Access & Etiquette

Meeting a Blind Person or Guide Dog Team

When You Meet A Guide Dog Team

Service Animals in Places of Business

Photo of Guide Dog teamA blind handler and a Guide Dog have a special bond that enables them to travel in a safe and skillful manner. Guide Dogs of America extensively trains both person and dog to work together as a team. While the handler is determining the destination and route, the Guide Dog is carefully maneuvering around obstacles, through crowds, and across streets. Human and canine are committed to each other as partners.

This partnership extends beyond a dog and a person walking down the street, however. It takes hundreds of puppy raisers, GDA staffers, volunteers, and donors to keep the team “guidedogging”. Even the average “person on the street” has a place in this partnership. You can help by remembering these guidelines:

  • Please don’t pet, call out (or bark, meow or cluck) to, or otherwise distract a working Guide Dog. Allow the dog to concentrate and perform for the safety of its blind partner. A Guide Dog in harness is “on duty”, even when sitting or lying down.
  • If you are in a car, please don’t honk the horn or call out directions. Handlers listen to traffic flow and other environmental sounds to decide when it’s safe to cross a street (Guide Dogs can’t read traffic lights!).
  • Don’t forget, Guide Dog teams have the right of way!
  • Please don’t feed a Guide Dog. Diet and feeding times are strictly monitored to maintain good health and reliable relieving schedules.
  • Never grab the harness or leash from the handler – you can disorient and confuse the team. If the handler looks like he needs help, offer your assistance and take your cue from his response. If you believe someone is in a dangerous situation voice your concern in a calm manner, but do not push, pull or grab the person.
  • Speak to the person, not the dog! Some Guide Dog handlers may allow petting, but always ask first. Many folks enjoy introducing their dogs, but if they decline, please respect their wishes. Blind people have busy lives, too, and they may not have time to stop and chat.
  • Sometimes a Guide Dog will make a mistake, and a correction is necessary to keep up the training. This could be a verbal reprimand or a leash correction. Handlers have been taught the proper and humane training techniques to maintain their dogs’ working standards. You may not always hear it, but Guide Dogs get loads of praise when they do the right things.
  • You can expect to see Guide Dog teams just about anywhere. The Federal Americans with Disabilities Act and State Laws explicitly grant the right of access everywhere the public is allowed. They are allowed into restaurants, offices, churches, hospitals and hotels. They travel on buses, in taxis and airplanes, shop at grocery stores, enjoy amusement parks, movies and concerts.

 

When You Meet A Person Who Is Blind

  • Introduce yourself when entering a room, and let the person know when you are leaving. Say the person’s name, if you know it, so he realizes you are speaking to him.
  • If you are leaving a blind person alone in an unfamiliar area, give her a point of reference, verbally or tactily, such as a counter, wall or piece of furniture.
  • When speaking to a blind person, make an effort to be verbally descriptive. Instead of saying “over there” or “this way”, try to give a more detailed picture of things, such as “thirty paces in front of you” or “turn right where the carpet ends”.
  • When offering sighted assistance to people who are blind, don’t hold on to them, but offer your elbow or arm so they can follow where you lead. Allow them to tell you if they want to take your arm, or if they prefer to use their cane or Guide Dog.
  • Don’t be concerned about saying things like “see you later”, or “looking good”. These are part of our verbal culture – blind people use these common phrases too.
  • People who are blind are just like you and me. Treat them with friendliness and consideration, and speak directly to them, not to the people they may be with.

 

Did You Know?

Both dog and human must be individually trained before coming together as a team. Before being accepted to the Guide Dogs of America training program, applicants must be “experienced, independent travelers” through formal Orientation and Mobility (O & M) training or with mobility skills learned from years of experience.

New teams take 6 months to a year to develop and learn to work “in sync”. It’s a little like learning to dance with someone. Both partners know the steps, but it takes time to learn to move as one.

Guide Dogs rely on the skills and training of their handlers to tell them when to proceed. If the dog perceives a danger, such as an approaching car or a hole in the street, it will display “intelligent disobedience” and refuse the command. It is then the handler’s responsibility to determine what the danger is and wait until it is safe or change the route. Of course the dog is given lavish praise for a job well done!

Guide Dogs are not on duty all the time. When they are at home, they are very much family dogs – playing with the kids, chewing on a (dog-safe) bone or snoozing at their partners’ feet.

The true value of a guide dog comes clear when the team is faced with a dangerous situation – from a speeding car or a torn-up street, to an unexpected disaster. The high standards of Guide Dogs of America’s extensive and rigorous training programs give both dog and human partner the means to work through these challenges.

With the help of their canine partners, and the understanding of those of us who encounter them, blind men and women will continue to pursue their goals of independence and greater mobility.

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