Be Courageous—and Mobile!Posted July 8th, 2010
by Ernest Jones
Besides being legally blind, Sandy has cerebral palsy—a pairing up of disabilities that is not uncommon. Over the years, working with four different guide dogs, Sandy has enjoyed her mobility, but recently, due to her physical challenges with cerebral palsy, she fell yet again.
“You must get a wheelchair,” the doctor insisted.
“At that point,” Sandy told me, “I really had a struggle. The doctor told me this just after I lost my last guide dog. That loss was still weighing on me, and now this verdict from the doctor. Would I have to lose my freedom? But my desire to keep my independence was strong, so I contacted Guide Dogs for the Blind, and was advised to apply for their wheelchair program.”
Guide Dogs for the Blind trains dogs to work with people in wheelchairs, and the organization paired Sandy up with a male yellow lab named Tanner.
“Thanks to the GDB trainers,” says Sandy, “I found new joy in living.”
Sandy explained that the wheelchair guide dogs are trained much differently than walking guides. They are also outfitted with longer harness handles that increase the dogs’ maneuverability around the wheelchair. Tanner is even trained to pick things up, such as a ring of keys, that Sandy might drop mistakenly.
When maneuvering through narrow spaces, such as the aisles in a crowded store, Tanner will turn to face Sandy and walk backwards as he leads her. Once through the narrow section, he turns back around and walks forward.
When they prepare to get into a specialized van that is wheelchair accessible, Tanner places his back feet on the wheelchair foot-plate and his front feet in Sandy’s lap with his head over her shoulder while the hoist lifts them into the van.
“Thanks to Tanner I have my life back,” Sandy says.
Dianne was injured in an accident, which made it hard for her to walk.
“You’ll need a support cane,” her doctor told her.
“But I use a guide dog,” she replied.
Dianne was no quitter, and soon she was receiving training to help her negotiate the use of both her dog and her cane at the same time.
Try to picture Dianne walking, maybe slowly but still walking. In her right hand she holds the support cane and in her left hand she holds the dog harness. Both the cane and the dog help her with balance. If she seems unsteady, her dog will hesitate and look up at her as if to ask, “Are you okay?” Then they’ll move forward together.
Sherry is another person whose balance is sometimes challenged. She has a guide dog that is especially sensitive to her particular needs. Her guide will stop at a crack in the sidewalk that poses a trip hazard, or at an uneven driveway. Her dog will halt after stepping off a curb at an intersection to allow her time to be sure of her balance before proceeding.
Do you know a blind person who might want a guide dog but has special mobility issues? Encourage this person to pursue the dream. The independence they long for may become a reality. Perhaps this person is even you.
When I find my hopes and dreams challenged, I often find encouragement in Joshua 1:7, 9: “Be strong and very courageous … for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (NIV). Do not let blindness or difficulty walking limit your mobility. Pursue the options available, and—most of all—allow God to make you courageous as you live each day with Him.