Category Archives: Disability

Mobility Update: My Guide Session 36

Last Thursday, Jenny met me at my house for our second My Guide session of the year. If you’re someone who’s kept up with my ramblings, you may have noticed that there hasn’t been a post documenting my My Guide antics for quite sometime and also that the title of this post is out of sync with the last My Guide post, way back in November of last year. This isn’t because I haven’t had a My Guide session but because I’ve been too busy — and sometimes too lazy — to write a My Guide update for quite sometime. Not because there hasn’t been anything to write about either, may I add. But now February has arrived and I’ve told myself to be more positive and proactive with life than I was last month, I thought I should write a post to update about what has been happening in my undocumented My Guide sessions. Ive named this post My Guide session 36 but honestly I can’t actually remember what number we’re at now, other than we’ve now had two sessions in 2019 and there was at least one before Christmas. So I’ve chosen 36 as the post before was 32 and added a spare session in for good measure just in case I’m forgetting at least one.

Before Christmas, I think in my last post I mentioned that I was getting frustrated with the route to my new volunteering office where I’d hoped to start volunteering ages ago but had been delayed due to the fact that the route wasn’t sinking in so I couldn’t get myself there independently as I wanted to. By Christmas, Jenny and I agreed that it was more important for me to actually start the voluntary role than to be able to get myself there independently. So, I asked my Dad if he’d be willing, on his days off, to drop me off and pick me up again a few hours later. I was keen to start as soon as possible now as I’d spent quite a long time putting starting off while I learnt the route. Dad was more than happy to be my taxi and consequently, I had my first experience of volunteering last Wednesday when I went to the office for two hours. As it went really well, I’m due to go back for another session tomorrow. Although it irritates me that I’m not getting myself there independently as I’d planned to by learning the route there with Jenny’s help, I really feel that gaining the skills and experience the opportunity offers me is way more important than adding another route to my list. Of course, it would’ve been ideal if I was travelling there myself and in time Jenny and I hope to continue working on the route so that eventually I am able to get myself there but the fact that I’m now actually volunteering has given me much more satisfaction than having another route under my belt. I kept the organisation waiting far too long as it was and am very grateful for the opportunity they’ve given me as well as their patience and adaptability. I’m really hoping that all future times I spend there will be as positive as last week was and again I have Jenny to thank for recommending me for the role and helping me organise and attend the initial chat to get things sorted.

Since we’ve abandoned the volunteering route for now, Jenny and I needed to work out what was next. In our last session before Christmas, we decided to just enjoy a walk down into Woolston. I was still practising a route, of course, so it wasn’t a waste of a session. The Woolston route is 99% under my belt now, and I only hesitated in two places when I practised it in December. After that, Jenny and I had quite a long break before seeing each other again due to the Christmas break, other arrangements and the fact that I stayed up with Kieran and family for 10 days in January. We met back up on the 24th of January, when we again walked into Woolston so that we could sit and devise a plan of what to do with our future sessions now we’d temporarily given up on the volunteering route. The walk into Woolston went well yet again and I only hesitated slightly in a couple of places. We went into Piggy’s Coffee Shop for drinks, Jenny’s her usual of an Americano with hot milk on the side and mine a salted caramel milkshake. Jenny was going to have a toasted tea cake but Piggy’s didnt have any. I had a cheese and ham croissant and it was lovely. While we warmed up and enjoyed our refreshments, we brainstormed ideas of what to do next, with me reminding Jenny of the other routes I’d been hoping to learn next and Jenny advising me to choose which I felt were the most important. In the end, we decided on refreshing my memory on the route to my doctors surgery and pharmacy, which I thought might have changed a little since I last did it as there had been building work there, and learning how to get to my grandparents house. As I described in previous My Guide posts, originally we tried to learn a walking route to my grandparents in the summer last year. But between us we’d agreed that the route was too long and too dangerous to pursue. Since, we’ve been focused on the volunteering route so haven’t been able to revisit other ways of getting to my grandparents. But there is other ways. I can get a bus, or walk, from my house into Woolston and then get a bus that takes me to a bus-stop near Nan and Grandad’s, from which there’s a short walk to get to their front gate. So, Jenny and I have agreed to tackle both new routes, as well as revisiting the Woolston and school walks I’ve already learnt. As both the grandparents and doctors routes lead off the Main Street in Woolston, I am able to practice the Woolston route each time we do those. At some point, I’ll just randomly do the school route just so that Jenny can ensure I’ve got it sussed.

So, after deciding on a plan, last Thursday we put it into action. As it was incredibly cold, with snow forecast, we caught the bus into Woolston and walked from there up to my doctors surgery. It’s a relatively short and uncomplicated walk from the main Woolston high street and didn’t take us long to complete. The only tricky patch is a particularly cluttered patch of pavement where I have to concentrate hard in order to navigate all the obstacles, including parked cars. When we got back to the Main Street, we decided to go for refreshments, but in a new place we hadn’t been to together before called Woolston Cafe. It’s very nice and cosy in there, which was a relief as it really was freezing outside; we’d even had a snow shower! Jenny decided to have a hot chocolate and I went for an Oreo milkshake. Jenny said the hot chocolate was nice and although my milkshake was too, I found it pricy for the size. Before heading home on the bus, we popped into see Dad quickly.

As the doctors route was so successful, this week we’re going to walk into Woolston and continue on to the doctors surgery. Jenny is also going to remind me where the entrance to the pharmacy is. Also, there’s the option of walking on the other side of the road, and using a controlled crossing to safely cross each time, to avoid having to navigate the cluttered patch of pavement so we’re going to trial this. I’m looking forward to seeing if it makes a big difference to the route. Either way, I don’t think it’ll be long until I have this route mastered. We’ve already decided that next week we’ll try the new route to my grandparents house. I’m really hoping it’s not too complicated so that I can start using it regularly.

So, as it did all last year, My Guide is going very well and I’m still very grateful to be working with Jenny. I couldn’t have hoped for a better match when I signed up to My Guide just over a year ago and am pleased Jenny and I are able to continue working together. I hope it continues for a very long time, until I’ve exhausted all potential route ideas. I hope we’re able to remain in touch afterwards, too, because I consider Jenny a friend even though our relationship is supposed to be purely a working one. I don’t think you can work with someone as long as Jenny and I now have and not become friends, unless of course you don’t get along. I can’t thank Jenny enough for all the help she’s given me over the last year and hope she continues to feel that our sessions are worthwhile so long may they continue.

Advertisements

Mobility Update: My Guide Sessions 31 and 32

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve had my 31st and 32nd My Guide sessions, both of which practiced the route to the location of the voluntary position I’m soon to start. I haven’t written about my 31st session because I didn’t feel i t was very positive. I kept snagging my cane on obstacles along the shoreline of the route and kept predicting the turnings and crossings wrong. As usual, the first run of the route was worse than the second, by which time things had started to come back to me.

Yesterday, however, things felt better with the route. Afterwards, I didn’t feel in such a bad and negative mood about things, despite the fact that Jenny and I both agreed I won’t be walking the route independently for a while yet. I’m not even remembering parts of the route right so there’s no way I’ll have the confidence to do it on my own anytime soon. It went better, though; I remembered things more accurately and didn’t knock into so many obstacles along the way. This week, though, there was something new about our journey. We were on a new bus service just launched on my estate. The Bluestar bus 17 has just been extended to our estate and further out the other way across the city. For years, we’ve only ever had First busses on our estate, with the First bus city red 11 running promptly every 7 minutes. Since the Bluestar was launched on Sunday, the city red has upped its frequency to every 5 minutes. As the 17 has been set at every 10, the amount of busses trundling around the estate is crazy. It was always pretty busy with the frequency of the city red but now busses practically chase each other around the estate. The crazy thing is that they both run the same route into the city centre. How both companies are going to profit from the changes, I do not know. Except for the fact that the 17 runs directly from home to the hospital and home to the train station, it doesn’t have much advantage over the city red. However, the busses are a much more comfortable ride. The seats are nicer, the drivers seem to drive more steady and the bus’s suspension doesn’t seem to vibrate every bump in the road the way the city reds do. They’re also quieter, meaning it’s easier to hear the stop announcements, which were on for our inward journey into town but sadly not on the way back. I did tweet the Bluestar help account on Twitter thanking them for a nice service but asking that they ensure they’re consistent with keeping the stop announcements on and loud. Hopefully, they’ll take note of the comment, especially as the service is so new and feedback must be important to them. I can’t say First are particularly consistent in keeping the announcements on, because sometimes they’re off, but they’ve got much better since I started independent bus travel. The is difference travelling on the 17 is that it stops on the opposite side of the road to the 11 when we need to get off. This means I need to walk parallel to where I usually walk on the other side of the pavement until I reach the tactile markings and can cross. Then, I’m back to the part of the route I’ve been learning, just a little further down the road. I liked this more as it meant I missed out a load of the obstacles along the shoreline. Jenny, on the other hand, wasn’t too keen as the crossing, although marked with tactiles, is incredibly busy, with lots of busses going up and down the road. It isn’t a pelican crossing either, so I don’t have the reassurance of traffic lights controlling the vehicles. But I felt quite safe. I could easily hear when there was cars or busses moving and when the were far away or still for me to cross safely. If I don’t learn how to cross safely, it’d mean that I’d have to always catch the 11 whenever I was going to volunteer to ensure I was on the right side of the road for the route. But I’m hoping Jenny feels happy enough for us to practice outcomes for catching either bus so that I have a choice. The 17s really are much nicer to travel on but of course the 11s are more frequent. As they run the same route, so there’s no more learning or adjusting for me, I’ll probably just catch whichever turns up when I’m waiting.

We met up on a Tuesday this week because Kieran is flying down to stay for a week from tonight onwards. Then, next Wednesday, I’m flying up to Newcastle for two weeks to stay with him. We’ve got quite a busy week ahead while he’s here and I just didn’t think I’d be able to fit My Guide in with everything else going on. We didn’t meet last week because Jenny was feeling really unwell; thankfully, she’s feeling much better now. Luckily, I come back on a Wednesday, meaning we can meet up on our usual weekday the following day and continue where we left off. As of yet, we haven’t done the wander around the city centre that I want to do just to refresh my mind after the disaster I had during my Guide Dog assessment. Obviously, as I got myself out of the muddle and managed to pass, it didn’t worry the staff too much. But I didn’t like that feeling of not knowing where I was or was going, especially in such an important and pressured environment as the assessment. Hopefully, if things go well with our next practice of the route and it doesn’t put me in too much of a bad mood, Jenny and I can go for a wander around town and I’ll know what I’m doing when I go into town independently again one day. But for now, I’m going to enjoy my break and time with Kieran and not worry about routes.

Mobility Update: My Guide Session 30 and the news I’ve been waiting for

Last week, while I nervously anticipated the phone call from Guide Dogs following my Guide Dog assessment the previous Thursday, the phone call that could either put me on the waiting list for a guide dog or set me back to square 1 again, it was time for another My Guide session with Jenny, who had just come home from her cruise holiday. As I had the cookery course on the Thursday, we’d agreed to meet on the Tuesday instead. Clearly, as so much had happened in the week she’d been away, we had loads to catch up on. I wanted to hear all about her holiday and tell her all about the assessment she hadn’t even known was happening. Luckily, we were doing the route to CommuniCare, the place I’m soon to start volunteering at, and that means a bus journey into the city centre, a welcome opportunity for us to chat away.

I’m still not feeling over enthusiastic or happy about the voluntary route. I don’t know what it is about it but I’m just not comfortable with it like I feel with the Woolston and school routes. Maybe it’s because I’ve got so used to learning lengthy routes that now I’m doing a short convenient one it just doesn’t sit well with me. It could also be because there are so many obstacles in my path along the journey and so many things my cane snags on along the inner shoreline of the route. Because the majority of the Woolston and school routes are walking in a straight line, I don’t need to follow the shoreline with my cane constantly. But as I’m still only just getting used to the voluntary route, I keep my cane close to the edge mostly to reassure myself of my precise location. I’m hoping that, in time, as I get used to the route and hopefully comfortable with it, I’ll be able to anticipate the snags and not need the constant reminder of where I am. Hopefully, as I get more familiar with the route, I’ll become more comfortable with it. As it’s actually quite a vital route, in that it’ll get me to the place that’ll help me gain vital employability skills, I really need to like it and get to know it well. The Woolston and school routes, although useful to have in my route availability and choices, were only learned so I could get out and about more and because Guide Dogs said in order for me to be considered for a dog I needed more lengthy routes. As I’ve learned them, especially the Woolston route, I’ve grown to realise how nice it is to have a long stroll to get somewhere rather than taken the 15-minute bus there. Obviously, I’m not sure I’ll be saying that when it’s pouring down or we’ve got fierce winds.

Despite my uncertainty surrounding the route, Jenny seemed very pleased with how our two attempts went. We calculated that we haven’t actually practised the route in a whole month and I still managed to retain quite a lot of the direction and crossing places. Annoyingly, there was roadworks going on around the pelican crossing, cutting off one of the control poles, which happened to be the one that has the spinning cone that allows me to cross safely. We fixed this by Jenny prompting me when it was safe to cross; but if I’d been on my own I’d have had to hope for a kindly member of the public or listen for the slow in the traffic in front of me and take my chances that the lights had changed when the cars were still. This, of course, is risky as just because the cars are still doesn’t actually mean that the lights have changed and it’s safe to go. This is why all pelican crossings should have both the audio cue and spinning cone, so that if one option is unavailable the other is there as backup.

To be honest, even I noticed on the second attempt of the route that I was remembering things slightly better. I’m hoping that, when we practice it again this week, things will come back to me even more because there will only be a week, rather than a month, between the attempts. While we were on the bus home, I discussed with Jenny how we can make the best of the time during our sessions. After my Guide Dog assessment the previous week, I’d become more aware of how I really need to practice navigating around southampton city centre independently. Last week, I’d got horribly lost during my assessment and if it hadn’t been for the patience of the instructors and me not freaking out, I’d have never got back on track. I need to be more confident with the routes I don’t use as regularly independently, such as navigating around town and getting to my pharmacy and doctors surgery. Jenny agreed that when we practice the CommuniCare route we can add a bit on and practice around town too. I just want to be confident with all my routes so that if anyone springs going somewhere unexpected on me, like the instructors did by asking me to navigate around town on a weekday afternoon, I can be completely confident in the knowledge that I know what I’m doing and where I’m going. I know Jenny can help with that. After all, I wouldn’t have got anywhere near this far pursuing my Guide Dog application without her patience, consistency and support. I owe the phone call that came the following day to Jenny and I hope, although I’m rubbish at saying it in person, that she knows how unbelievably grateful I am for her.

As I’ve hinted, a phone call came the following day, a phone call I’ve been dreaming of for at least the last seven years, since the very first time I applied for a Guide Dog. It didn’t come quite as quickly as I hoped, though; they kept me waiting all Wednesday. In the morning, Dad and Tamsin, who was on her school half term, and I went into town and did some Christmas shopping. Then, we popped to Bitterne for some bits and pieces. Then, we headed to my grandparents house because they’d asked Dad to paint their decking. I spent the afternoon moving from the chair at their little table in their kitchen, to the side door doorstep, to pacing up and down waiting for the phone call. Then, at exactly 3:44pm, my phone started to ring. By this point, I’d started to wonder if I’d remembered right, whether they’d actually said they’d ring and tell me Wednesday afternoon or not. Obviously, this was just my nerves kicking in as I know case review happens Wednesday and that they ring you to tell you the outcome afterwards. I should know, I’ve been rung after two separate case reviews in the past. But no phone call in the past was like this one. With shaking fingers, I double-tapped with two fingers to answer the call and put the phone to my ear. It was Guide Dogs calling and the lady who did my Guide Dog assessment the previous Thursday. She asked if I was OK first and then she said it: We’ve put you on the waiting list”… She then went on to say she knows I’ve been working for this for “a few months” and asked if I was happy. To be honest, I was shocked, stunned, astounded, amazed. But not in the usual ways I am when Guide Dogs phone. This time, it was for all the right reasons that I could barely get any words out, that my eyes had misted over and that my hands were shaking even more. I thanked her, told her of course I was happy and thanked her again. She didn’t tell me any more information than that, just that I have been placed on the Guide Dogs waiting list for my very own furry companion and guide. All that dreaming and scheming and planning and hoping is over. I AM ON THE GUIDE DOGS WAITING LIST FOR A DOG! I AM GOING TO GET A DOG IN THE FUTURE!

As soon as I disconnected the call, all my family members in the house were there, waiting. They’d seen me start this journey so long ago. “It’s good news,” I muttered, “I’m on the waiting list.” And the cheer went up. Then they started asking questions. Was I happy? How long would I wait? What else did they say? Why wasn’t I looking/sounding happier? I didn’t have many answers, other than they hadn’t said anything else or given any indication as to how long I’m likely to wait. As soon as the noise calmed down a bit, I phoned my Mum. She’s supported me, along with most of my other family members, throughout this journey, since I was a little 14-year-old with a faraway dream. But she didn’t answer. So I rang the next person who needed to know, the one who’s helped me in every choice and decision I’ve made with Guide Dogs. My sister Imi answered almost straight away: “Yes?” She asked expectantly. “I’m on the waiting list,” I tell her, in what I realise isn’t the ecstatic tone she’s expected all these years. But I’m just so shocked. She squeals, tells me that it’s brilliant, which of course, underneath the disbelief, I know it is. We chat for ages, until my VoiceOver tells me Mum’s trying to get through. I tell Imi I’ll ring her back and call Mum. When I tell her, she can’t believe it either; she swears and has her happy voice reserved for really great things. We chat for a little while and I know she feels like me, overjoyed but disbelieving and relief. The fighting is over. I haven’t got to argue with anyone any more. Ive proved myself. Ive got on the waiting list because I’ve shown them I’m suitable, deserving and that a dog would have such a massive impact on my future. After Mum has hung up, telling me how proud and happy she is, I ring Imi back and we analyse everything that was said like we always do. We talk about how I’d started to get unsettled when the call hadn’t came but how that should’ve reassured me because the bad news phone calls are always made first, or that’s how it seems. After all, I should know that. We talk about how it probably wont be the quickest wait ever and I joke that, knowing my luck, I’ll probably wait three years or something now for my first match. Then, together we look at the dogs pictured on both the southampton and Yorkshire mobility teams facebook pages, talking about which names we couldn’t bear to have. I think I’m more open than Imi to daft names, because after all I’d take anything.

After Imi, the next person who needs a phone call is a man who’s supported me in everything since he first met me at 14. He was the best cricket captain I’ve ever had and a support I now couldn’t be without. I text him first and asked if he was available for a phone call. My phone buzzed with an incoming call and I told him. His joy matched that of my parents, possibly even overtook some of my family members. And it made me feel happier somehow. It made it seem more real telling people, made it true. It felt like a bad cheating dream where I was going to wake up and I’d still be waiting for the phone call. But I was definitely awake. Tiny and I agreed to meet in southampton soon and have celebratory Costa, because recently we both have a lot to be happy about. After I’d ended that call, I started sending out the text messages, first to Kieran and then to everyone else I knew would want to hear, to everyone that had supported me in some way along this really bumpy road. Unfortunately, Dad had already posted on facebook about it so Kieran had already heard. I was a bit disappointed because I’d wanted him to hear it first from me. Although I know Dad was only posting because he was so excited for and proud of me for finally getting here, it did bother me because I hadn’t even managed to tell many people. I texted Jenny, the lady who had been Zena’s owner after me, Josh, my friend Wayne who has a Guide Dog called Vince, my employment officer, auntie Clare, a lady who used to work with me at school and her family, Jemma and her mum, the service user representative who’d helped me so much and as my texts went out, messages of congratulations and joy came flooding in, everyone so happy to hear this news at last. Later, I put my own post up on facebook and in the social groups set up for anyone involved with Guide Dogs and the response I got was amazing. So many people so happy for me.

Honestly, though, I still don’t think it’s fully sunken in yet… It’s silly really because it’s something I’ve been dreaming of for so long. But I think because it’s been the goal for so long I never really imagined what I’d do once I reached it. It’s like I mentioned to Imi during our phone call, we’d never actually planned for once I’m on the list, it was always aiming to get on the list. But of course I’m happy. Overjoyed, super excited and still ecstatic, actually, even nearly a week on. I just can’t believe it’s really going to happen. Whether in the near or far future, I don’t know, but one day I actually am going to get a phone call from a Guide Dogs Mobility Instructor to tell me they’ve found a potential match. Because that’s the next step now and it’s just waiting. I hope it won’t be a horribly long and drawn out wait, but however long it takes I know it’ll be worth it. It already is. All that fighting and arguing and perseverance is already worth it, because I’ve achieved my goal, reached my aim. I AM ON THE GUIDE DOGS WAITING LIST. So from now on, I’ve just got to continue working on my routes, learning new ones and practice my existing ones. I hope that I’m allowed to continue working with Jenny until I get that phone call and even after I’ve got the dog to familiarise us with my routes. I don’t know how long our partnership will continue now I’ve reached my goal of going on the waiting list for a dog but I hope the powers that be see that Jenny’s help and support where my routes are concerned is still so important to me. Again, I just need to reiterate that I wouldn’t be where I am now, on the Guide Dogs waiting list, without Jenny and I’m so thankful to have had her support over the last almost year. I’m also thankful to the Guide Dogs staff who have been involved in this most recent application and in the little bit running up to this application. To the service delivery manager, mobility instructor and Guide Dog mobility instructor who have been a part of this application and have made the decision to put me on the waiting list, thank you. I’ll be forever grateful to you all for giving me this chance to prove myself and this opportunity to have the mobility and independence I’ve been craving for so long. Thank you for being so open after the appeal in March and being so accommodating to the ideas I had for making the assessment process more stress-free for me. Together, it’s obviously worked because you’ve now deemed me suitable for a Guide Dog, so much so that I’ve already done enough for you to place me on the waiting list. I can’t put into words what that means.

Lastly, to everyone who’s supported me throughout this journey, my gratitude is infinite. Imi, Kieran, mum, Tiny, Dad, Jenny, Jemma, Jemma’s mum, Yvette, Amanda, Wayne, Lacey and Grant, Nan and Grandad, Auntie Clare, Josh, the service user representative, Tamsin, everyone who’s supported me on Facebook and Twitter… absolutely everyone who’s ever supported me, I couldn’t have done it without you. To Tiny’s wife Nicola, thank you for spending hours on your birthday sat in my living room while we battled at my appeal. You and your husband, who I have so much to thank for, have helped and supported me more than you’ll ever know and I’ll never be able to thank you enough. For everyone who’s listened to me talk about Guide Dogs all these years. The support of everyone in my life during this journey is what has kept me going, what has fuelled my determination. In March, when they said I was unsuitable, I was ready to give up. But Mum, Dad, Imi, Tiny, Kieran and everyone else I spoke to about it filled me with confidence and support and urged me on, until I made the decision to keep fighting. Without them, I’d have given up the fight and wouldn’t be sat here now, ON THE WAITING LIST. Who knows how long it’ll take until I’m matched. But for now, the hard work is done. The goal is met. And the relief I feel almost overtakes the joy.

Mobility Update: Guide Dogs Guide Dog Assessment October 2018

Well, I really didn’t expect to be writing this post so soon after my last, where I spoke about how I’d been recommended for the next stage of the Guide Dogs application process, the Guide Dog assessment after passing my mobility assessment no problem. But I am. On Monday, I got a call from one of Southampton’s GDMIs to say that she and the lady who’d done my mobility assessment would be coming out on Wednesday to conduct my guide dog assessment. Naturally, I was astounded, in the happiest possible way. The GDMI said she’d be bringing a dog with her, a black Labrador retriever called Yogi, who’s 18 months old and has just started his advanced training with her. Apparently, he was a moderate to fast walker, very enthusiastic and eager to please. I was excited even more. The proof that they were going to bring a dog immediately evaporated some of the nerves I usually have surrounding anything involving short handle walks with Guide Dogs staff. They just make me super nervous and in the past that has ruined assessments. The idea that there would be an actual dog to walk with on the assessment made my confidence boost just slightly.

Then, on Tuesday, the mobility instructor who’d done my mobility assessment rang. The GDMI hadn’t had all the details for the assessment so the mobility instructor needed to ring and confirm things. It’s lucky that she did because somehow there had been a mix up of dates. The assessment was scheduled for Thursday (today) at 2pm. As I’d already started arranging things for it to be the following day, I was a little thrown that it now wasn’t going to be then. But really I didn’t care. It was still this week, still not far away, still only a fortnight after I’d had my mobility assessment. For me, things have never moved this fast with Guide Dogs so I had no reason not to be happy and somewhat excited. Obviously, by this morning I was nervous as hell. Previous experience with these assessments showed I was no good at them. In fact, exactly a year ago to the day today I had my last Guide Dog assessment, which went terribly and nearly crushed me. Thankfully, today’s experience was a breath of fresh air in comparison.

The two instructors arrived at 2 as promised, bringing the adorable and very loveable Yogi with them. He’s definitely enthusiastic as the GDMI described. Also full of energy and very loving. He really has a lovely temperament. To start with, we had a conversation in the lounge where the GDMI asked me lots of matching questions. I found this rather exciting as I’ve never been asked all those questions before. Even at my Guide Dog assessment last year, we never got to that part. I got to specify all sorts of things: I’d be happy to have any breed/sex/coat-type dog; I need my dog to like working on busses and on routes ranging from 10-60 minute routes; I’d like a dog that is or could become comfortable on trains and planes; I’d be happy to start training with the smallest amount of notice possible; I’d be happy to train anywhere in the country. I also had to give my weight, height and describe what sort of walking speed I am. This is all matching criteria so that, if I’ve passed this assessment, they can start looking for the right dog to suit my lifestyle. Then, it was time to go out. The GDMI said she wanted to see my bus route into town and do a bit of walking around town, some with my cane and some with Yogi in harness. He was eager to get going!

So I walked from my house up to my nearest bus-stop and we caught the bus into town. The GDMI sat opposite me with Yogi, trying to encourage him to settle, while the mobility instructor sat next to me. Yogi has only recently started practising bus travel and was quite restless for our inbound journey. To be fair to him, the bus rattle like hell and was quite full of noisy passengers. When we got into town, I walked to find the pelican crossing I needed to take me into the precinct and on to West Quay. I struggled a bit with this. It’s been a while since I’ve been in town alone and I’m vowing after the experience today to practice it more. But eventually I got across the pelican crossing, with help from the mobility instructor, and walked into the precinct. There was some very noisy building work going on which was incredibly offputting and didn’t help my nerves much. But eventually we got to West Quay and Lush, the shop I’d chosen as my destination. Then, the fun part started. I was given the handle of Yogi’s harness and, with the GDMI holding onto the lead, off we went, back out of West Quay, back along the shops we’d already passed, around the corner and on into the lower level of West Quay and to a Costa, where Yogi effortlessly found a chair. We didn’t stay, though. We continued back out of West Quay, down the road, across the road and back up the road to the bus-stop, which, when instructed to find the bus-stop, Yogi not only found the bus-stop but found the bench seat in the shelter. After a lot of praise to Yogi, I let go of the harness and moved out into the open a bit more to listen to the bus. They didn’t make me squirm too much and told me when it was the right bus. We sat in the same formation as the outward journey, the difference being that Yogi was much better settled on this bus. He led down for the majority of the journey and didn’t seem bothered at all by the bus. It was a much quieter and less rattly bus.

Whilst on the way home, I asked if I was going to walk with Yogi or my cane once we were off the bus. The mobility instructor asked the GDMI who said I could walk with Yogi if I wanted to. So I jumped at the chance, getting off a few bus-stops early so we had a longer walk. Although I’d enjoyed the walk in town, I loved the walk home. The empty paths and easy road crossings made it a breeze, obviously helped by the fact that Yogi is awesome. He’s going to make a great guide for someone when he’s matched.

When we got home, the GDMI said that everything that’s happened today goes to case review, which is next Wednesday, and then I’ll be told the outcome. Unlike previous assessments, the final chat felt very positive. The GDMI repeated a couple of times that it’d been a good walk and even said that my vocal communication and praise for Yogi had been good. Before they left, I gave Yogi a big fuss goodbye. If he’d been a tricky worker, that would have made today much more difficult. But he was effortless and took to me very quickly, especially as he was a bit confused and hesitant to begin with.

Overall, I’m feeling super positive, which doesn’t happen often, especially when guide dog assessments are concerned. Now, I’ll be waiting and counting down the time until the phone call is due to tell me the outcome. Pass this and I can go on the waiting list for a dog. Fail, after how positive things seemed today, and I’m not quite sure how I’ll recover. Last time, at least I understood and felt it didn’t go very well. This time, the only things I feel I could’ve done better is not get a little bit lost, go with my gut instinct on directions and maybe slightly more talking to Yogi. But I basically talked to him for the entire journey and in a more uplifted and praising voice to my usual one. Ive never felt this way after any assessment with guide dogs and I really hope that’s a sign of the type of outcome I’m going to get next Wednesday. I’ll still be keeping my fingers crossed because you just never know until you’ve had the phone call but this time I really feel like Ive given it 100% my best effort. And I’ll say this, whoever gets matched with Yogi is a very lucky guide dog owner indeed.

Mobility Updates: My Guide Sessions 28 & 29 and my Guide Dogs Mobility assessment

Last Thursday, I had a pretty busy day. In the morning, I had another My Guide session with Jenny and in the afternoon, my mobility assessment with Guide Dogs. In addition, yesterday I had a further My Guide session with Jenny. Therefore, I have rather a lot to write about. I’m hoping it won’t turn into too much rambling. I’ll try and keep it as succinct as possible… Knowing me, though, that won’t happen.

So, last Thursday Jenny and I met at our usual time of 9:30 and headed out in the drizzle, our destination being my sister’s school. My thinking behind this was although I really needed to concentrate my efforts on learning the route to my new volunteering role place, actually I wanted to have a bit extra practice of the route, or part of it, that I’d need to do to impress the Guide Dogs Mobility Instructor that afternoon for my assessment. Although I was only planning on going as far as the gym at the furthest with them, considering that is about a 45 minute walk each way, and I know the gym route well, I thought it wouldn’t hurt to have an extra supervised practice run of the route to calm any nerves before my assessment. Strangely, I wasn’t feeling nervous, which isn’t like me at all when Guide Dogs are involved. I guess my pass rate with this part of the process being so high helped. Ive passed this assessment twice, only failing once back when I was 14 which really doesn’t count for anything. It’s the later parts of the Guide Dog application process that I’ve fallen short on in the past and have been working so hard to pass this time. But before I even get to prove myself in that area, I have to pass the mobility stage first.

The walk to the school with Jenny went well. It was rather wet thanks to the drizzle, but otherwise a pretty pleasant walk. Both the main roads were quite busy as usual and that can be a little unsettling when big lorries race by but I did ok. Getting to the school was no bother. I recalled the route fine and turned and crossed in mostly all the right places. Jenny seemed quite happy with how it went. Like everything, it just needs more practice. However, as the route went so well, it gave me that little bit of extra confidence for my assessment.

As arranged, the mobility instructor from Guide Dogs arrived around 2pm. Firstly, we talked through everything for ages, mostly my routes and how often I do them. I was quite chuffed that I was able to fill a page and a half’s worth of notes just about my routes. That certainly wouldn’t have happened a couple of years ago, and especially not without Jenny’s support. It isn’t lost on me that I wouldn’t be in this position, reapplying again for a Guide Dog, without the help Jenny has given me over the last 10 months. I will be forever grateful for everything she’s done and continues to do to support me in my goal of being eligible and getting a Guide Dog. After we’d talked some more, it was route time. We agreed to go to the local Co-op first, the destination I’ve used for two of my previous mobility assessments with Guide Dogs, but if she felt she needed to see more from me, we’d continue on up the road to the library. I felt the walk went reasonably well. I wasn’t walking in a straight line but then that’s nothing unusual. I didn’t cross in front of moving traffic and I didn’t veer out into the middle of the road. Those are always two positives, although luckily I’m usually pretty good in those areas. I did keep veering inwards, down the side road. I always hit the kerb fine, just sometimes beyond the tarmac and against the grass verge. When I spoke to the instructor about that, she didn’t seem to mind and suggested that it wouldn’t count against me, thankfully. I found the shop entrance despite the fact that the shop has recently had a makeover and I’m only just starting to get used to it, having only explored it a couple of times. I spun around and we headed back the way we’d come, getting to the junction where I turn left for home or right to continue up the road, heading for the library/gym/park/news agents/school. But the instructor said she had seen enough and we could head back. Obviously, you can take that two ways: 1. I’d done a really bad job and she didn’t need to see anything else to know my mobility skills are awful or 2. (The option I’m hoping for) I demonstrated safe independent navigation and she’s satisfied to put me forward on the basis of what she saw and the discussion we had about my route progress.

When we got back to the house, the discussion was rounded up nicely. The instructor explained that unfortunately I had the worst day of the week for my assessment as case reviews happened on wednesdays. Although I was a little disappointed I wouldn’t get an answer sooner, really I was just glad the assessment was over and had seemed to go well. The instructor was lovely and really a breath of fresh air for me, after being assessed by the same person for my last few Guide Dogs assessments. Not that there was anything wrong with that person, because there wasn’t, but after all the upheaval with Guide Dogs it was really nice to see someone new, have a fresh perspective on my case. This lady seemed very open and honest, too, which was nice and seemed to put me more at ease for the assessment. I still felt like a fool out walking demonstrating such a silly little route, but as long as the answer is a positive one I suppose that doesn’t matter.

Then, yesterday, Jenny and I met for another My Guide session, changing our day from our usual Thursday to Tuesday because Jenny is off on holiday and I’ve got a cookery for blind people course thing to attend. Again, although I really should have focused on the volunteering route, I just didn’t feel like it. The weather was nice yesterday and we hadn’t done the route in over a month so I thought it was a good opportunity to revisit the walk into Woolston route. It went really really well. I only hesitated a couple of times and asked Jenny for clarification but where I did, the guess I made was right anyway. Doing a nice long walk and having a chat along the way was certainly a good way to spend a Tuesday morning. When we got into Woolston, I felt pleased at how well the route had gone. We went into say hello to Dad in his shop and not long after we’d arrived, my grandparents and great-nan arrived. It was my Nan’s birthday and the only opportunity I had to see her so it was nice to be able to wish her happy birthday in person. We left for Piggy’s not long after. Jenny had her usual coffee and I chose a peanut butter milkshake and slice of sticky toffee fudge cake. Both were very nice. While I was still eating, all the grandparents came in.

The return walk home went very well too. I feel that, if I was brave and tried hard enough, I could probably walk that route myself into Woolston now. I haven’t been daring enough to try yet, but hopefully at some point I will. I’m definitely really pleased with how my two main routes that I’ve been learning with Jenny, the walk into Woolston and the school route, have gone. Both of them I’ve nearly mastered now and in light of my mobility assessment last week, that really is good. As Jenny is away on holiday, we’re not meeting next week. Instead, we’re meeting the following Tuesday as I’ll still be busy with cookery that Thursday. When we meet up again, it’ll be full concentration back on the volunteering route but it felt really good to revisit the other two routes after quite a while of doing either and do them so well from memory. Although it’s taken me over 6 months to master the Woolston route, I’m still pleased with my progress because it’s the first really long route I’ve attempted and I actually enjoy walking it. As I write this, it’s early on the morning of Wednesday 10 October and somewhere around lunchtime today, I’m expecting a call from Guide Dogs to tell me the outcome of my mobility assessment after their weekly case review. I’m feeling quite confident that I’ve passed but there’s always the niggle in the back of my mind that I haven’t. By the time this is published online, I’ll. have written about the outcome below. Fingers crossed for the next couple of hours that Ive got positive news to record.

The phone call came just before 3pm. The lady who did my assessment last week rang to say that the team have recommended me for the Guide Dog assessment, the next stage in the process towards getting on the waiting list and actually having a dog. She explained that a GDMI, actually a member of the team I haven’t met before, and herself will be coming out to do the assessment and they’ll do it as soon as the two of them are free. I’m hoping it won’t be particularly long until the assessment, but I’m not going to be too impatient. We spoke about how, when I had the conversations with the service delivery manager, I’d explained that for the Guide Dog assessment I’d really prefer to have an actual dog to walk with when we have to practice the commands and things to demonstrate we’d be capable of working a dog. I find the short handle takes really forced and fake and it makes my nerves a thousand times worse than they are anyway. It really was nice, then, that when I started to mention this hope to the mobility instructor that she already knew about it and they’d be planning to bring a dog out with them to do the assessment with. In fact, the GDMI that is coming to do my assessment seems to have been recommended because she currently has dogs in training that I could walk with on the day. So I’m not quite getting a Guide Dog yet, but I’m another step closer to the eventual aim and the goal I’ve been working towards for so long. If I can pass the Guide Dog assessment no problem then I can go straight on the waiting list. I’m really hoping for a really positive assessment so I don’t have to go through the added stress of the further assessment, which I really found particularly horrible last time. The further assessment is the main reason why things got so messy and I really want to avoid that this time. More than anything, I want the instructors to put me on the waiting list because they really feel I am suitable and capable enough for a Guide Dog. I don’t want it to be a battle or a fight. Ive worked so hard to get to this point and I really want to show that, given the opportunity, I’d be a good Guide Dog owner. I’m not saying I’d be perfect because I’m sure I’d be far from it, but I’d give it 100% effort 100% of the time. Ive worked so hard to achieve this dream to then get lazy once its reached. Everyone has off days, sure, but I’d try my absolute hardest to ensure they were few and far between.

So next step Guide Dog assessment. I really hope they do bring a dog in training for me to work with because I really believe that’d improve my confidence massively and also take away some of the insecurity and embarrassment you usually get when doing the short handle walk. Plus, meeting and walking with a trainee guide dog should put me a bit more at ease and get me in a better mood simply because its a living breathing dog and it responds to my commands and vocal changes. Its so different from having a person on the end of that harness and I really feel that could make all the difference for me on assessment day. It’ll help too I think that the lady who’s just done my mobility assessment will be there but that its a new GDMI that I’ve had no contact with before. I think that little bit of familiarity from the mobility instructor but a new pair of eyes and perspective from the GDMI could really have a positive impact. I’m intending to make that the case, anyway. I truly believed that this time it’ll be my turn. Ive worked so hard to prove I can be suitable for a dog and will continue to work on that even years into any future partnership I’m lucky enough to have. Looking forward to extending that proof in my Guide Dog assessment, even though I know I’ll be a bag of nerves leading up to the day. I need everyone to keep their fingers, toes, eyes and even ankles crossed that this time it can be a success because that’s what I’m dreaming of. Ive got this far in the process before, it’s just the next hurdle I’ve always stumbled at. This time, I’m going to fly over it. At least, that’s the plan. Maybe by next time I update with my next My Guide session once Jenny’s home from her holiday I’ll have an assessment date. Here’s hoping…

Mobility Update: My Guide Sessions 26 and 27

This morning, I had my 27th My Guide session with Jenny. Last week, we did our second attempt at the new route I’m learning which takes me from a bus stop in the city centre to the front door of the place I’m supposed to start volunteering with as soon as I’m competent with the route and have the right equipment. Last week, I didn’t feel the route had gone very well; I got stressed quite easily and wasn’t remembering much of it. Although only the second week of practice, it’s a much shorter and less complicated route than the ones Jenny and I have tried before so I had been hoping I’d pick it up much quicker. Apparently not, according to our attempts last week. As we had the week before, we caught the bus into the city centre and practised the outward and return route twice. But both times I just wasn’t feeling it. It didn’t feel like I was gradually improving. Plus, there are a lot of obstacles, such as parking meters, benches and electrical boxes, to navigate along the shoreline that I follow for the entirety of the route that keeps me away from the road. Either I kept bumping into them or my cane kept snagging on them. It gets quite uncomfortable after a while, especially when your cane keeps snagging on them and jolting your arm. I don’t walk particularly fast, but I’m not slow either, and at the speed I travel on foot its still quite a jolt if you’re stopped mid stride by your cane catching and staying stuck on something. But I just got on with it and tried not to grumble. As always, Jenny was much more optimistic than me, saying on the second attempt of the route she could see slight improvements.

Today, however, things felt much better for me, which reflected in my progress with the route. Last week, it had been quite a windy day, which never helps when I’m trying to be indepdently mobile as the sound messes with my ears and orientation. But this week it was a completely different story; the day was glorious with bright sunshine, a nice temperature and not even a fine breeze. Perfect weather! The route also went well right from the start. I walked less haltingly and at a faster pace because I felt more sure of myself as I went. I still had to ask Jenny plenty of questions, especially for reassurance that I was heading in the right direction, but things just felt much more positive with the route. Again, we practised both ways twice. We joked about how to a passerby me wandering to and from the same location must really make me look crazy and like I haven’t got a clue what I’m doing or where I’m going. We also said that having Jenny following me and not saying much while I’m concentrating must look like I’ve gained a stalker. Either that or the blind person is giving the sighted one directions…

By the time we arrived back at the bus stop the second time, I felt much more confident and hopeful about the route. I seemed to pick it up much better today and am gradually starting to remember things. My Victor Reader Trek wasn’t helpful, though; it kept freezing and shutting down, cutting off my GPS reassurance. Thankfully, both busses had the talking stop announcements on, which is incredibly helpful. I rely on them mostly to tell me where I’m getting off. Sometimes, they aren’t that reliable or even switched on so having the backup of my Victor Reader Trek, when its working properly, really is a bonus.

When we got back to mine, Jenny and I arranged our next few sessions. Next week, we’re meeting on Thursday as usual but the following week we’re meeting on the Tuesday because on the Thursday I’ve got a cookery course for blind people to attend and Jenny’s going away on holiday. Due to Jenny’s holiday, the following week we’re unable to meet. The week following that, we’re meeting on the Tuesday gain because I’ve got the cookery course again. I’m feeling much more positive overall about this volunteering route and am hoping that I’ll soon have it mastered. Just as soon as I do and have found a way to get hold of the equipment I need, I’ll be able to start volunteering.

Next week, I’m currently unsure about which route we’re going to do. This is because on that afternoon I’ll be having my mobility assessment with one of the mobility and orientation team from Southampton Guide Dogs. I’m feeling very optimistic about this as I passed the mobility assessment last time and have improved my routes loads since. But I’m debating whether to do the volunteering route just in case its stressful like last week. I need to be in the best mood possible for the assessment and be brimming with confidence. Also, I’m wondering whether to take the opportunity with Jenny to practice whichever route I choose to show the mobility person. That way, having practiced it that morning with Jenny, I’ll have that little extra seal of confidence about it. But I’ll see how I’m feeling. Obviously, whatever route I demonstrate on my assessment I’ll already know fully anyway so the little extra practice probably won’t make much difference. It might just give me that little bit extra confidence. So next time when I do a mobility update, I’;’ll be writing about the next My Guide session and how my mobility assessment went. Keep your fingers crossed for me…

Mobility Update: My Guide Session 25

As the title of this post says, this is my 25th My Guide session update. But before all that, this post is going to talk about the meeting I had with Guide Dogs; at this current moment as I’m writing this, it’s Friday the 7th of September 2018 and almost 20 to 8 in the evening. At 10am this morning, the service delivery manager for my local Guide Dogs mobility team plus a fairly new GDMI and a gorgeous trainee Guide Dog came to my house as I’d contacted the team to ask to meet with the service delivery manager to discuss the process for me reapplying for a Guide Dog. After being deemed unsuitable back in March therefore marking the 3rd time I’d been unsuccessful in applying for a dog, an appeal took place and following the appeal I was given some advice of actions to complete in order to potentially be suitable for a dog in the future. In March, it was decided that I wasn’t suitable due to the way I interacted with the dogs on the further assessment day, took instructions from the GDMIs and put those instructions into action with the dogs. My vocal commands and praise were also criticised for not being in the right tone of voice or spoken in the right way to motivate the dog. And of course I was crushed; but I also agreed with them to a point. Maybe not at that very moment when I got off the phone to the senior practitioner who had given me the news that yet again I’d been unsuccessful. This time it was worse, though. She used the word “unsuitable” and in my head that felt like a full-stop, end of story, never. I’d worked so damn hard to get to that point but it still wasn’t good enough. Despite everything, i still hadn’t done enough to fulfil their necessary expectations for a future guide dog owner. Of course I was gutted. Beyond gutted if you ask anyone who spoke to me about it around that time. I felt like the door had been firmly slammed in my face. But that’s turned out not to be the case. With the input of the service user representative and the service delivery manager for my local team, I’ve had some support and advice to make the right decisions for my future regarding a dog, which is what lead to the meeting today. A lot was said. I was given new criteria which any potential applicant needs to meet in order to be considered for the waiting list. This criteria is used during the assessment process, still the mobility and guide dog assessments which I’ve done before, to ensure applicants are suitable. The service delivery manager promised to send the criteria across to me via email so I could read it myself but went through it there and then with me to give me some insight. Sitting there listening to her list things I’d need to be able to do in order to be suitable for a guide dog and ticking each and every one off in my head as an “i can do that” was the most amazing feeling in the world. The one about interacting with the dog in the right way is the only one I’m worried I could fall short on expectation for, not because I can’t do what they want but because nerves and worry might hold me back on the assessment day from showing my best side. But I’m determined this time, more determined than ever that I’m going to show my best commanding voice and my best happy cheery pleased praising voice at the right times so that I demonstrate I could be a good guide dog handler if only I’m given the chance.

We also discussed my routes and the leaps and bounds of progress I’ve made with Jenny’s intervention and the service delivery manager seemed very pleased with what I told her. One of the criteria is that you must be able to work your dog for 30-40 minutes at least 5 days a week. Nobody will ever understand the pride and relief it gives me to finally be able to say I meet that criteria with an ever expanding range of routes. Never did I think the day would come! Unless somehow during my mobility assessment the instructor finds fault with the length, complexity or variation of routes I have could that potentially be a problem. But I can’t honestly see that happening. I have more than enough 30 minute walks and now several that are much longer than that, one that’s even double. Of course, its not up to me if I meet the required standards and criteria but this time, for the very first time ever, I’m feeling much more positive about things, about my chances and the potential for it to go right this time. Fourth time lucky, perhaps?

However, there’s always a thundercloud trying to ruin my happiness and blooming positivity and today that comes in the form of some unknown person thinking they have the right to talk about me behind my back and stick their 50p worth in where its really not welcome. I mean haven’t I had enough battles over the last 7 years I’ve been fighting for a Guide Dog? No, according to someone, apparently I haven’t. I don’t even know if I’m supposed to be writing about this but its my life and my right to be angry. Nearing the end of the meeting, after we’d done a lot of positive talking and I’d had plenty of fusses and cuddles with 14-month-old lab/retriever trainee Ezra, the service delivery manager dropped a bombshell I wasn’t expecting, another hurdle for me to climb, another punch to dodge. An anonymous member of the public has written a letter to guide dogs outlining their reasons why they strongly urge Guide Dogs not to give me a dog. This letter was received last month and portrays me as a terrible person. It is very nasty, hurtful and infuriating. Infuriating because its utter lies. The things the person claims about me are totally untrue and fabricated nonsense. I think my angry responses, however much i tried to remain calm, showed the service delivery manager and GDMI exactly what I thought of the letter. Thankfully, as it is anonymous, it won’t have a huge impact on me when I reapply. As long as i can demonstrate that i meet the relevant criteria set out to me today and show the staff everything they need to see in a potential applicant, that letter doesn’t matter. Just like the person, whoever they are, doesn’t. I have a ton of people supporting me with this, and every other, application and one hateful person isn’t going to stop me. Ive been fighting too long to let one person’s opinion faze me, especially as they didn’t even sign the letter. Whoever you are out there, if you read these blogs, know you aren’t going to stop me. I also want you to know that all those things you accused me of doing to any potential dog I’d never do. No dog would be left for hours on end by itself in my care. No dog would be locked in a cage for punishment. No dog would be given up on because I couldn’t be bothered to persevere. No dog would be over fed treats or given junk food; I’m not that irresponsible. I may be many things but I’m not stupid and would never be cruel to an animal, especially an animal I’ve thought a third of my life to be entitled and suitable for. If and when I get a guide dog, I’m going to be out working that dog every single day, unless I’m poorly or theres a family emergency. Ive worked so hard and for so long to throw an opportunity of having the mobility aid I long for away. I will do whatever it takes to become a guide dog owner and once I’ve achieved that goal, the dog will be looked after to the absolute best of my ability, with the support of the guide dogs team and all my friends and family. Ive got a whole army of people to support me so I know I;ll be fine. Just how I am now writing this. Because look, yay! You achieved your aim. You made me feel angry, hurt, sad, betrayed, low, worried and down. But I’m better than someone who doesn’t sign such a letter. I will be a guide dog owner one day and it’ll be because a guide dog team deem me deserving and suitable, not because I’ve fooled them into believing I’m the sort of person who should have a dog. Ive not got any dodgy motives in wanting a guide dog at all. I desire a guide dog because I’ve seen the improvements having a dog by my side has on my mobility, wellbeing, confidence and determination. Having a guide dog would make me a better person. It’d give me the confidence to go out there and achieve my goals. It’d give me the confidence to be the person I want to be with a furry companion by my side. What other motivation do I need? And why else would Guide Dogs want to give me a dog? They don’t just hand dogs over to anyone. I’d have had thorough tests and checks to ensure I’m going to care for any dog’s welfare appropriately. Why would I sabotage that? Yes maybe my motives as a naive 14-year-old were immature and wrong. But I’m an adult now. I understand responsibility. And i understand what it means to have a guide dog and be a guide dog owner. What more can I say? You aren’t going to hold me back. I’m going to reapply. Send as many letters to guide dogs as you like. After all, its them who decide whether I’m suitable. But don’t worry, they’ve considered your input so thanks for giving them something else to doubt me about. I’ll just fight that extra bit harder to prove you wrong. And I hope, if you’re a genuine person who thinks they’re protecting the welfare of some defenceless dog who might be given to me, that in time you’ll see that actually I’m also a genuine person just trying to live a full and happy life the only way I know how and that all I offer a dog is a full, happy, well loved and looked after life. If not, please take your hate elsewhere. I’ve got enough challenges to deal with without you adding to the pile. But thanks for making the journey even more eventful. I guess it’ll just prove to guide dogs how determined and dedicated I am to being the applicant they’re looking for.

Before they left, the service delivery manager urged me to read through the suitability criteria before applying and make sure I was happy with everything. She said it’d be emailed to me shortly. I wasn’t expecting that shortly to be today! The email was in my inbox by the time I checked after coming home from a lovely afternoon out with my friend Josh, enjoying lunch in Yates and pudding in Sprinkles. Although of course I want to rush ahead and reapply right this second, I’m going to spend the weekend reading and rereading the criteria until I’m totally satisfied with it and even know it by heart perhaps. Then, if I’m feeling like it, on Monday I’ll have a chat with the service user representative who has been brilliant and invaluable this last month. If she agrees, I’ll go ahead and reply to the email with the criteria saying I want to move a step forward and reapply. Then, I guess the process will start over. After chatting a lot with the service delivery manager and GDMI today, and of course cuddling Ezra, I really think this time could be my time, my opportunity to grasp firmly with both hands and not hold back on. Obviously, by the time this post is finished and published online, I’ll have written about my 25th My Guide session and possibly reapplied. I’ll write about that then. I just want to end this bit by saying how lucky I am to have such an amazing My Guide volunteer to be partnered with. Today, Jenny and her husband explored the city centre to work out which route would be best to learn to the new office I’m going to be volunteering at very soon. They worked it out and Jenny text me to say there’s now a plan in place for next Thursday. She really does go above and beyond where my My Guide sessions are concerned and I couldn’t be more grateful that she’s partnered with me.

As I write this now, its 9:15pm on Thursday night a week after my meeting with the service delivery manager and GDMI from Guide Dogs and today Jenny and I practised the route to the place I’m going to be volunteering, hopefully, for the first time. It was much simpler than I expected and after walking it, twice, I’m so much more grateful for Jenny and her husband checking out the route before we attempted it ourselves today. There are only two road crossings and no big corners or anything. The road curves around in places but theres no over-complicated things to remember. However, because its me, I’m still estimating its going to take me ages to learn it. The walk is only 15 minutes each way with a half hour bus ride each way. So in total it’ll take me roughly an hour and a half in total to travel to and from my destination. Really, I’m quite happy with that and although the walking part of the route is quite short, I’m much more comfortable with that than some lengthy complicated route for my first attempt at working in an office environment, even if it is just voluntary. I got a bit frustrated with the big pelican crossing that I have to use because theres push buttons on either sides of both tactiles but irritatingly only one on each side has a spinning cone and none of them have audio cues. If the poles don’t have the spinning cone to announce when its safe to cross then they should have noise. To have neither, even though the opposite side of the crossing has one, isn’t really right. I don’t know if its breaking any rules or laws or anything because on either side of the road one of the poles does have some kind of announcement to show its safe to cross. But shouldn’t all the poles have something? I don’t know, it just annoyed me. Its another thing to remember, which side of each crossing’s pole actually has the thing that’ll help me cross safely.

Jenny and I have agreed to continually practice the volunteering route until I’ve mastered it. The sooner I’ve learnt it, the sooner potentially I can start my voluntary role. We practised the route twice today due to its short length and on the second run recorded the landmarks I can use as pointers on my Victor Reader Trek. Another irritation was that there were considerable road works not far up from the bus stop that I have to use. This meant for a little stretch of the pavement Jenny had to guide me out into the road and safely around the obstruction. Thankfully, she said that the workmen seemed to be getting through the work quite quickly so I’m hopeful it might all be finished by next week when we try the route again. I really hope that I can start retaining directions from this route quickly so that it doesn’t take too long to learn it and we can go back to practising my longer routes. But for a first attempt I think things went really well. Here’s hoping next week is even better.

Mobility Update: My Guide Session 24

After a rather long break, today it was time to get back to practising my routes. Since Jenny and I last met for a My Guide session, the whole of august has passed and e’re already racing through September. Soon, I’ll be back to Open University studies with no free time on my hands… but for now at least, I still have lots of free time. Unfortunately, our plans for today’s session had to change as I hadn’t heard back from anyone at the organisation I’ve applied to volunteer for so wasn’t sure if my application had been successful therefore meaning I had a new route to learn. Frustratingly, an email came through late last night replying to my question about my application to say that i have been successful and they do want me to start volunteering for them whenever I’m ready. Instead of contact Jenny last minute and rearrange our plans again, I decided to stick with doing the Woolston route. For one thing, its been a nice sunny day today so perfect for strolling along the shore and for another, I was having serious withdrawals from Piggy’s milkshakes!

So, at 9:30 Jenny arrived at my door and we headed out along the now very familiar route down to and along the shore into Woolston. I only hesitated in a couple of places and really feel I have the route cracked now because in the places I hesitated my instinct was right anyway. Next time we do the route, I’ll get Jenny to shadow me again like last time and try and hold back from checking directions with her even when I’m hesitating and instead go with my gut instinct because if I’d done that today I wouldn’t have asked her for a single direction and probably not gone the wrong way.

We stopped in Woolston to say hi to Dad and for refreshments at Piggy’s. Jenny had a coffee and I had a salted caramel milkshake. I also took a risk on a slice of chocolate fudge cake and soon wished I hadn’t. But it was ok because Jenny enjoyed my leftovers. While we relaxed, we chatted about what we’d both been up to during our break and I updated Jenny on my situation with Guide Dogs. When I came home from visiting Kieran last week, I wanted for a call from the southampton Guide Dogs service user representative for advice on how next to proceed. That conversation took place on Monday and she advised me to send an email to the southamtpn office asking to speak to the service delivery manager about arranging a time to discuss how best to proceed for me reapplying for a dog. I sent that email not long after getting off the phone from her and received a response yesterday to say that the service delivery manager wanted to visit me for a meeting either today or tomorrow. So I responded that either this afternoon or tomorrow morning would work for me as I have plans to meet my friend Josh tomorrow afternoon and of course the My Guide session this morning. This morning I received another email, from the service delivery manager herself, to say she would be visiting me tomorrow morning at 10am and that she’s bringing a GDMI (Guide Dogs Mobility Instructor) and a trainee dog with her. Of course I responded enthusiastically to this. I’m feeling incredibly positive about the whole thing all of a sudden. I feel really encouraged by the rapid response from the Southampton team as a whole and am hoping tomorrow’s meeting will be a positive one. If not that, I at least hope I get a cuddle with the trainee dog they’re bringing along. I’m really looking forward to discussing my next steps with the service delivery manager and I think having the input of a GDMI I’ve never had before could be really beneficial.

The return route home was equally as good. Jenny seems really pleased with my progress and we’re both chuffed at how much of the route I’ve retained even after not practising it for so long. As i said, next time we do the route I’ll ask Jenny to shadow me and refrain from asking for direction hints from her when I’m hesitating. I really think that really soon we’ll be able to put a big tick next to this route and I’ll be able to say I can do it unaided. But due to my upcoming volunteering opportunity, our efforts for the next few sessions are going to be focused on figuring out and learning the best route to the office of the organisation I’m going to be volunteering for. It involves a bus journey and a walk so although it isn’t lengthy walking like Guide Dogs asked for last time I applied, it’ll still be another regular route to add to my list. Plus, if its a bus journey combined with a walk there shouldn’t be a problem. If anything, it should be a bonus because I’m hoping to be doing it at least once weekly.

So all in all things seem very positive at the moment. Things are going really well with my routes and things seem to be looking up with Guide Dogs too. I’m trying not to get my hopes up too much but I am feeling very positive this time around. Let’s just hope that feeling remains. After tomorrow I’ll know much more about where things are heading and hopefully my next My Guide post will be full of positive news.

Mobility Update: My Guide Session 23

On Thursday the 2nd of august, my My Guide session was a little different to usual. Yes, we were still practising routes but this time they weren’t routes Jenny had taught me. We were consolidating my skills with the routes I already had before I started My Guide, all thanks to the hopefully positive news I wrote about in my last post. The reason this update is so late is because I’ve had a busy couple of weeks. From the 1st of august onwards, Dad was off from work; and from the 6th onwards, Mum joined us. Obviously, its the six weeks’ holiday too so Tamsin is off from school. This meant that days out were planned and we were off out all over the place. Then, from last Thursday (the 9th) onwards, Ive been up here in Newcastle with Kieran and family. Until today, Kieran has been home from work so I haven’t had a chance to sit down and write my My Guide update. To be fair, there isn’t a massive amount to write, but here it is anyway.

After discovering that there is now a reopened get for me to reapply with Guide Dogs, I discussed my route situation with Jenny. This time, I want to doubly ensure that I’ve done just about everything I possibly can to please them before I reapply and my routes, or lack of, has always been a sticky point. However, since having Zena, learning routes with the help of family and then the arrival of Jenny, my route options have massively widened compared to what they were before. Once upon a time, I was barely able to get to my closest bus-stop, which is a minor two side roads and 5-minute-if-that walk away from my house. Now I have routes that take me nearly an hour to walk just to get to my destination. And the route possibilities are forever widening. But although Jenny and I agreed that this really is great and a massive improvement when considering what I’d have available to utilise for a Guide Dog workload, we agreed that its equally important for me to be able to effortlessly demonstrate that I know by heart the smaller and older routes I have. As I’m not quite as independent as I’d like to or should be, I don’t practice these routes as often as maybe I need to. So taking the opportunity to prove to Jenny that actually I can accomplish them independently and safely was definitely a good idea. I want Guide Dogs, when they next assess me, to see that my familiar routes are all but flawlessly executed. I want to prove how much my routes have flourished and how dedicated I am to building on the route knowledge I have.

So, after Jenny arrived, we headed out to walk my familiar routes. First, up passed all the bus-stops, across all the little side roads, even the one with the dodgy corner; then, across the road and round the corner to stand in front of the local library front door; back around the corner and across the road and then walking up parallel to the main road, crossing the three side roads and then turning sharply right and walking to the main entrance of the leisure centre/gym. This bit I got a bit wrong. I forgot that at the third curb edge I need to cross before turning sharply right away from the main road and up to the automatic doors. But with Jenny’s help I soon corrected this. After, back out of the leisure centre entrance and turn right to walk parallel along the main road again. I went all the way up the road and over the rather dangerous if you don’t do it right or aren’t paying 100% attention and to the front door of the news agents. To begin with, I headed passed the news agents and on as if I was going to Tamsin’s school. But in the end I decided I was too hot to persevere and turned back, retracing my steps back across the dodgy crossing and down the main road. But I stopped at the tactile markings of a crossing before the gym turning and headed across the road, taking myself into the park that I’ve landmarked as a prime spot for free running should I get a Guide Dog. This park was actually recommended by Seeing Dogs trainer John but had to be scrapped in favour of one I could be driven to with Zena as she was too distracted by its being there when we did the daily route to the gym. However, with a more focused dog and better trained me, I think I could take full advantage of that park’s placement for short frequent free runs during working routes or even as a destination for a working route. Once in the field, I walked down the length of the park, walking parallel to the main road again. Then, when my Victor Reader Trek announced that the third entrance to the park was approaching, I headed onto the tarmac and out of the park to the crossing that got me safely back onto the other side of the road and heading for home along the route I’d already walked.

Due to my own laziness, the routes actually felt somewhat rusty. I’m going to try my best to start getting out more so these easy and familiar routes feel fluid again. I’m also going to take advantage of my sessions with Jenny to practice those routes once every now and again, just so she can monitor my competency with them. She didn’t seem to have any worries with them, so I just need to practice them more. As I’m now up in Newcastle and due to Mum having time off, I’m now not seeing Jenny so having another My Guide session until the beginning of September. It really is crazy where time goes. When we get back to it, though, we’ve got another challenge to master. On the 1st of august, Jenny drove me into southampton town centre with a meeting with a volunteer coordinator that she’d organised for me. We’ve discussed many times my lack of work experience and frustrations with finding work or even voluntary posts that I feel I’d be capable of successfully completing. After finding a slot where an organisation needs a volunteer to speak to its clients and do a questionnaire to ensure the clients are receiving the right support and are getting what they asked for, Jenny thought of and recommended me. After speaking with the volunteer coordinator, I feel that actually this is something I might actually be able to do. They’ve said that I’d be able to complete it on my own personal laptop, meaning I could use my already set up screen reader, and the only other tasks are dialling phone numbers, talking to clients and taking notes answers to the questions to fill in the questionnaire. There are only two snags: 1. I don’t know how to get to the office; 2. I need to invest in a device that allows you to plug a standard phone into a headset through which one side you have the telephone and the other side you have your computer and therefore speech software. Even if I use my BrailleNote Apex to record the clients’ answers, I still need my hands free to type their responses and so this device is essential. The first problem can easily be solved thanks to Jenny’s generosity. We’re going to look into a safe and hassle-free way for me to get to the office and practice it until I’m confident. Kindly, the organisation have said the post will be open long enough for me to learn the route. This is very lucky because if they’d had a tight time frame for the survey needing to be completed the opportunity would have probably passed by the time I knew the route competently. Although there is of course the option of completing my volunteering on a Wednesday and using Dad as a taxi, as I’m using any volunteering I find as a gauge to what proper employed work would be like, having a parent taxi really isn’t part of the package I want. So, my next update could quite possibly be documenting our first trial of routes to my hopefully new voluntary role. My friend Josh helped by looking at the busses and seeing that there’s two potential stops for me to alight to then walk to the office. One is at the Itchen Bridge and the other is at the back of Primark. So at some point Jenny and I are going to go on a bus ride and figure out the best route to the office. Once I’ve successfully learnt the route, our sessions will go back to practising the routes I’ve already learnt. Until I’ve applied to Guide Dogs again and found out where I stand about getting on the waiting list for a dog, I’m not going to learn any more routes but make better use of my time by polishing the ones I have. Many people, including family, friends with Guide Dogs and Jenny, have agreed that the amount and length of routes I have should add up to a more than sufficient workload to at least start with. Plus, I’m continuing to expand on the routes I already have all the time and especially now I’m seriously starting to branch out with voluntary work with the aim of heading into paid employment in the near future, my routes shouldn’t really need to be questioned. I’m just keeping my fingers crossed I can pass in all the areas Guide Dogs assess for suitability. But for now, I’m going to enjoy my break away up in Newcastle and when I get home at the end of the month, I’ll throw myself back head first into learning and polishing routes.

Mobility Update: My Guide Session 22 and some positive news, at last!

This post is going to be a little different simply because I have so much to write and I don’t want to go on and on forever… i know, what’s changed now, huh? But if I ramble on and on this probably won’tmake any sense and it’ll take away from how good the good news is…

As I said in my last post, a meeting had taken place arranged by my friend Jemma, who lives across the road from me and has German Shepherd Guide Dog Ollie, with the southampton guide dogs mobility team service user representative. Jemma arranged this after understanding and agreeing with my frustrations with my situation with Guide Dogs. Our hope was that the service user representative could at least shed some light on my situation. On this Monday just gone, another meeting took place in which the service user representative discussed with us her findings on my case. I can’t go into too much detail at the moment with what was discussed, but the investigation by the service user representative has led to their being a possibility that I can reapply for a guide dog soon. I’m not saying that means I’ll be successful in being suitable for a dog or that I’ll immediately be put on the waiting list, but there’s a new opening that means I can at least reapply. I’m also not saying that the service user representative is a miracle worker and can fix all cases that haven’t gone the way the service user wanted, because that’s certainly not her job, but for me she’s enabled my case to be opened up afresh so that I can reapply. If or when I do reapply and go through the assessment process again, I may possibly be able to go into more detail about why things have changed a bit where my situation is concerned but for now, that’s all I can say.

Continuing the run of positivity, this week my My Guide session went really well. Jenny made the suggestion that this week I take the leap and do the route solo, with her only shadowing me. Usually, while we walk our routes we chat. But being shadowed means you pretend there’s no one else with you. For the Woolston route, this was the first time I’d tried this. It made for quite a different route experience too. Usually, Jenny walks beside me, which means I can orientate myself on the path quite easily. With Jenny walking a few paces behind me, I had to focus more on where I was on the path. I seemed to zigzag even more than usual but Jenny said I seemed to orientate myself quite well. The route went really really well. I only spoke to Jenny once before reaching the Woolston high street and that was to check about a crossing at the end of Weston shore. Lucky that I did, too, because I was going to cross at the wrong point otherwise. Obviously, Jenny would have stopped me anyway. It didn’t take long to correct my mistake, though, and other than that I made all the right choices.

Reaching Woolston after only needing Jenny’s input once felt like quite an achievemnt and Jenny’s pleasure at how well I’d managed the route was really gratifying. Obviously, it’d have been even better if I’d done the route without any wobbles whatsoever but for the first shadow of the route I was quite pleased with myself. We celebrated with our usual stop in Piggy’s, me for a caramel milkshake and Jenny for her usual Americano with hot milk on the side. For a moment, she wavered and nearly tried a smoothie but in the end decided to stick with her usual. The caramel milkshake still didn’t beat my favourite, the salted caramel milkshake I had the first time I tried one off their mammoth list. During our drinks, we chatted through the developments with my situation with Guide Dogs and Jenny seemed really pleased for me. We also discussed my routes and how neither of us are particularly happy with the route to my grandparents house. Weaver made the decision to scrap the route simply because Jenny doesn’t feel that its very safe and I don’t feel very comfortable doing it. If we’d walked it a few more times I might have felt better about it but Jenny just doesn’t feel that its a safe enough walk for me to be doing alone. To be honest, I’m not massively disappointed. In total, its about 3 hours worth of walking and that massively exceeds Guide Dogs request for me needing a lengthy varied workload. Plus, there is an alternative in a bus route to their house that would involve a little bit of walking. I think it would have been a really complicated and time consuming route to learn as well. Although I liked it for the amount of FitBit steps it provided, that was literally the only good thing about it.

The return route from Woolston went quite well too. By this point, i was melting a bit. It was nowhere near as hot as walking to Nan and Grandad’s last week but it still warranted a shorts and T-shirt approach. Obviously, I was also wearing my bright pink high-vis vest over the top of my T-shirt to increase my visibility. Jenny seems to agree that it helps, especially when I’m crossing roads at points where car drivers may not immediately see I’m there otherwise. We’ve agreed to meet up next Thursday at our usual time and start consolidating my already learnt routes. We’re going to continue to learn the route to my sister’s school, potentially both ways round, and also practice the other routes I’d already learnt before My Guide with Jenny. At some point, we’re also going to learn how to get to my grandparents by bus, as I still think its a really important route to have even if it doesn’t meet Guide Dogs requirement for lengthy walking. Sometimes routes are just simply for convenience and the one to Nan and Grandad’s would be just that. There’s also the possibility that I might start volunteering for an organisation that one of Jenny’s friends works for. I’m going for a meeting to discuss this with Jenny’s friend on Wednesday and am really hopeful there might be a positive outcome. The post is phoning current clients of the organisation to discuss whether the service they’re being provided meets their needs and is what they’re wanting from the organisation. As there would only be phone and computer tasks within this role, there’s a very good chance it’d actually be something I’d be able to do. This of course has massive positive implications for me. It’d be getting me out of the house; it’d mean I have actual legitimate work experience to add to my CV; I’d be meeting and working with new people in a real work environment; and it’d mean another independent travel journey that isn’t just because I need to get out walking. Jenny says there’s a way to get to the organisation location via bus with some walking so it really sounds perfect for me. Keep your fingers crossed for Wednesday. Obviously, I’m immensely grateful to Jenny for arranging all of this and for thinking of me in the first place. Even if nothing comes of this its another thing to say I’ve attempted; but if something does, it’ll be ticking so many boxes for me.

So, as the title of this post says, there’s so much positivity in this post. Its practically overloaded with positive feelings and that, for anyone who knows me, doesn’t happen often. I’m feeling really good about things, especially as my routes are going so well and there’s a fresh opening with Guide Dogs Southampton for me to reapply and go through the assessment process of getting a dog again. That is definitely the best news I could’ve hoped for. There couldn’t be a better outcome than that. I’m just hoping it leads to the goal I’ve been aiming for for so long. I guess I’ll just have to do better than my best this time and hope it pays off. But for now I’m going to continue practising my routes and perfecting them just as much as I can.