Like many ten-year-olds, Ralph is at an age where he wants to start doing more for himself. He starts secondary school in September and wants to do all the same things as his friends - from going to the shop or the park to play football, to making his own snacks and drinks at home.
For his mum, Georgina, letting go is hard. It’s only natural for parents to worry about their children as they go out into the world, but Ralph was diagnosed with glaucoma as a baby, which makes it that much harder.
Ralph has been working with Helen and Lynda, Habilitation Specialists from Guide Dogs, since he was three-years-old. With their support, Ralph is learning all the skills he needs to be as independent as he wants to be in the future.
Georgina says: “When Ralph was diagnosed just after his first birthday it was a huge shock. We didn’t know anything about glaucoma or what it means to have a vision impairment. It’s been quite a journey learning how to support him. Sometimes I’ll do things for him without realising that he can learn to do it himself. When we go out, I’ll always hold Ralph’s hand. But I also know there will be a point when he doesn’t want to hold my hand anymore.”
Early support from Guide Dogs
Georgina and Ralph were introduced to Helen, a Guide Dogs Habilitation Specialist, by the local council’s vision team.
Early on, Helen visited the family at their home in Cornwall, where Ralph lives on a farm with his mum, dad and little sister, Bea. She gave Georgina advice about different toys and play ideas that would support Ralph’s development. She also gave tips on how to make their home more accessible, such as keeping his favourite toys in the same place and using plates and cups with high contrast colours at mealtimes.
When Ralph started nursery, and later primary school, Helen worked with his teachers to make the classroom and learning materials more accessible and taught them descriptive language that’s helpful. She helped Ralph learn the layout of the classroom and playground so he could get around by himself.
Ralph is really into sports, especially football. He’s a massive Manchester City fan and his favourite player is Jack Grealish. He says: “I like playing football at school, but it can also be frustrating. I don’t always get to play in matches which makes me sad.”
Helen worked with his school and his PE teacher to give advice on how different sports can be adjusted. She’s also connected the school and family with local sports groups that are more accessible for people with sight loss.
Ralph says: “Helen told me about table cricket and I’m really good at it. I recently represented my school in the semi-finals in Exeter and set a new record as no one at my school has got that far before.”
Ralph also plays weekly with a local disability football team called the Troon AFC Disability Youth Team. And Ralph recently found out he’s been accepted onto the Para Football Pathway which supports young footballers with vision impairments, hearing impairments and cerebral palsy.
Long cane skills
When Helen suggested Ralph learns to use a long cane he was unsure at first. Ralph says: “I thought I would look like an old man with a walking stick.”
Helen showed Ralph how a long cane is used to navigate pavements and identify obstacles which can give him more independence.
Georgina says: “Helen took us into Truro town centre and to different shops that Ralph likes, such as Sports Direct. She showed him how to use his cane to identify different types of paving, and how to cross roads. She’s also helped Ralph go to our local shop and has built up his confidence to find things on his own or ask for help.”
Preparing food and drinks
When Ralph told his mum that he wanted to make a cup of tea like his friends, she thought it might be too risky.
She says: “I couldn’t see a way that Ralph could make a hot drink without burning himself. But Helen showed us it’s possible. She gave Ralph lots of tips and a device called a level indicator that hangs on the cup and beeps when the water touches it.”
“Helen also came to visit us at home and we made pizzas. She taught Ralph different techniques for chopping vegetables and gave him equipment like safe knives and non-slip mats. She even showed him techniques for opening different packets, like a bag of grated cheese. I probably would’ve just done it for him, so I’m also learning how to step back and give him more responsibility.”
A new school
In September Ralph will be starting secondary school. He’s working with Lynda, another Habilitation Specialist from Guide Dogs, to start preparing for his new school.
Lynda says: “Ralph’s new school is quite big so we’ll do lots of work to help him learn the layout. I’ll teach him different techniques to find his way, such as using his cane or technology on his phone. We’ll also work closely with his teachers to make the classrooms accessible for him. I’ll also arrange workshops with his classmates to raise awareness of vision impairments and how his peers can be helpful.”
The future ahead
Georgina says: “When we started working with Lynda she asked Ralph what sort of things he’d like to focus on. He’d love to have a guide dog one day so we’re working on his cane skills so he can be as independent as possible.”
“Ralph also loves reading. I used to read to Ralph or he’d use audiobooks so we’re working on improving his reading and writing. Guide Dogs gave us an iPad which he uses to read books and he also loves the CustomEyes books from Guide Dogs which are printed in the format just for him. He’s also learning to read Braille at school now.”
“While we’re looking ahead to increase Ralph’s independence we also try not to think too far into the future. We focus on the present and if Ralph’s happy, I’m happy. You never know the opportunities that will come along or the doors that will open. I never imagined Ralph would be taking part in so many sports, and the Para Football Pathway is really exciting. Taking part in the new Guide Dogs TV advert has given Ralph a big boost too. He’s so laid back he wasn’t nervous at all. But he loved being on set and the whole experience.”
“Guide Dogs has done so much for us over the years, and we know they’ll be there to support Ralph in his future too.”
Ralph stars in our latest TV advert, along with Helen, his Visual Rehabilitation Specialist