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21 October, 2015

Occupational Therapist becomes Guide Dogs Instructor

Orientation and Mobility Instructor Emma Bartley walks with her client, Charlotte

A rewarding career

Emma Bartley is the newest member of Guide Dogs NSW/ACT's 80-strong team of Orientation & Mobility Instructors.

The 25 year-old's new job is to assess, plan for, and train people who are blind or impaired on a one-to-one basis to develop clients' ability and confidence to move around different environments safely and independently.

Orientation and Mobility programs can take place anywhere a person needs to travel to on a regular basis such as a new shopping centre, catching public transport, travelling to recreation activities, work or school.

"I work with clients who've had a vision impairment since birth and others who have lost their vision later in life. I can be working with babies as young as two months old right through to people aged 100," she said.

"Depending on where clients are in their life span, we can provide assistance in different ways. For children it's all about moving, exploring and facilitating play. As they get older, we look at concept development, participating in school, social development and activities like sports and other recreation.

"With young adults, the focus may be on further developing relationships, social skills, travelling to university and for adults goals may include travelling to work using public transport, picking up the kids from school, visiting family, travelling to the shops or any other goals identified by the individual."

There is no such thing as a typical client or a typical day. Much of the role is spent out in the field. The only time Emma spends at her desk is for documentation and reporting - about half a day per week.

"I am more than happy to go to work each day. The best part about my job is the clients. The people I meet and the team I work with are fantastic," Emma said.

"Each client I meet and work with, come from very different personal and professional backgrounds. They are remarkable people and an inspiration to me. Every single client is very determined to achieve their goals, regardless of the challenges they face. It is very motivating and rewarding."

The job can also be unpredictable. "You can't control all aspects of the environment we live in so you need to be able to adapt and think quickly. I need to give people the skills to deal with a changing landscape," Emma said.

"When a client achieves something that they have been working towards such as getting from home to work by themselves there is a sense of accomplishment. To know that I have made a difference, that's all the motivation I need."

In a past life, Emma was an Occupational Therapist or 'OT'. She completed a Bachelor of Occupational Therapy with Honours, and also undertook a post graduate certificate in disability studies. She worked as an OT in mental health rehab and also in private paediatrics. Whilst these areas were completely different Emma was keen to broaden her skills and works across many areas.

So what made Emma decide to change career direction and work for Guide Dogs?

"Everyone asks me why I decided to leave OT especially because I enjoyed all the aspects of the job, but the unique selling point for me was that at Guide Dogs I could combine all of these areas of interest into one role," she said.

"In OT, you either work in mental health or paediatrics or rehab whereas here at Guide Dogs I get to work with clients with all of those different conditions so it's really wide and varied, so that was the attraction for me with the Orientation & Mobility Instructor role."

To become an Orientation & Mobility Instructor, interested applicants must apply for sponsorship with Guide Dogs NSW/ACT and undertake a Master of Special Education (Sensory Disability) through the RIDBC Renwick Centre in Sydney, a program administered by the Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children and affiliated with the University of Newcastle.

Selected candidates for sponsorship must successfully complete the first semester of the Master degree program full-time, and with all other employment criteria met, this may lead to an offer of full-time employment as an Orientation & Mobility Instructor with Guide Dogs NSW/ACT. Subsequent semesters of the Master program can be completed part-time. Guide Dogs NSW/ACT meets all the fees for sponsored students.

Guide Dogs NSW/ACT is currently calling for applications for 2016 Master Degree Sponsorship. For more information, or to apply, visit the employment section of