The Speaker’s Bureau
By Ann Chiappetta
A few months ago I received an email from guiding Eyes regarding a speaking engagement. It was the second referral since the first one almost two years ago. At that time I conducted a blindness awareness class for high schoolers preparing to host a dinner in the dark event at their local synagogue. It was fun and rewarding. I finally understood how hard it is for someone to put on my shoes, being blindfolded and asked to navigate down a hallway with a white cane with only five minutes of instruction. The experience opened their eyes for those who couldn’t see.
This was a little bit different. After speaking with the teachers who were coordinating the event, called Justice for All, I began collecting my information. I would be presenting in four classes. The subject was blindness and access refusal with my dog guide. The hand out I submitted referenced the ADA, what civil rights are and what laws entitle people with disabilities to live, work and thrive in our society. I spoke of being refused rides by taxis, being told that my dog wasn’t allowed inside an amusement park, and once at a conference was asked to leave my dog outside the meeting room because someone was allergic to dogs.
What felt great was being able to talk about my disability and how long it took to learn the coping tools in order to go on with my life. I told them I was a success story and many blind people aren’t as lucky for many reasons. I spoke of what being a dog guide handler means that we are a minority among the blind and this is because choosing to bond and work with a dog is both rewarding and challenging, especially when it comes time to retire a dog.
The 6, 7, and 8th graders asked questions that were thoughtful and curious. The teachers were friendly and we got along great. What I was most impressed with was how the school, generally, already knew all about guide dog etiquette. This helped me relax and be less concerned with fending off well meaning but petting-impulsive folks. J Verona did a magnificent job guiding me through the crowded halls and cafeteria tables during lunch. My dog is a great example of a mature and confident dog guide, thanks to Guiding Eyes.
While Verona has a few years yet, I am mindful that my time will come and I’m hoping that my coping skills, support from Guiding Eyes, other handlers, and my family will get me through it.
A great friend and fellow handler reminded me once when the topic of retiring our dogs was mentioned, he said,
“This is what we signed up for when we put in our application. We have to take the good and the bad.”
Until then, Verona and I will continue spreading the word for our School and its programs with help from the Guiding Eyes Speakers Bureau.