By Jack Reynolds-Ryan & Prue Watt
The National Policy Council (NPC) is a sub-committee of the BCA Board, focused on the development and review of BCA’s policy positions. The NPC is made up of a Chair appointed by the Board, two other Board members appointed by the Board, a representative from each State who is elected by the members in that State, plus up to two members ‘co-opted’ by the Board at its discretion to help ensure gender balance and diversity of lived experience. The National Policy Officer, as the delegate of the CEO, also serves as a non-voting member of the Committee.
As an internal body, the role of the NPC is to help articulate to the Board the views of the BCA Membership across a range of public policy areas, and in 2021, the NPC tackled some big policy topics. In the first half of the year the focus was on Education. In a major update, the Education Policy from 2009 was overhauled, with all sections of the policy edited. The new policy reflects shifts in the education environment, particularly in an age of increased online and remote learning, including a focus on planning and response to emergencies.
Following the success of this approach, in the latter half of the year the NPC turned its attention to a substantial re-write of BCA’s pedestrian safety policy, which was also last updated in 2009.
There have been significant changes to the pedestrian safety landscape in that time, most significantly with the rise of Personal Mobility Devices or ‘e-rideables’ – referring to a wide range of electric powered devices including e-scooters, e-bikes, electric skateboards, segways, and self-balancing hoverboards. These devices have exploded in popularity in recent years, as people look for practical, ecological and economical alternatives to city traffic, and for “last-mile” solutions to help bridge connections with public transport; but pose significant risks to people who are blind or vision impaired – running almost silently and capable of speeds of at least 25km/h.
The Covid-19 pandemic has also left its mark on pedestrian safety, with many restaurants and cafes being supported through government funding to increase their use of outdoor dining. While this is an understandable response to help minimise the risk of exposure to the virus, the encroachment of tables and chairs – along with large items such as pot plants and heaters – into the public space has created additional risks to the safety of people who are blind or vision impaired.
As we began 2022, the NPC conducted a series of member engagement sessions to help inform the final form of this Pedestrian Safety Policy update. These sessions each focused on an area of pedestrian safety: residential (including branches, garbage bins, footpaths, unrestrained dogs etc), commercial (al fresco dining, advertising and signage, street vendors), and road (including silent vehicles, curbs, tactile indicators, audible traffic crossings etc).
The ongoing work of the NPC helps to ensure that BCA’s position statements and policies continue to be an effective education and advocacy tool, in order to leverage change and promote the rights of people who are blind or vision impaired. It also looks to identify new ways in which these important and supportive resources may be useful in our self-advocacy experiences. We are always keen to hear from members with suggestions of areas or topics where you think a policy or position statement may be useful, as well as any feedback you have on your experience using any of the existing policy statements.
This year, we look forward to providing many opportunities for collaboration on various policy issues and for members to share their thoughts, experiences and views. It is already set to be a year of change and renewal for BCA, with a new President, new CEO, and new NPC Chair.
While we are excited for the work ahead, we also wish to note our thanks to Helen Freris as the outgoing NPC chair for providing her leadership, wisdom, energy and commitment to the NPC, as well as our gratitude and appreciation to the outgoing NPC Representatives for their contributions.
Finally, it is also an election year, with a Federal Election due before May as well as State Elections in South Australia and Victoria. This is going to be a big year for policy – watch this space!