Saturday, 22 September 2012

Written with a dog across my feet...

Ok I am going to be honest, the starting of school hasn't been the best. I've damaged my back from an unavoidably heavy backpack, the lessons are picking up momentum and stress is at an all time high. However, throw a dog into the mix and you get an unusual result. No panic attacks in lessons, which I used to be very prone to, and develop a way of being able to forget things temporarily and focus on studies. However when things were at their worst last week Laila got a bit strange, she did several woof's in lessons and other public places (I think its an over exaggeration to call it barking) and was very tense on the school field as a cat went by. This made me even more stressed- on top of all this is my beloved dog going crackers?! Tracey, our guide dog trainer came to school one morning to help us out, and after a talk with my SENCO came to the conclusion that I was stressed, so Laila was stressed. She also explained that unfortunately 'putting a brave face on' doesn't work with dogs, so there's no fooling her. Thinking back, it's a rather cute concept that the barking and tenseness around the cat was just her trying to look after me and not let anything stress me out more. Also her total trust in my emotions is rather worrying, if I'm stressing, she's stressing, simple as.

So we've been working together on that one, but that's not what I'm writing this about. I'm writing about the link between my messed up teenage brain and whatever is going on in her little canine skull.  Laila is a queen of procrastination, food time? - Guaranteed she will want a huge drink. I can most certainly relate to this (I should be doing shakespeare work right now). Also she is not a big fan of eating, another definite similarity to myself.

Secondly she is very stubborn, just like me. If she wants to make a point she will, if I miss feeding time by a minute she runs to me, runs to the kitchen and repeats until I get the message.

Caring, If I'm upset she will find a way to get as close to me as possible. Even if i'm in bed she will find my foot under the duvet and lick it until I get out and onto the floor to give her a proper hug.

Dependent, I was trying to explain this the other day without sounding like a control freak and failed miserably. But I will try again. It's a bit like when you are a little child and get a present at christmas and it is all yours, you know how it works, how to play with it, and what it's imaginary voice sounds like. I know Laila, and I know how she works and she knows how I work. I like being the one that she listens to, and that she doesn't care what anyone else is doing much. It's nice to be needed and wanted basically.

She is also eternally grateful for near enough everything. Just now we were playing in the garden and after she had collected her toy from the other end of the garden a few times she dropped it mid-run and came up to me and nuzzled against my leg to tell me how good it is that we're playing and thank you. See there I go again... she is probably just thinking woof woof woof but I give her a voice, it's a connection you see.

We do everything together, I just love her I really really do.

I know it's only been a tiny time that I've had her but it's made just such an immense difference. I've just realised as well that these things aren't necessarily guide dog things, nothing about independence in there. Of course I love her in her working capacity also, but she's a dog with a job and I love that dog. This article was inspired by this video that I was pointed towards today:

Let me know what you think in the comments and I would love to hear your guide dog stories too (or just stories).

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

VICTA Weekend

This summer holidays I went into VICTA ambassador mode for a fantastic long weekend at Swindon PGL. VICTA, a charity for visually impaired children and young people, held a family weekend which was fun for all ages. The parents and children had a fun filled activity timetable, the kids split into age appropriate groups, the adults had a separate timetable and so did the 18-25's. The rooms were simple but comfy and myself and my friend from beforehand, Tiri, settled in right away. The food was delicious, with a wide variety of hot meals and salad.

I only took part in a few of the activities, spending the rest of the time helping in the creche, but my favourite activity would have to be aeroball, jumping around on a trampoline chucking a ball at your opponent and aiming at a net (but mostly failing)- what's not to like? The weekend was a fantastic chance to meet visually impaired young people and children from all over the country, and friends were made quickly through the activities.

All the PGL staff were fantastic and very helpful, they were good fun, enthusiastic and made sure everyone could take part in the activities by making them accessible. Other activities to take part in were; raft building, vertical challenge, rock climbing, survival and zip wire. There was also a creche for children under five, so their parents could take part in their own activity and talk timetable. I helped out in the creche and it was great with lots of:  toys, singing and toy story watching!

The weekend ended with a pirate themed evening, prizes were awarded to the best dressed family and the VICTA mole mascot was officially named 'Truffles'. As all the families said their goodbye's it was obvious that the weekend had been a great success, friends were made, fun was had and advice was swapped. A very valuable experience- roll on next year!

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

There's a Dog!! - Dear all BHS girls :)

This post is directed at anyone at my school who is probably not looking forward to tomorrow very much.

Hi everyone,
I hope you had a good summer, and are feeling alright about going back tomorrow. I won't keep you long- I just have an important message for all of you. Most of you know that I am visually impaired (I'm blinder than what you'd expect partially sighted people to see, but not completely blind) and you've probably seen me walking around with my white cane, or stick. I can't see where I am going, so I depended on that cane and my wonderful friends to get around school, until now. I have a guide dog called Laila who will be coming to school everyday with me- and will be the first canine member of BHS. It's really exciting and I can't wait to be able to move around the school easily.

There's certain things you need to know:
  • Please do not stroke or talk to Laila. This is not because I am mean or nasty, it's just she is a working dog and works very hard at her job. Stroking her will distract her and could potentially damage her training. The no stroking rule (i'm afraid) is going to have to apply all the time in school, whether she is physically guiding me or just sitting by me. There are a lot of you and only one of her, so I'm sorry but that's how it has to be.
  • If you see us moving about please just step out of the way. If you are directly in front of us Laila will try and steer me around you, but she is yet to learn the ability to fly. I know accidents will happen but if you see or hear her (she has a bell on her collar) I'd really appreciate it if you could just step to the side.
  • Be accepting, at the end of the day she is an amazing dog, but she is exactly that- a dog. She will get rained on and possibly smell of wet dog (I'm putting a towel in my locker) and she may well snore or do occasionally strange things. I try my best to sort stuff like that out but she is an animal and always will be. We're both learning. 
  • Come see me! If you want to chat about anything, dog related or not you can always talk to me. I'm happy to talk about Laila and I'd like to get to know more people. I'm afraid you still can't stroke her, but if you want to know more come see me. 
Thank you :) I'll see you tomorrow! 
Imi and Laila

(Please share this, the more people know the better!)

Cybermentors Training

On the 24th of August I took part in some training by beat bullying to become a cybermentor. A cybermentor sounds like something out of a scifi movie, but no, we are just young people making a stand against bullying. CM's are online peer mentors for teenagers ages 11-17 who are bullied or have problems at home. We keep a chat forum busy and are there if anyone needs to talk. We are the first point of call for bullied children and can refer them to online counsellors if they start talking about serious issues in their lives- like abuse, drugs or alcohol. If non of these topics come up we can chat to them privately and help come up with solutions to any problems they may be facing.

The training took place at Leeds Met University Library and myself and Laila rolled up there ridiculously early in order to locate the best spending spot in the grounds and all of the other necessities for any guide dog on a long trip away from home. Later we were joined by the trainers from beatbullying, Matt and Claire, and seven other young cybermentors to be. During the training we got to grips with the website, discussed causes, effects and reasons of bullying and what kind of things we might encounter on the website. Also the difficult things, situations we should look out for and we need to refer to the counsellors if encountered. It was really good fun with Matt and Claire and the group became quite close. Every training group has a 'tag' on the website to put on the end of their username so everyone knows where you were trained. We chose 'Bear' so for example 'abc@bear'.

Eight young people including Imi hold certificates Laila also has a certificate which is being held by spiky haired Matt next to Imi. The day finished with graduation, everyone received a badge, a certificate and a pile of business cards- including Laila! During the training Matt and Claire expressed that referrals were very rare- they may have been ridiculously optimistic or very unpopular on the site as I've had to refer at least three people to counsellors, and speaking to other people in my group so have they! However, the training was a really great experience with some amazing people and I am finding being a mentor very rewarding indeed.

Summer with Laila

I'm going to get all emotional now... never mind. This summer from the outside looked like the calmest I've ever had. No action for blind people vacation scheme and not being abandoned in a field with girl guides. However I can honestly say this summer has been one of the best ever. I have done more of the things I've always wanted to do around home, like I went to costa coffee with a friend and went places that usually I felt to awkward and unstable to go. The reason? My beautiful newly acquired guide dog Laila. Yesterday we went to the Deep aquarium- a place which is usually a nightmare- it is packed with families, tourists and dark areas. Instead of using my cane in a self defence style I just walked in with Laila. I was able to focus on the fish rather than where I was going and I was happy to sit out in the sun for lunch because my eyes weren't painful from the basics of navigation.

Golden Laila sits nose to nose with a large fish tank with tropical fish inside.

I just feel so much happier and more confident with her around. I think I under estimated the sheer frustration a guide dog can put you through sometimes- refusing to eat and having desperate desires to lead you into wheelie bins- but I blooming know now! She can be a pain, but I love her. Despite her stealing my morning lie ins, I actually quite enjoy our early mornings together, putting the kettle on and if the weather is nice sitting out in the garden together. It's just been a fantastic summer, and a fantastic experience which is going to stretch on for a long time to come. I've got so much to look forward to sharing with her: going to guides, her meeting the brownies, hopefully travelling, and the sense of independence I get from her seems to increase constantly. I don't feel like I have a dog with a job anymore, it feels like she is there to look after me. I understand her and she definitely understands me. 

Laila is on Facebook if you wish to add her her name is Laila Godwin

Laila and Imi smiling into the camera

Imi standing on a trampoline in purple skinny jeans and a band t-shirt with her red hair in her face looking down at Laila who is mid jump.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

A Quick Thought on Channel 4's Paralympic Advertising

Why are the Paralympians being described as 'superhuman' on channel 4? In a way they are more human than the olympians we saw recently. All humans have faults and flaws, it's just that Paralympian's faults are physical and are barriers they have inspirationally overcome. C4 they are not 'Superhuman' they are human in the most realistic sense and we should be proud to call them that.