Navigating Law School—Together
By Jennifer Wilkinson
When James "Lee" Frazier came to Leader Dogs for the Blind in July 2012, he had already been busy building a substantial repertoire of achievements. Despite vision loss that left him with only partial sight in his right eye, he had just received his bachelor's degree from the University of Michigan, majoring in Brain, Behavior and Cognitive Science with a concentration in Evolutionary Anthropology. His next step was no less ambitious; in about a month, he would leave his home in Michigan and move halfway across the country to pursue a law degree at the University of Colorado Boulder.
In the midst of his journey through higher education, Lee decided to make a trip to Leader Dog for learning of a different kind: a 26-day training program that would unite him with a partner as ready as he was to tackle the road ahead. Shortly after his arrival in Rochester Hills, Lee met his very first guide dog, a yellow Labrador named Dexter.
Five months after Lee and Dexter successfully completed their training at Leader Dog and their move to Colorado, we caught up with Lee to find out what life was like with his new best friend on four paws.
Leader Dog: How is working with Dexter different than traveling with a white cane?
Lee: Dexter is much more responsive than a white cane. This is such a wonderful thing, even though it's so obvious and simple. Dex can move me around obstacles that a cane might miss, and he can tell me when not to move into the street. Dexter also combines the mobility support provided by a white cane with the navigational support of a GPS. Honestly, he knows some of my routes better than I do. And he's not shy about telling me that I'm trying to enter the wrong the door, or make a turn down the wrong street. Using Dex in my left hand leaves my right hand free to open doors and carry papers or coffee. A white cane is used in the right hand, and this makes pushing buttons, opening doors or waving to friends awkward or difficult.
Leader Dog: What has the transition been like moving to a new university with Dexter?
Lee: Moving to a new campus with Dexter has been a wonderful and unique experience. Dexter is a lovable and charismatic animal who captures everyone's attention. This gives me a great opportunity to break the ice with people and explain to them about my situation, and make great new friends. Learning how to navigate in a new city or town is the hardest part about the campus experience for me or any person with a visual impairment. But having a wonderful companion to accompany you on all your travels can give someone the courage to get out and explore unique places without worrying so much about getting completely and totally lost. Dexter and I always find our way, together.
Leader Dog: How has having Dexter impacted your life?
Lee: Now that I have Dexter, everyone knows about my situation. And everyone is very eager to learn about us and help out in any way that they can. I expected that Dexter would make travel easier. But I did not expect that he would be so helpful for meeting people.
[Dexter] is very useful when I'm traveling around town; he is a great companion. Although he can be a little rowdy and energetic at times, he gives me an infinite amount of navigation and mobility support. I think the hardest part about adjusting to life with a Leader Dog is learning when to use the dog and when to leave him at home [like when going out for an evening with college friends to a loud and crowded establishment]. But once a new guide dog user has mastered this small skill, they will make a great deal of new friends and have a ton of rich new experiences.