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Mobility Update: Guide Dogs Guide Dog Assessment October 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mobility Update: My Guide Session 23

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mobility Update: My Guide Session 8

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

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

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

Mobility Update My Guide Session 7

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

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

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

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

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

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

Open Uni: K118 results day

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