Feature, Orthoptics Australia

Guide Dogs Victoria and its “more than dogs” approach

After beginning her role as an assistive technology specialist and orthoptist at Guide Dogs Victoria in 2021, JESS BUNSOY shares the important role assistive technologies and other aides play.

Our loveable and iconic Guide Dogs are known across the country for their role in affording independence and companionship to people with low vision or blindness.

However, we find many people are unaware there’s more to our services than our beloved pups, with our broader suite of “non-dog” services now making up the majority of our work.

Jess Bunsoy.

“We’d like to see greater streamlining of the user experience to help support our clients picking up whatever device they need with ease.”

Services like Assistive Technology, Orthoptics, Occupational Therapy, and Orientation and Mobility are crucial to ensuring people with low vision or blindness build skills and live a life without limits.

After studying orthoptics at university, I knew I wanted to help people with low vision or blindness live more independently through technology. Like many others, I wasn’t aware Guide Dogs offered services that extended beyond dogs, but I now work with the organisation as an assistive technology (AT) specialist and orthoptist. In this role I help clients with everything from setting up an assistive technology device to establishing a way to work remotely, online shopping, studying, volunteering and everything in-between.

Assistive technology is one of our most popular and important offerings, partly because using technology is hard to avoid, but largely because it offers such huge opportunities.

Historically, people with blindness or low vision used Braille to read, communicate and navigate daily life. Today, the number, and quality, of assistive technologies that are available is growing – from screen readers to applications on smartphones and TVs. And they’re helping give those with low vision or blindness an increased sense of autonomy, and the ability to carry out everyday tasks more easily.

But there are still gaps in accessibility, with cost often emerging as a barrier. Many of our clients will have funding providers, such as NDIS or HCP, and at Guide Dogs we provide supporting documentation to help clients secure that funding for necessary equipment. For those that don’t have funding options, we seek philanthropic support from donors to provide that equipment free of charge.

The technology is also quite diverse, so we’d like to see greater streamlining of the user experience to help support our clients picking up whatever device they need with ease. In a perfect world everything would have the option to be controlled by voice or gesture in the same way so it’s intuitive for the blind and low vision community.

We also still find some websites are not designed with screen reader users in mind. So, whilst, screen-readers are an amazing accessible technology, if a website is not accessible it can make navigation trickier for the individual.

We are advocating for these improvements and developments, but in the meantime helping people navigating these barriers is an incredibly important part of what we do – because realising the full impact of technology can be life changing.

For one of my clients, Mr Simon Watharow, learning to use assistive technology has meant he can manage his own business in the wildlife rescue, and mental health support field, as well as his part-time work as a volunteer for Wildlife Victoria and Lifeline.

Simon said of his experience: “It’s been really helpful to have Jessica help me navigate and adapt different software to make it easier and more accessible for me to use. While technological developments have significantly improved in recent years, there’s still a long way to go when it comes to making software accessible. I regularly come across road bumps that need smoothing out, and Guide Dogs Assistive Tech services have really helped to improve my quality of life.”

At Guide Dogs Victoria we often rely on specialists to help us inform both our clients and the public about the services we offer. With that in mind, if you’re interested in finding out more about our broader services, assistive technology in particular, or chatting to us to get more specific information please visit our website.

With your help we hope to see more people come through our doors, or visit our website, so we can better support those living with low vision or blindness by opening up their world through technology.

To find out more or speak with a Guide Dogs Victoria vision specialist, visit: vic.guidedogs.com.au.
Email: info@guidedogsvictoria.com.au
Phone: 1800 804 805

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jess Bunsoy (BASc & MOrth) is Assistive Technology Specialist/ Orthoptist at Guide Dogs Victoria.

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