Guide Dog Etiquette, Those First Few Weeks…

planet of the blind

I told myself I was a new man but what did this mean? I was still blind; I still had no job; and irony of ironies, being overtly impaired in the sight of others brought it’s own host of problems. Just because I felt confident didn’t mean others knew it. Strangers sometimes grabbed me, believing they were doing me a favor. While crossing 7th avenue in New York an old man put a bear hug on me and shunted me across the street while Corky tried stoically to keep guiding me. She looked up repeatedly as if to say, “who’s this Bozo?” I let out a shriek, as being manhandled on a busy thoroughfare is frightening. At the far curb the man bowed and ran away.

Post-Corky I was genuinely in the world as a blind man and it meant lots of things. The guide dog schools said I should be an ambassador for the service dog movement. So Lordy! I was now a Homeric standard of excellence, an exemplary hero from a Greek epic. Even while being manhandled I ought to evince decorum. One was expected to be better than the unknowing public. I saw quickly this wasn’t going to work for me. I might want to be a kinder and more thoughtful man but I still had an irascible streak. Maybe it was the poet in me, who knows? But I didn’t want to be kind to everyone. Screw that man who dragged me across 7th avenue. As he ran off I shouted: “Don’t ever grab a blind person you asshole!” I gave him the finger.

Did being a new man require never being angry? Of course I knew I shouldn’t give a stranger the big fuck you but I couldn’t help it. And this was a new circumstance for me. Formerly I’d pretended I could see. Now I was in blind-land and I saw that many sighted people think the blind are as stupid as stumps. Worse they have a kind of boy scout code. And if that’s not bad enough, they imagine talking to the blind is unnecessary. After all we’re just lumber. Do you want to help me Mr. Stranger? Why not ask if I need it? How about introducing yourself?

It doesn’t look good standing on a corner with your dog and shouting invectives. I was a new man alright. Before Corky I’d never had this problem. What did it tell me? At the very least I had to think hard about my impulses, perhaps change what I could and forgive myself for what I couldn’t. Even a New York City curb with its wastebasket and traffic light offered an opportunity for self-reflection.

I thought: “Can a newly mobile guide dog user be kind to himself while learning the ropes?” The answer had to be yes. “Can I tell people to fuck off once in awhile?” The answer had to be yes.



Author: skuusisto

Poet, Essayist, Blogger, Journalist, Memoirist, Disability Rights Advocate, Public Speaker, Professor, Syracuse University

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