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Dublin: 11 °C Saturday 20 April, 2019
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Opinion: Losing my sight at 23 was traumatic, but my dog is with me every step of the way

What my sight loss has shown me is that we can’t control what happens to us – we can only control how we deal with it.

Lean Kennedy

I DON’T ‘look’ like a guide dog owner, or so I have been told. Whatever caricature people have of who a guide dog owner is – hunchback, identifying sign around neck, whatever it might be – I’m not it. Even though I lost my sight I did not lose my vanity; I like my clothes, make up and always try to be well-dressed and well-presented. So when I walk along with my guide dog, people often just assume I am training him.

Invariably this illusion ends as soon as I encounter an over-hanging hedge. My guide dog, Roy, can’t indicate an overhanging obstacle so I will most certainly walk head first in to it. After the hedge and I engage in some brief street combat, my embarrassed guide dog leads me on and I often hear the whispers of people behind me. ‘Is she blind?’ ‘She must be.’ ‘No, she’s a trainer.’

It has shown me the depth of human kindness 

I’m 95% blind. I lost my sight in 2003 due to a retinal detachment. I was 23. I have some residual vision in my right eye. I can see better at night-time than during the day. My vampire blood, according to some of my sisters.

Becoming seriously vision impaired at the age of 23 was traumatic, there’s no doubt about that. It has been challenging, to say the least, and there are daily frustrations, but it has also shown me blessings and a depth of human kindness I would have not have experienced otherwise. It has taught me a lot about myself and it has taught me a lot about people in general.

My vision impairment is only one part of me. I am not my disability and yet often it is the very thing that people used to define me. That’s what really frustrates me. “What can you actually see?” is a question I am often asked with people sometimes poking objects in my direction to see if I can see them, akin to ‘dance, monkey, dance’. Or another one: ‘Is there no treatment?’ Wow, I really have to restrain my sarcasm on that one. “Well, yes, kind sir – there is treatment actually but I just choose to go about my life with no vision ‘cos it’s better craic this way.”

Humorous moments 

And, of course, there are the practicalities that make it dangerous for me to get about safely with my guide dog – barriers on corridors, cars parked on pavements forcing my guide dog to bring me on to a possibly busy main road and, of course, people stopping to pet my dog or distract him.

There can be humorous moments, too. I have to smile when I am patiently queuing to get to get my hot chocolate at my local café with my guide dog in tow when I spot people skipping the queue ahead of me assuming I will not see them. Snared!

Amid the challenges, my vision impairment has also shown me how good humanity can be. I have the best, most supportive family and friends. My friendships from my teens are ever-lasting and they have stood by me through thick and thin.

We can control how we deal with things 

I realise daily how generous and kind people are – the bus driver who goes out of his way to walk me to the taxi rank despite the pouring rain; the staff in my local shop who help me get my groceries; my dance instructor in my class who takes the time to ensure I know the moves. And, of course, my beautiful dog who makes it possible for me to go about with independence. My guide dog Roy is with me every step of the way.

What my sight loss has shown me is that we can’t control what happens to us – we can only control how we deal with it. Of course I would like my eye condition to be cured; life would be easier. But I will never regret the kindness I have experienced and I will never regret the strength I have gained. The extraordinary is really in the ordinary.

To mark World Sight Day Irish Guide Dogs has released some fantastic photography of owners with their guide dog. Irish Guide Dogs is calling on people who are vision impaired to apply for their programmes which are all free of charge. Check out www.guidedogs.ie for more information.

Brilliant advert for guide dogs imagines other animals in their place

Could you manage to eat your dinner while wearing a blindfold?

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About the author:

Lean Kennedy

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