This is probably one of the most common questions we get from prospective guides. For a simple question, it’s a complex answer. It depends on the situation and location.
In short, the answer is, no, we don’t have “enough” guides. This is because we believe that all people who love running/walking, have a good level of vision, and the ability to communicate verbally should have some knowledge of sighted guiding. There are often times when our athletes with a disability are not able to find sighted guides.
One of the easiest physical activities to do to get active is to go for a run. There’s nothing like being out in the open, your feet pounding the pavement and the rush of energy you feel from running or a brisk walk. But if you live with vision impairment, it’s not just a matter of strapping on your shoes and heading out the door. Often, you need to travel somewhere to meet someone, arrange for a support worker to look after your dog guide, make sure you know where to send your rideshare or taxi driver, know how to navigate public transport to a mutually agreed meeting point and know how you’re going to store your belongings (e.g. white cane, a change of clothes, water, towel, valuables etc.). And after all of that, there’s the worry of matching pace and being guided by someone you get along with. Even the task itself of an athlete having to ask for a sighted guide can raise feelings of embarrassment or guilt that the athlete must push aside. There’s a lot to consider for someone with vision impairment when they go for a run.
Why is it such an effort to go for a run when you live with vision impairment? One reason of many, is because we don’t have enough guides.
Imagine this: one of our runners/walkers with vision impairment wants to go running or go for an energetic power walk. They could join any social running club or event because there would be someone who could run with them. Or if they weren’t into club running, or had awkward schedules that didn’t align with social runs, they could ask a neighbour or someone in the local community to simply turn up at their doorstep to go for a run.
If we ever reached this sighted guide running nirvana, then yes, we would have “enough” guides.
Despite your interest to become a sighted guide, you might not live near someone with vision impairment. If this is you, we’d still encourage you to learn to be a sighted guide. While there may not be someone near to you to guide now, perhaps sometime in the future, someone might move into your area, or you might move somewhere where you know someone with vision impairment. Perhaps you’re friends with a keen runner who does live near someone with vision impairment. With your connection, you could be the one that connects a guide with a person with vision impairment.
Sometimes at our Sunday training sessions, a lot of our members with vision impairment seem to be simultaneously busy, and we can be inundated with guides. In these situations, we encourage you to get to know your fellow guide as Achilles is just as much social as it is about sighted guiding. On the contrary, sometimes we face a dearth of sighted guides. This can particularly happen when there are people with vision impairment with specific needs (e.g. extremely fast pace or extremely long distance). Here, we definitely don’t have enough guides!
Achilles operates on a casual basis so there’s no obligation to guide in an ongoing relationship. While some people may form good friendships in their guide-athlete dyad and run often together, it’s best if a person with a disability has a community of guides to call upon. Perhaps John is the Monday guide, Jane is the Tuesday guide, and Bilal is the Wednesday guide…you get the idea! But then perhaps Jane is injured or on holidays (lucky Jane!). Having a situations where we have “enough” guides would mean that Jane is instantly replaced by another guide while she’s unavailable.
At the end of the day, our message to you is this: give guide running a go, and if you can’t work it into your schedule, tell 10 friends about it. Actually, tell those 10 friends about sighted guiding regardless of your situation. If we have enough people talking about sighted guiding, then perhaps one day we’ll have “enough” guides.
This blog post was written by Amanda Kwong - Founder and current co-Vice President of Achilles Melbourne.
Our mission is to enable people from all walks of life, including those with physical impairments, to enjoy the health giving benefits of walking and running in a supportive, social and encouraging environment.