Saturday, March 01, 2008

Service dogs for the visually impaired

Finally, the construction of the new University Center is finished. Now students can navigate their way through the new building with ease. But that's not the case for all students.Imagine for a moment that you're blind and trying to find your way around three floors of the new and somewhat complex UC.

Suddenly the idea doesn't seem so easy anymore.Having to get used to and eventually memorize an entirely new UC is a reality for UW-Whitewater junior Jason Corning, who has been blind and deaf since birth.Corning has faced several navigation obstacles throughout his life and college career, but luckily he doesn't have to face those obstacles alone.His seeing eye-dog, Spencer, serves as his eyes and ears.

When last year's construction started, Corning was used to walking all the way around the UC and his trained yellow lab, knew exactly where Corning wanted to go on campus. "If I walked on the side of the street going toward Carlson, he knew I was going in that direction," Corning said. "If I walked in the middle of the main sidewalk, he assumed McGraw or the library. If I walked toward the new building and Upham, he assumed Heide or Roseman.

"According to, the combination of specialized training and tender loving care are the characteristics that make up a good seeing-eye dog like Spencer. Physically, the dog must be healthy, of good working size and low maintenance. Tempermentally, a guide dog must show a willingness to work, be confident, tolerant, not shy or frightened in any situation, non-aggressive, adaptable to change, have initiative and the ability to concentrate.Corning and Spencer recently made their first trip to the new UC and were both satisfied with the outcome.

"Spencer got so excited about the new UC," Corning said. "He was a little confused at first about the new setting, but we managed to get around okay." Corning believes the university keeps students with disabilities in mind when constructing buildings like the new UC, but came up with a few suggestions on how to make the building even more accessible.

"I would add a table with a raised print map for people to feel because the one on the walls is too small and has colors that are hard to see," Corning said. "I would also provide a large print menu in Braille, too. Also, there should be a videophone booth for deaf people to use." On a scale of one to 10, with 10 being the easiest to navigate, Corning gave the new UC a seven. He plans on checking out the recreation center soon and his favorite part so far is the food.

Two other students, Matthew Scott and Alex Ledbetter who both use wheelchairs, agree with Corning. They enjoy the new UC, but have a few minor suggestions to improve the building."The new UC is comparable to the old one in terms of accessibility," said Scott, "However, the location and lack of elevators is a concern of mine and some of my friends. I would also add more signs to make it easier for students go get around."Other than that, he thinks it's a great addition that provides many different options for food, entertainment and a social environment on campus.

"My favorite part of the UC is the variety of food and the amount of space to lounge," he said.Ledbetter, a broadcast journalism major, gave the new UC the highest possible rating of a 10. "I think it's a great addition and upgrade from the old UC," said Ledbetter.

"I think it's easy to navigate, I wouldn't change a thing and my favorite part is the theater and Down Under."Director for the Center of Students with Disabilities, Elizabeth Watson shared her thoughts on the new UC."Although it's a new building our students and animal companions are doing fine," Watson said. "It's expected that our students would ask for help if necessary. Animals will be able to guide students around any obstacle. Our students with visual impairments or who are blind and those in wheelchairs have been navigating new situations their whole lives."

"We have worked closely with Facilities Planning and Management, the contracts and students to provide updated paths of travel information to our students," Watson said. "Maintaining access to the campus has been a priority of the administration and Center for Students with Disabilities."


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