Some time ago, my friend and I came across two blind men with their walking sticks who were having problems at a pavement. My friend and I rushed over to see what the problem was and saw that one of them had stepped into a large puddle of water. His friend was having difficulties trying to avoid the puddle as it required him to take a few steps back and take a large step across.
Incidents like this are bound to happen especially in areas that are not disabled-friendly. Besides puddles, uneven pavement bricks, uncovered holes and protruding tree roots are hazards even to the visually able like us. How, then, can the visually impaired live independently with such dangers in the open?
Many visually impaired or low vision people are forced to depend on their walking sticks or other people to move around. However, independence of mobility is not impossible. Not if Stevens Chan, founder and president of the Malaysian Glaucoma Society (MGS), has his way.
DOGS FOR SIGHT
Chan suffered from Glaucoma in his forties and is now blind. However, his loss of sight did not blind his vision. Now he dreams of making Malaysia a place where the blind are able to improve their quality of life by being more independent with the help of guide dogs.
He was first inspired by the children of MGS members, who now need to dedicate their time and lives to care for their parent with Glaucoma. His rationale is simple: why make two people suffer inconvenience when only person is blind. Having guide dogs as companions and guides not only returns independence and dignity to the blind person but also allows caregivers some breathing space to continue with their own lives.
Chan began his crusade called ‘Dogs for Sight’ several years ago to introduce guide dogs in Malaysia, which aims to educate the Malaysian society about guide dogs and finally, accepting them. However, it is an uphill task.
WHAT ARE GUIDE DOGS?
According to Chan, guide dogs have been around for over 80 years. Initially introduced to help injured soldiers who lost their sight during the war, today, over 60 countries have accepted guide dogs as a crucial part of a visually impaired person’s life.
Guide dogs are not ordinary pets. Guide dogs are specially bred and picked as a puppies based on specific traits – character, obedience and discipline. They are then sent to homes which were strictly interviewed and approved by the respective guide dog organisations and sent for extensive training for one and a half years.
Chan explains that guide dogs are meant to help the blind overcome obstacles and are trained to use fixed routes to guide its owner to a familiar destination. They are also trained to be in ‘service mode’ when in ‘uniform’ (which is their harness). When their ‘uniform’ is taken off, these dogs are allowed to play. Quite like military training when you think of it.
MAKING THE DREAM A REALITY
While bringing in guide dogs into Malaysia is not a hassle, there are other issues that require more discussion such as public health, the mobility of guide dogs and the blind.
Religious departments on the other hand have given Dogs for Sight the green light to allow Muslims who are blind to use guide dogs. The Official Website of Khalifah Institute reiterates that service dogs are permitted as long as proper steps are taken.
Whole hearted support from the public, government and private sectors is what Dogs for Sight need most.
“People must first understand that guide dogs are not pets. They are trained service dogs,” says Chan.
Malaysia has signed the United Nations treaty on the rights of People with Disabilities and is obliged to groom the country into a disabled-friendly nation. “Accessibility for the disabled must be on par with international standards before we can be recognised as a developed country,” he says.
How close are we to this reality?
SUPPORT ‘DOGS FOR SIGHT’!
Dogs for Sight needs your support! Sign the petition to recognise guide dogs in Malaysia or drop MGS a donation to support their cause. For details, please visit ‘Dogs for Sight’ Facebook page or vwww.saveonesight.org