By Outreach Services & Community Engagement Manager Leslie Hoskins
After clients in our Guide Dog program have been with their new Leader Dogs for about a week, we interview them to find out about their experience in the program. In one interview I did, I asked the client, Angeline, if she could tell me a little about her new Leader Dog. Angeline began to cry.
“I’m so happy and I love my new Leader Dog… I just can’t shake this feeling of guilt that I took someone else’s spot.”
“Can you tell me more about what you mean?”
“I can still see a little and I feel like I don’t deserve to be here getting a Leader Dog when someone who can’t see at all could have been here. I took their spot.”
This is something we hear all too often from clients or prospective clients. Understanding legal blindness and that most people who are legally blind do still have some remaining vision isn’t common knowledge. Many times, when people call to inquire about the programs and services available at Leader Dog, they are asking for the future. They want to know what will be available to them when they can no longer see. Typically, during these conversations we find out they are in fact already blind, but because they have some remaining vision, they believe they aren’t ready for services or don’t deserve them.
The truth is that if you are diagnosed as legally blind, you qualify for all the Leader Dog programs and services even if you still have some remaining vision. Explaining to prospective clients that they can benefit from orientation and mobility training or a guide dog even with their remaining sight is something we do all the time. Along with these conversations often comes guilt from people who think they’re taking a spot away from someone who needs it more.
I continued my conversation with Angeline by asking her if she was legally blind. She said yes. I asked if she had been having difficulty traveling independently. Again, she said yes.
I replied to Angeline with the message many Leader Dog clients have needed to hear at some point. “Then you absolutely ‘deserve’ to be here. Leader Dog is here to help all individuals who are blind, no matter the amount of remaining vision they have. There is no order of worst vision to best. Each person experiences vision loss differently and it impacts their life differently. You have every right to be here and getting your Leader Dog. If you can go home and travel independently with confidence, then we have done our job! Please don’t ever feel guilty for receiving services you deserve.”
If you or someone you know is missing steps, running into objects, not leaving the house alone or not knowing where to go due to not being able to see street signs or landmarks, you are a candidate for services. Safety and independence are in jeopardy when not being able to move through the environment safely due to vision loss, even if some remaining vision exists. All clients deserve the right for services no matter their visual condition or who can see better or worse.
If you or someone you know is a candidate for free services at Leader Dog, you can find more information and applications for all our programs on our website: Guide Dog, Orientation and Mobility, Youth Orientation and Mobility (ages 16‒17) or Teen Summer Camp (ages 16‒17).