Cabaret performer Dolly Diamond is helping to bring awareness to the importance of guide dogs for people with low vision or blindness. Matthew Wade reports.

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When Dolly Diamond signed up to be an ambassador for Guide Dogs Victoria (GDV), she wanted to help raise awareness around LGBTIQ+ people living with low vision or blindness.

Despite the importance of LGBTIQ+ rights, she says it’s easy to forget that queer people exist in other struggles and have other lived experiences as well.

“People are affected by all sorts of things in the world, but [often] it’s only when you’re made aware of them that you really start to become involved and passionate,” she says.

“Guide Dogs Victoria asked me to jump on board knowing my involvement with the LGBTIQ+ community, and I thought that was a bold and important move, reaching out to different kinds of people for their campaign.

“The work they do is incredible, and hearing the stories of people with low vision and blindness just makes you more aware of the important work that needs to be done.”

There are currently more than 450,000 people with low vision or blindness in Australia.

Low vision can impact a person’s wellbeing by putting them at risk of hazard and accidents, making them prone to anxiety, and affecting both their mental and emotional health.

In an effort to alleviate some of these risks, Guide Dogs Victoria provides support for people with low vision or blindness in a myriad of ways: via guide dogs, children’s and adult mobility training, occupational therapy, low vision service, and National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) support. The organisation also gets involved in a number of community initiatives.

During a recent tour of Dialogue in the Dark – a Melbourne-based sensory walk that allows participants to step into the shoes of a person with low vision or blindness – Dolly says she spoke with a man who had low vision, asking him what he’d like the broader community to know.

“He said he just wanted people to be more aware out on the street – people walk around with their phones and don’t even look up,” she says.

“And if you’ve got low vision or blindness, that can be a nightmare.

“We need to start listening to what their needs are, because only then will we start to be aware of what they do or do not want.”

Dolly says forced help is an issue faced by many people living with low vision or blindness as well.

“People will offer assistance and then not take ‘no’ for an answer when assistance isn’t needed,” she says.

“You’re allowed to ask if someone needs help, of course, and I reckon that’s in any walk of life.

“But if someone says they don’t need help, some people feel the need to try and force help, even though it isn’t required.

“That’s why I love the fact that I’m able to fill this ambassador role, to make people aware of the issues faced by this community.”

Guide Dogs Victoria are currently raising money to help fund their support services and upgrade their facilities, and have also put a call out for people interested in raising puppies, puppies that will ultimately become guide dogs. Almost 200 puppies were born at Guide Dogs Victoria’s nursery in 2018 alone.

In the last financial year, Guide Dogs Victoria undertook more than 7,500 guide dog training sessions, helping to change the lives of 9,625 clients and supporters. During a recent Giving Day, the organisation raised over $1 million dollars.

Dolly says helping out, whether by donating money or raising a puppy, allows you to learn how other people live their lives.

“Sometimes it’s easy to donate money and forget about it, but in this case it’s about knowing that the money you’re spending or the puppy you’re raising is going specifically to someone in need,” she says.

“Particularly when it comes to puppy raising, it takes a special sort of person to be able to do that, and Guide Dogs Victoria know that.

“If you have low vision or blindness that dog is your lifeline, it gets you where you need to go.”

For more information about Guide Dogs Victoria and helping out, visit: www.guidedogsvictoria.com.au

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