Image shows Ellen Boucher, Digital Communications Advisor, smiling in an office

This month we get to know Ellen Boucher, Digital Communications Advisor.

Ellen looks after the Blind Foundation’s digital presence. She looks after the Blind Foundation website, the Comms team’s Pegasus pages, and Blind Foundation social media. Ellen also looks after digital comms for the newly-formed Access Alliance.

A typical day for Ellen includes some edits and additions to things like events and job listings on the website, checking how our website and social media are doing in terms of how many people are looking at things, meeting with managers and anyone who’s a subject-matter expert to talk about their content, and being on hand for anything that needs doing, like fixing broken links or little mistakes in content. Ellen is always hunting for new stories to share on social media- so if you have a good story from your area, or if you’ve found something cool related to blindness or disabled people, she would love to hear about it!

Since starting at the Blind Foundation in January a particular work highlight for Ellen has been reading the Blind Foundation news for the Telephone Information Service. Ellen says recording the news is a lot of fun, and of course her Mum has phoned in to listen and is very proud.

Ellen’s favourite thing about working at the Blind Foundation is the people, “I really like my team and that makes a huge difference day to day. In terms of my job, I absolutely love that I’m working for an organisation that values accessibility and Plain English.”

Ellen is very into Live Action Role Play (LARP) and participates in it in her spare time. The best way to explain it is dressing up and playing pretend for adults. You play a character, costumed accordingly, and tell a story by roleplaying with other people. It’s improvisation, but the only audience is other people in the game. The usual perception is that it’s all high fantasy ‘Lord of the Rings’ type stuff, but the genres vary widely. Ellen has played everything from an android to Jane Austen, to a five-year-old at a birthday party. This weekend, Ellen is playing in a game set in the world of the Three Musketeers, where she is playing a crime-solving Nun!

Image shows hands typing on a braille keyboard

Thursday 18 May is Global Access Awareness Day. The purpose of this day is to get everyone talking, thinking and learning about digital access and inclusion for people with different disabilities. Being blind or having low vison doesn’t stop your need to buy products, enjoy services and be part of society like everyone else. Often sighted people take for granted the ability to access websites and documents freely and easily and the impact not being provided access to such things can have on your life.

Making a document or website accessible means that someone who is blind or has low vision can access the information. There are many ways you can help to make the world around us more accessible. If your website is accessible adaptive technology can help blind or low vison users read the content. If your brochures are available by email as accessible PDFs, the same technology can help them access the information. If your menu is available in braille, a blind dinner will be able to choose their dish of the day.

There are lots of simple tricks you can use to create an accessible website.  The most common ones are:

  • Images and animations: use the alt attribute to describe the function of each visual.
  • Image maps: use the client-side map and text for hotspots.
  • Multi-media: provide captioning and transcripts of audio, and descriptions of video.
  • Hypertext links: use text that makes sense when read out of context.  For example, avoid ‘click here’.
  • Page organisation: use headings, lists, and consistent structure.  Use CSS for layout and style where possible.
  • Graphs and charts: summarise or use the longdesc attribute.
  • Scripts, applets and plug-ins: provide alternative content in case active features are inaccessible or unsupported.
  • Frames: use the noframes element and meaningful titles.
  • Tables: make line-by-line reading sensible.  Summarize.
  • Check your work: validate.  Use tools, checklists and guidelines at the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines website.

If you want expert advice, the Blind Foundation team are here to help. Our free advice line provides quick tips and answers. We can also quote on a full service whether you want your current site evaluated or need to develop a new site. Give our team a call on 0800 932 847 or email access@blindfoundation.org.nz.

Image shows blind University of Auckland student Áine Kelly-Costello

Áine Kelly-Costello is a blind University of Auckland student studying Honours in Spanish, alongside French courses. She divides the rest of her time between her passions for music (mainly Celtic and Classical), languages, quality catch-ups with friends, and advocacy both for disability rights and action on climate change. Áine has written the following piece on why accessibility is important to her.

Consider these two personal anecdotes.

1. I’m blind and I’m catching a bus home from University. I know where to catch the bus, and I also know the route to walk home from my bus-stop at the other end. Hopping on the bus, I ask the driver to let me know when we get to my stop, providing the exact street corner. The driver doesn’t know where my bus stop is even though I’m sure it is on this bus route. I sit down anyway, having asked the driver to please look it up, as I’ll get lost if I get off at the wrong stop. The driver offers a non-committal grunt and we are on our way. The driver tells me I’m at my stop what feels like a little too soon, but I can’t be sure. I repeat the street corner and try to quickly check my phone, which is hard because he didn’t give me warning, so now everyone is waiting. The driver is getting more adamant it’s correct, so I get off the bus. Now, I have a good look (listen) to the map and discover I’m one bus stop too early. I get home in decent time, only thanks to the help of a kind stranger with a car.

2. I’ve been selected by my university to attend some sustainability leadership training. I ask where it is and the University staff member responding remembers I’m blind and offers to walk with me there as it’s about ten minutes away from the bulk of the campus. I gladly accept. A couple days later, I receive an email from another staff member (let’s call her Sally), noting that she mentioned to the presenter that I’m blind and the presenter has some visual material she will need to go over quite quickly. Sally takes the initiative to offer to run through these slides with me before the event and I also gratefully accept. At the beginning of the training day, Sally introduces me to the presenter who, it turns out, is keen to learn about how she can best describe her slides to make sure blind people are best able to interact with their visual elements. I’m more than happy to note down suggestions throughout the day, although thanks to the foresight of Sally, who ran through the slides with me, I barely get lost anyway.

A truly accessible Aotearoa is full of people like Sally who seek to honour their individual responsibility as part of a collective effort to ensure people with disabilities or other access needs feel fully included. A question we ask ourselves regularly in the advocacy space, I think, is “what is the most effective way of bringing more New Zealanders to this point?”. But I would rather focus on these two questions:

What methods will help us change mindsets? and

Why is each one effective and how can they complement each other? Below, I’ll do some cherry-picking, based on the areas I happen to know best.

The Blind Foundation gave me the opportunity to participate in some accessibility advocacy training last year. This lead me to taking up an internship with the Blind Foundation this summer, campaigning under the Access Matters banner for new accessibility legislation. Legislation can help make Aotearoa truly accessible because it has the potential to address the systemic roots of not being accessible. One of those roots surrounds the need to address what we, as people with disabilities, believe the concept of “accessibility” means and why access matters to us. Legislation would give us a platform to not only put our views in writing but ensure that all parties needing to comply are then aware of that collective view. Another root involves the need to push accessibility up the agendas of organisations and businesses and we can achieve this by putting deadlines on the writing and implementation of minimum accessibility standards.

An additional channel of advocacy, important to me, is that accomplished through Disabled People’s Organisations.  Here we, as disabled people, advocate on multiple issues for outcomes which will improve our quality of life. For instance, I am currently advocating via the Auckland Branch of Blind Citizens New Zealand for our local public library’s EBook service OverDrive to be more accessible. Finally, I, along with my fellow citizens with disabilities, spend no insignificant part of my life explaining why I need access to be improved andoften why that access is important or stating what I would miss out on without it.

This is a snapshot of just a few of the advocacy channels which seek to make Aotearoa truly accessible. It is often no easy feat to work out where we fit in among the numerous access barriers clamouring for our attention. As individuals and organisations, we may all have different priorities in terms of how we visualise creating an accessible country.  However, ultimately we would all, I think, like to see people with disabilities spend more time living the life they choose and less time removing unnecessary access barriers. I am proud to play some small part in advocating for this change.  I am grateful to the Blind Foundation for their tremendous support in empowering me to become a more thoughtful, strategic, and—I hope—effective accessibility advocate. Access matters — it will matter to me every day for the rest of my life — and I am excited to think that my actions can be harnessed to help communicate this message to all New Zealanders.

Brooke standing in front of red poppy display

Apologies for my absence last week, I have been enjoying my holiday up north. However, I know my blog was in good paws.

I hope you all had a good ANZAC Day, I know I did. I helped with fundraising for Red Poppy Day. I’m all about giving back and I’m glad I could help with another worthy cause. My boarder also took me to the Dawn and Citizens Parades where I behaved myself very well among the crowds. Afterwards, I went to the RSA and made friends with some cadets.

My boarder says I’m doing fabulously. I’ve truly mastered the car and have been practicing my commands. I’ve got the hang of them which means much to my displeasure, it’s time to learn to do them without treats. That’s okay though, I’m having so many new experiences that more than make up for my lack of extra goodies.

I met an extra fluffy new creature, which I believe you call a cat. I’d seen one or two around before, but I’d never been so close to one. We’ve made friends pretty quickly.

Speaking of friends, I also met up with some other guide dog puppies. Being the confident and energetic puppy I am, I picked the two biggest boys to be my playmates. I need someone who can keep up with me after all.

I’ve been spending a lot of time with children as well. I used to get a little too excited when I met little people, but I’ve had a lot of practice and I’m calming down now.

I’ll update you next week with more holiday pics!

Ted sitting on the deck at home

Met Ted, an old guide dog puppy in training previously known as Endal.

Ted is a Labrador and Golden Retriever mix, born in the summer of 2014 to mum Summer and dad Abbot. About a year into Ted’s life it became clear he was suffering from a hip issues. While these were relatively minor issues, they meant that Ted was not fit to continue with training. It is always tough having to withdraw puppies from the programme, but being a guide dog is an important role. Our staff need to make sure all pups are in good health and pass all assessments. When a puppy doesn’t meet requirements, our staff do their best to help them find a suitable change in career.

Luckily for Ted, we were able to match him with a loving family in Christchurch. They were more than happy to adopt him, and Ted has been enjoying his new role as beloved family pet ever since. His family says that he is “such a well behaved boy and an integral member of our family. We totally recommend adopting from the Blind Foundation and wouldn’t get a dog any other way.” Check out the photos that Ted’s family kindly provided on our Facebook page.

Interested in adopting a guide dog or puppy? Read more about our requirements and adoption process.

 

Guide Dog puppy Frankie

Frankie is enjoying some more relaxation time with her puppy walkers. She has had a slow development, which delayed her breeding assessment. She doesn’t mind though – she has absolutely made the most of lazy summer days.

Now finally, Frankie has had some good news: she’s still being considered for the breeding programme!

That means Frankie won’t go into training just yet. She’ll enjoy some chill time with her puppy walkers while her hormones settle, before coming to our kennels to complete her assessment. Then we’ll be able to share what the future holds for this lovely pup.

Guide dog puppy Frankie on the deck
Frankie relaxing and enjoying some summer sun
 

Black labrador wearing bunny ears

I’ve been practicing my skills this week. I really think I’ve mastered the basics like wait and sit, and I have excellent manners. I haven’t quite got my head around “puppy yoga” which is basically going between sit, down, and stand, but there’s plenty of time for me to learn. I can tell you my downward dog is perfect. I’ve got a lot more energy now which makes it a bit harder to concentrate. My puppy walker is taking me for lots of walks but I still want to play when I get home. When I’m not walking, sleeping, listening I do love to hang out and chew my favourite toys.

Speaking of chewing, I’ve lost nearly all my baby teeth now, I didn’t get any pocket money for them though. Hopefully the Easter Bunny is more generous than the tooth fairy!

I can’t wait to become a fully qualified guide dog so I can help people. I’ve already started by telling the Blind Foundation Communications team my opinion on projects. I make sure I’m loud enough for them to notice me so if you hear crying around the Blind Foundation office, it’s either me trying to help out or, the comms team not being allowed to pat me when I’m in work mode.

I have some bad news for my workmates; next week I won’t be around the office. I’m going up North to a boarder’s for a few weeks to see how adaptable I am. The long drive will be a real test of how well I do in the car. I’ll probably nap so I have plenty of energy to explore my new surroundings. I’m looking forward to the change of scenery and meeting a new temporary family. I can’t wait to show them how clever I am. Hopefully they’ll be a bit soft and I’ll get lots of treats.

I’ll make sure to share my holiday photos when I get back.

Until next time, Happy Easter!

I hope you are all ok following the stormy weather this week.

I don’t mind the rain so much. I really like sitting and watching it through the glass door at home. Unlike my walker, I don’t mind getting wet walking in the rain as long as I have my jacket on. The only thing I don’t like about stormy weather is the grass getting wet. It takes a bit of encouragement to get these paws wet!

I’ve got some new equipment this week. A bigger jacket, and a tether chain for the office. I’m glad I have a bigger jacket as I’m growing so quickly, the other one was getting a bit tight. I’m very proud to walk around the street with it on. I like showing people what an important job I’ve been trusted with.

The new tether chain is taking a bit of getting used to. I’m making sure everyone in the office knows I’m not happy about it, but they’re doing all the right things to set me up for success. Like all new things, it just takes a bit of time to get comfortable. Besides new equipment or old equipment, nothing is getting in the way of my naps.

I’m getting used to staying home by myself. I can be left alone for a few hours now, as long as I have something to entertain me. A little bit of peanut butter is my new favourite treat.

Make sure you stay safe in the weather. I’ll update you again next week.