Australia Country Report 2014



World Blind Union

Asia-Pacific Mid-Term Regional Assembly

Reporting Country/Territory: Australia

Name of Person Reporting: Tony Starkey

Interim Chair

Australian Blindness Forum



The Australian Blindness Forum (ABF) is a not-for-profit organisation, whose purpose is to operate as the peak body representing the blindness sector for the benefit of people in Australia who are blind or vision impaired.

The mission of the ABF is to promote the effective functioning of blindness agencies by exchanging ideas and information and by influencing the policy agenda of governments.

The values of the ABF are:

  • People who are blind or vision impaired are respected as individuals and are entitled to access the same rights as all Australians;
  • Blindness agencies aim to provide quality supports to people who are blind or vision impaired along a continuum of care in ways that are efficient and effective;
  • Blindness agencies involve people who are blind or vision impaired in the decisions and choices that affect them.


The objects of the ABF are to:

  • Encourage exchange of information between members;
  • Exert influence on government policy development;
  • Enable blindness sector representation, both nationally and internationally;
  • Enable Australia to facilitate its membership of the World Blind Union;
  • Encourage and promote the development and equity of the level of services throughout Australasia.



1.1       Member Forums and Communication


The ABF holds Member Forums two times per year which covers key issues and important sector developments.


The ABF meets regularly with Australian Government Ministers, state and federal politicians and local members.

The ABF provides a regular information newsletter which is highly valued by members. The newsletter promotes activities undertaken by the ABF, enables consultation on policy work and provides information on national and international learning opportunities and other activities of interest to professionals working for service providers across the blindness or vision impairment sector.

The ABF publishes a regular update for members of the Australian Parliament which promotes the key issues for people who are blind or vision impaired. This update provides information on the work of ABF members, especially on the new initiatives undertaken by ABF members to support people who are blind or vision impaired on both a national and international level.

The ABF works closely with National Disability Services (NDS) which is the national industry association for disability services.



As of 2014, Australia’s population reached an estimated 23.5 million people. Of the total population, there were almost 575,000 Australians aged 40 or over with vision loss and around 66,500 of this cohort were legally blind. Like many other developed countries 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.

By 2020, it is projected that there will be 800,000 people over the age of 40 who will be blind or vision impaired.[1] It is believed that there are higher rates of blindness and vision impairment in Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, which is especially due to diseases of the eye and conditions such as cataracts and diabetes and other factors like remoteness and access to services.





3.1         Highlights of the past two years

3.1.1   National Disability Insurance Scheme


In 2012 the Australian Government provided funding of AUS$1 billion for a new approach to support people with disability in Australia called the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). This scheme commenced in July 2013.

ABF members have been campaigning to ensure that people who are blind or vision impaired in Australia are not left out of this system. The NDIS has a number of flaws that will affect specialist services to people who are blind or vision impaired in Australia:

  • The NDIS excludes people acquiring their disability over the age of 65 years from participating.
  • Eligibility is restricted to people who are legally blind.
  • The NDIS only addresses the needs of a relatively small number of people with disabilities in Australia.
  • Assessments are generic only, with better promotion for specialist vision assessments.

More than $130 million is estimated to have been committed to NDIS participants in 2013-14. The ABF has been unable to identify the proportion of the allocated $130 million to people who are blind or vision impaired.


A note of interest is the inclusion of Guide Dogs under the NDIS. Only recently, through Guide Dogs New South Wales/Australian Capital Territory, has the funding been approved for the provision of the first guide dog.

Participants in the NDIS must be under the age of 65 years when seeking first service access. Due to this restricted age criteria, 75% of Australians who are blind or vision impaired will be ineligible for NDIS services. The ABF believes that this government policy and direction contradicts the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).


3.1.2   Aged Care


While Australia’s disability system undergoes reform, so too is the Australian aged care system. The Australian aged care system is designed primarily around the provision of services to people who are frail aged with an average age of 85 years.




Due to the NDIS age criteria those people acquiring a vision loss after the age of 65 years in the future will be reliant on the generic aged care sector. This system needs to incorporate specialist blindness services for people who are blind or vision impaired.


The ABF is extremely concerned for people who will acquire their vision loss after the age of 65 years and for those who will turn 65 years prior to full implementation of the NDIS.

3.1.3   Australia signed the Marrakesh Treaty

The ABF and other blindness and low vision organisations continue to lobby the Australian Government to sign and ratify the Marrakesh Treaty (formally known as the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works by Visually Impaired Persons and Persons with Print Disabilities).

There are currently 60 signatories, including Australia. The Treaty requires ratifying countries to have an exception to domestic copyright law for vision impaired and print disabled people.  This will allow people who are blind and their organisations to make accessible format books without the need to ask permission first from the holder of copyright (e.g. author or publisher). 

The ABF continues to lobby the Australian Attorney-General’s Department to ensure that legislation is prepared to enable the signing of the Treaty in the near future.


3.2 Initiatives to Comply with Implementation of the UNCRPD

3.2.1   Trial of audio description on ABC 1


A trial of audio description (AD) on the national media broadcaster in Australia, the ABC, began on one channel in August 2012.

A 13-week trial that comprised of 14 hours of AD per week in primetime viewing occurred. Recently the Australian government announced a further trial on the ABC iView (on demand) system. The ABF and its members will continue to advocate for full AD of all television programming.


3.2.2   CAPTCHA Campaign

CAPTCHA is a visual security process that requires the user to type the letters or numbers within a distorted image prior to completing a transaction or registration.

The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) and an alliance of organisations are campaigning for the removal of all inaccessible CAPTCHAs from all government, business and organisations websites and to replace them with accessible alternatives. The ABF is a signatory to this campaign.

The ABF has been campaigning for many years for accessible online content and processes, and will continue to encourage policies to be created both in government and business to achieve this.

One Australian iconic business, Telstra, has endorsed this policy by removing CAPTCHA from their systems.


4            KEY CHALLENGES


The key challenge for the ABF and its members is currently the proposed National Disability Insurance Scheme, and the Aged Care reforms, as mentioned above.

Both of these issues require our organisation and our sector to be engaged with Government on all levels to remain in the discussion, and to ensure that our needs are addressed.

4.1       Employment

Numbers of employed people who are blind or vision impaired is still well below those of the general community. The ABF continues to lobby government and business to increase their participation in the workforce. The ABF also encourages government to ensure that there are specialist employment services for people who are blind or vision impaired.

4.2       Standards

The ABF is active in the development of environmental building standards and public transport. Australia is currently developing a way finding standard to ensure that the environment and buildings are accessible by people who are blind or vision impaired. This standard will include accessible signage, vision substitution and vision enhancement principles. It is hoped it will be included in the Australian Building Code within the next couple of years.




5.1       RSB Highlights

The Royal Society for the Blind Guide Dog Service has created a win win situation, for not only assisting people who are blind but for Australian Defence Force personnel affected by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Career change guide dogs are trained to support service personnel who have returned from war service with PTSD.


The benefit to people who are blind is that the investment into the training of the dogs is returned and re-invested into the sustainability of the RSB Guide Dog School.


These dogs are trained to be companions in times of trouble and to bring calm in times of stress. They can even be trained to open a refrigerator door, help load a washing machine, or turn on a light.


This is a joint initiative of the Returned Services League of South Australia (RSL SA) and Royal Society for the Blind (RSB). “The RSB Guide Dog Service is proud of this new partnership, helping to give our veterans more confidence and achieve a greater level of independence,” said RSB Guide Dog Service Manager, Chris Muldoon.


RSB Employment Services share their knowledge overseas. RSB Employment Services have drawn on the practices and methods they use here in South Australia, and shared their knowledge with their peers in the Asia Pacific region by heading up a specialised job readiness program.

The RSB, on behalf of the World Blind Union – Asia Pacific Employment and Economic and Empowerment Committee (WBU – APEEEC) sent RSB Employment Consultant, Brian Dibbins to Malaysia in June. Brian equipped 12 workshop participants with the employment skills and strategies with the aim of increasing the rate of employment for people who are blind or vision impaired in these areas. “The main purpose was to provide training to job placement officers in the Asia Pacific region,” explains Brian.

The trip also heralded the launch of a landmark adaptive equipment loan program recently secured by the RSB on behalf of the WBU – APEEEC from the Seeing is Believing Innovation fund.

“We had participants from Indonesia, Myanmar, the Philippines and Malaysia, the majority of whom were blind or vision impaired and proficient in Braille. The feedback I’ve received from them has been very positive and hopefully I’ll be able to go back in the future and touch base to see how they’ve put into practice the employment strategies learned.”


The Royal Society for the Blind (RSB) creates junior Iron Chef’s happy to take up the challenge, judging by the enthusiasm of six young RSB clients at the recent and successful RSB Chef workshop!

With the aim of increasing independence and confidence while having fun at the same time, the RSB Child & Youth Services workshop was a hit with budding chefs Taren, Alice, Lauren, Madde, Sophie and Madeline.


“I really like baking at home, making things like cupcakes and hedgehog slice,” revealed 19-year-old Taren. “The day’s been good as it’s been a bit of everything – I’ve learnt some more cooking skills and it was a great chance to catch up with friends and make new ones.”


“The workshop provided the young clients ranging from 17 to19 years of age, the chance to step out of their comfort zones and gave them a great confidence boost”, said RSB Recreation and Leisure Officer, Lisa Jones. “For the most part, the girls were independent and solved problems, particularly when shopping for ingredients at the markets. The best thing was most of the girls didn’t really know each other before today, but they definitely bonded and had a really great day.”



Bursting with excitement at the thought of a weekend away and fuelled by the desire to learn new things, six effervescent kids came together in May for the RSB’s ‘Make it Happen’ life skills camp.

Run by The Royal Society for the Blind’s Child & Youth Services, the first ‘Make it Happen’ camp gave six young RSB clients the opportunity to hone in on, and learn vital life skills fundamental to future independence – all while having fun at the same time!


Undertaking a wide variety of tasks relating to the importance of food preparation, budgeting, shopping and fitness, the camp also focused on building social and personal awareness, independence and confidence in adult life.


Held at Adelaide Shores Recreation Park over a weekend, the camp was an absolute hit with the teens, who ranged from 12 to 15 years of age.


“It was so much fun, I can’t wait until the next one,” explained 12-year-old Harry who has Oculocutaneous Albinism. “It was really fun and I learnt a lot, probably the most about pocket money and also how to cook healthy and safely. It was great!”

A sentiment echoed by Harry’s fellow camp attendees and newfound friends Charlie, Jaynelle, Holly, Lachlan and Nikita, who all gave the inaugural camp rave reviews.



5.2         Vision Australia Highlights

Low Vision Conference Vision2014 held in Australia


In April 2014 more than 600 low vision researchers and practitioners from countries such as Hong Kong, Nigeria, the Netherlands, Italy, Scandinavia, Canada , the USA, New Zealand, Japan, India and Australia gathered in Melbourne for Vision2014, the 11th International Conference on low vision.

This Conference was hosted by the City of Melbourne and Vision Australia. With more than 200 presentations from researchers, clinicians, rehabilitation practitioners and people living with low vision.

A highlight of the event was the seven presentations from people aged between four and 92 who shared their personal stories how they live with low vision.


[1] Access Economics (2010) Clear Focus – The economic impact of vision loss in Australia in 2009, Canberra, Australia