Who’s Leading Who? Guide Dogs, Stereotypes, and Joy

When I started working at National Braille Press almost ten years ago, I had very little knowledge about braille or the blindness community. I was drawn to NBP because I love to read and was shocked that there was so little material available in braille. NBP’s mission was a social justice issue for me.

But I worried a bit about how best to convey that message.  I wanted to get the tone right and not pander to stereotypes that may raise money but do NOT raise awareness.

Liooking Out for SarahThen I read a speech that Diane Croft had given at the Guide Dog Users of Massachusetts Award Dinner on a print/braille book NBP produced called Looking Out for Sarah. The speech was addressed to Glenna Lang, the author, and her guide dog.  It resonated with me and changed my thinking forever.

Here is an excerpt of what Diane wrote:

I have lived through three movements: civil rights, women’s rights, and disability rights.  In all three cases much has changed and much remains the same.

And so, when a children’s book on blindness crosses my desk, I brace myself. Even after 20* years in the field, I am astonished to see the same age-old stereotypes that permeate our society reflected, either subtly or profoundly, within the images and text of a book. To be honest, when I saw the title Looking Out for Sarah, I wondered if this would be another book where someone “looks after” a blind adult.

But then I read the opening sentence: “In the early morning light…”

I assume you know with those five words you broke through one of the oldest and most deeply entrenched stereotypes–namely, that blind people live in the dark.

The book continues:

“Perry felt Sarah stirring about him…he waited eagerly for her feet to touch the floor.”

The reader feels an immediate sense of anticipation and even joy at the start of a new day. For the most part, sighted people do no equate blindness with joy.

Throughout the book, the question of who is looking after whom fluctuates between Sarah and Perry. How wonderful you didn’t err in either direction. Perry looks out for overhanging branches, but it’s Sarah who initiates their adventuresome cross-country journey.

Your important book addresses core relationship issues of dependency and independence, of submission and initiation. Sarah and Perry both initiate and give up control to each other depending on the situation.

Your beautiful book shows that in all healthy, joyful relationships, there is a constant sharing and shifting–back and forth–between who needs whom, who takes care of whom, and how we love one another.

*Diane Croft, Publisher at NBP, has worked at National Braille Press for over 30 years.