This summer many of us were alarmed by concerns expressed by US guide dog schools regarding their ability to continue serving Canadians should the CGSB standards be adopted. Guide Dogs for the Blind relieved many graduates when they announced that they would never abandon their Canadian students.
How has the recent statement from GDB changed things? Not at all!
Though fear that Canadians would be denied access to American schools was one of the elements that made us reject the CGSB standards, it was by no means our only, and not even our major, reason for raising the alarm.
Our position remains unchanged. The process for developing standards was not a legitimate public policy process. The standards themselves frequently conflict with good training standards developed by IGDF schools. The proposed redundant testing and recertification protocols are intrusive, degrading, and treat those with guide dogs as childlike people who must be monitored, instead of regarding guide dog handlers as competent blind adults whose choice of a means of independent mobility should be affirmed and supported.
All guide dog schools continue to oppose the original draft standards. We are gratified that the schools share our perspective on how the proposed standards will negatively impact graduates.
This coalition is a voluntary group of individuals who have taken the time and trouble to inform ourselves about a process and its outcome. We have learned more than most Canadians know about standard setting because misuse of the standard setting process endangers our right to do something as fundamental as walking around.
Our most grave problem with the proposed standards continues to be that they are written in a manner and process that is totally devoid of understanding and respect for human rights principles. All organizations of blind Canadians who have spoken publicly have expressed opposition to this process, yet it continues behind closed doors under nondisclosure agreements. As the people whose rights are being directly and profoundly violated, the members of this coalition will continue to stand. Human rights issues remain the centrepiece of our opposition to CGSB’s uninformed and illegitimate intrusion into our lives. We reaffirm our position that these standards must be withdrawn.
Though school comments help inform our independent decisions as individual handlers, we are not defined by what the schools have to say. The schools have their own reasons for opposing these standards. If their objections can be overcome and the schools determine that they can live with any future version of CGSB standards, we understand their institutional necessities. We continue to wish the schools well and value our relationship with them. Our support for IGDF standards as wholly adequate remains firm.
However, we remain independent thinking individuals who will make evaluations of any future proposed standards based on an informed understanding of our personal and collective best interests as handlers. Our interests frequently parallel the interests of the schools. On those occasions when they do not, we will continue to raise our voices in affirmation of our unique position as the people who work with guide dogs every day.
Mary Ellen Gabias