Acknowledgement of Financial Support (Dec 2023)

Submitted: Thursday, December 21, 2023
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Blind Citizens NZ Board (Dec 2023)

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Blind Citizens NZ is appreciative of donations received from our members and supporters, and for funding from Blind Low Vision NZ


National Office Closing and Opening for Christmas and New Year

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It’s been another busy year and the Board and I have begun mapping out the necessary approach to our work for 2024. As we begin to wrap up the year for 2023 I encourage members to stay in touch with Branches and Networks for information that comes from National Office. Alternatively, let me know if you wish to directly receive information that comes out. You can contact me via 0800 222 694 number or email Phone calls and emails will be passed along to me for my attention.

Our National Office closes at noon on Thursday 21 December 2023. We reopen on Wednesday 17 January 2024. In between times and although I am on annual leave, I remain available as always for emergency situations.

Last but not least to our members, supporters, stakeholders and readers, from the Board and staff of Blind Citizens NZ, all the very best for Christmas and the New Year and above all else, stay safe. We look forward to engaging and | or working with you in 2024

Blind Citizens NZ Braille Special Interest Network

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Blind Citizens NZ now has a Braille Special Interest Network. This brief news item is intended to let Braille users and readers, and anyone aspiring to learn Braille about this recent development. A key element of Special Interest Networks is that it is the topic that attracts people’s interest and where peer support flourishes.

Although a majority of members of a Special Interest Network must be Ordinary (voting) Members of Blind Citizens NZ, anyone who is blind, vision-impaired, deafblind or has low vision who is not a member, can also join.

Chantelle Griffiths is the elected Coordinator of the Braille Special

Interest Network. The Network’s first AGM will happen between 1 July and 31 August 2024.

If you have email and would like to be connected to this Network, you can send a request to join by using the following email address:

As the Network creates its way of supporting each other and sharing experiences etc., there will be information provided on a regular basis on our TellMe bulletin.

For further information please feel free to contact the National Office on 0800 222 6940 or email to

Opportunities to engage with the National President throughout 2024

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As indicated in National President Jonathan Godfrey’s Focus column, he will be setting aside time on a regular basis to engage with members on topics you might like to raise. These opportunities will be quite separate to any other opportunity that might be offered for a specific reason such as for example, the Total Mobility Scheme which will be a specific topic during April or May 2024.

Dates for these regular opportunities with the National President via ZOOM, where people can join by phone or using other technology, will routinely be held from 5pm-6pm on the following Tuesdays:

  • February 20th;
  • April 2nd;
  • May 14th;
  • June 25th;
  • August 6th;
  • September 17th;
  • October 29th;
  • December 10th.

Timely reminders along with Zoom details will be provided via our TellMe bulletins, Branches, Networks and email.

Focus Editor

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Áine Kelly-Costello produced their first Focus publication and editorial in June 2022. At the time of their two-year appointment, Áine explained that due to a range of commitments they would likely not be available for a further term. March 2024 is when Áine’s term comes to an end and they will provide their final Focus editorial. It is for this reason that the Board is calling for expressions of interest from amongst Ordinary (financial) Members of Blind Citizens NZ for our Focus Editor position. The Board will consider expressions of interest in the Focus Editor position during its July 2024 meeting.

Key aspects for prospective editors to bear in mind when expressing interest include that:

  • the appointment will be for a two-year term (and may be renewed at the Board’s discretion);
  • Focus is the official national publication of Blind Citizens NZ;
  • Focus is sent to all members who are registered on our database as of 1 July 2018 in their preferred format (audio, Braille, large print, electronically) and it is uploaded on Blind Citizens NZ’s website;
  • Focus is the mechanism for communicating a number of constitutional requirements such as notices of the national AGM and Conference and scheduled elections;
  • Blind Citizens NZ’s membership is the target audience but the publication is provided to all Members of Parliament, stakeholders, supporters, etc;
  • editorials are intended to raise and promote debate on issues that are current and topical to the blindness community, and stimulate reader-interest in submitting ‘Letters to the Editor’; and
  • there is an opportunity for the Focus Editor to bring their editorial style to Focus.

Anyone interested in finding out more should contact National Office for full details of the position. Áine is also happy to talk to anyone considering applying for the role. You can contact them using their personal email

Expressions of interest close 4pm, Tuesday 2 July 2024.

Challenging Others Challenging Ourselves

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Blind Citizens NZ’s 2023 AGM and Conference was held from October 13-14 at the Naumi Auckland Airport Hotel. Approximately 65 attendees participated in-person and online via Zoom or the YouTube livestream. This article provides some highlights of the AGM and Conference. More in-depth details will be available in the Minutes.

The day prior to the AGM and Conference three very separate, informal events happened. Whilst publicised at short notice these events for people to attend in person reflect items topical to the blind community. They are also relevant to Blind Citizens NZ’s ongoing programme of work. Attendance was open to anyone from the blind community to join in-person (not just members of Blind Citizens NZ). Events by topic were held in relation to:

During each of these occasions, participants talked freely within their group, sharing related aspirations, experiences and areas that Blind Citizens NZ might potentially address. For many attendees the opportunity also provided much-valued peer-support. There were ‘report-back’ opportunities during the AGM and Conference during which outcomes could be shared. Some reporting back influenced resolutions for the Board to action.

Blind Citizens NZ continues to build knowledge as it progresses on its Te Tiriti o Waitangi journey. The Board’s Te Tiriti o Waitangi Advisory Group comprises John Puhara, Daniel and Harete Phillips, Victor West, Maria Stevens, Joseph and Francis Twomey, and Sharleen Tongalea. Working alongside Te Huia Bill Hamilton, the Tiriti o

Waitangi Advisory Group’s work influenced tikanga for Blind Citizens NZ’s AGM and Conference. This influence was evident throughout the AGM and Conference and will continue to be developed moving forward.

Immediately following the Conference opening by Paula Tesoriero, Chief Executive Whaikaha | Ministry of Disabled People, we enjoyed a performance by the Kapa Haka Group from Mangere Bridge School. This group of tamariki | young people aged 8-12 led by Matua Jordan Kaie gave an outstanding performance. Description from Audio Described Aotearoa highlighted what the group was wearing, facial expressions, along with body movements and actions for each of the songs performed.

  • Blind Citizens NZ’s Guide Dog Handler Special Interest Network, bringing together current and aspiring Guide Dog Handlers.
  • Braille – an opportunity for users and readers of Braille to discuss the potential for a Braille Special Interest Network.
  • Te Tiriti o Waitangi – members of the Board’s Advisory Group talked about the work they are doing in relation to Blind Citizens NZ’s journey to being more inclusive of everyone.

Guest presenters spoke to the theme ‘Challenging Others, Challenging Ourselves’, each bringing their thinking and experiences to the forefront, while relating these back to the purpose of their presentation. Presenters were:

  • Paul Hutcheson, mediator and facilitator;
  • Prudence Walker – Kaihautū Tika Hauātanga Disability Rights Commissioner;
  • Joy Lanini – National Manager Connections and Funding, Your Way | Kia Roha;
  • Ben O’Meara – one of six Deputy Chief Executives to the Chief Executive Whaikaha | responsible of Policy, Strategy and Partnerships;
  • Robbie Francis-Watene – Co-founder of the Lucy Foundation.
  • Clive Lansink – Chair RNZFB Board of Directors.

Award presentations are always a highlight, and this year was no different…

Beamish Memorial Medal and Bar: This is the first time in Blind Citizens NZ’s history that the Beamish Memorial Medal has been awarded to anyone a second time. A second presentation of this award will be known as the Beamish Memorial Medal and Bar.

Presentation of the Beamish Memorial Medal and Bar was made to each of Mary Schnackenberg and Clive Lansink. This recognises the respective continued outstanding contributions to society by Mary and Clive in their particular fields of service to the community.

Extra Touch Award: Metlink Public Transport | Ngā Waka

Tūmatanu is the recipient of the Extra Touch Award. This recognises their work across the disability community and with Blind Citizens NZ in particular to improve accessibility of public transport. Advocacy with Metlink Public Transport has occurred at both a national and with Wellington Branch. Following many years of advocacy Metlink are introducing across the Wellington Region Audio and Visual announcements on its bus services.

Johnston Cup for Leadership: presented to Carl Halliburton, this award recognises the contributions he has made both for and on behalf of Blind Citizens NZ. Amongst his experiences Carl has been a Board Member, he remains Chair of our Wellington Branch and is moderator of each of Blind Citizens NZ’s Blind-Discuss and Member Forum email lists. Carl’s unassuming manner are amongst factors that influence others.

Remit and Resolutions

For each of the following items, updates will be provided as progress is made.

Auckland Branch’s Remit raising concerns about Braille, and requiring the Board to commission a comprehensive, externally conducted investigation into the state of Braille in New Zealand was passed by a significant majority.

Three resolutions of significance are being progressed and in brief these relate to:

  • Guide Dog Handlers and the provision of Guide Dog Services.
  • Blind Low Vision NZ Library Service – accessing and using this service.
  • Pedestrian Crossing Safety – the variable types of pedestrian crossings and the lack of consistency of implementation of these throughout New Zealand.


Call for Applications to fill Blind Citizens NZ’s World Blind Union Primary Country Delegate Position

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Blind Citizens NZ is New Zealand’s country member to the World Blind Union (WBU). The number of delegates (representatives) assigned to country members is based on the country’s population. New Zealand has two delegate (representative) positions. Each of these positions differs in terms of the status given to them. However it is important to recognise that the work the two delegates carry out is complementary and requires them to work together. Each of the two positions must be held by an Ordinary Member (voting | financial) of Blind Citizens NZ. Details to inform interested members about this position are a little further on in this item.

On this occasion the Board is calling for applications for the primary WBU Country Delegate position. These close 4pm, Tuesday 7 May 2024.

At its May 2024 meeting, the Board will finalise its approach and timeline towards short-listing and interviewing candidates. This information will be conveyed to those who have submitted applications.

The Board has determined the term of office for this position will align with the secondary WBU Country Delegate position. Once appointed, the successful candidate will serve their term through until November 2025.

About the WBU Country Delegate Position

Applicants must be aware the successful person appointed to this position, if they are not already on the Board of Blind Citizens NZ as an elected member in their own right, will be co-opted to the Board. This is a constitutional requirement which in turn means the successful person becomes a Board Member. They are then obliged to attend Board meetings and to fulfil the duties and responsibilities expected of a Board Member. The point of reference for this

constitutional provision is Rule 6.3 “Co-opting Additional Board Members”.

Applicants should be certain to request in the first instance, the position description for WBU Country Delegate. It is also advisable to obtain a copy of the role and responsibilities of Board Members. Each of these documents sets out the respective skills, requirements and attributes the Board believes necessary for the person in this role.

Applicants shortlisted for this position will be interviewed by a subcommittee of the Board of Blind Citizens NZ.

Where to send applications

A reminder that applications close 4pm, Tuesday 7 May 2024. These are to be submitted to Blind Citizens NZ’s National Office via either of the following two options:


He tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata

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He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata. What is the most important thing in the world? It is people, it is people, it is people.

I love the sentiment expressed here which comes from a longer whakataukī Māori or proverb. It asks how the bellbird would sing if the shoot at the heart of the flax bush was plucked out and focuses on

the importance of the whānau unit for nurturing people. [1]

I’ve referred to this proverb in so many situations to remind my audience about the importance of people to me, our work, and hopefully, our society.

At the Blind Citizens NZ Board meeting in November, I put forward the idea that the title of this column should be the theme for our 2024 Annual General Meeting and Conference and that it should also be the over-arching theme of all we do as an organisation over the next twelve months. This was accepted for so many reasons, chief among which is that we must turn our focus towards our people, our branches and networks, and to securing the future of our organisation. Central to this thinking is that people are the future of our organisation.

If the next twelve months are to be transformative, we will need to commit organisational resources, both financial and human resources to the effort. We will need ideas and cooperation from people to make the transformation a reality we all wish to share in.

We will be running an advocacy/ | leadership workshop, and we will put energy into supporting branches and networks to help make Blind Citizens NZ more relevant to a wider number of blind and low-vision people.

In discussing what we need to think about, one Board member asked what we could do with artificial intelligence to help us do what we do. I’ve had a bit of experience working with ChatGPT this year, both to help me do what I want done, but also so that I can tell when my students are doing their own work. The next three sections of my column were generated with the help of ChatGPT. Each piece is 400 words long, and was generated by a single sentence describing what I wanted. I have modified the resulting text to remove obvious clangers in terminology. I think many of you will see that it is definitely

not my style, but each section could theoretically have been written by a real person. I hope you’ll consider what take-aways you have from reading them. I’ve provided mine at the end.

Building Bridges: The Crucial Role of Collaboration for Blind people in New Zealand

In the vibrant tapestry of New Zealand’s diverse society, the significance of collaboration cannot be overstated, especially for individuals with vision impairments. For the blind community, the journey towards inclusion and empowerment is paved with the bricks of cooperation and understanding.

Navigating the world without sight requires resilience and adaptability. In a society that often prioritizes individual achievements, the blind community in New Zealand thrives when the spirit of collaboration

takes center stage. Working with people isn’t just a preference; it’s a necessity for fostering an environment where everyone, regardless of their abilities, can contribute meaningfully.

One of the fundamental aspects of collaboration for blind individuals is the cultivation of an inclusive workplace.

By embracing diversity and breaking down barriers, employers not only create a more welcoming atmosphere but also tap into a wealth of untapped talent. Blind individuals bring unique perspectives, problem-solving skills, and a tenacity that enriches the collective experience.

Moreover, collaborative efforts extend beyond the professional realm. In a country known for its breathtaking landscapes, blind individuals often rely on the support of their community to explore and enjoy the beauty of New Zealand. Whether it’s participating in local initiatives, joining recreational clubs, or engaging in communal activities, the blind community’s involvement is not just about being present but actively contributing to the shared experience.

Technology, too, plays a crucial role in enhancing collaboration for the vision impaired. In a world dominated by screens and vision cues, assistive technologies have emerged as powerful tools, bridging gaps and enabling seamless communication. By investing in and promoting accessible technologies, New Zealand can further empower its blind citizens to connect, collaborate, and thrive in the digital age.

The essence of collaboration lies in breaking down stereotypes and fostering a culture of empathy. By working hand-in-hand, sighted and vision impaired people can dispel misconceptions, promote understanding, and dismantle the barriers that hinder full participation in society. New Zealand has the opportunity to lead by example, showcasing the strength that comes from unity in diversity.

In conclusion, the importance of working with people, especially for blind people in New Zealand, cannot be overstated. Collaboration isn’t just a means to an end; it’s the cornerstone upon which an inclusive and empowering society is built. By embracing diversity, fostering inclusivity, and harnessing the power of technology, New Zealand can pave the way for a future where everyone, regardless of their abilities, can contribute to the rich tapestry of the nation.

Co-Governance: Navigating New Frontiers for Blind Māori

in Disability Organisations

In the realm of disability advocacy and support, the concept of co-governance stands as a beacon of empowerment and inclusivity. For blind Māori individuals in New Zealand, the importance of co-governance within disability organisations cannot be overstated. It’s not just about representation; it’s about crafting a narrative that resonates with the unique intersection of blindness and Māori identity, steering towards a future where diverse voices shape the path to inclusivity.

Co-governance, at its core, is a commitment to shared decision-making. For blind Māori individuals, this translates into an opportunity to actively participate in shaping the policies and initiatives that directly impact their lives. In a landscape where cultural nuances and accessibility requirements intersect, co-governance becomes a vehicle for bridging gaps and fostering a more holistic approach to disability advocacy.

Disability organisations that embrace co-governance recognize the need for diverse perspectives at the decision-making table. Blind Māori individuals bring not only their experiences with blindness but also a rich cultural heritage that adds depth to the discourse. By weaving the threads of Māori identity into the fabric of disability advocacy, co-governance ensures that the unique challenges and aspirations of this community are not only acknowledged but woven into the very fabric of support systems.

Moreover, co-governance promotes a sense of ownership and agency among blind Māori individuals. When they actively participate in the decision-making processes of disability organisations, it empowers them to become agents of change within their own communities.

By fostering a sense of responsibility and leadership, co-governance becomes a catalyst for dismantling barriers and fostering an environment where blind Māori individuals not only receive support but actively contribute to shaping the future landscape.

Cultural competence is paramount in co-governance, especially in a country as culturally diverse as New Zealand. Disability organisations need to cultivate an understanding of the unique challenges faced by blind Māori individuals, from navigating cultural expectations to ensuring that accessibility initiatives align with cultural values. Co-governance becomes a bridge, connecting the expertise of disability advocates with the lived experiences of blind Māori individuals, resulting in more nuanced and effective support systems.

In conclusion, co-governance is not just a buzzword; it’s a transformative approach that holds immense significance for blind Māori individuals within disability organisations in New Zealand. By embracing shared decision-making, acknowledging cultural nuances, and empowering individuals to actively shape their destinies, co-governance becomes the compass guiding disability organisations

towards a future where the voices of blind Māori individuals resonate loudly, shaping a more inclusive and culturally sensitive landscape for all.

Empowering Blind Māori: Fostering Inclusivity for the Blind Community

In the pursuit of empowerment and inclusivity within the blind community in New Zealand, it is essential to address concerns about potential feelings of threat or disenfranchisement among non-Māori individuals. The goal is not to create divides but to foster a collective strength that embraces diversity and ensures that the empowerment of one group enhances the overall fabric of support and understanding within the blind community.

Firstly, transparent communication is paramount. Initiatives aimed at empowering blind Māori individuals should be communicated as efforts to enhance the overall inclusivity of the community. Clear messaging helps dispel any misconceptions and assures non-Māori members that the goal is to create a space where everyone’s unique experiences and needs are acknowledged and addressed.

Education plays a pivotal role in promoting understanding. Non-Māori individuals within the blind community should be provided with opportunities to learn about the cultural richness and historical context of blind Māori experiences. By fostering cultural competence, the community can build bridges of understanding, mitigating any potential feelings of threat or disenfranchisement.

Collaborative platforms that encourage open dialogue can further strengthen unity within the blind community. Forums, workshops, and discussions that involve both Māori and non-Māori members allow for shared experiences to be heard and valued. It is through these interactions that a sense of community solidarity can be cultivated, reinforcing the idea that empowerment for one group enhances the collective strength of all.

Leadership and representation should be inclusive. Efforts should be made to ensure that leadership positions within the blind community reflect its diversity. This inclusivity sends a powerful message that all voices are valued, regardless of cultural background. When individuals see themselves represented in leadership roles, it fosters a sense of belonging and diminishes any perception of exclusion.

Moreover, initiatives aimed at empowering blind Māori individuals should be designed collaboratively, with input from diverse perspectives. Inclusive decision-making processes ensure that the needs of all members are considered, fostering a sense of ownership and shared responsibility. This approach reinforces the idea that empowerment is a collective journey where each member contributes to the community’s growth and strength.

In conclusion, the empowerment of blind Māori individuals should be approached as a catalyst for broader inclusivity within the blind community. Transparent communication, education, collaborative platforms, inclusive leadership, and shared decision-making are key elements in ensuring that non-Māori individuals do not feel threatened or disenfranchised. By embracing diversity as a source of strength, the blind community in New Zealand can create a harmonious and empowering environment where everyone feels valued and supported.

Back to a real person

The text lacks a human touch that I try to incorporate into my writing. I’ve spent about two hours on this column, from idea to submission. I’ve used a tool and it has saved me perhaps four (or more) hours of time. There is a cost though. You don’t know if I agree with the statements made in the generated text. As it happens I generally do but there are some implications of the text that I’d prefer you asked me about in a person to person setting.

As for the content, some of the sentences are beautifully crafted, but they aren’t me. And the responses about blind Māori are coming from a computer, not coming from tāngata whenua themselves. ChatGPT has not embraced proper use of macrons on vowels, and some of the language used for blind people who also identify as Māori feels a bit clunky. I think it might be seen as disrespectful; well it feels wrong to me anyway. More to the point, the responses undermine the very essence of self-determination.

So what bothers me about the generated text is that it feels disingenuous to me. I haven’t engaged with it and nor has anyone else. I don’t feel like it is mine or that I own what is said. To know me, you must talk to me, or converse with me in a way that shows you who I am and what I stand for. We can only do that if we engage with each other as people. Yes, we can use tools to facilitate our communication, but we cannot afford to let the tools define us.

To that end, in order to play my part in our organisation having an increased focus on people, I will be making myself available at 5pm on designated Tuesdays to talk to anyone about anything you like. We will be online, but people will be able to connect using their landline or mobile phones. This will happen on a six-week cycle starting on Tuesday 20 February. I hope you can join me.

1 He Taonga Tuku Iho no Ngā Tupuna. Maori proverbial sayings -a literary treasure. Joan Metge And Shane Jones.


Exploring te ao Māori and te reo Māori – whakaaro from one Pākehā blind person

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He whakataukī

“Tūwhitia te hopo”: Feel the fear and do it anyway.

Hopo: fear, trepidation, a sinking feeling of dread

From Aroha: Māori wisdom for a contented life lived in harmony with our planet by Hinemoa Elder

Note: for reference, the Māori terms used in the rest of the article are listed at the bottom with approximate brief translations to the best of my understanding. ***

I’m a Pākehā immigrant to Aotearoa New Zealand, my family arriving when I was nine. Though details are blurry now, I remember the hospitality of the mana whenua as my marine ecologist father along with the rest of the family received a powhiri at his new workplace based in the small northern Auckland town of Leigh, complete – as is customary – with the sharing of kai. I am lucky to have a place to stand in this country by way of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, something I, like probably most of you reading this, learned very little about at school. The few times I have been on marae, I have felt really welcome, and participating in kapa haka at school there was always an effort to make sure I was fully taking part.

Still, for disabled people, focusing on blind people for the purposes of this piece, there are real barriers to exploring or being immersed in te ao Māori and te reo Māori.

Before delving into that, I want to note upfront that this whole kaupapa hits differently, and much harder, for tāngata whenua. By virtue of being Pākehā, it’s important that I recognise the intergenerational hurt and alienation from land and culture which results from colonialism. Page 4 of 28 I don’t have to choose between services which meet my disability or cultural needs, for instance. And I want to make sure that my well- intended interest in learning reo Māori doesn’t take a limited course enrolment place away from Māori themselves. But I wanted to write about this topic because while I see so much discussion and sharing of resources among many of my (mostly sighted) friends and social media circles, I think all of us need the space to talk about what we might notice as blind people too. This piece is in the spirit of sparking that conversation.

Where to start learning?

There are as many answers to that question as people. But if you have access to the Blind Low Vision NZ library, preferably on a device that lets you write down your search terms, you will discover a growing collection of books examining the history of te ao Māori and Te Tiriti o Waitangi, along with books about Māori spirituality, about learning the language, and books which are themselves in te reo Māori. I’m currently contemplating my way through the wisdom-filled collection of whakatauki by Hinemoa Elder referenced at the top of this editorial. And I’m very appreciative of access to audiobooks, because I can relax and temporarily forget that screen readers and reo Māori are yet to make friends.

The basic BLVNZ library search is found at Typing “Māori” into the box, for instance, brings up 27 results for me. Underneath each book , you are presented with a number which you can feed to an Alexa if you want to read the book on there, or type it into the search box of the Easy Reader app. For the advanced search form that allows you to dive into categories, specify the book format and more, follow the link on the above page for “Classic and Braille search”. Page 5 of 28

If listening is your thing and you’re after something shorter than books, there are a lot of excellent podcasts out there which you can subscribe to through your podcast app of choice. Try The Aotearoa History Show from RNZ, or for learning some reo, I’m really appreciating Everyday Māori by Hēmi Kelly and Āpera Woodfine. A super informative show that goes much deeper into many varied kaupapa, for anyone who already has some familiarity with te ao Māori, is the Taringa podcast from Te Wānanga o Aotearoa.

Screen readers and te reo Māori

Let’s face it, however much we might want to immerse ourselves even in English texts with reo Māori throughout, the abominable pronunciation of our screen readers is, at least, distracting, and at worst, so off-putting that we stay away. There aren’t any silver bullets here, yet unfortunately, but there are things we can do to make the situation a little more tolerable. If you don’t yet know how to reach your screen reader’s pronunciation dictionary, look that up. This is the place where you can customise (to a point at least), how words are pronounced. Fiddle around with some spellings until whānau sounds more like faa-no and less like wa-now, and until you get the hard g out of tāngata (try something like taang attah…). Onehunga and Papatoetoe are other notorious clangers until treated to similar assistance.

If you are trying to read full sentences, as opposed to the odd word or two, using the free Windows-based NVDA (non-visual Desktop access) screen-reader with the eSpeak NG synthesiser does give you options of voices called “Māori” and “Hawaiian”, whose pronunciation is certainly a lot closer to what you’re after than the English. My preference out of the two is the Hawaiian one and if anyone gets stuck trying to configure them for easy switching, consult section 12.4 of the NVDA user guide or let me know and I’ll go through it with you. Just make sure you know how to return to the English voice before enabling either of them because those voices have absolutely not been programmed for pronouncing English! Page 6 of 28

Braille and te reo Māori

Luckily, the only new symbol to know for Braille readers who haven’t read any reo Māori in Braille before is dots 4-5-6 for the macron. A vowel with a macron in front of it is pronounced with the same sound but is longer in length. Meanwhile, the wh contraction is used for the corresponding sound (which is like an English f) and other than that the Braille is in grade 1. Note that a macron symbol in Unified English Braille, such as you’ll find if you’re using an iPhone set to the UEB table, is dot 4 and a dash, so 4, 3-6. With that knowledge, inputting reo Māori with Braille screen input using UEB suddenly becomes much easier. With the NVDA screen reader on windows, it’s also possible to customise how macrons are output on a Braille display using the Braille extender add-on.

Typing macrons on a computer keyboard

On Windows, by far the quickest way to type the vowels with macrons is to use the keyboard called “NZ Aotearoa”. In the world of Windows settings, keyboards get added under a specific language, so have a look for preferred languages, select “English (New Zealand)” and then add that keyboard under there. To type a macron, you’ll use the little key above the tab, typed directly before the corresponding vowel. Macrons aren’t optional particularly as meaning often shifts based on the presence of macrons alone. If you’re not able to type macron symbols, an alternative is to double the vowel, so Pākehā becomes Paakehaa for instance.

Staying on a marae

Accessing in-person activities in general is difficult for me due to a mix of the familiar transport barriers and my being chronically ill. But I fortunately had the privilege to stay on a marae this year, among a group of people from a shared kaupapa. Page 7 of 28

The manaakitanga shown was wonderful though I made myself a few mental notes about logistics. When greeting individually with hongi as part of the powhiri, I realised it was easier for me to let myself be swept along by the general direction of the group rather than to try to maintain sighted guide which was resulting in my being missed sometimes. Following the tikanga of taking shoes off before entering the wharenui and placing them among 50 odd other pairs of shoes meant I needed to know how to describe my shoes well to anyone who’d never seen them before. The same went for all my belongings. When it was time for sleep and the mattresses were placed pretty much filling the room, I made sure I knew who I was sleeping beside. If doing it again, I’d probably have tried to bags a spot beside a wall, in case I did need to independently manoeuvre out of the space. Out of respect for tikanga, I needed to pay attention when I was entering the wharenui to not inadvertently carry food inside and to check that I wouldn’t accidentally sit on a pillow on the floor (though these were promptly cleared away in the mornings).

During our wānanga, there was a moment where one of our group of manuhiri accidentally bumped one of the photos of tīpuna on display on the walls in the wharenui. The person apologised and the local hau kāinga was gracious about it. All the while, I hadn’t clocked until that point that we were literally surrounded by this very tangible visual reminder of the presence of ancestors watching over and guiding us.

In general, I always have some worry in the back of my head that I’ll do something that doesn’t follow tikanga without realising it and that no one will tell me. That, obviously, isn’t a purely non-visual issue, though whether it’s the presence of signage or people copying others, sometimes you really don’t know what you can’t see if someone doesn’t make a point of communicate it in another way.

Accessing the arts

While there traditionally hasn’t been as much audio description available to Māori and Pacific communities, that’s meaningfully shifting in recent years. Audio Described Aotearoa and Te Rōpū Waiora organised audio description at this year’s Te Matatini Kapa Haka festival. Some performances centred within te ao Māori and Pacific culture like The Haka Party Incident, Upu, Dawn Raids, Red White and Brass and a Siva Afi festival have also been described. Audio Described Aotearoa also received funding this year to train Māori and Pacific audio describers in collaboration with blind consultants. Nicola Owen spoke to Arts Access Aotearoa about this at the time [1].

“In a few years’ time,” she said, “we want to be in a place where online audio description extends to Māori and Pacific arts; where films like Whina and Muru come with audio description tracks written and recorded by Māori describers; and where Disney films like Moana, with the soundtrack recorded in te reo Māori, also have te reo Māori audio description.”

Joining in the waiata or kapa haka

I love the richness of singing waiata together, and often groups will learn them together so everyone who doesn’t know the waiata in question can follow along. In recent times, Auckland Arts Festival has ensured that some of its events centred on waiata have had the option to request Braille song sheets in advance. I attended and thoroughly enjoyed one such sing-along. Conversely, just as when singing in any other group, getting stuck without access to the kupu if everyone sighted does have access to the words doesn’t feel great, especially because it’s hard to glance at them on a phone at a moment’s notice given the aforementioned problems with screen reader pronunciation. This is just another of those: plan in advance if possible, and advocate for what you need situations, I think. Page 9 of 28

I was lucky that when I took part in kapa haka at school, I did have access to the kupu while learning, most of the time, and I did usually have assistance with learning the movements and actions so I could fully participate. Admittedly, I gave up on trying to coordinate the long poi pretty quickly, but still, I was shown them, and I had a go! *** Returning to the whakatauki I opened with, tūwhitia te hopo. For tangata Tiriti like me, it’s such a gift to be able to explore te ao Māori. Let’s try not let fear stand in the way of starting to learn, and to accessing the bounty of resources and experiences that we can, while being open about the challenges too.


  1. Audio Described Aotearoa to train Māori and Pacific audio describers. Arts Access Aotearoa.
  2. Environment as marae locale. Kawharu 2010.

Māori language words used in the article

  • Te ao Māori: the Māori world.
  • Hau kāinga: home people, local people of a marae.
  • Hongi: a form of greeting involving touching noses frequently done as part of powhiri.
  • Kai: food.
  • Kapa haka: performance of Māori song and dance which is affirming of Māori culture and identity.
  • Kaupapa: (roughly) subject, values-based orientation.
  • Kupu: word(s).
  • Manaakitanga: hospitality, care.
  • Manuhiri: visitors. Page 10 of 28
  • Marae and wharenui: a Marae is a place where tangata whenua, (Māori) people of the land, have sovereignty. It is “the focal point where values of stewardship and management in relation to the environment and to people are grounded” [2]. The site often includes a courtyard, wharenui or meeting house and other buildings, as well as an ancestral burial ground or urupā.
  • Pākehā: (loosely) New Zealand European or white people.
  • Poi: “a light ball on a string of varying length which is swung or twirled rhythmically to sung accompaniment” (Te Aka Māori dictionary definition).
  • Powhiri: a customary Māori welcome for visitors given by the local tangata whenua or hosting people of the land.
  • Tangata Tiriti: people living in Aotearoa by virtue of Te Tiriti o Waitangi (in contrast to tangata whenua).
  • Tangata whenua: literally people of the land, here referring to Māori.
  • Te Tiriti o Waitangi: the Māori text of the Treaty of Waitangi, the country’s founding treaty signed by Māori chiefs and the Crown in 1840.
  • Te reo Māori: the Māori language.
  • Tikanga: Māori customs and values.
  • Tīpuna (or tūpuna): ancestors.
  • Waiata: song, singing.
  • Wānanga: gathering for discussion and sharing knowledge.
  • Whakaaro: thinking, ideas.
  • Whakatauki: a proverb (where the author isn’t known).
  • Whānau: loosely meaning family/extended family.


Welcome to the December 2023 edition

Categories: Uncategorized

Whew, we made it to the end of 2023! In this Focus edition, my editorial shares some whakaaro (thoughts) about exploring te ao Māori and te reo Māori as one blind Pākehā person. The National President’s column discusses the value of people to Blind Citizens NZ and dates for engaging with him directly are presented later in the edition. There’s a rundown on the 2023 AGM and Conference from the Chief Executive, including awards presented. Don’t miss an exciting announcement about the creation of the Braille Special Interest Network, coordinated by Chantelle Griffiths.

Finally, there are expressions of interest for the Blind Citizens NZ Primary World Blind Union Delegate position as well as for the Focus Editor role. My final edition will be in March 2024. I’m more than happy to talk informally to anyone considering applying for the role if that would be useful, you can email my personal address

Wishing you all the happiest of holidays and all the best for 2024!


AGM and Conference 2023

Submitted: Wednesday, October 11, 2023
Categories: Uncategorized

Check back for more information about how you can join Blind Citizens NZ during our two-day AGM and Conference – that is if you are unable to attend in person.

Virtual options include this YouTube link, or you might prefer to register to be part of the ‘virtual’ real-time proceedings on ZOOM. Email to register for the Zoom call

Blind Citizens NZ – Board and National Office

Submitted: Tuesday, October 10, 2023
Categories: Uncategorized


Blind Citizens NZ Delegates to World Blind Union

Focus Editor, Áine Kelly-Costello

National Office


Announcing the outcome of Blind Citizens NZ 2023 Scheduled Election

Categories: Uncategorized

Nominations for the two Member-at-Large positions closed at 4pm Thursday 24 August. Two nominations for the two Member-at-Large positions were received, these being from Andrea Courtney and Paula Waby. They are each declared duly elected uncontested and fill the two Member-at-Large positions.

The term of office for both candidates is three years. Their respective term commences immediately following the close of this year’s AGM and Conference and will come to an end at the conclusion of Blind Citizens NZ’s AGM (and Conference if held), in October 2026.

Congratulations go to Andrea and Paula on being re-elected to the Board of Blind Citizens NZ.


For sale – Large Print Calendars Produced by Blind Citizens NZ

Categories: Uncategorized

Our 2024 Large Print Calendars are now available. These are ideal for anyone needing, or preferring to have larger sized dates. The Calendars are approximately 59 cm wide and 42 cm long. They can be purchased for $10 through our National Office, or your local Blind Citizens NZ Branch or Network. When posted from our National Office there will be additional costs. The most cost-efficient option therefore, is to purchase these direct from your Branch or Network.

Phone our National Office on 0800 222 694 if you want to purchase one of our Large Print Calendars. We can put you in touch with the local Branch or Network, or we can arrange delivery to you direct. Postage incurs additional costs which vary depending on the number you require and where in the country they are being sent. Here is the first month for 2024… While somewhat smaller, this gives an indication of size.


Challenging Others, Challenging Ourselves Blind Citizens NZ’s 2023 AGM and Conference

Categories: Uncategorized

As this Focus edition reaches you, our 2023 AGM and Conference will be days away… While the closing date has passed, it is possible to receive late registrations for daily in-person attendance and for those preferring Zoom. If you wish to stay where the event is being held at the Naumi Auckland Airport Hotel, registering through our National Office needs to happen urgently. You should email or phone us on 0800 222 694.

The official programme for our 2023 AGM and Conference starts at 9am Friday 13 October, and finishes following the dinner on Saturday evening, 14 October. If you are registering to stay at the hotel, this includes accommodation and dinner for Thursday night, and breakfast Friday morning. On Thursday afternoon 12 October, for in-person attendees there are opportunities for interested members to come together in an informal setting, to hear about, discuss and | or contribute to the following topics.

Anyone interested in the following informal activities on Thursday afternoon should contact our National Office and let us know please:

  • Blind Citizens NZ’s Te Tiriti o Waitangi mahi (2:30pm-4pm);
  • the importance of Braille and Blind Citizens NZ establishing a Braille Special Interest Network (4:05pm-5:05pm); and
  • Guide Dog Handlers and Blind Citizens NZ’s Special Interest Network (5:10pm-6:10pm.

During the opening we welcome the Mangere Bridge School Kapa Haka group. Then we have an array of guest presenters each speaking to our theme ‘Challenging Others, Challenging Ourselves’… In no particular order and excluding their respective topics, presenters include:

  • Paula Tesoriero – Chief Executive Whaikaha (official opening); 
  • Paul Hutcheson – Paul operates his own mediation business;
  • Prudence Walker – Kaihautū Tika Hauātanga Disability Rights Commissioner;
  • Joy Lanini – National Manager Connections and Funding, Your Way | Kia Roha;
  • Ben O’Meara – one of six Deputy Chief Executives to the Chief Executive Whaikaha | responsible of Policy, Strategy and Partnerships;
  • Robbie Francis-Watene – Co-founder of the Lucy Foundation.
  • Clive Lansink – Chair RNZFB Board of Directors.

If you are unable to join us in in person, we encourage you to think about the Zoom option where you can join using technology or phone in. If you would like to know more, call our National Office on 0800 222 694.


Vote by Telephone Dictation at the 2023 General Election

Categories: Uncategorized

Note to readers: information in this article is from the Electoral Commission. The term ‘partially blind’ is used. This includes and | or refers to people who identify as low vision, deafblind or vision- impaired. The Electoral Commission must use the term ‘partially blind’ because that is how the criteria is referred to in legislation.

Telephone Dictation Voting in the 2023 General Election started on Wednesday 27 September. It ends at 7pm (NZ time) on election day, Saturday 14 October.

If you’re unable to mark your voting paper without assistance you may be able to cast a secret vote by telephone dictation.

Who is eligible for telephone dictation voting?

Anyone who is enrolled to vote and is blind, partially blind or has a physical disability that prevents them from marking their voting paper without assistance is eligible to vote by Telephone Dictation at the 2023 General Election.

If you live overseas or are overseas temporarily, you will also need to be one of the following:

  • NZ Citizen who has visited NZ within the last 6 years;
  •  Permanent Resident of NZ who has visited within the last 4 years
  • A Public Servant, Member of the NZ Defence Force or a family member who is travelling with them. For more information on eligibility to vote from overseas visit Enrol from overseas | Vote NZ (or

Register to vote by telephone dictation

If you’re eligible and would like to vote by Telephone Dictation, then you need to register before you vote. You can call to register from Monday to Saturday from 9am (NZ time) until 7pm (NZ time). Registration opened on Monday, 11 September and closes at noon (NZ time) Saturday 14 October. To register you call:

  • 0800 028 028 from within NZ or
  • +64 4 471 2000 from overseas. Please note international calling rates may apply.

When you call to register you need to select option 1. If you haven’t registered by noon (NZ time) Saturday 14 October, you won’t be able to vote using Telephone Dictation this time, However, you can still vote:

  • In New Zealand at any voting place from Monday 2 October until 7pm on election day, Saturday 14 October.
  • From overseas, by downloading and uploading your voting papers from by 7pm (NZ time) Saturday 14 October.

When you register for Telephone Dictation Voting you will be asked to choose a secret question and answer which only you know. You can choose from one of three secret questions:

  • The name of your first primary school.
  • The name of your first pet.
  • The name of the street where you grew up.

You will be given a personal registration number once you have registered. Your registration number can be sent to you by email, text message, given to you over the phone, or someone can call you back. Make sure you’re ready to record your personal registration number if you want to receive it over the phone.

Your registration number and secret question are used to confirm that you’re already registered when you call back to vote without giving your name to the electoral official. Please don’t tell anyone your secret question or the answer to it until you call back to vote.

You’ll need to know your registration number and the answer to your secret question when you call back to vote.

How to vote by telephone dictation

If you’re registered to vote by Telephone Dictation, you can vote from Wednesday 27 September by calling:

  • 0800 028 028 from within New Zealand; or
  • +64 4 471 2000 from overseas. Please note international call rates may apply.

When you call to cast your vote, you will need to select option 2.

Once you’re connected to an electoral official you will be asked to provide your registration number. Do not give your name to the electoral official – they won’t know your identity and your vote is secret. The electoral official will then ask you to answer the secret question you selected when registering.

The electoral official will read out a list of the political parties and the names of each candidate standing in your electorate. They will mark your voting paper according to your instructions.

A second electoral official will confirm that the voting papers have been marked according to your instructions.

You can phone to cast your vote from Wednesday 27 September, Monday to Saturday from 9am to 7pm (NZ time) until Saturday 14 October. Your last chance to vote is on election day, Saturday 14 October from 9am to 7pm (NZ time).

Enrol to vote

You must be enrolled to make your vote count.

Information about enrolling to vote for disabled people is available at or Freephone 0800 36 76 56.

When you register to vote for the Telephone Dictation service, the electoral official can help with questions about enrolling or enrol you to vote.


How secret is your vote in this year’s General Election

Categories: Uncategorized

Rose Wilkinson, Chief Executive

Political parties are well underway with their respective 2023 General Election campaigns, informing voters about their policies, stances and aspirations if they become Government. This is a great opportunity to provide some history about Telephone Dictation Voting and how this came about. Perhaps most important is what this actually means for the population of voters who are blind, deafblind, vision impaired, or have low vision (blind people).

Guided by the voice of our members and others in the blind community, Blind Citizens NZ advocated long and hard for an ‘accessible’ voting option that ensured the independence, confidence and dignity of blind people voting in elections. Telephone Dictation Voting in general elections is the result of Blind Citizens NZ’s advocacy. We recognise there were many others who supported our efforts. This ensured the success benefitted blind people, as well as individuals unable to independently complete a voting paper without assistance in general elections. The success of the pilot in the 2014 General Election is why Telephone Dictation Voting remains an option for voters today – an option for blind people to cast an independent secret vote with confidence and dignity.

At the same time as Telephone Dictation Voting was piloted, Blind Citizens NZ’s advocacy contributed to the Electoral Commission recognising the need for information about enrolling and voting in general elections to be accessible to disabled people.

The Electoral Commission continues to uphold its commitment, and provides information about enrolling and voting for blind people in large print, Braille, audio and electronically.

Blind Citizens NZ urges you to give Telephone Dictation Voting a try in this year’s General Election. While blind voters can go to a polling booth and have someone of your choice to assist cast your vote, using Telephone Dictation to cast your vote offers a great experience. Early voting is open now and the next article has the information you need to register for and vote using Telephone Dictation.


Accessibility and taking chances

Categories: Uncategorized

Jonathan Godfrey – Blind Citizens NZ National President

Kenilworth Castle is a ruin, and even for the sighted, it is hard to see what it was like when it was in use from the 13th to the 17th centuries. Obviously, the Castle is not in New Zealand, and neither was I when the deadline for this column was approaching. I’m based at the University of Warwick for a couple of weeks, and my hosts took me and another visitor to Kenilworth and then to Stratford-upon-Avon (the supposed birthplace of Shakespeare) on Saturday. I then sat around drinking coffee all day on Sunday with my statistically and community- minded host, her husband, and a retired mathematician who I’ve only met online until now

The day out was pleasant in so many ways, and was a break from sitting around with a group of nerds doing programming. It’s been a while since I cracked 20,000 steps in a day. The ruined castle had an audio guide with descriptions of what the various areas are thought to have been used for.

Unlike my hosts, I had my own earpiece to plug into the audio guide so walking and listening was much easier for me than for them. My hosts made sure I had every sign read to me, commented on what they could see off in the distance, and answered piles of questions. We had to park plenty of questions for our return to a place where we could search the internet. They made sure I touched everything within reach and finally that the gift shop maximised its opportunity to empty my wallet. I didn’t, but the replica broadsword was really tempting; such a pity I had doubts about the size of my suitcase. The kitset trebuchet would have to do.

This attraction was extremely accessible to me. I definitely soaked up about as much information as I could manage, but it relied on the company I was keeping. Not everyone wants to read every last word on display so I was listening for any signs that my host was running out of enthusiasm. A ruin is not going to be physically accessible to all comers though. The ground is rough, the steps are worn and seriously uneven, the doorways in places were a bit shorter than me, and some of the handrails were out of reach for a shorter person. It is what it is though, and you can’t make a ruin accessible without ruining it as a ruin, and therefore as an attraction for the masses. This idea that you can’t and shouldn’t always make everything totally accessible featured a lot in discussions I was having during my UK sojourn.

So why am I here in the UK? I’m not here to be a tourist I assure you. Many of you will know that I was the first totally blind person to gain employment as a lecturer in statistics. There are plenty of other blind people using the same software as me, and some that have as much technical skill as a statistician. I was described as a “scarce resource” by the aforementioned retired mathematician during one of our conversations recently. While I might find that terminology a bit strange, the fact that I was fully funded to be here says to me that someone thinks I was the blind person they wanted. I joined a group of people who all have a common interest in improving the software we use to do our jobs.

Some attendees were self-funded, some attendees had to take time off work, and some people were pressured to participate due to the roles they have in maintaining software systems. Fortunately, I haven’t needed to take time off work to be here because these activities fit within my job description. I’ve been able to work with gurus to address the few irritations novice blind users of this software experience when they are compelled to take a course in statistics at university. It seems to me though that if I’d sat down with the same people ten years ago, we’d have found the same solutions. The understanding of accessibility and the needs of disabled people didn’t exist then, or at least not to the same extent; if this event had been held ten years ago, I wouldn’t have been invited.

Ten years ago, I was unable to meet these people though and so my ability to raise accessibility and the specific needs of blind users was limited to writing articles and email messages. I’ve attended conferences over the last ten years and spoken about the needs of blind users over and over, and it seems the message has gotten through. I even heard two people sitting at a nearby table discussing the issues with continuing to provide documents in pdf rather than using HTML, with specific reference to screen readers.

I managed to get myself over to that conversation and wondered if they wanted to know anything; the response was a firm “no” because “you’ve been telling us this stuff for over ten years Jonathan”. I took myself back to my work station, thus separating the choir from the preacher.

I came to this event with an idea that I would be needing to push for the needs of blind users of the software and the needs of all disabled people who wish to participate in this community. My greatest “wow” moment of the event was when one of the gurus told me that he wanted my help before he took his pet project much further. “Jonathan, I want this to be accessible from the start, and I need your advice please.”

This is possibly the most awesome thing a disability advocate can ever hear. Disability issues at the front of an initiative, not some after- thought.

A common problem raised itself during discussions with support staff at the University of Warwick and then with someone from a Scottish university; they know accessibility is important, but they don’t know how to deliver accessible scientific and mathematical content, and they don’t have any blind students to test solutions on (yet). Perhaps the greatest irritation for me is that the solutions have been available for such a long time yet seldom used due to a complete lack of awareness of the right tools. This is an international problem that we face in NZ too. Intriguingly though, blind students in some European countries do not suffer anywhere nearly as much as those of us in English-speaking countries because the Braille system they use is more closely integrated with the systems used to create printed science and mathematical documents. Furthermore, the eight dot Braille system used in some countries is advantageous because they do not need a distinct Braille code for displaying mathematics, and another system for making nice equations for their sighted audiences.

Whether it is a visit to a ruined castle or a meeting of programmers, you have to be there to get full benefit, and to have full impact. The same is true for much of the work done by Blind Citizens NZ at national and local levels. Sometimes we take a punt on whether the meeting will lead to successful outcomes. If you want to roll a six, you must pick up the dice. You must be prepared to roll a few ones along the way.

Sometimes though, you must look at the situation and ask if the dice are loaded against you. You won’t get a six if you only get to nudge it around a bit instead of picking it up and giving it a good shake. So, do you fight for the dice to be changed, or do you decide to walk away until someone else changes them for you?

We are fortunate that in today’s climate, as individuals and as an organisation, there are plenty of opportunities out there to choose among. We must still hold on to the principles, but we can decide where to air them. We must also discover if we are exploring a ruin or creating something new and exciting.


Let’s not settle for subpar representation Editorial

Categories: Uncategorized

Áine Kelly-Costello, Focus Editor

Blindness service providers talk about blindness in public a lot. Whether it’s to market their services to those who may benefit from them, or to fundraise given that they’re habitually forced to operate under a charity model, every public message they send by definition frames blindness or blind people in one way or another. These messages can reach a broad audience, from people who may not know a single blind person, to people currently losing their vision. This makes it particularly important that they portray us, as blind community, in accurate, empowering and dignified ways.

I don’t think an inventory of Blind Low Vision NZ’s public-facing communications exists anywhere–and I certainly don’t have access to one so can’t accurately comment on a trend. But I have noticed a number of communications over the past couple years which concern me about a lack of guidance or oversight from blind people ourselves. Here are a few examples.

Last year, a fundraising email seeking $1,000-dollar donations shared a story about a member who felt much safer and more independent with a guide dog. At the same time, the email managed to portray cane travel as inherently riskier, by providing no context around her story. It described her using her cane and falling down stairs “alarmingly often”, losing her independence and it being “too dangerous” to continue her regular volunteer activities and travelling to see family. It’s likely that a guide dog is indeed the better mobility aid for this member, but canes are an equally valid and – when used correctly – safe, option. That’s a message our blindness service provider shouldn’t be undermining.

Here are a couple of BLVNZ Facebook ads that left me uncomfortable.

“Imagine if you lost your sight,” one offers. “For a child, their sight is how they learn about so much of the world around them. Without specialist support, they may never learn essential skills like dressing themselves or brushing their teeth. Some children with vision loss may even be too afraid to go outside. Give help to children with vision loss.”

And another one:

“Little five-year-old Saoirse has an incurable eye condition. Without specialist support, children like her won’t just lose their sight – they’ll lose their confidence and independence, too. Will you help?”

It’s accurate, I think, to recognise that societal expectations of blind kids are low enough that some parents may genuinely land up depriving blind kids of basic skills and autonomy. But these ads are playing into pity. They suggest that you imagine yourself or perhaps your child being deprived with BLVNZ the only option to save them. They could instead have sent a positive message about the full and happy lives blind kids can lead with the right support. Also, “children with vision loss” isn’t a widely used term among our community; we tend to use blind, low vision or vision impaired. Many (not all) kids have not lost vision but never had any more of it than they currently do to begin with.

Speaking of pity, two (sighted, but disabled) friends in different cities independently shared, unprompted, that they’d in recent months had BLVNZ fundraising volunteers door-knock them and portray blind folks with pity and in need of the benevolent support of kind donors and BLVNZ. It’s on the fundraising teams to ensure volunteers are able to tell a different story, about how funding guide dog training, Braille transcription, tech support and the rest, gives blind people the tools, access and skills we need to thrive.

In another example, BLVNZ recently ran an ad campaign designed to attract the attention of older people starting to lose their sight.

Its main video ad shows some blurry text, presumably trying to mimic the difficulty of seeing text clearly as one’s vision starts to go, and the voiceover is done with a synthesised voice. It starts off promisingly. “We’re Blind Low Vision NZ. It’s our mission to provide tools for people to live a full and happy life.” Then, it has a go at humour: “even if that life means seeing unsubtle ads like this one. We need to be as clear as possible, because, well, it’s fairly obvious. We’re even using an automated voice that blind and low vision people can use to really ram home the point.”

Even if whatever it is that’s meant to be ‘obvious” and whatever the point to be rammed home is visually apparent, the framing strikes me as an awkward beating around the bush, rather than a friendly call-out to people who might be reluctant to admit to themselves that a bit of assistance adapting to their vision loss would come in useful. The ad finishes by directing people to BLVNZ’s website, not without a final stab at humour. “It’s very, very easy to read,” the automated voice proclaims. “Ha ha ha.”

What is so funny about a blindness service provider doing the minimum of providing a legible website is a mystery, from which I can only interpret discomfort or unease about being reliant on accessibility measures on the part of the ad writers. Finally, this campaign’s slogan is “See a way”. One of the associated Facebook ads entreats the benevolent reader to “Help those people with difficulties to see a way.” I commented on that patronising reference to people with low vision, but got no reply, and continued to see the ad pop up in the following days.

Blind Citizens NZ’s National President Jonathan Godfrey says that the “damage done by such crass language in these examples undermines so much of the good work done in providing services. We keep being told that one of the greatest barriers we face is the attitude towards blind people.” To that end, Blind Citizens NZ’s strategic plan states that “We will always portray blind people in a positive light.”

RNZFB Board response

I sought comment from Chair of the RNZFB Board Clive Lansink who states: “BLVNZ is always conscious of the need to portray blindness and blind, deafblind and low vision people positively in the media[…] this extends to our everyday communications with the public, social media communications and job vacancy advertisements.

“From time to time, directors may become aware that a given advertisement or activity has caused some upset, and we always take such instances seriously. It is important that we all learn from such instances.

“There are no Board level policies that directly focus on how BLVNZ should communicate about blind people. However, having delegated to the Chief Executive full responsibility for running BLVNZ in a way that meets international best practice, one of the Board’s most important functions is to monitor the organisation’s activities on behalf of clients and other stakeholders and draw the Chief Executive’s attention to any concerns. We fully appreciate that not only do our staff have to raise a lot of funds from the public to pay for services the government won’t pay for, but they also have to raise awareness and understanding of blindness issues and attract the attention of people in the community who might not be aware that they could benefit from our services. Furthermore, they must do this in a way that does not undermine the organisation’s mission. From time to time there may be publicity events that miss the mark and don’t meet the expectations of directors, and in such cases we would certainly discuss our concerns with the Chief Executive.”

On Blind Citizens NZ’s BlindDiscuss email list, Mr Lansink provided an example of the Board doing so at the start of the year when a vacancy advertisement referred to blind people as “vulnerable”. Mr Lansink would “encourage clients and other stakeholders to make their feelings known if they are concerned or upset by something in our publicity.”

We can do better

For all the diversity we have in the blind community, I think that if we were in charge of setting guidance and direction over BLVNZ’s public communications, the tone would not veer off course in these ways. The Board’s current approach of only raising issues if they happen to have their attention drawn to them leaves a lot to chance.

Designing communications that speak to the tools and skills service providers can offer without wandering into saviour, pity or belittling territory does require nuance and effort. But given that many in the wider public may set some store by how the country’s largest blindness service provider portrays the lives of those it serves, I’d argue this is effort well spent.


Welcome to the October 2023 edition

Categories: Uncategorized

We’re three quarters of the way through 2023, where did that go? Aotearoa celebrated Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori the week of 11 September. I was thinking how much I appreciate the growing number of audio resources which make learning te reo, and learning about the connected foundations like tikanga, the country’s history of colonisation and Te Tiriti o Waitangi much more accessible for many in our community. I’d like to delve into these in a future edition so if you have recommendations or would like to write something on this kaupapa please email

In the middle of October, two events of high interest to us happen pretty much on top of each other, those being the Blind Citizens NZ national AGM and Conference and the 2023 General Election.

Regarding the former, it’s not too late to register for the AGM and Conference. Ways to do this and participate are in this Focus edition.

As for the latter, your Focus Editor is heavily enmeshed in politics and has strong opinions about which parties measure up on disability and genuinely care about people. But all I’ll say here is that this election is on a knife edge between two very different-looking government make- ups so your vote really is consequential. If you go to and do a word search for “community and inclusion”, you’ll find summaries of the Parties’ disability policies under that category. And don’t miss the article in this edition from Blind Citizens NZ’s Chief Executive about the organisation’s ongoing work for us to have an independent vote, and how to register for Telephone Dictation Voting.

This edition also delves into representations of blind people in service provider communications, attitudes to accessibility and more. Enjoy!

Email me at, or get in touch with the full Focus committee (Board Member Paula Waby, Chief Executive Rose Wilkinson and me) by emailing


Ways to support Blind Citizens NZ’s Income Generation Efforts 

Submitted: Friday, June 30, 2023
Categories: Uncategorized

Blind Citizens NZ has both Charitable and Donee status. This is important for anyone thinking about the mutually beneficial outcomes of payroll giving and making us your charity of choice. 

Income received through donations, bequests and payroll giving for example, go a long way towards supporting the many facets of our work i.e. our advocacy, promotional campaigns, and communication and community education. Making Blind Citizens NZ the recipient of a bequest or legacy, is another way you can support us. 

Payroll Giving: This is an easy way for an employee to donate to a charity of their choice, such as Blind Citizens NZ. When an employee donates to a charity through their payroll, they receive a tax refund immediately. For all other types of donation, the donor must wait until the end of the tax year to receive their tax refund.

One of the key benefits of donating through your wages (Payroll Giving) is that as an employee you may decide to donate your refund to the charity as well. Charitable Payroll Giving is optional and not all employers will participate. Blind Citizens NZ has Donee Status, and is eligible to receive payroll gifts. Steps to Payroll Giving donations include:

1. Asking your employer if payroll giving is an employee benefit. You can advocate for Blind Citizens NZ, and outline why you are passionate about the organisation. Some employers match payroll gifts with a contribution of their own.

2. If payroll giving is available, provide your employer with the bank account details for Blind Citizens NZ.

3. Decide how much you can afford, and how frequently you will donate, considering the immediate tax benefit. For Blind Citizens NZ, every little helps us in our work to make a blind bit of difference for blind people.

4. Notify Blind Citizens NZ that you are making a payroll gift. Your employer may transfer the money into Blind Citizens NZ’s bank account without any notification.

Making a Bequest: Through our efforts and your financial support, we are working on the removal of barriers faced by blind, deafblind, low vision, and vision impaired people. Blind Citizens NZ has been extremely fortunate to benefit from legacies, and we take this opportunity to recognise generically, the generosity of those people and their families. Your Will can make a lasting gift and Blind Citizens NZ would be extremely grateful for any contribution. 

If you choose to leave a gift to Blind Citizens NZ, we suggest the following will assist your legal advisor…

“I give and bequeath to the Association of Blind Citizens of New Zealand Incorporated (CC41040):

  • $ (a specific dollar amount); or
  • A specific percentage of my estate; or 
  • The whole or a specific percentage of the residue of my estate.

Free from all duties and charges, as a contribution to the Association of Blind Citizens of New Zealand Inc to be applied for general purposes only, for which the receipt of the Association of Blind Citizens of New Zealand Inc shall be sufficient discharge to my trustees.”

To find out how we inform those who have pledged their support to us, if you have questions, or you wish to make a contribution contact: 

Leadership | Advocacy Workshop – We’re calling for expressions of interest

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For the first time in several years, Blind Citizens NZ is holding a combined Leadership | Advocacy Workshop. This workshop will have a strong focus on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (Disability Convention). It will be held Tuesday 10 to Thursday 12 October 2023 at the Naumi Hotel Auckland Airport. Ideally, participants will be keen to stay on for the AGM and Conference where you might even be a first-time attendee. 

Are you interested in learning more about the Disability Convention and how this can inform advocacy and awareness raising? Are you interested in developing your leadership and advocacy skills? If so, we encourage you to send through an expression of interest for the workshop. Highlight the skills and | or knowledge you bring. Tell us what you hope to achieve from the workshop.

If successful with your expression of interest, expenses for travel and accommodation will be Blind Citizens NZ’s responsibility. If you stay on for the AGM and Conference, full registration costs would be your responsibility. Expressions of interest with the information we have asked for, should be received by 9am, Monday 31 July 2023. Your expression of interest for the attention of the Chief Executive can be sent to:

  • Email: and put “Expression of Interest, Leadership | Advocacy Workshop” in the subject line; or
  • Post: PO Box 7144, Newtown, Wellington 6242; 
  • Fax: 04-389-0033

2023 Annual General Meeting and Conference Challenging Others Challenging Ourselves

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The venue and dates for this year’s AGM and Conference are finalised. We will be at the Naumi Hotel Auckland Airport. To make the most of everyone’s availability, and mindful of people’s travel time and the success of last year’s event, this will again be held over two days. We start at 9am Friday 13 October and we finish following our Conference Dinner the evening of Saturday 14 October. Business sessions and guest presenters will be spread across the two days. 

This year we are again running a hybrid event which means you have the choice of joining in person, or online via ZOOM. Regardless of which option you choose, everyone is required to complete and submit a registration form. If joining in person, options (and costs) vary from daily attendance to staying at the Naumi Hotel and arriving Thursday 12 October and leaving Sunday 15 October. 

If you are planning to attend in person, you can take advantage of the option to pay your registration costs (accommodation and food) by instalment. You can find out more and put a payment plan in place by contacting National Office. Each situation is considered on a case-by-case basis and every assistance possible is offered.

Registration forms are available from our National Office, Branches and Networks and will be hosted on our website as well. 

Financial assistance for ‘first time’ attendees

A reminder that the Board is allocating funds to support ‘first time’ attendees. Funding for ‘first time’ attendees is about providing financial assistance forOrdinary (voting) Members. 

Other than attending the entire event for the first time in-person, there are three conditions that a ‘first time’ attendee must meet to be considered for financial assistance. These requirements are:

  • to be able to make a financial contribution – decisions are made on a case-by-case basis;
  • making a commitment to attend the full two days of the AGM and Conference, whether on a daily basis, or staying at the Naumi Hotel Auckland Airport; and
  • that you are an Ordinary (financial voting) Member. 

If you meet these requirements and would like to take advantage of this opportunity, please contact the Chief Executive for further information via one of the following options:

  • Email: and put “2023 first-time attendee” in the subject line;
  • Post: PO Box 7144, Newtown, Wellington 6242; 
  • Phone: 0800 222 694; Fax: 04-389-0033.

Applications for financial assistance for first time attendees close at 4pm, Thursday 3 August 2023. The Board will make a final decision about the number of members it can support following the close of expressions of interest.

Update – Membership Subscription Review (June 2023)

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Rose Wilkinson Chief Executive

The Board’s Membership Subscription Review proposal was addressed at a Special Meeting of Members on Tuesday 6 June. The meeting was well-attended and resulted in the following resolution: That Blind Citizens NZ as per the Membership Subscription Review proposal, offers individuals that have not paid a subscription in the last five financial years to be given access to Blind Citizens NZ events as if they have paid a subscription, with this offer ending June 30 2025. 

What this means is that for anyone who has not paid a subscription since 2018, that for the next two years to 30 June 2025 inclusive you:

  • will receive information such as newsletters and notices of meetings from your local Branch or Network;
  • will receive Focus, along with updates informing members of our work from National Office;
  • can participate in activities including General and Annual General meetings, but you can’t vote or stand for election to the Board, a Branch Committee or a Network.

We encourage readers to share this opportunity as widely as you can. This will help us to reach people who may be interested in Blind Citizens NZ but who have not been in a position to become a member. 

If you have any questions please contact the Chief Executive at our National Office (contact details at the end of this Focus issue.

Advocating for a universally accessible form of ID

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Visual description via AI, the promise and the problem

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By Jonathan Mosen

Editor’s note: Among his many roles, Jonathan is a former assistive technology product manager and accessibility consultant. He regularly covers technology developments in his Living Blindfully podcast.

Chances are you’ve heard some of the buzz around new technology called ChatGPT. It has taken the concept of artificial intelligence, or AI for short, mainstream.

ChatGPT is a freely available virtual chat interface which you can enter prompts into in order to generate information or have a AI-powered conversation. As I sat down to write this article, I gave thought to how to describe it more fully to those who may not have worked in information technology as I have. The obvious answer was to ask ChatGPT to describe the pros and cons of itself in non-technical language. Here’s what it came back with.

“ChatGPT is an AI language model that has transformed the world of conversational AI with its remarkable capabilities. It has strengths and weaknesses like any other technology. One of the major strengths of ChatGPT is its ability to understand and respond to human language in a natural and fluent manner. It can be used in various applications such as customer support, content creation, and social media management. However, despite its many strengths, ChatGPT does have its limitations. One of the main weaknesses of the model is its lack of understanding of common-sense knowledge and world facts. It may generate nonsensical or incorrect information if it has not seen similar examples of information during its training.”

That is a very self-aware, if I dare use that expression, description. ChatGPT is already saving me time, but I have also seen it write utter nonsense on subjects about which I have knowledge. Like any technology, it will improve over time. In the six months I have been using it, its “hallucinations” have decreased, but not disappeared.

There are many articles available already that discuss some very real philosophical and ethical issues we must confront urgently as a species due to the rapid advancement of AI. Many of the pros and cons of this technology have the same impact on us as everyone else. But there’s one area where blind and low vision users may benefit immensely. ChatGPT can now describe images, with competitors like Google also introducing similar features.

The key players

ChatGPT are working with two companies in the blindness space to test this technology and its implications. Envision produces software running on smart glasses that provide access to visual information. You can hear a full review and demonstration of the Envision glasses in episode 202 of my podcast, Living Blindfully, formerly called Mosen at Large. The new “Ask Envision” feature is available at this stage in its glasses, but not the free Envision app for your Apple or Android smartphone.

The second blindness-related company working with ChatGPT is Be My Eyes. This popular app connects its users with sighted volunteers and companies willing to provide support via the platform. Be My Eyes is testing what it’s calling “Virtual Volunteer”. You provide it with a picture, either by taking a photo in the app or by supplying a picture. It could, for example, be a picture on social media or a photo from your camera roll. Within seconds, virtual volunteer will describe the picture to you. Not only is the initial description far more detailed than any app currently on the market, you can ask follow-up questions as if you were asking a sighted person to explain particular details to you. 

How well it can answer those questions depends on how good the picture is, and how much ChatGPT knows about the subject in question.

Because the description is powered by a tool that holds an astounding amount of knowledge, you can go beyond the picture, as CEO of Be My Eyes, Mike Buckley, explained to Living Blindfully.

“Think about taking a picture of the contents of your refrigerator and not only getting a list of the contents, but the tool can tell you what you can make for dinner based on what’s in there,” he says.

“We took a picture, Jonathan, of the Indian railway map system and then we asked something like, “How do I get from Bangalore to Delhi?” It gave the directions. Literally which lines you had to take and how to get there. Then I said, “Can you tell me in Hindi?” It did. It’s remarkable. It’s remarkable power.”

If you have doubts about what the AI is telling you, or it’s just not being helpful, you can get a sighted volunteer on the line with the double-tap of a button.

Setting realistic expectations

Be My Eyes are taking a cautious approach, testing it with a handful of users before opening the test more widely. Even then, they are seeking to set realistic expectations.

“Let’s be really firm about this,” Buckley says, “We do not want anyone using this technology to replace a white cane. We don’t want to use it to replace a guide dog in terms of where it is now. We want to be slow, we want to be thoughtful, we want to be cautious. We’ve even put that in the agreement upfront with the beta testers that it should not be used for these purposes. Down the road as video comes in and as the AI gets more sophisticated and intelligent, I think there are absolutely going to be navigational and other use cases, but we’re just not there yet.”

What’s it really like?

I’ve been given early access to this technology. When it works well, it can take your breath away. When it fails, it can make things up with such confidence that you may be convinced it’s telling the truth when it isn’t. Those of us with no vision may not be able to determine the accuracy of certain descriptions without verification from a sighted person we trust.

Last year, my wife, youngest daughter and I took a holiday in Europe. I took numerous photos, and I’ve been asking Virtual Volunteer to describe them to me. My wife was fascinated by the ravens at the Tower of London, so my daughter took a picture of one with us in the background. Here’s how Virtual Volunteer described that picture.

“The picture is of a cobblestone street with a black bird in the foreground. In the background, there are two people walking on the sidewalk and a brick building with stairs and a blue lamp post. The bird appears to be a crow or a raven and is standing on the cobblestones. The street is lined with a stone curve and there is moss growing between the cobblestones.”

This is a particularly good example because the system expressed some uncertainty about the bird. In a case like this, you can educate it to put it on the right track. I replied to Virtual Volunteer that the bird is indeed a raven, and to describe the raven to me in detail. Here’s how it replied.

“The bird is a raven, which is a large black bird with a curved beak and glossy feathers. It is standing on the cobblestones with its head tilted to the side as if it is looking at something. Its wings are folded at its sides and its feet are visible. The bird appears to be healthy and well-fed.”

I was also able to ask about the two people in the photo, Bonnie and me, and what we were wearing on that day.

Going through our holiday photos with Virtual Volunteer has brought back memories in vivid detail like no other software has been able to do. I will definitely be taking more photos now that I have this technology.

Wide-ranging applications

In daily life, I have used it to help me work out how much charge is left on my portable battery pack, and to describe unfamiliar air conditioning remotes in hotel rooms. You can often ask it to read the controls to you left to right, top to bottom, and it will come back with a detailed explanation.

I can take a picture of a document I suspect is a bill, and ask it to summarise who it’s from and what the total amount owing is. It has given me the closest experience I’ve ever had of glancing at a printed page for relevant information.

I’ve even done things I wouldn’t have bothered doing before, such as taking a picture from a hotel window and gaining a real understanding of what is outside.

Using it to get descriptions of social media photos during the coronation was quite something, as I could ask specific questions about objects and fashion.

The pitfalls

All that is great, until it gets something completely wrong. We have a Samsung television at home. When I asked Virtual Volunteer to describe the buttons on the remote control to me, it knew it was looking at a Samsung remote control, but it described a different remote control which did not have the buttons in the same order as the remote we have.

While frustrating to be pressing buttons and getting the wrong results, it’s not the end of the world if this technology describes the wrong remote control to you. 

But what if it were to misidentify medication, or something else that might be a risk to health and even life? It’s for this reason that Be My Eyes and ChatGPT are cautious about making this technology available widely. They are also engaging closely with the National Federation of the Blind, a consumer organisation in the United States, to help shape the future of this product.

It would be ideal if a system could be developed that produces a confidence rating for each picture it is describing, and if the technology could be trained to take a conservative approach to description rather than risking a guess. 

When computing technology expands to the point that it can provide real-time description of video as we travel, we will face even greater challenges in terms of the technology being useful while also being unclear about what is real.

In the meantime, there’s no doubt that the new generation of artificial intelligence applied to describing images will give us unparalleled access to visual information.

More info on Virtual Volunteer

For my demonstration of Virtual Volunteer, you can listen to Living Blindfully episode 222, available everywhere you get podcasts. You can also download the free Be My Eyes app for your Android or Apple device, and register your interest in testing the service.

Draft Blind Citizens NZ 2023-2026 Strategic Plan 

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At its June meeting, and based on feedback, the Board decided that Blind Citizens NZ’s 2023-2026 Strategic Plan would be an updated version of the current Strategic Plan. The Board encourages feedback on the 2023-2026 Draft Plan below. If the Board receives feedback from individual members, Branches, and | or Networks who feel that the proposed Strategic Plan cannot be supported without significant alteration, then the Board will bring the draft to this year’s AGM and Conference for discussion. However, if feedback from everyone is consistently supportive, the Board will adopt the Strategic Plan 2023-2026 at its August 2023 meeting. It will bring the Plan to AGM and Conference for information.

Amendments to the Strategic Plan include tweaks to make sure plain language is used. Other changes include:

  • ‘Vision’ statement: amended to recognise the importance of people having ‘choice, control, and equity’.
  • ‘Values’ statement: makes it clear that all points are valued with ‘equal importance’.
  • Goal 1: In the bullet point for this Goal, the importance of Te Tiriti o Waitangi principles in Blind Citizens NZ’s advocacy is recognised.
  • Goal 3: first bullet point amended to include leadership, and self-determination.
  • Goal 4: the words ‘approach everyday life with’ are replaced with ‘to have’.
  • Goals 5, 6 and 7: some bullet points have been shortened.

A full summary of amendments that includes word changes etc., can be requested from the National Office. Feedback including support for the draft, or suggested amendments should be received by the Chief Executive Rose Wilkinson no later than 4pm, Monday 31 July 2023 to any of the following:

Post: Blind Citizens NZ, PO Box 7144, Newtown, Wellington 6242;

Fax: 04-389-0030; Email:

Draft 2023-2026 Strategic Plan

Purpose: Blind Citizens NZ exists to give voice to the aspirations and lived experiences of blind, deafblind, low vision, and vision-impaired people living in New Zealand.

Vision: Every blind, deafblind, low vision, and vision-impaired person has choice and control over their life and therefore equity with all other New Zealanders.

Note: In the context of this document, the word “blind” includes all those people who are blind, deafblind, low vision, or vision-impaired, or who use any other blindness term that describes them, who can identify with our goals.

Values: We value with equal importance:

  • respect for the different ways each of us responds to the challenges of blindness;
  • the shared learning and support received from the lived experiences of others;
  • commitment to democratic principles that ensure our representations are broadly based;
  • commitment to sustained effort in our advocacy;
  • constructive, cooperative and mutually supportive relationships with other disability organisations;
  • the principles of Te Tiriti O Waitangi (Treaty of Waitangi);
  • the principles and opportunities of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the New Zealand Disability Strategy;
  • our history and the role we have played in the lives of blind people since 1945.

Goal 1: Blind people live in an accessible, equitable and inclusive society.

  • We will advocate on the grounds of human rights and equity using the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi to those who create barriers to our full participation in society.

Goal 2: The community’s response to blindness is demonstrated by positive actions and attitudes.

  • We will always portray blind people positively.
  • We will create greater community awareness that blind people can and do fully participate in society; (amended)

Goal 3: Blind people advocate at both a personal and societal level.

  • We will provide and support leadership opportunities and advocacy training to promote the self-determination of blind people;
  • We will demonstrate through collective action, how blind people can improve their life, and the lives of others.

Goal 4: Blind people receive the services they need to have independence, confidence and dignity in their everyday lives.

  • We will assess blindness and disability services to ensure they are meeting the needs and expectations of blind people;
  • We will advocate for a better experience for blind people using publicly available services;
  • We will advocate for improvement in both quantity and quality of service where there is evidence of unmet need.

Goal 5: Blind Citizens NZ is recognised for its leadership in the blind community, and as a leading Disabled People’s Organisation.

  • We will work with Government and our disability sector partners to promote changes that benefit blind and other disabled people.
  • We will actively support like-minded international organisations that advance the cause of blind people throughout the world including the World Blind Union.

Goal 6: Blind Citizens NZ is a responsive organisation that encourages people to belong.

  • We will maintain a consistent flow of information to the blind community, and seek every opportunity to engage with them about the impact of blindness on their lives;
  • We will promote and provide a safe and welcoming environment within our branches and networks for social interaction, peer support and sharing information.

Goal 7: Blind Citizens NZ is recognised for what it adds to the blind community and society.

  • We will actively promote the benefits of joining our organisation, and seek new ways to attract more members;
  • We will demonstrate that we are a dynamic and constructive Disabled People’s Organisation worthy of everyone’s support.

Blind Citizens NZ 2023 Scheduled Election

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From Rose Wilkinson, Returning Officer

Blind Citizens NZ’s 2023 Board election is for two Member at Large positions. In alphabetical order by surname, individuals whose terms conclude at the end of this year’s Annual General Meeting and Conference (13-14 October) are Andrea Courtney and Paula Waby.

Call for nominations

Rule 10 Elections, clause 10.1, directs Blind Citizens NZ in its election procedures. In publicising this year’s scheduled election and the call for nominations, members are advised that:

  • people currently in these positions are eligible for re-election;
  • the term of office for both positions is three years;
  • successful candidates will commence their term immediately following the conclusion of this year’s Annual General Meeting and Conference (13-14 October);
  • the election for the two positions happens at the same time, by a ballot of all eligible Ordinary (voting) Members;
  • nomination forms and | or email nomination procedures are available upon request from National Office.

Anyone standing for election should take the time to ask for, and become familiar with, the duties and responsibilities of Blind Citizens NZ’s Board Members. This information identifies the skills, experience and knowledge needed as a Board Member. Additionally, the Board has recently finished its evaluation of skills and attributes to identify what it needs of Board Members standing for election in this year’s election. 

The Board emphasises the importance of the following skills and attributes for anyone standing for election and encourages individuals to identify these in their CV:

  • Board Members are required to be well-prepared for Board Meetings and to be aware of the time-commitment involved. This involves reading meeting agendas of around 150 pages (or more) in length.
  • The Board is always looking for people who have financial skills, who will focus at a governance level, and who have community and stakeholder connections.

To be eligible for nomination for any position, you must:

a. live in New Zealand; and

b. for at least 24 months of the past five years up to and including 24 August 2023, have been a (financial) Ordinary Member of Blind Citizens NZ.

Nominations require two people to support you i.e. move and second your nomination. There are two ways nominations can be completed and submitted. You can use a paper form, or the email process. If using the paper form, signatures of all three members involved in the nomination are required. Email procedures similarly require the same people to confirm their respective role in the nomination process. If you choose the email procedure, you are required to contact the Returning Officer at National Office prior to commencing this process. This is important, as there are instructions unique to the email procedure that must be followed. The email procedure mirrors requirements for the paper-based option as closely as possible.

Ordinary Members, financial as at 24 August 2023, are eligible to stand for election to these two positions. 

The closing date for nominations is 4pm Thursday 24 August 2023. Candidates are required to provide their CV at the same time as their nomination is submitted to the Returning Officer. Nominations and CVs should be sent to the Returning Officer at one of the following:

Once nominations close, ifthe maximum number of nominations for the two positions is received, no election will be needed. Candidates will be declared elected unopposed. Should nominations exceed the number of positions being elected, an election will then be held. 

Voting in the election

Ballot material (names of people standing for election, information they have provided about themselves etc.), will be sent to all Ordinary Members recorded as financial on the member database at National Office as at 4pm, Thursday 24 August 2023. No later than Thursday 14 September 2023, ballot material will be distributed in the voting member’s preferred format.

When does voting close? Completed ballots (votes cast by voting members) must be received at National Office no later than 4.00 pm, Tuesday 3 October 2023. Vote counting will take place no later than Wednesday 11 October 2023.

Ways to cast your vote in Blind Citizens NZ’s election: there are several options available for members to participate in the election process. Election (ballot) material about candidates standing for election is available in large print, audio, Braille, by email, and via our National Feedback Line bulletin on TellMe. If you are in any doubt about what your preferred communication option is to receive information and vote in Blind Citizens NZ’s election, please contact our National Office to check.

You choose your preferred voting option: When voting in Blind Citizens NZ elections, you can choose one of three options. It is important to remember that the way you vote, can be different from the way you choose to receive your election (ballot) material. 

You can cast your vote using the large print form, the Braille-card option, or TellMe. For many reasons we encourage members to try TellMe. This offers a truly independent, confidential, and empowering voting experience. Using TellMe means you can independently do all the things you need to do in an election – you hear about the candidates standing for election, and you can cast your vote. 

Casting your vote by TellMe means you are in control. This includes certainty that your vote will be received by the due date and time. There is no worrying about whether a postal ballot will reach its destination in time to be counted. 

Postal votes offer less certainty that your vote will arrive by the close of voting. If you would like to know more about using TellMe and casting your vote using this option, please contact our National Office.


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Jonathan Godfrey National President

Over the years, I’ve tried to write columns that inform readers and give you a chance to see how I think. I wouldn’t describe myself as a natural writer by any means. 

Sure, I can string a few sentences together, but I have to have a plan and many of my columns are a struggle for me to develop that plan. I often need to let events in life guide me, motivate me, and occasionally irritate me. I’ve frequently started with an idea and burned out before I am happy to let anyone else see what I wrote, which leads to having to start again with a blank page. 

I did seriously think to ask ChatGPT to write my column for me. I’ve seen how this interactive artificial intelligence (AI) tool has been used to do all sorts of things from writing book reviews to answering student assignments. Later in this edition you’ll read an article from Jonathan Mosen about its benefits and drawbacks in the world of describing images. I confess that I spent a whole day, a rainy day as it happens, seeing how well my students might be able to cheat on an exam question I was writing if they used Chat GPT. I’ve also managed to develop a small computer program to do an investigation of my digital music collection, in a programming language I don’t know. What I did discover is that while AI can be used to substitute for students who want to cheat, it can also be used to construct solutions to problems. Given my students will want to be solving problems in their future careers, perhaps they should be encouraged to use this new tool. I’m already looking to see if this new interactive way of working with computers is going to improve my efficiency and effectiveness at work. It seems to me that anyone who learns how to get the best out of the latest tools is putting themselves in a strong position to have a productive future.

During discussions with our international visitors at the World Blind Union Executive Committee meeting that Blind Citizens NZ hosted from 29 May to 2 June, I had some fascinating conversations with people. While I haven’t yet managed to process all the things I learned from others, I did take away that some of the challenges faced by blind people around the world are the same as those we face here: 

  • access to information in a civil emergency; 
  • concerns over the future of Braille; 
  • making sure disabled people understand their rights; 
  • making sure disabled people enjoy those rights; 
  • worrying about how a pair of blind people can go out without a sighted assistant. 

OK, I proved the last one by demonstration. By taking a visiting blind person on a walk to a local restaurant and guiding some others to a supermarket. It’s clear that the range of issues faced by blind people in other countries includes all the challenges we have here and then some. We do work well as a Disabled People’s Organisation and do so with our Government. That doesn’t happen by chance, and it certainly does not happen everywhere. I believe we are fortunate in Aotearoa New Zealand to be able to stand up for ourselves as individuals and as a community without fear.

A recent Employment Relations court case was also of interest to me. For a very long time, and I mean decades, Blind Citizens NZ has called on Blind Low Vision NZ (BLVNZ) to hold itself up as the exemplar employer of blind people. An exemplar doesn’t meet the bare minimum expectation, they are the leaders. A former BLVNZ member of staff took the organisation to the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) and won. This staff member identifies as blind, and quite clearly the ERA’s findings show BLVNZ did not even meet its legal obligations. I find this disappointing because the ERA’s decision shows that BLVNZ was not an exemplar employer.

A NZ Herald article suggested that an appeal was to be forthcoming. Blind Citizens NZ raised this matter with the RNZFB Board, stating the need for BLVNZ to be seen as an exemplar employer. The RNZFB Board have now directed that appeal be withdrawn. Whether our letter was important in determining that outcome isn’t clear, but we were there to be counted. 

As an organisation, Blind Citizens NZ have stood up and been counted like this numerous times over our proud history, even if the affected individual has never been, is not now, or might never become one of our members. Why? Because the principle must be upheld. Our current and future members may want to gain employment. Being able to show all employers how to do the right things for and with their blind employees is crucial. 

How did we get to the point of being able to call on the RNZFB Board to act? The Blind Citizens NZ position on being an exemplar employer has been established from discussions over many years, covering concerns such as the ability of blind staff to use the computer software with confidence. The last time the topic came up at one of our AGM and Conferences was in 2017. At the time, only a small minority of members were working at what was then the Blind Foundation. But most importantly, everyone present at branch and network meetings had a chance to discuss the topic before it got to the AGM and Conference. I’m not aware of any group of blind people who think the RNZFB should not be an exemplar employer of blind people, but they are quite entitled to air their views as anyone who does. There is of course an unknown number of blind people who are not aware that such discussions are taking place.

This brings me to the latest Blind Citizens NZ discussion I was part of – a Special Meeting of Members which agreed to let blind people who have not paid a subscription in the last five financial years (1 July 2018 to 30 June 2023), to be treated as if they had paid a subscription between 1 July 2023 and 30 June 2025. Anyone taking advantage of this opportunity won’t get to vote in elections or stand for office. They will however, get to see how Blind Citizens NZ supports its members with information, peer support, and providing a space for members to share their aspirations and lived experiences. Our motto of “blind people speaking for ourselves” relies on actually letting blind people speak for themselves. I’ll argue that the motto should not apply only to those people who have paid a subscription. No matter the issue, if we are to claim any of our positions are held by a wider group and possibly almost all of the blindness community, then we must create the opportunity for the widest range of views to be heard.