Winter Travel Tips for Dog Guide Users

Winter Travel Tips for Dog Guide Users

Winter is in full swing, and those of us who live in Chicago know all too well how unpredictable the weather can be during this time of year! People who are blind or visually impaired and use dog guides can experience unique challenges when out and about in cold and icy conditions. To see how they cope, I spoke with three dog guide users: The Chicago Lighthouse’s very own Maureen Reid, Adnana Saric, and Brett Shishkoff. Maureen and Adnana are both long-time dog guide users, while Brett has only traveled with a dog for less than a year. Here is what they had to say about having warm and safe travels with your four-legged guide and friend during the winter months.

Maureen:

To me, foot protection is the highest priority during winter. My dog guide wears ruff wear boots that look like sketchers for dogs, which were provided by our dog guide school. I also purchased Paws protective footwear because my dog prefers them, and they protect his feet from salt and snow pack in his pads, although they are not as insulating from the cold temperatures. They appear to behave like deflated round balloons that wrap around my dog’s feet. I also have a container of applicable foot cream similar to a product called “mushers secret.” This is an ointment that is applied to their feet to moisturize and protect them from salt and can help prevent snow pack from getting stuck into their pads.

My dog guide also has a wool Pendleton style coat that was kindly donated to him by one of our Chicago Lighthouse Flair Fashion show designers, Woof in the Wool. It fits under his harness and does not impede his guide work.

Dog guide users should ensure their dogs have increased access to water, as it is dryer in the winter months and they might get dehydrated more easily.

Also, owners should do their best to balance out making sure they take dogs on working walks, even though they might not want to spend any more time in the cold than necessary. Dogs can get bored and mischievous, and their guide work may suffer if not given the opportunity to go out for a stroll. Dogs respond to this weather differently from one another. My retired guide used to bulldoze herself through the snow and then wrapped it up with a summersault onto her back, while my current guide is far less enamored with the snow and cold temperatures — he would rather avoid them all together!

Chicago Lighthouse employees Maureen Reid (left) and Adnana Saric (right) walk outside with their dog guides.

Adnana:

Traveling in extreme cold weather can be a challenge for a guide dog team because of the salt and ice on the ground, as well as the low temperatures. In order to make the travel more pleasant for both myself and my dog, I make sure to give us plenty of time to get to our destination. The extra time allows us to stay calm and on the same page when trying to work through any problems we might come across. I also make sure that I have plenty of treats and praise to reward my dog for his hard work. Just as we like to wear layers and winter shoes to stay warm, I make sure that my dog’s paws are protected with dog booties or wax. In case of forgetting the shoes or wax, I make sure to wipe my dog’s paws with a damp cloth when indoors to remove any sault and prevent irritation. I also make sure he is warm by having a jacket that properly fits from neck to tail. Lastly, I look out for the well-being of my dog and myself by using Paratransit, cabs, or other rides in order to spend less time in the extreme cold.

Brett:

I have worked with my Guide Dog Poet Since May of 2017, and have learned a lot during this first winter! When traveling with Poet, we didn’t have much trouble until the frigid temperatures hit Chicago during the holidays. My dog guide school suggested that having a comfortable coat for the dog is a good idea once it drops below 20 or so. Each dog is a little different, and might be able to handle the colder temperatures better than others. Poet doesn’t seem to be bothered with the cold until the single digit temperatures arrive. Also, having a good set of boots or paw protection of some sort is a great idea. Many individuals and businesses use rock salt, when clearing the area around their property, and that can get stuck in a dog’s paws, causing some discomfort.

Regarding traveling, the dog will go out and do its job no matter the weather. I myself air on the side of caution and use transportation services like Paratransit, Uber, and Chicago’s Taxi Access Program when it’s cold and icy outside. We have to be safe and take some precautions in our travels. I tend to move a tad bit slower when out and about during winter, and I also always bring my white cane to help my dog find the opening through the snow to get safely to the crosswalk.

Chicago Lighthouse employee Brett Shishkoff smiles with his dog guide Poet.

Do you use a dog guide or other type of service animal? If so what other winter travel tips would you share with fellow service dog users? Please comment below, or email me at sandysview@chicagolighthouse.org. You can also read my previous post about general winter travel tips for people who are blind or visually impaired by clicking on this link. Safe travels to everyone, and stay warm!

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Review of Actiview: An App That Makes Moviegoing More Accessible

In last week’s Sandy’s View post, guest blogger Brett Shishkoff shared his experience and thoughts on enjoying “A Christmas Carol” with both a touch tour and audio description. Other forms of entertainment, such as movies and TV shows, are also accessible to people who are blind or visually impaired thanks to an audio description. This week, I will share my moviegoing experience using Actiview, a recently developed mobile app which provides audio description for those with vision loss, as well as closed captions, amplified audio and sign language interpretation for persons who are deaf or hard of hearing. I recently went to the movies to watch Coco with an audio description using this app.

How Does Actiview Work?

At this time, the Actiview app is only available for iOS devices. After installing the app on an iPhone or iPad, users create a login username and password. Once logged in, a list of the available movies appears. There are currently six movies with audio description, closed captions, amplified audio and sign language interpretation. These include Wonderstruck, Coco and Breathe. Once a movie is selected from the list, the app displays the available accessibility options. Users can then download the content they need, either by using their cellular data or other Wi-Fi network. Once the desired movie is playing, either at the movie theater or at home, the audio description (or whichever accessibility option was selected) will sync with the movie. You can now sit back and enjoy the fully accessible movie! Below is a screenshot of the services available for viewing Coco with Actiview.

Screenshot of services available for watching Coco with the Actiview app.

My Thoughts

Without a doubt, using Actiview to watch Coco with audio description was simple and fun. After arriving at the movie theater, I did not have to spend extra time requesting or waiting for an audio description headset, which several theaters offer for its blind or visually impaired guests. I had also purchased my tickets in advance, so I was able to go right into the theater without having to wait in line. This turned out to be convenient, as I was running behind and made it just in time for the beginning of the movie! The syncing of the audio description only took about 15-20 seconds, and I was able to hear it using my own earbuds without any difficulties. This way I wouldn’t disturb my fellow moviegoers.

As far as the movie itself, I enjoyed Coco very much! Besides being entertaining, it also taught me a thing or two about the Day of the Dead celebration in Mexico and other Latin-American countries. As with other Disney/Pixar movies, Coco consisted of a lot of animation, so the audio description was essential for me to fully understand the film.

Actiview is just another example of how technology continues to help people with disabilities. Thanks to this app, those of us with visual impairments or who are deaf or hard of hearing can have more accessibility when watching movies. Using the app is accessible and a flawless process. I hope that more movies are added to the app’s collection in the near future, so we can continue to enjoy fully accessible moviegoing experiences. We all deserve to have accessible entertainment, and apps like Actiview are helping us get even closer to achieving that goal.

Have you used the Actiview or similar apps to enjoy movies with audio description? Please comment with your experience, or send an email to sandysview@chicagolighthouse.org. Happy accessible moviegoing!

2017 Holiday Gift Ideas

The holidays are upon us, and so is the time for gift giving! I am often asked by others for advice on what kinds of gifts to get their loved ones who are blind or visually impaired. I have always appreciated these kinds of questions, because they mean people really want to give us things we can appreciate and use! This week, Brett Shishkoff, my colleague at CRIS Radio who’s also totally blind, joins me in offering some suggestions.

Sandy’s Suggestions from the Tools for Living Store:

Photograph of two individuals looking at kitchen items at the Tools for Living Store.

The Lighthouse Tools for Living Store sells a wide variety of high-tech and low-tech products for individuals with varying degrees of vision loss. Independent living aids, like the Wilson Recorder, Bold Line Note Pad and the PenFriend 2 will help those with little or no vision stay organized and keep track of important things and events. The easy to see, giant 2018 wall calendar makes a perfect gift for the upcoming new year!

Cooking enthusiasts will enjoy products like large print and Braille measuring cups, contrast cutting boards, and talking timers and meat thermometers. Adapted games, including large print and Braille cards, dominos with raised dots, large print crossword puzzles and a tactile version of Connect 4 are sold. The store carries different tactile and auditory toys for children who are blind or visually impaired. In addition, other products, like Braille and talking watches, signature and check-writing guides, are very useful for those of us without sight.

Brett’s Suggestions:

There are also many mainstream products that are accessible and useful to people with vision loss. Popular video streaming services, like Netflix, Amazon and iTunes now offer hundreds of audio described movies and television programs. Best of all, set top boxes, like the Apple TV and Amazon TV are accessible to people with visual impairments, and can help them enjoy the videos they purchase through these services. Voice-controlled home assistance like Amazon ECHO and Google Home are also gaining popularity among people with vision loss or other disabilities. Users can begin listening to their favorite music, news updates, sports scores, and audio books in a matter of seconds. They can even search for recipes and find out the weather forecast by simply asking the device!

Technologically inclined individuals might also benefit tremendously from a smartphone or tablet. Devices like Apple’s iPhone or iPad and Android phones and tablets have many built-in accessibility features for people with vision loss. In addition, users can install various apps that will help with things like traveling, identifying money, and even reading print documents. Finally, if your friend or family member enjoys audio books or music, consider giving them a gift card for services like Audible or iTunes. This will be sure to provide hours of endless entertainment!

These are only a few of the many gift possibilities that people who are blind or visually impaired are sure to enjoy this holiday season. For more gift ideas, visit this page from the American Foundation for the Blind, which shares great suggestions for people of all ages. If you have other ideas you would like us to mention, you can email me at sandysview@chicagolighthouse.org. Thanks for reading, and happy holidays from all of us at The Chicago Lighthouse!

Help Support a Job and Share The Vision This #GivingTuesday!

Giving Tuesday HOMEPAGE #1

Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and so are Black Friday and Cyber Monday! All of this is followed by #GivingTuesday, a global day of giving observed by nonprofits all over the world. This year, #GivingTuesday will be on Tuesday, November 28, the Tuesday following Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday in the United States.

For the third consecutive year, The Chicago Lighthouse is holding its #GivingTuesday campaign. Our theme this year is Support a Job, Share the Vision and our goal is to raise critical funds for The Lighthouse’s Endowment Campaign. Your support will ensure that future generations of people with disabilities and Veterans can continue receiving services from The Chicago Lighthouse for many years to come. Since its founding in 1906, the mission of The Chicago Lighthouse is to create jobs for people who are blind or visually impaired. We work tirelessly to provide individuals who have experienced vision loss with the tools and opportunities to become independent and productive members of society.

Now in its 40th year of operation, Chicago Lighthouse Industries  (which is a sister agency of The Chicago Lighthouse) has manufactured 6 million clocks! These clocks are sold to the federal government, as well as to state and municipal agencies. Recently, clocks also became available for purchase through Amazon and in select Target stores throughout the Chicago area. In addition to clocks, Chicago Lighthouse Industries also manufactures ergonomic products like footrests and monitor stands, as well as calendars, planners and thermometers. Approximately 85% of Chicago Lighthouse Industries employees are blind or visually impaired.

For years, people who are blind or visually impaired have experienced an extremely high unemployment rate of over 70 percent. Many companies are hesitant to hire workers with vision loss due to a lack of understanding and unfounded misconceptions.

“This number is not because people who are blind or visually impaired do not want to work or are lacking skills, but a lot of companies believe that if someone is blind or visually impaired, they are for some reason incapable of doing jobs other people can,” says Heidi Ashwell, director of operations at Chicago Lighthouse Industries.

For someone who is blind or visually impaired, having a job not only provides them with a sense of fulfillment, but it also gives them independence and confidence. This is something that everyone – whether blind or sighted – wants and deserves. Heidi also says that for Chicago Lighthouse Industries employees who are blind or visually impaired, working alongside others with vision loss provides them with a sense of camaraderie. Working at The Chicago Lighthouse has truly changed the lives of these individuals!

“Our workers really appreciate what they have, being able to have a job and being able to support their families,” Heidi says.

With your support this #GivingTuesday, The Chicago Lighthouse will be able to provide people who are blind or visually impaired with the necessary tools and skills that will allow them to become independent and self-sufficient. Our talented employees like Mike and Nick can continue to find, obtain and keep meaningful employment now and in the future. Please click under their names to access their #GivingTuesday testimonials.

Best of all, your generous gift will have double the impact this year thanks to a generous challenge from Chicago Lighthouse Board Member Larry and Susanne Broutman and long-time donors Fred and Sarah. They will match every donated dollar up to $75,000.

Please help us change lives by supporting The Chicago Lighthouse this #GivingTuesday! There are three ways to donate:

  • Donate online at www.chicagolighthouse.org/giving-tuesday
  • By mail: send donations payable to The Chicago Lighthouse at 1850 W. Roosevelt Rd. Chicago, IL 60608. Mark to the attention of #GivingTuesday.
  • Call 312-997-3668.

You can also find out more about The Chicago Lighthouse and our #GivingTuesday campaign by following and liking us on FacebookTwitterInstagram and LinkedIn. On behalf of the Sandy’s View team and everyone at The Chicago Lighthouse, thank you so much for your generosity!

We also wish you all a very happy holiday season!

Commentary: Preparing College Students with Disabilities for Success

Going to college is by far one of the fondest time periods in my life. Meeting new friends, having fun on weekends after particularly busy weekdays and even the countless sleepless nights I spent preparing for final exams are some of the memories I will always cherish from my time at the University of Illinois. Looking back to these years, I also realize that attending college and obtaining my degree in journalism was one of my greatest challenges. College is difficult for anyone, and people like myself with disabilities have additional barriers to overcome.

recent report highlights some of the difficulties perspective and current college students with disabilities face while pursuing higher education. Some of the challenges for these students include not having adequate time management, organization and advocacy skills. The statistics are especially alarming. Only about a third of students with disabilities obtain a college degree. It’s not that students with disabilities cannot handle rigorous college schedules or the academic assignments, but rather they are ill-equipped to take on these challenges. Often, students do not receive sufficient training or information about available resources while in high school.

As someone who is blind, I consider myself incredibly fortunate. During high school, my teacher of the visually impaired made sure I learned to advocate for my needs. By my junior and senior years, it was up to me to inform my mainstream teachers about how they could best help me. I would obtain the class handouts or other materials from them, and my vision teacher would then transcribe them into Braille. During this time period, I also began learning about resources that would assist me once I started college. These included the state’s department of rehabilitation services, as well as the office of disability services at the University of Illinois. This was in addition to learning about assistive technology, scholarships and transportation resources that could make my life easier in college.

Regardless of the disability, it is critical for all students who are about to graduate from high school to learn the important skills they will need to succeed in college. They should be taught – both in high school and at home – how to manage their time, advocate for their particular needs, and about other organizations or resources that will help them throughout college. In the case of students with vision loss, learning about such things as assistive technology and orientation and mobility is also vital. Services like the Youth Transition and College Scholarship programs at The Chicago Lighthouse are a wonderful resource for high school students with vision loss, their teachers and families. These programs help students learn important independent living skills and obtain other resources that will help them better prepare and succeed in college. Best of all, they allow them to network and get advice from fellow students with visual impairments.

College students with disabilities have the same dreams and aspirations as their non-disabled peers. Unfortunately, many of these students are ill-prepared to undertake higher education, and may even struggle to obtain a degree. It is extremely important for high schools and other individuals working with students with disabilities to teach them college readiness skills prior to them entering higher education. In the end, this will allow students to be better prepared for college and ultimately for their future careers. This will also ensure that their college experience will be something they cherish for the rest of their lives!

Guest Commentary: Please Do Not Distract Service Dogs!

This week’s guest commentary is written by Wayne Scace, a long-time dog guide user who is visually impaired. Wayne comments on two recent experiences he faced while out in the street with his guide dog, Harley.

Wayne Scace and Harley

Recently, I experienced two incidents within twenty-four hours that interfered with my guide dog and ultimately endangered our lives. During the first incident, I was making my way home walking along Randolph Street towards Millennium Station in downtown Chicago to catch a Metra train. Suddenly, I heard someone crouch down while calling ‘puppy, puppy, puppy!’ at my guide dog in an upbeat way. The person then proceeded to take a flash photo of Harley (I am not totally blind, so I could see the flash.)

Had Harley become distracted, these actions could have endangered us. Furthermore, Harley’s vision could have become impaired temporarily by the flash. These actions were also an invasion of my privacy. If the individual had politely asked to take a photograph of Harley, I would have probably said yes. However, the person’s poor judgement took away my choice, my privacy, and endangered our team.

The second incident happened the next day while Harley and I were walking along Wood Street towards Polk to get to the El station. As we were approaching the intersection, there was an open grassy area to my right. Just as we began walking along the grass, Harley alerted me to the presence of another dog with his body language. I then heard a shout, and about 10 seconds later someone’s off-leash dog came charging at Harley and me. For a guide dog team, any rapidly approaching off-leash dog is considered a threat until proven otherwise.

When the owner finally caught up to us, he said that his dog was really friendly. I asked him where the leash was, and he waved it at me and responded that he was just playing ball with the dog in the park. I explained to him that doing so in an unsecured area was dangerous because his dog could have been injured or killed. Not to mention that Harley or I could have also been hurt. This incident was extremely dangerous, because while I was focusing on moving to keep myself between Harley and the other dog, Harley was not able to guide me. He did not lunge, or vocalize, but because I had him tucked tight to my left leg, Harley could not do his job. Besides endangering his dog and mine, the owner was in violation of the leash ordinance in Chicago.

Both of these incidents highlight why it is extremely important not to distract service dogs. Many people have tried distracting my guide dogs over the last 17 years, but these incidents are, by far, the most egregious!

Too many members of the public either do not know, or simply choose to ignore that distracting the cute service dog could endanger the lives of the team. A medical alert dog that is distracted by someone trying to pet it could miss a critical warning and the owner could die. A distracted guide dog could walk its handler out in front of a car, or into an obstacle. A wheelchair user could have their chair overturned by someone distracting their service animal. Off-leash dogs have injured service animals so badly that they had to retire. Other times, service animals have been killed, or had to be euthanized due to the severe injuries suffered from an off-leash dog. In some states it is a criminal violation to interfere with the work of a service animal team.

Bottom line, these highly trained dogs are out in public to work, not to provide people with entertainment. Service animal owners simply want to go about our day like everyone else. Fortunately, there was not a negative outcome from these incidents, except the sour taste left in my mouth.

Again, please, do not distract the service dog you encounter out in the street! We know he/she is cute, but that does not give you the right to take their photograph, or let your off-leash dog come charging up to us.

Why Teachers for Students with Visual Impairments Are So Important

Throughout my childhood, I attended mainstream classes in the public school system. This meant I could learn math, science and social studies alongside my peers who could see. At the same time, I received services from teachers of the visually impaired and orientation and mobility specialists. They taught me how to read and write Braille, use special technology for my classes and travel with a white cane. These teachers would also order my textbooks and transcribe class handouts into Braille, so I could participate in my mainstream classes.

During my years in elementary and junior high, I received this specialized instruction in a vision resource room with other blind and visually impaired children. Without a doubt, this allowed me to receive the individualized, one-on-one assistance I needed from my teachers to learn these critical skills. Learning alongside other students with visual impairments also gave me a sense of camaraderie because our vision loss meant we could all relate to each other’s challenges and successes. By the time I entered high school, I received these services from an itinerant teacher, who would go to my school several times a week to work with me and other visually impaired students.

Recently, I read this article about the ongoing shortage of teachers for the visually impaired in Illinois. Over the years, the number of these professionals has significantly decreased, thereby causing this shortage. If this trend continues, current and future generations of students who are blind or visually impaired will no doubt be negatively impacted. Many argue that students with disabilities should be fully mainstreamed and included in their home districts. As someone who benefited from mainstream education, I think this is a valid point. Going to classes with sighted peers provided me with invaluable social skills and the incredible opportunity to educate others about disabilities (I was the only blind student in my classes, so naturally my peers were curious to learn about Braille and the special technology I use.) However, I believe that having the support of a teacher of the visually impaired is imperative for students with vision loss.

Michael Hansen, who is blind and now works as a call center agent at The Chicago Lighthouse, agrees. He attended his local elementary school for several years, but says he found it very difficult being the only blind student in the entire school. This all changed when he began attending a program which offered a resource classroom and services for students who are blind or visually impaired. Although his bus ride to and from the school was about an hour each way, he says he “wouldn’t have done it any other way.” Being in this program provided Michael with both a mainstream education, while receiving the supports and services he needed due to his visual impairment.

I consider myself extremely fortunate to have received both the opportunity to attend classes with my sighted peers, while at the same time learning the skills necessary for me to become an independent and successful blind person. This was thanks to my teachers of the visually impaired and orientation and mobility instructors. The assistance these professionals provide is invaluable to students with vision loss. I sincerely hope more educators will consider the field of blindness and visual impairment for their future careers. This is an extremely rewarding career that will enable blind and visually impaired individuals to live successful and independent lives.