University Challenge

Hello and welcome back.

Recently I returned to University. As regular readers will recall, when my vision began to deteriorate I had not long since started University, and as a result of continued deteriorations in my sight I eventually had to withdraw from my studies.

Craig and Commando walking down a university hallwayWhen I returned to University however, I was not on my own. This time I had Commando at my side and he was eager to start learning his way around the place and of course, eager to make new friends.

The campus where we are based has three buildings which we need to navigate on a regular basis. Each building has a different design, and each building is always busy. So as you can imagine, getting around them is a challenge, even for Commando.

I think perhaps the most challenging building for us is the business school. The building is designed on a similar principle to a ship. Instead of nice straight corners, at the top of the stairs the corridors curve slightly off in both directions. In addition, there are open areas where people tend to congregate.

Initially, all of the non-lecture based classes I had were based in the business school. So during our first week there, before the formal start of classes, I familiarised Commando with the locations of the rooms we were going to need. Regular readers will recall that I have done this with Commando on a couple of occasions whilst we were at College, and this time I followed the same procedures. I took Commando to the rooms we needed, first just on his lead, and then in his harness, praising and rewarding him when he found the correct door. It always surprises and impresses me how good Commandos route memory is. Within a couple of times trying the routes to the rooms Commando was striding confidently through the corridors and taking me right to the correct doors.

At the end of the first week however, I received an e-mail informing me that my timetable had changed! I’ve been around academic institutions long enough to know that this happens more often than not, but it was still unfavourable news. It was particularly unfavourable when I realized that, as a result, some of the rooms had changed. Not only that, but I would now have to work in another building for some classes.

Fortunately, the other building, the computing school, is my personal favourite. It is a fairly simple and very accessible design. A nice, straight ramp runs the length of the second and first floors and the staircase is nice and wide, with one straight left-turn at the top. There is also the added bonus that all of the rooms are on the left-hand side. I think Commando quite likes this building as well, especially when he gets to stroll up and down the nice long ramp.

I have also had to familiarise Commando with one of the other buildings, where we would be attending formal lectures and making use of the library and the food and drink facilities. This particular building is not all that complicated. It is largely open plan, with two levels. This building also contains an exit to the outside area where Commando will be spending time as and when he needs it. The main problem with this building is that, from Commando’s perspective, a lot of the front of the building must look alike. I remember from my first time there that there is a lot of glass and steel, and so finding a door can sometimes be a bit tricky. This problem is especially acute when there are a large number of people around, which is common because of the services provided in the building. There are also a couple of doors for Commando to choose from, one manual and one automatic.

Despite these challenges Commando is doing very well. He has worked out the routes to the rooms we need, how to get to the entry and exit points of all three buildings and of course how to find his spending area. In the large open-plan building he has worked out where the entrances for the lecture theatres are, and has managed some very nice work in some very crowded situations, moving around the crowd if possible, and slowly picking his way through if it is not.

I would not even like to think about how difficult getting around these buildings would be if I had a cane rather than Commando.

I am pleased to say that he has also taken to the lecture theatres without any problems. We did not have these to deal with at College, so I was unsure what Commando would make of them. But he just calmly takes me to wherever I’m sitting and then makes himself comfortable under the long desks which run the length of the seats on each row. The end of lectures can be extremely hectic so the best course of action is usually to stay put until the crowd has thinned somewhat, and then head out.

There can be no denying that this new environment is far more challenging than the setup we had at College. But Commando is taking it all in his stride with his usual eagerness and tenacity, and as always he’s making me very proud and very grateful to have him at my side.


Sue, 11:51am Wed 10 Dec 2014:

Hi Craig I was interested to read your article about university life with a guide dog. I work at the Royal National College for the Blind and we often support students with university mobility. I wonder if you could let me know what arrangements your university has made with regards spending. Here we have grass and concrete spends which are hosed down and I just wondered how it works at uni. Any help much appreciated Regards Sue

Paul, 5:37pm Fri 7 Nov 2014:

Thank you very much for updating this site. You must be very busy with uni work, but I just want to say that I very much enjoyed this article. It gives a good insight into the issues you face, and emphasises how important (and impressive) guide dogs are.

amanda, 7:34pm Tue 4 Nov 2014:

good for you craig and your lovely dog best of luck with your studies

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Craig And Commando

Craig is in his early thirties and he is completely blind. His blog details the day-to-day adventures he experiences with his first guide dog, Commando.

Read Craig and Commando's most recent adventures.