Guide Dogs NI will use a sensory tunnel to help sighted people understand the challenges people with sight loss face every day, thanks to a grant from Big Lottery Fund.
Guide Dogs NI has received a £9,990 grant from Big Lottery Fund’s Awards for All programme. They are using the money to help them convert an old exhibition bus into a mobile sensory tunnel that will allow sighted people to better understand challenges faced by people who are blind and partially sighted. It is part of a Big Lottery Fund grants roll out today of £769,369 to 91 groups across Northern Ireland. Download a full list of awards.
Torie Tennant, from Ballymena (23) is a fundraiser, campaigner, and volunteer for Guide Dogs NI. Torie has been blind since birth and up until a couple of years ago, she was entirely reliant on her family and friends, which she found hugely frustrating. She was paired with her guide dog Ushi on her 20th birthday and has gone from strength to strength in gaining independence, working to raise awareness and change things for the better for blind people.
Torie said many of the problems that blind people face every day could be helped if people understood blindness better; especially those with the power to make changes.
“Once, I was going into a venue and the owner wouldn’t allow me to take my guide dog Ushi with me, because they didn’t understand. You feel crushed when that happens. When there are obstacles on footpaths and walkways it’s difficult, even with a guide dog. If business owners, public service providers and people in government understood what we face, our lives could be made so much easier.”
The mobile sensory tunnel project will be in operation across Northern Ireland from next year. People will be blindfolded and will walk through a dark tunnel, smelling mown grass, hearing traffic and countryside noises, feeling surfaces that simulate grass, tarmac and paving, and walls of fencing and brick. It will be a brief but powerful insight into what it’s like to live with sight loss. It will give people a first-hand understanding of their heightened need to use all their senses, and of the everyday challenges blind people face.
Ian Baxter-Crawford from Guide Dogs NI said: “The tunnel is only a few metres long but it is surprisingly disorienting. Time slows, people feel confused and fearful of being deprived of the sense they rely on the most for orientation and mobility. We want to bring this powerful educational tool to communities, businesses and authorities across Northern Ireland. We want to give people a taste of the challenges faced by someone living with sight loss.”
The mobile sensory tunnel will be used from next year as part of Guide Dogs NI’s busy calendar of fundraising and awareness-raising events, managed by local support groups right across NI at events like the Portrush Airshow, Belfast Feile and The Bluegrass Music Festival.
Joanne McDowell, Big Lottery Fund NI Director, said: “The Big Lottery Fund’s NI Awards for All programme funds health, education, environment and community projects that help people bring about positive change in their lives, improve health and well-being, develop skills and create safer communities.
“The application process is simple and accessible and shall remain so, making it easy for applicants to successfully apply for small pots of funding that can have such a big impact on local communities and lives.”