World Sight Day- How mobility training at WESC Foundation is enabling young people
10 October 2019
World Sight Day, the second Thursday in October, is designed to raise awareness of the challenges facing those with a visual impairment. For the mobility team at WESC, the most important aspect of the training they provide is enabling these young people to increase their independence in spite of the difficulties they face on a day to day basis.
Mobility Training at WESC
Whether they were born with a visual impairment or acquired it later, daily tasks that fully sighted people take for granted, such as getting the bus into town or safely crossing a road, become much more complicated with a visual impairment. The mobility training offered at WESC Foundation aims to enable young people with a visual impairment, not disable them, with the hope that eventually the young person will feel confident moving around independently.
Mobility training begins with what is referred to as ‘Pre-Cane Skills’ which mostly takes place indoors inside the buildings on the WESC Foundation campus. This includes body protection skills which teach the young person how to protect themselves from getting hurt should they encounter an obstacle in their path, and trailing which allows the young person to travel through a building using the walls as a guide.
A member of the mobility team enabling Brandon to find the ‘shoreline’ at the edge of the path
Following this, ‘Cane Skills’ are taught within the safety of the WESC campus to begin with, and then by venturing out into the local community. Cane skills include road safety, using public transport, and how to independently travel basic routes such as the route between school and home or how to get to the local shops. A variety of techniques are employed to help a young person learn a particular route. For example, ‘landmarks’ are often used to help orientate them in their surroundings such as a fence, a drain pipe, or even strong smells like lavender and other plants can all help a young person to find their way. ‘Shorelines’ are another way of helping a young person travel along a particular route. A ‘shoreline’ can be the side of a road, the edge where a path meets the grass, and the walls of a hallway. The young person is then able to follow the ‘shoreline’ to get to their destination.
Mobility training at WESC Foundation is catered to the needs of the individual, focusing on routes and skills that will be most beneficial to them. The time frame for the training is independently-led and some may pick it up more quickly than others. Unlike adults who lose their sight (who may expect to received eight weeks of support) the young people at WESC Foundation are usually supported with mobility and orientation throughout their time here.
Brandon using the fence as a ‘landmark’ to orientate himself and smelling the lavender along his route
Tips for guiding someone who is visually impaired
Many people find themselves wanting to offer help to someone who is visually impaired, however they also worry about doing something wrong, or that their offer of help will be rejected. Below are some tips from our mobility team about offering guiding assistance to someone with a visual impairment:
- Always offer to help if someone seems to be struggling– you should never be afraid to offer assistance, if they don’t need help they’ll just tell you
- Don’t be offended if they say no! – many people who are visually impaired are able to get around independently and prefer to do so, so if your offer of help is turned down don’t take it personally
- Let them take your arm– allowing them to take your arm (rather than you pulling on their arm) allows them to take control, they’ll more easily be able to tell you to slow down, speed up etc. and generally feel much safer whilst being guided
- When you leave, make sure they know where they are– being left in an open space when you can’t see where you are can be a very scary experience, make sure you let them know when you’re leaving and tell them exactly where they are before you go