History

On this page you will find information about why BCA was formed, the current structure, a little about what we have done, BCA conventions, how BCA is funded, BCA affiliations and our objectives.

BACKGROUND AND HISTORY OF BLIND CITIZENS AUSTRALIA

Blind Citizens Australia (BCA) 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.

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.

At the core of BCA’s mission, is equality through empowerment. This mission is supported by the promotion of positive community attitudes in relation to people who are blind or vision impaired and striving for high quality and accessible services. BCA advocates for systemic change through campaigns and by providing advice to government, corporations and the community. It also provides individual advocacy, advice and support to members who face discrimination due to blindness or vision impairment.

Peer-support opportunities are created through BCA’s local and special interest branches, state and national conventions and associated email lists. These avenues provide members with opportunities to speak openly and honestly about barriers they may be facing and to have a voice regarding the issues that affect them. BCA’s publications – including Blind Citizens News, Blind Citizens Update and Parent News – create a readership that is informed, intrigued and involved, accessing informative, relevant and interesting content. Our weekly radio program New Horizons, and our audio magazine SoundAbout create a similar impact for those who tune in. BCA has relaunched its website www.bca.org.au is now on Twitter at http://twitter.com/au_BCA and also on Facebook at www.facebook.com/BlindCitizensAustralia

Accessibility is a cornerstone of BCA’s commitment to its members. Whether it’s Braille, large print, audio CD, email or data disc, BCA has a format to meet everyone’s needs – that is accessible independently.

Our work – including projects and campaigns – has always effected real and positive change for people who are blind or vision impaired. Some examples both past and present are listed below:

  • BCA, in partnership with the Australian Banking Industry, is working to establish a comprehensive search facility for locating audio enabled ATMs.
  • BCA was instrumental in the implementation of audio tactile lights at many pedestrian crossings throughout Australia.
  • BCA was largely responsible for the development and provision of the cash test template for identifying bank notes.
  • “Getting the Message” is a BCA publication outlining a number of ways to present information to people with print disabilities.
  • BCA actively advocates for Electronic Assisted Voting (EAV) and other electronic technology to enhance democracy and privacy for people who are blind or vision impaired.
  • BCA has developed a FAQ Sheet covering all major aspects of the Disability Support Pension (Blind).
  • BCA has developed the publication “Safer Streets: A Guide to Public Access Advocacy for People who are Blind or Vision Impaired”.
  • BCA maintains public policy positions on a range of vital issues affecting people who are blind or vision impaired including education, transport and web accessibility.
  • BCA has successfully advocated for audio description in cinemas and theatres and continues to strive for audio description on television.

BCA is governed by a Board of Directors. Our policy development and review mechanism is provided through our National Policy and Development Council. Our finances are controlled by the Board who are advised by the Finance and Audit Committee. Added to which, the provision of peer support and information dissemination is conducted via 11 regional and four special interest branches including a women’s branch and a branch for computer users.

BCA Objectives

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 Objects are expressed in the Memorandum of Association as:

A: To encourage self-organization and self-determination by people who are blind or vision impaired throughout Australia who, shall be united through membership of a national organization.

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, towards the end of reinforcing 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, in furtherance of the organization’s Objects and of the aims of the World Blind Union.

F: To represent the interests of people with a vision or print disability.

G: To co-operate with and support kindred organizations of people with disabilities, whilst affirming the right of people who are blind or vision impaired to speak for themselves through their own organizations.

H: To disseminate accurate information about people who are blind or vision impared, and to promote positive community attitudes towards them.

I: To solicit the support of Governments, corporations, community organizations 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 men and women.

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 five key activities, which are:

  1. Individual advocacy.
  2. Systemic advocacy.
  3. Information dissemination.
  4. Peer support.
  5. Consultancy and advice to governments, corporations and the community.
  6. All advocacy, peer support and information services are provided at no cost to blind or vision-impaired people.

BCA Structure

BCA is primarily an organization of individuals. Its membership is made up of:

  • Full Members, people who are legally blind over eighteen years of age;
  • Junior Members, legally blind people under eighteen years of age;
  • Associate Members, individuals who identify with the aims of BCA but who are ineligible to be full members;
  • Class A Organisational Members, incorporated organizations where the membership and governing body comprise a majority of persons who are blind or vision impaired or the parents of blind children under the age of 18 years.
  • Class B Organisational Members, incorporated organizations which identify with the aims of BCA but which are ineligible as Class A Organisational members.

BCA is an organization, which people who are blind or vision impaired can join by right.

BCA is governed by a Board of Directors constituted as follows:

  • President
  • 6 Directors
  • Up to 2 co-opted directors and
  • The immediate past president for one year following his/her term as president.

The President and Elected Directors are chosen by a postal vote of full Members each for a three-year term.

The Board meets every month throughout the year. There are two face-to-face meetings, which go for two days, and the other meetings are by telephone.

The National Policy and Development Council (NPDC) is made up of the Board of Directors plus a representative from each state and territory with more than 50 full members and one representative of Class A Organisational members. The NPDC is responsible for guiding and development of policies. There are a number of working groups and committees established by the NPDC working on a range of issues such as Membership and Development, access issues, and Blind Citizens News editorial committee. The NPDC holds two face-to-face meetings each year.

There is a network of Branches in all states and territories except Northern Territory. Branches provide a forum for members from state or regional 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.

National Convention

BCA holds a National Convention in October 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 organization. Convention moves around Australia in an attempt to give equal opportunity to people who are blind or vision impaired to attend.

State Convention

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.

Administration

BCA has a national office based in Melbourne. The only states to have dedicated workers are Victoria, where there is a Victorian Advocacy & Information Officer, and Western Australia who also have a part tiem Administration/Advocacy Officer. A part time worker has recently commenced in NSW as we work to secure recurring funding for an Information and Advocacy service in the state.

Funding

BCA has a broad mix of funding sources: The National Secretariat funding for a peak consumer organization from the Department of Social Services; an Advocacy & Information Service from the Victorian Government, and the Administration/Advocacy Officer in Wester Australia is partly funded by the Western Australian Disability Services Commission.

members’ contributions, blindness agencies; projects; charged services, community support and other fundraising is also received.

Projects

BCA carries out projects and services, which are in line with key aims and objectives.

Communication

BCA communicates with members and the blindness field through a variety of alternative format methods. These include:

  • A quarterly national newsletter, Blind Citizens NEWS, which is distributed to all members in braille, downloadable audio or CD, e-text or large print. This newsletter is also available on our home page
  • A weekly radio program (New Horizons) on the Radio for Print Handicapped (RPH) network. This program is also available to all other community radio stations through the Community Radio Satellite (COMRADSAT) service. New Horizons is also available on our website .
  • State based CD magazines called SoundAbout with news and telephone interviews.
  • Regionally based forums. These provide an opportunity to gather the views of the membership and the broader blind community on specific issues.
  • 1800 number for members to contact the national office with issues of concern.
  • A home page at http://www.bca.org.au, which contains BCA policy statements, other information, details of affiliations and links to other blindness organizations.
  • bca-l email list, a discussion list on which subscribers post messages covering a wide variety of issues important to them.

Australian Affiliations

BCA is an active member of a number of broader organizations in Australia. BCA is also active on many advisory committees and working parties for organizations like Telstra, banks and Government Departments. BCA is a member of:

  • ABF, Australian Blindness Forum.
  • CTN, Consumers’ Telecommunications Network.
  • Australian Federation of Disability Organizations.
  • Round Table, Round Table on Information Access for People with a Print Disability.

International Affiliations

BCA takes an active role internationally through the World Blind Union, with David Blyth, the founding President of BCA, having served as President of the World Blind Union(WBU) between 1992 and 1996. Maryanne Diamond, former Executive Officer of BCA, was also President of the WBU from 2008 to 2012