When Josie Whalley wasn't even a day old, she had a stroke. After a couple of difficult years, it became apparent that Josie had a vision impairment. Her parents were desperate for support but didn't know who to ask until Josie's dad, Roger, got the idea to call Guide Dogs.
After Josie suffered a stroke, the doctors couldn’t tell her parents, Roger and Melanie, what damage it caused but warned that Josie might not be able to walk, talk or see. “It was awful,” says Roger, “not knowing how she’d develop at all. We celebrated every milestone as she learnt to crawl, babble, talk and walk.”
It took years to establish the extent of Josie’s vision impairment. She has no depth of field vision – making steps, for example, impossible to see – and she is unable to see movement such as cars moving past. Which is one of the reasons her parents decided to move from a house at a busy crossroads in London to a much quieter location in Bath.
This was a particularly difficult time for the family as they didn’t receive any support with Josie and didn’t know where to turn. “It was very frustrating,” says Roger, “as we had to get used to no one helping us.”
Roger contacted Guide Dogs after they’d been visiting some friends who had a dog. Josie wanted to hold the dog’s lead the whole time, which gave Roger the idea that a guide dog might benefit her in future. He explains: “I phoned the advice line and it literally took off from there – it was amazing.”
Josie and her family attended one of our weekends for families whose children have recently been diagnosed with sight loss. “It was fantastic as we got to speak with lots of wonderful experts,” says Roger.
Getting support at school
One of the experts Josie's family spoke to at the family weekend event was Guide Dogs Specialist Education Support Officer, John Turnbull. He says: “The Whalleys are a very able family but they needed support navigating what can feel like a foreign language.”
John helped Roger apply for an Education Health and Care Plan to ensure that Josie gets more of the support she needs at school. For example, a teaching assistant to help her at the beginning of tasks and teach her how to touch-type.
John says: “Roger is now able to make choices on his own because he knows what Josie is entitled to and we’ve helped empower him to go into education meetings and ask the right questions.”
Guide Dogs’ Habilitation Specialist, Lucy Hill, delivers mobility support for Josie at school through the local authority contract with Virgin Care. “Lucy is brilliant,” says Roger.
“She helped Josie make the move to her new classroom by practising the route with her, finding where the steps are located, and arranging for Josie to meet her new teacher. She advised moving Josie’s peg to the end of the row so it’s easier for her to find her coat. And at least three of Josie’s friends now wear high-vis jackets at playtime so that Josie can see them more easily, following Lucy’s suggestion.”
At the Guide Dogs family weekend, Josie was also introduced to our CustomEyes large-print book service, which has helped improve her reading skills. She says: “I looked at one book in lots of different fonts and colours and got to choose the one I liked the best. It’s just what I need.”
Roger says: “We didn’t know how much Josie loved reading until she was given something just for her.”
Josie has developed a close bond with her four-year-old brother, Wolf, who she shares a room with. “We could hear Josie in the morning in bed teaching Wolf to speak,” says Roger. “He’s very conscious that she can’t see, so he describes what he can see for her.
“Josie’s confidence has improved so much since we found out about Guide Dogs’ services for children and young people. Now we have the freedom to ask for advice and for strategies that can make life easier, it means we can focus on being a family."