In my final Focus editorial, I’m stepping back to reflect on where blindness advocacy has come from and ask us to find courage as we continue.

He whakataukī: ka mua, ka muri – looking back to look forward Change never comes quickly or easily for marginalised groups but there is a long and proud history of blindness advocacy in Aotearoa, in no small part due to the efforts of what is now Blind Citizens NZ. At its formation in 1945, the Association was one of the only disability advocacy organisations in the country. With this comparably early head start on organised advocacy, in 1958 blind people won non-means-tested benefits, a victory whose impact endures to this day. Our pioneers also recognised the value of a publication by and for our community, and the foundation of this magazine, Focus, dates back to May 1962.

During the 90s and early 2000s, our community was calling the shots in our main service provider. Blind people successfully co- designed its new Parnell precinct so that it would meet the needs of blind advocacy, social and recreation groups. Most of the organisation’s senior management leadership team was blind. Visionary members of our community also rewrote its constitution, bringing out self-determination officially into action by turning it into an Incorporated society where we could elect our governance board ourselves.

What I see from these wins is a clarity of purpose and a courage to collectively stand up for our people.

I don’t think that courage is gone but among the fragmented, complex landscape we all live in now, we have to work that much harder to channel it and to recognise that the wins of years past were starting points and not the end of the road.

As the late matua Moana Jackson said, “to be courageous to me, is just the deep breath you take before you make a hard decision”. The knowledge about the gains made by and for our blind community in the past are the assurance and spirit we need to hold to when change feels impossible.

Take the welfare system. Non-means tested benefits for blind people was a massive victory but 75 years later, blind people in a relationship with sighted people are still impacted by MSD’s penalising relationship rules preventing one from accessing the non-means tested Supported Living Payment entitlement, impacting the SLP if the sighted partner earns too much. Meanwhile, and more significantly, barriers to accessing SLP at all are hugely more significant for the rest of our disabled community. Even for those who get it, they lack the automatic non-means-tested right we have access to. Many are also noticing an upswing under this current Government in being forced to go through more rigorous medical verifications of long- term conditions which haven’t changed. May our solidarity with our wider community be loud and unrelenting towards liveable incomes for all.

Turning now to the question of blind leadership in general and especially in our main service provider, we can’t underestimate the importance of backing our own people.Page 5 of 32 While the ability Blind Low Vision NZ’s membership have had for the past two decades to elect a board of our choosing is notable, even under such an arrangement, not a single member of Blind Low Vision NZ’s senior management team is blind, nor has there been a blind member since the most recent member left six years ago. Contrast this with the five blind members of senior management employed in the late 90s. I am aware that in the recent Chief Executive recruitment process, the Board had the chance to appoint a blind candidate with the requisite skills to run the organisation. Meanwhile, the successful candidate – and I do wish her the best nonetheless – isn’t previously known to our community, is sighted, and hasn’t worked in the disability sector before. If the board of the day and CE cannot be relied upon to appoint people who know and our trusted by our community, I’m not sure how we in turn are meant to trust those managers not to further erode an organisation which in recent years has been egregiously impacted by the KPI-driven managerial focus of its former Chief Executive, and lost most of its institutional knowledge by outsourcing core services and creating a work culture many former employees found untenable. Speaking of blindness services and supports, despite the regressive recent move reducing disability support funding to remain within a capped budget, I hope we will still be moving gradually towards personalised budgets under Enabling Good lives. As such, it’s a good exercise for all of us, I think, to determine what we consider some essential pillars of blindness services and supports which should not be eroded or indeed should be re-established and adapted under whichever organisation(s) are best placed to do so.Page 6 of 32 To my mind these include orientation and mobility, adaptive daily living, funding for canes and glasses, funding for adaptive blindness tech (which isn’t tied to work or study), technology training, equipment shop, Braille instruction and provision, guide dogs, professional counselling, the library, accessible format services, peer support, and recreational activities including locally-organised gatherings and regional/national camps. Many of these offerings could be funded individually as is the direction of travel under Enabling Good Lives, and others may best be funded in a lump sum budget to the provider(s). I hope that disabled-led services are prioritised in service procurement processes. Eligibility should extend to everyone lawfully living in Aotearoa who is blind or functionally blind, and kaupapa Māori and Pacific offerings should be well-funded core offerings, not considered optional add-ons.

The shifting digital context is a notable feature of the 2010s and 2020s, and the connectivity afforded by voice and video calling platforms like zoom and Microsoft Teams is game-changing particularly as it’s also an accessible option for those who are still using landlines or who are new to using a computer without sight. Blind citizens NZ has leveraged this to gather members’ input on topics from the blindness education curriculum to Total Mobility, and I know that Auckland Branch and possibly others have been diligent in endeavouring to provide a hybrid zoom option for meetings too. This connectivity can also pave the way for regional or national issue-based organising or other less formalised ways for members and wider blind community to connect, even if in- person branch/network meetings don’t exist in their area or aren’t so good a fit.

I have also observed that, as someone in my late 20s, most of my peers don’t spend much if any time on email lists but are more active on a variety of social media platforms. Finding and maintaining a variety of ways to connect that can serve the massive diversity of our membership and the wider community both socially and for advocacy remains essential.

Thinking about what it means to be an organisation located here in Aotearoa, as Pākehā I’m heartened by the fairly recent organisation of Blind Citizens NZ Māori members into the Te Tiriti o Waitangi group. I hope that they will be unafraid to take the time they need to figure out what they’d like tino rangatiratanga for Māori to look like within Blind Citizens NZ and to challenge all of us members and especially Pākehā to embrace this. To this Group, kia kaha, kia maia.

Turning to the very publication you’re reading this in, I’m signing off as editor for now and hopefully handing on the baton of Focus editor should someone wish to pick it up. I want to thank those of you who’ve written for Focus during my tenure, who’ve read articles or given feedback, and who’ve contributed to many discussions which have informed my thinking about what topics to cover and how. Ngā mihi maioha ki a koutou. Most of you will be aware of the large-scale cuts and ending of shows across Newshub and TVNZ in recent times and society is the poorer for that.

Investing time and money in the fourth estate is a core pillar of accountability to power. Media by, with and for our community remains as critical as ever. This very likely won’t be the last time I have something to say in Focus, and/or in whatever shape or form Blind Citizens NZ media may take into the future. I encourage all in the blind community to contribute to keeping our media going.Page 8 of 32

Inspired by the words of matua Moana Jackson across all the areas where our community don’t yet have the resources and means to thrive as we could be, may we all take many courage- filled /deep breaths to back ourselves and back each other. Nō reira, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā rā tātou katoa.