Back from his second mission to Mongolia to help the blind, a Palmerston North professor is heartened by progress there.
Massey University mobility expert Professor Steve La Grow first visited the former communist state last year to train six mobility instructors to work with the blind.
Mongolia has little support for visually impaired people - guide dogs are too costly to train, mobility aids are foreign objects - and most people either feel their way around, are led along by others or are house-bound.
Prof La Grow set about changing that by training instructors to teach others how to use mobility aids like sticks and canes.
He blindfolded students, putting them "in the dark" for 45 hours. They then learnt to navigate with a cane so they could teach others how to use one effectively.
He returned to Mongolia again this month to measure the progress of his programme and was pleased to see the independence it was providing people.
"Basically what I saw was blind people out mingling, which for some of them had never happened before, and for their lives it was a startling change.
"We're so used to seeing blind people here just participating in society and walking around town and on campus, and you don't think that much of it.
"But if you went blind, or were born blind in Mongolia, then you would be completely dependent on sighted people . . . this change is massive - everyone was born again, in a sense."
Prof La Grow has been asked to speak about his experience at the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired in the United States later this year.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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