By Fiona Woods
So much has happened since I made my speech as incoming BCA President at the 2021 Annual General Meeting. After many cancellations, we planned and held our first face-to-face board meeting since 2019. This has been a much-anticipated event, with three of our directors joining the board since our last in-person meeting. It was also the first such meeting I have attended without John Simpson, as John decided the time had come for him to step back from the board in June. The board and I wish John well in whatever he takes on next, feeling quite sure that, that won’t be the restful retirement he has earned.
As President, I have had the honour of hosting an event to farewell our outgoing Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Emma Bennison and the delight of working with our new CEO, Sally Aurisch. Having reflected on and celebrated BCA’s achievements under its previous leadership, Sally and I have been concentrating on maintaining BCA’s course towards a positive future. We have prepared for and written BCA’s new Strategic Plan 2022-25 and are examining the ways in which BCA’s Constitution can most effectively reflect BCA’s corporate responsibilities and the modern organisation it has become. All of these plans are founded on my commitment to an organisation of people who are blind or vision impaired, which is led by members, driven by members and accountable to members.
Much of my work as President goes on behind the scenes, where I am assisted by Vice-President, Stephen Belbin. I am supported by the Financial Audit and Risk Management committee, led by Treasurer, Andrew Webster. It competently oversees our financial affairs and preserves our resources to secure our future. The National Policy Council, led by Prue Watt, has updated our Pedestrian Safety Policy and is now turning its attention to emergency preparedness and disaster response areas where all too many people who are blind or vision impaired have experienced being overlooked. The board has a new committee, BCA Engage. Under the guidance of Helen Freris, its aim is to increase BCA’s connection and outreach with specific groups of people who are blind or vision impaired, to ensure that our membership and advocacy is as representative of the broader community as possible. If you are an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person, are from a culturally or linguistically diverse background or identify as LGBTIQA+, or are an ally, and have ideas or connections to suggest, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I relish attending BCA events. When the BCA staff who are presenting are people who are blind or vision impaired, I take pride in an organisation which has been able to give meaningful employment to so many accomplished people and in the knowledge that they are role models and ambassadors for all of us. When the staff presenting are people who have sight, I am proud, and feel grateful relief, that we have such talented, passionate individuals demonstrating that our issues are issues that can matter to everyone and that the whole of society is responsible for understanding and meeting our needs.
The thing I have always enjoyed most about BCA has been its people. I have been able to attend several BCA Conversations (formerly known as Happy Hours), BCA Informs, BCA Welcome (previously New Member) forums and other meetings with branch leaders and members. I have especially valued learning from our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander members and from those members who have recently become blind or vision impaired. The value of listening can never be overstated. Although as has happened so often in recent years, illness prevented my trip to Canberra, I have welcomed the opportunity to meet with members in Sydney, Adelaide and Melbourne. I hope to visit other Branches and more States and the ACT in coming months.
With so much going on at BCA, it seems unfair to nominate highlights. Our innovative project, Eye to the Future, has provided opportunities for employers and employees to change the world of work, one job placement at a time. BCA and members had the opportunity to get involved with the election process and we have exciting plans to continue our engagement with the new parliament. I attended Audio Drama, a Vivid Sydney event, designed and hosted by a range of organisations including BCA, which demonstrated the value and possibilities of audio description to a large and diverse audience.
For me, one of the constant highlights of BCA is the hard work and dedication of our volunteers. I value generosity, excellence and enthusiasm, but I know these qualities are not infinite. No doubt like many of you and our staff, in the past six months, most of the board, including myself, have been ill with COVID19. Every director, the members of the committees I mentioned earlier, Branch officers, peer group leaders and all the other volunteers who keep BCA and its events happening, are individuals. In a voluntary job, one of the hardest things is deciding which things to take on and which things can be left. Another challenge is learning to accept that things will not always, or even often, turn out as perfectly as planned. Each of us is also taking care of our physical and mental well-being and playing our role in our household, family, work and community. My thanks and admiration go to every one of you who is doing your best to inform, connect and empower people who are blind or vision impaired and the wider community.
I welcome feedback, positive and negative, and suggestions. The thing that is most welcome of all is your offer to get involved. That can start with this publication. We know our readers love hearing from a range of voices, so get writing! I am sure that the next time I write, I will have enjoyed more interactions with more of you and will have new highlights to share.