Our Purpose

To enable people who are blind or have low vision to be self-reliant and live the life they choose.

Our Vision

Kahore e Mutunga ki te Ora – Life without limits

The Blind Foundation has played a pivotal role in the development of New Zealand’s social service sector, and in the establishment of some basic rights and freedoms.

Since it was founded in 1890, the Blind Foundation has moved from a cradle to grave paternalistic organisation to what it is today.

Over the last 125 years the blind community’s advocacy achieved significant wins for blind people and those with low vision such as the closure of workshops and hostels in the 1980’s, to the introduction of benefit concessions for blind people.

The Blind Foundation continues to work collaboratively with blindness consumer organisations to remove the barriers that prevent blind and low vision people from enjoying equal access, equal opportunities, equal participation and equal mobility within the community.

Blind Foundation Position Statements

Read our position statements below to find out where we stand on issues related to blindness and low vision.

Access to Equipment and Technology

Issue

Blind people and those with low vision are unable to use much of the equipment and technology that is widely available to perform everyday tasks.

Statement

The RNZFB Board believes that:

  • Equipment and technology in everyday use needs to enable self-reliance for those who are blind or have low vision.
  • Equipment and technology should be affordable and in some circumstances be government funded.

Background

People who are blind or have low vision should be able to use equipment and technology to perform everyday tasks, but the equipment and technology that is widely available may not be usable by people who have vision loss. Adaptive equipment and technology is essential in compensating for sight loss.

Over the past two decades, there has been a growing trend towards the use of visual interfaces such as onscreen menus and touch screens on a wide range of mainstream equipment and technology. A considerable proportion of this equipment is not accessible to people who cannot see the visual display or locate trigger points on the touch screen.

Touch screen-based queuing systems are becoming widespread in government offices and elsewhere, but, without exception, they are inaccessible to blind people.

In addition, the trend to deliver services via automated computer systems for banking transactions and many other routine tasks online can be an added barrier for people who are blind or have low vision. This online system works for those people who are able to use online banking but people that do not have access to a computer and/or the internet are charged extra for transactions over the counter or incur significant inconvenience. More consideration needs to be given to these issues as systems and procedures are designed.

What the Blind Foundation Will Do:

  • Influence technology design so it is accessible and easy to use.
  • Support organisations seeking to increase the availability of affordable, accessible equipment in New Zealand.
  • Raise awareness among New Zealand exporters about designing for everyone and how to make goods and services “born accessible” to maximise international market potential.
  • Partner with international bodies to promote the commercial benefits to mainstream equipment and technology manufacturers of designing for everyone.
  • Increase public awareness of how making equipment and technology accessible for people who are blind or have low vision benefits everyone.
  • Continue to investigate options to provide a wider range of useful equipment and technology solutions and provide training in their use.

What the Blind Foundation Wants Government to Do:

  • Specify accessibility in procurement of equipment and technology used for public purposes. Accessibility is defined as the “extent to which products, systems, services, environments and facilities can be used by people from a population with the widest range of characteristics and capabilities to achieve a specified goal in a specified context of use.”
  • Ensure that all government sourced funding for assessment and training services and equipment keeps pace with demand and makes independent living as important as personal safety when assessing funding applications.
  • Ensure there is consistency of funding criteria for technology applied by government and government-funded agencies.
  • Make information about government funding of disability related equipment easy to find and transparent.

Access to Information and Communication

Issue

Less than 10% of published information generally available to the community is available also in a format that blind and low vision people can access.[2]

Statement

The RNZFB Board believes that:

  • People who are blind or have low vision should have access to all information at the same cost and time as everyone else.
  • It should be mandatory that all organisations in New Zealand ensure that web-based information conforms to the New Zealand Government’s Web Accessibility Standard 1.0 and Web Usability Standard 1.2.
  • Legislated accessibility standards should be enforced in all sectors of the economy and community.

Background

Access to printed information is essential to independent and full participation in the community. Environmental cues such as those in the following list may be difficult or impossible for blind people and those with low vision to access:

  • Street-signs and building numbers.
  • Transport and travel assistance such as bus timetables and city maps.
  • Interfaces for household appliances or community services such as touch screens and onscreen displays at information kiosks.

Lack of access to published information is the single biggest barrier to employment, education and effective participation in many aspects of society for people with sight loss. These days, most published information originates on a computer, so should be developed and produced according to well-accepted accessibility standards and conventions. This will facilitate making information available in alternative formats, including large print, audio, electronic text and braille.

With an ageing and more diverse consumer market, it is important that service organisations ensure all customer-facing staff can provide accessible customer service, including the ability to handle accessible format enquiries. Advice on the best ways to present accessible information is available from competent accessible information suppliers.

The Round Table on Information Access for People with Print Disabilities Inc. provides guidelines to assist organisations to handle accessible format requirements. See: http://printdisability.org/

What the Blind Foundation Will Do:

  • Advise government, business, industry and the community on accessible formats.
  • Encourage people with a print disability to explain when published material is not accessible and request accommodation.
  • Increase public awareness of how making all forms of written communications accessible for people who are blind or have low vision benefits everyone.
  • Join with other disability agencies to advocate for an Accessible New Zealand Act that will enforce mandatory accessibility standards applicable to all sectors of the economy and community.

What the Blind Foundation Wants Government to Do:

  • Expand the coverage of the New Zealand Government’s Web Accessibility Standard 1.0 and Web Usability Standard 1.2 to non-central government entities: schools, local health authorities, social and justice services, local councils and crown entities.
  • Encourage, and, where possible, require businesses to adopt information accessibility practices (web and print).
  • Require government procurement to conform to specified accessibility standards.
  • Accede to the Marrakesh Treaty adopted by the World Intellectual Property Organisation in 2013.
  • Ensure every library has a print disability collection.
  • Require public sector agencies to provide accessible formats or have arrangements in place to meet requests from people with print disabilities for accessible formats, including communication and information in Te Reo Māori.

Access to Public Transport

Issue

Blind and low vision public transport users do not have the same access as sighted people do to bus, taxi, train, plane and ferry services.

Statement:

The RNZFB Board believes that:

  • All public transport users, including those who are blind or have low vision, have the right to travel independently and safely.

Background

Without safe, accessible public transport, individuals who are blind or have low vision have reduced independence, higher rates of unemployment, limited recreational opportunities, and increased social isolation. The majority of Blind Foundation clients are not using public transport to get around.

There are many facets to public transport, and each may present accessibility barriers. People with vision loss are disproportionately more reliant on public transport than other New Zealanders. It is essential that they are able to plan journeys, access timetables, locate boarding positions, identify destinations and travel to and from these locations safely and independently.

People who are blind or who have low vision use taxis more than their sighted peers do in order to travel independently. Taxi systems and passenger information are designed for sighted people. This places blind and low vision people at a significant disadvantage in being able to direct the driver, monitor their journey or make complaints. The New Zealand Transport Agency had directed that all taxis must display the name of the company, a number for passengers to call to make complaints and the cab number in braille and large print on the front left-hand passenger door. However, this requirement was rescinded when taxi regulations changed.

Another example and a frequent problem experienced by guide dog handlers is the lack of awareness among taxi operators and drivers of their obligation to carry guide dogs. Some taxi drivers still refuse to take a blind passenger with a guide dog. This is now illegal but is not being monitored by the authorities.

In other cases, audible stopping and destination signals and other passenger information systems are either not installed or not consistently used on buses, trains and at stations when they should be.

What the Blind Foundation Will Do:

  • Encourage blind people and those with low vision to provide feedback to transport operators on service issues.
  • Develop solutions with the public transport sector to improve the accessibility of the transport journey for blind and low vision users.
  • Work with the pan-disability community to develop a standard for disability awareness training for public transport operators.
  • Advise transport providers and the Human Rights Commission on how to improve complaint resolution and outcomes for blind people and those with low vision relating to public transport.
  • Work with consumer organisations to advocate for accessible public transport.
  • Advise the New Zealand Transport Agency, the Ministry of Transport, the Local Government Association and local territorial authorities on improvements to public transport accessibility.
  • Provide the New Zealand Transport Agency and the taxi industry with information on audio-equipped EFTPOS terminals and taxi meters.
  • Work with the taxi industry to improve awareness that refusal to carry a passenger with a guide dog constitutes an offence under the Transport Act.

What the Blind Foundation Wants Central and Local Government to Do:

  • Commit to accessible public transport around the country.
  • Make appropriate disability awareness training mandatory for public transport operators.
  • Improve complaints handling processes so that issues people who are blind or have low vision might have may be resolved.
  • Make the Total Mobility Scheme nationally consistent.
  • Ensure that all websites and digital applications providing public transport information are accessible.
  • Work with the taxi industry to install meters that have audio output and accessible fare payment information and options.
  • Ensure each bus or train stop is announced in a way that is clearly audible throughout the vehicle and on the platform.
  • Where a transport provider uses a smart fare card system, ensure that commuters who are blind or have low vision are able to independently load, use and monitor the validity of their smart fare card.
  • Require a nationally integrated fare card system for public transport.
  • Require public transport planners to consult the Blind Foundation about the design of the network, infrastructure and information systems to ensure facilities and services are integrated and accessible to people who are blind or have low vision.

Access to the Built Environment

Issue

Public spaces and buildings are not fully accessible for people who are blind or have low vision.

Statement

The RNZFB Board believes that:

  • The needs of all users of public buildings and spaces must be taken into account in developing infrastructure in New Zealand.
  • It is time to develop and legislate for a mandatory standard of access to public spaces and buildings.

Background

For many blind people, the built environment acts as a barrier to their participation in the community. The inability to fully access the facilities that everyone else in the community takes for granted – footpaths, cafes, public buildings, swimming pools, libraries, sporting facilities and movie theatres – limits independence and impacts on quality of life.

Most often access to the built environment is thought of only in terms of wheelchair access within buildings and carparks. Blind or low vision users are often not considered.

Blind people and those with low vision must be able to use footpaths safely and effectively. When cyclists and pedestrians share pathways, there is an increased potential for pedestrians to be injured. Cyclists move more quickly than pedestrians move and blind people and those with low vision often cannot hear them.

There are existing standards that apply to the built environment, such as the New Zealand Standard 4121:2001 Design for access and mobility: Building and associated facilities [by authority of compliance document for clause D1 Access Routes of the New Zealand Building Code].

What the Blind Foundation Will Do:

  • Encourage blind people to express their needs and explain when something is not accessible.
  • Work with infrastructure specialists, local authorities, building developers, owners and local and central government to advise how to improve access to public buildings and the built environment, and contribute to accessibility audits.
  • Seek an undertaking from the Property Council of New Zealand to reduce constraints for blind and low vision users of public spaces and buildings.
  • Support efforts to enshrine universal design in the Building Act and the Building Code and establish mandatory access standards for public building and spaces.
  • Increase public awareness of how making the environment accessible for people who are blind or have low vision benefits everyone.

What the Blind Foundation Wants Government to Do:

  • Investigate what comparable countries are doing to create the conditions where building developers, designers and owners design for all users when designing, upgrading, modifying and retrofitting public buildings and spaces.
  • Ensure that public sector procurement practices for public spaces and buildings specify accessibility standards.
  • Support efforts to enshrine Universal Design in the Building Act and the Building Code and establish mandatory access standards for public building and spaces.
  • Amend legislation and regulations to set a clear expectation of what access standards must be.
  • Require access audits to be included in the design process and to be reviewed (as are fire safety standards) and adhered to.
  • Remove shared use paths until minimum safety standards are met.
  • Give priority and sufficient resources to the implementation of the Malatest Report on the revision of the Building Code and NZ Standard 4121.
  • Enact a comprehensive accessibility law that will provide enforceable standards for all aspects of the built environment.

Accessible Elections

Issue

The choice to vote independently and confidentially is not available to blind people and those with low vision.

Statement

The RNZFB Board believes that:

  • The telephone dictation voting trial that enabled blind people and those with low vision to participate in the 2014 general election should be available also for Local Government elections and referenda.
  • Electronic voting in general elections, local government elections and referenda should be available in time for the general election in 2020.

Background

In March 2008, the New Zealand Government ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Article 29 of the convention states, in part, that: “Parties will ensure that persons with disabilities can effectively and fully participate in political and public life on an equal basis with others, directly or through freely chosen representatives, including the right and opportunity for persons with disabilities to vote and be elected.” This is to be accomplished by, among other things, “ensuring that voting procedures, facilities and materials are appropriate, accessible and easy to understand and use” and by “protecting the right of persons with disabilities to vote by secret ballot in elections and public referendums without intimidation.” (See Note 1.)

Blind people and those with low vision do not have the choice to vote independently and confidentially. They must rely on third parties to mark their ballot. Polling stations are not accessible; officials lack awareness of how to accommodate them. The information about candidates and the policies of their political parties are not available in accessible formats.

What the Blind Foundation Will Do:

  • Monitor international best practice on accessible election standards and be a conduit for innovation in services for people who are blind or have low vision.
  • Advise political parties and candidates on best practice on access to published information.
  • Increase public awareness of how making the democratic process accessible for people who are blind or have low vision benefits everyone.

What the Blind Foundation Wants Government, Political Parties and Candidates to Do:

  • Extend the telephone dictation voting to include local government elections and referendums.
  • Continue to develop accessible electronic voting options.
  • Mandate that audio-description be included in all party political and public service announcements where videos or TV information are used to convey information in a non-verbal way.
  • Train election officials on how to assist voters who are blind or have low vision and ensure polling stations and polling booths are accessible to blind and low vision voters. (See Note 1.)
  • Make all election information available in accessible formats such as braille, large print, and audio.
  • Meet the New Zealand Government’s Web Accessibility Standard 1.0 and Web Usability Standard 1.2 and the Round Table Clear Print Guidelines for their web site publications.
  • Include audio description in all party political advertisements and campaign broadcasts, including those via consumer media such as YouTube.

Quiet Vehicles

Issue

The low level of noise of new quiet vehicles presents a significant safety problem for people who are blind or who have low vision.

Statement

The RNZFB Board believes that:

  • All people have the right to cross roads at pedestrian crossings and negotiate carparks and other shared spaces without the hazards presented by quiet vehicles.

Background

Hybrid and electric vehicles – referred to as “quiet vehicles” – offer numerous economic, environmental and social benefits. The low level of noise is beneficial from an environmental and social perspective, but presents a significant safety problem for people who are blind or who have low vision.

People who are blind or have low vision rely on environmental sound as an essential aid to independent mobility and safety when crossing roads and negotiating traffic.

Quiet vehicles will make this much more difficult, and in some cases, impossible. It is worth noting that the widespread introduction of quiet vehicles will have implications for the safety of everyone in the community.

What the Blind Foundation Will Do:

  • Contribute data and evidence about the impact of quiet vehicles on the ability of blind people and those with low vision to move around the community.
  • Promote this policy to motor vehicle designers, manufacturers and importers.

What the Blind Foundation Wants Government to Do:

  • Conduct an enquiry into the impact of quiet vehicles on blind people and those with low vision including:
  • The use of appropriate noise-making devices in quiet vehicles. The Blind Foundation preference is for the alert sound to mimic the noise of a motor vehicle, as it needs to be distinguished from other less threatening sources.
  • The use of in-vehicle, audio-visual signalling systems that would alert drivers to the presence of nearby pedestrians.
  • The use of mobility aids that would alert users who are blind or have low vision to the presence of nearby traffic, and which could be used to signal such traffic to stop.
  • Greater use of audio and/or tactile traffic signals and integration of vehicle signalling with other technically based road safety technologies, such as “blind radar”.
  • Public education campaigns and mandatory driver training on the potential dangers of quiet vehicles for people who are blind or have low vision.

See also: World Blind Union Position Statement on Hybrid-Quiet Vehicles

Access to Employment

Issue

People who are blind or who have low vision want to contribute to the labour market, but there are barriers to them achieving their aspirations. Lower educational achievement for some people and limited pre-employment opportunities restrict their employability. The abilities of people who are blind or have low vision are often underestimated.

Statement

The RNZFB Board believes that:

  • Blind people and those with low vision should have access to job opportunities equal to everyone else. To achieve this, funding and processes for supporting disabled people into work need to be modified to reflect the changing age of the workforce, the need for more flexible working hours and specialised types of support in the workplace.
  • Government needs to regulate to create the conditions for a more inclusive workplace that favours employing blind people and those with low vision. Employing disabled people benefits both disabled people and the economy.

Background

When it comes to employing people who are blind or have low vision, some employers are driven away by fear of the unknown as well as fear of what they know. This can lead to thinking that hiring a person who is blind or has low vision means lowering the bar. Alternatively, employers may fall back on a single negative experience.

Access to reliable adaptive equipment and technology is critical for blind and low vision workers seeking to maintain their employment or self-employment or wishing to join the labour market. New Zealanders who are blind or have low vision want to have the same choices and opportunities as everyone else to earn an income. However, the majority of working age clients are unable to fulfil their goals or contribute in the way they wish.

The Blind Foundation works proactively with clients, employers, the government, disability service providers, and disabled people’s organisations on improving job prospects for blind and low vision job seekers. As a member of the Disability Employment Forum, the Blind Foundation works to address the barriers. We educate employers about the opportunity that exists within this untapped workforce. Now through access advisors, we offer a proactive and detailed programme to help employers utilise disabled workers. There is still a long way to go in getting employers, and particularly HR managers, to have the confidence and the facts to put forward a blind candidate ahead of a sighted one.

Educational Achievement

There is a disparity in the educational achievement of blind and low vision people and the general population. In the Blind Foundation 2014 Client Needs Survey, 33% of clients said that they do not have any formal qualifications, 44% of those surveyed had some secondary school qualification and 22% had a post-secondary education qualification, 7% of respondents were studying and of those studying, 16% were undertaking distance-learning programmes. Nearly 50% of respondents who completed qualifications did so with a degree of vision loss at the time.

In terms of employment, 60% of clients who were employed were in full-time work and 38% worked part time. The remainder were on short-term contract or seasonal work and 23% of clients described their jobs as “permanent.”

There is a need for hard data from a wide range of companies proving that an inclusive workforce not only works, but works well. There is a need to prove the business case that employing people who are blind or have low vision can help business succeed, reduce costs, build morale and position companies in the private and not-for-profit sectors to better access an increasing market opportunity. The Blind Foundation has an important role to play in showcasing the quantifiable benefits of the broad range of skills the blind or low vision employee can contribute.

What the Blind Foundation Will Do:

  • Focus on ensuring clients are “work ready” so they are able to maximise employment opportunities.
  • Establish a client talent pool, to provide greater opportunities for blind jobseekers and those with low vision to gain Blind Foundation roles.
  • Ensure that the requirements of blind and low vision job seekers are understood and supported.
  • Promote the Blind Foundation’s affirmative action policy, work experience opportunities and be a model employer.
  • Raise awareness of student, job seeker, and employee and entrepreneur successes within the blindness community.
  • Facilitate seminars and forums, and tap into networks where Blind Foundation clients can learn job search strategies and share information on employment experiences and successes.
  • Set up a peer mentoring programme to match people in work with those seeking employment.

What the Blind Foundation Wants Government to Do:

  • Examine what can be done to increase the number of internships, trade training opportunities, apprenticeships, and iwi/Pasifika employment initiatives for young blind and low vision workers.
  • Ensure the budget for disability employment funding meets demand.
  • Lead the implementation of accessible systems to remove barriers for employment in the government sector.
  • Ensure that legislation requires employers to make their workplaces and systems accessible and that this is best achieved through a comprehensive accessibility law applicable to public and private sectors.

Access to Braille Literacy and Numeracy

Issue

Some New Zealanders with sight loss may not have the choice to learn braille and develop braille literacy and numeracy skills.

Statement

The RNZFB Board believes that:

  • The teaching and production of braille must comply with the Braille Authority of New Zealand Aotearoa Trust (BANZAT) standards.
  • Access to electronic braille equipment needs to be more readily available and affordable.
  • People who are blind or who have low vision need to have the choice to:
    • develop braille competency,
    • access convenient and affordable equipment for reading and writing braille, and have access in braille to information that is available to the sighted public in electronic and print formats.

Background

Literacy and numeracy are key factors in determining success in life, including employment. The use of braille has declined over the past few decades, but now there is a growing movement to encourage the take-up of braille. American research shows a strong correlation between the ability to read braille and employability.

Braille is one of several formats that support literacy and numeracy skills for people who are blind or have low vision. Hearing about how learning basic braille skills can support many activities of daily living: creating grocery lists, labelling clothing, identifying medications, using household appliances, and so on, is important.

The ability to develop braille skills, access affordable braille reading and writing tools, and have braille material readily available are an important option for children and adults who are blind or have low vision. Students and learners who use braille as their primary literacy medium need to have curriculum material in braille.

Braille users want to have braille books, including magazines, newspapers, and appliance instruction manuals, at the same time and cost as printed versions are made available.

What the Blind Foundation Will Do:

  • Encourage everyone to learn braille and promote its use for day-to-day activities.
  • Urge braille users to let organisations know when something requires transcription into braille.
  • Provide organisations with a braille transcription and production service that complies with standards set by BANZAT.
  • Encourage people who produce or teach braille to complete the Trans-Tasman Certificate of Proficiency in Unified English Braille (UEB).
  • Work with kindred organisations, including Māori and iwi organisations, Blind Citizens New Zealand Inc. on braille production and training.
  • Assist people who are blind or have low vision to obtain funding for braille-related equipment and materials.
  • Advise on designing and placing braille in the built environment.
  • Increase the availability of braille for recreational reading.

What the Blind Foundation Wants Government to Do:

  • Include braille in legislation on the built environment, public transport, compulsory education, tertiary education, and in public service information.
  • Ensure that all government-generated information produced in print is available in braille at the same time the printed version becomes available.
  • Fully fund the teaching of braille and training in the use of braille-related equipment.

Shared Spaces

Issue

A shared space occurs when pedestrians, cyclists and motorists have access to the same space, usually in the middle of a city. While speed of traffic is encouraged to be less than 30kmph, they are difficult places for blind and low vision pedestrians to navigate. This is due to slowly moving quiet traffic, the flatness of the area and lack of tactile markings to indicate roads, safe crossing points and footpaths. When cyclists, vehicles and pedestrians use shared spaces or zones, there is an increased potential for conflict between them. The likelihood of injury is increased for blind and low vision pedestrians.

Statement

The RNZFB Board believes that:

  • Pedestrians who are blind or have low vision must have safe access to shared spaces.
  • The guideline for shared space design should always be followed when planning these spaces.
  • Signage around shared spaces should clearly indicate correct behaviour for motorists and pedestrians.

What the Blind Foundation Will Do:

  • Advise road engineers, transport planners, environmental planners, local authorities, building developers and property owners of the importance of undertaking impact assessments that take into account all users in planning shared space schemes.
  • Undertake accessibility audits and report accidents to the Ministry of Transport and to the local and regional authorities.
  • Educate the public on how to drive, walk and use these spaces safely.

What the Blind Foundation wants Government, Political Parties and Candidates to do:

  • Adhere to Road Traffic Standard (RTS) 14 – Guidelines for facilities for blind and low vision pedestrians in designing shared spaces.
  • Enact a comprehensive accessibility law that incorporates RTS 14 as a mandatory requirement for shared spaces.
  • Include blind and low vision pedestrians in designing shared space schemes to ensure the standard is applied consistently throughout New Zealand.
  • Ensure car-parking facilities give blind and low vision pedestrians priority in shared spaces and have entrances to adjacent parking facilities with full visibility for the driver exiting from a stopping point within the footprint of the building.
  • Monitor the use of shared spaces to determine both vehicle speeds and driver behaviours, and the safety and ease of use for pedestrians.

See also: World Blind Union Position Statement on Shared Spaces