By John Simpson

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As the year of 2014 passed, my focus on BCA was limited to celebration of our 40th Anniversary and, in particular, a compilation of the significant achievements of the organisation over its history since foundation in 1975.

On the one hand, I saw a history of great accomplishments, tenacious advocacy and above all a demonstrated commitment to constructive and confident representation of the needs and aspirations of people who are blind or vision impaired.

In contrast, I was concerned to note that more recently the organisation appeared to have lost confidence in its ability to represent its community and its willingness to tackle the harder challenges had significantly diminished.

So, when, coincidentally, BCA lost both its Executive Officer and core government funding support in December 2014 it followed that I found myself back in a support role in the short term and then, by early 2015 returning to the Board and leadership responsibilities.

It seemed clear to me that one of the reasons for the organisation’s loss of confidence and more insular approach was caused by the limited interaction that the current leadership was having with our former leaders, many of whom had provided the inspiration and energy needed over the years to sustain the constructive advocacy that had been our hallmark.  So, the first challenge I set myself was to gain Board approval and then to organise a leadership summit that brought together around 35 BCA members, including current and former leaders and representatives from across our various branches.  Over two and half days of discussions with external stakeholders and intense sessions of internal reflection, we set the course for the reinvigoration of our organisation.  56 recommendations were presented to the Board for further consideration; and just as importantly past, current and future leaders re-committed themselves to ensuring the sustainability and growth of BCA into the future.

Initially as a contributing member of the Board and then as its President from early 2017, I saw my role as a facilitator, to bring together the wealth of corporate knowledge and experience that was our heritage with more modern community attitudes and expectations. I learned quickly that formal processes only have value today if they enable members and other stakeholders to engage in a way that suits their needs and lifestyles. I was also introduced to the world of instant communication facilitated by the 24-hour news cycle and the immediacy of social media.  And I learned that consideration of the impact of vision loss has to be understood in the context of changing societal attitudes and expectations.

We set for the organisation a more succinct vision and mission that is expressed in three simple words – Inform, Connect and Empower.  These keystones to our strategic direction have served us well and proved to be critical in addressing the challenge of supporting our members and others who are blind or vision impaired during this ongoing Covid Pandemic.

While identification and implementation of the various strategies we have applied during this time of only virtual contact, is largely down to our dedicated staff team and many hard working volunteer members, I have been proud to lead an organisation that was so quickly able to put in place engagement opportunities such as our Happy Hours, BCA Inform Events, our Peer Connect Program and weekly updates to members, delivered via email and video, while maintaining and enhancing our more traditional outreach through New Horizons, BC News and social media.

We have also tackled and succeeded with many advocacy undertakings, both at the individual and systemic levels.  Our support for those wishing to make representation to the Disability Royal Commission has been outstanding while our representations to government and the broader community to ensure that the needs of our community are addressed in relation to the pandemic have set the standard for engagement across the disability sector. And for me in particular, after more than twenty-five years of campaigning, achievement of Audio Description on our public broadcast networks was the icing on the cake.

So, where to from here?  For me, my role as Immediate Past President will allow me to support the Board by undertaking some projects that might otherwise not get up the priority list.  Chief among these will be a review of our Constitution and By-Laws in order to ensure that our Governance processes are as robust as the operational aspects of the organisation.

And for the organisation more broadly, we have fresh leaders at the helm, who, while offering a wealth of experience, can also take a forward-looking approach to ensure that our organisation continues to grow and prosper well into the future.

So, in closing I want to take this opportunity to thank you, our members, for the honour you bestowed on me by allowing me to lead this wonderful organisation. And I want to congratulate and wish Fiona and Sally every success in their new roles.  As someone said to me recently, “just remember that BCA is like a family, you might step back from its leadership but you can never leave”.  So, like those former leaders who answered the call in 2015 I will be here to provide the support and guidance requested well into the future.

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