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14 October, 2016

Childcare blindfold challenge

Jude shows walks through an obstacle course with his cane

Two-year-old Jude learns to explore the world with a cane

Like most young children, Jude Finn, who is vision impaired, is exploring the world around him with boundless energy and curiosity.

Inspired by the confident youngster, who is learning to navigate different environments independently using a long cane, Guide Dogs NSW/ACT were invited to host a blindfold challenge at Jude’s childcare centre to celebrate International White Cane Day.

Jude’s mum, Stacy, first noticed her son was having problems with his vision when he was 16 months old.

“He was bringing everything up close to his face to examine it, so we decided to get his eyes checked,” Stacy said. 

Eye tests discovered Jude has a detached lens in his eye. Eight weeks ago, DNA tests confirmed that this was due to Marfan’s Syndrome; a hereditary disorder of connective tissue that predominantly affects the eyes and heart.

Guide Dogs NSW/ACT Orientation & Mobility Specialist, Haylee Tumanik, who is training Jude to use a cane, said that getting around freely and confidently is just as important to children who have impaired vision as any other child.

Haylee explains how a cane works to the children at Jude's childcare centre

“Learning how to use a cane at a young age allows children with vision impairments to build confidence so that they can move around independently in both familiar and unfamiliar environments,” Haylee said.

“This is important as it gives children the ability to explore on their own and understand the world around them.”

Jude connected with the mobility aid straight away, and in typical toddler fashion has named it ‘Blue’ after the colour of its handle.

“Jude’s vision doesn’t slow him down at all, he runs around like any other toddler, but before receiving a cane he used to fall over a lot,” Stacy said.

“Now he can feel the bumps in the ground and other trip hazards in his way. His cane is his eyes.”

After giving a presentation to Jude’s class explaining how a cane works, Haylee was invited back to the Lidcombe Childcare Centre to host a blindfold challenge to help celebrate International White Cane Day.

Haylee teaches a young child how to walk with a cane while blindfolded

“The blindfold challenge was a great opportunity to put the children in Jude's shoes, so that they can learn to empathise with people with vision loss,” Haylee said.  

A child is never too young to receive assistance from Guide Dogs NSW/ACT’s free orientation and mobility services – over the past year, the organisation has provided specialised services to more than 500 infants, children and teenagers who are blind or vision impaired.

Guide Dogs NSW/ACT’s expert Orientation and Mobility Specialists develop training programs that are tailored to each child's individual needs, age and skill level.

“Our services are provided in the home, at pre-schools and schools, and within the community. Each program grows with the child, starting with pre-cane skills, moving through to cane training, public transport travel, and use of residual vision and other senses,” Haylee said.

Haylee teaches a young child how to walk with a cane while blindfolded

“Instructors work with everyone involved in the child's life to reinforce this training - at home, pre-school, school and in the community.”

Guide Dogs NSW/ACT also provides information and support for families, child-care centres, schools and other agencies.

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