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The instructors learn how to navigate Mongolian streets


Changing lives in Mongolia

A teaching trip to Mongolia to help blind people become more mobile was tough but extremely rewarding for Massey Professor Steve La Grow.

He says his three-week visit to the former communist state was hard work, but will have lasting impact and change many lives.

School of Health and Social Services head Professor La Grow went to Mongolia to train six people as mobility instructors for the Mongolian Federation of the Blind.

“Mongolia has never had a mobility training programme or formal services before,” Professor La Grow says. “It was heart-breaking to see. In New Zealand blind people are integrated into society, but over there very few are out and getting around, and almost all of them are completely reliant on sighted people, and have very limited opportunities.”

Professor La Grow, who has more than 35 years experience in rehabilitation of blind people and those with low vision, taught the six staff how to teach blind people to use white canes, and adaptive skills to orient themselves and move safely within communities and cities. 

Conditions were challenging, as they had to contend with the chaotic traffic, dusty roads and crumbling footpaths, but the instructors were eager to learn and started in the classroom before moving out into the city. “They were extremely enthusiastic, they were absolutely dedicated to what they were doing,” he says.

The instructors will now put into practice their new skills and each work with 30-40 blind people a year, and will eventually go on to train more mobility instructors themselves.

Professor La Grow, who returned from his trip earlier this month, says it was a rewarding experience. “Just from those three weeks of training I’ll have a bigger impact on blind people in Mongolia than I’ve probably had anywhere else in 35 years in the field, because the country’s gone from having nothing, to having something.

“If it just increases independence and safety even a little bit, then they’re (instructors) going to make such an impact. I have no doubt this will make a huge difference to the lives of blind people in Mongolia.”

The World Blind Union sponsored the project, which was paid for by the Danish Association of the Blind.

Read more about Professor Steve La Grow here.

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