It’s International Guide Dog Day today and the call has gone out for the general public to learn more about how to interact with them.
A recent survey shows that a lack of community awareness limits access and inclusion for Australians with low vision or blindness who use Guide Dogs.
When asked to rate their knowledge on a range of issues relating to handlers and their Guide Dogs from poor (0) to very high (10), every day Australians averaged 5/10, showing there’s room for improvement.
While 70 per cent of Australians surveyed said they understood the importance of Guide Dog access rights, which includes access to all public areas, less than half knew this meant a working Guide Dog with its handler had access to rideshare services and airplanes.
Work needed to ensure equal access
Research conducted for International Guide Dog Day last year showed one-third of Guide Dogs handlers have been put in danger because of access refusals, with rideshares reported as the leading cause.
Other community misunderstandings or lack of knowledge that can limit access and inclusion for Guide Dog handlers include:
• 43 per cent of people surveyed believe it is okay to touch a working Guide Dog in harness when they think the handler or dog need help. In reality, the best way to assist a Guide Dog handler is to ask them first if and how they would like assistance (less than half of respondents correctly identified this as the best course of action). You should never touch, feed or otherwise distract a working Guide Dog.
• One third of people did not know to keep their pet dog on a lead, give plenty of space and to make themselves known before approaching or passing a handler with their Guide Dog. Unleashed dogs or other types of dog distractions can cause handlers and their Guide Dogs to become disoriented, change their daily habits, and in some cases put them in danger.
• Almost two thirds of people say they have avoided talking to a person with low vision or blindness by addressing their Guide Dog or someone accompanying them instead. Not wanting to intrude and worrying about saying the wrong thing or being insensitive topped the list of barriers for half of the respondents.
Call for understanding
Brent Matthews and his Guide Dog Jaycee have been together for four years. One thing Brent wished the community understood better was that approaching him for a chat was always welcome.
“I think people take a more cautious approach with me because of my Guide Dog, but please remember I am a person who values being part of the community just like you. While it is important to avoid distracting a working Guide Dog, that does not mean you cannot talk to the handler,” Brent said.
Guide Dogs Australia’s Talk to the Handler campaign aims to improve community knowledge and action by highlighting the issues that affect a Guide Dog Handler’s independence daily.
Knowledge is power, so here’s five top tips for the community this International Guide Dog Day:
1. Talk to the handler – if in doubt always ask a person using a Guide Dog first if they need help and announce you’re there. Using your voice is always better than using your hands.
2. Don’t distract the dog – Guide Dogs are highly trained, but they are dogs at the end of the day so avoiding feeding or distracting them so they can focus on their skilled work.
3. Give them access – Guide Dogs in harness can go absolutely anywhere their handler can go, it’s a legal right.
4. Further your education – access resources, ask someone you know with blindness or low vision about their experience, or see if you can do formal training for work, then pass that knowledge on.
5. Give them space – physical space is very important, so avoiding touching a handler or a dog, or letting your own dog greet them, so they can work safely together.
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