Bimberi Youth Justice Centre inspired by vision loss story | Guide Dogs NSW/ACT

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25 May, 2016

Bimberi Youth Justice Centre inspired by vision loss story

Guide Dogs NSW/ACT Public Relations Speaker, Jo Weir, with her Guide Dog, Wiley

Jo's motivational message

Overcoming the challenges of losing her sight, both physically and mentally, was the theme of Guide Dogs NSW/ACT Public Relations Speaker, Jo Weir's motivational message when she addressed a group of young people at the Bimberi Youth Justice Centre.

Jo, who is vision impaired and uses Guide Dog, Wiley, to get around safely and independently, said the experience of speaking to the youth had left an impression on her.

Speaking to schools, clubs and other groups about her personal journey with vision loss, how she manages life with a Guide Dog and the different ways Guide Dogs NSW/ACT can assist those with vision loss, is something she is well-versed on, but this talk was a little bit different.

"As always I spoke about my personal story and how Wiley has opened many doors for me, but my main message was about how I dealt with overcoming the challenges in front of me when I began to lose my sight," Jo said.

In her late teens, Jo was faced with the knowledge that her vision would not improve when a number of operations and procedures failed to save her sight.

"I could have given up on life but instead I reached out to those around me for support and encouragement," she told the participants.

The avid bush walker admits there was a time when she was afraid to leave the house and even contemplated resigning from her job, but receiving her first Guide Dog, Khan, changed her life for the better.

Along with guiding her to wherever she needs to go, Jo also spoke to the group about how her current Guide Dog, Wiley, who cost $35,000 to breed, raise and train, keeps her grounded and the trusting bond and companionship the pair share.

"I explained that when I am overwhelmed with anxiety I can act impulsively and without thinking. This can put me in a place where I make poor or unsafe choices," she said.

"Wiley can sense my anxiety. He will put his head in my lap or touch my fingers with his nose. Taking the time to talk to him and pat his beautiful soft ears provides me the opportunity to make considered and safer decisions."

Jo also demonstrated the other tools she uses to lead an active lifestyle and navigate her environment which she received training from Guide Dogs NSW/ACT on how to use, including the long cane, Mini-Guide and talking GPS.

"I wanted to illustrate that you can overcome challenges and even under these trying circumstances you can lead an interesting and fulfilling life," she said.

Participants undertaking the blindfold challenge at the Bimberi Youth Justice Detention Centre, picture taken from waist down

The young people then took part in a blindfold challenge exercise overseen by an experienced Orientation and Mobility Specialist where they were tasked with communicating with one another to move from one part of the facility to another.

Finally, Jo took Wiley's harness off so the participants could give the life-changing dog a pat. "Everyone was keen to meet Wiley who was very happy to accept their pats and attention. I was told everyone was smiling, that made me smile," she said.

"At the end of the day, everyone came up and shook my hand and said thank-you. The staff told me this was a spontaneous gesture and showed they enjoyed our visit," Jo said.

"I left feeling really happy, hoping my words had made a difference."

The young people also presented Jo with a beautiful wooden box as a gift.

Bimberi Youth Justice Centre Education Transition Officer, Anthony Wells said Jo's talk was a way to engage the youth and broaden their understanding of people in the community.

"It also married nicely with our program on social and emotional learning in which we have been focusing on overcoming adversity and mindful listening," he said.

Along with speaking to community groups and schools in the ACT, Jo also presents training seminars for new bus and taxi drivers and other service sectors. She recently trained staff at the National Museum of Australia and Queanbeyan Court House.

Her talks, like all services provided by Guide Dogs NSW/ACT are provided at no cost.

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