Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Guide Dog Home Training

 Tami and I have been undergoing home training for the past 3 weeks, in my local area, since returning home from our residential training at The Mercure Hotel, in Bolton.

I already have a foundation route which I built upon for 8 months during my mobility training with a long cane, from August 2013 to April 2014, with a mobility instructor based within the Salford Sensory Team. This route enables me to go from my house to the top of the road where the butchers, hairdressers, and convenience stores are located - with the library, post office, Co-op and Tesco Express further down the main road.

With this in mind, I began by learning newer routes such as to my Grandad's house - which is a good 20 minute walk away - with my Guide Dog Mobility Instructor. It was a route new to me and to Tami so we could work on it together and break it down into chunks. The main bulk of the route was already there from my previous mobility training, so I could guide Tami to start with. Now that I have repeated the route many times, Tami even knows which gate belongs to my Grandad and pokes her nose through to push it open!

My GDMI and I worked on a few more routes including to my Auntie's, the swimming baths, the Pharmacy, the Doctors, and then tackled public transport. There are only two buses that come in and out of Irlam - the 67 and the 100 - with the 67 going to the Manchester town centre and the 100 going to the Trafford Centre. The 67 is the bus I will use often as it stops at the Eccles Interchange where the trams are. This opens up a lot of options to me in terms of routes that I will use regularly; going to Salford Quays, MediaCity UK, Old Trafford, Piccadilly station and various points in Manchester city centre such as St. Peter's Square, Market Street and Piccadilly Gardens.

I then looked at making my own way to Henshaws in Old Trafford; by taking the bus to the Eccles Interchange, boarding any tram (as they all go to Cornbrook) allowing me to then change for the Altrincham tram and waiting for the Old Trafford stop. I can then make my way over to the tactiles, cross the tracks, walk towards Talbot Road and cross the sets of lights. There is a pen in the back of the car park in Henshaws, so I can spend Tami before undertaking my work placement or social groups.

On December 17th I had a Christmas lunch to attend with the ladies of the marketing team at Henshaws, so I wanted to learn the route to Manchester Piccadilly station next so that I could make my way with Tami independently without having to rely on having a lift - as I previously would have done. My GDMI and I worked a full day orientating myself around the station as to where the tram pulls in, where to go to the steps to access the main level of the station, locating where the information help desk is, where the platforms are and where the seating area is. I'm pleased to say that Tami and I did fantastically well and used the bus, tram and train to make our way to Leeds and back for a lovely meal. The staff even offered a bowl of water for Tami, which was a really kind gesture after her busy work!

My training halted in time for Christmas Eve and I used this opportunity to go to the small Tesco Express on my own and get some last-minute bits and bobs for Christmas. I have never been shopping on my own before so it was slightly scary to start with, but Tami was brilliant in finding the main checkout so that I can ask for assistance - and in the 3 times I have been, they have been so helpful in locating my items for me.

I continued training today, on New Year's Eve, to learn the route to my brother's flat located on the Salford Quays waterfront. It's a good 10 minute walk from the tram stop but I now know to cross and walk up the main road with the traffic on my left-hand side and then turn right to the Abito building where he lives with his girlfriend. There are a lot of restaurants nearby, including Chiquito and Matchstick Men, so I can go and visit him with Tami when he's off from work and go out for lunch!

I am so incredibly impressed with what Tami and I have achieved so far and I cannot wait to start the New Year and continue travelling with Tami by my side!

Audio Diaries

As with my residential training, I created audio diaries (and will continue to do so until my training is complete!) on my audioBoom channel documenting the progress in my home training. You can listen to my recordings below:

Friday, 26 December 2014

Happy Holidays!

Tami and I would like to wish all of our readers a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Thank you for all of the support, wonderful comments and sharing of my posts over the past year through my various social media accounts. My journey has just begun with Tami and I cannot wait to continue sharing with you all the adventures we'll be having throughout 2015!

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Skillstep Accreditation Certificate

I have now received my OpenAwards accreditation certificate for my confidence building work during the Skillstep course, developing personal confidence and self awareness as well as improving assertiveness and decision making. I received 6 credits overall at Level One, with 3 credits in each of the criteria.

Skillstep is a 12 week training course, provided by Henshaws Society for Blind People, and supported by the Big Lottery Fund. It is a practical course and beneficial for those who are seeking employment or voluntary work, or for those wanting to go into further education. Skillstep also delivers the perfect opportunity to boost confidence and independence, and expand social circles.

You can view all of my previous Skillstep posts, submitted on a week-by-week basis, by clicking here and you can find out more about the course itself by clicking here at the Henshaws website, where you can register your interest to the course via e-mail.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Article in Puppy Tails Magazine

I was recently invited to write an article for the Puppy Tails magazine which is now available to read in their Autumn / Winter edition, issue number 68. The magazine is produced in co-operation with the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association UK, for volunteers by volunteers.

In the article I document my Guide Dog journey so far during the time it was written; from finding out about the Guide Dogs charity through the 'Living With Sight Loss' course provided by Henshaws Society for Blind People at my local community centre in the Summer of 2013, signing up to be a Guide Dog service user in September 2013, having my work placement at the Guide Dogs Training Centre in Atherton, Leigh, as part of the 12-week Skillstep course by Henshaws, and being captured on film by Blue Peter during my time there!

Article reads: "My name is Kimberley Burrows, I'm 25, and I've been severely visually impaired all of my life.I was born as a premature baby suffering from congenital cataracts that weren't noticed until I was 4 years old; resulting in underdeveloped optic nerves, the removal of my natural lenses, a sensitivity to light, night blindness and only 10% central vision in my left eye.

During the summer of last year I attended a 'Living With Sight Loss' course, provided by Henshaws Society for Blind People, at my local community centre. This allowed me to converse with other people suffering from sight loss in my local area for the first time. The course ran for 6 weeks and covered a variety of different topics which included mobility, transport, concessions, passes and benefits, personal safety and access to information through talking newspapers and talking books.

through one of the many visits from other organisations, I was introduced to the Guide Dogs charity and the life-changing work that they do to help visually impaired and blind people gain stronger independence and mobility skills through a working partnership with a specially-trained canine. I had never considered applying for a Guide Dog before, but the visit from the volunteer soon changed my mind! She was full of confidence, enthusiasm and determination thanks to her working partnership with her black Labrador - and these were traits I could only dream of at the time! My confidence was lacking and my mobility skills were very much non-existant.

A few months later in early September, it was the annual Fun Day event at the Guide Dogs Training Centre in Atherton, Leigh. The visit from the volunteer earlier in the summer really made an impression on me; so I decided to head along and witness first-hand the work that Guide Dogs do. I met puppy walkers, mobility instructors, trainers and volunteers and they all echoed and reinforced the same sentiments as the volunteer I'd met on the Living With Sight Loss course previously - that working with a Guide Dog is extremely beneficial and does indeed boost confidence, self-esteem and independence to new levels. That was it, I just had to apply! One of the staff members helped to fill in my application form and I was very pleased with the outcome from the Fun Day event!

Two months later, I received my first home visit from a Guide Dog Mobility Instructor. He discussed at length the benefits that I would receive from having a Guide Dog enter my life and also explained the process of the application; completing a medical form, being assessed using a long cane and empty harness, before being matched to potential dogs. Then proceeding by entering the training process before completing and qualifying the programme. A week later, I had my second home visit and my mobility skills were assessed using my long cane.

The final part of the assessment, which involves walking with the empty harness, wasn't to be completed until the following summer, in early August, while I was undertaking a two-week work placement at the Guide Dogs Training Centre in Atherton, Leigh. At the beginning of the summer I had become part of a new course, called Skillstep, again provided by Henshaws Society for Blind People, which I had found out about through the Living With Sight loss course the previous year.

Skillstep is a 12-week course designed to help visually impaired and blind people gain employability skills through vocational and computer training, while providing the opportunity of a two-week work placement. I knew immediately that I wanted my placement to be at Guide Dogs; to have the unique insight into the training process and to learn some new skills for when I'm matched to my own Guide Dog.

I was lucky enough to be a part of various departments and experience the many different roles within the training centre; including puppy training, obedience training, dog care, volunteering and reception work. I enjoyed all of these roles immensely, but have to say that the dog care department was my favourite - and I am now an expert groomer! Towards the end of the second day, I had the fantastic opportunity of being able to experience what it's like to work with a dog in full harness. I was guided around an outside obstacle course filled with traffic cones, safety barricades, A-boards and sign posts with ease and it confirmed to me that signing up for a Guide Dog was the right direction to take and is something I will greatly benefit from in the near future!

Blue Peter were filming on the Monday that I was working in the volunteering department, and between breaks I was guided to the indoor training arena to watch some of the filming take place. I even had the chance to meet Blue Peter's very own Guide Dog puppy, Iggy, afterwards and have a photo taken with her! When the episode premiered on television that was filmed during my placement, I was notified by quite a few people through my blog that I had appeared in the background of some of the footage of Iggy!

On the last morning of my work placement, I received my third and final home visit in the application process; looking at my home-life and the people and pets I live with, assessing the garden where my Guide Dog would spend, and identifying some of the routes I would be taking in my local area. We took one such route for the empty harness part of the assessment, and I learned some of the basic commands to give a Guide Dog when we are working together. I did extremely well in my harness assessment; largely due to the instructor sneakily veering right towards the Butcher's en route, and me recognising where in the route I was to snap back the harness, show that this was not my destination and focus on to the end of the road. Because of this, I passed with flying colours!

My application was completed and accepted the same day, and I have officially been on the waiting list to be matched for 2 months now. It's been a long journey of 13 months already, but I'm sure it's going to be well worth the wait when I'm finally matched, trained and living a completely independent life!"

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Guide Dog Residential Training

I have been undergoing Guide Dog training with my dog, Tami, for the past 10 days as part of a residential training course at the Mercure Hotel in Bolton with the Manchester Mobility Team.

During the 10 day course I've learned a variety of new skills when working with Tami, including; using clear commands, kerb work, navigating crossings, stairs and lifts, off-kerb obstacles, traffic training and using public transport.

The residential stay began on the morning of December 1st and, after unpacking and a quick run through of orientation in the hotel, I met with the fellow handlers on the course and we introduced ourselves. The Guide Dog trainers began the day with an introduction to house rules, spending and feeding routines of my dog as well as my own daily routine for the coming days, and then talked through the agreement and signing procedure which I will be completing after qualifying at home. The session was concluded by receiving my needed equipment; a dog lead with velcro hi-vis Guide Dog band, a whistle, two bells, a spare Guide Dog disc (each dog has its own individual ID number on its allocated disc), grooming equipment, flea treatment, a hi-vis Sam Brown belt and reflective stickers for the harness.

After lunch, the Guide Dogs were then brought in to the handlers and I and they were our responsibility from then on! Feeding, including weighing of the food, spending and grooming were all things I had to do independently right from the beginning of the course. I was taught basic obedience commands and also had the chance to walk Tami around the hotel on the short lead to familiarise her with her new surroundings. The rest of the first afternoon and evening were focused around myself and the others on the course bonding with our dogs through affection and play; with both dog and handler getting used to each other.

On the second day, the morning was mainly focused around the basics of using the harness and the trainers used an empty harness as an example, with us handlers giving the correct hand gestures and commands from kerb to kerb. This formed the foundation of my training. I then practiced again, this time with my Guide Dog, to put into practice what I learned so far and to get a clear picture of what it's like to be guided when using the right voice commands, hand gestures, and foot positions.

As each day passed on the course, more techniques and skills were learned in various locations; from a precinct, busy main street and large grocery shop to a park, train station and bus stop. I tackled 2 walks a day which extended to hour-long walks further on in the training process, both morning and afternoon, in all weather conditions. Towards the end of the course, I also tried being guided at night to experience the polar opposite of the conditions I had trained in.

Throughout the course I regularly visited the Guide Dogs Training Centre in Atherton, Leigh, where I had my work placement in August as part of the Henshaws employability course, Skillstep. I used various facilities including the indoor arena, outside obstacle course, off-kerb obstacle set up on surrounding pavements in the centre, and the car park which is implemented with small islands used for traffic training.

The handlers and I also had visits from key staff members and volunteers based at the training centre. Allan Drysdale (Guide Dog Mobility Instructor) assessed one of our earlier walks, Nicola Smith (Dog Care and Welfare Advisor) touched upon checking our dogs for ailments, registering with our local veterinary clinics, first aid and emergencies, foods to avoid, and so on, and Mike Tupper (Service User Representative) gave a brief overview of the Guide Dog service in the North West as well as volunteering and campaigning opportunities and his own story of sight loss.

Now that I have finished my residential training, I now move on to domiciliary training at home until Christmas Eve - looking at routes in my local area and using public transport, mainly buses and trams, to get to the places I visit regularly in Manchester city centre and Old Trafford.

I look forward to keeping you updated during the next stages of my training with my Guide Dog, Tami!

Audio Diaries

Throughout my residential training, I posted daily audio recordings to my audioBoom channel documenting the beginning of my journey with Tami. Listen below to find out more: