Adverts: 0161 709 4576 - Editorial: 0161 709 4571
Mail Order: 0161 709 4578 - Subs: 0161 709 4575 - Webteam: 0161 709 4567

Britain robs blind children of their childhood

Guide Dogs has revealed the UK’s neglect of blind and partially-sighted children and young people – which leaves them lonely, isolated, unable to make friends and fearful of the future.

Some 18,000 youngsters under 17 are missing out on crucial mobility, independence and life skills. Without them they can’t get around safely on their own or carry out simple daily tasks like getting dressed after PE, cooking a meal or going shopping.

Guide Dogs research shows Government failure to provide national guidelines and standards leads to patchy provision in the UK by local councils with 30 per cent – around 6000 youngsters – not receiving any mobility training and 9000 no support in those daily living skills.

Furthermore, eight out of ten parents say they have not received the support and information they need to be equipped to help their children with these skills.

Those youngsters who do receive training often find it inadequate, piecemeal or not even offered until they reach secondary school, leaving them lonely, isolated and over-dependent on their families. The research shows:

• Two thirds have most of their social life within their families

• A third are bullied over sight loss at school

• Forty per cent make most of their friends online as they lack the confidence and social skills to make friends with classmates

• One in ten never goes out with friends

Guide Dogs Chief Executive, Bridget Warr, said: “It’s a failure by society and the state at both national and local level. This lack of support means we are raising a generation of young people who may not be able to make a valuable contribution to society.

“The picture that emerges from our research is shocking. Children are being conditioned to expect to under achieve for the rest of their lives. When, in fact sight loss is no barrier to actively contributing to society when the right support is in place”.

“One 12-year-old told the researchers: ‘I would have (liked to) have learnt to walk with a cane sooner, making me more independent. I was still holding mum’s hand at eleven.’

“Guide Dogs Operations Director, Stephen Kirk, said: “Mobility and daily life skills training are a critical part of the services we provide children and young people. For the youngsters we help the experience is literally life-changing. Our instructors open up a new world for their clients.We believe every blind and partially-sighted child should have access to these life-transforming services.”

Guide Dogs is calling for blind and partially-sighted children to receive the support they need to be able to live their lives and actively participate in society.

Harriet Tait, 14, loves nothing more than her weekly shopping trip to the local post office in Great Corby, Cumbria.For most youngsters, not much of a challenge at all, but for Harriet, with severely limited vision, this is a great achievement. A couple of years ago she couldn’t even walk between classrooms without guidance from a teaching assistant.

Born with the eye condition chorio-retinal atrophy, a scarring of the retina, Harriet used to lack confidence and found it difficult to judge when it was safe to cross the road. Using a long cane helped her avoid static obstacles, but finding her bearings and judging crossing opportunities between moving traffic was a non-starter.

She explains: “The mobility support I’ve had from Guide Dogs in recent years has transformed my independence. I’ve learnt to get around on my own, practising finding safe places to cross roads and repeating my regular walking routes so that every hazard, crossing-point, step and doorway becomes familiar.”

Guide Dogs has now committed to opening the guide dog service to all regardless of age and expects to launch a nationwide service to young people in the New Year.