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Losing her sight gives Leanne a new vision to life

Leanne Hunt was not born visually impaired but lost her vision when she was only 10 due to a medical condition.

Leanne Hunt, a 30-year-old woman, has expressed her deep gratitude for the significant impact the SA Guide Dog Association has had on her life. At the age of 10, she lost her sight due to juvenile macular degeneration, a condition caused by a genetic mutation affecting the retina.

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The condition is characterised by a loss of central vision, followed by a fragmentation of the peripheral field. She said it slowly developed, until she completely lost her vision.

“In primary school, I struggled to read what was written on the blackboard and disliked ball games. In high school, I was allowed some concessions, such as being excused from hockey and tennis, and I got my exam papers in large print. I quickly learnt to ask for help, but on the inside, I worried about being a burden on those I loved. Thankfully, my parents were very supportive and so were my teachers.

For years, Hunt had to find a way to go about her life without any assistance. But the SA Guide Dogs Association rewrote her story shortly after she approached the association. She was given a guide dog, which helped her to go wherever she wanted to go.

The help became evident when she decided to visit her granddaughter overseas. She said her white cane became her faithful companion throughout the trip. Prior to her departure, she reached out to the Association for White Cane Training, run through the SA Guide Dogs Association, for guidance and support.

“The orientation and mobility instructor visited me at home and trained me in our driveway and on streets in our neighbourhood. The cane extends the reach of my hand to ground level, making it possible to feel two paces ahead.”

When asked to share her experience of using the white cane and what it meant to her in terms of independence and freedom, she recounted a memorable moment from a holiday with her family.

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“We went to a cottage in the mountains and I had no idea of the layout of the place. I asked my niece to show me around the house so that I could get my bearings, which took a matter of minutes. Then I unfolded my cane and told her I would find my own way around from there. I couldn’t believe what a difference it made, to be able to move around without having to ask someone else to accompany me.

“A lot has [also] changed with the advent of smartphones and computers with screen reading software. I no longer use cassettes to read because I can download books in audio format. Podcasts are a great way to access information and entertainment, and I have my cane and guide dog to help me get around independently. The challenges I face these days have more to do with public spaces – loud noise makes it hard to hear signals from the environment, potholes in the pavement which make walking in the street difficult, security guards who don’t understand that guide dogs are allowed by law into buildings, that kind of thing. But I maintain that it’s better to focus on what I can do than what I can’t. Attitude makes all the difference.”

Hunt has been a dedicated supporter of the association throughout the years and has also made a donation towards the current Give a Cane Campaign. This campaign aims to raise R550 000 to purchase 500 white canes to change the lives of our visually impaired clients. This according to Nicole Barros, the marketing coordinator of the association.

“We are not victims of our disability. We want our independence so we can strike out and follow our interests wherever they may lead,” said Hunt.

Barros said, “By donating a minimum of R50, your donation will enable us to continue our vital work, ensuring that we can train more clients of all ages, provide more assistive devices to those in need.”

Details: NicoleB@guidedog.org.za

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