How I see it … managing Auckland’s motorists

Today the theme of cognitive load associated with low vision when interacting with the world continues. However, the focus has shifted from describing and questioning the problem to giving two simple real-world examples where a slight change from motorists could make a big difference to someone with low vision.

Last week I posted a story to Facebook, which I will repeat here to set the scene.

I took Sienna to the park as I had recently been too unwell to walk her all the way to work as usual (and still am) and she was becoming a little naughty as a result. On the way back from the park, we encountered an obstacle. I did use the Snap. Solve. and Send. App ( to report this.

A car completely blocking the foot path, long grass blocking the verge.  The only way around is onto a busy road.
An obstacle we encountered on the way home from the park.

Guide Dogs are trained to avoid obstacles and thus decrease the cognitive load and visual fatigue associated with navigation of the environment.

Guide Dog Sienna stopped to show me there was an obstacle. This one was challenging as not only was there long grass, a pole and uneven ground, but also a vehicle completely blocking the footpath.

On a day full of glare, I find that lately, if the glare comes from above, such as a grey or sunny sky, it completely blocks my ability to see the scene. Six months ago, I would have been able to see through the glare, so even navigating a situation like this increases the cognitive processing and cognitive load for both guide dog and handler.

One way I can get around an obstacle like this is to ask Guide Dog Sienna to “find the way” and she will find a way around. In this instance, she was hesitant because of the different hazards. Ultimately, we had to step out into the road to go around. The verge was another option, but the ground there is quite uneven. Going onto the road is hazardous in itself.

One aspect of being a Guide Dog Team is looking out for each other’s safety. I judge the traffic and know the route and Sienna avoids obstacles. Judging traffic with 5 degrees of usable vision and decreased hearing on the right is much more challenging than when I had 90 degrees and normal hearing. Situations like this now need far more cognitive and physical energy to navigate.

The energy consumption of navigating our community was something I may not have even noticed a year ago. However, this is often a challenge; what is hidden is the impact this can have on subsequent activities. For example, after navigating a busy shopping mall or area, I usually am tired, have a headache, have eye strain and am nauseous and typically change my plans to go home and rest.

Last weekend, Guide Dog Sienna and I visited a local market with her sister Guide Dog Sasha and her handler Michelle. After an hour at the market, Michelle and I were both fatigued from the business of the market and the number of dog distractions at the market.

Guide Dogs Sasha (left) and her sister Guide Dog Sienna while we were waiting for an Uber at the bus station after visitimg the market.

At the market, I noticed more than ten dogs we passed in the crowd. These were of varying breeds, demeanours and behaviours and both dogs found navigating these distractions challenging. In turn, this can be challenging for the handlers as we may not see other dogs or people, couple this with a crowd and needing to manage the guide distraction while navigating a challenging environment and everyday activities like this can become less frequent and less accessible to many.

Guide dogs are often distracted by other animals and people who reach down and pat them while they are in harness working. In their harness, guide dogs are vulnerable. They are trained not to react to situations many other dogs may respond to. In other words, they have little fight-and-flight reaction. This is a good trait as it makes them dependable in many situations, such as riding the bus or a plane, travelling on an escalator or crossing a road. However, other dogs and people are unpredictable and often, this relationship can distract the dog from guiding its handler, which requires intervention from the handler.

Getting back to the point. The right balance of activities is vital but often does not match societal expectations due to the hidden nature of processing and fatigue associated with navigating society a disability.

The reason this post migrated from Facebook to a blog post is what I found today. I went to get a coffee at a cafe around 1100 hrs as I needed a break from the screen at work.

While at the cafe, I had taken a work phone call which was challenging and when we started walking home, I was still concentrating on solutions related to that call. On our way back, we found the following obstacle.

Two cars blocking the footpath.  Other hazards such as uneven ground, puddles in the verge, banners, power boxes and traffic.
More obstacles we encountered today.

In the above situation, we were lucky that Sienna could find a reasonably safe yet very suboptimal route. We ended up walking through a group of parked cars, employees and customers talking and uneven ground to get past.

The complexity of navigating situations like this back to back with vision-heavy work can be fatiguing and has reminded me to listen to my own body and accommodate in relation to this.

The point of this story is a little forethought from others (e.g. car parking and poorly behaved pet dogs) can have a significant impact on how a person who has a disability interacts with the world.

I hope this story has given others an insight into the challenges of navigating a world that isn’t designed or socially accepted as inclusive for those with disabilities.

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