Soapbox

Let’s abolish the California Board of Guide Dogs for the Blind

Members and volunteers from Guide Dogs for the Blind take a K9 flight class, as they experience airport distractions during a simulated airport security check in at the K9 school in Los Angeles in 2012.
Members and volunteers from Guide Dogs for the Blind take a K9 flight class, as they experience airport distractions during a simulated airport security check in at the K9 school in Los Angeles in 2012. AP

People who are blind or have low vision have been using guide dogs to travel independently for a century.

Guide dogs provide companionship and help enhance individuals’ confidence. Thanks to their partnership with exceptional guide dogs, thousands of people have been able to more fully participate in society and lead richer lives.

Dogs and their handlers receive training from schools in California and throughout the nation. The International Guide Dog Federation certifies the schools as meeting criteria for the staff, instruction for people with vision disabilities, and breeding and selection of guide dogs.

In California, however, guide dog instructors must be licensed by the Board of Guide Dogs for the Blind. This extra step is an unnecessary hurdle. No other state has such a board. The International Guide Dog Federation certifies guide dog instructors’ competency and experience to ensure they are qualified to create safe and successful working guide dog teams.

California already recognizes International Guide Dog Federation as setting the standard for out-of-state guide dog schools. It makes sense that federation standards be recognized as the criteria for California-based guide dog schools as well.

California’s guide dog board was created to ensure that there would not be substandard guide dog schools. But the International Guide Dog Federation ably serve this purpose.

Assembly Bill 1705 by Assemblyman Evan Low, D-Campbell, would close down the board in 2018. His bill is supported by several organizations including the California Association of Guide Dog Users, the California Council of the Blind, Golden State Guide Dog Handlers Inc., Guide Dogs for the Blind, Lighthouse for the Blind and the Sacramento Society for the Blind.

The board’s sunset would save money for taxpayers and guide dog schools, which currently subsidize a large portion of the board’s expenses, cut redundant requirements and red tape, while maintaining important protections for our community. The Legislature should join with us and many graduates of guide dog schools in supporting this measure.

Judy Wilkinson is president of the California Council of the Blind, judy.wilkinson@ccbnet.org.

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