Hanging Up The Harness

Today, Ushi wore her harness for the last time. In

<a href=”http://www.thebigt1.wordpress.com/2018/06/02/making-that-call”>My last post,</a>

I had written about how i had to make that final call about Ushis’ working. That was still the hardest part for me. She worked as well as she normally works when she wants to on Monday and Tuesday. Tuesday was a lovely walk for her to finish her working life. I went out for a walk with a group from Holywood to Cultraw and back again. Ushi was really stepping out, but then it was a new place and there were other dogs there too. I had made the decision in my head that that would probably be her last working walk and i was right. I tried to work her on Wednesday and Thursday but it wasn’t happening. I am glad her last walk was such a good one on Tuesday.

So this morning, guide dogs came out to see Ushi working before we made a decision. I told them that i really didn’t know if she would work, but we went out and gave it a go. Unfortunately, we only got a short way up the street before she put the breaks on and decided not to work. The decision was made there and then that she would retire. As soon as we turned back towards the house, her tail went back up again and she was as happy as larry. That confirmed in my mind that she really wasn’t wanting to work any more. Of course i am disappointed, but i know that there is no point in keeping trying when she is clearly not happy. I gave back the harness and we discussed where Ushi will go for her retirement home. I decided long ago that she would go to her puppywalker as i could not keep her. Of course i would love to keep her, but i don’t think it would be fair on her to see me working with a new dog. Plus, we are still at home so we have our pet dog too so there just wouldn’t be the room to have 3 dogs. Thankfully, Ushis’ puppywalkers are more than happy to have her back which is brilliant. Ushi has already been over for a week to make sure they can manage having her plus their withdrawn dog and they loved having her. So in a way that makes it easier knowing she will be happy over in Scotland. I plan to keep Ushi as long as i can before she goes over to Scotland.

We then went out again with just my cane as i wanted to make sure that Ushi would walk with me with just my cane. She was a little unsure at first, but i think she will get used to it as she just trotted along beside me. I could immidiately feel the difference in her. I will obviously only take her for walks now and not in to any shops or anything. Whilst it is up to the individual shops as to whether they let me in or not now, i don’t want to go round every shop that i go in to asking if Ushi can come in. Plus, why would i take her in to shops when she isn’t working any more?

So it’s back to the good old cane for now. I am glad i put myself back on the list when i did, rather than waiting. It feels weird not having the harness, but in a way, it is just like when we qualified and weren’t allowed to have the harness. The only difference is now that she is older.

I would like to thank everyone who has sent me texts and commented on facebook. Everyone has been so kind. I don’t feel too bad at the minute. I suppose i know it was the right decision and i know she will be happy when she does go to her puppywalkers. I just have to hope that a new dog comes along soon.

Finally, i would like to thank Ushi for these past 7 and a half years. I know she has always had her little issues and stops, but once i figured out how to manage those, she did do some brilliant work for me. When i first got her, she really wasn’t that confident at all, but she has grown in to a very confident pup. She takes everything in her stride. I have grown in confidence myself, and am doing far more than i did before i got Ushi. I am looking forward to working with a new dog and will enjoy Ushi until i feel that she needs to move on. Thank you Ushi for being such a wonderful worker, despite your little quirks. I have loved it all :). Read the rest of this entry »


Making That Call

This has taken me a few days to write. It has been a somewhat hard post.

I always wondered how you would know when a dog was ready to retire. I think i now know.

Back in December, i was put on the waiting list for my next dog while Ushi was still working. Back then, Ushi was slow, but i was confident that she would keep working until a new match was found. Since then though, i have noticed little signs that are suggesting to me that she might retire sooner than i would like. I have noticed over the past month or so especially that when Ushi is working, she is looking around a lot more. It is getting harder to focus her after she looks around. She is also a lot more sniffy on our walks. She has always got a bit stuck when it comes to our regular places we go in to such as Costa and Wise Buys, for example but normally, after a bit of reasoning, and a few “not todays”, she will eventually move on. She may not be happy, especially if it is Pets at Home, but she will eventually move on after pleading with me to go in. Now, however when she gets stuck at a shop because she wants to go in, she really gets stuck to the point where she won’t move at all and no amount of cajoling can get her to carry on. Usually in that situation, i have to ask someone to guide me past whereever it is to get her to carry on.

Sometimes, we don’t even get as far as town, or even just for a walk. She will ask to work, but when we get out of our house, she just crawls along until we turn back for home and then she will go there no problem. If she is not lagging behind until we turn back to go home, she will push against me if we go left to go out of our estate until we turn back home. A couple of years ago, i had a problem with her when i went to go right out of our estate. This was solved with cheese and a lot of perseverance from me with help from Guide dogs. Because of her age though, i don’t want to fight with her. If it had of been a couple of years ago, i would have faught with her and overcome the stickiness, but because it is both ways out of our estate now, i really don’t want to push her if she doesn’t want to work. Usually when this happens, i bring her back home and carry on to whereever i am going with my cane.. If it is just a walk for the sake of a walk, then i will just go home with her, but if i have somewhere to be, then i carry on without her.

Sometimes, when we are working and i ask her to do something, she just stops and stares. It is almost like she has forgotten what i have asked her to do. The most recent instance of this was when i was staying in a hotel last weekend. We had been in this hotel many times before. We had come out of the restaurant after breakfast on the Saturday morning. When we came out of the restaurant, we were heading back to our room which is a straight forward route. Ushi started to lag and when i tried to keep going forward, she wanted to turn back towards the restaurant. I only know this because i got her to “show me” what she wanted. She sped up to head back in to the restaurant. Now, this is unusual as Ushi has never had any human food in there nor attempted to get anything. I kept trying to go back to our room, but it wasn’t happening and the lagging would start again. So i got her to find a sofa while we sat and gathered our thoughts. I eventually got her to go to our room by a bit of bribery of a treat and lots of praise when we got to our room. A few other times this has happened have been when i have asked her to find a ramp through a train station or to find a crossing, for example. It litterally is like she doesn’t know what i am asking her to do. I call these her crisis of confidence.

At no point is Ushi putting me in danger though. She is still stopping at all her kerbs, finding crossing boxes and using public transport well. If she was putting me in danger, i would have called Guide dogs straight away.

On the days that she does work, she is her usual self apart from her slowness etc. Last week, for instance, was a very frustrating week for me as she didn’t want to work at all. I know it has been quite hot, but this was when it was a bit cooler. She didn’t even want to go to yoga which she usually loves. Today was the first she had worked in a week.

In all this, if i was to say that we were going for a free run, she would be like a rocket. There would be absolutely no issue with her working then.

Ushi has been to the vet and has a slight stiffness in her right back leg. The vet says it isn’t anything to worry about at the minute and he will just keep an eye on it. She is not on any medications. She has a few fatty lumps and needed a skin tag removed at the end of April on her eye lid, but other than that, it is just the stiffness in her right leg. As i’ve said, the vet isn’t overly worried and doesn’t think it needs any attention yet.

I phoned guide dogs during the week and they are going to ring me to fix up a date for when Ushi will retire. Obviously i don’t want her to retire yet but i don’t want her to keep working if her heart just isn’t in it any more. I guess i’ve been clinging to the days when she does work, but the truth is, i can’t fully depend on her now and i don’t know if she will wok from one day to the next. I am taking comfort though that she has worked for 7 and a half years with me. We have had our ups and downs, and she does have her very stubborn tendencies, but i really have loved working her. At the start, i didn’t know that i could leave Ballymena, but now, the world really has been my oister. I also know that hopefully she will be going back to her puppywalkers when she does retire as i just can’t keep her as much as i would love to. Ushi has already been for a weeks’ holiday at the start of April and it was like she was never away. The puppywalkers seemed happy too and it has put my mind at ease knowing that she will hopefully go back there. She will have a friend too as they kept their next pup who didn’t want to be a guide dog.

So it has been a very difficult week, but i can’t put it off forever unfortunately. I don’t want all the little signs to become bigger and i don’t want her to start putting us in danger. So i will just take each day as it comes and await Ushi’s retirement date.

Training With Disabled Go

Today, i took part in a training day with a company called

Disabled go

Which is an accessibility checker so that disabled people can look up particular venues to see how accessible they are. Disabled go works with counscels who pay to be a part of Disabled go. There are 4 counscels who are signed up here in Northern Ireland, but they want to get it rolled out to more counscel areas in the future. The counscels which have it already are Ards and North Down, Antrim and Newtownabbey, Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavan and Belfast city counscel. Once the counscel has signed up to the scheme, they will request for places to be surveyed.

There are two types of access guide that Disabled go provide. One is called a “detailed access guide” or a DAG for short. This would be a venue such as a restaurant or hotel where you are likely to spend a considderable ammount of time in. The other type of guide is called a “key access review” or a KAR for short. This would be a venue like a bank, where you aren’t likely to spend as much time in but still need to know if it is accessible or not. Unlike other companies, Disabled go does not make recommendations for venues to be accessible, rather they will provide guideance if it is a detailed access guide, for example, but it is mainly so that disabled people can make their own choices as to whether they will use a particular venue or not. For example if there is a step in to the venue, the website will list the fact that there is a step to get in to the building, but on’t recommend for it to be changed.

The day started with a visit to City hall, where we met the rest of the participants and the facilatators from disabled go. First of all, they presented a presentation all about the history of Disabled go and why it was developed. It was developed in 2000, after a wheelchair user found himself unable to access many venues after becoming disabled. The presentation then went on to explain what the difference between a detailed access guide and a key access review was. Not only had the presentation been emailed to me beforehand, but there were also brialle copies and print copies available. The questions we would ask venues were also available in braille. I was very impressed with this.

The information that is collected is very thorough. It goes in to details such as what the outside access is like, are there steps, how many steps, is there a ramp, is it portable, the angle of the ramp etc. It even asks what type of door there is and how wide it is. Once inside, it goes in to yet more detail such as did the staff receive disability equality training, is there an accessible toilet, is there a hearing loop, are there seats available and many more questions besides. Whilst on the subject of accessible toilets, someone in the group pointed out that if you’re visually impaired, you aren’t necessarily going to want to feel around to find everything in the accessible toilet and that things aren’t where you would think in every one. I pointed out a device called a

Room mate

Which is a device that some places accross the water can install with bespoke audio instructions as to where everything is in an accessible toilet. That hasn’t come over here yet, but i am interested when it does, as it would solve so many problems in locating things in the toilet. I also asked the question about

Changing places toilets

And if they would be included in the detailed access guides, which they are as for some people, they cannot use the standard accessible toilet.

The presentation also focused on why you may not be allowed to go in to a venue and ask about what they had available, such as seating, and this was because a shop may be busy or may be worried about people coming in and asking questions about their venue. This is a rare occurance apparently though which is always good to hear.

Once the presentation was finished, we were told about what else would be happening throughout the day and asked to fill in a feedback form on the day so far.

After lunch, it was time to hit the streets armed with the information we needed to create a key access review for some shops in Victoria square. We were split up in to two groups and each facilatator led a group. We visited 5 shopes in total. They kept it very short to accommadate peoples’ needs, and didn’t want people to get too tired doing it. Everywhere we went were very happy for us to ask questions about the venue. The only place which had a hearing loop was the Apple store, whilst Claires Accessories and a place called Boo avenue had racks that could be wheeled out of the way if a wheelchair user for example couldn’t get down an aisle and Boo avenue even had an accessible fitting room. Photos were also taken of the steps etc if a shop had any and how wide the aisles were.

Once we had finished, we had a chat about the day and were given a £10 gift voucher for our time. I would like to thank Disabled go for inviting us along and i really enjoyed the day. It is amazing how many things you notice when you have your accessibility head on. I hope more counscels sign up to the scheme and i look foward to hopefully doing more with them in the future.

It’s Starting To Feel Real

So today i had an after care visit from Guide dogs and walked with a few dogs to see what speed i am at now, since Ushi has slowed down a little.

Back in June, i had an aftercare visit and it had been noted that Ushi had slowed down quite a bit since the last time i had aftercare. I had always had an excuse for her slowness, such as the streets were busy/we had recently had road works/it was hot/wet/there were a lot of obsticles etc. However when it was mentioned to me, i was starting to think that maybe she was slowing down. I did find it hard to believe though since we had been down to Dublin only a few weeks earlier and she loved it. Since then though, i have noticed that she is slowing. She still is excited when we go somewhere new, but otherwise, she is indicating more seats and coffee shops to me than she did before. It is getting harder and harder to move her along too. I’ve notice too the past month or so, that she won’t lie as long in a cafe and seems to get more restless after a while. It is just subtle things really, but when you add them altogether, it is all making sense unfortunately.

Not long after that aftercare visit, the decision was made that i should probably put myself back on the list while Ushi was still working. Ideally, i would love it if Ushi could work right up until a new dog was found for me. I have to face it that she has been working for me for the last 7 years and that she will be 9 in February. When she had her last vet appointment, the vet noticed that she had some stiffness in one of her back legs. We are monitoring it carefully, but the vet isn’t too worried as she isn’t limping and doesn’t seem to be in pain. She has always been a bit funny though when i pick up her back paws though. Apart from that, she has been mainly healthy throughout her working life apart from a couple of little fatty lumps that she has picked up along the way.

So today, guide dogs came out to fill in the paperwork for me to be put back on the list. This was things like what i would want in a new dog etc.

First of all, i took Ushi out for a quick walk around the block so they could gage what speed she is at now. They are going to start coming out every six months now to keep a closer eye on her. They said that normally they would do this when the dog was about 10, but they think it would be better to do it now with Ushi rather than waiting. Obviously, i will be sad to see Ushi go when her time comes, but she has done some fantastic working for me over these past 7 years. She deffinetly wasn’t the easiest to work with in terms of her stubbornness and her random stops, but when she puts her mind to it, she really is a brilliant little worker. She is a nice, all round type of dog who isn’t bothered by much at all which is great. Initially, when i first got her, i wasn’t as busy as i am now, but now that i have found that confidence to explore more than just my home town, the world really is my oistor.

After my walk with Ushi, it was back inside to fill in the paperwork bit of the visit. This consisted of a series of questions to determine what i would like in a dog, including things like temperament and workload. We also discussed what my main routes would be and how long they would take roughly. This was much easier this time as i know what routes i am doing now, where as when i first did the assessment all those years ago, i didn’t know what routes i would like to use.

Eventually, after all the paperwork was taken care of, we went outside to meet some dogs. This was just so that they could see what speed and tention i need in a dog as they can’t tell from Ushi what i would need as she was always very light with her tention. The first dog who was brought out of the car was a little black boy. He was a bit fast to start with, but eventually slowed down to my speed. He had a very good tention as well. It wasn’t too light, and wasn’t too strong either. Next, it was a little black girlie. Again, her tention was strong, but i felt comfortable with her. Lastly, it was a golden girl. She was slower than the black girlie but because she had such a strong tention, it felt like she was flying ahead. I admit i did have to speed up a little and lengthen my stride just to keep up with her.

It was a good day and on one hand, i hope it is not too long before i am matched with a new dog, but on the other, i don’t want it to be too quick either 😦 i do know that Ushi unfortunately can’t keep working forever, no matter how much i want her to.

My First Tennis Tournament

I’m not long back from attending my first official tennis tournament down in Dublin.

Back in May 2016, i took part in visually impaired tennis at May fest and loved it. I happened to mention that it would be cool if it came to Northern Ireland, but thought nothing more about it. Eventually though, through

<a href=”http://www.dsni.co.uk”>Disability Sports NI</a>


<a href=”http://www.winsortennis.co.uk”>The Winsor tennis club</a>

Becoming involved, it became a reality. Basically, it is played like normal tennis, only the ball is bigger than normal and spongy. Inside the ball, is a smaller ball with ball bearings in it so that we can hear where the ball bounces. If you are a B1 which is no sight up to light perception i think, you play on half a normal courte and you are allowed up to 3 bounces to hit the ball after it has been served to you. If you are a B2 or B3, you play on a 3 quarter length courte and are allowed up to two bounces before hitting the ball after it is served to you. Otherwise the rules are exactly the same for normal play.

I have been playing the tennis now since about May time and i love it. I don’t always return the ball after a serve, and sometimes i forget to move for the ball, but otherwise i really do love it. It is the type of sport you would never get bored of as once you start playing, you just get in to the zone and it flies in.

On Sunday past, about 12 of us all headed down to Dublin to play the Dublin Visually impaired tennis team in a friendly tournament. We headed down to the <a href=”http://www.shankilltennisclub.com”>Shankill tennis club</a>

In Dublin. We arrived around half 12 or so and were greeted by the coaches and volunteers. We were provided with some tea and sandwiches which was a lovely welcome.

We then headed off to where the actual courtes were. We would be playing on an indoor courte which was a new experience for us as there are only two indoor tennis courtes here so we played on an outside courte. Apparently, Shankill have about 7 indoor courtes and 3 outdorr courtes plus a club house, so it is massive. Before we went on to the outdoor courte, we had to change our shoes as stones and things can scratch the surface of the courte. Once that was taken care of, we headed on to the courte. The courte felt like very hard tarmac but it was super clean and had a springy feel to it. It felt very nice under foot. Because a few of the Dublin team were unavailable through injury and illness, there were 5 chairs sitting along the side of the courte so that two people could play a game at a time and then we swaped over to play someone else.

We started by doing our warm up which consisted of jogging on the spot, running with our knees high and running as fast as we could whilst still running on the spot. We then had to put our hands behind us and try to hit our hands with our heels before running and rotating our shoulders back and forward. After thaat, we all gathered round to introduce ourselves and explain what catigory we were in and when we started playing tennis. It was then on to the excitement of playing a match.

We played 4 games altogether and were delighted to find out that we had won the tournament against Dublin. At the end of each game, each player had to shake hands with their fello player and say “well played”.

The time absolutely flew in and i could have kept playing. It was then back to the club house for some well deserved refreshments and to thank the Shankill club and players for hosting us. I really did have a ball and the bus back was full of craic about how we did.

Our next tournament will be in January back in Dublin. I am looking forward to it already!

I would like to thank the coaches at Winsor for coaching us so far and am looking forward to resumming play after Christmas.

Finding Your Voice 2017 #InvolvingPeople

In September last year, i took part in a course run by
Stellar Leadership
Who specialise in running leadership programs to help individuals become better leaders in their organisations.

Finding your voice

The Finding Your Voice program was set up speciffically for service users and carers to learn how to use their voice effectively within health care. It has been running for 3 years and is funded by the
Health and social care board
I was sent an application form for this by the local engagement officer for Guide dogs as she knew i was involved with the disability consultation panel for the local trust. There were only 10 places allocated on the program, so the application form was almost like a job application. People were then selected to join the program. Initially, i wasn’t sure what i would get out of the program, but i thought it would be good to go on and it was accredited too which is always good to have. Once you are selected, you have to commit to the 6 week course as well as doing a presentation on what you have learnt throughout at the end. The sessions were roughly every 3 weeks and they ran to January this year, where we had to do a presentation on what we had learnt before this was sent off to the
Institute of leadership and management
Who accredit you with a level 3 award in leadership and management if you complete the program and the presentation.

Throughout the program, you learn about things like Personal and public involvement, different leadership styles, emotional intelligence, intigrated care partnerships, as well as how to communicate effectively and getting your message accross in the right way. At the end, you have to do a presentation on leadership styles and effective communication and how to apply this to the work you do as a service user or carer. Wer were given access to the Finding your voice section of the website, where we could download things that were relivant to what we were discussing. A lot of the work was discussion based too which was good. Each week, we had a chance to write down something we maybe wanted to look up or find out more information about before the next session.

While everything was in print, all the documents we needed were typed up as word documents before being put in to pdfs on the website, which meant i was able to read them along with everyone else. This was brilliant and meant i could participate equally with discussions and things. I really appreciated this and made sure to feed this back to the facilitator. I was going to ask for the information in braille, but because it was available the way it was, and it probably would have taken the length of the program to get it in to braille, i decided to go with the way it was presented to me. After all, i braught my ipad along with me to each session.

Even though the presentations were done in January to the group, it took until today to get presented with our certifficates due to the external marking by the Institute of leadership and management and different things.


Today we were all called together to receive our certifficates for both the finding your voice program and a program called Involving people which was a level 5 certifficate in leadership and management and was designed more for health care staff to undertake. The event was held in
The Mac
And consisted of both service users and staff, as well as the Stellar Leadership guys and people who had completed both programs last year. There were presentations by speakers who had done both programs last year, followed by discussions with our tables on Personal and public involvement, or PPI and co production and how that could be made better. Everyone was encouraged to write down any feedback they had about the discussions on either a sheet of paper, or on the table itself, as there were what looked like place mats that could be written on which covered each table. There was also post it notes that you could write on and at the end of each discussion somebody from Stellar leadership came along and asked for feedback. There was an artist at the back of the room who sketched a picture of people speaking. We were then presented with our certifficates before more discussions took place before we ended with lunch.

It was a great day and we were well stocked with tea and water throughout. It was great to see so many people attending who had completed the programs through Stellar.

I would like to thank Stellar leadership for delivering the program and the certifficate presentations and for the Mac for hosting us.

The Orcam My Eye

Today the
RNIB here in Northern Ireland
Held a demonstration of the
Orcam My Eye
Assistive technology device. There had been a lot of talk about the Orcam for ages, so i couldn’t wait for the device to come here so i could see it purely out of curiosity. I was delighted when the RNIB said it was coming here for a demonstration.

Orcam first started out in Jeruselem, before moving to the UK, the US and Ireland. There are two devices available-the Orcam My reader and the Orcam My Eye which was being demonstrated today.

The Orcam My Eye is a little tiny camera, which is about the size of your finger if not a little smaller. It sits on a piece of plastic called a bridge, which connects to any pair of glasses. The Orcam even comes with a pair of glasses if you don’t wear any. From the camera, there is a wire that connects to a base unit, which is about the size of a thick mobile phone. It came with a case that can clip on to your belt, although i am not sure if that is the standard case that it comes in. There is a bone conducting earphone that comes with it too. It is worn on the right side of a pair of glasses. The base unit also comes with a sd card to store products on and faces on. The guy running the session explained that the Orcam has about 4 hours active battery life, but it also has a “suspended” mode for when you’re not using it where it will last about a day or so before needing charged.

The Orcam is basically a portable scanner. It can read text and constantly scanns the area you are in however it deletes something as soon as it has read it, so you couldn’t, say, read a book and come back to it the next day, for example. It will only speak something if you make it by pressing a button on the base unit or pointing at something and waiting for it to read it. It also has product recognition and facial recognition built in, hence the sd card to store this information on. For the facial recognition, you would take 3 photographs of a person, before recording what you want this person to be called. When this person then comes in to the cameras’ view, it will say what you have named them. It’s the same for the product recognition. You have to take a photograph of it and record what you want something to be called. The guy running the session gave an example of if you had a bunch of cards in your wallet but didn’t know which was which, you could take a photo of one and it would say “bus pass”, while another could say “bank card”. It can store up to 150 faces and 150 products, so potentially, you could go in to a shop and take a photo of a can of beans, and then it would recognise all the cans of beans. Unfortunately though, it would read everything about the beans, for example, like the nutritional information, for instance.

The folks at Orcam say the device is not a miracle worker, and does not replace sight. I would think of it as a portable scanner with object and facial recognition. Apparently, you can use this with no vision, although you do need to know what you are looking at.

At the end of the session, we were allowed to try out the Orcam. I was expecting it to make the glasses really heavy and bulky, but it was quite comfortable to wear. It told me there were people sitting in front of me. I gave it a bus ticket to read and it read me all the terms and conditions on the back of the ticket. I didn’t know all that information was on a ticket, lol. The volume was a bit loud, but i presume that you can adjust it as and when needed. The only things it struggles to read are the likes of pictures and handwriting. It can’t read things in itallics either.

It does seem like a useful device, although you’d need to make use out of it as it’s not cheap at £2400 for the Orcam My Eye and £1800 for the My reader. This includes training in how to use the device, plus a 1 year waranty and a 30 day money back guarantee, apart from £160 for the training on how to use the device. Apparently, some charities and blindness societys do buy them so that people can try them before shelling out that kind of money.

In conclusion, it was a cool device, but i don’t think i could justify that ammount of money for a thing i would probably only use for the novalty and the fact that your phone could probably do a lot of what this does, minus the glasses.

I would like to thank the RNIB and the Orcam people for bringing it for a demonstration. It deffinetly is very interesting.