Guide Dogs opens doors to new South Coast NSW office

The Guide Dogs NSW/ACT have opened the doors to a new local office in Wollongong.

The opening celebrations took place on the eve of International White Cane Day, in which the organisation launched a new campaign, Don’t Delay, Seek Help Today, following a survey that found one in four respondents waited more than 10 years between diagnosis and seeking assistance from the organisation.

With a commitment to serving all communities and providing local services wherever possible, Guide Dogs NSW/ACT is excited to begin providing an expanded range of services at no cost to people who are blind or vision impaired within the Wollongong community.

“By having a local presence in Wollongong we can increase the number of services in the area as well as the quality of services,” Guide Dogs NSW/ACT Guide Dog Instructor, Matthew Walker said.

“We now have four local Guide Dogs staff based here, with each person covering a particular area of speciality. This includes Guide Dogs, children’s services, brain injury and orientation and mobility training programs for both young people and adults with vision loss.”

Mathew also wanted to stress that while training Guide Dogs is an important part of the organisation’s work; their most common program is showing people with impaired vision how to safely move through different environments, using a range of canes and other mobility aids and electronic devices.

“Guide Dogs can provide a variety of canes to a person with vision loss depending on their individual requirements. For example, while long canes are designed to physically detect obstacles in front of the individual, identification canes are smaller and their white and red colours let other people know that the person holding the cane has reduced vision. Support canes or white walking sticks, on the other hand, can be useful for people who experience problems with their balance when walking,” he said.

In celebration of the official Wollongong office opening, local Guide Dogs NSW/ACT Public Relations Speaker, Kimberlee Brooker, who is vision impaired, spoke about the services she has received from the organisation.

"I lost my vision overnight. It took three months for the doctor to diagnose me with Rod Cone Dystrophy, but there is still no explanation of why I lost my sight completely," Kimberlee said. "Then when I was about to start school, the doctor referred me to Guide Dogs to receive mobility assistance."

"As I grew older I was keen to get a Guide Dog. I was 14-years-old when I first enquired but decided to wait until once I finished my HSC," Kimberlee said.

She received Toffee, a beautiful blonde Lab, just three days after her last exam.

"Now I couldn't imagine my life without Toffee," Kimberlee said. "She has given me so much more confidence to travel and be independent. Not only does she help guide me, but she is such great company."

Now in her second year of studying criminal law, having a Guide Dog has allowed Kimberlee to move independently around the university campus.

"Guide Dogs provided me with a Mini-Guide and GPS training and I receive ongoing training with my Guide Dog, particularly in learning the route to new rooms at university which change each semester," she said.

Each year, Guide Dogs NSW/ACT Orientation & Mobility Specialists work with around 4,000 people of all ages to help them achieve their mobility goals. Programs are tailored to meet the lifestyle needs of each individual, and most training is delivered locally, in the person’s home, community or work environment. All services are provided at no cost to clients.

With the Wollongong office now open, Guide Dogs has 11 offices across NSW and ACT. Nearly half of their programs are delivered outside the Sydney metropolitan area. A person doesn’t have to be totally blind to receive services, and anyone losing their sight is encouraged to contact the organisation early, to reduce the risks of falls, accidents and depression.

Every day 28 Australians are diagnosed with uncorrectable vision loss, including nine who become blind. Source