Disability meets dog. The enactment of visual disability at the first guide dog schools (1916-1939)
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Guide dogs have been part of human history for a long time, but only were trained systematically from 1916 onwards as a result of the many German soldiers that were blinded during the First World War. The years after the war were a key period for the development of mobility aids, including guide dogs and the white mobility cane. In guide dog training, issues of dependency, agency and materiality come together that play a role in both disability and animal history, making it productive to combine both fields. This thesis uses praxiography to answer the question how visual disability was enacted in the specific practices of guide dog training from 1916 until 1939 in the guide dog schools of the Deutscher Verein für Sanitätshunde, the Verein für deutsche Schäferhunde, L’Oeil qui Voit, the Nederlands Geleidehonden Fonds and the Institut für Umweltforschung. The historical context is taken into account, but the focus of my research are the interactions that took place ‘on the ground’ between the trainer, visually impaired person and dog. By studying practices, I want to avoid the essentialism of the medical model of disability, but also include the materiality that is often lost in social constructivist approaches. The attribution of agency over the three main actors I study, and therefore how visual disability was enacted, shifted over the course of the interbellum. From a passive presence, the visually impaired person became an active participant of guide dog training. Visual disability continued to be a problem, but it became an obstacle to overcome instead of a fact of life to work around.