By Victoria Nolan, Head, Stakeholder Relations and Community Engagement
In my role as CNIB Guide Dogs' Head of Stakeholder Relations and Community Engagement, I oversee advocacy for guide dogs – but it is also my everyday reality as I advocate for my rights as a guide dog handler. Some days I just want to live my life hassle-free, to not worry about being challenged, and to not have to explain that it is my right to be out in public with my guide dog.
I have developed my coping strategies – from memorizing how to travel to and navigate through stores and restaurants to creating a community of places where I know I will not get hassled for having a guide dog. This has taken years and because of COVID-19, it seems like I must start all over again.
I worry that businesses will illegally try to deny access to me and my guide dog because of new policies. On top of that, I worry about my guide dog and how he will deal with the new procedures in place.
Guide dogs are trained to take their handler to the door. They do not understand the signs on the doors and arrows on the floor – directing people where to wait and which way to go. They do not understand that there is a line-up that wraps around the building of people ahead of us, waiting to get inside. And they do not understand that there is now an "in" door and an "out" door – and that they need to stay two metres away from other people.
Now more than ever, as guide dog handlers, we need to self-advocate to help businesses and other shoppers understand that this is all new for our guide dogs. Our guide dogs need patience as they learn to navigate this new world.
But you can help too. If you see someone with a guide dog, don't be afraid to ask, "Do you need help?" Those four little words can make all the difference to someone who is struggling.