On this page you will find information about why Blind Citizens Australia (BCA) was formed, our objectives, the current structure, conventions, how BCA is funded, our affiliations and a few of our achievements to date.
- The Jeffrey Blyth Foundation
- International Involvements
- Cross-Disability Collaboration
- Leadership Development
- Forty Years, Forty Wins
Blind Citizens Australia was formed in June 1975. In an era marked by civil rights protests and movements dedicated to social change, people who were blind decided to raise their voices about the issues affecting them. Their actions stemmed from a growing dissatisfaction with their limited social and economic opportunities, a reality exacerbated by a lack of quality services.
The need for an organisation for people who are blind, governed by people who are blind, was evident. BCA is that organisation. Over time, BCA’s constituency has expanded to include people who are vision impaired.
More than four decades on, BCA is the united voice of Australians who are blind or vision impaired. Membership is now over 3,000 with members from every State and Territory across Australia.
Our work – including projects and campaigns – has always driven real and positive change for people who are blind or vision impaired. BCA is governed by a Board of Directors. Our policy development and review mechanism is provided through our National Policy Council. Our finances are controlled by the Board who are advised by the Finance, Audit and Risk Management Committee. Added to which, the provision of peer support and information dissemination is conducted via several regional and special interest branches across the country, including a women’s branch.
BCA is the united voice of Australians who are blind or vision impaired. Our mission is to achieve equity and equality by our empowerment, by promoting positive community attitudes, and by striving for high quality and accessible services which meet our needs.
The BCA Objectives are expressed in the Memorandum of Association as:
A: To encourage self-organisation and self-determination by people who are blind or vision impaired throughout Australia, who shall be united through membership of a national organisation.
B: To serve as a national assembly for meetings, communication and interchange among persons who are blind or vision impaired from all walks of life, to reinforce their confidence in themselves, in each other and in their common cause.
C: To provide a forum for collective self-expression and discussion by people who are blind or vision impaired of Australia, and to act as the authoritative voice of their joint decisions and common objectives.
D: To work for the progressive improvement and modernisation throughout Australia of public policies and practices governing the education, health, welfare, rehabilitation, employment and recreation of people who are blind or vision impaired.
E: To promote or engage in any activities or programs designed to enhance the education, health, welfare, rehabilitation, employment or recreation of people who are blind or vision impaired of other countries, to further the aims of the organisation and the World Blind Union.
F: To represent the interests of people with a vision or print disability.
G: To cooperate with and support kindred organisations of people with disabilities, whilst affirming the right of people who are blind or vision impaired to speak for themselves through their own organisations.
H: To disseminate accurate information about people who are blind or vision impaired, and to promote positive community attitudes towards them.
I: To solicit the support of governments, corporations, community organisations and blindness agencies in the implementation of the programs and policies of Blind Citizens Australia.
J: To create a potent symbol, through which the people of Australia who are blind or vision impaired seek the rights and opportunities, which are the birthright of all people.
K: To undertake or support activities, which would reduce the incidence of preventable blindness, always having regard for the paramount rights and dignity of people who are blind or vision impaired.
These objectives are achieved through these five key activities:
- Individual advocacy
- Systemic advocacy
- Information dissemination
- Peer support
- Consultancy and advice to governments, corporations and the community
All advocacy, peer support and information services are provided at no cost to people who are blind or vision-impaired.
BCA is primarily an organisation of individuals. Its membership is made up of:
- Full Members: people who are blind or vision impaired and over eighteen years of age
- Junior Members: people who are blind or vision impaired and under eighteen years of age
- Associate Members: individuals who identify with the aims of BCA but who are not blind or vision impaired
BCA is governed by a Board of Directors which includes:
- Six Directors
- Up to two co-opted directors
- The immediate past president for one year following their term as president.
The President and elected Directors are chosen by an accessible vote by full members, each for a three-year term.
The Board meets formally every second month and for informal discussions in the alternate month throughout the year. There is at least one face-to-face meeting each year, generally coinciding with the Annual General Meeting. All other meetings are conducted online.
The National Policy Council (NPC) is made up of at least two Directors plus a representative from each state and territory. The NPC is responsible for guiding and development of policies. There are a number of working groups and committees established by the NPC working on a range of issues. There is a network of branches in most states and territories, as well as a State Division Committee representing NSW and the ACT. Branches provide a forum for members from specific geographic areas to come together to focus on local issues and to further the objectives of BCA at a state or local level. There are also national and special interest branches, including the National Women’s Branch.
BCA holds a National Convention every two years. This Convention allows members to debate and formulate policy, discuss issues of concern to people who are blind or vision impaired, review BCA activity and set the future direction for the organisation. The convention moves around Australia in an attempt to give equal opportunity to people who are blind or vision impaired to attend.
BCA holds State Conventions on the alternate years to the National Convention. This gives members greater opportunity to attend, debate local issues and ensure the future direction of BCA includes the needs and concerns of all Australians.
BCA has offices in Melbourne and Sydney, however the majority of our staff work remotely, based in regional and metropolitan areas across five states. BCA has a fully accessible phone system which enables staff to communicate with our callers irrespective of where either of them are based.
BCA has a broad mix of funding sources which includes project based government funding (state and federal), philanthropic foundations, regular donations, corporate partnerships and memberships.
The Jeffrey Blyth Foundation
BCA is also generously supported by the Jeffrey Blyth Foundation. The Jeffrey Blyth Foundation was established in 1995 through two contributions from David Blyth and Hugh Jeffrey. Its purpose was to create a capital base from which the work and independence of Blind Citizens Australia (BCA) could be supported.
Since that time, it has gone through several iterations as an organisation, but its purpose has remained essentially the same. The capital has grown and has been supplemented by other contributions. The Foundation has made regular contributions to BCA since its inception.
In 2017 The Association of Blind Citizens of NSW contributed around $2.4 million to the Foundation. This was done on the condition that a sub-fund to be known as the Shirley fund be created, and that proceeds from that fund be distributed to the work of The Association, or its successors in NSW and the ACT, or to projects which would advance people who were blind or vision impaired in NSW or the ACT.
The Foundation therefore has two funds:
- The General fund which may be spent throughout Australia, and which has been ordinarily used for grants to BCA; and
- the Shirley fund which may be spent in grants to BCA, which has now merged with the Association, or for other similar purposes, but only in NSW or the ACT.
As a Public Ancillary fund the Foundation is legally required to distribute at least 4 percent of its net worth each year. Donations can be made directly to the Foundation by contacting BCA on 1800 033 660.
BCA has been an active member of the World Blind Union at both the World and Regional levels since its creation in 1984. Over that period two of our senior members have held office as World President and several more have served on the World and Regional Executives and various standing committees. In November 2000 BCA was the lead organisation for the hosting of the WBU 5th General Assembly in Melbourne. Participants at the 2018 World Blind Union – Asia Pacific (WBUAP) Mid-Term General Assembly in Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia) adopted the following statement which you can read on the WBUAP webpage.
BCA has also lead capacity building projects in Fiji and Vietnam and has participated in many international conferences and forums.
Cross Disability Collaboration
Prior to the establishment of the Australian Federation of Disability Organisations (AFDO) BCA was active in the then Office of Disability sponsored forums that brought together the views of the various disability specific consumer organisations. We were among the founding members of the National Caucus of Disability Consumer Organisations and more recently AFDO. We have been a member of National Disability Services for more than thirty years. BCA has also sponsored various cross disability projects, including the Disability Discrimination Act Standards Project sponsored by the Attorney General’s Department, and “TEDICORE” which later transformed into the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network.
While providing proactive and articulated representation for people who are blind or vision impaired, BCA has also facilitated the development of many people who have gone on to serve in prominent capacities both in Australia and internationally. Some of our prominent leaders include:
- Graeme Innes AO, who has served as Human Rights and Disability Discrimination Commissioner
- David Blyth AO and Maryanne Diamond AO, who have served four year terms as President of the World Blind Union
- Maryanne Diamond AO, who has served as Chair of the International Disability Alliance
- At least twenty BCA leaders have served (or are serving) on the boards of major blindness service agencies
- Graeme Innes AO served as Chair, and Michael Simpson as Deputy Chair of the Ministerial Advisory Body on Disability in its various configurations.
Forty Years, Forty Wins
In Australia BCA has been at the centre of developments such as:
- The introduction and widespread use of audible/tactile traffic signals
- The widespread use of tactile ground surface indicators (hazard and directional tiles) across the built environment
- The introduction, in several state capital cities, of tactile and braille street signage
- The inclusion in Australian Building Standards of specific provisions to assist wayfinding and the independent use of lifts, by people who are blind or vision impaired
- The availability of Operator Assistance to obtain and connect with unknown telephone numbers, following the closure of the more widely used 013 Directory Assistance Service
- Removal of the ban on electronic advertising in the period immediately preceding federal elections
- Conduct of disability service reviews into Orientation and Mobility and Print Disability services, on behalf of the then Department of Community Services and Health
- Inclusion of blindness specific requirements, into the Education, Transport and Accessible Premises Standards, proclaimed under the Disability Discrimination Act. BCA also made major contributions to the “Guidance Notes” developed by the Human Rights Commission to assist with DDA compliance in the areas of employment and access to information.
- Introduction of a tactile symbol, to distinguish asthma medications; and the subsequent introduction of tactile markings and increased font sizes on pharmaceuticals and other household products
- Adoption by Government, commercial and community organisations, of procedures to provide safety, corporate, policy, billing and consumer related documentation in braille and other accessible formats
- Development of the Radio for the Print Handicapped network
- Implementation by the home entertainment DVD industry of a protocol to maximise the availability of Audio Description on mass distribution DVDs
- Conduct by the ABC of Australia’s first trial of Audio Description on Broadcast Television
- Commitment from the major cinema operators, in association with the Australian Government, to introduce Audio Description as part of their conversion to digital projection
- The introduction, by specialist library providers in Australia, of the DAISY structured audio system, to facilitate access to the content of text books and other reference material
- Active participation in discussions that lead to the rationalisation and merger of various blindness service agencies
- Decisions by the Reserve Bank of Australia, to include high contrast numbering, distinct colours (and now tactile markings), as design features of Australia’s banknotes
- Provision by the Reserve Bank of “CashTest” a simple tactile measure to differentiate between the various note denominations
- Inclusion of tactile design features, to meet the needs of blind users, when Australia introduced the $1 and $2 coins to replace previous banknotes
- The change in terminology to identify people as “vision impaired” rather than “visually impaired” – as vision relates to sight while visually relates to appearance
- The adoption and policing of local laws in many municipalities, to minimise the hazard caused to blind pedestrians from overhanging foliage; the placement of street furniture and signage; and the use of inadequate protective barriers around work sites
- Agreement across all jurisdictions, to offer reciprocity for use of state based taxi and public transport concessions for travellers who are blind or vision impaired
- Development in Australia of early computer based technologies, (such as the Mountbatten Brailler and Eureka A4 computer), to facilitate independent written communication
- Growing awareness among website developers and operators, of the need to ensure that their online presence complies with W3C protocols for accessibility
- The introduction (and accreditation under the Financial Transaction Reports Act) of the BCA Identity Card, for use by people who are vision impaired, in place of a drivers licence
- Provision by the Australian Electoral Commission (and for a number of years the major political parties) of key information about the conduct, candidates, (and party policies) in the lead up to Federal Elections
- The development and availability of accessible voting systems in most Australian jurisdictions
- Provision by the Bureau of Statistics of householder information and the text of the Census form in the lead up to each Population Census
- Introduction by the major banks of audio output and tactile markings, to assist access to Automated Teller Machines
- Development of The Employment Information Service, an accessible database containing the employment profiles of blind people, to inform both prospective employers and job applicants who were blind or vision impaired
- Input into the development of various i-phone and android apps to ensure their usability by people who are blind or vision impaired
- The continued availability and more recent extension of audible announcements on public transport services and at rail stations, tram stops and the like
- The introduction in most jurisdictions of tactile numbering to assist with taxi and driver identification
- Provision by the Australian Government of Talking Set Top Boxes, in association with the switchover to Digital Television
- Community education initiatives, to enhance awareness of the blindness related expectations and complaints mechanisms embodied in the Disability Discrimination Act and similar state/territory legislation
- Ongoing advocacy, to reinforce the right of dog guide users to access restaurants, taxis and other public facilities
- Consumer research and education initiatives, in association with the Australian Braille Authority, to secure adoption in Australia of the Unified English Braille Code
- Production of a weekly radio program, that has aired nationally for more than thirty years on more than twenty RPH and Community Radio outlets and via the Internet
- Early adoption of internet streaming, as a platform to enable remote participation in national and international conferences and meetings
- Leadership in Australia of a campaign to have blinding laser weapons banned, through a resolution of the United Nations General Assembly.