Eating My Own Dog Food

By Ron Brooks
Senior Director, Policy and Stakeholder Engagement

Ron Brooks sits in a gazebo with his guide dog York. He is wearing summer attire and smiling to camera.There’s an expression, that resonates for me: “Eating your own dog food.”

I was born to a blue-collar family in small-town Indiana with a severe eye condition that worsened over time. When I was a kid, I could see a little, so I did all the things kids do – I rode bikes, ambushed unsuspecting adults with snowballs, tormented my sisters, and tried to avoid boring things like homework and chores.

I also played basketball (Indiana’s national pastime). Just before my fourteenth birthday, I took a ball to the face during a pick-up game with friends. By the next morning, my remaining eyesight was gone. So, I learned a new way of reading, writing, and getting to and from school. Getting anywhere meant learning public transportation, and ultimately, paratransit services like UZURV.

I began my career with the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District, planning, designing, and delivering transportation improvements for older adults and people with disabilities. I’ve been working in the accessible transit and paratransit space ever since, including the past two years with UZURV.

In short, I’ve been a member of the disability community, designing and delivering services for the disability community thirty years and counting. In other words, I’ve been eating my own dog food most of my life. By now, I’m a real connoisseur.

Speaking of which – in 1988, I met my first guide dog. I have been working with one ever since. My current guide is a beautiful five-year-old lab named York. York loves life, fast walks, people, food, and riding with UZURV.

February is Low Vision Awareness Month. As someone who cares about how we serve our riders (including me) at UZURV, here are a few tips we have shared with UZURV Drivers (and now you) to ensure that blind and low-vision customers enjoy five-star experiences every time.

Meet riders at the door.

UZURV’s standard service is door-to-door – from the outermost door of the pickup location to the outermost door of the destination. That’s the policy.

Here’s why it’s important: As a blind rider, I may not know where to meet my ride. I may not know what the vehicle looks like, and I may not be able to see it when it arrives. Meeting a rider at the door, takes out all the guesswork, and assures the rider they will not miss their ride simply because they could not find it.
Introduce yourself.

A blind or low-vision rider may not see their driver. If they do, they may not realize who their UZURV Driver is.

Here’s why it’s important: When you introduce yourself, you create the connection that allows riders to move forward with the trip. And here’s a pro tip. If you introduce yourself to the rider, and they do not respond, it is appropriate to lightly tap them on the shoulder or hand as you repeat your greeting.
Find out what assistance a rider needs.

Blind and low-vision people come in a wide variety. Some are younger, others older. Some can navigate within the environment, others not. Some use guide dogs, some canes, and some do not use any aids at all. So, the help one person needs may be too much or too little for someone else.

Always ask, “How can I assist you, today?” They will tell you.
Service animals are always welcome.

The federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guarantees the rights of people with disabilities to travel with service animals, and all fifty states have made it a misdemeanor to deny transportation to a blind or low-vision customer because of the presence of a guide dog. UZURV has its own Service Animal policy, which requires drivers to welcome their rider with their service animal.

Protocol around service animals is:

  • Ignore and do not interact with the animal at all.
  • The rider should place their service animal on the floor or, in the case of some smaller service animals, in an enclosed pet carrier. Service animals should never lie on the seat.
  • If an animal acts in a way that is aggressive, threatening, and/or disruptive, and if the rider is unable to appropriately manage the animal’s behavior, drivers can contact Operations through the UZURV app for assistance.

As a guide dog handler, I appreciate drivers who know the rules and who simply interact with me as though my guide dog isn’t even there. To paraphrase the old saw: “Guide dogs should be seen and not heard.”

Avoid lots of questions and conversation about blindness.

Although a rider may be blind or have some other disability, their lives are filled with other people, interests, and activities. If asked a direct question about blindness or low-vision, most will answer it, but most would prefer discussing something else. And don’t shout. Most blind and low-vision people can hear just fine.

Dig Deeper

Check out these resources to learn more about blindness, low-vision, and guide dogs:

  • American Council of the Blind – A consumer organization focused on advocacy, education, and peer support.
  • American Foundation for the Blind – A premiere blindness and low-vision research organization in the United States.
  • National Federation of the Blind – A consumer organization, focused on improving opportunities and equality for people who are blind.
  • International Guide Dog Federation – An international organization representing guide dog training facilities from around the world. The site includes links to accredited guide dog training institutions here in the U.S. as well as across Canada.
  • UZURV – Service Dogs Changing Lives for the Better: Learn more about Service Dogs and their training in this UZURV blog.

The Seeing Eye – The training facility where I met and trained with my present guide dog and satisfied UZURV customer, York. In addition, the Seeing Eye website has links to all guide dog access laws in the U.S. and Canada. They also produced a mobile app with the same information – check it out here.