My name is Brian Switzer. I am 27 years old. I am a marathoner. I have run the Boston Marathon twice. I have run the Equinox Marathon in Alaska, the Wings for Life World Run in Munich, and I ran on the first team of all blind and visually impaired athletes to complete a Ragnar Relay Ultra. I am a graduate student at Suffolk University. I study Ethics and Public Policy with a focus on justice as it relates to disability. I am also DeafBlind. I have significant hearing loss, and I have no functional vision. I can see the light. When I walk outside, everything goes to a blurry white, and when I go inside, everything goes to a very dark black. Ever since I was told that I was going blind at the age of 11, I wanted a guide dog. Those blind people with guide dogs always looked so suave with their dark shades being guided down the street by a huge and confident German Shepherd. Now I navigate my surroundings with the help of my own guide dog, a Labrador Retriever named Intrigue.
Prior to getting Intrigue, I traveled between my house and school using a long cane. The commute would take me almost two hours in one direction. There is no paratransit service in my town. The most affordable way to get to school is to take an Uber, two trains, and then walk over to the school. I would get really bad anxiety every time before leaving the house. The anxiety developed as a result of the fear of getting lost. I always passed my orientation and mobility lessons with flying colors, but I would always get anxious. I never showed it though. Orientation and mobility instructors will tell you to travel with confidence.
Thanks to Intrigue’s speed, the daunting two-hour commute is closer to an hour and a half. I don’t have the same anxiety that I used to. Part of it is that Intrigue is really good at memorizing routes. When I travel to school, I no longer have to give her commands. She will find and point out each non-visual landmark on her own. The other part of it is that I am less reliant on my hearing. A guide dog can point out a door without you having to listen for it. When you have significant hearing loss, listening out for objects, such as doors, can be overwhelming and exhausting. I still get lost from time to time on newer routes. However, I no longer have that fear of getting lost. At least when you get lost with a guide dog, you have a furry friend to keep you company.
Intrigue is so good at her job that she can memorize whole routes. One of my favorite places to go with her is a place near my house called Borderland State Park. We often hike it with friends. When I went on my first date with my girlfriend, we decided to hike Borderland. It is a nice place to walk around and talk. As a blind person, it is tough to go on dates with people with sight. You never know what kind of preconceived notions of blindness they hold. Hollywood depictions of blindness are not very accurate. My girlfriend had only been to Borderland once before, and she did not know the paths. I reassured her that Intrigue knew the whole route. I am sure it was not very reassuring. She still agreed to hike it with us. Intrigue guided the two of us the entire three-mile loop from start to finish. Intrigue and my skill at working together must have impressed her. She agreed to go on a second date after that
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