Preliminary findings from world-first research launched today for International Guide Dog Day by Guide Dogs Victoria, in partnership with Swinburne University, reveals the impact of a Guide Dog extends far beyond its ability to guide its handler.

The research project explores the types and magnitude of benefits that people with low vision or blindness experience from a Guide Dog, which include promoting social participation, mental and physical health, and the confidence to develop or try new skills and experiences.

Swinburne University Researchers Denny Meyer and Lil Deverell undertook the year-long investigation with extensive qualitative and quantitative research: “To date, the attempts to evaluate the impact of Guide Dogs have been limited by lack of clarity around what to measure. Guide Dogs Victoria wanted to hear from clients about what they gain from having a guide dog. This research provides us with a benchmark that we believe could be used across the world to measure outcomes in the years to come,” said Dr Deverell.

Beyond helping people get out and about independently and safely, the preliminary qualitative research revealed that Guide Dogs act as social facilitators, help to manage mental and physical health issues, and encourage the handlers to try new challenges, develop new skills and think differently about themselves.

Dr Deverell explained the social and emotional vulnerability is a key issue faced by many Australians with blindness or low vision. “The Guide Dog is a full-time companion. It refuses to be ignored at home, and provides a great talking point when out meeting new people.”

Close to 65% of those surveyed mentioned mental and physical health issues, including chronic pain, anxiety and depression. Dr Deverell said the therapeutic impact of a Guide Dog tends to remain hidden. “One such client reported that when his chronic pain is minor, the dog wants to play with him, providing a distraction from discomfort, but when the pain becomes severe the dog comes to sit by his side providing comfort and company,” she said.

Guide Dogs Victoria CEO Karen Hayes explained that in a 100-year history of Guide Dog mobility, there have been no satisfactory outcome measures mapping the benefits of Guide Dogs. “Guide Dogs are so much more than navigation dogs – they enable Victorians with blindness or low vision to focus on living instead of walking. This research is incredibly exciting for us, as it validates that Guide Dogs are life changing.

“Many of us think of a Guide Dog as a Labrador in harness guiding the handler to a destination, but these dogs also provide a real sense of security, companionship and confidence that cannot be matched,” she said.

Ms Hayes explains that with the roll-out of the NDIS well underway, the goalposts for disability service providers has shifted. Rather than being prescribed a set of ‘off the peg’ services, not specifically designed for their individual circumstances, the NDIS gives people the right to choose the types of support they feel will best meet their needs.

“The funding climate for our services is changing as a result of the NDIS so this research is key for us as it will help clients to make informed decisions about the services they choose and the tangible benefits of those services,” said Hayes.

The preliminary findings form part of a five-year research project (July 2015 – June 2020) between Guide Dogs Victoria and Swinburne University with the specific purpose of developing measures to evaluate the functional outcomes of Guide Dogs Victoria’s client services.

This International Guide Dog Day, you can help by donating to Guide Dogs Victoria to support the breeding, raising and training of these life changing animals, which costs over $50,000. To learn more about Guide Dogs and how to help, please visit https://www.guidedogsvictoria.com.au/

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About:

  • The research project: A five-year collaboration (July 2015 – June 2020) was established between Guide Dogs Victoria and Swinburne University with the specific purpose of developing measures to evaluate the functional outcomes of Guide Dogs Victoria’s client services. The preliminary findings launched today are initial qualitative responses from this research project.
  • Guide Dogs Victoria: Guide Dogs Victoria is about so much more than Guide Dogs. The organisation also offers wider support of Victorians who have low vision or blindness through a suite of programs including Children/Youth Services, Adult Services, Acquired Brain Injury Mobility Services and Occupational Therapy Services. Guide Dogs Victoria receives less than 10 per cent of Government funding for services other than Guide Dog Mobility, which is reliant on community donations exclusively. For more information about Guide Dogs Victoria visit guidedogsvictoria.com.au.
  • International Guide Dog Day: International Guide Dog Day celebrates the important role Guide Dogs play in enabling people with low vision and blindness to be safe and independent.

Media enquiries
Keep Left on behalf of Guide Dogs Victoria:
 Georgia Harrison: 03 9268 7800 | 0423 617 372 | georgia@keepleft.com.au
 Tabitha Mathew: 03 9268 7800 | 0400 621 323 | tabitha@keepleft.com.au