Ballymena man leads Guide Dogs initiative

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Spearheaded by Ballymena man Steve Andrews, Guide Dogs NI is teaming up with The Macular Society for an initiative that will give hope to people suffering from the effects of sight loss throughout NI.

Age-related macular degeneration is the biggest cause of sight loss in the developed world, affecting more than a third of people over the age of 75 in Northern Ireland.A new partnership between the Macular Society and Guide Dogs NI means that more people affected by macular degeneration in Northern Ireland will be given the chance to learn vital skills that can help maintain their independence.

As part of their ‘Skills for Seeing’ programme the two charities have trainers available to teach techniques which help people to make the best use of their remaining vision.

Steve Andrews, the new trainer at Guide Dogs NI said: “It’s really important to us that losing your sight shouldn’t mean losing your independence too. The training that we deliver through the Skills for Seeing programme is helping people retain a degree of freedom that they wouldn’t otherwise have. We’re delighted that our partnership with the Macular Society means that together we will be able to help to offer this possibility to more people right across Northern Ireland.”

Volunteer trainer Kate McAllister from Antrim said: “Volunteering as an EV trainer for the Macular Society is so rewarding.

“I get to meet a lot of interesting people, and for many, it means they regain some independence by being able to read personal correspondence. For others they regain some confidence by being able to see better where they are walking, or being able to recognise people in the street more easily. For others it may enable them to resume a hobby such as knitting or gardening, which they had let go because of their sight problems.

“It is sad that the training doesn’t always work for everyone; however there is a great sense of achievement when I see someone ‘getting it’!”

Mr David Stewart, 75, has recently had Skills for Seeing training with Kate in Antrim. He said: When I watched the TV, I could never see what was happening on the right hand side. If there were two people on the screen, I’d only see the one on the left.

“On Kate’s second visit we found the sweet spot in my peripheral vision, and then we worked on how to use it. It made a big difference, now I can see both sides of the TV.

“I am still practicing the techniques Kate taught me, and will be for some time, but they have really helped. I am very pleased with my training.”

Karen Toogood, Group Support & Development Manager NI, said: “I’m so pleased that as a Society we can work closely with Guide Dogs NI to offer this training to people living in Northern Ireland.

“These techniques have the potential to significantly benefit those affected by macular degeneration.”

This is a great opportunity for people to learn a new skill that can help them in their daily lives.

“We need people to get in contact with us and then we can provide more information on how they can receive the free tuition.”