We held our one-day conference (really just the AGM) on Saturday 5 October. Financial constraints meant we were not able to hold our more traditional full three-day national conference.

We held our one-day conference (really just the AGM) on Saturday 5 October. Financial constraints meant we were not able to hold our more traditional full three-day national conference.

When I gave my opening address as President, I spoke about the hard financial decisions we have had to make. It is not good to report that our national office accounts show that we have spent $95,000 more than we received in the last two years, and in fact the picture is worse if we go back even further. This is why we have had to take serious steps to at least balance the budget so we can move forward from there. On the other hand, I guess it is good that we do have a reasonable amount of funds in the bank because it is at times like these that we can use those funds.

But it’s not all bad, and I said that in some ways we are reasonably up beat and positive about where we are headed. We have only dipped our toes into the waters of public fundraising, but indications are that we can resonate with the public. We can convince members of the public to support us, and we know the Foundation can’t have the blindness brand all to itself. We may have to invest quite heavily to get started but indications are that We too can have Our share of the blindness brand.

Also we are pretty up beat about the way the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is starting to have a noticeable impact on how we and other disable people are learning to uphold our rights. We are seeing a change in the approach Government is adopting towards us, because under the Convention, and the Government does know this, our voice matters. The fact that the Government has agreed to fund as many as 18 meetings over the next year, which I have to say wil take up quite a lot of our time, shows that they are at least ready to think seriously about how DPOs can work more closely with Government. But this is why we have the Convention. It is about our rights, and it does include our right to speak and be heard.

I reminded our members that we are working under considerable stress and there are issues on our list that we really haven’t the resources right now to pursue. I asked for their patience if they think there are things we should be giving more emphasis to. But on the other hand, there are opportunities now in our grasp that in some ways we have never had before. We’re determined to take advantage of them as best we can. We can’t pursue all our issues like a shopping list, but when opportunities come up that relate to a particular issue, we can grasp those and run with them.

Here then in no particular order are the main outcomes from the day:

  • We recorded our disappointment that the most important event in the Blind Citizens NZ calendar has been restricted to a one-day meeting in 2013. We noted that although we recognise that our Board has had to make hard financial decisions, there is a cost in terms of limiting opportunities for personal development of and meaningful dialogue amongst blind people on issues affecting us.
  • We have committed to follow the lead of other countries and develop guidelines for smart cards to be accessible to blind and vision impaired people in New Zealand.
  • We will campaign alongside disabled people’s organisations (DPOs), trades unions and other non-government organisations (NGOs) to end the provision of Minimum Wage Exemption Permits and to have the Government put in place alternative measures to ensure that all disabled people in paid work are paid at least the statutory minimum wage available to non-disabled people, with employers supported appropriately to encourage the employment of disabled workers.
  • We will make stronger efforts to urge the NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) to ensure the Total Mobility taxi subsidy Scheme is nationally consistent.
  • We will advocate to Statistics NZ to ensure that future census forms are designed in a style enabling independent completion by the greatest possible portion of participants.
  • We are calling on all public transport funders to ensure information about the services they fund is accessible, accurate, and up to date.
  • We reminded all organisations holding elections that their election processes must be accessible for all voters and that they must provide accessible information about candidates and an accessible, independent and confidential method of voting.
  • We voiced concerns about the Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind’s new preferred logo / branding option, and called on the Board of Directors to take urgent action to address our concerns.

Finally, even though there was no Conference dinner at which we would normally present awards, I was pleased to present the Johnston Trophy for Leadership to Kaye Halkett, in recognition of her leadership in the Nelson region, and her influence towards changing attitudes to blind and vision impaired people.