Guide Dogs for the Blind recently had the opportunity to host a group of students from the San Francisco State University Orientation & Mobility (O&M) program on our California campus to teach them about our programs and the guide dog lifestyle. The students hailed from all over the United States, and participated in a day-long seminar conducted by members of GDB's Rehabilitation Services and Training departments.
The partnership between GDB and SFSU is an exciting collaboration. SFSU offers one of the most comprehensive university O&M programs in the country. Its students graduate as orientation and mobility specialists, and go on to teach people who have visual impairments the specific orientation skills used to find one's way in the environment, and the mobility skills needed to travel safely and efficiently at home, school, work, and in the community. By spending time at GDB and learning about our programs, it rounds out the O&M students' education by giving them a hands-on experience with guide dog travel, and learning how a guide dog could be a mobility option for their clients. For GDB, orientation and mobility skills are a precursor to guide dog travel, so the annual SFSU seminars are an important part of GDB’s commitment to fostering relationships with current and future O&M specialists.
Seminar participants received information on:
- GDB’s admissions process and acceptance to our programs
- How we train our guide dogs
- All of our free client programs (guide dog training, K9 Buddy matching, and O&M immersion training)
- Our follow up services and veterinary financial assistance program for guide dog clients
- Developing travel skills as it relates to guide dog mobility
- Route orientation and tips for working with guide dog teams
The students also had the opportunity to work with Juno (a simulated guide dog), as well as walk with a guide dog in training with the supervision of our guide dog mobility instructors.
"Thank you for providing an opportunity for us to come here. I didn’t know how amazing the campus and facilities of GDB are!” said one participant. Another added: “Great way to end the semester!”
Being an O&M specialist is one of the "greatest jobs in the world" said Marc Gillard, GDB's director of rehabilitation services. Marc is dual certified as an O&M specialist as well as a guide dog mobility instructor (GDMI). "It’s joyous work," he told the students. "You do make a difference in the lives of many, and you have now established a partnership with GDB and we are here for you no matter where you end up."
Many thanks to Marc, as well as GDB staff members Stephanie Zabitz (senior O&M program specialist and GDMI), Chelsea Allen (GDMI), Lauren Piperno (GDMI), and Marlys Johnson (apprentice GDMI), for their expertise in leading the seminar. And thanks to the SFSU program and students for their time, interest, and collaboration. We are already looking forward to next year!