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Through Lattice Windows: What People Don't Realise About Guide Dog Owners

"Life as a guide dog owner can be quite funny,'' writes Leanne Hunt.

I go to the shopping mall about once a week with Lulu, my golden labrador, and Rita, my driver-cum-helper. Granted, we frequently get stopped and asked to leave the premises on the grounds that no pets are allowed and have to appeal to higher authority to get permission to remain, but there are other times which bring a smile to our faces.

Last week, before my birthday, we were in the bottle store buying cocktails and soft drinks. When we approached the till to pay, a group of shop staff began an animated discussion in a mixture of English and Zulu about the presence of a dog in the store. What's a dog doing here? It's to help the lady. Why does the lady need help? Because she's blind. How do you know she's blind? Because she has a special dog. You mean that dog helps the blind lady to go where she needs to go? Yes. My oh my, that's amazing! I never saw a blind woman with a dog before!

Well, that wasn't all. While the conversation was still underway, I was busy taking out my credit card and handing it to the teller. She, being in the know, was already laughing to herself at the reaction of her colleagues. She inserted my card into the automatic scanner, turned the device to face me and asked me to punch in my PIN. Having memorised the position of the digits, I duly did this, eliciting another flurry of comments: Hey, that blind lady just put in her own code! I thought you said she couldn't see! How come she can bring a dog into the store when she is able to see the numbers on the keypad? And on and on it went.

What the public often don't realise is that blind and partially-sighted people are very deft when it comes to feeling things with their fingertips. They are often unaware that standard keypads have a raised dot on the number 5, from where all other digits can be referenced. The "Enter" key is also in a standard position, at the bottom right-hand corner of the number pad with a raised pattern on it. I know I once complained that the new-fangled card machines that required a PIN were hard for blind and partially-sighted people to get used to, I now concede that they, in fact, give greater freedom to us, as illustrated by the reaction of the shop staff in the bottle store. So comfortable was I about inserting my PIN by feel that I didn't even appear blind. It is a big improvement on bending closely over a credit card slip to sign my name.

This has caused me to ponder the possible future of banking. Every now and then, one hears speculation about a cashless society and the idea of placing computer chips into people's wrists. Now, I know that this freaks some people out because they equate the chip in the wrist to the mark of the beast and the activity of the antichrist. Others warn that it could result in peoples' hands being cut off to acquire a valuable chip. Be that as it may, I think I have a solution. If everybody were to learn the layout of the standard keypad by feel, then it would be a simple matter to ask each customer to put their hand into a dark box and punch in their PIN in complete secret. Sure, it takes a bit of getting used to, but if blind and partially-sighted people can use a number pad without looking at it, so can the general public.

Anyway, suggestions aside, I do enjoy creating a stir among the uninformed. The spectacle of a blind woman who needed a dog suddenly being able to see well enough to conduct a visual transaction certainly introduced some excitement into the shop staff's day. It was amusing to exchange a few knowing words with the teller and witness the stunned silence of her colleagues as we passed by!


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