Mobility training for people with visual impairments
If you have a visual impairment, you can get help to develop skills to make it easier to move around safely. You can get training and advice on how to use a white cane or learn 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 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 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
You can find out about the supports that the NCBI offer on their website.
White canes and walking sticks
The NCBI also 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.
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 2 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.
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 and 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 12 months and are then returned to the Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind to train for 8 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 2000-2018, 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. You can find out more about bringing your guide dog, assistance, and companion dog into places that serve food, like a shop, cafe, or restaurant from the Food Safety Authority of Ireland website. Irish Guide dogs for the blind also have information about access rights for assistance dogs and for guide dogs.
Taxi, hackney and other small public service vehicles must carry your guide dog.
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 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.
You can get more information about other tax reliefs for people with a visual impairment.
How to apply
National Council for the Blind in Ireland
The NCBI have an online referral process. Once you have made a referral the NCBI will contact you to carry out an assessment.
They accept referrals from:
- A Self-referral
- A friend or relative
- A Professional (Ophthalmologist or Optometrist)
Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind
You can apply online 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.