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20 July, 2016

Aquarium mobility day

Mobility day participants pose for a photo in front of an underwater themed backdrop

Children with vision impairment explore Sydney Aquarium

A Guide Dogs NSW/ACT school holiday program aimed at giving children with vision impairment the skills to travel safely and independently had youngsters navigating their way to Sydney Aquarium last week.

The Sydney Kids program for primary school aged children aims to teach orientation and mobility skills and strategies to increase confidence so participants can eventually be independent travellers.

Guide Dogs NSW/ACT Orientation and Mobility Specialist, Sarah Farrugia-Martin said the trip to the Aquarium followed a day of learning safe train travel skills for the young participants.

"Before travelling to the Aquarium, the children spent the previous day exploring a variety of stationary trains at Central Station," Sarah said.

"This gave them the opportunity to learn skills in a fun, supervised and encouraging environment, without the crowds or time pressures of real-life train travel."

"Most of these children will not be able to drive a car, so they will have to rely on public transport. Our aim is to prepare them for independent travel in the future."

Six young clients stand in front of the aquarium tank, looking out at the fish

After arriving at the Aquarium, the children continued to build on their mobility skills as they explored the underwater world.

"The Aquarium is a dynamic and dark environment so it provides a good challenge for the children, especially for those who experience night blindness," Sarah said.

"Learning how to navigate an unfamiliar environment like this helps children with vision impairment build self-confidence, so that they can go on excursions independently in the future."

While at the Aquarium, the children had the opportunity to explore sea life through a tactile experience at the 'Discovery Rockpool.' Here they felt the different shapes, sizes and textures of sea stars, hermit crabs, clams and other marine animals.

A mobility day participant experiences what a crab feels like in the discovery rock pool

Sarah said along with being a great learning experience, Guide Dogs school holiday programs also allow young participants to meet other children with vision loss.

"This program gives the children the opportunity to socialise and share experiences about having low vision and what works best for them," she said.

While training Guide Dogs is an important part of Guide Dogs NSW/ACT work, the most common program is showing people with impaired vision how to safely move through different environments, using a range of mobility aids and electronic devices.

Last year, Guide Dogs NSW/ACT assisted 448 children with vision loss and the organisation, which receives less than 2 per cent of its funding needs from the government, continues to rely on the support of the community to fund its free services.

Every day 28 Australians are diagnosed with uncorrectable vision loss, including nine who become blind.