Tag Archives: achievement

Mobility Update: My Guide Sessions 15 and 16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mobility Update: My Guide Session 10

After a lovely fortnight up north visiting Kieran and family, which I’ll write about separately in my next post, I was eager to get back to my My Guide routine, especially with all the positive news I’ve had lately… In fact, things couldn’t be more positive right now and anyone who knows me well will know it takes a lot for me to have that outlook!

Firstly, I finally have my Victor Reader Trek! HumanWare rang me on the Monday of mine and Kieran’s holiday to let me know that the units were finally in stock so did I want to complete my purchase so they could ship mine out to me? What a silly question! Ive only been waiting months… But anyway, the purchase was made and the man on the phone said the package would be shipped out the following day using DPD. A little bit of me was sad it was arriving when it was considering I still had a whole week left up north. But that was quickly forgotten whilst enjoying our holiday. Today being my first My Guide session provided a perfect opportunity to see what the Trek was like. While I was with Kieran, he painstakingly copied all the routes and landmarks I had stored on my Breeze onto my computer so that I could copy them onto the Trek’s SD card as soon as I got home and them import them onto the Trek to be used while out and about. More about the Trek later.

The other excellent news I received came in the form of a phone call from the GDMI who assessed me in october following the scheduled case review where my progress was discussed. The southampton Guide Dogs team have decided I’m ready for further assessment! I couldn’t be a fraction happier about this if I tried, unless it replaced the nervousness and worry I have about the whole thing. The GDMI seemed full of praise and more than happy to answer my multiple questions. The whole thing felt incredibly positive, not at all like that assessment in october. In fact, it felt like I was talking to a completely different woman to the one who assessed me. I had to keep reminding myself that she was actually the same person. She seemed very pleased with the progress I’ve been making with routes, explaining that ideally a Guide Dog would have one at least 45-minute working period and another shorter, 20-minute-ish working walk throughout the day. I brought up the point that surely all Guide Dogs partnerships are different and not every single day can every single Guide Dog owner get their dog out for this recommended period of work. She didn’t seem to mind at all that I was questioning or debating with her; in fact, she seemed quite keen to have the conversation. We also discussed my worry of the routes to free run areas being pointless if I’m matched with a dog who I can’t free run by myself. The way I’m looking at it is I can always work the dog to the free run area and have someone meet me there to supervise the free run itself. The only definite issue would be if I had a dog who refused to continue on with a route that included the free run area without going to the free run space. Obviously this would be problematic because you wouldn’t be able to use that route and get to your desired destination without allowing your dog some off-lead time. This really wouldn’t be practical if you were in a rush or had a deadline to be somewhere and the only option was to use a route that contained a free run area. The conversation definitely gave me a lot to think about. The GDMI said that the purpose of the further assessment is for the team and I to decide whether a Guide Dog is definitely the best mobility aid for me. At this point, I gently cut in and assured her that I’m not going to change my mind. I wouldn’t have persevered this long or tried learning all these new routes if I wasn’t 100% certain I wanted a Guide Dog and that it would be an enhancement to my life. It really, really would. The GDMI explained that the further assessment would be a day at a centre actually working with guide dogs in all capacities. I’m assuming this means on harness as well as some of the more domestic things like grooming and play time. It sounds a lot like the assessment I went for in December 2011, when I was told that then wasn’t the right time for me to have a dog considering I only left the house to go to school and with my parents and was planning to go to residential college in the next 18 months. My aim this time is to not be so nervous and do everything they instruct me to with 110% enthusiasm. Talking in that singsong voice makes me embarrassed and self-conscious but I’m going to do my best to put that out of my mind for the assessment. I’m going to have to do my best with tone and pitch of voice if I want to be a guide dog owner so might as well give it my best shot at the assessment even if I do feel ridiculous. Yesterday, a letter arrived in the post containing the details for the assessment. It’s on Tuesday 13th March from 10am to 3pm in a part of southampton I’ve never been to. Dad’s agreed to take the day off to transport me there and then pick me up again when its over. Receiving the letter made me even more nervous than I already was about the prospect of attending the assessment. 13 March really doesn’t seem far away and I’m terrified I still won’t have done enough or be chirpy enough in my singsong voice or do something wrong that makes them think a guide dog wouldn’t be right for me. All I can do is my absolute best and that’s what I’ll give so if that isn’t enough there won’t have been anything else I could have done. As far as I’m aware, the two outcomes of this assessment are “yes, we think a guide dog is for you and think you’re ready to go on the list” or “no, we don’t think a guide dog is for you’. I’m hoping if it isn’t the first answer I might get “we think a dog is right for you but not quite yet so keep working on your routes and we’ll reassess you when you know them all independently”. I’m really hoping that my progress so far and the promise that I’ll continue learning routes if they put me on the list and while I wait will be enough for them. If I get a flat out “no we don’t think it’s right for you”, I’m told I can appeal if I feel I have grounds to appeal on. My Guide Dogs gurus, who I go to for all guide dog related advice, have said I would have grounds to appeal on if it was a direct no. This is reassuring because I don’t intend to take no for an answer.

Now for today’s session. As usual, Jenny arrived at 9:30 for our walk. With the Trek all ready to go, we set off. To begin with, I didn’t feel like I was doing a very good job at recalling the route. But as we got into it, things seemed to improve. The Trek wasn’t doing a great job at following the route I’d recorded on my Breeze so I cancelled it and walked without it, with Jenny assisting wherever necessary. We completed the slight adjustment we’d made to the route, crossing a road instead of walking along the path that has a huge drop to the left. It felt a lot better not even having to be wary of the drop and the crossing isn’t a difficult one at all. The rest of the route went relatively well. I noticed that the landmarks that had been copied from the Breeze to the Trek weren’t particularly useful. They weren’t being announced in the correct positions. Eventually, I decided I would just re-record the route and all the landmarks fresh so that it was more useful.

We stopped at Coffee Mac’s for our usual break. Jenny had her coffee and i had apple juice with a slice of banana cake. It wasn’t really a reward for anything – I just fancied a slice after how delicious it had been last time. Plus, I figured why not. If I have to say it was a treat, it was a treat for the good news about the further assessment. Again, the cake was lovely and I enjoyed the apple juice much more than I would have a hot chocolate. Afterwards, we popped into say hello to Dad. Then, we headed home, starting to re-record the reverse route from Coffee Mac’s. I noticed that some of the old landmarks were appearing but not consistently. I felt much more comfortable re-recording them and decided I’d start deleting some of the old landmarks later on. I felt that the reverse route went quite well and i was remembering much more of it. Jenny seemed pretty positive about how things were progressing, too, which was nice because its always good to have her support and know how things are looking from another perspective.

We’ve agreed to meet next Friday for our next session. I’m hoping that once we’ve re-recorded the route on the Trek, I’ll really be getting the hang of the route and maybe be getting to a point where I can do it without any input from Jenny, therefore independently. I’m also hoping that Dad and I will be able to go out next Wednesday and continue learning the route to my sister’s school. I’m hoping to pick it up quickly and then merge it into learning the route to my grandparents house. I think both will be amazingly useful routes, not only for their length but for the fact that I already go to my grandparents once a week on Wednesdays for tea, opening up an excellent opportunity to walk there independently. As for my sister, well shes only in her second year at that school so I still have plenty of time to use that route legitimately. To be fair, though, its just a good place to be able to walk to, especially as it extends to my grandparents house.

Overall, I think our 10th session went pretty well considering I’ve been away for two weeks and the new addition of the Trek and the little complications that brought. I think next week will be even better and I have a lot to look forward to with the upcoming further assessment with Guide Dogs. All I have to do is try not to get too nervous and worried by the day because I know what I’m like… I’ll be imagining all the worst outcomes and then on the day just constantly be thinking that its going to be a bad outcome when there’s a good chance it’ll be a good one. Keeping everything crossed that I’ll get my dream answer of being put on the waiting list. All I can do to get that answer is try my best. Try, I will.

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.

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.