Well, not for the whole shift, just until they tried out what it’s like to be a visually impaired person with a four-legged helper at their side. Walking with a guide dog with your eyes covered is not as easy as you might think at first – this is also attested by the bus drivers, for whom we held a sensitization session in the bus garage in Óbuda.
Feelings of fear, insecurity and defenselessness are natural when we first try to move around as sighted people in the same way as a person with sight loss would move around with their guide dog. The aim of sensitization is to put the bus drivers in visually impaired people’s place, so that they can better understand and empathize with the situation of those they meet daily at work. About thirty bus drivers of the Budapest Transport Company were our partners in this.
Our guide dogs walk much faster than sighted people think, so it’s always a huge surprise. Attila Török said that after we covered his eyes, everything became uncertain. "When the guide dog was moving around, I wanted to go much slower. I was very uncertain in many situations. I felt defenseless. I feel that it is not as easy to get used to as I imagined”– Attila Török shared his first experience with guide dogs.
Inside the building, bus drivers learned how to use the white cane. “I didn’t think it was so scary to moving around blind. As I approached the wall, I felt the cold, the dark, it filled me with fear”- said Attila. Our trainer Mária Nyíriné Kovács said that there were people who could not keep the straight direction, and this surprised them. “I had a feeling of uncertainty about how much I was going and where I was going” – said bus driver Ferenc Janosné Galicza.
With our dog Oliver, the bus drivers tried getting on the bus, finding a seat and getting off, with their eyes covered. “The bus is my workplace, where I know what I can find and where”- said Ferenc János Galicza. Our trainer Darinka Farkas told us that many people walked very slowly and timidly with the dog, who often had to slow down.
We were delighted to hear that bus drivers try to stop with the front door in front of visually impaired people at the bus stop and even help them sit in front through the loudspeaker. At the bus terminal our trainers are usually allowed to practice with dogs in training.
During the smell and object recognition games it surprised the participants, how difficult it was to connect the smell of spices with their names, if the person is blindfolded.
At the end of the multi-hour session, the participants rated as follows:
“It can be a huge job mentally and physically for people with sight loss to learn moving around so confidently,”- said Ferenc János Galicza. “Hats off to guide dogs and visually impaired people for doing it so great. The program was very informative, I will pay much more attention to such people. It opened my eyes”- said Attila Török.