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09 November, 2017

Aussies fearful of sight loss yet blind to the reality

Crowd in a busy street

Eye sight is the #1 thing Australians are afraid to lose (49%) over their memories (37%) and even a limb (6%), according to new research from Guide Dogs NSW / ACT, the leading provider of Guide Dogs and orientation and mobility services in the region.

The data revealed over two-thirds (69%) of Australians are most fearful of losing their ability to live independently and having to rely on others to help them if they went blind, with another two-thirds (66%) concerned they may never see the face of family and friends again. Australians also rated blindness (19%) in the top three potential impacts to their quality-of-life, on par with cancer (22%) and paralysis (21%).

Despite recognising the frightening consequences of sight loss, and nearly a quarter (24%) of respondents knowing someone who lost their independence to sight loss, only half (50%) of Australians have had their eyes checked in the last 12 months. Over half (61%) of Australians even prioritised annual car servicing over a life-changing eye check-up.

Over a third (39%) also assume the main support for a person who has lost their sight is a human caregiver, family member or friend. Instead, many people with vision impairment rely on their Guide Dogs as the main support for navigating daily life.

According to the CEO of Guide Dogs NSW /ACT, Dale Cleaver, the research highlighted that nearly a third (30%) of respondents thought that everyone in need of a Guide Dog received one, yet the reality was as many as 3 in 4 Australians who needed a Guide Dog did not have one, because of insufficient funding to breed and train these very special dogs.

“The number of people with vision impairment in NSW/ACT alone is estimated to be 122,000, and we anticipate around 50,000 people with sight loss want or need a service from us,” Mr Cleaver said.

“At the moment, we are unable to help about 75% of the people who desperately need a Guide Dog because we don’t have enough funding to undertake the complex breeding, training and matching process for more puppies and dogs. Guide Dogs NSW/ACT receives less than 3 per cent funding from government and we are very grateful for the continued generosity of the community.

“It takes more than $35,000 to breed, raise and train a Guide Dog and we also continue to provide ongoing support for our clients throughout the life of their Guide Dog.

“Our goal is to make sure every person that needs a Guide Dog has one, and we need your help to ensure that when someone loses their sight, they do not lose their freedom and independence as well.”

The consumer survey of over 1,000 Australians showed that millennials (25 – 34 year-olds) are the worst offenders when it comes to caring for their eyes, with less than a third (30%) visiting an optometrist in the last year. This is despite eye experts stressing vision loss can occur at any age, and recommending comprehensive eye examinations at regular intervals starting from childhood.i

NSW, ACT and Tasmanian residents also fall behind the rest of Australians when it comes to eye health checks, with less than half (42%) on average visiting an optometrist in the last year. Yet people in NSW in particular were most likely of any state to personally know someone with sight loss (29%).

“While the idea of going blind is scary for most, you never think it could happen to you until it does,” explains Guide Dog NSW / ACT client Liz Wheeler, who lives with a degenerative eye condition.

“The biggest impact for me and I’m sure other Australians with vision impairment was losing my ability to live and move independently. The day I received my Guide Dog Poppi changed my life. She gave me back my independence, safety and freedom. My heart breaks for people with sight loss who don’t have a Guide Dog yet clearly need one, because Poppi really moves as one with me every day.”

If you or someone you know is affected by vision loss, please contact us to request for our services.

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Every year, over 10,000 Australians are diagnosed with un-correctable vision loss. Of those, over 3,000 will become blind. Yet only 1 in 4 people who need a Guide Dog actually has one.

You can change the lives of people like Liz today, by simply donating to Guide Dogs NSW / ACT.

Donate today

There are a number of easy ways to get involved with Guide Dogs NSW / ACT as well, please visit our Get involved page.

ABOUT THE RESEARCH

Guide Dogs NSW / ACT commissioned YouGov to conduct an online survey in October 2017. The research was a nationally representative sample of 1,089 Australian adult respondents (18+) to determine Australians’ perception, understanding and knowledge of vision impairment.

Other key points from the research:

Despite the impact of sight loss considered common knowledge among Australians, misconception about the needs and daily barriers faced by Australians with vision impairment still run rampant:

  • Almost 7 in 10 Australians (68%) define a person who is blind as someone who cannot see at all, yet many people with vision impairment can still see things like light and shadows, or have a limited range of vision.
  • Another near-third (31%) of Australians fall for the myth that people who are blind have superior hearing, and
  • Nearly half (46%) think it’s okay to pat a Guide Dog while they’re working or on duty.
  • While vision impairment can happen to anyone, nearly two-thirds (64%) of Australians attribute sight loss to degenerative diseases such as Glaucoma, Macular Degeneration, and cataracts. In reality, sight loss can result from a number of issues as small as poor diet and smoking to direct sunlight.
  • Less than half of Australians (43%) understand factors like family history, age or an eye infection from something like infected contact lenses or inflammation can cause sight loss.