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2007/03/20

Guide Dogs in China?

Chinese guide dog user and trainer
The first of China's guide dogs was trained at Dalian Medical University and completed its training during the fall of 2006 (here is a Chinese article about it). Now Shanghai is getting into the act, launching a plan to train guide dogs.

I first discussed the idea of guide dogs in China with the late (and much missed) Xiao Cao, who thought a guide dog would offer optimum independence for getting around, especially in a city without a path for the blind (mang dao, the raised, tactile walkways found on the sidewalks in China). Then again, even in cities where there is a an extensive mang dao, these are often not very safe because of a variety of obsticles that get placed on them.

The reality is that while guide dogs may be extremely helpful for the blind in China, at this point I don't think its the best idea to introduce them. Guide dogs in the US and UK have become a common sight over the years and are allowed total access. There are the occassional stories about a restaurant owner or a cabbie who won't let a dog user in, but these problems are rare and typically get harshly punished.

This, of course, is the crux of the problem. First, to my knowledge, China has no laws to protect guide dog users. While it is great that a dog can give a blind person the confidence to go out and travel on their own, if there is no law protecting them and guaranteeing the dog will be allowed on a bus or in a mall, the dog doesn't really help. Also, even if laws existed, they would need to be fully and properly enforced. Beyond that, at most of the reputable guide dog schools in the US, they require students first to have good (or at least basic) white cane skills down, something that very few Chinese have.

Ahh....just one more law that needs to be changed (or in this case written) in China.