Tag Archives: Assistance Dogs

“My guide dog isn’t a sat nav!”

Guest blog by Emily Davison, otherwise known as Fashioneyesta. Emily is a Scope for Change campaigner and stars in our new End the Awkward film made with UNILAD.

My name’s Emily Davison, otherwise known as Fashioneyesta. I’m a university graduate, writer, fashion and beauty blogger and YouTuber. I also happen to be visually impaired and work with a Guide Dog.

Every day I come across many misconceptions towards my disability and in turn I usually find myself in front of my camera or typing away at my laptop discussing these with my followers.

I was keen to take part in Scope’s End the Awkward campaign – to represent the sight loss community and to show that sight loss does not equate to ignorance, being un-fashionable or being stereotyped.

You can’t give my guide dog directions!

In my new film, you see me in an awkward situation around one of the most outlandish myths surrounding my guide dog – which is the common belief that people can give her directions instead of myself, and that she can follow them like a GPS system!

But, of course there are plenty more awkward moments where that one came from…

‘You’re well dressed for a blind person’

As a fashion blogger, comments I hear a lot are to do with my appearance. People will say ‘you don’t look blind!’ or ‘you’re very well dressed for a blind person.’

As if anyone with a visual impairment – simply because they lack sight – cannot have a conception of style, beauty or looking good, which is of course not true.

‘She’s blind and she’s wearing high heels!’

Another one I encounter on a regular basis is ‘Oh my god! She’s blind and she’s wearing high heels, how ridiculous!’ My answer to this is what does sight loss have to do with the clothes I wear? In what context do those two things relate?

I chose to take an interest in fashion because I enjoy the shopping process, I enjoy looking and feeling good and I happen to love wearing high-heeled shoes.

Awkward speed dating

Another time I went speed dating, and after talking to the person opposite me for a few minutes I got onto the subject of being visually impaired.

When I told him about my vision he sat back, blinked and said ‘Oh…Well what do you expect me do say to that?’ And the conversation came to an abrupt, very awkward end.

Young woman sitting on steps near a beach

‘But you don’t look blind…’

On the bus one day I sat on one of the priority seats – those usually reserved for disabled people, elderly people or those with child.

But my guide dog was out of view and therefore to some I could appear to be a ‘normal person’ – a term I use very loosely.

An elderly gentlemen boarded the bus and said to me ‘Can you move please! These seats are for disabled people.’

It just so happened that my stop was next and so instead of staring a brawl I got up to expose my little four-legged friend, in all her guide dog splendour (neon harness).

There was a deadly silence…..He then responded ‘Oh god! No sit back down… it’s…it’s just…you don’t look blind!’

We all make mistakes

Awkwardness is something I experience in my everyday life, we all do, but disability shouldn’t be something to feel awkward about.

If you have ever felt awkward around disabled people – maybe you said something wrong or made someone feel embarrassed – the thing to do is simply apologise.

We all make mistakes in life and as long as we move forward and learn from them, this is what truly matters.

Follow Fashioneyesta

If you would like to keep up to date with my work you can find me on my blog, Twitter and YouTube. And don’t forget to share your awkward stories too as part of End the Awkward.

‘Are you blind, love?’ Why attitudes matter – #EndtheAwkward

Guest post from Elin Williams, a student from north Wales, who is visually impaired. In this post for our End the Awkward campaign, she talks about two different types of awkwardness she’s encountered.

Scope’s research shows that two-thirds of people feel awkward around disability, so when Emily Davison aka Fashioneyesta asked me to join in with Scope’s End the Awkward campaign, I couldn’t wait to get involved and share my own cringey moments…

‘Are you blind, love?’

A few years ago I was travelling alone on a train. I hadn’t long been travelling independently, and was still getting used to using my cane on a regular basis. Growing up, I always felt that the cane made me stand out and was reluctant to use it for fear of not looking ‘normal’.

Elin, a young woman, with her guide dog

So there I was. Along came the food and drinks trolley, and I plucked up the nerve to say ‘excuse me’ to flag the trolley down. I think this was the first time I’d ever done this – not being able to make eye contact or see people’s facial expressions has always made me  nervous of situations like this.

I asked the man pulling the trolley: ‘Do you have any drinks on this trolley?’

My inquiry was met with the scornful reply: ‘Ha! Are you blind, love?’

‘Well, yes,’ I said, lifting my folded cane from the seat next to me to show him.

The deathly silence that enveloped the passengers nearby let me know this encounter hadn’t gone unnoticed. I obviously couldn’t see how red he went, but considering the tremor in his voice, and how his hand shook when he dropped my change, I think he was a little embarrassed.

But he’d embarrassed me too. His smart-arse attitude made me feel so small and stupid.

A better experience

Only about a month ago, I and two other visually impaired friends had just got off a train and were standing outside the station, figuring out whether to get a taxi or to walk home. I had my guide dog Jazzy with me, while both my mates were using canes.University of Chester student Elin Williams aged 19 from Porthmadog with her guide dog Jazzy. Elin was born with a degenerative condition called Lebers Congenital Amaurosis and lost most of her vision when she was 15. A Welsh speaker, she is studying English Literature. Elin has written a first person story about her first year with Jazzy as a student.

A young guy came up to us and quite smugly said: ‘Did you have fun hiking today, guys?’

‘Those are some funky looking hiking sticks you have there,’ he elaborated, going on to ask us where exactly we’d been hiking, in Cambridgeshire, where there are no mountains…

It finally dawned on us that the guy had mistaken the canes for hiking sticks! We explained that we hadn’t been hiking, that we were blind and that they were our canes, whilst trying not to laugh along with his mates who’d witnessed his blunder.

Pointing to Jazzy, I added: ‘Yeah, she’s my hiking dog. I ride her up the mountains…!’

The poor guy was pretty embarrassed and very apologetic, but we reassured him that we weren’t offended.

It’s attitudes that make things awkward

From my experience, it’s much better to laugh at yourself and with others rather than get stressed out or touchy about silly mistakes.

Elin walking with her guide dog

What makes it awkward is when the perpetrator can’t laugh along with you, because they’re too mortified at having possibly offended you to see the funny side. It makes it much more awkward than if they’d just share the joke.

End the Awkward is a fantastic stepping-stone towards dispelling the taboo that surrounds disability, but I think it’s also important to remember that it starts with us as disabled people.

If you’re uncomfortable about your impairment and don’t know how to talk about it – and laugh about it – you can’t make others feel comfortable addressing it either.

A version of this story was first published on Elin’s blog, See My Way. Want to know more about ending the awkward? Watch our awkward short films, produced in partnership with Channel 4.

Photos courtesy of the Daily Post, north Wales.

‘You can walk, it’s a miracle!’ Umm, no I can’t. #EndtheAwkward

Lucy is an award-winning charity campaigner, blogger, and dog trainer. For our End the Awkward campaign, she describes the day she was told she could walk again… by a physiotherapist who failed to spot her wheelchair in the corner of a room.

I have Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. Instead of my collagen being like glue it’s like over-chewed chewing gum, or at worst wet tissue paper. It stretches, gets thinner and sometimes tears, but never resumes its normal shape.

As a result, my gut has failed, my bladder has failed and I can’t eat or drink anything at all. I’m attached to a pump 24 hours a day which pumps all my nutrition, fluid and medicines straight into a line in my heart.

In most cases, people with Ehlers-Danlos can lead fairly normal lives. I have a really severe form which has led to organ failure and life-limiting complications. Nobody knows why. It’s just how it is.

My life philosophy

I had health problems growing up but I became disabled and very poorly when I was 14. In months, I went from being healthy to completely wheelchair bound, and then a year later bed bound.

Lucy and her mum smiling at the camera. Lucy is holding a certificate stating she is now an ambassador for a children's palliative care network.
Lucy and her mum. Lucy is a youth ambassador for the International Children’s Palliative Care Network

I’m 21 now and my health is up and down. Sometimes I can get out and about, at other times I’m stuck in bed for up to a year at a time.

My philosophy is simple. You have to make the most of what you’ve got and not dwell on the things you haven’t, especially when your time is limited like mine is. To get by you also have to laugh, and find humour in even the most difficult situations.

Seriously, I can walk now?

Last year, I was in hospital recovering from a major hip operation. A physiotherapist breezed over and told me I’ll be walking again in no time. Hallelujah – a miracle!

I explained, patiently, that I haven’t walked for six years but she wasn’t listening. Apparently, I was going to make a full recovery. Five minutes went by before the penny dropped and she spotted my wheelchair. I watched her face turn as red as a beetroot. She must have felt seriously awkward, because that was the last time I saw her.

Molly, my assistance dog

Lucy coddles her dog Molly
Lucy and her ‘rock’, assistance dog, Molly

Molly is my assistance dog in training. She picks up things I have dropped, puts clothes in the washing machine, takes my jacket, trousers, shoes and socks off, gets my mobile, fetches my medicine pouch and lets people know if I need help or alerts them if I’m poorly.

When I’m out with Molly, people will say to me: ‘Is she pulling you along then?’ or ‘You don’t need to worry if you break down do you?’ I try to smile, but when it’s most people I encounter saying it, it gets old.

Joy rides

I use an electric wheelchair. For some reason, people love to lean on, or next to, my joystick, so I am always sure to switch my chair off unless they fancy going for an unexpected ride!

Molly has driven me a few times as she likes to lay her head next to the joystick. I have to be careful when people hug me too. When I do leave my wheelchair switched on, the look of horror on people’s faces is priceless – you’d think they had committed a crime.

Why is disability so awkward?

When you’re in a wheelchair, most people don’t talk to you or even look at you – except the ones who stare. But when I got Molly, people started talking to me. She became the perfect icebreaker! Now, rather than being “that girl in the wheelchair” I’m the girl with the amazing dog.

Lucy in her wheelchair outside, walking her assistance dog Molly
Lucy and Molly on a training walk.

Awkwardness comes from unfamiliarity. People are too scared to talk to me for fear of saying the wrong thing. So some cover their nerves with silly jokes and others just totally ignore me. When people are scared of saying the wrong thing to disabled people, they end up excluding us.

How to end the awkward

I wish people would treat disabled people like they would anyone else they meet. Our bodies may mobilise and/or communicate in a different way, but we’re still human beings with wants, needs, hopes, dreams, desires, hobbies, passions, outlooks and attitudes.

We’re as unique as the rest of you, and we all want to live the best life we can. I wish people knew how to talk to us, which of course, they literally do, but when they see a disabled person everything goes out the window.

I can guarantee that you can make a disabled person feel 100 per cent better if you walked up and talked to them about ‘normal’ things, rather than entering straight into deep, intrusive and personal questions.

I’m quite open. I don’t mind telling people about my disabilities. But it would be nice if one person just started a conversation with me for the sake of it. I’d love that.

Through her blog, and social media, Lucy shares her life with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and describes how her charity work is helping to change perceptions of disabled people.

Lucy is raising money for a custom-made electric wheelchair to help her regain some independence.

Have you got an awkward tale to tell? Share your story with us.


My guide dog knows more tennis venues than Judy Murray

Rosie Pybus is working with the Lawn Tennis Association and Tennis Foundation to give more disabled people the opportunity to try and enjoy tennis.

A while ago, I was playing Two Truths One Lie as an icebreaker. “I have a guide dog, I play tennis and I am blind,” I said, pausing as confusion swept the room. After a few moments, I piped up again that I wasn’t blind, but I did have a guide dog and I did play tennis. So if I’m not blind, I must be sighted… right?

Wrong. Only three per cent of people who are registered blind have no sight at all but, even if I was in that minority group, there would still be pathways and opportunities for me to play and enjoy tennis.

Starting out with tennis

Right up until I reached the age of 19 in 2010, I had no interest in sport and was never captivated or engaged by school sport, so when my friend was adamant that I should play tennis with her, I really wasn’t buying it!

Rosie hitting ballWhen I started out on my journey into sport, I had no idea that I would end up writing this blog and reflecting on the fantastic opportunities that I would not have faced had I not given in and tried tennis twice!

Five years down the line, I have become practically inseparable from my tennis racket, and my guide dog knows the route to more tennis venues in the UK than Judy Murray!

Rosie with the full teamI am very privileged to be involved in tennis, and to have the opportunity to work alongside so many fantastic people on a local, regional, national and international spectrum! The only thing more exhilarating than stepping off the train, bus or metro in Newcastle, York, Leeds, Sheffield or London and telling Kane to “find the tennis club!” is that buzz of excitement when the support I give others allows them to triumph and succeed.

As a player, I love tennis and think that the magic of the sport is its inclusiveness! It is perhaps the only sport where somebody who is visually impaired can play doubles on a team with somebody who is a wheelchair user playing against somebody who is deaf/hearing impaired and somebody who has a learning disability with very few adaptations to the rules and equipment.

Becoming a tennis coach

Rosie with the tennis group on court

Loving tennis so much, I couldn’t stop at playing the game and in 2011 I signed up to my level 1 coaching assistant course at Sunderland Tennis Centre, followed in 2014 by my level 2 course at Leeds Beckett University and a whole host of CPD courses in between. Tennis has given me the confidence to develop myself and now, as a coach, I feel so privileged to play a part in many more people’s tennis journeys, hopefully helping to inspire them to pursue their newfound passion for the inclusive game!

As well as the life-changing confidence that I have developed on court and off, tennis has given me a job, a hobby, a career, lifelong friendships, and the ability to move out into my own flat and build my own life.

Rosie with a tennis trophyI would encourage everyone to try tennis twice, let it intrigue you the first time and captivate you the second and you will truly see the magic that the game has to offer! If this article inspires you to do one thing, please follow me on Twitter and join in the discussion with @DsbltyTennisNE, @BritishTennis and @TennisFndation. Have your say and find out where you can try and love tennis for free local to you #AnyoneForTennis?

Want to discuss your own experiences with Rosie? Join her on our online community now.

Rosie is School Games Project Officer at Tees Valley Sport and Self Employed Coach and Consultant trading as Successful Approach. For further information and to get involved, email SuccessfulApproach@outlook.com or enquiries@tennisfoundation.org.uk

I can’t imagine our lives without my hearing dog Ivy – #100days100stories

Claire can’t imagine life without her hearing dog Ivy. Here she tells her story as part of our 100 days, 100 stories campaign

When my son Nathan was nine he was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. He was very poorly and would often be in severe pain during the night. I can’t wear my hearing implant at night, so I had specialist equipment to wake me should he need me. But as I am a restless sleeper, the vibrating pad would often end up on the floor.

The guilt I felt when waking up in the morning to find that my son had been crying all night and in too much pain to get out of bed to get me, was indescribable. I tried various equipment but nothing seemed to work. I was so scared of not waking up to my son that soon I stopped being able to sleep.

This continued for quite some time and the sleep deprivation had such an impact that I started having panic attacks and was unable to go to work.

A late diagnosis

At seven years old I was diagnosed as being profoundly deaf in my right ear and severely deaf in my left. Such a late diagnosis is uncommon nowadays thanks to the newborn screening programme.

I was fitted with a hearing aid in my left ear (I had no hearing at all in my right) which I absolutely hated, and life continued. By the time I was in my teens I was profoundly deaf in both ears, but still able to make use of the residual hearing I had to aid lip-reading.

Losing my hearing overnight 

In my mid twenties I lost the little bit of hearing I had left. This happened quickly (literally overnight) and unexpectedly.

Claire and Ivy
Claire and Ivy

The cause of this hearing loss was put down to a virus that I had picked up. The impact this had on me was immense.

I found lipreading much harder without my hearing aid and couldn’t understand what Nathan, who was four at the time, was saying to me.

The frustration and upset this caused us both was terrible. Eventually my son became better at using British Sign Language (BSL) and my lip-reading improved.

My confidence took a battering and initially I hated going out and about by myself. Given time things slowly improved.

About two years later I took the big step of having a cochlear implant (a surgically implanted electronic device to help with hearing). The struggle I had to make the decision to go ahead with the operation is a whole other blog in itself!

Getting Ivy changed our lives

A small black dog with red jacket

It was around this time that I got my hearing dog Ivy. To say she changed our lives is an understatement. Not only does she alert me to everyday sounds like the doorbell – but Nathan is also able to use the ‘call mum’ command should he need to. Ivy then wakes me up and leads me to Nathan.

I trust Ivy implicitly which gives me the peace of mind to be able to sleep. I simply don’t know what I would have done over the last few years without her.

I now have a partner who is hearing and able to hear Nathan, but Ivy is still an essential part of my family. She gives me confidence and I can’t imagine not having her. I am forever grateful to Hearing Dogs who trained and gave Ivy to me.

Claire is the Head of Training at disability charity Enhance the UK, and is Vice Chair of Bedfordshire Deaf Children’s Society. She works with teenagers as a communication support worker in colleges and tutors deaf teenagers one on one. 

Find out more about our 100 days, 100 stories campaign and read the rest of the stories so far.

The benefits of pets for disabled people

Animals can be wonderful companions for disabled children and adults, but they can do so much more too, helping with physical and emotional development.

Here are some of your stories and tips about the benefits animals can offer – plus a look at some of the fantastic organisations out there providing a little animal magic.

Pets As Therapy

Pets As TherapyA man and woman stoking a cat are a fantastic organisation and a great alternative if you are unable to have your own pet. They will visit (all over the UK) with cats or dogs, and the pleasure they give is immeasurable. I highly recommend them.

Not just a family pet

Freya has Aspergers and ever since she was little she has liked cats. Like an autism service dog, our cat is not just a family pet, but an important learning tool, sensory guide and companion. We’ve watched Freya grow and develop by gaining confidence with a cat at her side.

Fishy entertainment

Fish tanks can be really calming for people with sensory processing disorders. My daughter has a five gallon tank in her bedroom, that not only calms her down, but helps her sleep better at night by providing white noise.

Autism Assistance Dogs

Dogs for the Disabled provides specially-trained autism assistance dogs for children aged 3-10 years.

Cat stickers

If you want Freya to be interested in something, slap a cat sticker on it, or make the subject about cats; this will overcome her distrust of the unfamiliar, and when she’s comfortable, then she’ll actually do an activity. We have cat stickers on school books, pens, eating utensils, used as rewards, and on her orthotic leg braces.

Show and tell

By Tiia Monto (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Our rabbit has been great for show and tell at school, giving my son, who doesn’t make friends easily, a chance to talk to other children and enjoy a bit of social interaction and communication.

All Cats Have Asperger Syndrome

We found Kathy Hoopmann’s book All Cats Have Asperger Syndrome a lighthearted and non-threatening way of explaining things simply. Hoopmann has done a series of books – I know there’s also All Dogs have ADHD.

Canine Partners

Canine Partners provides specially trained dogs to help with a range of practical, day to day tasks such as opening and closing doors, unloading the washing machine and even helping you to get undressed. They also provide special companionship, love and affection.

A furry friend

My son has profound learning disabilities and is unable to make friends, but he does have a friendship with our dog. My son can not play by himself but he will sit and play with our dog for ages. She is such great entertainment for him. Our dog is so patient with him and makes a huge difference to his life.

Cats as education

There’s no end to cats on the internet or applications available that feature cats. It’s instant entertainment, but also instant education. Quaky Cat developed from the Christchurch earthquakes, helped Freya cope with the Seddon earthquake that we felt here in Wellington last year.

Riding for the disabled

Girl laughing whilst riding a horseMy brother has being going to Riding for the Disabled (RDA) for years and loves it. It not only gives him great exercise, but it’s really built his confidence, and it’s also a fantastic social experience for him.

Saddle therapy

Horse riding has great therapeutic benefits, improving muscle tone, balance, posture, coordination and motor development. It also makes a great break from a wheelchair.

Hearing Dogs

Hearing Dogs is a national charity which trains dogs to alert deaf people to important sounds and danger signals at home, in the work place and public buildings. Hearing dogs can alert people to everything from alarm clocks to smoke alarms, and provide independence as well as companionship.

Purrfect communication

Something that’s hard for Freya is to read the facial expressions of others. So for her, communication with cats is relaxing – they don’t emote like humans. Cats’ non-verbal modes of communication are easier for Freya to relate to, such as purring, hissing and looking away to show you’re not a threat.

Dealing with loss

Our cat Ronnie taught Freya (who can become frustrated and anxious if a regular routine is broken) an important lesson when he passed away suddenly last year. The hard lesson to learn was that change is unpredictable and our loved ones will eventually pass away. Ronnie continues to be a mechanism for coping with loss and grief.

Easing social interaction

Social interaction with Freya can be difficult. She doesn’t look at your face and responds to questions with rote sentences, which can be disconcerting. But if you’ve got a cat, Freya wants to hear all about it. In our experience, people are only too happy to talk about their pets and this makes for easier interaction between them and Freya.

Dog keeps me calm

Assistance dog
By Liabilly Wildflower (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
I have bipolar and my dog really helps get me through the day. She keeps me calm, gets me out of the house everyday for walks and gives me cuddles when I’m upset. Since getting a dog I’ve had no more nights in hospital.

More freedom

Since my son has had his assistance dog, he’s had so much more freedom and independence from us. The dog wears a jacket informing people about his disability, and it’s been a great ice-breaker too, as people stop and chat to him now.

Building self confidence

I take my dog once a month to visit a young blind teenager with learning disabiities. She is quite frightened of dogs, and every time we visit, it takes her about an hour to pat him, but then she loves it. She really enjoys the interaction and sensory play. The sense of achievement she obviously feels when she finally pats him is wonderful.

Dog therapy

The Sun has published a story with the headline ‘See your Dogtor: Mutts who save lives and provide therapy’ – it’s a round-up of some of the great work that medical assistance dogs do. The centre piece is the story of Alice Boardman, her son Alex, six, and brother Tom, seven, and the impact Labrador-Retriever cross Lucie had when she joined the family. They live in Chorley, Lancs, with Alice’s engineer husband Dave. Read what Alice says on The Sun’s website.

But Alice has also had support from our parent support group, and here is what she had to say about Face 2 Face:

“I was a bit guarded at the beginning but Julia from Face to Face said she would just come along for a chat, so I decided to go for it. It was the best decision I’ve made and I am forever grateful to Julia. By the time you’ve made your first Face to Face appointment you’ve taken a huge step: you’ve admitted you’re not Superwoman! Julia introduced me to a lovely lady who has two disabled children. To meet another parent who has no agenda other than to support me, well, it was just wonderful. I needed someone to say: “I’ve been there.” Some of the sessions were emotional, some weren’t. For me, the sessions looked at where I am now and where I want to be in the future.

“The most empowering thing was voicing my deepest, darkest thoughts and knowing that I wasn’t being judged. Julia told me to open up and be honest about my feelings. After years of putting on a brave face it was such a relief. Julia was the first person to say to me it was ok to talk about all the hard parts of my life. Nobody had ever said that to me before. It felt like being given permission to be selfish for an hour or two and just think about me.”

Find out more about Support Dogs, the charity that provided and trained Lucie