Jen Moon celebrates 30 years with Guide Dogs
Does the idea of spending three decades with the same organisation cause you to grimace? Your mind may conjure images of a monotonous routine, a stale work environment or just plain boredom. Jen Moon’s career with Guide Dogs has been anything but. The past 30 years for Guide Dogs’ Principal Advisor – Access and Stakeholder Engagement have been filled with amazing opportunities including a stint in Siberia!
From Sydney to Siberia
So, what has kept Jen coming back after all these years? “I think one, I’ve always loved what we do. I’ve always loved our product. I’ve always loved the ethos of the organisation,” she says.
That love has seen Jen pursue several learning and development opportunities within the Guide Dogs organisation – first with Guide Dogs South Australia, followed by North Queensland and eventually a two-year secondment in the UK with the Royal Guide Dogs For the Blind Association.
Her most far-flung opportunity came in Russia’s Siberia province when she joined a Rotary International project to help people with low vision and blindness. “It was fascinating because these people had never had O&M [Orientation and Mobility], and most of them had been blind since birth,” she says.
Jen found the process of training these people and providing them with white cane skills a rewarding experience. She was fortunate enough to return the following year to work with kids in a local school as well as observing the introduction of the first O&M university course in the region.
Just as Jen has been on her own journey of growth and development, Guide Dogs has grown along with her. “When I started, I was Regional Manager of Sydney East and we had 10 O&Ms, and that was it. And then we had a few scattered around but we’ve just grown and grown and covering the state [NSW], covering ACT as well,” Jen explains.
It was in the lead up to the Sydney Olympic Games, however, that the field of access, one of Jen’s areas of expertise, started to come into focus.
“All of a sudden, we had to make transport accessible and stadiums accessible. So, I think then, as an organisation, we’ve expanded from our core service of O&M into these other areas as well,” she says.
Since then, Jen’s career in access and stakeholder engagement has flourished and she has worked tirelessly to advocate for greater access and inclusion for people who are blind or have low vision. “One of the things I’m most proud of is moving those wooden escalators out of Wynyard Station because they were so hazardous for people with their Guide Dogs,” she says.
The improved accessibility at both Wynyard and Townhall Stations meant Guide Dog Handlers could safely travel to and from any station on the network.
Improving accessibility and inclusion
Not one to rest on her laurels, Jen is acutely aware more work is needed to improve accessibility and inclusion for people with disabilities and she suggests a few ways in which members of the community can play their part. “Knowing how to stand up, particularly for our Guide Dog Handlers, when they might encounter discrimination,” she says. “Perhaps being confident to offer assistance if people might need it, and if they don’t know how to do that, always ask the person, as they know best.”
Jen expanded on her comments by encouraging all people leading the creation of both the built environment and digital space to include people with lived experience in the early stages of design. “That opens up opportunities for people who are blind or have low vision to get more work opportunities because they go into environments that are safe but also accessible,” She says.
When you spend more than half of your life dedicating yourself to the empowerment of people with disabilities, it can be difficult to describe it as anything other than rewarding, and Jen confesses as much. “I don’t want to be cliché and say it’s rewarding, but it is a great organisation to work for because of what we’re about and that is to make people remain as independent as possible,” she says.
If the past 30 years are anything to go by, the next few years look to be just as rewarding for Jen and Guide Dogs.