This reported is submitted by the Association of Blind Citizens of New Zealand and the Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind. Our respective organizations are members of World Blind Union and hold the consumer and service-provider representative positions.
About the Association of Blind Citizens of New Zealand (Blind Citizens NZ)
Blind Citizens NZ’s membership comprises approximately 1,400 individuals of diverse ages, gender and ethnicity across the country, who are blind, deafblind or vision impaired. Blind Citizens NZ is New Zealand’s leading blindness consumer advocacy organisation and one of the country’s largest organisations of disabled consumers.
Blind Citizens NZ is governed by a Board comprising a maximum of nine. Board Members are elected by their peers, that is, members of the organisation who are blind or vision impaired. Board Members too, are blind or vision impaired.
About the Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind (RNZFB)
There are over 11,700 blind, low vision, or deafblind members registered with the RNZFB. It is New Zealand’s main provider of habilitation and rehabilitation services to the population of people identified. RNZFB Services include Rehabilitation and Counselling, Adaptive Daily Living, Orientation and Mobility, Guide Dog Services, Accessible Format Production and Library Services, Adaptive Communications Technology, Employment and Recreation.
The RNZFB is governed by a Board comprising a maximum of 11 Directors. Currently it has nine Directors. Eight positions are elected by members, one is elected by Associate Members (sighted supporters of the RNZFB) and two positions may be co-opted to fill skill deficits. Four of the serving Directors are blind or vision impaired.
Highlights Since the 2010 Mid-Term Assembly
1. Christchurch Earthquake
On 4 September 2010 a 7.1 magnitude earthquake in Christchurch (New Zealand’s second largest city) had devastating effects on the central city and surrounding areas. Widespread damage caused significant disruption to people living in those areas. While there was no loss of life, the impact for people living in Christchurch meant that roads, pedestrian areas and public transport were unusable for several months, while homes for many were unliveable. As progress was being made to restore roads and services, and people’s lives began to resume some normality, nearly six months later a more powerful earthquake struck Christchurch on 11 February 2011. Killing 185 people, this was the second deadliest natural disaster recorded in New Zealand, and the fourth deadliest disaster of any kind recorded in New Zealand. It caused widespread damage across Christchurch, especially in the central city and eastern suburbs. The impact was exacerbated due to buildings and infrastructure already being weakened by the September 2010 earthquake. Liquefaction was significant producing approximately 400,000 of silt.
The impact for people living in Christchurch was significant but for blind, deafblind and low vision people the implications meant they (as well as others in the disability community) were isolated in ways that non-disabled people were not. Blind people were stranded in their homes, many of which were damaged and lacking in sewerage and power. Many had no choice but to move, often to unfamiliar surroundings, living with family, friends, or community housing situations with people unknown to them. Blind people were not able to get out and about independently because pedestrian areas were so badly damaged, and public transport was unable to operate in many areas because of the damage to roads and infrastructures. Guide Dogs were often so traumatised by the experience that they were no longer able to work as guide dogs.
Emergency services, government departments, disability-related organizations including Blind Citizens NZ, the RNZFB and other blindness organisations collaborated, working together to contact all blind people after each of the earthquakes. These procedures identified gaps in information available to us all. Emergency procedures have been updated and are available in audio, braille and large print. Government established the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA) to lead and coordinate the ongoing recovery effort following the earthquakes of September 2010 and February 2011. Government is also funding projects associated with improving the lives of disabled people living in Christchurch, aiming for Christchurch to be an exemplar of accessibility. One of the outcomes of the work happening in Christchurch is the “enabling good lives” project which is aimed primarily at disabled people, and their ability to receive better government funded services, promote employment of disabled people, accessible buildings and facilities. We mention this work because the RNZFB and Blind Citizens NZ are key stakeholders, representing the blind community.
Our Government is giving a lot of attention to the employment of people with disabilities. This is being driven by the disability community and the Disability Employment Forum includes representatives, of which the RNZFB and Blind Citizens NZ are very much involved. The main aim is to increase the number of disabled people in paid employment, and this includes doing more to inform school leavers about the options available to them. Finding ways for them to get work experience before they leave school and improving support for them, employers and disabled people. The RNZFB and Blind Citizens NZ are amongst the leaders of this generic disability initiative.
3. Inclusive Education:
The RNZFB, Blind and Low Vision Education Network NZ (BLENNZ), a school for students who are blind or vision impaired, along with Parents of Vision Impaired and Ngati Kapo o Aotearoa have advocated to Government to retain funding for BLENNZ, and increase the level funding and resource to ensure blind and low vision children receive a good education and to make sure they have the same access as their sighted peers to the school curriculum and non-curriculum (blindness specific) learning opportunities.
In May this year, a new school building for BLENNZ, funded by government, was officially opened by the Minister of Education.
4. Audio Description
In March 2011, the NZ Government funded $500,000 to launch audio described television programmes. Blind Citizens NZ’s advocacy was significant in this achievement.
We now have a minimum of 20 hours a week of audio described television programmes, and in mid October, again due to Blind Citizens NZ’s advocacy, SKY television launched audio description as well.
Audio described live theatre performances are happening in three of our major cities, and more recently, blind people were able to experience NZ’s very first audio described opera.
5. Vision 2020 New Zealand
The RNZBF collaborated with Vision 2020 New Zealand, producing a report that includes statistics about the extent of New Zealand’s blind and low vision population. The Clear Focus Report on the “Economic Impact of Vision Loss in New Zealand” was launched in August 2011. New Zealand’s Government has six national health targets, two of which are relevant to some key causes of avoidable blindness i.e. tobacco control and cardio-vascular /diabetes checks. The RNZFB continues to work with Vision2020 NZ in partnership to prevent avoidable blindness and improve vision care.
6. Fundraising Activities and Ideas
- Association of Blind Citizens New Zealand (Blind Citizens NZ)
- Blind Sport NZ
- Deafblind (NZ) Incorporated
- Guide Dog Alliance NZ Inc
- Ngāti Kāpo o Aotearoa (tāngata whenua/Maori)
- NZ VIEW (New Zealand Visually Impaired Empowering Women)
- Parents of Vision Impaired – parent support, child-related advocacy and peer support
- SEYFF (Support and Education for Youth and their Families)
- Retina NZ Inc
7. Welfare Reform
Our Government is going down the path of changing all our benefit systems which impacts significantly on blind people. The aim of our welfare reform is for people on benefits to be moved into paid work. These changes are far-reaching, because as much as the aim is to get more people into employment, blind people want to be employed in jobs that correspond to their skills. There also need to be jobs available. We mentioned earlier in our report about the emphasis being given to employment, and we expect our work and education of government officials and employers to enhance the ability of blind people (and disabled people in general) to have meaningful employment.
8. Leadership Development:
The RNZFB has been running government-funded leadership courses around the country for the past three years. Called the SEED Leadership Programme (Success, Empowerment, Expertise in blindness and Developing self and others), this is aimed at building leadership skills, empowering participants to find solutions that benefit our wider community. This programme is open to RNZFB Staff and volunteers, RNZFB members, their families and whanau (extended family and friends).
Blind Citizens NZ also runs a leadership programme that only blind people may attend. Run on a much smaller
9. Audio Formats
The RNZFB has completed the transformation of its library from analogue to digital with all existing library members in possession of a talking book player. Most members received their talking book player from the RNZFB at no cost. A pilot has also been launched to make a downloadable service available to members.
Disabled Peoples Organisations (those that are entirely led and governed by disabled people themselves as defined in Article 33 of the UNCRPD) have formed the NZ Convention Coalition (NZCC). The NZCC is funded by government and receives $250,000 to enable it to do its work which is to monitor our Government’s implementation of the UNCRPD. Three leading blindness consumer organisations are members of the NZCC – Blind Citizens NZ, Deafblind (NZ) Incorporated and Ngāti Kāpo o Aotearoa.
The NZCC’s work is based on the Disability Rights Promotion International framework. We released our first ever country monitoring report in 2010 (this focussed on the individual experiences of disabled people), and our second was launched late in October this year. Our most recent report is an analysis of six key areas identified in the 2010 monitoring report, these being: social inclusion, health, employment, access to disability-related services and supports, barriers to making complaints, lack of disability awareness.
Six disabled professionals (including two from the blind community) produced material that informed the report on systemic issues.
In conjunction with this work, a group called the TROIKA has been established. This comprises the NZCC, the Human Rights Commission and the Ombudsman and the group works together in their respective roles, to monitor Government’s implementation of the UNCRPD.
New Zealand submitted its first country report to the International Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in May 2011. Although the report was compiled by Government agencies there was wide consultation and opportunities to influence the content of that report. Due to the lateness of submission, our country report may not be heard until at least 2016.
More information about the work New Zealand is doing to uphold its commitment to implement the UNCRPD can be found at: http://www.odi.govt.nz/what-we-do/un-convention/index.html