Guide Dogs NSW helps vision-impaired children fly high with circus activities

"It was like being a stick and an eagle, um, dropping you off its claws," said Zara Perry, of her first experience on the high-flying trapeze. Not bad for a nine-year-old, especially one with severe vision-impairment and albinism.

The circus activities were organised by Guide Dogs NSW with the aim of giving children aged six to 10, the chance to work on their motor skills as well as explore their proprioception.

The organisation’s orientation and mobility instructor, Jessica Taylor, says such programs are run every school holidays to give children the opportunity to get outdoors.

There is, however, a fearfor many children of just climbing the ladder up to the 10-metre high platform. Some children, such as eight-year-old Natalia, flatly refuse to participate. Others, such as Zara, are primed by th warm-up activities, which include balancing tricks such as low-lying tightrope walking and building a human pyramid.

Zara was confident but a little surprised, she said, when the instructors let go and she found herself in the air. There were no shrieks, squeals or calls for mum, however, and before she knew it, she had dropped onto the net below.

Would she go on it again? She nodded enthusiastically.

Zara’s mother, Rachel  Perry, says it is an experience they will not often get. "I would never have brought her to do something like that, so having these guys initiate an activity like that is so fantastic," she said.

Trapeze instructor Ted Tornaros, who has a vice-like grip and saint-like patience, guides the group through warm-up exercises before shepherding them up the ladder. Mr Tornaros admits he once tried it himself with a blindfold and, even though he has been on the flying trapeze in many circuses, he described it as "one of the scariest things" he had ever done.

"Putting the blindfold on, leaning out into the void, not knowing when the net’s coming – it's daunting," he said.

The circus activities are part of Guide Dogs NSW’s strategy of laying the foundations for a future of independence for the blind and vision-impaired. Ms Taylor says it is also a fun social event for the children.

The story Guide Dogs NSW helps vision-impaired children fly high with circus activities first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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