Guide Dogs for the Blind and American Foundation for the Blind Release Research Study Findings
Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB) and the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) have announced the findings of The Role of Guide Dogs in 2022 and Beyond, a joint, two-year research study to examine the long-term outlook for guide dog use in the United States and Canada.
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Ever Arreola and his guide dog, Falante (Photo: Business Wire)
Top findings for the first-of-its-kind study, revealed a greatly expanded use of technology among travelers who are blind or visually impaired, and a shift to using rideshare services from public transit and walking.
The study was conducted in 2020 and 2021 through a survey of more than 500 people who are blind or visually impaired including both guide dog users and nonusers. It included focus groups and interviews with more than 50 individuals, including graduates from various guide dog schools in the U.S. and Canada, people who use a white cane instead of a guide dog, and instructors who work with the blindness community around orientation and mobility (O&M) skills needed to qualify for a guide dog.
An increase in use of smartphones and apps has shed new light on the importance of integration of technology in travel for people who are blind or visually impaired. Approximately three-fourths of guide dog users surveyed reported use of smartphones during travel, with wayfinding apps (Google Maps, Soundscapes) as well as visual interpreting apps (Be My Eyes, AIRA) among the most commonly used.
Participants in the study also reported that they walk and use public transit less often because of the increased availability of door-to-door rideshare services. While the convenience of rideshare has great appeal to travelers who are blind or visually impaired, the study also showed that rideshare access denials and concerns about fraudulent service dogs often played a devastating role in the lives of guide dog users.
These mixed rideshare findings point to a need for greater awareness and advocacy to defend guide dog users' access to Uber and Lyft, among both the public and rideshare companies. Some participants also expressed interest in receiving training and resources to aid the when they are denied access.
Overall, the guide dog lifestyle received high praise and enthusiasm from respondents. Guide dog users cited both practical advantages of traveling with a guide dog, such as the ability to walk faster, avoid objects, move smoothly through crowds, and maintain a straight line of travel, as well as emotional benefits. Many conveyed that the companionship, confidence, safety, and social bridge to their community were significant, irreplaceable benefits of using a guide dog.
While the guide dog lifestyle is not a fit for all people who are blind or visually impaired, the study uncovered there is a substantial subset of potential guide dog users who have not acquired the prerequisite mastery of O&M skills to qualify for a guide dog. These skills include spatial orientation, the ability to learn and navigate routes, and the fundamentals of white cane use. Multiple study participants emphasized that there is an extreme shortage of O&M services and instructors, particularly in the U.S., with many reporting that there are huge swaths of the country where it seems that O&M services aren't available at all.
"These robust findings are very heartening about the future of guide dog use in the U.S. and Canada, but they are also instructive in helping us to remove barriers to enjoying the benefits of the guide dog lifestyle, especially in the areas of rideshare access, travel technology, and O&M training," said Theresa Stern, vice president of interdisciplinary client services and engagement for GDB. "We're grateful to AFB, who designed this research, and look forward to continuing our partnership with them to improve the lives of people who are blind and visually impaired."
"These research findings point to a number of areas where organizations like AFB and GDB can collaborate with O&M professionals and people who are blind or have low vision to maximize opportunities for independent, safe and efficient travel," said Dr. Arielle Silverman, AFB director of research. "With the general aging of the population and the increasing prevalence of age-related vision loss, studies like this will become imperative to serving the blindness community in the coming decades."
Study findings will be published in peer-reviewed research journals and will be presented at conferences focused on blindness. For a copy of the report, visit guidedogs.com/study.
About Guide Dogs for the Blind
Headquartered in San Rafael, Calif., Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB) is the largest guide dog school in North America. It is a passionate community that prepares highly qualified guide dogs to empower individuals who are blind or visually impaired to move through the world more safely and confidently. This year marks the organization's 80th anniversary of helping its clients live the lives they want to live. More than 16,000 guide teams have graduated from GDB since it was founded in 1942. GDB not only improves mobility for its clients, but it also furthers inclusion and advocates for policy reforms that change how the world views blindness. GDB's services are provided free of charge, and it receives no government funding. The organization was the subject of an award-winning 2018 documentary feature film called Pick of the Litter, which can be found on most popular streaming platforms. The film was developed into a television docu-series by the same name that debuted in 2019 on Disney+. For more information, visit guidedogs.com, or call 800.295.4050.
About the American Foundation for the Blind
The American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) mobilizes leaders, advances understanding, and champions impactful policies and practices using research and data. Publisher of the Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness for over a century and counting, AFB is also proud to steward the accessible Helen Keller Archive, honoring the legacy of our most famous ambassador. AFB's mission is to expand pathways to leadership, education, inclusive technology, and career opportunities to create a world of no limits for people who are blind, deafblind, or have low vision. To learn more, visit www.afb.org.