Letter to California Guide Dog Board

Dear GDUI Members and Friends,

Below, we are sharing correspondence GDUI sent to members of the California State Guide Dog Board and their Executive Officer, Brian Skewis, on July 14, 2015. We urge any of our members who can to attend the Board’s quarterly meeting, at which the issues described in this correspondence will be discussed. Add your voices to our own, urge the Board to change its recently re-defined policy regarding follow-up services for guide dog users who live in California who received training from International Guide Dog Federation -accredited schools outside the state, so as not to jeopardize the safety of guide dog teams who live and work in California.

The next quarterly meeting of the California State Guide Dog Board will take place Monday, July 20, 2015, at 1:00 p.m., Pacific Daylight Time. To attend by Teleconference, call this Phone Number: 866.692.3158. Use this Participant Code: 99686782.

To attend in person, arrive by 1:00 p.m. at this address: Department of Consumer Affairs – Trinity Room, 1625 N. Market Blvd, Sacramento, CA 95834.

From: Guide Dog Users, Inc.
To: Members and Executive Officer, California State Guide Dog Board
Regarding: Follow-Up Services for California Guide Dog Teams

July 14, 2015

Dear Board Member:

I am writing on behalf of Guide Dog Users, Inc. (GDUI), the leading membership organization of blind and visually impaired women and men who rely on guide dogs for independence and safety as we travel through the built environment. GDUI is an affiliate of the American Council of the Blind (ACB). Like our parent organization, we advocate on behalf of people who are blind and visually impaired – in our case particularly, on behalf of people who use guide dogs as their mobility aids of choice. We also educate the general public regarding blindness, the capabilities and goals of people who are blind, and laws and regulations that are meant to guarantee our civil rights as people with disabilities. We provide peer support and mentoring for our members who live in every region of the USA and several other countries. We have long known about the California State Guide Dog Board, its reason for being, and the standards of excellence that the Board strives to develop and administer. The excellence and reliability of guide dog training programs is as important to our members who partner with guide dogs and count on them on a daily basis to maximize our quality of life as it is to members of your board. We commend the Board for developing standards for excellent training programs, stamping out fraud with respect to fund-raising for California-based guide dog training programs, and insisting on the highest standards for guide dog training programs and instructors. However, we believe that, recently, the Board has misinterpreted its mission with respect to monitoring follow-up services for guide dog school graduates, particularly those graduates from guide dog training programs which are not based in California and which comply with equally rigorous standards of excellence developed by the International Guide Dog Federation (IGDF). The IGDF is an international school-membership organization founded in 1989, and comprised of more than 80 guide dog training programs. The organization seeks to facilitate sharing of knowledge and experience, and to develop and promulgate the highest quality standards, methodologies and help for new and existing guide dog schools wishing to improve the quality of their operations.

GDUI considers the Board’s current interpretation of its mission with respect to requiring Board licenses for instructors who provide follow-up services for graduates an overreach of the board’s authority. It is certainly a dramatic departure from the way the board has addressed the provision of after-care services for guide dog teams who have graduated from schools not based in California during the majority of the Board’s history. Furthermore, denying provision of after-care services to graduates who have a personal relationship with a particular school and its particular training regimen puts the safety of many of our members who live in California and who have chosen to acquire guide dogs and training from instructors who are not licensed by the board (but whose employers are accredited by the IGDF) in jeopardy. We are writing to insist that the Board re-evaluate its current policy with respect to follow-up services which may be needed by California residents whose instructors may not be certified by the Board but whose training programs have complied with the standards developed by the IGDF and which, in many cases, have a deservedly excellent and long-standing reputation as outstanding guide dog training programs. Our members want and need assurance that, when they need to consult with their trainers from schools who do not have instructors licensed by the board on staff, they can expect to receive these follow-up services expeditiously, and that the Board will not stand in the way of their receiving timely and appropriate follow-up services.

In addition to sending this letter to members of your board and the Board’s executive officer, we are contacting the Governor of California, as well as all state legislators to explain how the board’s recent re-definition of its mission and consequential banning of follow-up services from instructors who know their graduates, their dogs, and a particular training philosophy may well jeopardize the safety of some Californians who have chosen to acquire their guide dogs and training from schools based outside of the state. This is an urgent matter for all of our members, particularly those members who live or who may choose to move to California, as well as for graduates of schools who do not find it economically or practically viable to subject their instructors to examinations administered by the three California-based guide dog schools. It might, in fact, be impossible for the larger schools who could easily have hundreds of graduates living in California to obtain licenses for a sufficient number of instructors to meet the needs of their graduates within the timely manner that is essential during emergency situations. Imagine, for example, enduring an attack against one’s guide dog by an out-of-control neighborhood dog and then having to wait for many days or even weeks before consulting with a trainer from the school that trained you and your guide dog to get his or her opinion about the guide’s suitability for continued work in the neighborhood! Such a scenario is not only a likelihood for graduates of out-of-state schools with a substantial number of graduates living in California who have no – or even too few – Board-licensed instructors but a persistent nagging worry for graduates of those programs.

We want to stress that consumer choice is a guiding principle for both GDUI and ACB, and that the Board’s recent actions which penalize Californians who choose to attend out-of-state training programs represent a significant violation of a principle that is important to us.

As California’s governor and legislators evaluate the purview and future of the Board, we urge them to find a way for Californians who choose to acquire their dogs and their training from schools that are not based in the state to receive timely and appropriate follow-up services from instructors from their schools and to acknowledge that accreditation by the IGDF is at least as rigorous and meaningful as that developed and administered by the California State Guide Dog Board. We urge the California State Guide Dog Board to acknowledge this reality and to find a way to modify its policy to permit instructors who are not licensed by the board but who work for schools which have been accredited by the International Guide Dog Federation to provide follow-up services to their graduates who live in California so as to put an end to the peril in which a number of guide dog users who live in your state now find themselves.

Thank you for taking our concern as seriously as our members do and for acting to guarantee, as much as possible, the safety and viability of every guide dog team working in California, regardless of whether or not a school’s instructors have received certification of excellence from the California State Board.

Penny Reeder, President
Guide Dog Users, Inc.