Farewell to SoundAbout

By John Simpson


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Since 1992, BCA has produced SoundAbout, an audio magazine containing interviews and information of interest to our members. For nearly thirty years, SoundAbout has provided local, state-specific and nationally significant information which has informed, entertained and challenged its listeners.

At this point in our organisation’s development though, we acknowledge that use of technology among people who are blind or vision impaired has become more widespread, and avenues for receiving information are increasing. So at its face-to-face meeting held in July, the board made the difficult but necessary decision to discontinue SoundAbout in its current form while we consider next steps.

Steve Richardson, who has been involved in the production and coordination of SoundAbout since the mid 90’s offers this reflection:

“SoundAbout was introduced in the 1990s as a way to share state-based information with members. Rather than being presented from the perspective of the national office, these audio newsletters were a presentation of various branches of BCA. The world wide web was only in its infancy, and communication over long distance was still sometimes unreliable and expensive. So members often relied on the very important information provided by local branches about their upcoming activities, advocacy, or state government changes that might affect blind and vision impaired people.

It was felt that a radio-style format magazine, featuring interviews with key people around the organization would be a more informal and friendly way to disseminate information to members. It was also a great training ground for those interested in developing interview and presentation skills, and learning the fine art of editing and producing a recorded program.

Members originally received their quarterly SoundAbout on cassette, and I remember one of the important announcements I had to make as the presenter of SoundAbout Queensland, was to remind listeners to make sure their cassette was fully rewound when finished with, and to turn over the address label before sending back. We actually had to produce two parts in those days, a “Side A” and a “Side B”, and these had to be well organised and precisely timed to around 43 minutes.”

On behalf of members, board and staff, I extend my heartfelt gratitude to the dedicated team of members who have researched information, sourced and conducted interviews and edited the production to ensure that SoundAbout has been produced professionally and on time for nearly 30 years. In particular, I want to pay tribute to the creator of the SoundAbout concept, Stephen Jolley, and to acknowledge the contribution of Dale Simpson, who produced the magazine over many years. The production of an audio magazine is a time-consuming process, and requires a significant and ongoing commitment. We thank all those who have given up their time and energy to consistently provide us with relevant and helpful information.

We will now take the time to reflect on what our current communications channels offer, and where the gaps are, so we can ensure that the current information needs of people who are blind or vision impaired continue to be met. In the mean-time, a reminder that we continue to produce our weekly radio program and podcast, “New Horizons”, this publication, “Blind Citizens News”, our E-mail list, “BCA-L”, our website, and social media feeds.

We welcome your feedback on what you would like us to consider, whether it be a new communications channel, or content suggestions for our current offerings. So whether or not you are a BCA member, please get in touch and share your thoughts with us.


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National Policy Council Report

By Fiona Woods


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The National Policy Council (NPC) has, as usual, been busy. As I discussed in my last report, we have been working on a policy which outlines what we expect from the agencies which provide services to people who are blind or vision impaired. By the time you are reading this, we will have prepared a background paper and a series of consultation questions.

Our consultation will be national. It will be accessible to all members, using a variety of consultation methods. It addresses a series of specific focus areas, to be covered by the resulting policy. We will be seeking input into these areas from actual and potential users of the relevant services, rather than airing individual grievances, which can be more effectively dealt with through other avenues.

Our aim is to arrive at a consensus of the majority of members. The policy will be sensitive to the diversity of blind and vision impaired individuals and to the agencies which serve us. We will be consulting you over the next two months in as many forms as possible. Hopefully you will be bombarded by invitations to contribute, but if you are not, or if you prefer to be proactive, you can contact us via phone (the BCA office can give contact information for each NPC member). You can use the BCA text messaging service to contact us, and you can email your thoughts to npc@bca.org.au.

We will also be holding a series of teleconferences, invitations to which will be publicised soon. What we want from our blindness service agencies is a large, important and fascinating question and we want input from as many of you, our members, as possible.

Whilst designing this paper and process, we have also been considering the issue of Mobility Parking permits. We are currently drafting a position statement, which will form part of our Pedestrian Safety Policy Suite. This will reflect BCA’s current view that people who are blind or vision impaired should be automatically eligible for such permits, if they choose to apply for them. Where possible, we will work for this criterion to be consistent in all states, which unfortunately is not the case now.

Elections will soon be held for several positions on the NPC. We will be looking for representatives from Western Australia, New South Wales, Victoria and the ACT.  I would like to thank those who have fulfilled these roles over the past two years for their commitment to establishing the NPC as a working and meaningful part of BCA. Position descriptions are available on the BCA website.  If you would like to discuss how the NPC works or anything related to BCA’s policy work, please get in touch with your State representative or a Board member.

We have recently been pleased to welcome Andrew Webster from the ACT. Other members include:

  • Myself, Helen Frerris and Lynne Davis, who represent the Board;
  • Steve Richardson, Queensland;
  • Jennifer Parry, New South Wales;
  • Martin Stewart, Victoria;
  • David Squirrel, South Australia;
  • Doug McGinn, Tasmania;
  • Greg Madson, Western Australia;
  • Julie Sutherland, who represents the National Women’s Branch.

We look forward to hearing and reading your opinions over the next few months.


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Can A New Phone System Really Be Revolutionary?

By Rikki Chaplin


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It’s a pretty safe bet to say that my colleagues are getting a bit tired of my enthusiasm about the new phone system we’ve recently installed. I can’t blame them, but rest assured that my excitement is well founded.

If you’ve called the BCA office lately, you will have noticed the options the new system presents when your call is answered. The ability to provide these options is a great step forward for members, but I want to tell you about what it’s like to use the system as a staff member. Because it’s entirely accessible, it offers new possibilities not just for staff, but for all of us, even outside BCA.

The Smart UC computer and smartphone applications are a bit like Skype, but with the extra capabilities one would expect to find in any phone system used in an office. Calls can be transferred between staff no matter where they are throughout Australia, and there is capacity for group calls and text chat. Each staff member has a direct line and a voicemail facility.

Voice messages can be emailed to staff, so that they are very easily accessed and even saved if need be. I discovered recently what an advantage this is, when I received a call giving me some positive feedback. Recording of feedback from our members is crucial, so that we can report to funding bodies and other interested stakeholders. As it is in audio form, it can easily be sent to others, or even used in promotional materials. The variety of possibilities that this feature opens up is endless.

Traditionally, office phone systems have not been as accessible as they should be. Phones often have to be labelled or marked to make them more accessible for people who are blind or vision impaired. With the introduction of the computer application however, these steps are a thing of the past. It is of course possible to use a handset as part of the system, but not necessary.

The computer application works very well when using the Jaws or NVDA screenreaders. Calls can be answered easily, even if you are working on another task. Transferring between staff is easy, particularly once extension numbers are memorised. You can even call a staff member to see if they are available to take the call being transferred beforehand if you wish to, all from the convenience of your laptop.

As someone who has a hearing impairment in addition to being totally blind, I have found the integration of the phone into my laptop to be a real game changer. When the phone rings, I no longer have to take my headphones off, scramble madly for the handset, switch my hearing aids to telecoil mode and hopefully answer the call before it goes to message bank. I use a USB microphone which connects to my laptop and which has a headphone jack and volume control for monitoring. The speech from my screenreader and the phone come directly through my headphones. Using this system, I have more volume than I will ever need.

For the first time, I can seamlessly access my email or any other document while I have somebody on the phone, without having to juggle multiple sets of headphones, or multiple programs on my hearing aids in order to multi-task. Because everything is operated from the computer, everything is simultaneously accessible using the one device. If I have a braille display attached to the computer, I can even access information from the computer’s screen with braille while on the phone if I wish to.

My excitement about the advantages I have outlined goes beyond the fact that as an employee, it makes me more efficient personally. It seems that for the first time, we have created a system which finally puts us on an equal footing to our sighted peers who work in the fast paced environments that have often proven so challenging for people who are blind or vision impaired.

At least 58% of people who are blind or vision impaired are unemployed. Many of us do have the requisite skills to work in environments which have traditionally posed accessibility challenges. Many more will be able to acquire the necessary skills, once it is realised that the removal of accessibility barriers will drastically improve employment prospects.

For the first time, we have a system which will enable employers to witness the fact that if the barriers to accessibility are removed, we can be as productive and efficient as employees with sight. The challenge now is for this system to be marketed and promoted to employers.

The installation of a fully accessible phone system by the peak body representing people who are blind or vision impaired is therefore a monumental achievement, and one which could prove to be extremely important in promoting our value as people who are blind or vision impaired to employers in a variety of fields.

This achievement is the result of hundreds of hours of research, frustration, but above all, tenacity on the part of our CEO and our administration staff. The addition of the new phone system is one of a number of innovations which will make BCA a truly dynamic and flexible organisation. It has allowed staff to be located throughout Australia and easily contactable by members, a goal we have not been able to reach before.

While on the surface, the phone system is little more than a sensible advancement in BCA’s technology infrastructure, for people who are blind or vision impaired, it truly is proof that if products and services are designed with accessibility at the forefront of their development, equality can absolutely be achieved for all.

My sincere thanks and congratulations go to our CEO, Emma Bennison, for never giving up, and for making such a huge improvement to our workplace, and hopefully, the prospects of many others who are still seeking that elusive job.


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NSW/ACT State Division Update

By Joana d’Orey Novo


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For those who don’t know me yet, I am the Chair of BCA’s NSW/ACT State Division. You may recall that the Division was formed when Blind Citizens NSW and BCA consolidated in late 2017. So what has the Division been up to?

In February, members of the Division committee, NSW and ACT Board members and BCA staff met for a Division planning day. It was a really exciting day, as we explored the Division’s potential and what we thought was important for the Division to do. Community and belonging were two very strong threads throughout the day. Times are changing and we are progressively losing the physical spaces that gave many of us a sense of belonging, history and community.

Technology seems to offer us exciting new ways of reaching out to each other through social media, online meetings and streaming of events. However, not everyone finds community and belonging online.

A couple of projects sprung out of these early reflections; the Legacy Project and Spring into Action. History is an important part of belonging. The Legacy Project will result in a podcast series recording the history of blindness advocacy in NSW and the ACT. After all, between BCA and Blind Citizens NSW, there are 150 years of advocacy, representation and community!

On the 14th of July, BCA officially launched the NSW/ACT Division in Newcastle. Approximately 40 members, blindness agency representatives and guests attended the launch in person, and another 25 or so joined us online. Michael Simpson, former BCA President and Vision Australia’s General Manager, NSW and ACT, launched the Division and reflected on the long and proud histories of BCA and Blind Citizens NSW. You can listen to his speech on episode 563 of BCA’s weekly radio program and podcast, New Horizons, available for download from BCA’s website.

We also celebrated our new partnership with Guide Dogs NSW/ACT, and noted that we now have formal partnerships in place with three of Australia’s major blindness agencies: Guide Dogs NSW/ACT, Guide Dogs Victoria and Vision Australia.

So what is Spring into Action, you ask? Well, the plan is to have a few weeks in Spring when Division members and branches get together to celebrate our wonderful community. On the 27th and 28th of October 2018, we will hold our first convention as a Division in Newcastle. The theme for Convention is “Enjoying Our State: Living the good life in NSW and the ACT”.

Sessions will cover a range of topics, such as hacks that make our lives a bit easier, new technology, experiences of attending camp, developments in banking and the relationship between technology and human rights.

As always, there will be an opportunity to check out the latest tech in our tech expo and for those feeling particularly tribal, we will be having a drumming circle. To find out more about the program and register to attend, click HERE, or call BCA on 1800 033 660.

A number of events are taking place across NSW and the ACT as part of Spring into Action, including:

  • On 18th September 2018, the Tweed Valley Branch organised an audio-described tour of the Regional Art Gallery.
  • On 10th October 2018, the ACT Branch is hosting a Taxi Transport Forum, where participants will have an opportunity to hear from, and ask questions of, the regulator.
  • On the 27th and 28th October 2018, members of the Newcastle and Hunter Branch not attending convention, will meet at a local venue to listen to the live stream.

If you want to find out more about these events, or would like to host or organise an event, you can contact your branch or BCA on 1800 033 660.


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In the Scheme of Things

By Kristin Nuske


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Editor’s Note

Kristin Nuske has worked for BCA since February this year, providing support and advice to Victorians who are challenged by aspects of dealing with the NDIS or My Aged Care. More recently, she has begun providing support to members nationwide.

This support includes, but is not limited to, accessing information regarding the Scheme or My Aged Care, and whether someone could consider accessing, or may be eligible for either. Here, she discusses some of the challenges faced by members she has been assisting with NDIS planning and participation. A future article will explore issues relating to My Aged Care in similar detail.

* * * * *

In March this year, I attended a panel discussion at the State Library as part of the Bold Series presented by Latrobe University. The panel broadly examined the NDIS since its roll out began in the Geelong trial site in 2013.

The conversation brought to my attention some of the roadblocks which are preventing the scheme from delivering on its promises. A lady in the audience raised a point, based on her experience as a Support Coordinator. She stated that in the time that she had worked at the organisation she represented, they had received more than 80 plans. It wasn’t clear whether a Local Area Coordinator or an NDIS planner facilitated them, but every one of those plans required a review.

In my role at BCA, I have seen a similar trend. Many of the members who I have had contact with share their experiences, most of which have warranted complaints. These complaints range from difficulties accessing information, to disappointment with their allocated Planner in their first meeting.

Accessing information seems to be a challenge for many of us. When I called the NDIA and asked for information to be provided in large print, I was told that the request was emailed to the print department while I waited on the telephone. Four months later, the information has still not arrived.

If you have made a request to either the NDIS or My Aged Care for information in an alternative format, and it has been responded to positively and swiftly, or you have not been treated as you expect and/or not provided with accessible information, please let us know of your experience.

The NDIS has, for many reasons, not approved items or reasonable and necessary supports once a plan has been prepared. Once complaints which relate to not funding supports have been made final through a “review of a reviewable decision” process, they may be brought to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, (AAT).

Sara Dingold from Disability Services Consulting recently wrote that as of March this year, some 757 cases have been referred to the AAT. This assures further delays for participants trying to activate their planned supports. An investigation by the Commonwealth Ombudsman into the nature and number of reviews by the NDIA found that as of February, it was dealing with about 8,100 reviews and receiving about 620 new review requests per week.

Assistive technology and equipment are funding areas that have impacted many people who are blind or vision impaired. Assistive technology specialists or occupational therapists are generally relied upon to help select the most appropriate pieces of equipment, and provide quotes and a report outlining why these items are reasonable and necessary according to the NDIS Act.

One of our members, Liz, after quotes for her items had been submitted, was shocked by a comment from her occupational therapist. “I was told to expect not to hear for three to four months whether the items were to be approved,” she said.

In fact, one of the items, a pair of prescription sunglasses, was not approved because the NDIS claimed that this was an everyday item. How is this so, when Liz experiences extreme glare and visual disruption resulting from her vision impairment?

Liz contacted BCA to see if we could provide some support to her, as she felt aspects of her experience since she has become an NDIS participant needed some attention. “Although it can be daunting to speak up,” she said, “it is worth doing in order to create a better system.” At this point, the issues Liz raised in a complaint, care of her MP, have not yet been responded to or resolved by a delegate from the NDIA.

Another person contacted me recently who is now in his second year as a participant. His gripe is that he continues to wait after almost a year to have items approved. After 18 months this gentleman has only accessed transport from his plan. This is largely due to the reporting by the Assistive Technology Specialist not satisfying the NDIA’s reporting and supportive evidence requirements.

One last issue, and general complaint, relates to the language and context used in important documents such as a person’s individual plan. The assumption is that one can understand the ideas presented, and what dollars relate to the various supports one requires. This is indeed not the case for Liz. “The language that was presented in my plan I believe is a barrier to being able to move forward with implementing my supports,” she said.

Despite all the problems I’ve described, the overall impression I drew from the panel I attended in March was that the NDIS is a good policy, and we need to remain optimistic. On the surface there is a will and a want to see the NDIS deliver the supports that individuals may need to live the best life that they can.

NDIA CEO Rob De Luca has acknowledged some of the inconsistencies in the delivery of the scheme. “We realise that improvements are still needed to make sure that the participant experience is consistently positive,” he wrote in a recent report.

In an effort to address problems like those described here, De Luca has committed to consulting with a number of service providers, and met in September with BCA’s CEO, Emma Bennison. This meeting represents an encouraging step in the right direction.

We agree there is no smooth sailing, but many bumps in the road. It is only the courage and persistence of many voices that will create a system that can be benchmarked across the world.

Editor’s Note

Don’t forget that as well as assistance for Victorians, Kristin can now offer telephone assistance with accessing the NDIS or My Aged Care to people who are blind or vision impaired nationally. For further information or to discuss the sorts of assistance that can be provided, please call BCA on 1800 033 660, or email kristin.nuske@bca.org.au.


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