The Observatory

Blind Citizens Australia National Convention 2019

On the last weekend of March 2019, the Blind Citizens Australia Convention was held in Hobart, over 100 delegates attended in person, with another 115 from six countries tuning in via the live stream. It provided an invaluable opportunity for Vision 2020 Australia staff, Judith Abbott and Jacob McCabe, to further engage with and continue to work towards ensuring people with lived experience of blindness or low vision are central in the work of the organisation. 
The conference covered a wide range of topics, including sessions on:
  • Emerging technology, which showcased both some developments in artificial intelligence and augmented reality, supplemented by support people, and how these are enhancing opportunities for people who are blind or partially sighted to access information and navigate their environments.
  • An Australian Human Rights Commission project exploring the opportunities and risks arising from the growth in technology, including image recognition and a universal design approach.
  • The future of work, and opportunities, challenges and developments in strategies and approaches to improving education, training and employment opportunities for people who are blind or vision impaired. 
  • Developments in service delivery, with representatives from some of our member organisations, Vision Australia, Guide Dogs Victoria, Guide Dogs Queensland and VisAbility, talking about some of the innovative work being developed and delivered to enhance access to supports and services.
  • Developments in policy and advocacy, an interactive discussion between representatives of Blind Citizens Australia, the Australian Blindness Forum and Vision 2020 Australia talking about what aspirations for the future service system are, and the work being done between our organisations to streamline our work and increase our impact and influence.
  • Information services in Tasmania and the launch of “Our Legacy: Changing what it Means to be Blind in NSW and ACT”, a five episode podcast series showing the experiences and capturing the history of blindness and the development of blindness advocacy. It will be broadcast on both 1RPH and 2RPH in the week of 8 April, and will be downloadable as a podcast from the BCA website as a podcast by mid-April.
  • NDIS and My Aged Care – removing road blocks to choice and control, featuring Matthew Wright from the National Engagement and Support branch of the National Disability Insurance Agency and Corey Irlam, Director from COTA Australia talking about the aged care aspects.
  • Practical aspects of living with blindness and low vision, which spanned areas such as how innovative technology can work with the use of a cane or guide dog; life hacks for surviving hospital when you’re blind; taking the stress out of travelling alone when blind or vision impaired; and the impacts and challenges of living with multiple disabilities.
At the conference BCA, members also supported adoption of a new policy, Blindness Service Provider Expectations Policy that was developed by its national policy committee (for more information please contact BCA).
It describes a range of expectations including entitlement to services; service delivery; product sales; communications and access to information; complaints procedures; fundraising marketing and publicity; employing people who are blind or vision impaired; governance and leadership; and service user representation and advice. 

Technology and human rights – insights from the Blind Citizens Australian National Convention 2019

The Blind Citizens Australia National Convention 2019 provided a thought provoking program of speakers. In the first session of the conference, Edward Santow, Human Rights Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission spoke about the opportunities but also the challenges that technology and current approaches to technology development pose to accessibility and human rights. 
He spoke to a project the Commission had been doing regarding the relationship between human rights and technology. His discussion spanned some thought provoking and challenging issues that had emerged through this and other work of the Commission, including: 
  • The current ‘minimum viable product’ approach to development of new technologies, which can mean that in practice opportunities to ensure full accessibility are treated as an afterthought rather than a core requirement and hence capacity to ever achieve full accessibility of tech products may not be realised,
  • The potential risks of image recognition based systems; if assessments shift from evaluative to factual assessments, which involves artificial intelligence attempting to detect and display people’s personality traits from an image, and how that might affect people utilising the technology to visually interact with their surroundings. 
Next steps for the project will be release of a consultation paper in late July/early August, which will be followed by another round of consultation. Several of our members have been involved in this project already but if you are interested in the opportunities and potential risks associated with greater take up of technology in our society, you’ll find the work the Human Rights Commission are doing both engaging and challenging. 
To learn more please follow this link.

Blindness services in the 21st century – member presentations at the Blind Citizens Australia National Convention 2019 

The Blind Citizens Australian national conference 2019 included a session where representatives from Vision Australia, Guide Dogs Victoria, Guide Dogs Queensland and VisAbility spoke to both current services provided and some of the innovative and emerging models being developed by their organisations to enhance opportunities for people who are blind or vision impaired. 
David Speyer from Vision Australia spoke about the organisations commitment to delivering quality services, in a demanding and fast paced environment. To assist people who are blind or have low vision when trying to access the National Disability Insurance Scheme, the creation of the ‘ready set’ preparation tool was announced. While not yet available, it will help people in preparing for their planning meeting by helping to access and identify the required planning information, connect people with blindness and low vision supports and services, and empower people to articulate their desired goals during the planning meeting.
A partnership with Bookshare was also announced, that will allow people in Australia to access the same accessible eBooks that are currently available in Britain and Canada. With the Marrakesh treaty recently being ratified in the United States of America, conversations are continuing with the library of congress to expand the program.
Michael Kightley from Guide Dogs Qld and Alastair Stott from Guide Dogs Vic spoke about developments across Guide Dogs Australia organisations. Mark begun by highlighting the sustained advocacy work by the Guide Dog organisations, and there continued efforts to align and engage with BCA. He also highlighted the domestic and international shortage of orientations and mobility specialists, which has the potential to effect the delivery of specialist services if not rectified.
Alastair Stott provided an update on a technology based initiative that is currently being implemented in Victoria. BlindSquare beacon technology is being utilised in select Melbourne train stations, and will be further rolled out to other Melbourne landmarks. This exciting technology will provide greater assistance to people who are blind or vision impaired when navigating the city.
Naomi Gilson from VisAbility spoke about the exciting Remote Orientation and Mobility (ROAM) project that aims to connect people who are blind or have low vision to orientation and mobility (O&M) services via telehealth initiatives. The intention of ROAM is not to replace traditional delivery methods but to complement them, and expand them into previously hard to access areas. 
Through the use of an iPhone 6+, a GoPro chest harness and video conferencing software clients were able to receive training in the their local areas, with support from an on-site helper. For more information on ROAM, please follow this link.