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SNV story No. 1: Accessibility for people with assistance dogs
Expert profile of Katharina Eberle
Katharina Eberle is not only dedicated to her work as Head of Training at the Foundation Swiss School for Guide Dogs for the Blind in Allschwil, but has also been active in the world of standardization in her role as an expert since 2017. She is Switzerland’s expert in the development of standards within the CEN/TC 452 «Assistance dogs». The Swiss delegation is currently comprised of just one person. At present, Katharina Eberle and her organization are the only ones participating in this project. With a brief picture story, she has documented her work for the SNV while attending an expert meeting in Zagreb in November 2019.
Image caption: Katharina Eberle (Source: Foundation Swiss School for Guide Dogs for the Blind in Allschwil)
When is an assistance dog actually an assistance dog?
The aim of the standardization work performed by the CEN/TC 452 «Assistance dogs» is to achieve uniform accessibility for people with assistance dogs throughout Europe. The term «assistance dog» refers to a dog that has been specially trained to perform tasks that increase the level of independence of, and minimize the limitations placed on, people with disabilities.
Image caption: This autism dog has been specially trained to assist in the daily lives of children suffering from an autism spectrum disorder. (Source: Foundation Swiss School for Guide Dogs for the Blind in Allschwil)
The planned standards are intended to create internationally uniform regulations concerning the training, deployment and access rights of assistance dogs and people with assistance dogs. Are assistance dogs allowed in to a major event? What sort of training does an assistance dog have to undergo? Who is allowed to train them? What kind of dog truly qualifies as an assistance dog?
Image caption: A guide dog safely leads a visually impaired person past obstacles. (Source: Foundation Swiss School for Guide Dogs for the Blind in Allschwil)
Directly influencing standards
How did Katharina Eberle come to serve as an expert in the world of standardization? Previously, the foundation had already been indirectly involved in the development of other standards via another Swiss expert. When the development of European standards for assistance dogs was initiated once more, the Foundation Swiss School for Guide Dogs for the Blind decided to participate in the work directly.
Around 60 experts from across Europe (Belgium, the Netherlands, France, England, Ireland, Italy, Slovenia, Turkey, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Romania, Finland, Norway, Sweden, etc.) are involved in the standardization work of CEN/TC 452. As mentioned earlier, Katharina Eberle is the sole Swiss representative. Some countries field large delegations that include not only experts from the assistance dog sector, but also employees from national government departments.
Worth the effort
The greatest challenge facing this international project is definitely balancing the interests of small and big training schools, as well as those of persons with self-trained assistance dogs. In addition, not all the participants are used to collaborating in major projects.
Katharina Eberle does not simply regard the standardization work as an additional task to her day job. She especially values the international network. This is why she enjoys working on the creation of the new standard, and is convinced that she benefits from this personally as well as professionally: «The close collaboration with other experts grants us insights into the work of others, which helps us to learn. This provides me with peers at my own level for me to talk to.»
Katharina Eberle with Arkin
Katharina Eberle, Head of Training, with Arkin, a trainee guide dog for the blind, at the offices in Allschwil.
Experts meeting in Zagreb
The Swiss expert on assistance dogs is travelling to Zagreb, where the European expert meeting is taking place. The experts meet twice a year in various European cities in order to work and discuss matters face to face. Along with organising the trip, there are countless preparations to be made.
At Zurich Airport
Katharina Eberle is looking forward to the international dialogue. Her work as an expert provides her access to a global network, which is also extremely valuable to her for other projects.
Last preparations during the flight
During the flight across the Alps, she has time to study the programme and the topics on the agenda once more.
Experts at work
The series of «Assistance dogs» standards is intended to create internationally uniform regulations concerning the training, deployment and access rights of assistance dogs and people with assistance dogs. Are assistance dogs allowed in to a major event? What sort of training does an assistance dog have to undergo? Who is allowed to train them? What kind of dog truly qualifies as an assistance dog?
Maintain the overview
Numerous papers have already been written and distributed in preparation for the meeting – it is important to maintain an overview.
Swiss know-how flows into committee
As an expert, Katharina Eberle brings Swiss know-how to bear within the meeting in Zagreb, and ensures that the interests of both large and small Swiss organizations are represented.
Creative note-taking during the discussions – Katharina Eberle likes to summarize her ideas also with illustrations.
Experts among themselves
Katharina Eberle with her colleagues from Germany.
The assistance dogs belong in this meeting
Although they don’t get personally involved and don’t always keep their mind on the job, the assistance dogs of those experts directly affected by this topic definitely belong in this meeting.
Participants with four paws
«Pumba», the assistance dog of an expert from the Netherlands, taking her ease on the floor. Does she know that all this discussion is also about her?
Treats for the dogs
Dogs love treats, as the experts also well know!
Brief stroll through Zagreb
Taking place over five days, the meeting is primarily held in the seminar room provided by HZN, the Croatian standardization association. Thankfully, there is still time for a brief stroll through rainy Zagreb.