Rebecca Miller was just a toddler when she started having problems with her vision. Her mum, Claire Thomson, took her to a doctor and received the devastating news that Rebecca had a brain tumour which had gone undetected since birth. The tumour was pressing on Rebecca’s optic nerve and, by the time surgeons tried to operate, it had become too dangerous to remove it.
At 20 months old, Rebecca underwent a gruelling course of chemotherapy, though this couldn’t restore her sight. She completed her treatment 18 months later and continues to have regular check-ups for her eye condition, hypothalamic astrocytoma.
Claire, Rebecca's mum says: "It's very rare for someone to develop this condition at such a young age. As a child, it affected Rebecca more. While she has learned to live with the 10% vision she has left, she still has her good and bad days."
Guide Dogs first started working with Rebecca when she started secondary school. Whilst she'd become confident finding her way around her primary school, she wasn't using a long cane effectively and needed help getting used to the new environment. And she struggled to go out with friends or to their houses by herself.
Habilitation Specialist Grant Smith showed Rebecca how to use a cane in school and how to get around safely in her local village in West Lothian, including sensing kerbs and crossing roads. And when the time came for Rebecca to apply for college, they also started practising the route from home to college, which involves travelling by bus.
To help with Rebecca's training, Grant introduced her to the use of assistive technology – sometimes called 'access' or 'adaptive' technology – on her mobile phone. They started with a free app called ScotTalk which tracks live bus times and alerts Rebecca when it's time to get off at her chosen stop.
Claire says: "The training that Grant provided gave me peace of mind that Rebecca will find her way without getting lost or missing her bus stop. She even tells me how to get to places using the bus tracker app!"
Guide Dogs Habilitation Specialist, Tracy Dryburgh, is also working with Rebecca on independent living skills, such as shopping by herself and paying for items using her contactless debit card.
Tracy introduced her to the artificial intelligence app, Seeing AI, which audio describes text and objects, including scanning barcodes and reading out the prices of goods in shops. This reduces the need for Rebecca to ask shop assistants for help. And during a spot of lunch, Tracy has shown Rebecca how to zoom in on the restaurant menu using the camera tool on her phone.
Tracy and Rebecca practise the route from her home into the centre of Livingston regularly, using the bus. This has given Rebecca the confidence to find her way from the bus stop to the shops by herself, to pay for something, and return to the bus stop to meet Tracy.
Tracy says: “Rebecca has embraced the use of this technology as it’s so accessible on her phone – and she actively promotes it to other people. I’ve seen a big improvement in her mobility and confidence since we started using this in our sessions.”
Rebecca says: “I’m so grateful to Grant and Tracy as I’m now able to do more by myself without needing someone to guide me all the time. I didn’t even know the technology apps existed before they suggested them. I’m hoping to be accepted on a professional cookery course at college later this year and I can’t wait!”
Her mum Claire agrees: “Guide Dogs’ support has meant the world to our family – they’ve given Rebecca the freedom and independence she needs as a young adult. I don’t think we’d have allowed her to go to college if it wasn’t for them!”