THEY are man’s best friend, but to the blind, dogs can be so much more – a lifeline and the key to independence.
To mark Guide Dogs Week, which runs until Sunday, Oxfordshire people have been invited to step into the world of someone who is blind or partially sighted. Guide Dogs has challenged the county to undertake an activity in a blindfold to help more people understand what blind and partially-sighted people have to overcome on a daily basis to enjoy the same freedom as everyone else.
The charity provides guide dogs, mobility and other rehabilitation services to the visually impaired.
Jonathan Mudd, mobility team manager, said tasks do not have to be difficult – people could get a group of friends together and have dinner in the dark, organise a karaoke party and sing in blindfold, or organise a pub quiz with sensory rounds that people do in a blindfold.
He said: “Blind and partially-sighted people overcome extraordinary challenges every day to live independently and do the things that the rest of us take for granted.
“For Guide Dogs Week 2012, we’re asking people to step into our world. “Whether they come along to our event and try walking in a blindfold, or organise their own challenge, we’re sure it will open people’s eyes.”
Joel Young, 27, has been blind since birth. Born three-and-a-half months premature, he has no vision in his left eye and tunnel vision in his right. He was paired with Labrador Atkins five years ago.
Mr Young, from Kidlington, said: “Life has improved greatly since I got Atkins.
“He takes away all the stress and worry I have of walking into obstacles when out and about.
“Now I’m able to go out a lot more independently and take part in more activities. “He has also increased my confidence.”
Reporter Amanda Williams tries out taskes while blindfolded
Making a sandwich was the easiest of the tasks, probably because I had all of the ingredients in front of me.
It did, however, take a long time. The 7in kitchen knife I had originally decided to use was swiftly replaced with a butter knife – although I couldn’t find the butter once I had the blindfold on, so I had to do without.
The cup of coffee was extremely difficult. I thought I had over-filled the cup because I could feel water splashing on to the table, but when I took the blindfold off I had about a third of a mug.
The coffee tasted disgusting too.
Even talking without being able to see was a strange experience. I felt completely exposed and suddenly very paranoid.
I didn’t realise how much I relied on reading people’s faces while having a conversation.
Buying a drink provoked a few laughs as I reached for the drink in completely the wrong place then sloshed the beer over the counter.
The whole experience has made me think more.
I only completed a few tasks and, as soon as I finished, I was able to take the blindfold off and see what I was doing, whether I had been successful, and then clear up the damage I had caused.
I hope it has made me more appreciative of what I have got and am able to do, and more aware of how it must feel for others who cannot.
l To find out more log on to guidedogs.org.uk/news/national-events/guide-dogs-week-2012/walk-my-way