More support for vision impaired in Wollongong

Official opening: Kimberlee Brooker with her guide dog Toffee outside the new Guide Dogs NSW Wollongong office in Burelli Street. Picture: Robert Peet

Official opening: Kimberlee Brooker with her guide dog Toffee outside the new Guide Dogs NSW Wollongong office in Burelli Street. Picture: Robert Peet

One in four people who are blind or vision impaired wait more than 10 years to seek assistance from Guide Dogs NSW/ACT after their diagnosis according to a new survey.

That’s prompted the organisation to launch a new campaign Don’t Delay, Seek Help Today and also to open a new branch in Wollongong.

On Friday – the eve of International White Cane Day – the doors to the new office in Burelli Street were officially opened.

‘’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 dog instructor Matthew Walker said.

‘’We now have four local 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.’’

At the opening, guests heard from Kimberlee Brooker, who is vision impaired and has gained a range of assistance 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,’’ she 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.’’

Ms Brooker received Toffee, a beautiful blonde Labrador, just three days after her last exam.

‘’Now I couldn't imagine my life without Toffee. 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, she said Toffee has helped her move independently around the university campus.

Mr Walker said while training guide dogs was an important part of the organisation’s work; their most common program was showing people with impaired vision how to safely move through different environments, using a range of canes and other mobility aids and electronic devices.

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