Mobility training for people with visual impairments
If you have a visual impairment, orientation and mobility training can help you develop a range of skills that will make it easier to move around safely. Mobility training can include getting advice on how to use your residual vision, getting training on how to use a white cane, or learning how to work with a guide dog.
Orientation and mobility training
The NCBI provides an orientation and mobility training service for people with a visual impairment. This service can help you learn how to move about safely. It can help you feel more confident when travelling in everyday situations, such as, going to your local shop, travelling on public transport or through crowded streets.
Trainers develop individual mobility programmes to suit each person. You can learn how to:
- Maximise your residual vision
- Improve your body, spatial and environmental awareness
- Use sensory clues
- Improve orientation and mobility skills at home, work, college or other everyday places, as well as on different routes you would like to become familiar with
- Improve your road safety awareness and independent travel skills
The NCBI also provide life skills training for people with visual impairments, and training for sighted relatives and friends on how to guide you effectively.
White canes and walking sticks
If you have a visual impairment you may use a white cane or stick. There are different types of canes and sticks and they have different uses. Some are designed to help with mobility while others are used to let people know you have a visual impairment.
- A white walking stick gives you some physical support and lets other people know that you have a visual impairment. It is not a mobility aid.
- A symbol cane is used to let others know that you have a visual impairment and that you might need assistance. It is not a mobility aid and does not provide physical support.
- A long cane is a mobility aid designed to help you get around. You sweep the cane from side to side on the ground in front of your body. This helps you locate potential hazards and changes in the texture and level of the ground. You will need training on how to use a long cane.
- A guide cane is a mobility aid. It is shorter than a long cane and has more limited use. The guide cane can be used in two ways, you can hold it in a diagonal position across your lower body for protection, or you can use it to scan for kerbs and steps. It does not give you physical support. You will need training on how to use a guide cane.
The NCBI provide training in how to use a long cane or guide cane. You can get long canes, symbol canes and white walking sticks from the NCBI. They will give you one long cane per year, free of charge. Symbol canes, white walking sticks and mobility training are also available free of charge from the NCBI.
If you have a guide dog or have applied for a guide dog, you can get training on how to use a long cane with the Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind They will give you one long cane following the training. The Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind also provide independent living skills training.
Guide dogs can help someone with a visual impairment to get around safely. Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind provide guide dogs to people with visual impairments. They also provide training so people can learn how to work with a guide dog.
Only certain breeds of dogs can become guide dogs in Ireland. The main breeds used are labradors, golden retrievers, crosses of these breeds and German shepherd crosses.
Dogs that become guide dogs are trained by Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind. Puppies are fostered by families for twelve months and are then returned to the Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind to train for eight months. A family pet or puppy cannot be trained to be a guide dog.
Guide dog training
You must be at least 16 years old to get a guide dog. However, you can apply for a guide dog before you are 16 and go on the waiting list.
If your application for a guide dog is successful, you will be placed on a waiting list. Then, when a dog becomes available that matches your needs, you will be given training in how to use the dog.
You will need to attend a 3-week residential training programme at the Irish Guide Dogs training centre. The instructors will work with you and your dog on everyday skills, from crossing roads to using public transport. They also provide training on dog handling, feeding, grooming and vet care.
Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind do not charge for training courses or equipment. However, you must pay €10 per week for board and lodging on their residential training courses.
When you finish the training you can bring your guide dog home and an instructor will call in to help with the ‘settling in process’. You will get regular support from your instructor after the course.
Guide dogs and public spaces
Under the Equal Status Acts 2000-2015 service providers are prohibited from discriminating against people with disabilities. They must provide reasonable accommodation when they facilitate a guide dog on their premises.
Hotels, guesthouses and other types of accommodation must let you bring your guide dog onto the premises and help you find suitable accommodation. Guidedogs.ie has information on how to accommodate a guide dog.
Pubs, restaurants and theatres must also facilitate you on their premises. You cannot be discriminated against for having your guide dog with you.
Taxi, hackney and other small public service vehicles must carry your guide dog. There is more information about bringing your guide dog in a taxi on guidedogs.ie.
Airlines must let your guide dog accompany you in the cabin of the plane free of charge. However, you must notify the airline that you will be accompanied by your guide dog at least 48 hours before travelling. You must also let them know if you need any other assistance, for example, when travelling through the airport. Airlines may have different policies about how many guide dogs they can carry aboard a flight at any one time. So, you should tell the airline when you are booking the flight that you will be travelling with a guide dog. Find out more about planning a holiday with a guide dog and access rights for travelling with a guide dog on guidedogs.ie.
Guide dog allowances
If you have a trained guide dog from Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind, you can claim a Guide Dog Allowance. This allowance is given as a tax credit. You must get a letter from Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind confirming that you are a registered owner of a guide dog to claim this relief.
Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind provide a guide dog feeding allowance for people who need it. The feeding allowance is paid four times a year and there are two rates: €40 and €80. The rate you get depends on your income.
How to apply
To apply for the NCBI orientation and mobility training you should contact your NCBI local community resource worker. If you ring NCBI’s head office 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 applyonline for orientation and mobility training with Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind.
If you need a guide dog, you can apply to Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind yourself or through your family doctor. You can apply online at guidedogs.ie. You will need a medical report from your doctor confirming your visual impairment. If your application is successful, a qualified instructor will visit you to discuss the training.