visually and physically impaired people, and children with autism. GDA strives to enable the visually and physically impaired members of our society, as well as children with autism, to live an independent life through freedom of movement and the acquisition of key skills that are required to achieve this independence.
The visually and physically impaired and those with autism are often marginalised, and even more so when they live in economically challenged areas.
‘Most visually impaired people only lose their ability to see later in life. This brings about huge challenges for them, especially when they lose their independence,’ explains Tanya Schonwald, Head of Strategic Corporate Partnerships at SA Guide-Dogs Association for the Blind. ‘As a result, those affected often don’t leave their homes, they have low confidence, and they struggle with depression and anxiety.’
The assistance of a guide dog can change their entire situation and enable them to participate positively in society and in the economy. A highly trained guide dog is an essential companion that guides their owner safely in different environments and situations, including the workplace. Most importantly, they navigate routes to work, community centres, shopping areas and places of employment. They know which door to approach, which desk to lead their owner to, and where certain essential spots are around the office, and will wait patiently at the feet of their owner all day until they are needed.
The association also trains service dogs to assist people who are physically disabled. These dogs are trained to assist with day-to-day activities such as the opening and closing of doors and drawers and retrieving items from difficult-to-reach places.
Lastly, autism support dogs are provided to assist children with autism between the ages of 5 and 10 years on the low support spectrum. They provide a safety net for autistic children, who have the tendency to run off when distracted, and they provide companionship, comfort and unconditional love in times of loneliness and feeling misunderstood.
Schonwald explains that it costs about R500 000 to train one guide dog or service dog, and they’re offered to clients at a small donation fee of only R5. The association is dependent on monthly contributors, corporate funding, and fundraising events to be able to provide this invaluable service and support to their clients.
The Association furthermore has a registered training facility, the College of Orientation and Mobility, that is SAQA accredited and registered with the ETDP SETA. There are two main elements to the College: the provision of accredited training that produces Orientation and Mobility practitioners, and the provision of services through the Orientation and Mobility Support Team. This team consists of dedicated practitioners who work in the field and teach clients skills to acquire independence through the use of the white cane.
‘We envision the day when the visually and physically impaired members of our communities form part of our mainstream economy and contribute positively through inclusion – a day when equality and inclusion are the norm and no longer the exception. We exist to create the tools to transform this vision into reality,’ says Schonwald.
This year they will also be launching new initiatives that will support their growth plan even further, through the use of digital tools and technology and partnerships with organisations that focus on inclusivity in employment.