Tag Archives: achievement

Mobility Update: My Guide Session 8

Since writing only 2 days ago, I’ve had some exciting news! As I said last time, Jenny contacted the leader of Southampton’s My Guide service to inquire whether the route we’re currently doing and the ones I plan to learn in the future would make me eligible for a guide dog. Ever since I very first applied for a guide dog all those years ago in 2011, their response has been that I don’t have enough routes and don’t go out enough independently to make up a workload for a dog. When I was a naive 14 year old, I thought this was ridiculous! I went to school every day, didn’t I? I could walk to the bus-stop and corner shop, too, if I wanted. And I’d even learnt how to get to my Nan and Grandad’s, then living in Woolston themselves, via a bus journey and some walking. Why on earth would they say I didn’t have enough routes or a big enough workload? I’d spent my whole six-week school summer holiday working with a mobility officer from Southampton’s sensory services, aided by a member of the Guide Dogs team. How could they say these things? In comparison, now I can see I was the ridiculous one. Yes, I did try really hard that summer and honestly, at the time, that was massive progress for me, a kid who didn’t leave the house unless I was attached to a parent. But it wasn’t nearly enough. I’m still yet to learn what is, but I’m much better prepared now, much closer to that target than I’ve ever been before. Anyway, the exciting news… so the leader of My Guide replied to Jenny’s request properly yesterday, to both of us. When a text message came through from her, I thought maybe it was just a little checkup on how Jenny and I are getting on. But she doesn’t need to check up. Jenny has given her full details on how we’re doing, my progress and my ambitions. She passed Jenny’s message onto several members of staff at Southampton’s Guide Dogs team, including the GDMI who assessed and crushed my world in October. They’ve agreed to take my case to the case review sometime next week to see if they can take my application for a guide dog forward. I couldn’t have hoped for anything anywhere near this good so soon into my work with the My Guide service. I predicted that perhaps I’d ask the leader of My Guide for some kind of review around my birthday or something. Not get one 8 weeks after I started working with Jenny. The case review meeting will take place sometime next week according to the leader of My Guide’s text. That’s really exciting! There could be plenty of outcomes of the review, but the main two options I think are either they’ll say I’m doing well but not yet far enough for them to be able to reconsider my application for a dog, or, they’ll say yes, I’ve done really well and they can reconsider my application now. If they reconsider my application and plan to move it forward, I’m guessing that means that they’ll consider putting me on the waiting list for a dog. But I could be wrong. Both my guide dog know-alls, Imi and Tiny, have both seemed quite positive about the text messages and the possible outcomes I could get. Imi, in fact, said she hopes I’m being positive now. I am. As soon as the My Guide leader text, i was imagining having a Guide Dog, being put on the list, having the yes answer… but perhaps I’ve got it all wrong. I guess I’ll find out next week.

As for today, Jenny had our 8th My Guide session, doing the new route for the third time, the second time me trying to learn it. I felt, considering everything, that it went really well. I feel like I’m picking it up really well to say its only the second proper time I’ve walked it myself. Jenny and I agreed that she’d have as little input as possible, just let me get on with it and only telling me if I’d gone the wrong way. Mostly I did well. Jenny only had to correct me a couple of times. It took about an hour to get there. As always, we stopped off in Coffee Mac’s for our little break, me having my apple juice and Jenny her coffee. She’s started asking me to see if I can locate a table once we’re in the shop and its quite easy to find the one we always sit at. As long as every time I go in there its free ‘ll be ok… we popped into see Dad quickly afterward. That entails me crossing the road and walking along to Dad’s shop. He was ok and we didn’t stay long.

The return journey went just as well, with Jenny correcting me whenever necessary. It felt longer walking on the way home but according to Jenny’s watch it was actually shorter. I know I felt more tired when I reached my front door than I did on arriving at Coffee Mac’s. it shows just how lucky I am to have been matched with such a good volunteer that Jenny offered to meet me next Tuesday to do our ninth session. I’m flying up to Kieran’s next Wednesday so will be away for our usual Thursday session. I really didn’t expect Jenny to say she could meet me on an alternative day but feel really grateful that she is. Hopefully, we can continue the good run we’re on with learning this route. Also, hopefully next week I’ll have news from Guide Dogs. But whatever the outcome, I’m just going to carry on. Of course, if they do say i haven’t done enough yet and need to carry on learning, I’ll be a bit disappointed that it isn’t a straight away yes answer. But my plan was to learn routes until at least May so if they ask me to carry on I haven’t lost anything. If its a yes answer, I’m so much more lucky than I thought I was. Maybe by the next time I write my next My Guide update, I’ll have the outcome.

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Mobility Update My Guide Session 7

Last week’s session was a positive one. After changing the route, I’d been really concerned that as it seemed a lot shorter and less complicated than the one we tried first, Guide Dogs might not be happy with it. However, it is so much simpler so a lot easier to learn. I haven’t got it anywhere near fully remembered yet, but this week was really our first session of learning it so that isn’t a concern. Last week, we just tested out the route, walking the way Jenny guessed would work. But we tried out a few different things, meaning that we hadn’t actually done the full route properly. But on thursday we did. With my Trekker Breeze on and recording, we headed out on the new route.

As I’d thought last week, it is so much simpler than the first route into Woolston we tried. Jenny counted an approximate 25 crossings in total for that route and there’s only got to be 5 or so in this new route. That’s not me saying I want to take the easy way out, because I don’t, but it just seems daft to persevere with a route I was struggling so much with when there’s an easier option that will get me to the same destination with less hassle. Plus, the walk along Weston shore is lovely; it’ll be really beautiful in the sunny summer, if we get one. It is pretty much one straight path all the way to Woolston. I don’t even have to swap to the opposite side of the road or anything like that. But it still takes about an hour each way, which of course is still a fair walking distance and good exercise for me. Yes, the other route was more challenging and gave me more to think about, but the simplicity of this one isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Again, we stopped for our usual break in Coffee Mac’s, feeling quite pleased with how the route was going so far. Because of that optimism, I decided to have a little extra in the shape of a cheese and bacon panini to go with my apple juice. I kind of got fed up of hot chocolate – I’ve never been the biggest fan, only liking it occasionally – and the apple juice is healthier. But I was hungry and things were going well so I felt a snack was deserved. Jenny clearly agreed because she went for a toasted tea cake to go with her coffee. Sadly, I was disappointed with my panini. There was just something about it that tasted funny. I think next time we have a great session I’ll stick to my reward of a slice of cake. Jenny said she enjoyed her tea cake, though, so that was good.

The return journey was good, too. There a couple of tricky patches along the route but there nothing in comparison to the difficulties in the other route to Woolston. I’m certain they’ll be easily ironed out after a few weeks’ practice of this route. Another thing that reassured me that this route is a good choice was by my friend Jemma. She lives in southampton also, actually in the same area as me, and has a gorgeous German SHepherd Guide Dog. It just so happened that as we were walking towards home, they were waiting to catch a bus at the bus-stop nearer to there place that I pass on my way home. We stopped so that I could say hello and I told Jemma that I was in the process of learning the route into Woolston. She asked which way we go and we explained. It turns out that the new route is the route Jemma uses if shes walking into Woolston. This gave me huge reassurance because if she uses that route with her Guide Dog then Guide Dogs can’t object to me sticking with it.

Jenny has passed on my concerns about this route to the leader of My Guide, who replied and said she’d forward these onto the GDMI to find out whether the route would be good enough and also if I’m doing enough. Hopefully, they’ll get back to Jenny soon and we’ll have an answer. I’m hoping it’ll be a positive one after all the hard work I’m putting into learning these routes. Sadly, Dad and I couldn’t go out on our walk last Wednesday to continue learning the route to my sister’s school because the weather was just too bad. To begin with, we’d thought it could be ok, but then the wind really picked up and there was just no point in trying. I’m just really hoping that the weather holds off tomorrow so that we can get out. It’s not an over complicated route, either, but its still going to take me a few tries to learn it so the more times were able to get out there practising it the better. Plus, I’m flying up to visit Kieran and family next Wednesday evening for a fortnight so I’m going to miss at least one My Guide opportunity and definitely two walks with Dad. It isn’t a big deal, really, because I feel like I’m making leaps and bounds in progress but I’m impatient so for me any sessions missed I’ll want to make up for, the more sessions I miss, the longer it’ll take in the long run for me to learn these routes and therefore be accepted fo a dog. Obviously, visiting Kieran is important to. He’s my other half, my fella, and we don’t get that much time together considering the almost 300 miles separating Weston from Blyth. So I’ll take any opportunity i can to see him, even if that does mean sacrificing precious route learning time. Ive waited this long for a Guide Dog, I’m sure a couple extra weeks in the long term shouldn’t make a massive difference. As long as I get there after all this effort, that’s all that really matters. As the new Woolston route and the route to my sister’s school are both going well, I don’t think I’ve got too much to worry about. Plus, next week I have my employment support session and the lady is just going to follow me to the library this time. Then, as long as shes happy that I’m familiar enough with the route, next time I’ll do it by myself and meet her there. The library route isn’t much in comparison to the Woolston route, but doing it completely independently for a purpose is definitely a step in the right direction.

So everything is going smoothly and I’m making progress in all areas of mobility. Plus, people have been contacted to make sure that this time it’ll be a positive response after all my hard work. I couldn’t have hoped for things to be going any better. Hopefully, tomorrow Dad and I will make more progress with the route to my sister’s school and on Thursday Jenny and I will continue the process of learning the new Woolston route. Fingers crossed I have more positivity to report on next time…

Mobility Update: My Guide Session 5

My fifth My Guide session took place last Thursday. As always, Jenny and I set out on the route optimistically because things had gone so well previously. But this session was different. I don’t know if I wasn’t in the right mindset or if other things were on my mind too much but things just felt different. And they went from bad to worse with cars parking on pavements, my cane getting caught in bushes/behind poles and posts. I even misjudged a couple of crossings and slipped off the curb. I quickly corrected myself but that wasn’t the point; I don’t do these things. Even though I’m still having mobility sessions, they’re primarily so I can learn routes. By almost everyone who has ever assessed my mobility, I’ve always been complimented on having good long cane skills. It was always the lack of wanting to use them that was frowned upon. So these little niggles annoyed me. They’re nothing massive and its no big deal in the grand scheme really but its irritating to be making these mistakes when I feel so close to achieving what I’ve been working towards for so long.

The outbound walk was the worst. My cane just got caught behind and on so much. It was frustrating beyond belief. Add to that the cars parked on pavements and it made the whole thing pretty unpleasant. I admire Jenny’s patience and calmness. I’d have got fed up with me if I was someone trying to help. I was fed up of me being me! The cars parked on the pavements weren’t major ones. They didn’t block the whole path, they just made an inconvenience along my journey I could have done without. If there’s an obstacle on the pavement, be it bin, parked car or uncovered man hole or whatever it is, it makes you have to slow down and reassess everything. You have to work out which angles to carry on, whether the gap is actually safe enough for you to pass through and then how to manoeuvre yourself through the situation. Usually, there’s more than enough room but if not, you’ve then got to work out if its safe for you to venture out into the road, carefully skirt closely around the car and then get back onto the path. And if this is a main road then this can become horrendous and extremely dangerous. Thankfully, there was none of the worst case scenario situations for me on Thursday. That would have really topped off my bad mood nicely.

By the time we reached our little coffee shop in Woolston, I was thoroughly frustrated with the whole event. I just wanted to be indoors somewhere not having to think about routes or possibilities or progress. Because it felt like, even though I’d remembered a lot of the crossings, landmarks and turnings on the route correctly, we’d actually taken two steps backward in terms of progress. In hindsight, perhaps that feeling was over-exaggerated at the time. I feel better about the whole thing now we’re nearly a week on from it than I did at the time. It made me question everything, especially when the fact that Guide Dogs still hold all the power of my dream came to mind. Although I’m putting all this effort in and wholeheartedly intend to continue to do so, when I approach Guide Dogs again and tell them I feel I’m ready to continue with my application, that I’d like to be reconsidered as now ready and enough for one of their dogs they could so easily say no, I’m not ready yet, I still don’t have enough routes, the workload isn’t big enough, am I sure this is what I want? It’s crushing. The thought that I could make all this massive progress – because, for me, it really is huge in comparison to what I’m used to – and they could still say no… Most of the time I really have to put that thought out of my mind otherwise it gets me really down. The idea that it could be years until I get accepted for a dog hurts and makes all this seem pointless.

Jenny tried to boost my spirits by saying how good things were looking with the route. I just wasn’t feeling it. It was nice to still have someone else having faith in me, though, and the feeling that even if it felt rubbish to me, it still looked like progress to Jenny was good news. This is all thought of in hindsight, mind. By the time I reached the sanctuary of my bedroom on Thursday afternoon, I was wholeheartedly deflated and down about the whole situation. The return trip was better. Although, not long into it the wired Aftershokz headphones I have to use with my Trekker Breeze died completely. I never carry the extra external little clip on speaker with me because the headphones never fully lose charge. So I was caught out. I tried clipping the Breeze’s belt clip onto the collar of my coat and positioning the in-built speaker next to my ear. But it just made everything clumsy and awkward and I couldn’t hear the announcements the Breeze was speaking even then. Reluctantly admitting defeat, I switched it off and put it in my pocket, cursing myself for not charging the headphones. Unfortunately, with them there’s no way of knowing when their battery is low so its always risky taking them out. But their battery lasts such a long time that I always forget it must need charging at some point. Strangely, from then onward the route seemed to go quite well. I remembered crossings, landmarks and turnings well and Jenny seemed quite impressed, drawing on how I must be retaining most of the route well now as I wasn’t asking her for too many hints and the Breeze was unavailable to give me reminders. It felt quite good doing some of the route without my Breeze. But I wouldn’t want to be out often without it. The reassurance it gives is so comforting and having it there as backup should anything disastrous happen is such a support. Maybe I should be able to do it without the Breeze. But I don’t see why having that extra safety net should be an issue. I always make sure the Breeze has enough charge and only on stupid occasions like this do things like the headphones battery dying happen. The GPS signal is always clear enough for the Breeze to get an accurate enough reading and that’s enough for me. I don’t rely on it. I intend to have this route fully memorised before I even consider approaching Guide Dogs again. But having it as support and guidance if I need it is nice and I wouldn’t give that up for anything. I wish I’d discovered Trekker Breeze sooner. Maybe then I’d have been further in this journey than I am currently. Maybe it’d have given me the confidence to learn routes and get out of the house years ago like I should have. Who knows? It didn’t happen.

Now looking back on the day in hindsight I can see it wasn’t as bad as I felt at the time. It is pretty disheartening though when things go wrong. Coincidentally, the night before it happened, I was talking to my ex cricket captain and constant adviser Tiny about my plans of making progress with this whole thing and he mentioned that I shouldn’t get too down if a bad session came along. I’m so glad he said that before it happened because it helped me get the resolve of “oh well, next session will be better and this isn’t the end of everything”. On Thursday night, I messaged Tiny, and Imi too, voicing my fears about Guide Dogs still saying no even after I put all this effort in and the feeling of knowing it might all be nothing despite my progress. Tiny’s response was the best. Although I struggled to agree with him on Thursday night I understand what he meant. He said that basically I needed to see the smaller goals and achievements in the whole thing as well as aiming toward my end goal of a guide dog. He had a point even if I couldn’t see it at the time through my disappointment at the way the day had gone. It made me think though. If I hadn’t been out learning a new route, what would I have been doing? Sat at home at my desk studying, most likely, just how I do every weekday. I wouldn’t have been in the company of a nice person, inhaling all the fresh air, being outside or having a drink in a nice little coffee shop with friendly staff. Those are the small blessings in this situation. But on Thursday it was hard to see how those things mattered in the grand scheme of things. And that point is still valid. The only reason I’m doing all this is so that Guide Dogs finally accept me as adequate and eligible for one of their dogs. It’s so I can have the independence I got a glimpse of when I had zena and none of the other positives matter. In the long run, if Guide Dogs were to decline my application again, I wouldn’t be looking back thinking “wow how lucky was I to be spending all that time outside learning a new really long route”. I’d be thinking “what a waste of time!”. I’ll forever be grateful that Jenny agreed to be my volunteer, that shes spending so much of her own personal time each week helping me towards my goal. But if that goal is never achieved, I won’t be glad I spent all this time trying to reach it. I’ll be gutted. Mainly because I spent so much time working so damn hard doing what they told me I needed to do for it then to be said not to be enough. How they could do that, I don’t know. But anything is possible and the fact I’ve not had a yes yet makes me cynical. Hopefully that cynicism will be wiped away after all this hard work and they’ll say yes straight away, acknowledging the effort I’ve put in which clearly shows how much I want a dog, how dedicated I will be to the partnership if only they give me a chance. I was dedicated to Zena. I was, just not many other people seem to see that. I tried 1000% my best with her. The whole thing just fell apart. The fact shes now living as a pet is testament to the fact I definitely made the right decision for both of us. She was miserable, I wasn’t safe in her care and eventually we’re both going to have our rightful places, she as a pet and I with a new dog who loves guiding and keeps me safe always. I just have to be positive, I guess. That’s always been one of my big problems. Always too miserable and cynical. Why shouldn’t Guide Dogs accept me onto the waiting list after this long route is accomplished? I’ll have done everything they asked of me. That’s how I need to think. A quiet confidence that this time, after all this work, it’ll all pay off.

Jenny and I have another session on Friday. I’m glad I waited until today to write this so I was in a better frame of mind to put things into words. It would have been a very angry post if I’d written it on Thursday afternoon like I’d planned. Luckily, other things have been going well. Last Wednesday, Dad and I walked the route up to the news agents he’s been teaching me. I didn’t need any prompting or guidance. So that route is done. On the way back, we walked via Mayfield Park, the spot I’d predicted would be great for a free run. I wasn’t wrong. It was perfect. I think, once the dog and I had a solid partnership, I’d even be able to take it for a run by myself. The park is enclosed and I’d be able to walk in a straight line along the perimeter of the park while the dog was off lead and get to the exit safely. Ive tried it with dad. So I’m really happy with that route and its been completed a lot quicker than I expected. In addition to that, today Dad and I tried a new route. It was to my sister’s secondary school. We’ve already tried one way, that takes you up and over a train bridge. But, although this way was longer, it was so much easier. It’s an extension of the gym/news agents route, which is great, and the new additional part isn’t complicated at all. After a few tries, I’m positive I’ll have it figured out and memorised. It means that, if I wanted to, I could meet my sister from school. More than that, its another at least 45 minute each way route that I know. This one even has a decent destination. Its a win win all round. While doing that route, I realised, as an extension of that, I’d be able to learn how to walk from my house to my grandparents’ house. I was planning to learn the bus route there with Jenny after we’ve finished the Woolston route but Dad says he can show me the route on foot. If I can memorise that, I think I’d learn the bus route as a backup. More and more possibilities of routes seem to be opening up and its such a nice feeling, especially as the more routes i have the happier Guide Dogs should be about my eligibility and commitment for a dog. It’ll all take time, I know, but progress is more than steady even with the blips in my fifth My Guide session. There’s the chance that my sixth could be the best yet. I guess I’ll find out Friday. For now, though, I’m going to stay positive. After the progress I have been making with the Woolston route and the leaps and bounds Dad and I are making with our routes, I can’t be disappointed. In fact, things are going better than I hoped. Fingers crossed everything stays positive.

PS: I’ve fixed the glove issue. Ive discovered that I can wear the fingerless gloves I have with the flap pulled over making them into mittens and its still almost as safe using my cane. I don’t lose much sensitivity at all and, best of all, my hands keep toasty. See, silver lining in every rain cloud…

Mobility update: the outcome of my Guide Dog assessment

Since i last wrote a mobility update, quite a lot has happened. Last time I wrote, I’d had my mobility assessment with the instructor from Guide Dogs and she’d told me she felt I was more than ready for the next part of the assessment, where a GDMI [Guide Dogs Mobility Instructor] would come to my house and talk everything dog related. She advised I’d probably have to do a short handle walk, a walk where I hold the harness and the instructor walks as if they’d dog, and I command as if they are the dog. I felt a bit nervous about this as, 6 years ago when I had my first guide dogs assessment, that was one of the things they picked up on: that I wasn’t particularly vocal with the dog. At the time I was 14 and terrified; I was desperate for a guide dog for all the wrong reasons and absolutely heartbroken and gutted when, predictably, they told me I wasn’t ready yet. But I felt confident after this assessment; the woman had been more positive than I could have hoped she’d be. She said my mobility had come on leaps and bounds since she assessed me a year ago and that I’d finally done what she needed.

Unfortunately, at the next assessment, in mid October, things were very different. The tone of the whole thing was completely the opposite of that which I’d been thrilled about in July. The lady had filled me with so much hope and anticipation, which I hadnt dared to have before considering my previous negative experiences with guide dog assessments. Of course, in hindsight now I can absolutely understand why they made the decisions they did and I respect that; but I was so joyfully hopeful this time. Friends and family had been wholeheartedly encouraging me that this time, at last, I’d get the answer Ive been dreaming of for so long. Due to their unwavering certainty and the positive vibes I’d received after the assessment last time, I was quietly confident too, secretly hoping I’d get exactly what I was wishing for this time. But it didn’t work out that way. When the assessment started, we did a lot of talking; it was the instructor from the last assessment, a new GDMI I’d never met before and myself. Right from the beginning I was nervous; of course, even before they arrived I was nervous but as soon as they were in my lounge, an uncertainty I hadn’t had was with me. Once all the talking was done, during which I’d pretty much told them the full story of my experiences with Seeing Dogs, we went out for a route walk. As soon as the instructor asked, I knew things weren’t going as I’d dreamed; she wanted me to show them the route to the gym, which is my longest route and the one I learnt with John and Zena during our training and which became mine and Zena’s most used route. Slightly panicking, I grabbed my Trekker Breeze, praying they wouldn’t ask me to do it without it, and programmed in the route I needed. Thinking about it now, I might have been able to do the route without the Trekker – I did it so many times with zena – but I didn’t really want to take the risk. Plus, the difference doing the route with Zena and doing it with a cane is staggering.

The route went relatively well on the way there. They didn’t interupt or ask anything additional of me so I was able to concentrate on where I was going, with the additional landmark reminders from the Trekker as backup. They were reassuring and I was so glad I’d taken the risk of grabbing the Trekker. When we reached the gym, we immediately turned back around and headed home. On the return journey, I did do a short handle walk; it was terrifying. It’s so different from actually having a dog on the end of the harness and commanding a GDMI who is currently assessing whether you’re good enough for a dog you know 100% you want and need.

When we got home, they told me the verdict. Of course I wasn’t ready for a guide dog yet. Of course I dint have enough routes. My workload was nowhere near enough for a young lively new guide dog. I didn’t go out anywhere near as much as I needed to myself to enough different places to be ready for a dog. Secretly, I’d been expecting these comments. Although everyone else had been overly positive, a little secret part of my brain had been dreading they’d say all this. What came next was what I hadn’t expected. They had received comment back from Seeing Dogs, from John in fact, discussing my partnership with Zena. John had basically said that he thought I’d given up too soon, that my handling hadn’t been right and that due to my lack of routes Zena had gotten bored and therefore the partnership had crumbled. But according to him, if I’d tried harder or persevered longer, it would have all worked out. What I was experiencing was merely teething issues which every new partnership experiences for the first year after qualification. In a nutshell, it was my fault and I shouldn’t have quit. When I defended myself, trying to explain the severity of the issues I’d faced and the lack of support from the charity I felt I’d experienced, the GDMI said that I could experience any or all of these problems with one of their dogs, that usually many new owners do face these problems at the beginning of the partnership. I tried to counter that I didn’t feel the frequency of the occurrence of the problems were as bad with all new partnerships to what I had with Zena. Ours was pretty much a daily struggle with no high points.

They explained that due to my lack of routes and the comments from John, they had concerns about putting me forward for a Guide Dog. They explained again that I could experience any of the issues or even all of them with a new dog and because I’d given zena back, how would they know that I’d persevere with a new dog? Of course they didn’t actually say it like that but that was the message. Also, I needed to consider whether a dog was for me. They said that they felt I’d been given many opportunities to improve my amount of routes and hadn’t taken them. They said that of course they could appreciate there were two sides to every story where mine and Zena’s partnership was concerned but they couldn’t pretend that John’s report hadn’t given them worries.

So they left me with two options to think over. They said that if I felt after all this that actually a guide dog wasn’t for me right now I could close my application and reapply at a time when I did feel a dog would suit my lifestyle. Or, if I wanted, the instructor would put me forward for a My Guide application again and I could spend time working on my routes to create a large enough workload for a guide dog. The instructor said that if I chose My Guide then she’d contact the leader of Southampton’s My Guide service immediately so that I could be put forward for a new application. As before, she complimented my much improved long cane skills, saying how much more confidence I seemed to have whilst using it than she had seen the previous year. The GDMI added that I’d done a really good job correcting my own orientation errors along the route and that she felt it was a really good route. We did a lot of talking about how many routes I have. I explained how since the instructor had assessed me the previous year, I’d learnt a lot of new routes: the gym route (30 minutes there, 30 minutes back), the library route (a really recent learn, 20 minutes there and the same return), the routes on the bus both into Woolston our local small shopping street and into our main city centre, the route from Woolston on foot to my doctor’s surgery and pharmacy, and the locations of several shops both in Woolston and the city centre. Over the last year, I’ve personally felt I’ve made massive leaps and bounds in my mobility independence. I had a guide dog and despite the fact that she wasn’t a Guide Dogs dog and wasn’t the best working dog, she meant that I did my level best to leave the house daily more than just to put the rubbish out. This, for me, is huge! The addition of all the new routes is even more amazing progress. In 2016, it took me several months to learn the route to the local shop which is 5 minutes away from my house. But since then I’ve learnt routes that are lengthy, or lengthy in my book. Nowadays, I regularly meet up with my friend Josh, catching the bus into the city centre and going for lunch with him. That’s usually once weekly. And then most Tuesdays I take the bus into Woolston to have coffee and do a little shopping with my grandparents. Before Zena gave me that confidence, I’d never have dared.

This was all explained to the instructor and GDMI and although they seemed pleased that I’d made that progress, it was clear it still wasn’t enough. When discussing the My Guide option, we sketched out what I could accomplish with a volunteer’s help. We wrote out a list of routes I had in mind to try out and the lengths of each of them. Once we’d established this, the instructor and GDMI agreed that all of these combined would most definitely create a large enough workload for a guide dog but it was up to me whether I felt it was worthwhile putting that effort in, whether I thought creating that kind of work for myself was necessary right now and whether a guide dog would benefit my life. As they left, the instructor said to mull things over for a little while and let her know when I’d made my final decision.

To say I was crushed was an understatement. After all the hard work I’d put in learning new routes and still trying my best even after giving Zena back, I’d hoped I’d get a better answer than that. Right there and then, I couldn’t really think or feel anything, except shock that it hadn’t gone better and at what John had told them. As promised, as soon as the women had left, I ran upstairs and rang my sister Imi. In all of this guide dog mess, I have always had three solid figures in my life who I could rely on for sound advice and honesty. Of course my parents and wider family have been supportive too but the three main people, without whom I wouldn’t have pulled through all this, are Imi, my wonderful fella Kieran and my ex cricket captain and all round blindy hero Tiny. Of course, being Guide Dog owners themselves, Imi and Tiny have a whole host of knowledge and experience about Guide Dogs to fall back on when helping me out. As for Kieran, well, he’s my rock and always there for me no matter what, even when I’m wrong. The support of these three people in my life is utterly priceless to me and I can’t reiterate often enough how I wouldn’t have gotten through the worst times along this journey so far without them. Hence why Imi was my first port of call. To be fair, all she got when she answered the phone was a sudden gabbled statement of “I haven’t got enough routes and I’m not ready” before I burst into uncontrollable sobs. I say this not to be dramatic but because it was true. Poor Godwin probably thought things were a lot worse than they were because I don’t think shes ever heard me cry like that. Haltingly, I managed to tell her the full account of the morning’s events. The parts we focused on were the open option for My Guide and what John had told Guide Dogs in his report about me. Imi couldn’t believe how horrid he’d been; she saw mine and Zena’s partnership with her own eyes when we visited her in April so knows first hand how bad things. We’re. In fact, it was she who alerted me to some of the issues I hadn’t realised we were having. Eventually, we summarised that I needed to think what I wanted but that the My Guide offer was a fair one and definitely one I should take if I wanted to pursue getting a dog. However, I was so messed up about the whole thing that right there and then I wasn’t sure what I wanted. After everything John had told them, my worst fears seemed to be coming true. Maybe I’d been a bad owner. Maybe I shouldn’t have a guide dog. Maybe I didn’t need a guide dog and was again making up reasons why I should have one. The only solid argument I had for this theory was that however bad mine and Zena’s partnership had been, it improved my life dramatically. I was leaving the house with confidence and feeling good about my mobility. Yes, we had mountains of issues and these in the end made me decide that the partnership couldn’t work, but if nothing else, Zena proved how much guide dog mobility can enhance my life. That, above all my other insecurities and worries and uncertainties, makes me positive sure a guide dog is for me. At the end of mine and Imi’s call, I wasn’t feeling much better. But I was trying to take her level-headed logic and calmness on board.

Later, I spoke to Tiny on the phone. He was equally surprised about the outcome of the assessment. Above everyone else, he’d seemed the most certain for me that I’d get the answer I wanted. But as always he is my voice of reason. He knew what I needed to do before I really did. He knew I needed to reapply for My Guide, get all the routes I had in mind under my belt and then go back to the instructor and show what I’d accomplished. With all the routes I had in mind, I’d surely have a big enough workload then. He said that what John had said was unfair. He told me to give everything a lot of thought, at least sleep on it, before I decided what I was going to do. But we both knew what I was going to do. Tiny is always right.

As for Kieran, well, he was my comfort blanket, he said all the things I wanted and needed to hear. Over the following few days, gifts of my favourite sweets arrived in the post: 3 large boxes of Cadbury’s milk tray, a big bag of jelly tots and a box full of packets of love hearts. Although unnecessary, these gifts fulfilled their purpose; they cheered me up. Kieran hasn’t always fully understood my motives for being so persistent about wanting a guide dog. But he understands now;he knows for me a guide dog is my preferred mobility aid and that to me guide dog mobility feels almost natural, an extension of my arm the way his cane feels to him. And so his support is unwavering.

After giving it some thought and taking everyone’s comments on board, I’d made my decision. Like I’d thought that day on the phone with Tiny, I knew I was going for the My Guide option. Guide dog mobility improved my life that much that I felt giving up now wasn’t an option, especially when there was an open door of help to enable me to be ready for a guide dog available. Why would I slam that door? It’s the only available avenue to getting a guide dog left to me. I took the cheater’s way out with Seeing Dogs and look where that left me? Missing a dog that I loved with all my heart but who just wasn’t cut out to be a guide and who I’ve had nothing but abuse about from the charity she came from. I don’t regret having Zena in my life and I never could but the backlash and consequences of that that I’m now facing somethimes make me wonder whether it was worth it. The only positive I really got out of it is proof that guide dog mobility is the right thing for me. The pleasure of having Zena as my companion for 5 months was obviously a massive bonus and she taught me loads of vital dog ownership lessons, mainly to be patient when things aren’t going your way.

With Imi’s help, I sent an email to the instructor stating what I wanted to do. I told her I wanted to reapply for My Guide with the sole aim of learning all those routes we’d outlined in the meeting to then be reassessed for a guide dog. We also asked for clarification on just how many routes I needed to learn to have enough to form a decent workload for a dog. It was agreed that the ones I had in mind plus the additional ones I already knew would be enough. While I’d been thinking all this through and corresponding via email, my dad had already volunteered his services for helping to teach me routes. He already had one in mind: the route from home to a news agents. It takes a good 35-40 minutes to walk there from home but it builds on my existent route to the gym. Over the following few weeks, dad taught me this route as promised and I realised it was a very valuable route to have. Not only was it just an extension of an existing route I know solidly but it is also a convenient little shop to go to and it also passes a big park, perfect for free running. In fact, it’s the very park John and I used during training to free run Zena. I stopped using it because it became too much of a distraction for her whilst working on route to the gym. I felt this was a big accomplishment of mine and dad’s because really I’d learnt the routes to two new places. Although only additions to the existing route, still two new destinations and quickly learnt and memorised.

I was quickly contacted by the leader of My Guide, who did the application there and then over the phone. As soon as she’d completed the online form, she said she already had a volunteer in mind and could she come the following Wednesday so I could meet them and decide whether I thought she could help me. This took place in mid November. The lady’s name was Jenny and she’s helped others learn routes in the past. We discussed what I needed to do and then did a little walk outside. We just walked to the local Co-op and then came back. Jenny and I both said we were happy to work together and she seemed quite optimistic about achieving my route aims, the leader said she’d phone back in a couple of days and check with each of us that we were happy to go ahead and then fill out the appropriate paperwork so we could get started. A week later, she contacted us both by email to say we were a successful match and could start work together. That very evening, Jenny phoned me to arrange our first session. We agreed on the 7th of December at 10am with the plan to start my first new route, the longest of them all: the big walk into Woolston.

So eventually, the result was positive. I was matched with a volunteer swiftly and a plan put in place for me to learn new routes that would build up into a big enough workload for a guide dog. My aim currently is to take 6 months to learn all the routes I need. I’m not the quickest at picking up routes but am hoping 6 months will be long enough for me to be competent and confident with all the routes outlined in mine and Jenny’s action plan. That is the aim. Then, I’d like to be reassessed by Guide Dogs shortly afterward and then put forward for the waiting list. I hope by persevering with this and learning all these new routes that I can prove to Guide Dogs and anyone else that I’m committed to being a guide dog owner and committed to making any future partnerships I’m lucky enough to have the best they possibly can be. If all this hard work doesn’t show that I’m totally serious about owning and working a Guide dog then I don’t know what will.

Open Uni: K118 results day

Amazingly, I am already 2 months into my Open Uni summer break and that can only mean one thing: results day was looming. Our module result date was set to be the 19th of July and after assessment marks being released, module result day is the most tense part of the whole academic year. Even if all your TMA’s have come back with outstanding grades throughout the module, on results day you’re still sitting there with the horrendous possibility that you may have still failed the module. To pass a Level 1 module, you have to receive 40% or higher in your overall continuous score, which is all your assessment scores combined, and then 40% or higher in your examinable component score, which is either an EMA (examiner marked assignment) or a physical exam. The dread that somehow you may have completely messed up your chances of passing by performing terribly in your EMA hangs over you until results day. Of course, if you do grade lower than 40%, your whole module experience is ruined. The OU are slightly generous in that they give you roughly 6 weeks after results day to resubmit your examinable component, giving you the chance to pass second time around.
My results were released a day earlier than scheduled. For about two weeks prior to the due date, everyone was checking their emails and student home obsessively, certain that results would be out early. As it turned out, we weren’t wrong but they were nowhere near as premature as last year.
Not that it mattered. On Tuesday 18th July around 11am, OU results were finally available. I happened to be out and about when the first posts of ecstasy appeared on Facebook announcing the exciting news. Immediately, I logged onto student home using my IPhone, uncertain of whether the mobile site would actually show my results, and held my breath.
Pass. That was the first word that VoiceOver read to me. Pass. Then, overal examinable score: 75; overall continuous assessment score: 76. To say I passed the pass grade boundary is definitely an understatement with those scores. I was hoping for scores in that region, to be honest. My previous two modules, AA100 the arts past and present and K101 an introduction to health and social care, both received similar scores to what I’ve managed to achieve with K118. This of course means that my two level 1 modules have set me a good standard for Level 2 and 3 of my degree. Although i was hoping for scores in the 70s or higher, there was of course a very valid chance that I wouldn’t do that well. I could have perhaps not done well with the EMA and scored lower than the required 40, or maybe just scraped the pass. Neither of those would have satisfied me. There was no reason why I should do that badly. To grade lower than 40% would be a real disgrace for me.
So I passed. I have a third Level 1 module securely under my belt and a strong foundation to the basis of my degree. I can easily progress to Level 2 without any concern about Level 1. In October, I’m signed up to start studying two Level 2 60 credit modules: K217 and K240. I can’t remember the full titles of them right now, but one is based solely on mental health and the other is a continuation of the ones I’ve already been studying. One has an EMA and one has a proper exam. I’m already nervous about the prospect of an actual exam but a friend of mine, who is also VI, has reassured me by explaining how well the process went for him. He’s doing an OU degree in law and had to sit an exam for his second Level 1 module. I’d of course prefer to have EMAs for all modules, but I’m not sure that’s even possible. I think there is a way to do it, but that way you’d have to stick to a very specific pathway with your degree and I like the idea of choosing whichever modules I fancy regardless of the examinable component.
Another bonus to July 18th this year was that I noticed my student finance application for the academic year of 2017/18 has been approved. I’ve been allowed the full loan amount to cover both modules. To say I’m relieved is an understatement. Obviously, there’s no reason why I shouldn’t be granted my full loan request as I’ve had no disagreements with student finance in the past. It is nice to know that my studies are paid for for another year, though. I can’t imagine trying to fork out that kind of money to fund my own degree. My full loan amount is under £6000, though, which is a lot less than the cost of studying at a regular university. It is nice to know that if ever I’m in a position to repay my loan, I’ll be paying a lot less than I would have had I attended normal university, especially as I don’t have to add accommodation and living costs onto that already hefty cost.
Yet again, I’m ready to start back studying. It is very strange having this much free time on my hands. With no uni and no Zena either, I really have nothing to do with my time. I miss having study and a dog to fill up the long hours during the day while nobody else is home. In October, it will be nice to have something to focus all my attention and energy on again. The idea of being busy with two modules is more of a relief than a fear. Although, when I looked at my assessment calendar on Monday night, I was a bit daunted by how many TMA’s I’ll be completing in such a short space of time. But I feel ready for the challenge. Just like the last 2 years of Open University study, I’m going to give it my best shot and am hoping to end up with as good if not better grades than I’ve already achieved so far. According to my sister, the scores I’ve managed in both K118 and K101 are equal to a first in degree pass grades. There’s no way I could have ever hoped for more than that. I plan to keep it at that high standard. If I can continue getting those kind of scores at Levels 2 and 3, I’ll be coming out of this degree with something I thought was impossible for me to achieve. A first in a degree is a pretty amazing achievement so if i can manage that, I’ll have surpassed all my academic dreams. That’s what I’m aiming for, anyway. Whether I get there is currently a mystery. But for now, I’m pretty chuffed with a high pass in K118.