does! Fingers crossed, though. Two months and it’ll be my summer break and I’ll have hours of study-free time ahead of me to do with whatever I wish. Two months time and I’ll be wishing for october to hurry up so I can get back to studying!