Guide Dogs CatchUp

Building an engaged online community for people with blindness.

How Guide Dogs created a highly accessible networking and social support platform.

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, over 13 million Australians have one or more long-term eye conditions: from long- and short-sightedness to cataracts, macular degeneration, and more. While many people know the physical effects of loss—or change—of vision, perhaps fewer know that a change in vision often comes with an associated impact on a person’s mental health. It’s common for people to experience loneliness, depression, and anxiety after losing vision.

Thankfully, there are many in-person supports available for the millions of people experiencing vision loss around the country. Sometimes though, it’s more comfortable to start your journey with smaller steps. To connect with others from the comfort of your own home, before heading out into the world. To learn from people with similar life experiences, form bonds based on common interests, and feel part of a community. Guide Dogs have built CatchUp for exactly that purpose; as a networking and social support platform that provides a sense of connection for people with low vision, their friends and family, and eye health practitioners.


  • National

The problem

Research conducted by the team at Guide Dogs suggests people who experience a change in vision can be hesitant to reach out for face-to-face support services. As an addition to their services offering wrap-around supports and practical skills, Guide Dogs sought to create a support platform for people looking for a sense of connection, but who may not be ready to connect in person.

The approach

Establish an online community—called CatchUp—where people with blindness and low vision can access support, resources, information, and find opportunities to connect with each other. As one of the world’s only purpose-built digital networking platforms for people with low vision, CatchUp must lead the way in accessible design and development.

The end-game

Deliver a strong sense of connection and support for people who need it most. By learning from shared experiences, members gain insight into important healthcare decisions which can eventually contribute to face-to-face support seeking behaviour. In other words, provide an open, accessible community forum where people can join and be comfortable now; and that may act as a valuable conduit to connect people with crucial support services in the future.

CatchUp is all about connecting with community.
On your terms, at whatever pace you choose to go.


Guide Dogs knows that every person’s journey is unique. And the path to access support services is no different.

Some people will reach out quickly, others will take their time before making in-person contact. It’s important to support people in which ever way is best for their personal context. In addition to this insight, the team also discovered evidence to suggest people struggling with mental health challenges or experiencing loneliness are increasingly comfortable turning to online communities for support. That’s where CatchUp comes into the picture.

Whatever ‘community’ means to you—and whatever you’re looking for—CatchUp is designed to help you find it. You can connect with people in social groups based on your personal interests, the area you live, or different aspects of your personal context (for example, whether you’re an older person, someone who’s just experienced a change in vision, someone with long-term blindness, or a friend or family member).

It’s all about sharing experiences, connecting with others, and feeling the support of people who understand your circumstances. Then, when the time is right, CatchUp makes it easy to reach out for in-person support services.


Building a community where everyone’s comfortable.

Guide Dogs knows that a true community should feel welcoming: for people with all kinds of abilities, and from the moment you join. As a Guide Dogs initiative, accessible design and development is core to every aspect of CatchUp. This ensures the community provides an exceptional experience for people with different preferences or requirements for assistive technologies.

To ensure new members are comfortable from the get-go, CatchUp offers an interactive guided tour to walk through key features of the community. A set of privacy controls allows members to share some information about themselves and create a profile or, alternatively, explore the platform totally anonymously. And geo-location tagging means you can tailor the experience—prioritising events, news articles, and content that is relevant to your local area—or keep on top of what’s happening around the whole country.

“CatchUp is one of the best things to be involved in, because I feel I’m not alone and I can relate to others.”

Anonymous CatchUp Member


Thanks to some intelligent system logic, Guide Dogs make it easy to connect and catch up with others.

Every good community is supported by robust underlying systems, and CatchUp is no different. Guide Dogs built some sophisticated automation into the platform to ensure the community is well maintained and active, no matter the time of day.

Automated in-platform notifications and emails keep members updated of new activity. So, there’s no chance of missing interesting replies or fresh new conversations in the social groups. Crucially, these notifications are flexible: Guide Dogs admin can configure when certain notifications or emails are triggered, and CatchUp members can select the unique things they’d like to receive notifications for.

There are some useful moderation controls too, to ensure the community is respectful and supportive. The controls can be tailored to prohibit certain words and phrases, provide automated cautions for members who breach any of the community guidelines, and more.


By building CatchUp within their existing multisite network, Guide Dogs’ teams leverage a huge range of broader system efficiencies.

This approach ensures CatchUp is able to efficiently inherit any system or security updates that are made to the wider Guide Dogs national network. It also makes things easier for administrators and team members publishing content to CatchUp or any of the Guide Dogs state websites.

Plus, the CatchUp platform is able to repurpose design elements and interaction conventions from other Guide Dogs websites. As a result, CatchUp feels immediately familiar to people who’ve used the Guide Dogs site, and vice versa. Plus, it’s easier to build out new content and pages within CatchUp by using a series of extensible modular components.


Building a community like CatchUp creates enormous value, for both members and organisations alike.

If you’re keen to build something similar, we can make it happen. Let us know when you’re ready.

Let’s do it

Leading the way in accessible digital products.

Guide Dogs Australia is world-renowned for the quality of their vision support services.

We’re incredibly proud to align with a similar global benchmark, having been awarded Gold for this work in the 2021 International w3 Awards.

The w3 Awards celebrates digital excellence by honouring outstanding websites, marketing, video, mobile sites and apps, social and podcasts created by some of the best interactive agencies worldwide.

The w3 is sanctioned and judged by the Academy of Interactive and Visual Arts, an invitation-only body consisting of top-tier professionals from highly acclaimed media, interactive, advertising, and marketing firms.

This work has been awarded by: