World Sight Day a Success

World Sight Day (WSD) celebrated on 11 October this year, was a huge success, largely due to the support of government, Vision 2020 Australia members, supporters and champions, as well as wide media coverage of WSD events. With a strong theme for this year’s campaign – that 75% of blindness and vision loss is preventable or treatable – the key message was spread far and wide.

A champion message

In Australia we celebrated nationally with the help of our WSD Champions, who effectively communicated the main message as well as a complementary one – for Australians to book in that eye exam! There were 11 WSD Champions including Federal Parliamentarians John Faulkner, Ursula Stephens, Darren Chester, Mitch Fifield, Richard di Natale, Amanda Rishworth, Andrew Laming, Rachel Siewert, and Teresa Gambaro, as well as Victorian Minister for Health and Ageing, David Davis and Victorian Parliamentarian, Georgie Crozier. Many of these politicians had their eyes tested to encourage others to do the same.

Guide Dogs Victoria

Image from Guide Dogs Victoria

This year a resource based WSD Hub was made available for the sector and media. A 75% campaign and photo challenge to build excitement and awareness leading up to WSD was also employed. The Vision 2020 Australia team were astounded by the support received for the 75% photo challenge to spread the 75% message and together the sector achieved 179 ‘75%’ photographs!

A special event with the Prime Minister

Another highlight of WSD was Prime Minister Julia Gillard joining Vision 2020 Australia at a WSD breakfast for the Hon Dr Barry Jones AO held at Parliament House in Canberra. A giant birthday card which included a declaration to reduce the impact of vision loss and eliminate avoidable blindness (1.5 wide x 2m) was made and delivered safely to Canberra for the event and fifty-five supporting signatures were secured on the card, including the Prime Minister’s. Twenty-two politicians from across the country attended the event including the Federal Health Minister Tanya Plibersek. The Prime Minister spoke fondly of Barry Jones and the importance of eye health and vision care. Andrew Laming MP and co-chair of the Parliamentary Friends Group read out a message from the Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott. A five-minute film was developed for WSD and played at the breakfast featuring a blind Victorian woman Tania Withers, who also joined the celebrations in Canberra with her guide dog Zelia. The video can be viewed here.

Media strength to spread the word

Strong media coverage was achieved for WSD including a piece in The Age’s (Melbourne) Magazine on Chair Barry Jones which highlighted the 75% message. Australia’s highest selling magazine the Australian Women’s Weekly featured a piece about WSD and Channel Ten’s Biggest Loser presenter and personal trainer Michelle Bridges wrote a column about good eye health in the Sunday Life Magazine in the Sunday Age. The Australian newspaper also featured a picture from the advocacy breakfast of the Prime Minister signing the giant card/declaration.

Across broadcast media the coverage was extensive with radio news stories running across 116 stations nationally. Barry Jones was interviewed by Derryn Hinch on 3AW Drive and Jess Gallagher was interviewed on ABC Radio Canberra, while Hugh Taylor and Jennifer Gersbeck were interviewed for Radio RPH in Adelaide and Melbourne. A TV piece also aired on National Indigenous TV (on SBS) featuring the event at Parliament House and showed the Prime Minister Julia Gillard signing the declaration.

Twitter was awash with people and organisations talking about WSD and 78 organisations were recorded tweeting in relation to WSD using the #WSD12 hashtag. Furthermore CBM Australia featured a blog on WSD by Jennifer Gersbeck and AusAID featured a blog by Jess Gallagher; plus eight members featured promotion of WSD on their Facebook or websites including pictures and blogs.

In closing, the support received this year has been astounding and we are pleased to say that WSD 2012 was a memorable day for the sector and helped further our advocacy with the Australian Government. It also generated strong media interest and increased awareness that 75% of blindness and vision loss is preventable or treatable.