Tag Archives: progress

Mobility Update: My Guide Session 23

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mobility Update: My Guide Session 21

On the day my sister turned into a teenager, it was time for another My Guide session, this time a new challenge for me… last Friday, Jenny and I did a trial run of the shorter route to my grandparents house. Dad, after working out himself how long the route I’d proposed to their house would actually take us, had suggested that actually it’d be best for all parties involved if I considered his shorter route option. So after Jenny had driven around both route options last Thursday after our session, I’d agreed. Jenny had said that the route I proposed would be about 2.4 miles each way and take much longer than an hour and a half whereas Dad’s suggestion was around 1.8 miles each way and would be about an hour and a half if not slightly shorter. Of course, my brain was automatically thinking that the longer route would be better, would impress Guide Dogs more, would make for a better addition to my workload for a guide dog. But obviously I was being silly. A route that’s at least an hour each way is more than enough, and a route over an hour and a half each way is bordering on insane.

As the trial run of the route proved, Dad and Jenny were right; there was no way I needed to even consider the longer route. Also, doing the trial run also showed me what Dad has been trying to tell me for ages: that there’s a much quicker nicer way to get to Tamsin’s school. The trial route of the grandparents route takes me up passed the local co-op, my shortest route, and on over a train bridge. At some point, we end up walking up the road towards Tamsin’s school where, on the route to her school that I’m already learning, we usually walk down that road to the school. So, in effect, its a huge circle. From the school, we even backtrack along some of the route I’m already learning to her school to get to a pedestrian crossing. The road we need to cross is particularly busy and I don’t fancy just crossing it at a slight lull in the traffic and hoping for the best. The pedestrian crossing with spinning cone and beeping noise to alert me when its safe to cross is a much better option. It does lengthen the route a little bit but its worthwhile for the safety it provides.

The worst part of the route is the last main road which, at some point, I turn off to get to Nan and Grandad’s bungalow. It is crazy busy with traffic most of the time and the cars come whizzing passed at silly speeds. To make matters worse, the pavement is quite narrow, meaning that when a big lorry or van comes speeding passed its quite unsettling. On the journey to Nan and Grandad’s, the level of traffic made me seriously consider the possibility that there might not be a point in pursuing this route, however much I wanted to add it to my rapidly growing route options. Walking alongside that noisy busy fast traffic really wasn’t a pleasant feeling and it made me wonder if this route was going to be too difficult or unpleasant for me to persevere with. I didn’t voice this to Jenny at that point, too busy concentrating on where I was going and recording landmarks on my Victor Reader Trek, which was also successfully recording the progress of the new route for me. When eventually we turned off the busy main road, I felt very relieved and quite zapped of all energy. This route was certainly testing my resolve.

But once we turned into Nan and Grandad’s street, finding their bungalow was no problem. There’s one other person’s driveway and then the gated entrance to Nan and Grandad’s house. They provided us with much needed and very welcome refreshments of cold drinks and chocolate biscuits. At this point, I was still feeling very uncertain about the route. Those main roads really weren’t nice to walk alongside and there was a lot for me to learn with this route. But I was still determined to try; maybe the return route would change my mind.

It didn’t completely, but it made me feel a lot more hopeful about the route in general. The main roads didn’t feel quite so daunting on the return journey. Maybe I felt better because I was refreshed, I don’t know, but it certainly didn’t seem as difficult on the way home as it had before. Jenny and I discussed this as we walked. She suggested that it could be because the cars were coming towards us rather than rushing up from behind and racing passed. I suggested that it was because the first test of the route was done, I’d already walked it once. Even though it was only the first time I was walking the return journey, having walked the route the other way round already seemed to help my confidence. That doesn’t mean that the route isn’t still a challenge, because it definitely is. I don’t think its going to be a quick one to learn like the school one seems to be. I think its going to take a good while for it to start sinking into my memory. But I’m going to persevere with it. Having my grandparents house as a reachable destination can only be a good thing. Jenny and I did also talk about getting the bus to my grandparents to cut out some of those horrible main roads. Its an option of something else to learn in the future and would be a good alternative if it was pouring down with rain and I still needed to get to Nan and Grandad’s. having options of how to get there is also good. I already go there twice a week for tea as it is and sometimes there’s other days we visit too. If i was able to get there independently, it means I could visit if parents were unable to transport me there and obviously would make a good excuse to work a guide dog. Even if I didn’t do the return route, getting a lift home with parents, that’s still a good hour and 20 minute working walk for a dog, more than anything guide dogs have said a dog needs daily. If I did that twice a week on the days I visit them now, that takes out two days’ worth of working the dog, and that’s not considering if I had other things to do or places to go on those days as well. Take two days for grandparents an add the Woolston route, gym route, library route, school route and bus route into town and I’m sure that’s more than enough to keep a dog busy. That’s not to mention the little route to the local Co-op and the route to the decent free run on the way to the gym and the same along the shore on the way to Woolston. Additionally, that’s not even thinking about other routes i want to learn for the future, including getting the bus to Nan and Grandad’s and a journey to Southampton central train station that then takes me either on a long distance train to my brother and his little family or Imi or then onto the airport train station, across the road and into the airport itself to catch a plane to Kieran. There’s so many options. Ive of course also got the route from the main Woolston high street up to my doctors. And they’re all things I hope to be able to do independently and don’t take into account things I do at weekends with the family. I think that’s more than enough for a dog to be getting on with. Of course, I don’t have all those routes memorised yet. Woolston, Tamsin’s school and the grandparents’ route are still very much in progress, especially the grandparents’ route. I might be doing really well with the Woolston route, but there are still a lot of little niggles that I need to iron out. But as mine and Jenny’s working time together is unlimited as long as we both say so, we should have plenty of time to perfect them all. That’s my plan, anyway. We’re meeting again this Thursday and I plan to do the Woolston route again, mostly because the summer is still raging and its nice to walk that route while its hot and not so to do the grandparents or school route. Fingers crossed it goes well and those niggles start to reduce.

Mobility Update: My Guide Session 20

After a week’s break while Jenny went on holiday, yesterday we were back to our usual time and place for another My Guide session, off to practice the Woolston route yet again. Last time I wrote, I said I was considering the possibility of doing the route solo or at least with Jenny just shadowing me and giving no hints about direction. But yesterday I just wasn’t in the mood. It wasn’t anything in particular that made me feel that way, I just didn’t fancy the added pressure of remembering everything. Plus, as there’s no progress with Guide Dogs, I don’t see any reason in rushing into doing routes solo when there’s really no need right now.

The outward route went well. I remembered things quite well, checking with Jenny at certain parts. There’s still little bits of the route that I need to persevere with practising. For example, walking along one road there’s a point where I need to cross to be on the opposite side of the road and for that I have to count 3 raised cement block things — at least that’s what they feel like with my cane — to know the exact point to cross. Before now, I was trying to rely on my Victor Reader Trek to announce the landmark at the right point instead of needing to count but it never quite gets it right. Similarly, when I’m almost home, on one of the last crossings before I reach my pathway, I walk up a slight hill and have to know the correct place to stop and cross so that I don’t cross and walk into the middle of the road. Although these are only minor things, they’re still things I need to perfect before I can consider doing the route solo. Perhaps next time Jenny and I practice the route I’ll get her to shadow me. We’ll see how I’m feeling.

We stopped to see Dad and popped into Piggy’s for refreshment, where Jenny had her usual Americano with hot milk on the side and I ticked off another milkshake from their list, this time the toffee nut milkshake. It was very nice. I also tried one of their triple chocolate cookies, which wasn’t too bad. On the way out, we popped in to see Dad and spoke to him about routes from my house to Nan and Grandad’s house. Dad had told me a long time ago that the route I’m learning to Tamsin’s school can be extended into a route to my grandparents house, but that the way I’m learning is unnecessarily long. There’s a shorter more convenient route but because I wanted to learn long routes for Guide Dogs, I didn’t initially consider it. But by using Dad’s version of the route, I’m learning a route almost completely separate from what I’m already learning and already know. I’m hoping it won’t be too much of a challenge. There are overlapping points during the route with other routes I have, for example the first part of the route walks up to my local Co-op, which was the first local route I knew. Jenny and I have agreed to meet next Friday morning at 9:30 to walk the route to my grandparents and see how it goes. Yesterday, Jenny drove both routes, the incredibly long one and Dad’s suggestion. The longer one she said was about 2.4 miles each way and Dad’s suggestion only1.8, which is still a rather decent walking amount. She’s predicting even Dad’s suggestion will take over an hour each way, but we’ll just have to see when we walk it for the first time next week. So as of next Friday, Jenny and I will be learning 3 routes simultaneously: the Woolston route, which I’m very close to mastering; the school route which isn’t complicated at all and I just need to practice every few weeks to keep fresh in my mind; the new route to Nan and Grandad’s house, which will hopefully follow dads suggested direction. If Dad’s suggestion of the route doesn’t go well and either Jenny or I aren’t happy with it, we’ll test my original idea for a route to the grandparents. But I really do feel it’d be better if they were 3 almost separate routes. The Woolston route is taking me 50-ish minutes each way, the school route is roughly an hour each way and Jenny predicts that this new route will be at least an hour each way if not more. This, surely, fills Guide Dogs need for me to have more lengthy routes. Even though that isn’t their issue any more, I’m still persevering with it. I’m determined to have a decent enough workload for a dog even if I am unemployed and a student who works from home. I know plenty of other Guide Dog owners who are unemployed and have qualified successfully so I don’t see why that should be a barrier for me. Plus, even with those three routes, there’s still others I want to learn, not to mention the ones I already know and the potential for new others in the future. Really, I feel I’ve got the route thing sussed, just as long as I learn them all…

As for my other issue with Guide Dogs, sadly there’s still no progress, to my ever mounting frustration. However, just yesterday there has been a development that makes me hopeful. My friend Jemma, who has the German Shepherd Guide Dog who I looked after once, is in the process of arranging a phone meeting with the service user representative from Southampton Guide Dogs Mobility Team. Jemma feels, and I’ve come to agree, that I deserve to be assessed by another team completely independent of Southampton and that Southampton aren’t treating me fairly. Ive fought so so hard for the chance to be a Guide Dog owner and I’m just not getting anywhere, being pushed back every time I think I’m getting close. Southampton aren’t prepared to offer any support or help with my challenge to learn how to interact and socialise with dogs and every avenue I’ve ventured down to try and solve this issue myself have been a dead end. Rescue shelters and grooming parlours won’t take me because I’m a health and safety risk or liability or whatever, I don’t personally know many Guide Dog owners locally and I’ve spent time with all the family dogs we have. I’m not alien to dogs. We have had two pet dogs plus Zena in this household alone. Even if I did get some things wrong on further assessment day and gave off some wrong signals, I know how to be around a dog, I know how to look after a dog and I even know some of the specialised commands and actions needed for a guide dog after my own experience with Zena and overhearing friends with their dogs. Its such a pressurised situation that I think I’m always going to be a nervous wreck with Southampton’s team until the day they give me the approval and praise I need to move forward with an application. But I don’t feel like I’ll get that, no matter what I try. Maybe there’s just too much passed history. Maybe my experience with Seeing Dogs is clouding their judgment. Or perhaps I’m just not the kind of applicant they’re looking for. If long waiting lists and being short staffed is secretly affecting my chances then that’s unfair but understandable. Obviously I shouldn’t be penalised if the charity are having issues internally, like full waiting lists and limited staff, but what can I do about it? I want to be on good terms with the Southampton team, I crave to be the candidate they’re looking for, I want them to be the hero’s who grant me a Guide Dog like they have for so many in the region. But every time I’m coming up against brick walls and I’m fighting so hard to overcome the barriers to them I present in being a competent Guide Dog owner. But maybe to them I’m just not fighting hard enough. Or maybe they think I;ll just never be suitable, there’s too many problems. I don’t know. I’ll probably never know. I’m hoping the service user rep might have some suggestions for me moving forward, whether that be persevering with Southampton or doing whatever I need to in order to be assessed elsewhere. As I’ve said, I’d like it to be the Southampton team because that’s the way things are meant to be, but i do now feel quite intimidated every time I have anything to do with them. There’s so much emotion involved for me and always the feeling that I’m not doing whatever it is they’re assessing right. Maybe that’s a result of there always being something else I need to get right for them. Maybe I’m not destined to be a Guide Dog owner. But I just can’t see that that’s the answer. With the support of friends and family, I looked after Zena really well. She had everything she ever needed and money wasn’t even questioned when it came to getting whatever she needed. As for our working relationship, I could have done things much better, I know that now. But at the time I tried my absolute hardest and I know I’d do that all again and much more if I was given another chance with a new dog. Plus, having the support of all the Guide Dogs trained staff, the network of Guide Dog friends I have and the online Guide Dogs community, there would always be someone to turn to if I had a problem, a wealth of experience and knowledge for me to take advantage of that just didn’t work with Zena. Obviously, there were still things Guide Dog friends could advise about with Zena and for those I’ll always be grateful. But having the full network of the entire Guide Dogs community at my disposal I know would help a lot.

But its all just dreams still. At the moment, I need to focus on learning these routes to the best of my ability. The Woolston and school routes are both going really well and I hope next week our exploration of the route to my grandparents goes really well too. If it does, it’ll be another one to add to my nicely expanding list of routes. This, of course, means that if I am lucky enough to be assessed by another team or Southampton reconsider in the future, I’ll have many more routes under my belt than I did last time I applied. All I can hope is that all these sessions help towards something and stand for more than just get in exercise, practising my long cane skills and having the opportunity to work with someone as lovely as Jenny. There was always a goal for all these routes and I really hope all my dedication, determination, perseverance and progress eventually leads to me achieving that goal.

Mobility update: My Guide Session 18

A week later than it should have been, last Thursday I had my 18th My Guide session. As always, Jenny arrived at my front door at 9:30 and we headed out, this week along the route that takes me to my sister’s school. Before we left, I set the Victor Reader Trek to record the route, hoping that maybe it had fixed itself and would work properly. On the way to the school, there were a number of obstacles on the pavement, including parked cars. Campaigning to make it a fining offence to park on the pavement really is for the best. Some of the paths are really narrow and if there’s a car parked on it, it can be almost impossible to pass safely, even though I’m just one person and a cane. In contrast to the Woolston route, this one is quite hectic and there’s much more thinking involved. There’s plenty of roads to cross and lots of traffic. First, I walk up my own road, which isn’t particularly busy but which has busses and cars driving passed regularly. Then, when I’m off the estate, I’m walking alongside Weston’s main road. Nearer the school, i walk over a foot bridge which is very narrow and goes parallel to a very busy road. The traffic sound sometimes makes it impossible for Jenny and I to continue our conversation and i often have to turn up the volume quite high on my Victor Reader Trek to be able to hear the prompts and instructions.

Amazingly, I remembered the route really well, which is surprising as Jenny and I have only done it twice before. But I had practised it a couple of times with Dad before Jenny and I started doing it. It is quite a simple route, though. Even though there are quite a lot of road crossings, I follow one path all the way there. There are some corners and curves but I always stay on the same side of the road and just keep walking straight to get there. Just before tamsin’s school, you turn 90 degrees right on a corner and then walk for about a minute down the road and then you’re opposite the gates to her school, a perfect place to stand and wait for her to come out and to still be far enough away to avoid getting submerged in the crush of happy teenagers free from the restraints of school. Even with the route being this simplistic, I’m still surprised how easy I found it. I’m useless at learning routes — always have been, always will be — but this route felt fine. I’m not sure I’d have the confidence to walk it alone yet — that traffic is quite daunting and its quite a distance to go on my own — but I’m certainly going to work on it. Since I got my GoPro camera and finished uni for the year, I’ve been trying to get out more. It hasn’t been as successful as i should have made it but i still feel chuffed that I’m trying and starting to succeed. Twice, I’ve gone to the bus stop to get the bus to Woolston to meet my grandparents for a coffee and a wander around. Once, I’ve caught the bus to meet my friend Josh for lunch. And twice I’ve walked to the corner of Bacon close to meet my employment officer for our fortnightly meeting. I haven’t pushed myself as much as perhaps i should have but for me i still feel that’s progress. Today, when I walked to and back from the bus stop I didn’t get that nervous panicky feeling i mostly always get when I’m out on my own with my cane so that has to be progress. I’m trying even whilst feeling so hopeless about the situation with Guide Dogs. It takes a lot for me to feel motivated about going out with my cane, especially now that’s not even the barrier Guide Dogs have for me being eligible. But I want to show them I’m still persevering, I’m still determined. Because i am; Guide Dog mobility is still the mobility that made me feel safe, free and confident, whatever setbacks Zena and I may have suffered. This morning, my facebook memories showed me that a year ago today I announced online that Zena was being withdrawn. Its already nearly been a whole year since I had a guide dog and I’ve had so many setbacks since then despite my determination and effort. Because I really have tried hard to improve my independence and mobility since I had Zena. I feel like I’ve made progress, I just hope one day someone who has the power to grant me the mobility aid I desire recognises that.

This week, Jenny and I are meeting on Thursday at 9:30 as usual to do the route into Woolston. Our Coffee Mac’s is still closed so I don’t know where we’ll end up. On the return route last Thursday we discussed extending the school route already. It is so simple getting to the school that I think we are already ready to start figuring out how to get to my grandparents house. Dad has told me that its a slight alteration and extension to the school route I’m learning so I’m estimating that it shouldn’t be that hard to learn how to get to Nan and Grandad’s too. Hopefully, we can work out a way to learn both routes in tandem and kill two birds with one stone, as the saying goes. In the meantime, we’ll continue to practice the Woolston route, mostly because its just such a tranquil route to walk and the more I do the more its embedded in my memory. Hopefully, if adapting the school route into grandparents route goes well, we could start considering adapting the Woolston route into park route, which technically we already learnt when we were walking the old Woolston route. But we’ll have to see. I feel my new routes are going so well that I don’t want to ruin it by introducing too many new routes. I’m retaining the Woolston and school routes much better than I expected to and there’s a chance that I could get all muddled up if I start trying to learn loads more. For now, we’ll continue to rotate the routes I know, as well as introducing the walk to the grandparents. I couldn’t be happier with how the route learning is going, I just wish that it was for the cause i want it to be. At the end of learning all these routes, Guide Dogs aren’t going to say “oh yeah, you’ve learnt all those routes now you’ve got a workload for a dog and are eligible” because they’re not saying my mobility is the issue any more. That’s more frustrating than anything else. But there’s nothing i can do about it but continue to work on my routes and look for ways to spend time interacting with more dogs. Hopefully I’ll get there eventually and this will have all been worthwhile for the goal i meant it to be.

Mobility Update: My Guide Session 17

After the biggest break we’ve ever had, today Jenny and I met up for our 17th session. Since we last saw each other, Jenny has had an operation and recovered and I’ve celebrated my 21st birthday, more about that in my next blog post. But today, it was time for more route learning out in the summer weather… well, summer-ish. Yesterday, it was beautifully warm, almost hot, and I was surprised everyone wasn’t in their shorts immediately, as that’s usually what happens when the temperature rises by the slightest in degrees. Even I had mine on last week! Sadly, today wasn’t so glorious. In fact, I was slightly worried around an hour before Jenny arrived that for the first time since we’ve started to work together, that the session might be rained off. Around 8am this morning the rain was absolutely hammering down and I was a bit uncertain about our chances. But as Jenny correctly predicted from the weather forecast, the rain had stopped and the weather much improved by the time she knocked on my door at 9:30.

Since the last time I wrote a mobility update, my Victor Reader Trek has been returned to me from HumanWare. This time, they didn’t’t do anything to it to try and fix it. The technical staff tried to replicate the problem I was facing with the routes but claimed they coudln’t see that issue themselves. When the unit came back to me, it had routes recorded on it that I hadn’t created but I’ve since done a test recording to see if the problem is still occurring and for me nothing has changed. Unless I’m continuously using it the wrong way, I can’t understand why the problem didn’t happen for the technical staff. They did advise that there is a software update hopefully being released soon. They suggested that I should make sure it gets installed when it’s available and said that hopefully that would fix the issue. If it doesn’t, they’re happy to have the unit back and do more testing. To be honest, I’m quite frustrated with the whole thing. The Trek was over £500 and although the book reading function with the added Bluetooth connection feature is great, the only thing that’s new on that side of the machine is the Bluetooth. As for the Trek side, I still feel that the Trekker Breeze I had, which was the updated version with fully working GPS and up-to-date maps, was much better. The quality of recordings for landmarks on the Trek are much clearer but no more accurate, at least I feel anyway. I’ll keep the unit but simply because I’ve sold my trusty Trekker Breeze and Victor Reader Stream (the book reading predecessor of the reading side of the Trek) in order to be able to afford the Trek. Also, I do really like the Bluetooth functionality of the Trek, even if that is a bit temperamental sometimes. If I get a chance, I’ll write more in depth about the Victor Reader Trek in a separate post; I’m not very technically minded and product reviews are more Kieran’s (my fella) sort of thing but I will give it a go. Anyway, for the purpose of this post, my Victor Reader Trek was back and unfixed. Also, I had new Aftershokz headphones to try with it. Before now, I’ve had both the Blues2 and the Blues2S made by Aftershokz but after visiting a friend and seeing his very nice new Aftershokz, i decided I’d sell both pairs of mine to fund a new pair like his. His were, I think, the Aftershokz Treks air. They’re very lightweight, don’t press at all on your cheekbones and have smaller pads that rest on your cheeks, making them much more comfortable. I bought the Aftershokz Treks Titanium, thinking that they could be the same. I’m only guessing that my friend’s are the Treks Air simply because the Treks Titanium, which arrived yesterday on one day delivery thanks to Amazon Prime, are different to the ones I saw. They were £50 cheaper than the Air asking price and already quite pricy in themselves. Forking out the additional money to buy the other pair didn’t seem worthwhile considering the price of the Titanium. I wouldn’t have been able to afford that extra money anyway; the Treks Titanium are much nicer than the Blues2 and Blues2S though so I’ve got an upgrade either way. The headband is more flexible and fits nicer when being worn and they are much lighter so more comfortable. I can see, though, why people might stretch that extra for the Treks Air…

Anyway, enough of new gadgets for now; on to route learning! The walk into Wollstonecraft, which was where I’d decided to go to today, went really well. After having 5 weeks away from route practice, I’d been really worried that things wouldn’t fall back into place with the progress I’d made where we left them. I thought practising this route might be a bit sluggish and frustrating today, but it was anything besides. We had a great walk, only having to check things with Jenny a few times. Even when I checked, my guesses of what to do next were always right. In my wildest dreams I couldn’t have hoped for the route to go so well. Jenny seemed really pleased, too, and it was nice to have her confidence in me as support. It was really nice weather to walk in, too. Not too warm but not too cold with none of the wet stuff and little breeze. It was perfect weather for walking along the shore.

When we reached Woolston, Jenny exclaimed that Coffee Mac’s, our usual stop for refreshments, was closed. So we went across the road to Dad’s shop and asked him about it. Sadly, the friendly and helpful man who usually serves us in there has been poorly for a while and so the shop has been closed. Instead, we decided to go to Piggy’s Coffee Shop & Restaurant. It was quite cramped in there, with the tables grouped quite closely together, an we were sat in front of a few quite loud men for a while. However, the refreshments we enjoyed in Piggy’s made up for the crowded environment. Jenny read the menu to me first and then we ordered, she an Americano with hot milk on the side and a fresh fruit scone and me a salted caramel milkshake and a savoury croissant with honey roast ham and cheese. Ive never had a savoury croissant before but it was absolutely delicious and as for the milkshake, well, it was mouthwatering. Jenny commented that her scone and coffee were lovely too. I love milkshakes and as it is just a coffee shop I thought they might be branded milkshakes. But it was freshly made and in a lovely glass. Jenny said it looked like pottery. The price was of course higher than I usually spend when we go to Coffee Mac’s but the croissant was a bigger meal than a slice of banana cake. I do hope that Coffee Mac’s is open again soon, though, because their banana cake is the best banana cake I’ve ever had in a coffee shop. However, Piggy’s milkshakes are definitely a firm rivalry for banana cake. I think Piggy’s will definitely have to be reserved for special occasions or celebrations otherwise I’ll be spending far too much money and consuming far too many calories!

After our rather tasty break, we headed back out, stopping briefly to tell Dad how successful our gamble on Piggy’s had been, before heading back the way we’d come earlier. Again, on the way home, whenever I checked with Jenny about a direction or next move in the route, I guessed right. I felt I made quite good decisions when choosing when to cross roads. There were several awkward cars during the walk but Jenny said that some of them were legitimately parked in bays but hanging over the pavement. There were others that were blatantly parked on the pavement, though, and I really do hope that pavement parking fines come in soon so that people are charged for being an inconvenience and then discouraged from becoming a repeat offender by the price it’ll cost them if they do.

I was really pleased with how well the route went today. I really hadn’t expected things to be so positive after such a long time since our last practice. But it almost feels like the route is becoming instinctive, that’s how much I’m remembering it. When a route becomes instinctive, I truly know I’ve learnt it. Obviously, I always need to keep going over routes to keep them that well memorised but I always feel like its an achievement when a new route starts becoming instinctive for the first time. If it’s still feeling that way after a few more attempts, I might even consider trying to complete the route solo, without Jenny’s supervision. Right now, I think that’s me being over-optimistic after such a good day because Ive found that whenever I try to be independent with my mobility these days I get too nervous. This is a real shame as when I had Zena, dog permitting, I could go out whenever I felt like it without feeling nervous. Of course, with Zena there was always uncertainty about how she was going to perform in harness but I always felt confident in my own problem solving skills and my own independence. I miss that so much. But I’m going to try and make it better with a long cane. The more I think about doing it, the more nervous I get about it and if I overthink things, when I’m out by myself with my cane I get panicky and that’s when mistakes happen, even on the most well-known routes I have. I don’t know where the fear has come from and I know it’s irrational but when I’m out on my own I can’t get rid of it. Now I’ve finished uni for the year (more about that in a future post soon too) I’m hoping to spend a bit more time on my independence. When we got back to my front gate, I spoke to Jenny about more sessions, just saying that if she has any extra available slots during the week and fancies doing extra walks I’d be more than up for it with all this free time I’ve got now. I also spoke to her about the possibility of filming some of our walks for evidence for when I reapply to Guide Dogs to prove that I really have made leaps of progress and would have a fit workload for a dog. Ive recently bought a GoPro hero 2018 camera — its the company’s budget hero camera with as many functions as their top price ones — and I’d like to make good use of it. It came with a whole bundle of accessories, including a chest mount and a belt clip mount, both of which I thought might be good for filming my My Guide sessions. Ive also considered the possibility that having the camera strapped to me might decrease my fear when being mobile independently as I’d have that security of knowing if something happened, I’d have it recorded. it’s an avenue I want to try anyway. i also bought the GoPro becuase my friend Jemma, with the Guide Dog German Shepherd called Ollie, asked me to look after her dog a couple of weeks ago. it went really really well and I’m hoping to replicate the event again soon, possibly for a longer amount of time too. If Jemma was happy for me to, I’d like to record myself looking after and interacting with Ollie so that when I reapply to Guide Dogs in the future I have proof to show them I’ve been trying to improve in the areas they’ve criticised/commented on as my weaknesses. Jemma has also suggested that I might be able to practice some obedience work with Ollie and join them on free runs and I’m hoping to have all of this as recorded evidence for Guide Dogs. I want to prove that I’m doing all I can to be worthy of their approval and suitable to go on their eating list. My employment officer, and also Imi, are going to try and help me find suitable volunteering opportunities with dogs to start work on while I have so much free time. With the good progress I’m clearly making with my routes, I’m hoping that I’ll be able to make more progress in the other areas Guide Dogs need. I don’t want to rush things, but at the same time I don’t want to take forever to be ready to reapply again. I want a Guide Dog. That fact has never and will never change. But clearly I haven’t suitably proved that to my local guide dogs team yet. Hopefully, with all this effort I’m putting in, my dedication to being a guide dog owner will show. Plus, any volunteering I get to do is good for my CV and I enjoy Jemma’s company so it’s all positive. Jenny and I have arranged our next session for the same time next week where we’re going to practice the school route. I’m going to try and use the Trek to record the route again but I’m not holding out much hope for it. Perhaps, the software update will be out by then and might have fixed the problem I’m having. If that happens, I will truly enjoy having a Victor Reader Trek. But until then…

PS: if there are typing errors in this post, for which I’m sure there must be many, it’ll be because of my other new gadget investment. Ive upgraded my iPad Pro to one with more memory but the main reason I bought it was because the person who sold it to me was selling it with the Smart Keyboard case made by apple, which I’ve wanted to buy for a long while. Ive had a Logitech Smart Keyboard case, bought for me by Kieran, for my old iPad Pro and like it a lot. But I’ve always wanted to try out the apple version so here I am, typing on it. It’s really nice to use and I like it a lot. It slims down the iPad a lot too, which makes it feel much nicer. However, I think I made much less typing errors with the Logitech one. I still intend to use it too so may use it for longer blogs where I need more accuracy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mobility Update: My Guide Session 12

Today Jenny and i had our 12th session together and it was a really good one. the biggest probleam I faced today was my Victor Reader Trek. Sadly, it seems to have some kind of technical glitch that means that orientation mode is behaving weirdly and the machine is powering off after a while and then not responding at all. this started yesterday when Dad and I did the route to Tamsin’s school. I was recording the route to the school, because the Trek doesn’t yet have it programmed in, and it just stopped working. I tried powering it on again, disconnecting the Bluetooth headphones and waiting a while to see if anything could resolve the issue. But it just wasn’t responding. So we continued with the route without its support. On the return journey, I managed to get it working again and for a while it was fine. But then again it did the same thing and I couldn’t get any response from it. When I got home, i plugged it into mains, wondering if the battery had somehow died. It had been at least 50% charged when I’d left home 2 hours previous, I’d checked. When it finally came back to life, I double-checked the battery situation and it definitely would have had charge before it stopped responding. Then today whilst out with Jenny, it did the same thing without warning. The only thing that made me realise it had happened was the fact that the Bluetooth headphones I had paired with it made the beep they do when things dissconnect. Today, the battery percentage definitely couldn’t have been the fault because it was 100% charged when I left the house. I noticed that the unit had become quite hot, too. Not dangerously so, but more so than it does even when it’s charging. So when I got home from the walk, I rang HumanWare. Thankfully, they’re sending me a courier sometime tomorrow to collect the unit, take it back to their main offices and get someone to fix whatever the fault is. It’s going to be strange without the backup of the device, especially if I need to use the bus. I relied on my Breeze on the busses as they’ve for some reason stopped using the talking announcements technology even though they have it available. Hopefully, my Trek will be fixed and back to me soon.

Anyway, back to My Guide. After yesterday’s progress with the route to Tamsin’s school, part of me was feeling optimistic about the Woolston route. I’ve been learning it a lot longer than the school route and although, as I mentioned in the last post, progress seems to have slowed with it, every week I do seem to be getting that little bit better with it. Well this week I really thought the route went excellently. Like the best I’ve done on this version of the route so far! As my Trek died quite early on, I was relying on my recall of the route to guide me. And it did really well. Nearly every turn/direction/crossing I correctly estimated. Every time I checked, Jenny seemed to be telling me that “yes, that’s right” and that made me feel really good. For a little while now I’ve been concerned that progress with the route wasn’t as much as I hoped it would be and today I proved myself wrong, thanks to a tech malfunction. Weather-wise it was quite nice too; a little breezy with sunshine. Jenny said there were even blue skies coming in even though some forcasts had predicted rain. Despite this, the whole walk was dry.

This week we did stop at Coffee Mac’s for a rest. Jenny had her coffee and I had a bottle of apple juice and a slice of lemon drizzle cake. I’d asked for banana cake as usual but they didn’t have any in. Excusin the pun, I really felt that was the icing on the cake to the week I’ve had. However, the drizzle cake was nice and the apple juice was refreshing.

Afterwards, we popped across the road to say hi to Dad. His shop was pretty cluttered with carpets and vinyl but things seem to be going well for Centenary Flooring and that’s great. who knew a little carpet shop could benefit so much from social media adverts?! But business is reportedly great thanks to the Facebook posts and I don’t think Dad and his boss could have hoped for more really.

The return journey was just as good with just as nice weather. I felt it went great and my memory served me well again. It really does take me ages to memorise routes so when I start to instinctively know where I’m going I take that as quite a victory…

While we were in Coffee Mac’s, I spoke to Jenny about a suggestion Imi put to me last week when I mentioned how I didn’t feel the progress of the route was doing as well as i’d anticipated; she suggested that, instead of doing the Woolston route every single week, I alternate between that and the school route as long as Jenny was happy to. Jenny seemed more than happy to do that so next week were off to my sister’s school and back. After doing the route yesterday with Dad, I’m actually estimating that if I did the route independently it would take an hour each way due to the need for me to wait longer at crossings to ensure I was doing everything safely. So it’s definitely a good length of route. It’s quite an easy route, too, mainly one straight road with a few side streets off it and a couple of turnings. I’m hopeful it won’t take me too long to memorise it. I’m hoping that rotating the routes might enable me to retain them both quicker. The gap between practising the Woolston one will test my memory properly and definitely being able to practice the school one once a fortnight will mean I’ll start learning it more. Although Dad will do my routes with me, he’s usually quite reluctant to as it has to be on his only day off each week and there’s other things he’d rather be doing most of the time. I think the fact that it takes two hours out of the day and it’s the same repetition every time we do it doesn’t really appeal to him either. So doing the school route with Jenny lets Dad off the hook. Every now and then I might try and convince him to come out with me to practice it and I’m sure every now and then he’ll agree.

So where routes are concerned things are looking very positive. I’m starting to really crack the Woolston route, which takes a worry off my mind because I didn’t think I was, and Jenny and I are going to start practising the school route every other week which means I’ll be really learning it, not once every now and again when Dad feels like it. I don’t blame him really because it isn’t much fun; but I do need consistency with my route learning.

Lastly, if you’ve been reading my posts about my mobility updates before now, you’ll know I went for an assessment with Guide Dogs on Tuesday to assess whether they felt I was suitable for a guide dog. I’m not going to talk in depth about the assessment here (publicly) because I don’t really feel it would be the right thing to do and I’ve been advised against it. All I will say is that it didn’t go the way I hoped and the outcome really wasn’t what I was expecting. If you do want to know more, I’m happy to talk about it over private message but I won’t be discussing it here. Safe to say I’ve been shocked but i’m bouncing back, just about. I’m going to cintinue with my routes regardless of the assessment because I’ve already started them and don’t want to give up now after all the effort I’ve put into them. Plus, I enjoy very much getting out of the house and walking for a few hours each week. Moreover, I couldn’t ask for a kinder better volunteer than Jenny to work with and know i can’t lose this opportunity to progress further.

So today’s My Guide session was very positive and a lot of good things can be taken from the session. HumanWare are going to collect my Trek for repairs tomorrow and I just feel relieved that I wasn’t using it and it died whilst on board a bus going somewhere because I could have really got stranded then. While it’s away, I might try out Microsoft’s new app, Soundscape, which seems to do similar things to the orientation part of the Trek. Of course, it was just my luck that Soundscape was released a few weeks after I’d ordered and received Trek. Even if I do enjoy using the app, though, and find it useful, I still like my GPS on a separate device to my phone, for battery’s sakes if nothing else. It’s just my personal preference. But it’ll give me a good chance to see what another service is like and how I cope without Trek altogether, having had Trekker Breeze since last June and the cross-over from Breeze to Trek smoothly only a month ago. Another thing to test my brain… Jenny and I have agreed to meet again next Thursday at 9:30 to head to the school. I’m really hopeful that learning the route with Jenny will mean I’ll soon mean I’ll have both the shcool and Woolston routes memorised and can move onto learning how to get to my grandparents’ house, which is next on my list. But who knows? I’ll just have to take it week by week and see how things go. PS: if there are any typos in this post, which I suspect there may be many, it’s because for some reason the autocorrect function wasn’t working on my Pages app on my Ipad.

Mobility Update: My Guide Session 11

Unfortunately, due to the snow that fell over southampton and the majority of the country in the later part of last week, my 11th My Guide session had to be postponed until today. This wasn’t ideal for me as I wanted to get as many route learning sessions in before my assessment day with Guide Dogs next week. Sadly it didnt work out how I wanted. Luckily, Jenny and I arranged to meet today and have our 11th session this morning. Mostly, Jenny chose today because the rest of the week’s weather looks miserable. So at 9:30 this morning when Jenny arrived, i was dressed in my high-vis jacket with my Aftershokz headphones on and my Victor Reader Trek ready to go in my pocket. As I opened the door to Jenny, she informed me that actually, despite what the forecast had said, it was raining… but she said the sky looked quite blue and clear in the distance so thought we’d be ok to brave it.

We started the route with me setting my Trek to record. I hadn’t yet recorded the outward journey on it and was hoping the GPS would be a lot more accurate than the Breeze’s had been. Considering that the Trek is a much newer piece of tech than the Breeze the GPS in it should be much improved, which was one of the main reasons it sold itself to me. I loved my Breeze and it helped me learn so much of my routes so I’ve got high hopes for the Trek.

I seemed to remember things quite well on the outward route. When we got to the end of the promenade, I had the new crossing part of the route that we’d incorporated last time to practice. It felt a lot better than walking alongside the big drop had done. It isn’t that complicated either so I’m hoping it won’t take me long to memorise it as part of the route. I felt that I did quite well on the rest of the route, too. I seemed to remember the crossings, turnings and correct direction to walk in fairly well. Jenny did have to prompt me a few times and I was a little disappointed with the accuracy of the Trek when announcing my landmarks. It seemed quite off in certain places so that when it did announce one right when I needed it, I was more surprised than anything else. I knew when I bought it that it’d take a little while to get used to it and I’ve only been using it two weeks so I suppose this is that period…

When we got to Woolston, after getting a little soggy from the rain that didn’t ease up as fast as Jenny predicted, we found that Coffee Mac was closed. So we went over the road to say hello to Dad. I hadn’t really fancied a drink anyway and Jenny didn’t seem bothered about not stopping. We chatted to Dad for a few minutes and as we were leaving the shop my grandparents arrived with my great-Nan. Once I’d said a quick hi to them, Jenny and I headed off. As we crossed over at Lidl, Jenny said her husband had just driven passed us into the car park. So we stopped briefly to say hi to him. On the way home, I set the Trek to direct me on the return route as I’d recorded that last time. I felt the Trek did quite well. Only at one point did Jenny tell me I’d gone the wrong way. I think that could have been because we were mid conversation and I wasn’t paying attention as much as I should have been. It felt nice to be out walking again. It felt like ages since I’d done that route but I’m pleased with how things are going. It’s almost three months since I first started working with Jenny and we started learning the original route into Woolston. Everyone keeps telling me how well I’m doing and how much progress I’ve made but sometimes it doesn’t feel like it. I would have liked to have been further ahead with this route by now than I am. I’d have learnt it completely by now If it’d had progressed as quickly as I’d hoped. But I can only work with what I have so far and so far its going well. I am learning the route slowly but surely. At least I don’t think I’m going backwards with it. Even if it is the tiniest steps of progress I’m making its still progress. And I feel like its going to be such a useful route when I’ve learnt it completely, especially if I do get a guide dog. I can imagine walking that route very regularly to exercise the dog and have a nice while outside. Also, it obviously leads to lots of places that might be useful to me. Although I can already get there on the bus and haven’t had any disastrous trips on that so far, I’d much prefer to walk it, weather permitting, because its good for me to get the exercise and especially in the summer months it’ll be particularly nice to be outdoors with the sea air about me and the sunshine beating down. Jenny seems quite pleased with how its going and has said we just have to iron out the little bits that are a little more difficult. I’m feeling confident that soon I’ll have those little niggles worked out and will be flying with the route. I’m really hoping that soon I’ll have it completely under my belt. I’d like to have it memorised and be attempting it independently, without Jenny’s input, by the end of this month. How successful I’ll be with that goal I don’t know. But its the aim I’m working towards currently.

So this time next week I’ll be with Guide Dogs for the further assessment. By the end of the day this time next week I could have the news I’ve been waiting for and working towards for so long. If it isn’t the yes I’m hoping for, I’ll continue to work on my routes until I get the answer I want. Because at some point they have to give me the yes I need. I’m doing everything they’ve explained is necessary to have a guide dog so there’s no reason really why I wouldn’t be eligible now. Maybe I’m still not until I 100% know my routes independently. But maybe i will be as the waiting list is so long and it’ll take some time at least for them to find me a suitable dog. In the meantime, I plan to continue learning more routes until I have them perfected. If I haven’t got all my intended routes 100% perfect by the time they find me a suitable match then I’ll cover the routes I currently have with the dog until I feel our partnership is strong enough for us to attempt new routes together. I don’t see why that can’t be a possibility. But of course it isn’t up to me. It’s all in the hands of Southampton’s guide dogs mobility team next Tuesday. I’m keeping everything I have crossed that I’ll get the answer I’m hoping for. Even though it won’t be the end of the world if I don’t get that response, a lot of me will still be gutted that Ive come this far and they’ve still said not yet. Of course, there’s still loads of progress to be made so not yet wouldn’t be the worst thing they could say. They could say “never” and that would be the worst thing they could ever say. But I know they can’t say that. Even if my sound asleep brain dreams up visions of them doing just that. Reassuringly, my sister has promised me that they wouldn’t have taken it this far to then say that. So I’m holding onto that. Until 3pm next Tuesday, I’m having everything crossed…