Did you know there are only about 10,000 guide dogs in the United States? With only 0.003% of the population using a guide dog, it is understandable that people do not know how to react to a service animal. Whether it is an adult or a curious toddler, I’m often the focus of attention everywhere I go. Many times, the public seems to forget all manners and yell out “Dog! Dog!” or “Puppy! Puppy!” at me as I walk through department stores, restaurants, or the local shopping mall. While the Labrador is the most popular breed in America, most people seem to be astonished at the sight of a dog in public; reacting as if this were a rare animal that they had never seen before. While it can be amusing, and honestly sometimes very annoying, the biggest problem is that this type of human behavior can be distracting to service dogs.
This year, I was honored to again be asked back to New Haven Primary School located in New Haven, Indiana to speak to the entire school comprised of 450 children from Pre-Kindergarten up to Second Grade. The kids participate in an interactive presentation where we discuss what it means to be blind or visually impaired, what a guide dog is, what a guide dog does, how to treat guide dogs and people who are blind, as well as how people who are blind use white canes for mobility.
My ten-year-old black Labrador guide dog, Darren, is always a big hit with the children. They are amazed when I demonstrate how Darren can find my friends, as well as doors, and move me around objects to ensure I do not run into anything.; Perhaps one of the best parts of is when I have the kids yell “dog!” or “puppy!” at the top of their lungs and they watch how it distracts Darren from doing his job. We talk about why they shouldn’t pet him, and why it is important to not talk to him. The students quickly learn why the best guide dog etiquette is to completely ignore the dog.
Interestingly, most adults are completely unaware of proper guide dog etiquette. Many people will pet Darren on his head while they read his bright yellow sign out loud that proclaims, “Do not pet me. I am working.” Or, they will often talk to Darren and speak to him in a high voice, saying “I know I’m not supposed to pet you, but you sure are pretty!” Little do people know, but all of this can distract Darren from doing his job. Of course, sometimes, there are the laughable events that happen, such as people telling Darren that it is safe to cross the road or hearing people yell out, “There goes one of those blind dogs!”
Itis clearly valuable and important that we teach our kids how to interact with people with disabilities as they grow up. The lessons that are learned here will last a lifetime.
The kids also have an opportunity to see what it is like to travel with a cane. Volunteers are picked randomly as we blindfold them and ask them to cross the room and travel in the direction of the sound of the voice of their principal, knowing that there are chairs that will be in their way.
Students are afforded the opportunity to be in my shoes, and they begin thinking about how it might be to live without sight. It gives them an invaluable perspective of how to treat others who have disabilities and how to best interact with people who are blind.
At the end when I open up the discussion for questions, there is always one question that remains constant, which is “How do you drive?” I calmly respond with a straight face, “Darren barks once for when the light is red and twice for when it is green.” Today, one quick-thinking student asked me, “What does he do for yellow?”
Are you curious how Jeremy drives? Or, do you have questions about how to interact with a guide dog or a person who is blind? Make sure to stay tuned to our blog as we continue to discuss this interesting topic.
Does your business need training on proper etiquette regarding how to interact with a person with a disability? Interactive Accessibility can help! Ask us on Twitter or Facebook with the hashtag #IATraining.