Imagine how long it would take you to walk to your local MRT if you were blind or could not see clearly. And just when you think you have memorised your familiar routes, you find out there is construction work in your neighbourhood, so pavements, roads, buildings have all changed and you cannot navigate from memory anymore! A simple five-minute walk now takes over an hour and is riddled with safety concerns, and of course cyclists, e-scooters, traffic and pedestrians to maneuver through.
For people with visual impairment living in an urban jungle like Singapore, leading a normal life is a challenge and while White Cane (using a cane to make a mental map of the route) training helps, it does not help navigate an ever-changing landscape.
To help improve quality of life, the wonderful team at Guide Dogs Singapore Ltd (GDS) are on a mission to raise awareness and funds so that blind people and those individuals with visual impairment can live independently and achieve their fullest potential within our society.
International Guide Dog Day (IGDD) is on April 25th and GDS invited Team Loyal.D to join in their month long campaign to help raise awareness and funds. The campaign target is to raise $100,000, to train and form two new guide dog teams in Singapore and provide new route training for 20 GDS clients to enable independent travel.
Last Thursday evening, we met Alvin Ng and his Guide Dog Seretta at GDS info evening at The Brightside Bar to learn more.
Singaporean Alvin, who has been visually impaired for the past 21 years, used to navigate his way around Singapore using a white cane, slowly making his way around his Marine Parade neighbourhood, until one day, he met a Guide Dog and it changed his life! That hour-long walk to the local supermarket now only takes 15 minutes with his guide dog Seretta, in spite of all the construction work happening in that area.
Seretta has been his companion for the past 5 years, helping Alvin lead a more independent life with self-confidence, dignity, safety and giving him the mobility to move around at a faster "normal" pace.
Why do we need Guide Dogs?
Guide dogs are trained to help people in need by becoming:
Mobility guides for the person in need as ‘obstacle avoiders’, guiding their handlers to avoid certain obstacles and find areas such as lifts or a seat
Showing intelligent disobedience by disobeying commands if they put the team in danger.
Provide supportive and emotional companionship – they truly are their handlers’ best friends!
What makes a Guide Dog?
Guide dogs in Singapore are a mix between Golden Retrievers and Labradors because of their gentle, friendly nature and eagerness to work. In other countries they have also used German Shepherds. Selecting and training a guide dog is a very long and highly skilled process.
Challenges faced by GSD Handlers in Singapore:
As one of Singapore's early Guide Dog Handlers (there are only eight such pairs in Singapore with around 20,000 people with visual impairment living here), Alvin mentioned his biggest challenges are:
educating people that Guide Dogs are legally allowed to enter all public spaces
that a Guide Dog has been trained to go to the toilet only on command
and when a guide Dog is working, it needs to remain highly focused on the task of keeping their handler safe, so patting it is not advised as it's distracting and stressful.
HOW CAN YOU HELP?
Say YES to Guide Dogs
Guide Dog Singapore Ltd is a non-profit voluntary welfare organisation and therefore runs largely on donations from individuals and companies, so every bit of support helps! Loyal.D has pledged to donate 10% from the profits of our April sales and we hope you too can support generously!
GDS are committed to making further inroads for Guide Dog access with building owners, food establishments and regulators, because they have witnessed that Guide Dogs can be an even better help and companion for people with visual impairments if they are better integrated into society.
Next time you meet Alvin & Seretta on the streets remember not to disturb them while they are travelling. Afterall, Seretta is working so let her focus on her task at hand to keep her companion safe. Alvin assures us once she is home she is like any other dog, playful and loves to eat and sleep, like any good Labrador!
For more information on GDS please visit www.guidedogs.org.sg and to make a donation please click the image below which will take you to their fundraising page www.giving.sg/gds/igdd