Guide Dogs of Hawaii holds its first mass training for blind, visually impaired clients

Published: Feb. 23, 2022 at 4:10 PM HST|Updated: Feb. 23, 2022 at 4:40 PM HST

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Through small steps, 35 people who are legally blind learned to navigate their world through Guide Dogs of Hawaii’s first mass training session.

The non-profit’s executive director, Jeanne Torres, said the orientation and mobility training combines classroom lessons and field trips.

“Our theme this year is ‘If I don’t go, I’ll never know,’” she said.

As part of the training, DOE instructors who work with visually impaired students lead the crash course on safe travel skills.

The clients range in age from 10 to 92. They learn to use their new white canes to travel sidewalks and cross city streets. In shopping malls, they go from floor to floor and store to store.

They steer clear of obstacles and ride escalators and elevators.

“Just like any other person, it’s jut a matter of navigating safely, efficiently and independently,” Torres said.

For some in the group, it’s the first time they’re using a cane to find their way. For others, its a chance to brush up on what got rusty during the pandemic.

“We decided that it was time for us to do mass training so that individuals can get back on track, gain their skills again, update their technology, and be out in the community,” Torres said.

The practical applications include shopping, dining out, catching TheBus and ride-sharing. Participants improve their sensory skills, overcome fears, and make new friends.

“Since I’m a senior in high school, I don’t really get to see other people who are visually impaired or blind,” said teenager Amanda Cunha, who is blind.

“Being in a room with even four people made me feel a lot more connected to those people, even though I don’t even know them.”

Torres said, “Many of them have never met each other before. It’s formed a good support group among themselves as well.”

The workshops continue through Friday. Guide Dogs of Hawaii hopes to offer the mass training on a regular basis.

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