Mobility training for people with visual impairments
Orientation and mobility training is of crucial importance to many people with vision impairments. Mobility training helps to develop skills required to move around safely in the environment. Some people with vision impairments have enough residual vision to move around independently. Other people may require a mobility aid such as a long cane which will help the person to find a safe way in front of them. Training may involve advising a person with low vision on how to use their residual vision to move around more safely. It may also involve more in-depth training in how to use a mobility aid such as a white cane or a guide dog.
Types of mobility aids are described below. Two organisations in Ireland provide orientation and mobility training for people with vision impairments the National Council for the Blind in Ireland and Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind.
White canes and walking sticks
There are three different types of white canes and also a white walking stick available, but only two of the white canes are classed as mobility aids:
- A white walking stick provides physical support for a person and indicates that the individual has sight loss. It is not a mobility aid.
- The symbol cane is used to indicate that a person holding it has impaired vision and may need assistance. It is not a mobility aid and does not provide physical support.
- The long cane is a mobility device which is used by sweeping the cane in an arc from side to side along the ground beyond the width of their body. This technique locates potential hazards and changes in the texture and level on the ground. Use of the long cane requires training.
- The guide cane is a mobility aid with more limited use than a long cane and, therefore, requires less training. It can be used in a diagonal position across the lower part of the body for protection or using a scanning technique to detect kerbs and steps. It does not provide physical support.
In Ireland only certain breeds of dogs can become guide dogs. The main breeds are labradors and golden retrievers, and crosses of these breeds. Dogs that become guide dogs are only bred by Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind. Pups are fostered by families for twelve months and are then returned to the Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind to train for an eight month period. It is not possible to have a family pet or puppy trained to be a guide dog.
The National Council for the Blind in Ireland (NCBI) provides orientation and mobility training service which shows a person with a vision impairment how to move about safely indoors and outdoors. It may involve building up a person’s confidence to walk down their garden, go to their local shop, travel on public transport or through crowded streets, traffic or country roads.
Trainers develop individual mobility programmes which may involve
- Teaching a person to maximise use of residual vision
- Body spatial and environmental awareness
- Use of sensory clues
- Orientation and mobility skills within the home, work, college or other everyday routes the person would like to become familiar with
- Road safety awareness and independent travel skills
Training is also available for sighted relatives and friends of people with vision impairments as to how to guide them effectively. The NCBI also provide training in life skills for people with vision impairments.
Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind offer two kinds of aids to people with vision impairments: guide dogs and long canes. There is no upper age limit for training with a guide dog but you must be over 18 years of age to apply. There is a three to four week residential training course. When training is complete the trainee returns home with the guide dog and an instructor will call in to help with the ‘settling in process’. Regular contact and support are maintained afterwards between the trainee and the instructor.
NCBI do not charge for mobility training and they will supply two long canes per year free of charge. Symbol canes and white walking sticks are also available free of charge.
Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind do not charge for training courses or equipment. A fee of €10 per week for board and lodging is payable for those on residential training courses. A monthly guide dog feeding allowance is available to guide dog owners should they need it.
Where you maintain a trained guide dog supplied by the Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind, a Guide Dog Allowance may be claimed and after the first claim this is given as a tax credit in your annual certificate of Tax Credits. A letter from Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind confirming that you are a registered owner of a guide dog is required when claiming the relief.
How to apply
The NCBI has a network of rehabilitation and community resource workers. If you would like to use the services of the NCBI you can contact your local community resource worker. If you ring the head office of the NCBI they will give you contact details for your local community resource worker. The community resource worker will then refer you to your local mobility specialist. The local mobility specialist will call out to consult on types of training and routes you would like to learn.
You can apply to Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind yourself or through your family doctor or GP. The Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind will supply you with an information pack and an application form. The application form needs to be returned to the Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind along with a medical report from your doctor confirming your vision impairment. A qualified instructor will then visit your home to discuss the types of training available.
Where To Apply