Guide Dog Mobility Instructor
Interview with Andrew Barnes from Guide Dogs Queensland
Andrew has been working at Guide Dogs Queensland for almost 16 years. It is a trusted and respected non-profit organisation, which offers support, which offers complete rehabilitation services, including Guide Dog training and placement, white cane and electronic travel aid training, workshops, special mobility programs for children, as well as professional counselling support, training and resources to thousands of Queenslanders each year.
Andrew works as a Guide Dog Client Services Manager to support people around the state who use Guide Dogs to assist their mobility and independence.
His work has never been more important. By 2020, it is estimated that the number of Australians with a vision condition that cannot be corrected will increase from over 300,000 today (including 90,000 who are blind), to over 350,000 Australians (including 115,000 who will be blind) who will be looking for support. Andrew works to help these people live increasingly mobile lives with a Guide Dog companion to lead the way.
According to Andrew, Guide Dogs Queensland receives around 7% of its funding for rehabilitation services from the government and the rest from community support. This means that Andrew certainly has his work cut out for him - but he says he’s not about to give up any time soon! Andrew spoke to Open Colleges about what it’s like working in the disability industry after transitioning from the police force, and the importance of lifelong learning.
“You need a passion for people, a willingness to learn and a real desire to leave a meaningful legacy.”
At Guide Dogs Queensland I manage the guide dog client service relationships and provide state-wide guide dog support to new and existing teams (comprising of a guide dog and handler). I also ensure that anyone applying for a guide dog is interviewed and assessed. If they are found to be suitable, they are trained and matched to a dog that will suit their needs, to enhance their mobility and independence.
I initially began my career with dogs in the police service, where I was a dog handler, specialising in counter and urban terrorism. I decided to join the guide dog movement when my police dog was sadly killed. I successfully undertook a Masters in Orientation and Mobility, as well as an Advanced Diploma in Guide Dog Training, followed by an Advanced Diploma in Guide Dog Instruction. I have now been with Guide Dogs Queensland since January 1998.
Above all, you need a passion for people, a willingness to learn and a real desire to leave a meaningful legacy. An understanding of dogs is also essential as Guide Dogs are one of the mobility aids we use to help vision impaired people travel safely and effectively. You need patience and tolerance because all people are different and learn in different ways. You also need to have a heart for helping and training people. This is an amazing industry to be involved in, but be prepared to be challenged.
I enjoy ensuring that all Guide Dogs Queensland clients and the staff under me are supported in whatever way they require support.
There are a number of things we look for, however the top three characteristics you need are:
1. Be a team player
2. Understand or be prepared to work within our business culture
3. Be generous with your time and be prepared to learn for the rest of your life
As well as this, I would also say that it is important to have good communication skills, empathy and conviction.