Student - August 26, 2010

'Harm is a dog, not a Tom Tom'

Nanne Vonk has started to attend studies in Animal Sciences in Wageningen. Wherever she goes, her guide dog Harm is sure to follow, because Nanne is almost entirely blind.

Nanne Vonk: 'I don't use my eyes anymore.'
Nanne and Harm form a perfect match. Nanne is adventurous and Harm likes to do new things. 'He has quite a tough character and doesn't get nervous easily.'
Harm is a cross between a Labrador and a Golden Retriever and is almost five years old. Yet, he still surprises Nanne sometimes. Like when they went to visit Nanne's great aunt recently. 'Harm had been there once, when he was with me for just a week. Yet, he knew exactly how to get there and even walked up to the door of my great aunt's semi-detached home. It was extraordinary.'
Nanne has to memorize quite a number of routes herself in order to tell Harm where to go. 'It's a dog, not a TomTom. People forget this at times. It's like on a ship. I'm the captain; he's the helmsman.' Nanne has already mastered the major routes in Wageningen: from her room to the bus, the supermarket and the water meadows. She has her tandem bicycle in Wageningen too. 'I still have to find someone to sit in front, but most people would agree to that.'
Verbally
Nanne has always attended normal education. She gets twice as much time for her final examinations. Her Mathematics B1 examination lasted six hours and was taken verbally. 'I lost concentration towards the end', she says. But she got a 7. When she was younger, Nanne did as much as possible with what little sight she had left. But at about age fifteen, she fell sick and her sight deteriorated. She then learnt to work with speech software and she got Harm. 'I used to have headaches often and my neck was completely stiff from peering and squinting. I don't use my eyes anymore now. I can't even read 15-centimeter big letters on advertisement boards. On the streets, I can still see building contours, though, depending on the amount of light.'
Glance
For her study, Nanne prints out drawings and graphics in relief with a braille printer. She has become completely at home in reading with speech software. She even speeds up the voice a little. 'I can gain some time in this way. Because I take longer for everything. Searching for material, for example, can't be done at a glance.'
Nanne has a room with attached bathroom and kitchen in a student flat at the Marijkeweg. In February, she followed a 'trial study' in Utrecht, and stayed there for three days in a student lodging. 'But I couldn't see if the bathroom was clean or not. I didn't always manage to find my own things. So I won't know, for example, if I had the right toothbrush.'
Guide dog
There is a big chance that you could come across Nanne and her dog Harm in Wageningen. If Harm has his gear on, he is at work. He's not to be distracted then. That means: no patting or touching. When Harm is out of his gear, he can be stroked, if his lady boss allows that. Nanne: 'It's a sociable dog and likes to have attention.'

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