Access Awards 2016 logo

Do you want to see an outstanding disabled artist recognised? Or how about a leader providing access to the arts for people in New Zealand? Nominations to this year’s Arts Access Awards are now open. Nominations close on Monday 11 April 2016.

The Arts Access Awards celebrate the contribution of individuals, groups and organisations in providing access to the arts. They also acknowledge the achievements and contribution of a New Zealand-based artist with a physical, sensory or intellectual impairment, or lived experience of mental ill-health.

Visit the Arts Access Aotearoa website for more information on the categories and how to nominate.

Neil Jarvis holding the orbit braille reader

The Blind Foundation has helped develop a new affordable braille reader for people living with sight loss around the world.

The Orbit braille reader was launched last week at the Annual International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference in San Diego, California.

It is the first refreshable braille reader which is both affordable and portable.

A refreshable braille display is a device that allows a person who is blind or has low vision to read the contents of a display, like a computer, one text line at a time as a line of braille characters.

Until now, braille displays have cost from around $3,000 upwards, putting them out of reach for many people around the world.

In contrast, the new Orbit braille reader will retail for less than US$500 (NZ$742), providing an important new option for people who are blind or have low vision to access literacy at an affordable cost.

The Blind Foundation was one of 10 organisations worldwide involved in creating the new technology, along with the Royal National Institute for the Blind in England, National Federation of the Blind in the United States, American Printing House for the Blind, Canadian National Institute for the Blind, Perkins, the Norwegian Association of the Blind and Partially Sighted, Association Valentin HauY, Sightsavers, and Vision Australia.

The Blind Foundation provided research and development funding, expertise and testing.

In addition to the Blind Foundation contributing financially, Executive Director of Strategic Relations and Accessibility Neil Jarvis was on the board of managing members of the company set up by the agencies to create the display.

Neil says the display, which takes flash cards and has USB and Bluetooth capabilities, will give people greater access to computers, mobile devices and is great for reading electronic books.

“Rather than carry a book in seven or eight volumes, which is not uncommon for a novel in braille, you might be able to carry around thousands of books on a single flash card,” says Mr Jarvis.

“Reading is one of the everyday activities most affected by sight loss and making braille displays accessible to more people who are blind or have low vision will provide them with options and opportunities they may not have otherwise been able to afford.”

The Blind Foundation will be the exclusive supplier of the Orbit braille reader in New Zealand, which will be available later in the year.

Client reading braille

Hello all,

Welcome to this issue of the Braille Mail. Braille Mail is the newsletter produced by me, the Blind Foundation’s Braille Awareness Consultant, with news about all things braille at the Blind Foundation. It is available on the Telephone Information Service (TIS) at option 351, by email, or in braille. If you want to change the way you receive it, please contact me using the details at the end of this newsletter. It’s been a while since the last Braille Mail, so there’s a lot to let you know about.

Read the Braille Mail April 2016 newsletter (.doc)

Picture of Lance Girling-Butcher

Congratulations to Blind Foundation client Lance Girling-Butcher who has been announced as the first Champion for the SuperSeniors programme.

Outstanding advocates for an age-friendly society will become SuperSeniors Champions under a new programme launched by Seniors Minister, Maggie Barry.

“The Champions will be inspirational role models who embody the idea of positive ageing. They will raise awareness of our ageing population, how we can make our towns and cities better places to be old, and advocate for the voices of seniors to be heard in their communities,” says Maggie.

Lance is a committed campaigner for older and disabled people in the New Plymouth region. He is currently working with the Office for Seniors to introduce the Community Connects model to the region.

“This is a privilege and an honour,” says Lance.

“It’s important for the whole community to get on top of our ageing population and it’s also an opportunity to respect and recognise older people.”

a guide dog puppy with a laptop

The Blind Foundation is excited with the release of its new-look website.

This month we launched a bright, inviting site where our visitors will easily find the information they’re after.

Developed based on feedback from people who are blind or have low vision, volunteers and donors – we think it does the trick!

There are plenty of highlights to discover which include an easy navigation, slick search function and searchable events and news sections. The new site has been built to be responsive so that it works on all devices. It is also built with accessibility and usability as top priorities.

Client and guide dog

We often get asked questions from people wanting facts about guide dogs. Here are top ten facts:

1.    Our puppies on the puppy development programme, our dogs in training and our breeding stock and pups in the breeding centre eat up to three tonnes of premium dog food per month!

2.    We have a staff member dedicated to finding new homes for those dogs that aren’t suited to guiding work. This is sometimes with another service or as a pet in a home where the family will care for them and give them a happy life.

3.    The first guide dog was established in Germany in Oldenberg by Dr Gerhard Stalling in August 1916. This was to help guide service men blinded in WW1.

4.    Our puppies are normal puppies and do normal naughty puppy things – they aren’t miniature guide dogs.

5.    The puppies live inside the home as a member of the family.

6.    They have plenty of ‘play’ time when they aren’t out in their red coats

7.    Guide dogs are not robots, they can make mistakes!

8.    We operate every day of every year as our dogs and pups need constant care and attention. Over the Christmas holidays we had 29 baby puppies in the guide dog centre with staff caring for them seven days per week.

9.    Each litter is named after a letter from the alphabet and in alphabetical order.

10. Their red coat (and ID medallion) mean that they have legal access to all public places.

Denise with her bird Rikki the MacawPhoto of Denise with her bird Rikki the Macaw

Meet Denise Ireland, Guide Dog Development Manager from Guide Dogs.

Denise manages the Guide Dog Development team, which includes people and dogs. Their goal is to ensure that the puppies have every chance of success to go on to become guide dogs.

“The Guide Dog Development team receives puppies from nine weeks of age and they stay with us till they are around 20 months old. At which time they qualify as a safe and efficient guide and are matched to their client,” says Denise.

A teaching element is another part of her role, of both staff and dogs, which makes it varied and challenging. They go to different locations around Auckland to assess and train guide dogs.

Denise has been working at the Blind Foundation since 1992. When asked what her highlights were, she says she doesn’t know where to begin!

One highlight Denise recalls was a few years ago, when a guide dog in training was unresponsive to her cadet trainer.

“This was something new for the cadet and she felt like she had done something wrong. She decided to take the dog into her home and played lots of interactive toy games until she found a game that it liked. The cadet worked hard to build up a relationship with the dog, and I could see the dog’s ability to train improve.”

In the end Denise says that the dog’s attitude to her work was one of the best she’d seen.

“To watch them both grow was very rewarding. Better still the dog went on to work with a new applicant in the South Island, and the client is always talking about how this four legged girl has changed his life for the better!”

Outside of work you can find Denise in her lifestyle block with her husband and two boys, birds, sheep, goats, cats, chickens, ducks and a lizard!

Photo of Liz and guide dog puppy Rae

When Liz Wright saw her first guide dog she knew that one day she’d become a puppy walker.

“It all started in the 80s when I was working as a nurse. I met a woman who had a guide dog called Honey. I decided I would be a puppy walker once I retired. When my husband Gerry retired that was exactly what we did!” Says Liz.

“It really grew from there, I became addicted!”

Thirteen years and eight puppies later, Liz is now puppy walking 16 month old guide dog puppy Rae.

Liz and Gerry have had Rae since she was eight weeks old. “It is the best thing I’ve ever done as a volunteer, by a country mile! It is one the most rewarding things I’ve done. I love dogs and seeing them working lets you see another side of them.”

“What makes it all worth it is seeing them progress, especially the ones who’ve had behavior issues. It’s also neat to hear from a dog’s new handler and them telling us what a difference it’s made.”

Paula Gemmell, Puppy Development Coordinator says that Liz and Gerry are just star volunteers.

“They have been amazing volunteers for many years. What is wonderful about Liz is her continued thirst for knowledge and how she puts all this knowledge into practice with whatever puppy or dog she has at the moment. The dogs she works with always return to us with a high level of obedience and an ease of manageability. She is a valued member of our team!”


Eilish and guide dog Loie

Eilish Wilkes never dreamed she would have her own freedom and independence until guide dog Loie came along.

Last August Loie became Eilish’s first guide dog, and in those seven months the pair have developed an amazing partnership.

“It feels like we’ve been together for so much longer, Loie and I are very rarely apart,” she says.

Loie has become her constant companion and changed the way Eilish, 19, gets on with her day to day tasks.

“She is a point of conversation everywhere I go; it has opened a lot of doors for me.”

“I had limited independence and mobility, I was unable to go anywhere without a sighted person. I felt very isolated and was confined to my home.”

Everyday they walk to different locations together, sometimes travelling on the bus or ferry.

Guide Dog Mobility Instructor Colin Christie worked with the pair and is pleased to see their partnership develop.

“Eilish is an enthusiastic handler who put in a lot of effort to improve her mobility. It was fantastic to witness the improvement in Eilish’s confidence and now there is no stopping her. It was a pleasure playing a small part within a big team at the Blind Foundation to help make this possible for Eilish and her family.”

Eilish is looking forward to having Loie by her side as she starts her first year at Massey University.

“I am undertaking a Bachelor of Arts degree with a major in English and a minor in rehabilitation studies,” says Eilish.

“Loie will give me the opportunity to independently get to and from university via public transport. She will help me to navigate my way around the university campus as well.”

“I can’t imagine my life without Loie. I am so grateful to all the people who made it possible for her to become my very first guide dog and my best friend.”

Person using TIS on telephone

The Blind Foundation are seeking new TISners who are interested in receiving training on the Telephone Information Service (TIS).

What is TIS? 
TIS enables users to listen to a variety of recorded bulletins with their touch-tone telephones to access information.

What will you find in TIS?

  • Over 2500 newspaper articles every week.
  • News from the Blind Foundation.
  • Blind community group feedback lines.
  • Information for your local area.
  • Radio and TV schedules, and much more!

The training sessions will run via telephone conference and will guide you through how to use TIS, what it has to offer and how to setup your account.

We haven’t set a time and date for these sessions yet. At this stage we are looking for expressions of interest.

If you are interested in taking part in the training session please email Jessica at or phone Jessica on 09 355 6891.