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Guide dogs available for youngsters

Guide dogs will be made available for visually-impaired children in the UK for the first time, as the age limit for guide dog owners is removed.

The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association is to begin training dogs to help blind or partially-sighted people under the current limit of 16. The association says too many visually-impaired youngsters are lacking in independence and mobility.

The charity claims many visually-impaired youngsters have only a limited social life and have to endure bullying because of their disability, and that by giving some of them guide dogs at a younger age is intended to help them to widen their range of activities and to improve their sense of self-confidence and independence.

‘These young people end up isolated,’ said chief executive, Bridget Warr.

Guide dogs for these younger teenagers will begin to be provided from next year.

There has already been a pilot scheme to test the use of guide dogs with younger people. Charlotte, a 14-year-old from Northampton, was among the youngest guide dog owners. She has been gradually losing her vision since the age of eight - and lost her sight completely this year. She has been assisted by a two-year-old Labrador retriever, Paris.

Charlotte used to have a long cane to help her move around but says having a dog allows her much more freedom and makes her feel safer.

At her school, St Paul's Catholic School in Milton Keynes, there is a dedicated unit helping the school's 12 vision impaired youngsters.

However the association says there is a worryingly patchy provision of services for young blind people across the UK and it calls for national minimum standards to be introduced.
As with adult blind and partially sighted people, only a small number of children are likely to be deemed suitable for a guide dog. Most will continue to rely on extra help and training from education and social services.

There are about 4,600 guide dogs helping people - with a Labrador-retriever cross the most commonly-used breed.

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