By Emma Bennison
As I write this, I am preparing to finish up as your CEO. I will leave it to others to comment on my successes and failures. In this article though, I thought it would be timely to reflect on what I have found to be some of the more challenging aspects of the role and how they have shaped my hopes for the future of our organisation.
As regular readers of Blind Citizens News will know, I have written and spoken openly about my mental health issues frequently. I have done so not to garner sympathy, but to open the door for more honest conversations about mental health and its intersection with blindness within and beyond BCA. Though a small minority have used my anxiety against me, most responses have come from people who appreciated my courage, many reflecting on the fact that it had prompted them to speak up and seek help for themselves. This is only the beginning though and I very much hope our organisation continues to find opportunities to normalise conversations about mental health. The decision to talk about my own mental health was not an easy one, but I have no regrets. If even one person has benefitted from my disclosure and felt more welcome in our organisation as a result, then it has been well worth the discomfort.
Being a CEO is not without its challenges. Being the CEO of an organisation of which you are also a member can be a minefield. For instance, there have been a couple of very difficult occasions when I have needed to hold members accountable to the same expectations and standards of behaviour as would be appropriate in broader society. For some, this has been the first time anyone has ever called out their inappropriate behaviour or held them to the same expectations as their sighted counterparts, blindness often being used by well-meaning friends or family members to excuse unacceptable conduct. This matters because it is incumbent on us to model high standards and not to allow disrespectful behaviour or inappropriate conduct to go unchallenged. In relation to the process for dealing with misconduct within BCA, I am proud to have played a role in beginning the process of ensuring we have an independent mechanism for members to report inappropriate behaviour. I am confident that in the future, our organisation’s leaders will continue to show courage and integrity to ensure a safe environment for all.
It has been pleasing to me to note that over the past few years, we have begun to have more honest conversations about what independence means to us, acknowledging that every individual defines it slightly differently. Covid has isolated us, whilst also affording us greater online connection than ever before. It has forced many of us to do things differently, to advocate more strongly for the most vulnerable among us and to reconsider our priorities. I am hopeful that as a result of this stronger shared understanding and increased connectedness, we can become less judgmental and more kind to one another, recognising that everyone has unique ways of achieving what’s important to them.
Finally, if you are hoping for an exclusive announcement about what’s next for me, you will be disappointed to learn that, as I write, I have no idea. I’m looking forward to a break though before moving on to new and exciting challenges. As I said at the time I announced my resignation, I am immeasurably grateful to members, board and staff for your support to me in my role. My sincere congratulations and very best wishes to Sally Aurisch, our new CEO. Despite the challenges, leading our organisation is a huge privilege and I have absolute confidence BCA has a bright future ahead with Sally at the helm. In the future, I look forward to contributing to BCA in some other capacity and to seeing some of you at a face-to-face event when possible.