The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), Guide Dogs, Visionary, VICTA, Fight for Sight and Vision UK are working together to provide blind and partially sighted people with easy to access high-quality information about sight loss.
Working in partnership, the sight loss charities have shared their expertise to create the new website, www.sightadvicefaq.org.uk, which pulls together content from across the sector.
The Sight Advice FAQ portal answers questions about living with sight loss, eye health or being newly diagnosed with a sight condition. The website is also designed to help those who are supporting people through their sight loss journey, including parents, partners, carers and friends.
Visitors to the website can type their question into the search box on the page or use the menu to find the information or advice they are looking for.
Jamie Dormandy, Head of Advice and Customer Service at RNIB, said: “This was a great opportunity to collaborate with other leading sight loss charities to share our resources and expertise.
“People affected by sight loss have told us it can be difficult to access the right information at the right time.
“This new Sight Advice FAQ portal is easy to navigate and fully accessible, and we hope it will become the ‘go-to’ source for anyone looking for information about living with sight loss.”
Kirstie Bower, Guide Dogs’ Director of Skills, Information and Support Services, said: “The Sight Advice FAQ portal is a fantastic resource which we’ve been proud to be part of, as it supports our ambition for a future where every person with sight loss has the confidence and support to live their life to the full.”
Sherine Krause, Chief Executive at eye research charity Fight for Sight, said: “We’re delighted to be part of this new resource to support people with sight loss. In Fight for Sight’s case, we aim to raise awareness of the research going on into sight loss, and the breakthroughs that are already being made in this field.”
Alison Oliver, CEO of Visionary, said: “This has been a fantastic joint initiative on information sharing for the sight loss sector and blind and partially sighted people. Visionary is very pleased to have been involved alongside and on behalf of its members.”
Matt Broom, CEO of Vision UK, said: “Vision UK are excited to be involved in this new collaborative resource for Blind and partially sighted people and for all people who want to know more about eye health and sight loss. We believe it is a valuable and useful resource for all.’
Nick Schofield, Chief Executive of VICTA, said: “This has been a great collaborative project and one where the whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts. It shows that together, everyone achieves more which can only be a good thing for the sight loss sector.”
The Sight Advice FAQ portal is one of the ways in which blind and partially sighted people can access practical and emotional support from RNIB as part of its Sight Loss Advice Service.
New figures show that three-quarters of guide dog owners (76%) have been illegally turned away by businesses and services, such as taxis, restaurants, shops, cafes, hotels and pubs.
The research, from Guide Dogs, shows that more than two thirds (72%) of guide and assistance dog owners say it negatively affects their ability to go out socially, 70% say it has a negative emotional impact and more than half (55%) say it negatively affects their quality of life.
To tackle these refusals, Guide Dogs and the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) have collaborated to create new support to empower those facing discrimination. The Equality Act toolkit provides information and advice to guide dog owners across England, Scotland and Wales, informing them of their legal rights and including practical information and guides to challenge access refusals.
Guide Dogs’ research also offers insight into where access refusals happen most often, with data showing that the most commonly reported businesses refusing access were:
- minicabs and private hire vehicles (73%),
- restaurants (71%),
- convenience stores (60%),
- and cafés (59%).
Kirstie Bower, Director of Skills, Information and Support at Guide Dogs, said: “Often establishments, businesses and services don’t fully understand their obligations in law, but ignorance is not an excuse. This discrimination has a devastating impact on people’s lives, their confidence, and their sense of belonging to society.”
David Clarke, Director of Services at RNIB, said: “Although I have experienced access refusals first-hand, it is shocking to see just how widespread everyday discrimination against blind and partially sighted people really is.”
Guide dog owners can get the toolkit from their local Guide Dogs team, or from RNIB on 0303 123 9999.
Learn more about Guide Dogs' work on ending access refusals on Access All Areas Campaign page.
People who are blind and partially sighted are being shut out of society, but members of the public could help end this isolation if they understood more about everyday life with sight loss.
Our new report, ‘By My Side’, reveals that over 42% of people with sight loss feel they are ‘left out’ of everyday moments that others might take for granted, such as socialising, dating, family life or work. This feeling of isolation is compounded as six in ten people who are blind or vision impaired (VI), believe that society has ‘little understanding’ of the challenges they face in their daily lives.
‘By My Side’ shares insights from the VI community - currently two million people in the UK - asking about experiences of their local communities, family life, parenting, love and friendships.
Our Guide Dogs report also reveals:
- 69% suggest more people could be trained as sighted guides
- 27% of people with vision impairments say they feel left out from socialising with friends
- 23% say they feel left out of work or education
- 27% feel they have been left out of milestone moments such as births or marriages
- People with sight loss say travel is their biggest challenge in daily life
Alex Pepper, 28, from London, developed cancer as a baby and as a result had an eye removed when he was 14-months-old. Further complications as an adult have left him with only light perception in his remaining eye.
When you have sight loss, it’ll always be a factor in how you live your life, but you also just want to get on with things like having a job, a family, a social life, going to the gym or on holiday, the same as everyone else.
But there are days when I’m really reminded I’m blind, and that’s because of a hundred small things which just make me feel like I’m on the outside. I think the more people understand what it actually means to live a modern life with sight loss, the less often these small things will happen, and I’ll feel more included.
The time to change is now – whilst most of the public do want to understand more about life with sight loss, 23% would not be comfortable offering help.
To create greater understanding, we are calling on people to sign up to My Guide - a guiding service that matches trained sighted volunteers to people with sight loss who need support getting out and about.
A My Guide partnership focuses on achieving a set goal – this could be around building confidence, increasing physical fitness, working towards a guide dog partnership, or tackling social isolation by accessing local communities, hobbies or pastimes.
Guide Dogs currently helps more than 1,000 people with sight loss through its My Guide service. This year, the charity is hoping to recruit a further 1,200 volunteers to support even more vision impaired people through the life-changing scheme.
Jo Milligan, Head of Volunteer Led Services at Guide Dogs, said:
Our report clearly shows that far too many people with sight loss are feeling shut out of everyday life. With the number of people with a vision impairment set to skyrocket in the coming years, we need to make changes.
We need to work together to understand the realities of life with sight loss and help overcome the challenges that lead to people feeling excluded.
Today the BBC shared the story of guide dog owner Damon Rose's battle with discrimination through access refusals.
Damon writes how he was refused access to a private hire vehicle when the driver claimed he was allergic to dogs, even though he could not present an exemption certificate as the law requires. As Damon is unfortunately used to such access refusals, he was able to capture the incident on video.
Transport for London took this driver to court last week who pleaded guilty to the offence and was fined £1,500.
The article draws on research conducted by Guide Dogs as part of our Access all Areas campaign, where we strive to end the discrimination visually impaired people face on a regular basis when out with their assistance dogs.
Access refusals can have a devastating impact on assistance dog owners' confidence. In our 2015 Access all Areas Report, one guide dog owner commented:
Each refusal is crushing, confidence shattering, rejecting, and traumatic. I always feel that I don't want to go out after - but work dictates I must.'
Guide dog owner, Stevenage
If you'd like to help us campaign to stop access requests like Damon's happening in the future, visit our Campaign Page for more information.
You can read the full article and the rest of Damon's story on the BBC's website.
Guide Dogs has worked with RNIB (Royal National Institute of Blind People) to empower guide dog owners to tackle the rising reports of cafes, hotels and taxis refusing entry to their guide dogs.
The sight loss charities have released a new toolkit to provide support and advice to guide dog owners and anyone with sight loss across the UK, informing them of their legal rights and including practical information and guides to challenge access refusals.
The new jointly-produced pack contains details of a guide dog owner’s rights under the Equality Act 2010 (England, Scotland and Wales) or the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (Northern Ireland), a step-by-step guide to making a complaint, an example complaint letter, plus an advocacy letter from Guide Dogs and RNIB with a summary of the law and information about the service provider's obligations.
John Welsman is Guide Dogs’ Policy Business Partner for Travel and Mobility and, as a guide dog owner, has experienced access refusals himself. He said: “When somewhere like a shop or restaurant won’t accommodate someone with a guide dog, that’s not only potentially illegal but it can also be a huge blow to that person’s confidence, feelings of acceptance in society and willingness to go out with their guide dog independently.
"We work hard at Guide Dogs to give people independence and confidence by partnering them with a guide dog. If an individual is then stopped from accessing services with their dog, this is then limiting them from using their highly trained dog when it matters most.
This toolkit has been designed to give guide dog owners clear guidance and tools on what they can do if they’ve been treated unfairly. We also hope it’ll be useful for spelling out the law to service providers, making society and access to services far more equitable.”
David Clarke, Director of Services at RNIB, said: “Our legal rights team works tirelessly alongside many members of the blind and partially sighted community to challenge discrimination – including illegal guide dog refusals to public places, which I have experienced myself. With the number of access refusals for guide dog owners increasing, it is vital that people are aware of the law and have the tools they need to tackle illegal practice themselves.
“By working with Guide Dogs, we hope that the expertise of our legal rights team will inform and empower even more guide dog owners to know their rights, recognise unfair practice and challenge discrimination should they encounter it.
“With many of these incidents being down to a lack of understanding or poor staff training, we hope that this new toolkit will help lead a step-change in how people treat guide dog owners and help prevent illegal and upsetting access refusals.”
Guide dog owners can get the toolkit from their local Guide Dogs team, or from RNIB on 0303 123 9999.
The National Portrait Awards (NPA) are supporting Guide Dogs over the next two years by choosing us as one of their selected charities to promote during their ‘National Pet Portrait Awards’ competition.
The NPA are offering dog photoshoots to the public across their 93 UK photography studios for just a £10 entry fee, all of which you can choose to be donated to Guide Dogs.
As well as a photography and viewing session, each customer will be allowed to select one photo from the shoot to enter into the awards. A winner will be selected from every studio in February 2019, and each of these winners will then go into the finals for the chance to be crowned the ‘Pet Portrait of the Year’ and win a £1,000 prize!
You can find out more information at National Portrait Awards. Please search for your local studio and read the competition rules and all the terms and conditions.
Please also note that prints to take home are not included in the photoshoot but can be purchased at an additional cost.
Monday 17 December 2018, 7-9pm (doors open at 6:30pm) - Coventry Cathederal
We’re excited to announce our first ever Christmas Wishes Concert at the beautiful Coventry Cathedral!
The concert, in partnership with Peugeot, is hosted by Aled Jones and features a packed programme including performances by:
- West End star Daniel Boys
- Female a cappella group Black Voices
- Coronation Street’s Wendi Peters
- The Voice winner Andrea Begley
- Classic Brit Award nominees Classical Reflection
– with more guests and performances to be announced!
Join other supporters, service users, volunteers, staff, guide dogs and special guests for this fantastic evening. We’ll raise the roof with well-known carols and enjoy inspirational readings that will remind us of the amazing wishes you help us make a reality every day of the year.
The Christmas Concert is proudly sponsored by:
England sensation Marcus Rashford delighted 15-year-old football fanatic Rainbow Mbuangi and his buddy dog, Drake, when they visited Manchester United’s Carrington training ground.
The pair discussed their shared love of the beautiful game during their meeting, which was organised for Guide Dogs’ new #MeetAHero campaign. Through #MeetAHero, we want to show the world how our services empower people with sight loss, like Rainbow, to live their lives to the full.
In Rainbow’s case, he loves his weekly training sessions at Merseyside Blind Football Club. Born with no useable sight, Rainbow has been kicking a ball about since he could walk, and with our support he developed the confidence to pursue his football dreams. He recently scored the winning goal for his team at a tournament in Belgium, and his ultimate ambition is to play for England’s national Blind Football team.
Despite now living in Liverpool, when it comes to football he is Manchester United all the way. His room is described as a shrine to the Red Devils and his ultimate footballing hero is forward Marcus Rashford.
But Marcus wasn’t the only star who paid Rainbow a visit – he was thrilled when fellow Man U midfielder Jesse Lingard also popped by to say hello. The two England stars signed Rainbow’s football, gifted him a new shirt and even asked if they could attend his next game.
The trio were also joined by Rainbow’s buddy dog Drake, who has been with Rainbow since 2014. Having Drake by his side increases Rainbow’s independence and confidence ensuring he doesn’t miss out on doing the things he loves. Rainbow also receives support from our children and young people’s specialists, which enables him to do everyday things with his family and friends.
Rainbow said: “I’ve grown up with Man United posters on my walls ever since I was little and having the chance to meet Marcus was a dream come true. He’s inspired me to push myself and one day I hope to be just like him – playing for my country in the official England Blind Football team.”
Marcus said: “It’s an honour to be thought of as a hero but I think Rainbow’s the real hero here. From what I hear he is quite the talent on the pitch and it’s clear that nothing will get in the way of him pursuing his dream. I look forward to seeing him play for the England Blind Football team in the future.”
Speaking about the moment Rainbow learned he was to meet Marcus, Rainbow’s nan, Lyn Outram, said: “Rainbow was so excited when he heard that he was going to meet his hero, Marcus Rashford. We had to go straight out to buy the latest Manchester United kit for Rainbow to wear!
Lyn added: “The support we’ve had from Guide Dogs has been great and the improvement to Rainbow’s ability to get around has been incredible.”
We are very grateful to Marcus, Jesse and everyone at Manchester United who made Rainbow’s dream to meet his footballing hero come true.
Visit our children and young people’s pages to find out more about the services which have helped Rainbow.
TV star David Walliams met his very special namesake this week as the charity Guide Dogs celebrated a landmark puppy.
Yellow Labrador David is the 10,000th pup born since the opening of the charity’s state-of-the-art National Breeding Centre and he has been named after the popular comedian, actor, author, and presenter.
The ten-week-old pup paid the Britain’s Got Talent judge a visit at his north London home and the pair got on famously. David said: “It’s a huge thrill to have a guide dog puppy named David after me, I’m just sorry I don’t have a more memorable name!
“Guide Dogs is one of the first charities you hear about as a child and it’s such a trusted charity. It’s such a miracle that these dogs can be so helpful and change someone’s life in such a dramatic way.
“I think my dog Bert will be quite jealous. He must never see these pictures!
“Guide Dogs is an amazing charity and I have huge respect for the people who train the dogs. If you ever meet Simon Cowell’s dogs, you know that some people don’t bother to train their dogs at all!”
Matthew Bottomley, Guide Dogs’ Head of Breeding Operations, said: “We know David is a dog lover, and as an author he has supported our large print books for children with sight loss, so we felt he would be the perfect namesake for our 10,000th puppy. Our puppies change lives and David’s charity work and his writing does too, so it’s a perfect match!”
Puppy David will now go on to complete around 20 months of specialised training before being partnered with someone who has sight loss.
Guide Dogs’ National Breeding Centre, which opened in 2011, is a state-of-the-art facility near Royal Leamington Spa. The centre is open for public tours.
We're celebrating a brand new partnership with Build A Bear!
Until 8th August, the soft toy retailer will donate £1 to Guide Dogs from the purchase of every item from their Promise Pets range (in store and online).
The team at Build a Bear aim to raise £10,000 to support the vital services we deliver to people living with sight loss so why not take a look at the full range here and treat yourself or a loved one while supporting Guide Dogs?
There's something for every animal lover in the range - dogs, cats, bunnies and, of course, bears! There are stores throughout the UK where you can also purchase clothes and accessories for your furry friend.
To celebrate the success of Amazon’s new charitable giving platform, AmazonSmile, Amazon are tripling all donations to Guide Dogs from 15 June to 29 June!
Amazon donates 0.5% of the net purchase price (excluding VAT, returns and shipping fees) of eligible purchases to your chosen charity.
AmazonSmile is the same Amazon you know. Same products, same prices, same service.
Register to support Guide Dogs today and we will automatically start receiving 0.5% donation on all your future purchases, not forgetting the tripled donation rate from 15 June to 19 June.
Former Home Secretary, Lord David Blunkett has been getting to know his new guide dog Barley.
The black retriever/German Shepherd cross is his seventh guide dog since he qualified with his first in 1969. His previous guide dog Cosby died in late 2017.
Lord Blunkett spoke about the experience of learning routes around Sheffield and London with his new companion and the feeling of independence he has regained.
He wrote: “Last November, my much-loved companion Cosby died unexpectedly from liver cancer. Until the final few days of his life, my wife Margaret and I had no idea he was ill. The first sign that anything was wrong came when he didn’t want his breakfast – not natural behaviour for any labrador-cross, and completely out of character for Cosby, who weighed more than seven stone. When the vet told us the cancer was inoperable, I was completely unprepared in many ways.
“Cosby was not yet eight years old, and though the only humane option was to have him put to sleep to save further suffering, my heart broke in the clinic as I held his head to comfort him.
“He was my sixth guide dog in almost 50 years, after Ruby, Teddy, Offa, Lucy and Sadie. On each previous occasion, there had been an overlap, a transition when I’d been able to get to know my new dog while still working with the old one. Sadie stayed at my side till she was 11, before going off to a well-earned rest with a loving foster family. But after Cosby died, I was left without a dog. It came as a shock to realise just how much I relied on my canine helpmate.
“I’ve rarely spoken about the challenges I face in public life without sight. I prefer to highlight what I have to offer, and I’m always conscious that everyone has their own problems, often hidden and sometimes very serious.
“But it might be helpful to readers facing difficulties of their own for me to explain the practical and emotional challenges that have taken me by surprise since losing Cosby.
“Some have been comical: it turns out that the Palace of Westminster is littered with chairs and stone pillars whose existence I never realised while I had my dog to steer me.
“One obstacle floored me, quite literally, when I tripped over it in a parliamentary corridor. On closer inspection, it turned out to be a mobility scooter. You have to laugh, though it was a relief to realise that I hadn’t suffered much harm other than bruises to my dignity.
“Other problems are more debilitating, and perhaps you have to experience them to appreciate how hard life can be with a disability. My friend Frank Gardner, the renowned security editor at the BBC, has spoken of the frustration he felt on landing at Heathrow recently, when his wheelchair was not brought to the cabin door of his plane, but was taken into the terminal.
“The need to depend on the patience and kindness of others evokes complicated emotions. I am grateful for people’s thoughtfulness, but it is also painful for me to acknowledge just how helpless I am without them.
“Friends and members of the public have been wonderful, yet their help served to reinforce my levels of temporary dependency.
For me, as with so many blind people, a guide dog removes much of that reliance on others.
“I have great admiration for those proficient in using a long cane, as clearly a dog doesn’t suit everyone. It’s not enough to be blind – you must also be a dog-lover. A working dog is not a pet but it still needs your care, attention, time and love. If you can’t provide that, you shouldn’t take on the responsibility.
“Dogs thrive on routine, and I’m having to relearn some habits... such as going without a weekend lie-in, because Barley needs his breakfast and a chance to go outside. Even on wet and miserable days, a dog needs to be taken for walks. And because he’s not yet two years old, he needs plenty of play.
“It’s the play that’s wearing me out. Cosby liked a bit of fun but he didn’t have endless youthful energy to burn off. Neither do I, come to that. But Barley could chase tennis balls all day and night. He brings them back, but not often in one piece – the temptation to chew them to shreds is too strong.
“He loves a game of tug-of-war, too, with a rope or a toy. My arms and shoulders are sore from it. I’m getting used to him in other ways. Because Cosby was more like a small pony than a dog, I could reach down to pat his back without stretching or letting go of his harness. Sleek, black and handsome, Barley isn’t quite that tall, but he does love praise, even more than a scratch behind the ears.
“When I tell him he’s a ‘good boy’, his very long, bushy tail lashes away like a furry windscreen wiper. I worry about that tail, in fact – he’d better keep it tucked in when we go through revolving doors. He seems confident on escalators, and we are already getting used to using the London Underground together.
“In the capital with a guide dog, I’m constantly aware that we’ll need a convenient patch of grass several times a day. When meetings drag on, there’s always the thought in the back of my mind that the dog might be thirsty, or need exercise. This all has to be planned in advance. It’s not just a matter of putting on the harness and walking out of the door.
“Luckily, we have the Peak District countryside close by for weekend walks, which gives opportunities for Barley to relax and shake off the rigours of the working week. As yet, I wouldn’t trust Barley around sheep: if they scatter, his instinct would be to round them up, which would be dangerous.
“One of my dogs, Sadie, was trained to walk through a flock without distraction – and somehow the sheep understood this, and were not scared. I’ve never understood how that worked. If sheep are usually frightened of dogs, I’m the one who is wary of cattle.
“About nine years ago, I was knocked over by an aggressive heifer, and suffered three cracked ribs. So while Barley and I plan to enjoy our country strolls, we’ll be staying well away from the larger livestock.
“Before he came to me, Barley spent more than a year with a very experienced puppy walker called Sue. She recognised at once there was something special about him – ‘He’s a bright boy, a quick learner who enjoys meeting people,’ she said. Apparently he befriended every bus driver in the town, as he practised using public transport.
“Of course, as far as Barley knows, I’m just the latest human in a succession of puppy walkers and professional trainers. It will take him a while to realise I’m sticking around. In that respect, he reminds me of a civil servant in a government department, who looks after a succession of Cabinet ministers and must transfer loyalty from one to the next. The difference is that owners have to clear up after their dogs – whereas ministers sometimes make a mess for the civil servants to deal with.
“As Barley and I get the measure of each other, he will be constantly learning about my routines. It’s a common misconception that guide dogs come with a built-in satnav, pre-programmed with every road map. In fact, they have to get to know their owners’ regular walks – where the street crossings are, the bus stops, the cafes and shops. On every new route, they have to use their initiative.
“A guide dog is trained not just to avoid obstacles, but to stay to the middle of the pavement, and to stop at kerbs and steps. A calm temperament is needed to cope with crowds and traffic, and of course obedience is essential – a dog should not turn a corner or step into the road, for instance, until the command is given.
“That requires exceptional training, but what always amazes me most is how the animal is able to judge height and width, so that I don’t bump my head or shoulder.
“If you see us out together, by all means give me friendly shout, but please don’t distract Barley. He’s got enough to do already.
What might not be visible is how he reduces the stress of simply navigating everyday journeys for me. Wherever we go, a dog makes life so much easier than I knew, until I had to do without one.
“Yes, his youthful exuberance is tiring me out. And yes, I’m running out of tennis balls. But he is restoring my dignity and independence to me, and that is a blessing beyond price.”
National charity Guide Dogs is calling for urgent support from dog owners, as latest data reveals an alarming 12 guide dogs are attacked every month on average. In nearly 60% of these attacks the aggressor dog was off the lead.
In addition to the emotional and physical trauma of an attack, for the dog and owner, this serious issue has cost the charity over £1.3million since 2010 – the equivalent of 90,000 guide dog leads.
Today, the charity is launching their Take the Lead campaign, calling for the public to put their dog on a lead when they see a guide dog working. Canine researchers from the charity say this simple action could be the key to preventing future attacks.
Guide Dogs has campaigned on the issue of dog attacks in the past and back in 2014 tougher laws were introduced meaning if your dog attacked an assistance dog you could face up to a three-year jail sentence. However, the charity feels more needs to be done to prevent attacks and is now looking to the nation’s dog owners for support.
Guide Dogs Researcher, Rachel Moxon, says: “Guide dogs are life-changing for those living with sight loss, helping their owners live life to the full. Attacks on our dogs destroy confidence and can mean a guide dog owner once again loses their freedom and independence. Putting your dog on a lead when you see a guide dog working, allows you to have more control over the situation. Even if you know your dog is well-behaved, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.”
Attacks on guide dogs can have long-lasting affects for both the dog and owner.
Mike Brace’s guide dog, Izzy was attacked in London back in June 2016 and the pair are still dealing with the emotional scars from that day, he comments: “Izzy was badly hurt by a dog that sunk its teeth into her back – whilst the physical scars have healed she’s lost a part of herself, showing signs of anxiety, which breaks my heart. Each day a bit more of her sparkle returns but it all could have been avoided if the owner had put their dog on a lead that day.”
Today (1st March 2018), Microsoft have launched Soundscape, an App that makes it easier for people with sight loss to explore our towns and cities.
The App is a result of a collaboration between Guide Dogs and Microsoft. In this unique project, people with sight loss were at the heart of the development of the technology, influencing its design and testing the product.
The result is technology that makes it easier for people with sight loss to explore the world around them. By combining sounds that paint a picture of your surroundings with local information, it will enable people with sight loss to explore towns and cities and make choices about where they go and what they do.
Commenting, Tom Wright, Chief Executive of Guide Dogs said,
“If you’re living with sight loss getting around towns and cities can be daunting. Choosing where to go and what to do is an impossible dream. Soundscape will change this for many people.
“We worked with Microsoft to put people with sight loss at the heart of the development of Soundscape. This close collaboration has resulted in an App that makes exploring towns and cities a more enjoyable experience for those with sight loss, enabling people to make spontaneous choices about where they go and what they do.”
Discover more about technology and the Soundscape App
One of the annual Guide Dogs’ Children and Young People’s Services children’s Christmas parties took place last Saturday at Tamworth Snowdome in Staffordshire.
What a wonderful time we all had…
32 children with a vision impairment and their families, (some of whom had travelled from as far as Bristol, Liverpool, Cambridge and York) were greeted with warm drinks and Danish pastries by the Guide Dogs’ Children and Young People’s team as they came to join us in the Tirol Suite overlooking snow covered slopes at Tamworth Snowdome.
Families were able to relax, chat to staff and other families before making their way into the Winter Wonderland experience...
During the experience children went through Santa’s snow trail – hitching a ride on a sledge and having fun playing in the snow. At the end of the snow trail was a fun, interactive Santa show which was enjoyed by all before visiting the animal village and meeting the Reindeer and other furry friends.
At lunchtime, we met back in the Tirol Suite for a Christmas buffet lunch with a great opportunity for all families to mix and chat. We had a children’s entertainer – Mr Potato, together with face painting, temporary Christmas tattoos and tactile colouring. We were also joined by two guide dog puppy walkers who came in with some very excited puppies to meet the children.
Then we were delighted to welcome a very special visitor - Father Christmas, who had sensory gifts for all the children of scented playdoh, flashing tambourines, chocolate coins and audio CD storybooks.
These events are so important because not only do the families hopefully have a great time but it enables them to meet other families in a similar situation and Guide Dogs’ Children and Young People’s Services staff, who they might have only talked to over the phone, and ask about any areas of concern that they may have for their child.
A great time was had by the children and one parent wrote to say they enjoyed the party because it was:
"Nice to chat to other families and share experiences and offer support and advice. Everything was carefully planned out to make our day a special experience – a welcome break from day to day life/hospital appointments etc."
Virgin Atlantic has announced a global airline first as it launches a fully accessible inflight entertainment system for customers with sight loss, with help from the charity Guide Dogs. The technology will be offered throughout Virgin Atlantic’s fleet serving destinations across North America, the Caribbean, Africa, China, India and the Middle East.
Televisions in the sky have come a long way since the days of a single TV at the front of the cabin – with seat back touch screen entertainment now commonplace across the industry. However, while this is a benefit for many, touch screens can create a barrier for passengers who are blind or partially sighted due to the challenges of navigating the system.
Now, Virgin Atlantic is pioneering new technology, which will enable customers with vision impairments to enjoy the full range of onboard entertainment via specially adapted iPads. Working with UK tech company Bluebox Aviation Systems, the innovative iPad-based platform was tested by representatives from the charity Guide Dogs and includes audio descriptions, large type, and consistent layout and controls.
Virgin Atlantic and Bluebox worked closely with guide dog owners to assist with the development of the special kit and considered different types of sight loss it could benefit, including total blindness, partial vision and sensitivity to brightness. Representatives from the charity provided recommendations for the initial design and undertook a year of extensive system testing to ensure the technology met their needs.
John Welsman, Policy Business Partner for Travel and Transport for Guide Dogs, said: “We know that something as simple as an in-flight entertainment system with voice overs and audio descriptions will help passengers with vision impairments to enjoy flights just like anyone else on board. As someone with sight loss who flies quite often myself, I think it’ll be wonderful to access entertainment and information on Virgin planes without needing to ask for help. Not having to call for cabin crew, or disturb fellow passengers around me who might be sleeping, will be great.
“The charity Guide Dogs works hard to make sure that people who are blind or partially sighted are not left out of life, and so we’re delighted that Virgin Atlantic is helping passengers with sight loss to be more independent on board their planes by providing accessible in-flight entertainment.”
David Brown, Business Development Director at Bluebox, said: "Bluebox's accessible inflight entertainment platform – aIFE – offers Virgin Atlantic the means to give passengers with different types of sight loss access the latest IFE content, and the independence and navigational ease-of-use they told us they wanted and needed from an IFE system. For such a complex development, we're incredibly grateful to have had such willing and committed partners in both Virgin Atlantic and our testing group from Guide Dogs."
Mark Anderson, Executive Vice President – Customer at Virgin Atlantic, said: “Nearly thirty years ago, Virgin Atlantic was the first airline to offer seat back entertainment in all cabins, so it’s apt that we should be the first to ensure our entertainment is fully accessible across all flights. Working with Bluebox and Guide Dogs we’ve been able to create a world first that ensures customers with sight loss can experience the full range of onboard entertainment including the latest blockbusters, TV shows and albums.”