For most people, the sight of a black limo indicates a special occasion, or celebrity, or a fancy means of travel. For GDB client Belo Miguel Cipriani, all of the above may be true because he gets to travel by limo every day: his black Lab guide dog is named Limo!
“Giving up driving was tough for me because I felt like I had lost my independence," Belo said. "Having a guide dog has given me back that ability to explore on my own. With Limo, I now have the capacity to move around the world at my original pace. So, you can say that I went from driving to cruising with my very own Limo.”
Limo is Belo's third guide dog from GDB, and the duo is taking on the town in Minneapolis where Belo is an entrepreneur, tending to his various enterprises: a digital accessibility firm, a publishing house, and his latest venture - launching an online academy offering courses in digital inclusion. He's got a wealth of experience and education in everything from recruiting and management to systems administration and authoring award-winning books and a prize-winning syndicated column. He came to his current work in the digital accessibility space in an indirect way.
"A couple of years ago I was a freelance project manager where I was in charge of staffing and building a team - hiring engineers, doing an HR generalist type of role," he said. The work was for an educational technology start-up company, and they needed to make their software 508 compliant, but didn't know what that was or how to do it. (Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires federal government websites in the U.S. to be safe and accessible for people with disabilities. Worldwide, similar laws and accessibility guidelines are in place for all websites.)
"I raised my hand, and that was my first digital accessibility project," Belo said. "And then that project led to the next project and just organically I started doing a lot of freelance work in digital accessibility. I knew that I didn’t know a lot - that I just knew accessibility from a blind person’s perspective - and that there was so much to learn. So I went back to school and got my doctorate in education technology and really dove deep into the different communities, different profiles of people who use assistive software, and how to make things more accessible."
GDB has tapped into Belo's expertise several times, working on various projects together to enhance accessibility in our own digital channels.
"I’ve enjoyed watching GDB really strive toward digital inclusion," he said. "I am so proud that GDB doesn’t just want compliance, they want to do the best they can. I’m excited that I’ve been a part of these projects."
Digital inclusion is only one of Belo's many passions. Another is helping spread awareness about the guide dog lifestyle, especially among the Latino community, via presentations or through his writing.
"I’m a member of the Latino community, and even today I still have family members ask me many questions about my guide dog," Belo said. "Anything from 'How often does he eat?' to 'Can he read the street signs?' I think a lot of that is a result of just not having the right information. I feel like there’s a lot of work to do, because specifically with the Latino community where the guide dog lifestyle is not very prominent, there is a need for more visibility, more information. When I explain to people what the role of my guide dog is and talk about his training and what he had to do to become a guide dog - they're always wowed."
And speaking of being wowed, Belo says he has a very special place in his heart for guide dog puppy raisers.
"Back in 2011 my first book was published, and like any author, you are excited about meeting the people who appreciate your work" he said. "But out of all the crowds that came to my book events, the people I was most eager to see were the puppy raisers. Whether I was in Sacramento, or L.A., or San Francisco, or Seattle, they always came, and I got to meet such wonderful people. As someone who meditates, practices yoga, and does all kinds of things to try to be the best I can be, I always look at puppy raisers as inspiration just because the work that they do is so selfless, and they do it with open hearts. I am just in awe, and I am their biggest fan. I feel that they’ve done something that is so amazing, and that I'm calling 'selfless' right now, but I want them to know that it’s more than that. It’s a passion, it’s a sense of community and support... it’s just so many things wrapped into to this one thing that they do over and over that’s so beautiful and so mesmerizing. To see all these people committed to this cause is beyond impressive and I just want to say thank you."
Well thank you too Belo, for being such a great ambassador for GDB and the guide dog lifestyle. We can't wait to see the roads you and Limo will travel together!