I will be attending the QED conference in Manchester England next week. You can easily identify me, I’ll have a hat on, I have long grey hair, I usually wear RayBan sunglasses and I will be in the company of a large yellow labrador. I will probably be the only person there with a dog and I will also assume that I will be the only blind person in attendance.
The dog is named X-Celerator. We blind people do not get to pick the names of our dogs. If you or anyone else for that matter donates $5000 or more to Southeastern Guide Dogs (www.guidedogs.org) you can get naming rights on a puppy. The X-Dog was named by the Midwest Insurance Company after a Microsoft Excel plug-in they make for some vertical market I know nothing about. The other dogs in my class had names like Bobby, Shotsi, Hall and Lil Joe but they gave a five syllable dog to the only guy in the class with an interest in linguistics.
Some of you may already know me from Twitter, from this blog, from The 21st Floor blog (www.thetwentyfirstfloor.co.uk) and from my occasional contributions to Pod Delusion. You don’t know my dog though. The X-Dog enjoys audio books by Umberto Eco, his favorite band is Chick Corea’s Return to Forever, he enjoys dancing and has a fascination with running between the legs of people whom he likes. The X-Dog likes to play tug with a rope toy and, despite his 80 pound frame, is so gentle that he can play with our 8 pound pet dog and little kids love him so don’t be afraid to approach us.
In the US, there are approximately 1.75 million blind people or .53% of the population. There are approximately 12 million more who have a moderate to severe vision impairment but can see some to many things. When I attend conferences unrelated to disability here, I am usually the only blind person in attendance and, typically, I’m with the only dog there.
Thus, because it is unlikely that you’ve ever encountered a blind person and his dog in the wild, I’ve written down some rules for appropriate engagement with us:
1. I am blind, not deaf; don’t shout at me!
2. If you approach me for a chat, please introduce yourself by name. Do not assume that I will remember your voice from one instance to another as I will be meeting many people for the first time and name/voice recognition requires a number of samples to be fully effective. I will probably recognize the voices of Hayley Stevens, Michael Marshall, Mike Hall, James O’Malley, Liz whose last name I won’t attempt to spell, Carrie Poppy, Rachel Dunlap, Richard Saunders and perhaps a few others whom I hear on podcasts a lot. It is also likely that the X-Dog may recognize your voices and be especially friendly toward you as he and I spend a lot of time together listening to podcasts. The X-Dog’s favorite podcast is Token Skeptic but he really enjoys Skeptics with a K, Be Reasonable, Pod Delusion and and has been sad since Righteous Indignation went off.
3. If my dog is wearing his harness, do not touch him without asking if it is ok to do so. Guide dogs, while very cute, are working and need to remain focused on their tasks. Petting them will distract from their efforts and make things difficult for the blind person being led by the dogs. I usually don’t object to people petting the dog but just remember to ask if it’s ok. Also, don’t be fooled by the labrador’s big eyes and inviting face, X-Celerator is a con dog and will try to lure you into petting him by acting as irresistible as possible.
4. If my dog has his harness off, feel free to play with him but do not do so without telling me you are there. If, all of a sudden, the X-Dog starts acting all frisky and such and you haven’t informed me of your presence, I’ll get mad at you. Please don’t talk to the dog instead of talking to me unless we’re playing a person/dog role playing game in which I am playing the role of the dog. The dog can’t actually respond to you verbally and it makes me feel really weird standing by while someone has a chat with my animal.
5. For no reason other than saving me from stepping off of a ledge, should you touch me without first announcing your presence. Random individuals walking up to me and grabbing, hugging, patting or touching me unannounced causes me to jump and get very nervous. Remember, I can’t see you coming so being touched will startle me.
6. While my items for Pod Delusion, this blog and my own blog at www.hofstader.com about disability always use the most politically correct language, I don’t use such in conversation as it is cumbersome and really only appropriate in a formal setting. Feel free to say “blind” – it’s not a bad word, it’s not offensive and hearing people try to find some more correct term makes me uncomfortable because I feel the discomfort of the person trying to search for a term other than “blind.”
7. It’s ok to offer marijuana products to the blind guy but please do not, under any circumstances, give any intoxicant to the X-Dog. In fact, do not give the dog anything to eat. The dog is a professional, his weight is carefully maintained and snacks can make him sick. Also, having an intoxicated guide dog would be really even more inconvenient than being led by a drunken human. I wish I didn’t need to include this item but some people find giving beer or cannabis brownies to a dog to be funny.
8. It is definitely ok to ask me about my blindness, blindness or disability in general, technology for blind and otherwise disabled people or anything else you might find interesting to ask. Many people feel uncomfortable and start with, “Is it too personal to ask you…” which is unnecessary. Like I might ask Mike Hall about race horses, feel free to inquire about anything about which your are curious.
I’m really looking forward to meeting so many of you whom I have known for years online. Please don’t feel uncomfortable approaching me, blind people rarely bite and X-Celerator has never bitten a human.