Client Stories and Profiles
Guide Dogs Tasmania specialists work across the state with people of all ages, experiences and requirements. Here, we present three client profiles that demonstrate our broad range of services and how, when we work together with Tasmanians who are living with blindness or a vision impairment, we can develop skills, optimise choices and create possibilities.
Amber – 14 Years Old
Amber likes school – most of the time, except for doing homework. She loves playing with her friends, watching movies and one day hopes to work with animals. She has a pet dog at home and loves being responsible for looking after him. Amber’s mum thought that learning to care for a pet dog would be good practice for Amber in case one day she got a Guide Dog.
Amber is legally blind; she has difficulty recognising her friends in the playground unless they are really close or they call out to her. She’ll never be able to drive a car, she gets nervous in busy, unfamiliar places and sticks close to her mum.
“That’s why I use a cane”, says Amber, “It lets other people know that I can’t see very well and they move out of my way. “
“Mum got upset a couple of years ago when a lady got angry with me for bumping into her in the shops. The lady didn’t realise I couldn’t see her”. Amber’s mum called Guide Dogs Tasmania (GDT) and Amber started working with an Orientation and Mobility Instructor who taught her how to use a cane. “Other kids used to laugh at me when I tripped over stuff,” says Amber. “It was a bit weird using a cane at school for the first time, but now it’s cool because it tells me where the steps and bumps are so I don’t trip over. My O&M Instructor came to my school and did some activities with my class to teach them about vision impairment, how to use a cane and we played games with a ball with a bell in it.”
Amber’s mum was very nervous about letting Amber go out with friends to the shops or movies or cross roads on her own: “I wasn’t sure if she’d know what to do if she got lost, but I didn’t want her to miss out on activities with her peers and feel left behind”. Amber’s O&M Instructor spent several sessions orientating her to her local shopping centre so she could move around there safely, without getting lost. They made her a tactile map of the area with Braille labels and incorporated fun scavenger hunts so she could practice following directions to find locations within the shopping center.
Amber also worked with her O&M Instructor on road crossing skills; learning to understand the layout of roads, how to determine the safer places to cross and how to judge when safe to cross by listening to the traffic noises. “Now I can go out with my friends without mum stressing,” says Amber, “just because I’m vision impaired doesn’t mean I need someone to hold my hand all the time; I’m way too old for that now”.
Until Amber attended a GDT school holiday program, she’d never met anyone else who was vision impaired. “It was great meeting other kids who understood the annoying things about being vision impaired. I also didn’t feel like I had to compete just to keep up with them. Sometimes with my sighted friends I have to work so much harder just to do ordinary things. It takes me longer to do school work and learn my way around and by the time I get home from school, I’m exhausted!”
Through GDT, Amber has been able to access a braille watch and other aids to help her with daily tasks. Raised markers were placed on the buttons of the oven and Amber has scales that talk to her. “There’s no excuse for her not to learn to cook at home just like other kids her age” says Amber’s mum.
GDT has helped Amber learn skills alongside her peers; she might do them a bit differently, using adaptive aids and strategies but her vision impairment is not going to prevent her from gaining independence and confidence. And Amber may even have a Guide Dog one day.
Martin – 35 Years Old
When Martin’s boss suggested a work dinner at an unfamiliar restaurant, Martin was nervous. He hadn’t talked much about his vision impairment at work. Everyone knew he couldn’t see well and knew he bumped into things at times because he didn’t have any peripheral vision, but they didn’t realise how much worse his vision was at night.
“I’m hopeless in winter, I don’t go out anywhere in the evenings because it gets dark so early and there’s no way I can go somewhere new without help. My wife picks me up from work because I don’t even like catching the bus at 5 o’clock.”
Martin had increasing difficulty working on the computer and simple things like trying to find the mouse pointer became problematic. “I didn’t want to be a burden at work by requesting extra time or special equipment, but when my vision got worse and started impacting on my work efficiency and productivity, I realised the most professional thing to do was to ask for help”.
A Low Vision specialist from GDT visited Martin at work and provided some simple and subtle adaptive technology strategies like enlarging the mouse pointer on his computer, installing a task lamp on his desk and recommending contrasting edges on steps. They also provided Martin with orientation to the restaurant where his work function was going to be held. This allowed Martin to learn the layout of the place during the day, in better light, so he was more confident to go there in the evening.
Martin was also provided with information about computer software that could allow him to read long documents with a screen reader, instead of having to strain his eyes for long periods. “My colleagues just think I’m wearing headphones at my desk because I’m listening to my iPod, but I’m actually listening to the minutes of the staff meeting.”
“I also use the talking functions on my iPhone and listen to talking books on the way home on the bus”.
With the additional support and advice from GDT, Martin has also felt more confident to talk with colleagues about his vision impairment.
Marjorie – Retired
Marjorie assumed that her retirement years would be busy and active, until she was diagnosed with Macular Degeneration. “Suddenly my world closed in and the simplest of tasks were such an effort”.
Her plans to travel and spend more time with her grandchildren interstate were put on hold and she felt she was losing her ability to do all the things she loved doing: reading, Tai Chi, walking and eating out.
“I was horrified when a friend of 40 years told me I’d ignored her in the street. I just don’t recognise people’s faces anymore and I’d lost the confidence to eat out with friends because I’m embarrassed”.
Giving up her driver’s licence was a big shock and having never caught a bus before, the idea was too daunting to attempt alone. Marjorie’s Optometrist referred her to GDT and things slowly began to improve. A low vision specialist from GDT met with her to discuss how her vision loss was impacting on her daily life.
“That was a long conversation,” she said, “there were so many things that I couldn’t do anymore or just didn’t feel safe doing.” Aids such as a talking clock, a talking labeller and a large print calendar were just the start of a program in which Marjorie learned practical strategies for maintaining her independence at home and regaining the confidence to go out again.
An Orientation and Mobility specialist took Marjorie to the bus depot to show her the layout of the buses and how to get on and off. She was assisted with a vision impaired travel pass and shown her local bus routes. “It was so comforting to be accompanied on my first ever bus ride,” she said. “They made me a large print bus timetable and showed me where to go.”
Marjorie now uses a white walking stick and a badge; both of which alert others about her vision loss. When people ask her questions about these aids or her vision, she now feels more confident explaining her eye condition as it’s been explained more clearly to her.
“The worst thing was not being able to read,” Marjorie reflected. So she was assessed for suitable magnification aids to help with reading. She also purchased a video magnifier which she uses to read her mail. For books, Marjorie was referred to a talking book library and is now back to reading three books a week.
“I never thought I’d be able to read three books a week again, but now I can even listen to them while I’m cooking or in the bath!”