Things Talk to You when You Come to My House

Each time I meet someone new, there are questions, some of them asked and some not. Eventually, I divulge some of my “secrets” of living a rich and fulfilling life as a person who is blind. Actually, these are not secrets at all, but techniques that are enhanced by technology, experience, and practice. Today, I’ll answer those questions you’ve always had but were embarrassed to ask.

How do you know what time it is? How do you read email? How do you read books and newspapers? Everything talks to you when you come to my house. Start with the doorbell. I have an intercom system, so you can announce yourself. (A peep hole does no good for me.) You might be sitting at my kitchen table when suddenly my clock announces that it is 10:00 a.m. and you might wonder, “Who was that?” It’s my version of a chiming clock. It just says out loud the correct time on the hour, whether you ask it to or not. When I want to know what time it is, I can just push its little button, and a little man inside tells me what time it is. My talking watch, and my cell phone do the same thing. When I turn the air conditioning up or down, the little man inside announces the temperature that I have selected. My computer talks to me, but I use a keyboard just as you do. I have talking books, and I read the newspaper by dialing a telephone number that connects to a synthesized speech version of many newspapers and magazines. I can choose which articles I want to listen to by pressing different numbers on the telephone keypad. When the cake is done, the timer announces, “Time is up.” My talking scale lets me know if I’ve gained weight. My talking GPS lets me know if I’ve turned on the wrong street. My light sensor plays a tune if I hold it up to a lamp so I know if someone left a light on. I listen to my talking Bible to prepare for Sunday school, and my talking dictionary helps me not look like the terrible speller I am.

My cell phone tells me when it is done charging. My caller I.D. yells out your number when you call. I don’t have these yet, but there are talking microwaves, talking bar code readers, scanners that are connected to a speech synthesizer, talking thermometers, glucose monitors, and digital recorders. I do have a talking color identifier, so that’s one way I keep from wearing one white sock and one black sock.

You might think a person could go crazy with all these voices talking all over the house, but they usually take turns. They are very polite. I have all these little men inside all these gadgets, announcing things, reading to me, and keeping me safe, but not one of these little men will take out the garbage.

Can I Pet Your Dog?

Whenever my guide dog, Pippen, and I encounter someone in a public place, we are greeted with one of two reactions—“Oh my gosh, a dog!” or “Can I pet your dog?” Today, I hope to answer some of your questions about guide dogs.

The generic term is dog guide, but it’s okay to say guide dog. However, not all dog guides are Seeing Eye ® dogs. There are many dog guide schools in the united States and many others around the world. Only those, like Pippen, who are trained at The Seeing Eye in Morristown, New Jersey can be called Seeing Eye dogs. There is a dog guide school in Columbus, and the dogs who are trained there are Pilot Dogs. There are also other service dogs trained in the Columbus area, but for today, I’ll just be talking about what dog guides do for people who are blind, and what you should do when you encounter one.

Let me first tell you what Pippen is not. She is not a guard dog. She is not trained to protect me from an attack, but keep in mind that she is very loyal to me, and if she senses danger, her canine instincts might take over. She is, however, trained to protect me from danger as I walk down the street, go to meetings, shop, or travel. By that, I mean that she guides me around obstacles, hesitates at uneven sidewalks, stops at curbs, and at the top or bottom of a stairway. She wears a specially designed harness with a stiff handle that I grasp in my left hand. She walks just slightly ahead of me, so I can tell by her body language what to expect.

When a person approaches Pippen and calls to her or pets her, her attention is drawn away from me, and that could be the very moment when she really should be paying attention to where we are going and what could be in the way. Her attention must be on me at all times, even when it doesn’t look like she is doing much but lying still under the table. I wish I had a dollar for every time someone has interrupted my meal at a restaurant wanting to pet or talk to my dog, who seems to be doing nothing but looking adorable. Yes, she is adorable, but if she thinks someone is going to pet or feed her, she is up and out from under the table. Speaking of feeding a dog guide, it is a hard and fast rule to never do so without the permission of the handler. This is a very strong distraction from the dog’s attention, and it might lead to illness or untimely need to empty. That’s dog guide users’ speak for go potty or whatever you may say.

One of the most commonly asked questions is “How does she know when to cross the street?” The answer is that she doesn’t. Remember, she is a dog, and although she is smart and obedient, she can’t make a judgement such as how fast a car is coming toward us, and she doesn’t read traffic signals. I’m the one who makes the decision whether or not it’s safe to cross the street, by listening.

Pippen and I have put in hundreds of miles on the sidewalks of Gahanna, and again, I’d like to have a dollar for every time someone’s dog has run out of its yard to greet Pippen. All but a few have been friendly, and one even attacked her, but in either case, she has been distracted from her job. Did you know that it is a misdemeanor to allow your dog to distract a dog guide when she is working? Unless your dog is completely under your control, it is actually breaking the law when it interferes with a dog guide’s work.

When we get home, the first thing we do is take off my shoes and take off her harness. When she is out of harness, she is just like any other pet. She has a fenced in yard and about a dozen plush toys. She loves to cuddle, and she loves a tummy rub. She does not get table scraps, but she enjoys her dog food and lives for milk bones. Her favorite words are “Want a cookie?” That even beats “Want to go for a walk?”

If you would like a free presentation for your home-schooled children, Scout Group, or service club, contact me.