Newcastle office celebrates | Guide Dogs NSW/ACT

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09 November, 2015

Newcastle office celebrates

A person walking with a Guide Dog, pictured from waist down

Twenty-five years of service

Guide Dogs NSW/ACT's Newcastle branch is celebrating 25 years of assisting people who are blind or vision impaired to move around their environment safely and independently.

A team of dedicated instructors have offered clients free programs using a range of mobility aids, Guide Dogs and electronic devices in their home, community or work environment in the Newcastle, Hunter and Central Coast regions, for a quarter of a century.

To mark the milestone Guide Dogs NSW/ACT Regional Manager, Belinda Carroll said the Newcastle office will be hosting a barbecue lunch for clients and invited guests with a special appearance from 'Gulliver', the world's biggest Guide Dog, who stands at 4.3 metres tall, weighs 690 kilograms and is made from fiberglass.

"We are proud to provide services to people across the region from Forster in the north to Umina in the south and Merriwa in the west," she said.

"Over the past 25 years, Guide Dogs has not only assisted people with impaired vison, but also advocated on their behalf to ensure our towns are accessible and easy places in which to live and work," Ms Carroll said. "In addition our Community Education programs help organisations and the public understand the consequences of vision loss and how to assist a person with impaired vision."

Lake Macquarie resident, Ian Waller who was one of the first clients in Newcastle will be a guest at the anniversary event with his Guide Dog, Banjo.

Before the office opened, Mr Waller who has Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) travelled to Melbourne to access services. "It was fantastic when Guide Dogs came to Newcastle as they offered to provide training in my own home. It was much more relaxing and meant I learnt how to move around in my own environment," he said.

Mr Waller received his first Guide Dog, Anna, in 1983 and has since had three more. Between each Guide Dog he has used a long cane and also received training in how to use a mini-guide, a device that uses ultrasound to detect objects.

However, he said a Guide Dog was the best fit for him. "When I was using a cane I found it so frustrating, but then I moved to a Guide Dog and the whole world opened up for me," Mr Waller said.

He has also made a lot of friends through Guide Dogs and is involved in social activities run by the organisation including walking and lawn bowls groups. Recently Mr Waller won a lawn bowling competition, after only taking up the sport two years ago.

"I would like to congratulate the Newcastle office on reaching the 25 year milestone. I have met so many great staff from the office who I now call friends," Mr Waller said.

Ms Carroll said with the demand for Guide Dogs' services increasing due to growing numbers of people having trouble getting around due to vision loss, the organisation is incredibly grateful for the support it receives from the Hunter, Newcastle and Central Coast communities.

"As we receive less than 2 per cent of our funding needs from the government, we rely on the public's generosity to fund the more than $35,000 it costs to breed and train each dog, along with our other services," she said.

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