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We met over the weekend of 3-4 September and here are some of the outcomes of that meeting that I think might be of more general interest.

We met over the weekend of 3-4 September and here are some of the outcomes of that meeting that I think might be of more general interest.

Our work continues on preparing ourselves to raies an increasing amount of our income from sources other than the Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind. We have developed a case statement that explains our activities in a way that should make sense to potential funders and which clearly differentiates our organisation from the Foundation. We have also established an endowment fund with an initial value of $800,000. This will provide grater long term financial security and increased transparency concerning our reserves. The option also exists for branches to also put some or all of their own reserves into the fund.

In the meantime, we continue to fund a proportion of activities from reserves. We adopted a budget for this year which has a deficit of about $81,000, and which also allows certain activities to only go ahead if specific funds for those activities are found. It goes without saying that we cannot keep doing this, but we are prepared to use our reserves in this way at least for the time it will take us to establish and fully assess our fundraising capability.

We are in the process of establishing an email list for discussion of issues relevant to the Association. This list will be open to anyone who has an interest in blindness in New Zealand, even people living outside New Zealand may join. The list will be monitored by a moderator whois yet to be appointed.

Much of the remaining work was on putting the finishing touches to our Conference agenda and supporting papers. For those of you attending Conference, I hope you really enjoy what we have on the programme this year. Unfortunately I won’t be able to attend Friday and most of Saturday because I will be in Leipzig (in fact I am already there). All going well, I’ll be back in time for the Saturday night dinner and awards, and all the sessions on Sunday.

We met over the weekend of 9-10 July and here are some of the outcomes of that meeting that I think might be of more general interest. We held our annual Wellington Seminar event on the two days following this meeting. I will comment on that in my next post.

We met over the weekend of 9-10 July and here are some of the outcomes of that meeting that I think might be of more general interest. We held our annual Wellington Seminar event on the two days following this meeting. I will comment on that in my next post.

It was roughly three years ago when the Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind went through a major restructuring. Almost the entire senior management team was replaced as the Chief Executive established six new Executive Directorships. The Chief Executive said she needed a “cohesive strategic leadership team ‘working as one team’ with the capability to lift the organization to meet our current and future challenges and opportunities.” A lot of concern was expressed at the time over what was perceived by many as the Foundation adopting a strongly “corporate” style of management, and also over the loss of institutional knowledge. Nevertheless, the Chief Executive has delegated authority to make the operational decisions she feels are necessary to deliver on the Board’s strategic objectives.

So now, three years later, how do we all feel the Foundation is performing under the new management team?

Our Conference this year will include a session on Sunday morning (2 October) in which members will be able to discuss their experiences with the Foundation after restructuring. The plan is that this session will be held in committee, so people will be able to speak freely without repercussions, and we wil invite Foundation Board Directors to be present so they can hear the good and the bad at first hand. This will be an opportunity for our members to speak directly for themselves to Foundation Board Directors without influence from the Association’s leadership.

Our Association is active in the World Blind Union as much as our resources will allow. The WBU has a number of regions and New Zealand falls within the Asia Pacific Region. Each region has its own Executive, led by a President and Vice President. It was with regret that we learned at our July meeting that the President of our region has resigned due to ill health. This required the Vice President to fill this position which in turn created a vacancy for a new Vice President. We have just heard that our delegate to the WBU, Martine Abel-Williamson, has been elected as the new Vice President of the Asia Pacific region. She will hold this role until November 2012, at which time the position falls due for election. We extend our sincerest and heartiest congratulations to Martine.

The term “going digital” refers to the switchover to digital television. The Government has created a Going Digital group and I represent the Association on this. There is a requirement for much of the discussion and outcomes of the group’s meetings to remain confidential. However our Board is keen to ensure blind and vision impaired people will not be left behind as New Zealand goes digital. For instance, the new digital TVs and set top boxes offer some wonderful new featurs, but often these can only be accessed through a visual menu on the screen. We would like to see at least one talking set top box readily available for us to buy at a price that compares favourably with other models on the market.

We met over the weekend of 14-15 May and here are some of the outcomes of that meeting that I think might be of more general interest.

We met over the weekend of 14-15 May and here are some of the outcomes of that meeting that I think might be of more general interest.

One of the most important things we do as an organisation is we give blind people our own voice. We have a variety of documents we call “briefs”, that highlight specific issues that concern us as blind people.

The latest we are working on is on accessibility of websites. In today’s world where so much business is now carried out on the web, we think it is very important that all websites that provide services and information to the public should comply with generally accepted standards of accessibility. In many ways this is similar to public buildings, which for some time have had to be accessible to people with disabilities. Other briefs that are in the pipeline include one on audio description and one on accessible banking. These briefs will be officially launched at our Wellington Seminar in mid July so I will have more information then.

Speaking of the Wellington Seminar, plans are now under action for this year’s event which will be quite different from previous events. We may still get to talk with some politicians, but the emphasis this year will be on running forums that will allow us to discuss our needs with a variety of people with respect to two areas of interest, namely audio description and telecommunications. The outcome we hope for is greater awareness of our needs amongst telecommunications companies and the media and entertainment industry. Both these areas are crucial if blind and low vision people are to have full access to our fast-changing technology-based world of communications and electronic media. So these forums promise to be a great opportunity to really raise the profile in these areas.

The Board of the Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind has implemented a new important initiative called the Client Services Committee, which combines three Board directors, three Executive Directors and three members. It is expected this group will oversee the strategic development of the Foundation’s services to members, with an emphasis on improving quality. I think this is a significant step forward in developing services that respond to the needs and aspirations of blind and low vision people. The Association looks forward to the opportunity to work closely with this group on the issues that we feel are important.

And in that vein, our Board recently discussed growing concerns regarding the Foundation with respect to apparent waiting lists for service and staff turn-over in general, and uncertainty around a possible facility to replace the service centre in South Auckland that was closed at short notice. We have decided to raise these issues with the above-mentioned committee.

Also with respect to the Foundation, a number of us recall participating in a survey of that organisation’s culture carried out late last year. It is right that the results of such a survey are shared first within the organisation itself and we understand that has been happening. However it is also important that such results are also shared promptly with consumers. We, after all, are the reason for that organisation’s existence. At the time of writing this, some four months later, the results have not yet been shared with us. Obviously we want the Foundation to have a culture that is conducive to delivering quality services that respond to our needs and aspirations as blind and low vision people. We urge the Foundation to give some priority to this so consumers can be fully informed on the results of the survey and any action that now needs to occur.

The Association is working closely with the Government and other disability organisations to progress the Government’s plans with respect to employment of disabled people. Clearly this is a critical area of interest since, generally speaking, it is only through gainful employment that we can achieve the economic status that enables us to contribute fully to society. We know only too well that blind and low vision people are very much over-represented in the ranks of the unemployed. The Association will be taking part in a summit on employment in June, which it is hoped will develop consensus around an action plan.

We met over the weekend of 12-13 March and here are some of the outcomes of that meeting that I think might be of more general interest.

We met over the weekend of 12-13 March and here are some of the outcomes of that meeting that I think might be of more general interest.

we were deeply saddened to lose one of our members, John Corder, who recently lost his battle with cancer. He was a member of the Association for nearly thirty years, including twelve years on his local South Canterbury branch committee and the last three years on our Board. He was a man of strong personal principles, not always quick to speak but never afraid to speak up when he felt the need. We will remember him for his pragmatic, down to earth approach and his commitment to upholding the rights of blind people at the grass roots of the community. We will also remember his endless capacity to recall a wide range of facts and details, particularly about sport and music. His knowledge in these areas was phenomenal. No wonder he was also keen on quizzes. Farewell John, we can truly say it’s been a privilege to know you and to work with you.

John’s vacancy has been filled by Brian Say, Chair of the Nelson branch who comes in as the next highest polling candidate in the last Board election. Brian has had to come up to speed very quickly, attending to some committee work even before his first Board meeting. He has already started to make a sound contribution to our work.

Planning for this year’s Conference to be held in Wellington is already well advanced. The theme is “building our future”. At first glance this may seem rather ho hum, but it has real significance once you appreciate the fast changing nature of the situation the Association finds itself in. We are already booking speakers and we hope to be able to have the programme ready for you in good time. But you’ll want to make an extra effort to get there this year because it’s looking like this year’s Conference will be a real turning point for the Association as we grasp our future.

We had to make major budget cuts last year when we faced yet another year of increasing deficit and it became clear that funding from the Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind would again be reduced. Despite lengthy talks throughout last year, we have been unable to secure additional short-term or long-term funding from the Foundation and recently consumer organisations were told that those talks have now concluded and we can expect funding to continue to reduce. For the last thirty years or so, the Association has been largely funded by the Foundation which has been willing to fund us in return for us agreeing to not actively fundraise in competition with the Foundation. Whilst not all our members have agreed, we feel overall that the relationship has been mutually beneficial as it has allowed the Foundation to raise funds for the whole blind community without public confusion, and it allowed us to focus our time, which is largely voluntary, on pursuing our vision of a more accessible society for blind and low vision people. But whilst we acknowledge the Foundation will continue to provide some funding to consumer organisations for the next few years, it is clear this funding will steadily reduce.

There is a feeling we now have to make up for lost time as our growth in recent years has been stifled by the funding situation which has evolved to this point over the last eight years or so. But with the matter now closed and behind us, our mood is upbeat and we are fully focused on developing the strategies that we will need if we are to survive and still be effective in the next ten years. Right now it’s too early to predict what that will really mean for us by that time, But hopefully now you can see the significance of our Conference theme. We know from our history that we have what it takes to adapt, so I hope you’ll join us in Wellington at the end of September as we focus on building our future.

We were forced to cancel last year’s leadership seminar and advocacy workshop which are held in conjunction with conference. This year we are committed to those events going ahead. Building leadership and advocacy skills is necessary for our long-term future and the positive benefits of these programmes is clearly evident when you see former participants turning up to our Conference and participating with much more confidence. So I urge anyone interested in leadership or advocacy training to take a look at this year’s programmes.

Congratulations go to Nelson Branch for their efforts in helping to raise over $52,000 to provide more digital talking book players for blind and low vision people living in the Nelson Marlborough region. The Foundation of the Blind is working through the digital changeover throughout the country. The efforts of our Nelson branch working cooperatively with the Foundation mean that their region is well ahead of the pack; already 53% of the people in that area have been offered one of the new players.

And I know this is covered elsewhere but I would just add my personal appreciation to the Wanganui branch and to an anonymous member whose donations mean that we can after all publish all four issues of Focus this year.