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07 July, 2016

Meet Aunty Mary during NAIDOC Week

Aunty Mary walking on a pedestrian crossing with Orientation and Mobility Specialist, Gavin

Elder shares her story at Guide Dog information stands

Aboriginal Elder, Aunty Mary Hooker, will share her vision loss story and encourage other Indigenous people to take care of their health, at the Guide Dogs NSW/ACT information stands in Coffs Harbour, Grafton and Nambucca Heads during NAIDOC Week.

Aunty Mary, who is a Bundjalung woman, lost her sight to diabetes, and through the free orientation and mobility services offered by Guide Dogs she has regained her independence.

She is now part of a special Guide Dogs NSW/ACT initiative called the Aunty Mary Program.

"I want to encourage more Aboriginal people to listen to their doctor or nurse regarding their diabetes or other health issues, because if they don't listen they could end up like me," Aunty Mary said. "I want people to see first-hand the result of not looking after yourself and understand that eating well and drinking in moderation is important."

Aunty Mary will be accompanied in Coffs Harbour by 'Gulliver', the world's biggest Guide Dog, who will wear a giant 5.5 metre scarf in the colours of the Aboriginal flag, which she spent many hours making.

As a keen knitter and painter, she will also speak to those who may be experiencing vision loss. "I want people to see how I am still productive despite my vision loss."

"Guide Dogs came to my home to teach me cane training. They taught me how to get to the shops, cross the road safely and move around my community on my own. I wouldn't have gained my confidence without the free training and support from Guide Dogs NSW/ACT. I now have a cane in Aboriginal colours - it makes me feel proud."

Aunty Mary having her eyes tested.

The statistics

Guide Dogs NSW/ACT Regional Manager, Jeremy Hill said while blindness was a big issue for Aboriginal people, the majority of cases were avoidable.

"Aboriginal adults are six times more likely to be blind than other Australians, yet 94 per cent of vision loss in Indigenous Australians is preventable or treatable ," Mr Hill said.

Thirty-seven per cent of Indigenous adults have diabetes in Australia and 13 per cent have already lost vision .

"We're hoping our information stand will help to reduce these worrying statistics by providing Aboriginal people with eye health advice, and practical solutions if they are having trouble getting around due to vision loss."

Mr Hill encouraged anyone who is experiencing vision loss, or their relatives, to speak to the Orientation and Mobility Specialists from Guide Dogs.

"We're hoping people will seek our assistance sooner rather than later," he said. "As we know that low vision increases the risks of falls, accidents and depression, we can assist people to stay safe."

NAIDOC Week events

It will be easy to find the Guide Dogs team with Gulliver, a fibreglass Guide Dog standing at 4.3 metres tall and weighing in at 690 kilograms at:

  • 'Who Ya Gunna Call Forum' in Coffs Harbour on July 6
  • NAIDOC Family Fun Day in Grafton on July 7
  • NAIDOC Family Fun Day in Nambucca Heads on July 8.

Find out more about the Aunty Mary Program.