Georgia Pike and guide dog Grainger face an added layer of COVID-19 challenges while navigating the world. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)

‘Guide dogs don’t know how to social distance’: Victoria woman asks for patience

Woman with vision impairment says pandemic poses new challenges

Service dogs are diligent, focused and hardworking, but they have no idea we are living through a pandemic.

That’s the message University of Victoria student Georgia Pike wants people to remember when they cross paths with herself and her guide dog, Grainger.

“Guide dogs don’t know how to social distance,” she said. “If we’re getting in line for something, they will go up to the person in front of us because that’s what the dog has been trained to do.”

October is Blindness Awareness Month, shining a spotlight on life without or with diminished sight, a reality for roughly 500,000 Canadians, according to the Canadian National Institute for the Blind.

Navigating the world with minimal vision had its challenges before the pandemic, but now, cutting someone off or sitting too close to another person on the bus could be a health or safety concern. While Pike said many people are kind and understanding, she has had a handful of experiences with hostile or angry people.

“We’re in a tense time. I think the main message is just to take a step back and assess your situation. Not everybody is maybe as capable as you are,” Pike said.

She encourages being specific and patient.

READ ALSO: Access: Technology lags for people with vision, hearing impairments

“If a person who has a guide dog or a cane is doing something that is bothering you, or they’re in your way, just say, ‘hey, here’s what I’m noticing and here’s how you can fix it. Like, ‘you’re sitting too close to me but if you move two seats to your right, that’s perfect.’”

Wendy Cox, executive director for the Victoria Disability Resource Centre, said people need to be aware that not everyone can easily step off a path to allow for physical distancing. People with mobility disabilities are often reliant on those around them to move out of the way.

Cox said situational awareness and compassion will go a long way.

“Really it would just be nice if society as a whole practiced this, no matter what their beliefs are.”

Pike said even Grainger is starting to adjust to the new normal, but there are other elements of the pandemic that strain mobility for people with vision impairment. She often relies on touch to navigate her environment, and sometimes seeks help from strangers.

“If I was lost somewhere and I just needed to get to the next block over or had to ask someone, ‘can you tell me where this specific entrance is?’ my automatic reaction would be to grab onto their elbow and have them guide me that way,” she said. “Now, you’re not supposed to touch people.”

Hearing is another sense Pike relies on heavily. But with masks and barriers, that has become increasingly difficult.

“It’s just that much more important to have a clear voice, to have patience and to speak slowly,” she said.

Communication and kindness are really the best tools, Pike said.

“A lot of times people will panic and think, ‘I don’t know how to help this person.’ But also just try asking, ‘what is the most effective way of helping you?’ or ‘do you need help?’ Just be kind. Have some compassion.”

READ ALSO: Access: A day in the life using a wheelchair in Victoria


Do you have something to add to this story, or something else we should report on? Email: nina.grossman@blackpress.ca. Follow us on Instagram.
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

CoronavirusDisability

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The iconic and well-loved live music venue Logan’s is permanently closing its doors due to impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Google Maps)
Fernwood pub Logan’s permanently closing its doors

Live music venue unable to weather COVID-19 storm

The Starbucks at 3849 Cadboro Bay Rd. closed permanently on Sunday, Oct. 25. (Google Maps)
Cadboro Bay Starbucks closes despite petition signed by nearly 250 residents

Closure part of transition to more drive-thru locations, Starbucks spokesperson says

Shawn Magnus of Sidney Courier has partnered with Sidney Business Improvement Area Society for free commercial delivery for society members. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Sidney business association partners with courier for free commercial delivery

Service started Oct. 26 and extends to a radius of 35 kilometres

Victoria police are searching for a suspect after a stabbing Monday night. (Black Press Media file photo)
Victoria police searching for suspect in late-night stabbing

Victim taken to hospital with potentially life-threatening injuries

Struggling to afford rent, Sylvia Bailey is hoping to trade her love of cooking for some more affordable accommodation. (Photo courtesy of Sylvia Bailey)
Retired Victoria woman looking to cook, clean or garden in exchange for rent

Sylvia Bailey is hoping to use her love for cooking to help afford rent

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry arrives for briefing on the COVID-19 situation, B.C. legislature, Oct. 26, 2020 (B.C. government)
B.C. records 217 more COVID-19 cases, mask use urged

Infection spike continues, 21 senior facilities affected

Los Angeles Dodgers celebrate after defeating the Tampa Bay Rays 3-1 to win the baseball World Series in Game 6 Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
L.A. Dodgers beat Rays 3-1 to win 1st World Series title since 1988

National League champs claim crown in six games

Seven-year-old Aaliyah Rosa was found dead in an apartment in Langley in July. (Langley Advance Times files)
Child’s body cold, no pulse: Off-duty cop testifies in Langley mother’s murder trial

The seven-year-old girl’s mother faces a first-degree murder charge

A picture of John taken at Children’s Hospital Vancouver last week. Photo courtesy, Alicia Sewid.
RCMP investigating after young boy run over by SUV in Campbell River parking lot

The seven-year-old has multiple injuries including a broken pelvis and was admitted to Children’s Hospital in Vancouver

People march during a climate strike in Montreal, Friday, Sept. 27, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Judge rejects 15 youths’ climate change lawsuit against Canadian government

Justice Michael Manson has granted the government’s motion to strike the plaintiffs’ claim

A video message from Mrime Minister Justin Trudeau was streamed to attendees at the State of the Island Economic Summit on Tuesday morning. (Vancouver Island Economic Alliance image)
Prime minister greets Vancouver Island economic summit attendees

Vancouver Island Economic Alliance conference being held virtually this week

A woman walks through check in at WestJet at Pearson International airport during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Strong support for pre-flight COVID testing ahead of upcoming WestJet trial: YVR

Airport is partnering with UBC, which is helping choose the method of pre-flight testing

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau provides an update on the COVID pandemic during a press conference in Ottawa on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Trudeau says pandemic ‘really sucks,’ and that Christmas gatherings are up in the air

The prime minister encouraged residents to continue to follow the advice of local health authorities

Most Read