Elisabete Infante and Dee Beach from Guide Dogs put their wheelchair training into practice at Henshaws College using a bus kindly supplied by Transdev
Elisabete Infante and Dee Beach from Guide Dogs put their wheelchair training into practice at Henshaws College using a bus kindly supplied by Transdev

Award for guiding the guides

28 September 2015

Expertise in achieving the maximum possible independence for people with disabilities has been shared by staff from Henshaws with another leading charity and the scheme has proved so effective that it has won an award.

Specialist Rehabilitation Officers from Henshaws Disability Support Services, based at Henshaws College in Harrogate, not only have in-depth knowledge of Visual Impairment (VI) but also, because the College caters for students with a wide range of disabilities, have been able to share their expertise on the needs of VI wheelchair users with Guide Dogs for the Blind.

Henshaws delivered a number of specialist wheelchair training courses to Guide Dogs staff to give them the skills and understanding to effectively support this under-represented group.

Following on from the success of these introductory training courses, additional courses were commissioned by Guide Dogs to further develop their specialist guide dog mobility instructors’ expertise in working alongside powered wheelchairs. An increasing number of Guide Dog applicants are essential wheelchair users and Guide Dogs wanted to increase their own staff’s knowledge of how to work successfully with them. The course has also now been extended to cover mobility instructors who work with VI wheelchair users who do not have guide dogs but need additional support with mobility.

The training was delivered by a range of Henshaws specialist staff including occupational therapists and physiotherapists from the multidisciplinary Disability Support Services team.

Henshaws College Principal Angela North said:

It is absolutely essential that organisations such as ours which support disabled people should share best practice. Not only does this ensure that service users get the best possible outcomes but it also has a significant impact in terms of cost-effectiveness.

Not only did the course give Guide Dogs staff the hands-on experience to adapt their techniques as trainers but our own staff benefitted too, learning about working with guide dogs.

Now Henshaws’ work has been commended for creating and running the partnership. The team’s work was recognised in a ceremony at the National School of Optometry with a Commendation made to Disability Support Services Manager Martin Best by Nick Clarke, Chair of Vision 2020, the umbrella organisation which facilitates greater collaboration and co-operation between organisations within the UK which focus on vision impairment.

Henshaws College is North Yorkshire’s only specialist college for students with educational support needs and disabilities. With a strong reputation for supporting those with a visual impairment, Henshaws now provides wide-ranging opportunities for students and the community with a variety of disabilities, including sensory impairments, autistic spectrum conditions, physical disabilities, moderate to severe learning disabilities and healthcare needs.

Senior Rehabilitation Officer Nicola Millar of Henshaws Disability Support Services said:

Our training is focused on practical skills to give staff the chance to put themselves in the position of their service users. So, for example, we covered the basics of how to drive electric wheelchairs and how to go up and down kerbs safely. We aimed to develop strategies to help staff to enable the VI people they are supporting to safely access their local community.

There were a number of extra considerations to address, such as developing the coordination to hold the guide dog’s harness and respond to feedback whilst also travelling safely in the wheelchair. We ended up adapting the harness design to make it easier to handle.


Lee Stanway, Additional Needs Manager for Guide Dogs, said:

I can’t begin to say what a positive effect it had on me and everyone else to undergo such a constructive, comprehensive and well put-together course.


  • Henshaws Specialist College in Harrogate provides programmes of learning and support for students aged 16 to 25 with a wide range of disabilities and additional support needs.
  • The College’s experienced education, care and therapy teams and specialist facilities help young people to develop the skills, knowledge and independence they need to achieve the future they want.
  • Students follow an individual study programme to develop their communication, personal and social skills and support them to achieve their lifelong goals.
  • Henshaws welcomes both residential and day students.
  • Henshaws is amongst the top three independent specialist Colleges in the country for assistive technology, supporting each student to access technology in their own way. The College’s assistive technology team research and develop new ways to support people with disabilities, including a suite of accessible websites at accesstechnology.org.uk

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