Close your eyes and imagine walking through a crowded room and you start to get close to experiencing what it is like to be vision impaired.
Students of all ages have been invited to the Guide Dogs SA Discovery Centre to experience what it is like to be vision and hearing impaired.
Guide Dogs SA’s Greta Gorelik said the centre was funded by a bequest in 2010 from a supporter who wanted to give children an understanding of the conditions faced by people with a vision or hearing impairment.
“It also teaches children empathy and to be inclusive of people with a hearing or vision loss,” Ms Gorelik said.
After watching a short video about vision and hearing impairment, the children complete a series of activities.
To achieve a sense of vision impairment, the children are given a pair of goggles with large, frosted dots to simulate macular degeneration.
The students then complete activities such as shooting basketball hoops, “crossing a street” with the aid of a white cane and attempting to “catch a train” at a station.
“They definitely get a firsthand experience of what it is like, and I think that is what teaches them empathy the most,” Ms Gorelik said.
For 11-year-old Lily Allen, the experience gave her new insight into the training of assistance dogs and how important they are for people with a visual impairment.
“When you wore the glasses, it blocked your vision, so you understand what it would feel like,” Lily said.
Many of the children did not know a person with a vision or hearing impairment, and the visit gave them a greater understanding of the conditions those people experienced.
“I appreciate my vision a lot more,” 11-year-old Alex Zlatkovic said.
Children also learn about how they can limit their exposure to events that can result in sight or hearing loss.
Students are asked to guess the sound levels of certain noises and then adjust the volume on their headphones to a level which would not produce long term hearing loss.
A display behind the students shows the loudness and possible hearing damage caused by prolonged noise at that level.
The noise exercise has become a timely lesson, with a 2015 World Health Organisation study revealing half of all young people are at risk of damaging their hearing with loud music.
The Discovery Centre also features a stand where children can attempt to communicate over a phone connection adjusted to simulate hearing loss.
The Guide Dogs SA Discovery Centre is open to school groups between Years 3 and 7, out of school hours care groups, community groups and corporate groups.
The general public are also able to visit the facility during school holidays.
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