January 9th, 2017
37-year-old Amit Patel is a former doctor who lost his eyesight in 2012 after being diagnosed with keratoconus, a disorder of the eye which results in progressive thinning of the cornea. A resident of London, Amit became reliant on Kika, a guide dog, for dealing with daily activities.
Amit’s new life as a blind man revealed many harsh realities about the world. People were rude to him, called him names, did not spare him a seat in metro trains, and called him out for not walking faster on escalators.
In the midst of all this unfairness was Kika, Amit’s guide dog, who faithfully guided him through London every day.
To document the discrimination he faces everyday, Amit and his normal-sighted wife Seema fixed a camera on Kika. At the end of each day, their experiences are uploaded online to raise awareness about the plight of blind people.
Commuters were filmed not getting up from their seats as he and Kika stood in train carriages; people were recorded ignoring his cries for help in some situations; and people were even caught hitting him and Kika with their umbrellas and bags.
— Kika (@Kika_GuideDog) August 8, 2016
One striking example is people’s reaction to Amit travelling down an escalator. Kika is trained to guide Amit up and down escalators, but even she gets nervous when other commuters hit her or scream at her. Amit can hardly walk quickly on escalators, and other people’s tutting and derogatory comments make things worse. Then there were instances when people hit Kika or pushed her out of the way. Amit says such instances frighten Kika from going on an escalator in the coming days.
— Kika (@Kika_GuideDog) January 8, 2017
Amit told BBC “There are taxi drivers who will see you and won’t stop. You phone the company and they say they didn’t see you, but you look at the footage and see them having looked at you and driving right past.” Then there were the issues he faced in the London Underground. “People assume, because I have a guide dog, I can walk around them but they make us walk near the tracks or I can say to Kika ‘find me a seat’ and I’ll put my hand down on one and someone will sit on it and refuse to get up.”
While the negative reactions Amit and Kika are demeaning, Amit still travels around London nearly every day. Kika has even given him ample confidence to take his four-month-old son out with him. He says “It still fills me with dread leaving the house, because I have no control and am completely reliant on Kika, but we’re out all of the time – any excuse.”
Amit now supports people who have lost their sight unexpectedly and gives talks to community organisations using the camera footage to demonstrate what Kika sees.