Representing our foundation, our lawyer volunteer accompanied by her guide dog and our trainer attended the Annual General Meeting of the European Guide Dog Federation (EGDF) on April 23, 2015 in Bucharest. They also took part in the subsequent gala dinner and at the next day’s conference on this theme. The prestigious event was hosted by Light into Europe, a charity assisting disabled children and young people in Romania, which also deals with the training of guide dogs. The elegant hotel Athénée Palace Hilton was home to the event located in the heart of Bucharest. Baráthegyi Guide Dog School has been a full member of EGDF since last year, thus its representatives could participate in the Annual General Meeting of the Federation, where in addition to questions about the operation of the organization, problems of travelling with a guide dog in Europe and possible solutions were also discussed. The elegant gala dinner provided an opportunity for our representatives to familiarize themselves with the representatives of advocacy organizations of guide dog owners from other countries, foreign guide dog schools and interest groups representing visually impaired people and exchange ideas about their practical experiences, achievements and emerging problems.
A record number of delegates came to the EGDF conference to the capital of Romania on April 24 representing 25 organizations of 15 countries. The event was live on YouTube for those interested to follow. The presenters raised key issues such as barriers to those wishing to get into a public institution or use public transport with a guide dog, which unexpectedly means a vital problem in Western Europe. 58 complaints were said to have been received by EGDF only last year, which represents only the tip of the iceberg. In addition, the international, EU and national legal regulations governing the rights of people with disabilities including those using a guide dog were also presented. An insight was provided into the potential future technological ideas, according to which for instance a GPS-based system would help the visually impaired in transport by naming the objects around them and giving directions. The participants discussed the common problems affecting Europeans with assistance dogs as well as the actions necessary to be taken to have a standard dog certificates and the enforcement of the rights of guide dog owners. It was pointed out that in some European countries and the United States in some cases guide dog identity cards and signs (harnesses) were misused, when inventive pet owners took advantage of the privileges of those using a guide dog by disguising their dogs as guide dogs. The practice of some European airlines is still a problem, which, despite the international standards, does not allow guide dogs to the passenger cabin of the aircrafts. The membership requirements of the International Guide Dog Federation, which establishes the qualification standards and carries out the quality control of guide dog schools, were also talked about. This latter topic was very interesting for our foundation also because our school currently enjoys candidate status in the organization which is an ante-room to membership. The speakers also outlined the challenges guide dog schools are facing, presented data concerning European guide dogs as well as the issues of the European Charter of Rights of Assistance Dog Users. The conference participants could take a look at modern equipment presented by a German manufacturer.
Overall, we can say that our foundation obtained a lot of useful information, new friends and gained valuable professional contacts at the event which also highlighted that Hungary is high on both the regulations of the rights of guide dog owners and the respect and day to day observance of these rights. Our school is admirably modern and applies training methods which are often considered to be progressive abroad as well and examined with professional curiosity by other training organizations.