Reporter:Emma Bennison, Board DirectorAustralian Blindness Forum
The Australian Blindness Forum (ABF) is a not-for-profit organisation, whose purpose is to operate as a partnership between consumers and service providers in representing the issues for people who are blind or vision impaired in Australia. In the last reporting period, 2016 – 2018 there have been considerable challenges faced by the blindness sector. With the Australian Governments continued reforms in the disability and aged care sectorsconsiderable pressure has been weighed against recipients of supports and services. With these significant changes taking place the ABF’sfocus over the last two years has been that of leveraging for policy inclusion and reform around the development of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), and the national aged care system.To do this we work with our members, sector stakeholders and the federal and state and territory governments.
As at 31 December 2017, Australia’s population was 24,770,700 people (23.9m) . This is an increase of 338,000 since 31 December 2016.
Australia’s population is ageing, due to sustained low fertility rates and increasing life expectancy. The ageing population means that a higher number of people will be expected to develop age-acquired vision disability in the coming decades.Of the total population, it is estimated that there are 384,000 people who were blind or vision impaired in Australia.
By 2020, it is projected that there will be 800,000 people over the age of 40 who will be blind or vision impaired. Critically and appallingly blindness rates in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are three times higher than other Australians, with around 90 percent of vision loss being preventable or treatable.
The leading causes of blindness and vision impairment amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are: uncorrected refractive error, cataract, diabetic retinopathy, age-related macular degeneration and glaucoma. It is estimated that in the next ten years that over 34,000 Indigenous Australians will be affected by low vision or blindness as a result of these four conditions. While the rates of the blinding eye condition trachoma have fallen over the past five years, Australia is still the only developed country in the world where endemic levels of trachoma still exist.
About the Australian Blindness Forum
As at June2018, ABF has 14 organisations as current financial members:
- Blind Citizens Australia
- Blind Welfare Association of SA
- Canberra Blind Society
- Guide Dogs NSW/ACT
- Guide Dogs Queensland
- Insight Education Centre for the Blind and Vision Impaired
- Macular Disease Foundation Australia
- Quantum RLV
- Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children
- Royal Society for the Blind
- South Australian School for Vision Impaired
- Vision Australia
ABF believes that:
- People who are blind or vision impaired must have full access as citizens of Australia.
- People who are blind or vision impaired are involved in the decisions and choices that affect them.
- Blindness organisations provide quality supports to people who are blind or vision impaired along a continuum of care in ways that are efficient and effective.
ABF is governed by a Board of Directors. In 2017 -2018, 3 out of 7 board members are people who are blind or vision impaired.
Our Mission and Goals
ABF’s mission is to promote effective functioning of blindness agencies by exchanging ideas and information and by influencing the policy agenda of governments.
Our goals are to:
- encourage exchange of information between ABF members and associates and key stakeholders.
- participate in government policy development and law reform and advocate for people who are blind or vision impaired.
- enable blindness sector representation both nationally and internationally.
- encourage and promote the development and equity of the level of services throughout Australasia.
- enable Australia to facilitate its membership of the World Blind Union.
- increase membership of ABF and encourage full membership.
ABF Member Forums
ABF member forums are held twice are year. The forums cover key issues and sector developments and provide the opportunity for ABF members and associates to engage with government, policy makers, and politicians.During the reporting period member forums focused on a range of issues across health, aged care, education, employment and the right to accessibility.
Communication and Engagement
Policy Position and Advocacy Work
ABF has worked closely with government to influence policy in the development of the NDIS and MyAged Care, the new national aged care system of supports and services for the nation. ABF has focused advocacy on these areas with the view to seeking solutions for people across, health and rehabilitation, technology, accessibility, education and employment.
We have targeted government with comprehensive evidence based submissions as part of the governments consultation process with the sector. Over the last 18 months, ABF has made submissions to the Australian Government. See submissions atAttachment A.
Further to this we are engaged with the wider disability sector via our membership to the National Disability Services (NDS) and via memberships to committeesand inter agency working groups.
ABF develops national sector positions that are communicated to key stakeholders, particularly federal politicians and federal government. ABF disseminates information to members that builds on sector best practice and allows for across agency sharing of information and consultation on national policy work. Members come together in collaborative working groups that allow for the building and sharing of knowledge and the development of a national reform agenda. The ABF also engages organisations into the practice of leveraging policyto realisation via advocacy and political process.
2016 -2018 Highlights
National Disability Insurance Scheme
On 1 July 2016, the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) began its national rollout. While the NDIS has benefited many families it is not as seamless as promised.
The NDIS is a disability funding scheme that is said to be designed to‘provide all Australians under the age of 65 with a permanent and significant disability with the reasonable and necessary supports they need to live an ordinary life. It is anticipated this will cover 460,000 Australians with disability, their families and carers over the next three years.
ABF is concerned that the introduction of the NDIS has meant that people who acquire a disability over the age of 65 are excluded from service provision or funding under the NDIS. Instead, they are forced to seek disability services from an aged care system that sets frailty as its primary criteria for funding and service eligibility.
The ABF has worked hard to build a relationship with government such that the NDIA is committed to listening and working with the sector. At the recent member’s forum discussion was provoked with government representatives specifically around plans, funding of plans, reviews and rejections (particularly around dog guides) and more generally about people missing out on services under the Scheme.
ABF is calling on the Australian Government to amend the National Disability Insurance Scheme Act2013 (Cth) in order for the Australian Government to meet its obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disability (UNCRPD). In particular, the Act needs to be amended to remove the age restriction that is preventing people over the age of 65 from accessing appropriate services for disability.
The Australian Government has been implementing reforms in the aged care sector and ABF supports the steps the government is taking to ensure wellness, enablement and restorative approaches are included in all aged care programs, however we acknowledge that early intervention in rehabilitation and enablement is vital for a person who is losing their vision and seek to influence policy on this positon.
The introduction of the NDIS has meant, that people who are blind or vision impaired and who are over the age of 65 are being forced to be part of the aged care sector. They are forced to seek disability services from an aged care system that, as previously mentioned, sets frailty as its primary criteria for funding and service eligibility.
People who are blind or vision impaired do not have the same generic aged care needs as others in the aged care sector as they are not necessarily frail aged. ABF’ position is that people with vision loss are capable of living independently, working, socialising and contributing to their community.
It is estimated by ABF members that there will be over 300,000 people with vision loss over the age of 65 and falling within the catchment of the aged care sector. Therefore, the aged care sector must be able to provide the specialist blindness services required by people who are blind or vision impaired over the age of 65.
As such, ABF is calling on the Australian Government to remove the NDIS age restriction as it is discriminatory and contravenes the UNCPRD.
It is incumbent upon the Australian Government to ensure that mechanisms are put in place to allow people, regardless of age, to remain independent and connected to community as long as possible.
These mechanisms include;
- a program funding model in the aged care sectorso that blindness sector service providers can expedite specialised assessment and basic training to a person who has vision loss.
- integrating specialist blindness services into the aged care sectorto ensuretraditional aged care providers refer individuals with blindness or vision impairment
- developing Aged Care assessment toolkits and processes that identify individuals with functional needs relating to their vision loss.
Marrakesh Treaty and the Australian Inclusive Publishing Initiative
Australia ratified the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for people who are blind, visually impaired or otherwise print disabled on 10 December 2015, and updated our copyright laws to comply with the treaty with the Copyright Amendment (Disability Access and Other Measures) Act 2017. This legislation, which applies to all disabilities, now allows creation and supply of accessible copies of published works in any circumstances that are “fair”. The first overseas accessible materials have been imported under these laws through test projects run by Vision Australia and VisAbility.
The ABF has been collaborating with the Australian Digital Alliance to implement the legislation, particularly through the Australian Inclusive Publishing Initiative (AIPI). The AIPI, led by the Australian Publishers Association, brings together representatives of Australia’s publishers, authors, libraries, copyright experts and the disability sector to increase availability of accessible materials in Australia, with the ultimate goal of creating a “born accessible” publishing cycle. Initial projects from the AIPI include guidelines to the new copyright provisions, publishing standards, educational outreach to publishers, and a centralised catalogue of accessible materials.
In spite of a number of successful trials, there is still no audio description service on Australian television. In contrast, all other English-speaking OECD countries now have access to audio description. In April 2017, the Australian Government announced the establishment of an audio description working group. The working group brought together representatives from the broadcasting and streaming industries, audio description service providers and consumer representatives to explore options to increase the availability of audio description services in Australia. ABF members played an active role in the deliberations of this working group and during this period, Blind Citizens Australia spearheaded a campaign which succeeded in garnering cross-party support for a permanent audio description service.
In December 2017, the final report of the audio description working group was handed down, however, this process has not resulted in a commitment from the government to introduce a permanent audio description service on Australian television within a specified timeframe. Blind Citizens Australia continues to lead the campaign to get an audio description service on Australian television and to ensure the provision of audio description is enshrined in legislation.
Activities ofABF and Its Members and Associates
A Snapshot of Blindness and Low Vision Services in Australia: A Study
In late 2016 the ABF, the National Disability Services (NDS) and Vision 2020 Australia (Vision2020) came together to conduct a follow-up study of their collective membership. The study provided an update on the demand for and supply of services in the blindness and low vision sector in Australia within the changing policy landscape (NDIS in particular).
The findings of the study indicate that the blindness and low vision sector continues to experience increasing pressure to cater for the growing needs of the ageing population.
The study showcases a sector which is highly-skilled, resilient and increasingly reliant on the generosity and support of volunteers. The study reveals that contributions from government sources are failing to keep pace with demand, negatively impacting on the quantity of services that can support the more than 453,000 people in Australia who are blind or vision impaired.
The study declares that in order to meet the increasing demand for services and navigate the changing policy landscape, it will be essential for the blindness and low vision sector to train, recruit and retain more staff with specialist skills. Opportunities for skills development, career paths and adequate remuneration or incentives are important characteristics of the blindness and low vision sector that can be improved to attract and retain a highly –skilled workforce and to develop.
Blind Citizens Australia
Human Rights Award
In December 2017 BCA, was honoured with the Australian Human Rights Commission’s Community Organisation Award. The Award recognises organisations who have a proven track record in the advancement of human rights in the Australian community.
BCA received the award in recognition of its key role in bringing about significant improvement to the lives of Australians who are blind or vision impaired. Changes which have included the use of tactile ground surface indicators, and the introduction of blindness-specific requirements into the education, transport and accessible premises standards.
Violence Against Women
In February this year the Blind Citizens Australia’s National Women’s Branch made a submission and provided recommendations to inform the visit of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on violence against women in February.
The submission summarised comments from members who described the invisibility of blind and vision impaired women in relation to violence and abuse prevention, and their often marginalisation when seeking assistance from legal and community services due to inaccessible websites, materials and environments. Marginalisation being further compounded for women who experience further disadvantage due to geographical location, economic, financial or linguistic status. Members described a common perception that women who are blind or vision impaired are somehow immune from violence, or responsible for it when it is perpetrated, with their capacity to give legal evidence doubted.
BCA was invited to attend a forum with the UN Special Rapporteur during her visit, and share recommendations on how to prevent violence against women and how Australia’s legal, community and disability service system and governments could respond to it more effectively. In a discussion with the Special Rapporteur, BCA pointed out that structural barriers of information, discriminatory attitudes, socio-economic status, inequitable access to transport and the physical environment all impede the rights, visibility and safety of blind and vision impaired women. BCA recommended support for initiatives to encourage equality, independence, autonomy, participation and leadership of blind and vision impaired women in all areas of society in order to increase safety from violence and abuse. Recommendations were made that blind and vision impaired women, disability, community and legal services work together to design accessible services and responses to abuse and violence.
Banking and Touch Screen Accessibility
BCA has been advocating for banking accessibility, with an emphasis on increasing the banking sectors understanding of the inaccessibility of touchscreen EFTPOS terminals for people who are blind or vision impaired and with a particularly emphasis on the fact that they are increasingly being used across the retail and hospitality sectors.
Touch screen EFTPOS terminals do not have a physical keypad with buttons as did the older EFTPOS terminals.Steps have been taken to try to make these products accessible, howeverthe touchscreen-only interface makes it either difficult, or impossible for most people who are blind or vision impaired to enter their confidential PIN independently. This has resulted in many people who are blind or vision impaired having to disclose their PIN to a third party to access their banking.
In this reporting period BCA has assisted individuals to lodge complaints about inaccessible EFTPOS terminals to the Australian Human Rights Commission. And have supported two members to take their matters to court. BCA has also developed an advocacy postcard to assist people who are blind or vision impaired to communicate to businesses about the challenges current banking practice presents. Further, BCA is contributing to a review of banking accessibility standards being conducted by the Australian Bankers Association and making a submission to the Australian Government Royal Commission into the misconduct in the banking, superannuation and financial services industry.
Macular Disease Foundation
Macular Disease Foundation Australia held its annual Macula Month event in May 2018. Previously called Macular Degeneration Awareness Week, the expanded event covered information on all macular disease, with a key focus on age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and diabetic eye disease (DED).
Highlights for Macula Month included:
- The release of a free Macula Menu e-cookbook, featuring a range of nutritious recipes to help Australians ‘eat for their eyes’. The recipes incorporate ingredients which are beneficial not only for overall health, but for eye health as well.
- The launch event for the “Journey to See: A Model for Success” report. The report examined anti-VEGF treatment for wet AMD and its impact over the past ten years. It outlined how collaboration between government, healthcare professionals, research agencies, the pharmaceutical industry and Macular Disease Foundation Australia has delivered a continuum of care for Australians – from awareness and prevention to management and support of those living with AMD.
- The announcement by the Minister for Health, the Hon Greg Hunt MP, of funding for a National Strategic Action Plan for Macular Disease. The National Action Plan will seek to develop a strategic direction around the management, prevention and treatment of macular disease that in the future may be incorporated into government policies and budgets. The development of the action plan will be led by Macular Disease Foundation Australia as the national peak body, and will provide a blue print for key priorities and actions to reduce the incidence and impact of macular disease.
Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children
The Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children (RIDBC) Teleschool Braille Camps have been running for the past eight years. In January 2018, RIDBC was hosted its largest Braille Camp yet. The Camp took place in Sydney over four days. Over 150 people and children who are blind or with low vision, attended including their parents and siblings with over 40 people attending who were regional orremote-based.
These regional or remote based families represent some of the many families RIDBC supports through Teleschool, which is celebrating over 10 years of service. RIDBC Teleschool provides education and therapy services to children with hearing or vision loss in regional or remote Australia, using high quality videoconferencing technology in the family home or other local facilities.
The aim of the Braille Camp is for braille-reading students to meet and play as well as practise their braille skills alongside other braille-reading students. It also provides the opportunity for their parents and siblings who join them on the Camp, to network with other families and learn from the experiences of others. Some of the exciting activities experienced at the Camp included trapeze, judo, a frog/wetlands activity, visits to Cockatoo Island and the Opera House, and a stair climbing exercise.
Royal Society for the Blind: NDIS Planning with Multiple Sensory Deficits
During the reporting period the Royal Society for the Blind (RSB) has been assisting a person who is deaf and blind through the NDIS pathway.
One of the main goals identified in order to provide this assistance was to build on new ways of communicating with the client’s community and informal social supports. It was also identified in the early stages of pre-planning that support would be needed for the client to be able to communicate with the local area coordinator for NDIS planning.
To ensure the client’s participation in the NDIS planning meeting, the case management teams from Community and Employment Services collaborated with the Adaptive Technology team to ensure compatibility across multiple specialised equipment platforms (lap top computer, braille note-taker display, screen reader software and live captioning). Following successful testing and engagement with AI-Media, the client was able to access live captioning through the Braille display to follow and participate in the conversation at the NDIS planning meeting.
Recently the client held his planning meeting at RSB with the local area coordinator from NDIS partner, Mission Australia utilising this set up. The client said “I am very happy with how the session went. For the first time in a long time I felt that I was included in the conversation and I knew exactly what was happening. This is the first time I have used live captioning in a meeting. I was very happy with the assistance that the Royal Society for the Blind and AI-Media have provided for me.”
Vision Australia’s advocacy work in the financial year 2018 focused on ensuring that the needs of people who were blind or low vision impaired were adequately represented in the largest funding reform in Australia’s history for people with a disability, the National Disability Insurance Scheme. We have been successful in ensuring that all participants within the program receive their plans in their preferred format including braille. We continue to work on improving the expertise of the staff within the program in their understanding of blindness and low vision and we have made progress toward a fairer planning process that will see participants within the program receive appropriate supports.
Vision Australia has lead a sector wide campaign to mandate standards that support accessible procurement of Information Communications Technology (ICT) across the public sector in Australia. Significant progress has been made across Australia, with continued advocacy work required in the upcoming year. We believe this is a key step to improving the employment opportunities for people who are blind or have low vision.
Vision Australia continued to work with the Reserve Bank of Australia to roll out new Australian bank notes with tactile markers. In 2017 the $10 note was released. this follows the release of a previous release of the $5 note. All notes will have tactile features into the future.
Vision Australia continues to lobby all Governments to implement improved voting systems for people who are blind or have low vision that will enable them to have a confidential, independent and accessible vote. Progress was made across individual states but there is still further work to realise electronic, confidential and independent voting at the federal level.
ABF SUBMISSIONS TO AUSTRALIAN GOVERNMENT: August 2017 – June 2018
- ABF submission re ABA Guiding Principles May 2018 (WORD 61KB)
- ABF submission to DSS re supported employment March 2018 (WORD 46KB)
- ABF submission to Joint Standing Committee Inquiry into NDIS transitional arrangements August 2017 (WORD 35KB)
- ABF submission to Senate Inquiry into NDIS Quality & Safeguards Bill July 2017 (WORD 32KB)
- ABF submission to House of Reps Inquiry into school to work transition July 2017 (WORD 45KB)
- ABF submission to NDIS Code of Conduct June 2017 (WORD 35KB)
- ABF submission to Whole Journey Guide May 2017 (WORD 35KB)
- ABF submission to Senate Inquiry into National Disability Strategy April 2017 (WORD 50KB)
- ABF submission to PC Issues Paper on Human Services February 2017 (WORD 31KB)
- ABF submission to PC Inquiry into NDIS Costs March 2017 (WORD 60KB)