Aussie Success in Onkyo Braille Competition: Deafblind adventures and Braille Facebook for teens

Blind Citizens Australia (BCA), the national peak body for people who are blind or vision impaired, today announced that there were two Australian winners in the Onkyo Braille Competition, an international essay contest for Braille users across the Asia Pacific region.

David Kovacic, 55, of Ocean Grove in Victoria, won the Otsuki Prize for the overall competition winner, with a score of 76.5% for his essay about the many adventures he’s had since losing his vision and hearing. David writes about “reclaiming his life” by taking up surfing, metal detecting, kayaking and driving a racing car.

Vanessa Vlajkovic, an 18 year old student from Dianella in Western Australia, wrote about whether Braille is still relevant in our age of technology, taking out the Excellence Prize for Category A (14 – 25 year olds) with a score of 73.6%. Vanessa argued that, as a young person with sight and hearing loss, she needs Braille to be able to use technology such as Facebook. With a Braille display attached to her computer, she is able to keep in touch with friends in the same way as any other teenager.

“We’re delighted to see Braille literacy thriving through the Onkyo Competition, and thrilled to have two Australian winners in the year in which BCA is hosting the competition,” said Emma Bennison, BCA President.

“It’s critical to have positive role models for Braille literacy like David and Vanessa in the Australian blindness community at a time when educators and the broader community can struggle to understand that there’s no substitute for knowing how you spell a word or how you punctuate a sentence. Computer software that reads out text just can’t give you the same completeness of information that Braille offers.”

Media contact: Leah van Poppel, Blind Citizens Australia CEO

Mobile: 0430 210 980 Email:


Blind Citizens Australia Celebrates Better Access to Books as Government Ratifies Marrakesh Treaty

Members of Blind Citizens Australia (BCA) will be celebrating across the country today as the Australian government takes an important step towards providing better access to books by ratifying the Marrakesh Treaty.

The Treaty, which will come into force after twenty countries ratify, will allow an exchange of accessible books across the globe. At the moment accessible books in a range of formats such as Braille, large print and audio can only be produced and shared within any one country. Each country’s copyright laws can limit how easy it is reproduce a book so it can be read; in Australia only about 5% of all books are currently available to people who are blind or vision impaired.

“Accessible books are a precious commodity if you’re blind or vision impaired,” said Emma Bennison, President of BCA. “Not only is access to information a basic human right, but access to books can give us so many other things: an education, a source of fun, and a path to better self expression.”

The development of the Marrakesh Treaty has been led by the World Blind Union, working in conjunction with the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO). It was first signed in Morocco in 2013.

“We congratulate the Australian government for their long term leadership regarding this treaty,” said Blind Citizens Australia CEO, Leah van Poppel. “They’ve supported the Australian former President of World Blind Union, Maryanne Diamond AO, as she worked tirelessly to promote the Treaty. Now we’re one of the first twenty countries to ratify.”

Media contact: Leah van Poppel, Blind Citizens Australia CEO

Mobile: 0430 210 980 Email:

People with disability organisations critical to an NDIS future

Media Release, 3rd December 2015

Disability Australia welcomes the announcement today by the Australian Labor Party on International Day of People with Disability to re-fund people with disability organisations that represent over 200,000 people with disability across Australia.

“We welcome today’s announcement and call for bi-partisan support for long-term stability and funding for people with disability organisations that were critical in achieving the NDIS”, said Matthew Wright, CEO of the Australian Federation of Disability Organisations, and spokesperson for Disability Australia.

Did you know that:

  • Over 4 million people in Australia have some form of disability. That’s 1 in 5 people.
  • The Senate inquiry has just found that abuse of people with disability is endemic in Australia and recommended a Royal Commission
  • People with disability are twice as likely to be in the bottom 20% of gross household incomes
  • 53% of people with a disability aged 15 – 64yrs are currently employed, compared with 83% of people without a disability
  • Only 19% of people with a disability who are employed work as a professional
  • 36% of people with a disability aged 18 – 64yrs have completed Year 12, compared with 60% of those without a disability
  • People with a profound disability are 9 times less likely to participate in activities outside the home
  • 45% of those with a disability in Australia are living either near or below the poverty line, more than double the OECD average of 22%
  • There is a risk that the NDIS will expand the current models that perpetuate these problems, without considered input from the peak bodies that provide a direct channel for the voices of people affected by the new scheme

People with disability organisations providing good systemic advocacy is imperative to address these problems. With the NDIS at a crucial juncture it’s vital that people with disability organisations are supported in tandem with the roll out of the NDIS to ensure we address these important issues.

People with disability, their families and representative organisations need long-term commitment from Government and Opposition and secure and stable funding to help them reach their full potential.

Disability Australia calls on the Turnbull Government to match Labor’s funding commitment.

Please direct all enquiries to AFDO CEO, Mr Matthew Wright on 0428 608 861.

New report demands equal access to knowledge for the visually impaired

New report demands equal access to knowledge for the visually impaired
3 December 2015, Bangkok

Ensuring the right to knowledge among persons who are blind, visually impaired or otherwise print disabled should be a higher development priority, says a new report by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the World Blind Union – Asia Pacific (WBUAP).

Lack of equitable, timely and affordable access to published works in accessible formats, such as braille, audio or e-books, is preventing millions of persons with print disabilities from harnessing crucial human development opportunities. As a result, persons with print disabilities are being excluded from education, employment, healthcare and participation in just about any aspect of political, economic and social lives.

Released on the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, Our right to knowledge: Legal reviews for the ratification of the Marrakesh Treaty for persons with print disabilities in Asia and the Pacific provides technical guidance for six countries on legal reforms to facilitate the ratification process and to take full advantage of the Marrakesh Treaty.

The Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled was concluded in June 2013 and aims to remove legal obstacles that are hindering the reproduction of published works in accessible formats and their cross-border dissemination. The Treaty paves the way for an enabling legal environment to pursue the goal of accessing “the same book, at the same time and at the same price” by persons with print disabilities, while ensuring that an author’s rights and interests are protected.

However, it has yet to enter into force. The Treaty requires ratification by 20 countries, but to date that number sits at just 11. Greater efforts are needed to facilitate the ratification so that the benefits of the Treaty will reach persons with print disabilities without delay.

“This report offers a clear rationale and practical legal guidance to realize the principle of ‘leaving no one behind, a key feature of the newly-adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)”,” said Nadia Rasheed, Team Leader, HIV, Health and Development, UNDP Bangkok Regional Hub.

“Ratifying and implementing the Marrakesh Treaty are about realizing the fundamental rights of one of the most marginalized populations, reducing poverty, and eliminating exclusion to achieve inclusive development, which underpin UNDP’s core development vision.”

The report explains key provisions and expected benefits of the Marrakesh Treaty, and is designed to help government, community and development partners recognize the importance of the Treaty and to facilitate capacity development and policy dialogue.

Furthermore, the report helps situate the ratification and implementation of the Treaty as part of collective efforts towards achieving the SDGs and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

“Children and adults with blindness, low vision or other print disabilities have been denied access to print materials for far too long,” says Michiko Tabata, President of the WBUAP. “Now that we have the Marrakesh Treaty on its way toward enactment, this WBUAP-UNDP partnership and the report will serve as a guiding light for countries and contribute to the realization of the very basic human rights of access to knowledge.”

The World Blind Union estimates that less than 1 percent of published books are ever made into accessible formats in developing countries, and it is in these countries where the vast majority, or 90 percent of 285 million, visually impaired people reside.

The situation has been described as a ‘book famine’. The importance of greater access to published works in accessible formats is expected to become more pronounced as the world witnesses an increasing number of persons with print disabilities due to population ageing and rapid growth of non-communicable diseases, such as diabetes.

Download the report in PDF and accessible formats at: Our right to knowledge

For more information, contact:
Ian Mungall
Programme Analyst HIV, Health and Development
UNDP Bangkok Regional Hub

Neil Jarvis
Regional Coordinator for the Marrakesh Treaty Campaign
World Blind Union – Asia-Pacific

December 2015 Edition of BCA News

The December 2015 edition of BCA News is now available! To grab your copy please go to BCA News December 2015 (Word doc)