A Guide Dogs NSW/ACT school holiday program aimed at giving children with vision impairment the skills to safely catch public transport had youngsters getting on-board Sydney trains this month.
The Sydney Kids program for children aged between 6 and 11 aims to teach skills and strategies to increase confidence so participants can eventually be independent travellers.
Guide Dogs NSW/ACT supports children with vision impairment and their families by providing a wide range of free services to assist a child with vision impairment to participate freely in everyday activities at school, at home and in the local community.
The program took place over two days from July 9. On the first day the nine children explored a stationary train at Central Station with orientation and mobility instructors from Guide Dogs NSW/ACT.
“We taught the children how to get on and off different trains using the hand rails and checking the gap between the platform and the train. They also learnt how to move safely around the carriage, where to sit so they can access the exits and how to make contact with train staff if they need to”, said Guide Dogs NSW/ACT Orientation and Mobility Instructor, Jennifer Jedovnicky.
“The children were given the opportunity to explore the layout of a variety of trains. They spent time looking at some of the features of the train including: seating, emergency buttons and where the guards are situated,” she said.
“It was an opportunity for them to explore the surroundings of train without it actually leaving the station.”
Guide Dogs NSW/ACT client Zara, 9, said she had a great time on the trains. “We learnt about station help points on the train and how you use them to talk to the driver,” she said.
The participants also spoke to Sydney Trains staff members, who have undertaken Disability Awareness Training with Guide Dogs NSW/ACT, about how they can assist people with vision impairment.
The following day, the group used their new skills to catch a train and bus to Featherdale Wildlife Park, where they had fun interacting with animals such as koalas.
Ms Jedovnicky said although the children would probably not be catching trains by themselves immediately, the program prepared them for the future. “It’s all about giving them independence and having the skills and confidence to catch public transport is a component of this,” she said.
“The school holiday program also gives the children the opportunity to socialise and share experiences about having low vision and what works best for them.”
While training Guide Dogs is an important part of Guide Dogs NSW/ACT work, the most common program is showing people with impaired vision how to safely move through different environments, using a range of mobility aids and electronic devices.
Some 447 young people received Guide Dogs’ services in the 2013/14 financial year. It is estimated that four out of every 10,000 children born in Australia will be diagnosed with severe vision impairment or blindness by their first birthday.
For more information about Guide Dogs NSW/ACT’s free, local services visit www.guidedogs.com.au