Blind Citizens Australia-Featured International Agency

Date Posted: 10/01/2014

VisionAware will be featuring international agencies in our field throughout the year to meet the needs of the world-wide audience that VisionAware embraces. This article represents the initiation of this new feature and is being managed by Maribel Steel, VisionAware's international correspondent from Australia and peer advisor. We want to thank Lauren Henley for her interview and the Blind Citizens Australia for being our inaugural agency.(Editor's Note: Since the time of this interview, Ms. Henley has accepted a new job position at another agency.)

BCA logo

Interview with Lauren Henley by Maribel Steel

Lauren Henley is the former National Policy Officer for Blind Citizens Australia (BCA) based in Melbourne. Her personal story is an inspiring testimony to the human spirit to overcome, having lost her vision in a motor vehicle accident in 2008. Lauren believes that people who are blind have the power to take control of their lives and to actively seek inclusion in all aspects of their lives.

Introduction to Blind Citizens Australia

BCA was formed in 1975 as an advocacy agency and is the united voice of Australians who are blind or vision impaired. Our mission is to achieve equity and equality by our empowerment, by promoting strong community attitudes and by striving for high quality and accessible services which meet our needs. We also advocate for systemic change through campaigns and by providing advice to government, corporations and the wider community. We prepare public policies and draft submissions to provide recommendations on key topics of importance to people who are blind or vision impaired.

three women talking, Hannah on the left, Rosemary Boyd, ex. director in the middle, and Lauren on the right

As a member-based organization, the views of our members help to inform everything we do. Our Board and sub-committees are all made up of people who are blind or vision impaired as is a large portion of our staff. We ensure that the broader membership is consulted on vital issues, by offering teleconferences and face-to-face forums.

Lauren Henley's Views

Having once been fully sighted, I understand what it is like to enjoy full access to all facets of life and this is what helps fuel my passion for advocacy. In my current role, I help to coordinate BCA’s national campaigns, develop public policy, draft submissions on issues affecting people who are blind or vision impaired and meet with government Ministers and other influential individuals who can assist us to champion our Cause. I believe that organizations such as ours play a fundamental role in teaching people with disabilities the skills they need to participate as confident, capable members of the community.

An Overview of BCA services

We aim to ensure that our members are kept up-to-date on the latest developments surrounding blindness and vision impairment. We achieve this by disseminating information via our weekly radio program and regular publications. As a consumer-based organization, peer support among members is one of our core foci. This is facilitated through our 15 local branches that operate throughout Australia, our email lists, state and national conferences and various other events.

Audible Tactile Signals and Accessible Currency

Blind Citizens Australia has played an instrumental role in the implementation of audio tactile traffic signals and talking ATMs in Australia. We have also worked with the Reserve Bank of Australia to develop a cash test device which we provide to Australians who are blind or vision impaired (free of charge) to enable them to differentiate between Australian bank notes.

australian money organizer

Campaign Against Cinema Chains

More recently, we helped spearhead a campaign against Australia’s four major cinema chains which resulted in the roll-out of audio description at all major cinema locations across Australia.

Facing Challenges

Blind Citizens Australia’s primary areas of work are access to education, access to employment, access to the built environment, access to public transport and access to information. Access to information has become significantly more complex in modern times with the advance of touch-screen technology. This has impacted not only on entertainment devices but also essential household appliances. We continue to educate the business industry about the barriers that this technology can present for many Australians and work with them to put strategies in place to address these.

We are aware that American legislation requires that accessibility guidelines be included in all government policies for the procurement of information and communications technologies and are actively advocating to work towards the same arrangement in Australia.

Hands reading braille

The National Disability Insurance Scheme

One of Blind Citizens Australia’s current foci is the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), which commenced its roll-out in July 2013 across Australia. This major reform is completely shifting the way that disability services are provided in Australia. Under previous arrangements, disability services would receive block funding from various levels of government to help them to provide services to their respective target groups.

The NDIS aims to take the control out of the hands of the service provider and instead, place it in the hands of Australians with disabilities. Block funding will no longer be provided. Instead, eligible individuals will be provided with an annual package of funding which they can use to purchase the services and supports that will best meet their needs. This promotes greater choice and control and we believe will result in higher levels of service quality and more competition among providers. BCA is closely monitoring the roll-out of the NDIS to ensure that it adequately addresses the needs of people who are blind or vision impaired. The NDIS is still in its infancy, with full roll-out expected to have been completed by 2020. So far, we have already seen some positive examples of people who are blind or visually impaired that have benefited from the scheme.

Related Resources

Blind Citizens Australia Audioboo Channel

Lauren Henley for Vision 2020 Australia at the United Nations, New York

Media Access Australia

National Disability Insurance Scheme

World Access for the Blind

The Zero Project (provides examples of best practice on the implementation on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities around the world)

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