Orientation and Mobility Specialist Emma Bartley with a client undertaking a cane training at a bus stop

Working together

With about 300,000 people in Australia living with uncorrectable vision loss, Guide Dogs NSW/ACT Orientation and Mobility Specialists work alongside Occupational Therapists to ensure those impacted by impaired vision can maintain their independence.

Emma Bartley, an Occupational Therapist who now works as a Guide Dogs Orientation and Mobility Specialist after undertaking a Master of Special Education (Sensory Disability), said vision impairment can affect all aspects of an individual’s daily life.

She said it was therefore essential for Occupational Therapists to screen for vision loss and refer their clients to a specialist vision service provider like Guide Dogs.

“Early detection and intervention of vision impairment can significantly impact the outcomes of low vision rehabilitation,” Ms Bartley said.

“Low vision often results in a loss of confidence, significantly increasing the risk of falls and depression, so it is important individuals seek support as early as possible”

Orientation and Mobility Specialists help individuals move safely, efficiently and with confidence in a variety of environments including home, work and community.

The free service tailors programs to suit each individual’s lifestyle needs, working hand-in-hand with programs being delivered by Occupational Therapists.

Orientation and Mobility Specialists provide training on the use of a range of mobility aids such as the long cane and electronic devices such as GPS.

The amount of people with vision loss who present before an Occupational Therapist will rise over the next 15 years. Currently there are about 1 million Australians over the age of 50 with some evidence of macular degeneration.

This is expected to increase to 1.7 million by 2030, in the absence of effective prevention and treatment measures.

Further, those impacted by cataracts represent 37 per cent of the Australians with uncorrectable vision loss over the age of 40. The prevalence of vision loss trebles with each decade over this age.

Ms Bartley said her main advice for Occupational Therapists when working with a person who is vision impaired is the use of effective communication.

“Vision plays a vital role in providing information to a person about the world around them. Therefore someone experiencing vision loss is often trying to gather this information by alternate means,” she said.

“When offering assistance to a person with impaired vision, the individual should first introduce themselves and ask if the person requires assistance and how they can best be assisted or supported.”

She said at this point the person may ask for information about their surroundings or request to be guided to a particular area.

Ms Bartley said regardless of the type of support provided it was essential that those working with a person with impaired vision have good listening skills.

“They should use clear and concise language, avoid references such as ‘over there’ or ‘a bit further’, refrain from using non-verbal cues and gestures and address the person directly and never through a third person,” she said.

“It is also important to refer those who need support onto a specialist service provider like Guide Dogs as soon as possible. A referral can be made at any time with a client’s consent.”

Guide Dogs NSW/ACT is holding a workshop for Occupational Therapists wanting to know more about working with people who are vision impaired at its Chatswood offices on March 4 from 10am-2.30pm. Spots in the workshop, which will be co-facilitated by Ms Bartley, are filling up fast.

Ms Bartley said there are many correlations between the two professions. “Occupational Therapy is a profession concerned with promoting health and wellbeing through occupation. Similarly, Orientation and Mobility is a profession concerned with promoting independence through effective orientation and mobility,” she said.

“That is, an individual feeling confident in knowing where they are, where they are going and how they are going to get there in a safe efficient and confident manner.”

“Within both roles, I have been able to assist individuals reach their goals regardless of impairment experienced, which is very rewarding,” Ms Bartley said.

Last year, Guide Dogs NSW/ACT completed 3,774 orientation and mobility programs.

To find out more about Guide Dogs NSW/ACT visit www.guidedogs.com.au or to refer a client phone 1800 484 333.