World-first mobility training centre opens in Victoria

23 November 2017

For most of us, getting out and about is something we take for granted, but for those who are blind or have low vision, crossing the street, getting on a bus or train, or just being able to work out where they are while outdoors, at playtime or in the midst of traffic and other pedestrians, can pose challenges.

But, thanks to a generous $500,000 grant from the Victorian State Government, Vision Australia Seeing Eye Dogs has been able to design, build and commission a world-first, state-of-the-art, under cover mobility training centre that will provide a safe and realistic place for a person who is blind or has low vision to become familiar and confident, with either their newly-matched Seeing Eye Dog or their white cane, without the fear that can come from training outside.

Image shows a young boy with his white cane inside the mobility centre

 Focused on innovation, the Leigh Garwood Mobility Training Centre (MTC), will arm both children and adults with the necessary tools to safely navigate roads and public spaces, access transportation, avoid potential hazards and build mobility confidence that will take them to school, jobs, appointments and social activities.  The centre will also be a crucial part of dog training in advance of them being matched with clients.

The MTC has been an 18-month project, with the roadmap being provided by the experts at Seeing Eye Dogs. It provides a mock outdoor environment that comprises pedestrian crossings, roadside kerbing, functional traffic lights with audio signals, a simulated train carriage and train platform, an escalator, a mock café, a reversing car, footpaths and varying surfaces to train Seeing Eye Dogs, handlers and white cane users.

The Leigh Garwood Mobility Training Centre, named in honour of Seeing Eye Dogs’ previous General Manager who sadly passed away in 2016, is one of the final parts of the redevelopment of Vision Australia Seeing Eye Dogs, which will lead to an increased capacity for dog training and production.

More than 380,000 Australians are blind or have low vision, and this number is only expected to increase as our population ages and lives longer.

It takes around 2 years to train a Seeing Eye Dog. From around 12-15 months of age, the Seeing Eye Dog undergoes six months of advanced training. A person who is blind or has low vision is then matched with a dog and, together as a team, receives training from a Seeing Eye Dogs’ instructor for 3-4 weeks.

The $8m donor-funded kennel and breeding centre opened in March 2014 and features a rehabilitation therapy pool, grooming area, whelping rooms, free-run area and an indoor and outdoor puppy playroom. And, thanks to the generosity of one donor, the kennel and puppy centre took delivery of brand new quarantine kennels just last week.

Vision Australia Seeing Eye Dogs is headquartered at 17 Barrett Street, Kensington Vic 3031.

Quotes attributable to Ron Hooton, Chief Executive, Vision Australia:

“Many people who are blind or have low vision are already experiencing an extreme loss of confidence, especially those with recently diagnosed vision loss. I want to thank the State Government for listening to the concerns of people who are blind or have low vision and responding, by providing this funding, so we can get onto providing a safe place for white cane and Seeing Eye Dog training.”

“Current urban environments are not well-designed for people with blindness or low vision. We will now be able to provide a safe, controlled environment that enables clients to focus on the skills they need to learn, and gain confidence in, before using them out in the real world.”

Quotes attributable to Minister for Ageing, Martin Foley

“This world class centre provides a safe, controlled environment for people who are blind or have low vision to practice doing the simple, yet potentially dangerous things that most of us take for granted, like crossing the road.”

Quotes attributable to the Member for Pascoe Vale, Lizzie Blandthorn

“The state government’s generous funding allowed this vital training centre to be built to give Victorians who are blind or have low vision a safe space to hone the skills they need out in the real world.”

Media enquiries: Sharon Mackenzie, 0431 374 671 or email sharon.mackenzie@visionaustralia.org

Visit our website: seda.visionaustralia.org