BCA Office Update – Meet the CEO Teleconferences

Hi everyone,

It’s been a little over a week since I last wrote to you, but it feels like it should have been a month! Since my last email, we’ve had:three Meet the CEO teleconferences, the registrations for Convention in Perth have begun to come in, and the next BC Update is being written.

I wanted to share with you some of the questions and ideas which have come out of the Meet the CEO teleconferences. Firstly though, I want to thank everyone who took the time out of their week to come along to the teleconferences. It’s not always easy to make time to connect with organisations like BCA in the rough and tumble of day to day life, so thank you to those who did, including the Board members who came along to hear what you had to say.

There were lots of great comments and ideas from all three sessions, but I thought today I’d give you a sense of three of the common threads:

Aged Care is important, what’s BCA doing?
When I last wrote to the list, one member responded to ask about aged care and what the current changes might mean for people over 65. This topic came up a lot in the teleconferences, and has been raised in other places too. This week Rikki Chaplin and I met with Vision Australia to begin to build our understanding of how the changes in aged care are affecting people who are blind or vision impaired. Thanks to the VA staff who are helping us on the path to making sure BCA is better placed to be a strong consumer voice in this area. We’ll keep digging for information and exploring the issues in aged care, then we’ll let you know what happens next.

It can be a challenge for people to be involved with Branches. What can we do differently?
Every teleconference talked about how useful branches can be, and also how challenging it can be to get people to come along to branch meetings. At each of the teleconferences, we talked about the changes to the Branch by-laws, which allow for a less formal ‘coordinator’ to manage groups without the need for some of the more formal processes you would need at a Branch. Some Branches and groups are already looking at this model to see if it would suit them.

Access to information matters within BCA too.
There was lots of good discussion about how BCA communicates with its members, and what it can do differently. Many people recognised that we now have a challenge in making sure that information we send out electronically – which can go out very quickly – is able to be accessed by people who don’t use computers or social media. We also had some interesting suggestions about how access to information might work better within BCA. How can we help people who aren’t at Conventions to participate? What can we do about using electronic voting methods in BCA?

We also had some feedback that it was very valuable to have the time to connect with BCA leadership in this way, and it would be good to continue it. Based on that feedback, we’ll run some more CEO teleconferences in the future. Stay tuned for more details!

As always, if you’d like to know more, or you have some ideas for us, please don’t hesitate to contact me directly or the dedicated team in the office.

Kind regards,

Leah van Poppel
Chief Executive Officer
Blind Citizens Australia
Ross House
Level 3, 247-251 Flinders Lane
Melbourne VIC 3000
Mobile: 0430 210 980
Toll Free: 1800 033 660
Phone: 03 9654 1400
Email: leah.van.poppel@bca.org.au
Web: www.bca.org.au
Facebook: www.facebook.com/BlindCitizensAustralia
Twitter: @au_BCA
ABN: 90 006 985 226

BCA acknowledges the traditional owners of country throughout Australia, and their continuing connection to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to them and their cultures, and to elders both past and present.

Senate Calls For TV Audio For Blind People

Source: ProBono news
Posted: Tuesday, August 18, 2015 – 10:45
Author: Xavier Smerdon

The Australian Senate has supported a motion which could force television stations to introduce audio description services for blind and vision impaired people.

Australian Greens Senator, Rachel Siewert, raised the motion yesterday which called for the implementation of audio description services on free-to-air and subscription television programs by the ABC and all other networks.

Senator Siewert said a large portion of the Australian population were being disadvantaged by not having full access to television shows. “Audio description describes actions, gestures, scene changes and facial expressions for those with no or low vision during pauses in dialogue,” Senator Siewert said.

“Currently the ABC, SBS, Foxtel, and the commercial free-to-air television networks provide no audio description in Australia. With approximately 350,000 people in Australia who are blind or have low vision, this is simply not good enough.

“The Senate acknowledged this today in supporting my motion. The motion calls on the Government to amend the Broadcasting Services Act to include requirements for the provision of audio description on free-to-air and subscription television programs.”

Senator Siewert said Australia had fallen behind the rest of the world in not making television shows accessible to blind and vision impaired people. “Audio description has already rolled out in the Germany, Spain, Ireland, the US and the UK on free-to-air or subscription services,” she said.

“It is time for us to catch-up and offer this service across the board. I hope Senate support for this motion increases momentum on the issue and encourages positive outcomes.”

In July this year NSW woman, Suzanne Hudson launched a case of unlawful discrimination against the ABC for its failure to provide audio description services. In February Not for Profit, Vision Australia lodged complaints with the Australian Human Rights Commission against Channels Seven, Nine, Ten, SBS and Foxtel, calling for an audio description service. The Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) represented Vision Australia in the complaints and said the organisation was asking for a minimum of 14 hours of audio described content per week on each channel named in the complaint.

“In the same way as captioning has facilitated media access for people who are deaf, audio description has the potential to significantly improve access to Australia’s cultural life for the 350,000 Australians who are blind or have low vision,” PIAC’s CEO, Edward Santow said.

“The technology and accessible content exists, and it has already been successfully trialled on the ABC in 2012, so we are calling on the other Australian broadcasters to take this important, permanent step towards equality now.

Artificial intelligence enables people who are blind to “see”

An app that allows people who are blind to identify the world directly in front of them using machine vision technology.

This short video shows the reactions of first users: Youtube clip

Media release

Artificial intelligence enables blind people to “see”

Students at Singularity University have created an app that allows blind people to identify the world directly in front of them using machine vision technology.

The app, Aipoly, is an intelligent assistant for the visually impaired that empowers them to explore and understand their surroundings through computer vision and audio-feedback.

“The power is in helping us construct the mental picture. And not everybody has the same skill at creating mental images,” says Steve Mahan, president of the Santa Clara Blind Centre and Google’s self-driving car’s first user. “Most of us are trying to do [that]. Knowing where we are is sometimes more than an address.”

The user takes a picture that is automatically uploaded to the Aipoly servers, where it is analysed and tagged, and a description is sent back and read out loud using text-to-speech. This means that blind people may be able to see what their kids are wearing each day, recognise street signs, find objects that are out of reach, and have freedom to purchase gifts for their friends by themselves.

The machine vision algorithm is optimised for use by the visually impaired with training in street signs and objects commonly used by blind people.

Machine vision, or computer vision, is an exponential technology that has more than doubled in accuracy between 2012 and 2013. Convolutional neural networks are used to identify the elements within a picture and neural image caption generation to feed back a semantic description of its content.

There are 285M visually impaired people in the world and in the next 5 years, two thirds of them will become smartphone users.

As for the bigger vision, “developing this technology further could help us identify and search for objects around our homes and outdoors like we do with websites online,” says Aipoly cofounder Alberto Rizzoli.

Singularity University was founded in 2008 by Ray Kurzweil, a pioneer in blind technology having created optical character recognition (OCR) and the first text-to-speech synthesizer, with over 40 years of experience in the field.

“This complements the work that Ray Kurzweil has done,” says Aipoly cofounder and 2012 Young Australian of the Year Marita Cheng. “In every focus group, people mention a Kurzweil technology they use to get about their daily lives.”

Singularity University students learn about using exponential technologies to impact the lives of a billion people within 10 years. The Aipoly technology will be showcased at Singularity University’s Demo Day on 18 August at NASA AMES Research Park in Mountain View.

Aipoly is now looking for beta testers from around the world. Beta testers of all visual abilities (including fully sighted and blind) are sought.

Press kit, video, photos, logo, images:

Marita Cheng
Cofounder, Aipoly
+1 (650) 695-7409

BCA President Election

Dear BCA Member

As you are aware nominations for the position of Blind Citizens Australia President were called on June 10.

In accordance with the provisions of Clause 21.1.4 of the BCA Constitution, in a year where there will be elections for both the President and for other Directors, any election for the President must be held first.

In order to meet the election timeframe outlined in the Constitution, including the provision for sixty days’ notice of the Annual General Meeting, nominations for the BCA President position were called on 10 June 2015, with nominations to be received close of business 5pm (EST) on Friday 3 July 2015.

As of close of business (5pm (EST) on Friday 3 July, one nomination was received. I can confirm that that nomination was valid, including a nominator and seconder both of who are Full Members of BCA as at 30 June 2014.

Given that only one nomination was received, it will not be necessary to hold an election.

As Company Secretary I declare the successful nominee, Emma Bennison, as President Elect. Emma will take over as BCA President at the conclusion of the 2015 BCA National Convention.

Emma’s supporting statement received with her nomination can be read here: BCA President Nomination Statement (Word docx)

I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Emma and wish her all the best in her position as President of Blind Citizens Australia.

Thank you.

Greg Madson
Company Secretary

Media Release: Audio Description: ABC sued for unlawful discrimination

Blind Citizens Australia Media Release
7 July 2015

Suzanne Hudson, who is blind, has today launched a case of unlawful discrimination against the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) for their failure to provide audio description as part of their regular programming – a service that would make ABC TV accessible for the 350,000 Australians who are blind or have low vision.

The Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) will represent Ms Hudson in her case, which will be heard in the Federal Circuit Court.

Audio description is a second audio track that can be turned on and off. It describes the important visual elements of a television program – such as actions, scene changes, gestures and facial expressions – that a person who is blind or has low vision can’t see.

Ms Hudson believes that by failing to make its television broadcasting service accessible for people who are blind or have low vision, the ABC has engaged in indirect discrimination.

‘Australia is dragging its feet in providing an audio description service that would provide inclusion of people who are blind or have low vision into the TV watching community. Many countries, including New Zealand, the UK, US, Ireland, Germany and Spain, already provide the service on free-to-air or subscription services,’ said Blind Citizens Australia President, Mr Greg Madson.

‘By comparison, 20% of the UK Channel 4’s programs offer audio description, which works out at more than 33 hours per week.

‘In fact, people who are blind or have low vision can watch Home and Away with audio description in the UK but not in Australia.

“Members of Blind Citizens Australia were bitterly disappointed when the ABC decided not to introduce an audio described service following a successful trial of audio described service on free to air ABC TV in 2012.” said Mr Madson.

‘While a decision earlier this year by the ABC to trial audio-described content via iView is a step forward, there remain significant barriers to many people accessing the online service, especially for those who rely on screen-reading software, and for those who struggle with an extra layer of complexity to simply watch a TV show.

‘With a 2012 successful audio description trial by the ABC in 2012, and the technology and accessible content available Blind Citizens Australia urges the ABC to take this important, permanent step towards equality.’

The case follows the lodgment of discrimination complaints against Channels Seven, Nine, Ten SBS and Foxtel in the Australian Human Rights Commission in February.

Greg Madson
Blind Citizens Australia
0408 396 333