Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Barry goes to college: Aaron Steley and his Guide Dog undertake Diploma of IT at Martin College

Aaron and Barry - partners in life and study.
Barry Steley goes to college. He sleeps, plays with toys under the desk, and enjoys the fact that the course schedule is designed to fit around his comfort breaks. Oh, yeah...he's a Guide Dog. He, and visually impaired companion Aaron Steley, attend Martin College where Aaron is completing a Diploma of IT.

Aaron was born with around ten per cent of the average level of eyesight, and this has progressively decreased. With the aid of technology - such as high contrast screen settings - and assistance, Aaron can study just fine. Barry helps him get around safely.

"It's important for us to cater to Barry as much as we can because we know what a vital role he plays in assisting Aaron's studies," said John Martin, Head of Martin College.

Aaron (with Barry at his side) has completed his first block of study with a distinction average. He took a few moments out to talk to SAT about Barry, and Guide Dogs in general.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself - what made you want to embark on the diploma of IT?

Growing up in the age of technology starting to take a hold, I discovered early on that I had interest and love for computers. I did voluntary work at schools growing up and then entered the working world in IT. I left the working world of IT shortly after to explore my interests in other areas of the business world. Returning to IT this year I was horrified to find that you need formal qualifications to even be considered for an interview in IT jobs. Life experience counted for little. Martin College presented an opportunity to study at a quicker pace to receive the diploma in a more timely fashion.

What accommodations have been made for Barry to come to College with you?

Barry has an area in the college classrooms that we have been assigned, where he can relax on his bed and has access to fresh water as required. Rather then being stuffed under the desk all day, he has the floor space that he can delightfully spread out on without being in the way of fellow class mates.

We see assistance dogs all the time but I think there remains some confusion. Can you clarify - where can assistance dogs go that other dogs can't?

Assistance and Services dogs are pretty much regarded by government legislation as people. They are entitled to be anywhere at any time a reasonable person is expected to go. However, one particular area that Assistance dogs are not allowed to be in is food preparation areas of a restaurant, i.e. kitchen (not that I’d take my dog in there anyway) and hospital operation areas (sterile environment). Recently, assistance dogs have been granted access to intensive care for short durations to be with their handlers. We go everywhere and anywhere during the day. The dogs are the means of our successful transition from Point A to B. Lastly, national parks.  Assistance dogs are trained and well behaved and are therefore allowed to be with their handlers in the national park. The dog enjoys the grass and cool breeze, we enjoy the sun and sounds of the parks.

For more in-depth details in regards to access the information is contained in the Guide, Hearing and Assistance Dogs Act 2009 and the Anti Discrimination Act 1991.

How does Barry get along with your classmates and lecturers?

Barry spends much of his time at College asleep and relaxing.  He has his own toys to keep him amused and very rarely interacts with anyone at the college.

Martin College has given Barry a student card and organised your classes around comfort breaks for Barry. How important is it for you to have Barry at college?

As an assistance dog is my freedom to mobility, I would consider him very important in being at college. It is how I get from Point A to Point B without requiring emergency visits to our fantastic health care providers. The student card was a suggestion by me and the student council to help the international students see that Barry was considered a student at the college and was there welcome in any part of the college. We considered it a practical example to explain what an assistance dog was.

What is the right etiquette with a dog like Barry: If we meet an assistance dog on the street, what's the right way to interact - offer a hand for a sniff, ignore the dog because it is working?

Whilst an Assistance Dog is wearing their harness or training coat out in public, they are not to be interacted with whatsoever.  They have a job to do and require their concentration to make sure that the handler is able to make it safely to their chosen destinations.

For public information, Guide Dogs Qld has provided a few simple guidelines with interaction with Assistance dogs which you may find helpful.

What does Barry do with his time off?

Barry has a wide variety of toys that he entertains himself with when he’s at home, has a grass area that he rolls and runs around to relieve the stresses of a working day.  He eats and sleeps and then the process starts all over again the next day. Amidst all of this though, Barry receives plenty of cuddles whilst also receiving appropriate amounts of “Barry Time” where he rests quietly to be ready for the next task.

Have you ever had to take Barry to the vet? Can you elaborate on that experience?

Barry routinely visits a vet every 6 months 1 for a checkup and the other for the yearly vaccinations, C5 and heart guard.  Barry loves his vet, likes going there and we often head up there on a fortnightly basis to receive his bath and groom. He’s an absolute delight to watch getting bathed as he shows the people bathing him where to bath him and how to bath him and directs them missed spots. 

Any messages you'd like to share with veterinarians and future vets about guide dogs?

Vets do a great job and look after the Guide Dogs very well, however a handler will get very attached to their animals and will carefully consider decisions that will impact their mobility and separation from the animal. Best message to vets and future vets? Guide dogs are the most patient loveable and patient animals you will likely have in your waiting room and your examining room.  They love to co-operate.  Well, at least Barry does.  As I said earlier, Barry loves his vet he sees.  

Thanks Aaron and Barry! Wishing you the best with the remainder of your studies - and well done for blazing a trail for Guide Dogs in higher education.