Sixty-four-year-old Jan Cowey had lived an isolated, lonely life putting all her energy into the full time care of her late partner until being introduced to the Great Lakes Guide Dogs walking group.
"I was frightened to go out, I had lost my self confidence and stayed home caring for Pete (partner)," Jan said.
Jan is one of more than 575,000 Australians who have low vision or blindness.
Back in 2014 Jan was watching the television when she experienced retinal tearing leading to total blindness in her right eye, and short-sightedness in her left.
"Within three days I was rushed to an eye specialist in Kurri Kurri, then I had five operations and laser treatment," she said.
Nothing worked and three months later Jan was handed a white cane.
"I had no training; it was very hard."
Jan was eventually put in touch with a carer's group before learning about a vision impaired group through the Forster Neighborhood Centre, and eventually Guide Dogs NSW/ACT.
"This was the best thing that ever happened to me," she said.
Jan was interviewed and received much needed assistance including how to use a cane to her benefit, which in turn gave her the confidence to venture outdoors and even manoeuvre the 14 stairs leading to her Forster apartment.
"Guide Dogs has been absolutely amazing; they have helped with my knowledge and self esteem; it is like a family.
"I have been empowered."
I have been empowered/Jan Cowey
Last Thursday, October 15 Jan joined fellow members of the walking group at Tuncurry Rockpool for a double celebration; International White Cane Day and the return of the group's fortnightly activities following the lifting of some COVID-19 restrictions.
But, the group did stay connected during this time through video conferencing, Guide Dogs NSW/ACT orientation and mobility specialist, Jodie Morris said.
Jodie said the 15-member group met primarily for exercise, friendship and learning.
"The group helps build confidence and connection with others and to find out what is available in the community."
White Cane Day highlight the life-changing transformation a white cane can offer someone with low vision or blindness.
The white cane is the mobility tool of choice for the majority of Guide Dogs clients because of its practicality, and the way it can give sensory feedback about the surrounding environment, but also its importance as a visual signifier to others in the community of low vision and blindness.
Use of a white cane can be one of the first skills people with low vision and blindness learn as part of orientation and mobility training
It is a tool they will count on throughout their life.
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