24 July, 2012
Speech to the Association of Blind Citizens of New Zealand
Nga mihi ki a tatou katoa, i roto i tenei wiki whakahirahira – te wiki o te reo Maori.
I want to acknowledge my parliamentary colleagues who have joined us tonight; National President, Clive Lansink; Vice President Jonathan Godfrey and Executive Officer Rose Wilkinson who has worked so hard to make this event a success.
It is a great honour to be welcoming you here to your place – in the Parliament which 25 years ago passed the Māori Language Act 1987.
In that Act we are reminded that in the Treaty of Waitangi, the Crown confirmed and guaranteed to the Maori people, among other things, all their taonga: and that the Maori language is one such taonga.
As a consequence that legislation declared the Maori language to be an official language of New Zealand and conferred the right to speak Maori in certain legal proceedings
There are many similarities between that significant event then – and the occasion we are gathered for tonight: this informational function for Blind People: Our voice; our future.
The notion of giving voice – whether it be through the expression of identity through your own language – or the rights of people to speak and be represented – is one of the most important things we can do, in demonstrating our commitment to an inclusive society.
Giving voice has also been significant for those who might otherwise remain silent. Linguists would tell us – the limits of my language are the limits of my world – and so today I am proud to be part of your event; to hear your stories; to have your experiences and perspectives guide us into the future.
I was therefore delighted to be invited by the Association of Blind Citizens of New Zealand to what you are calling the Wellington Seminar, and to be a part of further extending the reach of your voice, through launching the new website which I will describe later in my speech.
The purpose of this event is to highlight the importance of improved accessibility for blind and vision-impaired people.
For me, your vision for this event ‘our voice, our future’ is about taking control of the world around you, it is about being active participants in determining your destiny, and beyond that, the destiny of many generations to come.
This truly is an inspirational vision – and one that I wholeheartedly support.
In the spirit of Maori language week, I thought I would share with you one of our mōteatea or chants from home.
It just so happens, that this same saying is used by some regional health, and public health organisations to describe the vision of their organisation.
Kā pō, kā ao, kā awatea
It is night, then it is light, then it is dawn
This saying is about awareness, and consciousness. It refers to a journey, moving from a state of the unknown, and the unseen, through to a state of enlightenment.
I think this is a very fitting message to share with you all today. The work that the Association of Blind Citizens of New Zealand undertakes, alongside many of the organisations who work in the disability sector, is all about moving communities through this process.
When we talk about accessibility, we are often talking about the impact that the communities around us have on the wellbeing of those who have disabilities. Accessibility focuses on the elements of disabling society, and creating change that improves the quality, and the experiences of all New Zealanders throughout their lifetime, that includes blind and vision impaired people.
The ‘accessibility’ journey is about moving people from the state of not knowing, through to recognition of issues that may be important, finally arriving at a place where there is full awareness and realisation of how improved access can make a difference.
It is very much in line with ABC’s new by-line “a blind bit of difference.”
Making a difference through ‘societal awareness’ is more than just a good idea, it is a right. It is a right guaranteed under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, ensuring that we can all enjoy full and effective participation and inclusion in society.
Earlier this year I attended a gathering in Christchurch, where over 150 people came together to discuss how disability-inclusive emergency preparedness and responsiveness can be increased around the country by learning from the Christchurch earthquakes.
It was an important occasion, because so often, the needs of this group are overlooked when it comes to developing systems, protocols or design whether it be for emergency response or household design.
The ability to come together, to plan, and to have your voices heard in these forums is a powerful tool for change. In fact there were a number of blind and vision impaired people who participated in this forum, and whose stories and experiences will now be part of shaping action plans for the future.
This to me is a perfect example of living and practicing under the vision of ‘our voice, our future’.
But there are many other ways that we as a society, as whanau, and as governments could be supporting activities which increase access and availability of services.
Some examples of this are:
· houses and public buildings that are easy to get to, to get into and to get around in independently
· well-designed footpaths that are free of obstacles
· public transport systems with timetable information available in accessible formats,
· schools that welcome, and cater for the communication needs of vision impaired students
· workplaces attuned to emerging technologies that enable blind people to function in a wide range of roles, at the highest possible levels.
There are some wonderful initiatives going on at the moment, and I must pay respect to those in this room, and in the wider sector who have had the foresight and drive to push these initiatives along.
In the housing and building area, we have seen community groups and government agencies come together to allow free access to Building code NZ Standard 4121, Design for Access and Mobility.
For those of us who have not had experience in working with the building code, this standard is about ensuring compliance with building standards.
Removing the cost factor for a short period of time is a great step forward to help ensure public buildings meet accessibility standards as they should.
In effect it opens up a new world of knowledge, and empowerment for those who are looking to make homes, buildings, and workplaces accessible. It enables people to look through the options, and the standards required to give disabled people an equal opportunity to participate fully in society without obstacle.
Another area where great progress is being made is in the provision of audio description, that is a voiced narrative of on-screen visuals or live action that is not evident from a television programme’s dialogue.
Again, ABC were closely involved in developing an initiative with New Zealand On Air to trial audio description services on public digital television channels. Apparently - and my husband will be very pleased to hear this – Coronation Street was one of the first programmes to have the new service – as well as New Zealand’s own Shortland Street.
This is now being adopted by theatres across the country, who are responding to the needs of vision-impaired people by producing audio described plays. For example, Fortune Theatre in Dunedin is now running audio described performances, as are The Edge and Auckland Theatre Company.
These are fantastic initiatives which can create a world of difference to blind and vision impaired people, and in turn, their whanau.
Of course we know that there is more that needs to be done, and that can be done to achieve a more accessible society.
And I want to take the opportunity to say how critical it is, that organisations such as yourselves are a part of this journey.
The catchphrase “nothing about us, without us” must guide our approach to every aspect of our world – how do we give voice to the aspirations and expectations of all our citizens?
Organisations that advocate for the needs of those who experience first-hand what it means to live with blindness and disabilities are a vital source of momentum and expertise in driving the right initiatives forward in the right way.
“Kā pō, kā ao, kā awatea” – a new dawn will come, if we continue to forge a path together.
And it is with pleasure that I now launch your new site, which is visually stunning, and I will now describe it for you:
· The colours of the website are black, white and a vibrant yellow which adds a vibrant richness.
· Left -justified and immediately against the left margin, is a circle, the centre of which is black. Written within the circle, are the words “a blind bit of difference”. This text is spread across four lines. The beginning of each line sits above/beneath the other; “blind” is yellow and written in lower case; “A” and “BIT OF” are in white, uppercase and utilises slim letters; “difference” is white and written in thicker letters. This text appears inside the circle in the following sequence: line 1-A; line 2-blind; line 3-BIT OF; line 4-difference.
· Immediately to the right of the circle written in visual braille are the words “blind citizens”.
· Beneath the circle the words “blind citizens nz” appears.
· At the bottom of the page the footer includes the historical logo (left justified), and the Blind Citizens NZ’s full name.
It is a wonderful website, which I am sure will be a valuable tool for extending your voice.
I thank you on your work and advocacy to date – and congratulate you for all the ways in which you are making “a blind bit of difference.”
Tena koutou katoa