Gone to the Dogs

When we last posted on June 26, we happily watched while somewhere around fifty people signed up to explore the free beta version of Eyes-Free Academy’s first course. It was a great learning experience, even though much of the feedback had to do with accessibility issues rather than course content. This was also a good sign. So, there we were, poised to move forward.

Then, without warning, everything “went to the dogs”! That happened in the form of a letter from The Seeing Eye (and several other American guide dog schools) to their Canadian graduates.

This letter was a warning that the Canadian General Standards Board (CGSB) was considering the adoption of a new service dog standard that could well preclude ability or willingness to provide Canadians with guide dogs in the future. Of course, this nonsense needed immediate community action with a view toward stopping the development of such a standard.

Immediately upon receipt of this correspondence, I arranged teleconference time, thanks to Albert Ruel of the Canadian Council of the Blind, promoted it widely through social media and Email, and ended up with 30 people on a very productive teleconference one week later.

Out of this teleconference came the Service Dog Standard mailing list which has been the basis for a very successful ad hoc coalition to deal with the issue. In fact, a lot of us don’t remember ever experiencing a feeling of solidarity and consensus such as is represented through this group. We are planning action, and many people are contributing great writing in the form of sample letters to MP’s, the Ministers of Veterans’ Affairs, Sport and Persons w/ Disabilities, etc.

Most importantly, we completely overwhelmed this “standards committee” with our responses between the end of June and when the comment period ended on July 14. Even though the comment period was open from the beginning of May, somehow nobody really paid attention until the letters came from the American schools.

There have been two subsequent teleconferences, one of which actually included people from the committee, who admitted two things during the call:
1. Some members of the committee appear to have misled the rest of the committee, and
2. There has been a complete disconnect within the entire process.

Needless to say, this sudden and unexpected struggle to preserve our rights as guide dog handlers has been a very distracting and stressful experience. So many of us can’t imagine life without a guide dog, and this standard, if imposed as is, would literally cause service dogs to disappear from the streets of Canada, because no animal or handler could ever meet it.

But amidst all of this, there’s a good side. We have been studying the www.zoom.us app and learning a lot from “Meet Me In The Cloud”, a fully accessible tutorial about fully accessible Zoom webinar software, available on Johnathan Mosen’s website. We will soon be able to have all the teleconferences we need for dog coalition work, while at the same time becoming more experienced at running webinars for the business side.

We recently did a trial webinar with Zoom including Windows 10 and Mac computers, an iPhone and a dial-in from a regular landline. Everyone communicated just fine. Of course, there needs to be some more practice at being a webinar moderator, but it’s easy enough to arrange that.

And thanks to a set of very good webinars from Iman Aghay of www.successroadacademy.com we have managed to do some market research about course content to be released in the fall. This has been a great learning experience as well. For one thing, we’ve discovered that we can sell our courses in two ways. First is course by course, which will be more expensive. There will also be a monthly subscription to a membership site where all courses will be available for one low monthly fee. This will also include small group webinars and even individual coaching sessions. All of this thanks to the online course management platform offered by www.thinkific.com where we are getting all sorts of expert assistance.

So, though we did indeed end up going to the dogs over the last month, well, it needed to be done, and it’s not like we haven’t been learning some useful stuff in the process. And if you know of guide dog users who may not be aware of the current situation, but who might want to know more or get involved, there’s a lot of healthy discussion being carried on via the mailing list. To join in, send Email to: servicedogstandard-request@lists.screenreview.org

To subscribe to the guide dog blog, go to handsoffourharnesses.wordpress.com

Also check out the #HOOH and #IGDFFreeChoice hash tags. IGDF is the International Guide Dog Federation, creator of international guide dog standards now observed by over 90 schools in 40 countries. You can even see a draft of the standard on the blog, and you won’t believe it when you read it. But you’ll sure know why some of us have gone to the dogs to deal with it.

And we can’t go without a big thank you to Kelly MacDonald, Sharon Caddy and the other folks at www.AMI.ca who allow me to mention “things doggie” every week during my “iHabilitation Man” segment on Kelly and Company. Have a listen on Tuesdays.

OK, we promise that the next issue will be about course content under development, experience with Zoom, etc., with only a very small dog update. Meanwhile, thanks for your interest and support, iPhone and doggie people alike. It is greatly appreciated.