I’m no longer afraid of being disabled.
I was diagnosed in my late teens with a degenerative eye condition and struggled for some years to come to terms with what seemed at the time to be rather a bleak future. For a long time, my blindness milestones felt very negative – the time I realised I could no longer read printed material, no matter how much magnification I used, when I couldn’t go out safely by myself at night for fear of tripping on steps or bumping into people, and when I could no longer really go independently anywhere even in daylight hours because my sight had deteriorated so much. I felt I had to change my career due to my sight loss, and worried I would never get a job I really found fulfilling. I often tried to hide my blindness, believing people wouldn’t give me the same opportunities as others. I reluctantly tried to learn to use a long cane, but really wasn’t in the right frame of mind at the time, and found this type of mobility frustrating.
Almost on a whim, and after a particularly tough week, when I had missed countless buses because I just hadn’t seen them coming and annoyed many fellow pedestrians with my clumsy attempts to navigate the city centre, I called Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind and found myself talking to a very understanding person. In due course, I had my first interviews, and before too long I was travelling from Dublin to Cork to meet Poppy, for my matching visit. Safe to say that the moment I picked up that harness handle for the first time and found myself guided along so smoothly and confidently something just clicked for me, and it's no exaggeration to say that my whole world view shifted. Suddenly, I was learning new skills, considering new possibilities and a whole new future full of opportunities rather than limitations.
Today, I am working with my third Guide Dog; a beautiful, happy, enthusiastic little black Labrador named Toni. I still get that same buzz when we head out the door together, whether it's just to walk my children to school, or to head into the city centre for a day of challenging work through the bustling streets. Things that used to appear daunting and impossible I now relish as a new challenge. I love working with my dog, it is such a unique partnership, built on mutual trust and co-operation, and when your dog works through a particularly difficult set of obstacles, you get such a sense of achievement and pride. My job brings me to many new places, and into environments where I haven’t been before. Having a dog who can target certain objects, such as doors, stairs, lifts, counters, and even specific people, is invaluable for me in these new settings, and knowing I can trust her to guide me around any potential hazards gives me such peace of mind.
And behind myself and Toni, as with every Guide Dog partnership, is a huge support team, always there to provide back up and help if we need any fine-tuning or if we run into any bother. Our Guide Dog family includes Toni’s Puppy Raisers, her volunteer Temporary Boarders who minded her when she was going through training and all the staff at IGDB, from Dog Care and Welfare to her trainers and our mobility instructors, not to mention the lovely Client Services team who are always at the end of the phone for every little query. Each of my three dogs have been perfectly matched to my needs at the time, and I am so grateful to everyone involved.
My life is so full and busy, with family and work life, as well as my responsibilities as a family carer and everything else in between. I’m no longer afraid of being disabled, and when I look back to those anxious times when I was first coping with my diagnosis I am so glad I made that call to Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind. I’ve even learnt to use that dreaded long cane properly and have embraced a whole world of technology and adaptations to make my blind life easier and increase my independence. I put so much of that down to that very first time I walked with a Guide Dog and realised that the world still held more possibilities for me than I could ever have imagined.