Outlook: Autumn 2019

Blind Foundation Community Magazine

Adapted in accordance with Section 69 of the Copyright Act 1994 by the Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind, for the sole use of persons who have a print disability.

Produced 2019 by Accessible Formats Service, Blind Foundation, Auckland, New Zealand

This edition is a transcription of the following print edition:

Published by Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind

Copyright 2019


Transcriber’s Notes

Images have been omitted; image captions have been retained.

If reading this volume on a portable braille device, note that this e-text is unproofed by touch.


Cover Information

Photograph caption: Dan Shepherd, National Manager of Blind Sport, holds his white cane at the top of the Auckland Museum steps.


Feedback on our services

The Blind Foundation is committed to providing high quality services to all its clients.

To provide feedback on our services, please contact Denise Kitto, National Manager, Customer Service and Advice, at feedback@blindfoundation.org.nz or C/- Private Bag 99941, Newmarket, Auckland 1149.

Please get in touch if your vision needs change on 0800 24 33 33.





Message from the chair: An update from Rick Hoskin, RNZFB Board Chair. Page 2

Message from the CE: An update from Sandra Budd, Blind Foundation Chief Executive. Page 5

The inside word: Blind and Low Vision NZ—evolving our name; Access for all: Entering a new era. Page 7

Feature: The path towards accessible spaces that work for all; Five tips for navigating a shared space. Page 11

People: Low vision and riding a career high; Judy Hale’s story; Every organisation needs a Sandra. Page 18

Technology: Apps for accessing information and getting around; Shop; Access our library with your voice. Page 22

Everyday living: St John Medical Alarm discount; Kiwi Access Card—Blind Citizens NZ, advocacy and collaboration. Page 28

Community: Community highlights; Introduction of Te Reo Māori Audio Description; RNZFB Board Election dates; Connect with the peer support network. Page 31

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Message from the Chair

Hello to All,

In this edition of Outlook, I am writing to advise that after 12 years, our Chief Executive, Sandra Budd, will complete her time with the Blind Foundation in June this year.

In 2007, Sandra started with the Foundation with a mandate for change. During her time with us she has overseen many significant changes as she has striven to provide a life without limits for our clients. She has ensured that many more services are available to equip clients with the skills and connections that they need to create independence and self-reliance for life.

It has been our absolute pleasure and privilege to have Sandra serve the Blind Foundation and I am sure you all join me in thanking her and wishing her well in the future.

The Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind (RNZFB) Board must now look for a new Chief Executive who will continue to take the organisation forward. To ensure that there is an orderly change-over, the Board has begun the process to recruit the new Chief Executive.

“Let’s Talk” format proves successful

During 2018, the Board and Management visited 15 cities and towns around the country to gain an understanding of how clients were getting on and to find out what their greatest needs were. These meetings had, for the previous seven years, been called “Engagement Road Shows”. This time the format of the gatherings, now called “Let’s Talk”, was quite different than previous years. Instead of splitting the meeting into smaller groups and asking pre-set questions, everyone sat in one large group and the participants chose the subjects that would be discussed. It was a very successful formula and we look forward to visiting a dozen or more different places throughout the country next year.

The information gathered at the Let’s Talk meetings underpins our business planning processes. This information is

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first used by the Board and Management to put together work themes and then taken to a further meeting with Consumer Organisations and interested clients where we hone the final work streams that will be included in the upcoming business plan.


Changes to our service delivery model

During 2019 there will be a significant change in how we deliver our services. Whereas in the past clients would have to wait, sometimes for a long time, for our specialist staff to fulfil their needs, we are now moving to a system where a staff member with a multitude of skills and information will satisfy the client’s immediate needs much earlier. The specialists will still be available to carry out the important work such as orientation and mobility or teaching braille.


Blind and Low Vision NZ: An exciting new name for the Blind Foundation

Beginning April 2018, the RNZFB set out to investigate a new strategy for how to market the Blind Foundation and to present ourselves through our brand.

For several years we had heard the consistent message that many stakeholders in our wider family didn’t know what the Blind Foundation does or know who it supports. We did know, that in order to attract those who didn’t know about us, and to accommodate the 75% of our clients who are not blind but have low vision, much greater awareness had to be created about who we are, what we do, and who we support.

Extensive surveying and consulting with all our wider family including members, clients, consumers, referrers, donors, potential clients and the public revealed that a change in our name was required but that it was important to retain the word “blind”, and to feel more relevant to those with low vision.

Having reviewed a mountain of research and evidence, the Board made the exciting decision to evolve our name to Blind and Low Vision NZ. “Formerly the Blind Foundation” will sit alongside the new name for a transition period.

Our marketing division will now put in place a change management plan, which includes making recommendations for our logo. We expect to see the new brand starting to be used later this year.

That’s all for this time.

Rick Hoskin

Board Chair

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Message from the Chief Executive

Message from Sandra

After twelve years at the Blind Foundation, it feels a little strange to be writing to you for the last time in our Outlook magazine.

As Rick mentioned in his opening message (page 2), every year we have been connecting with different people through our Engagement Roadshows and more recently the “Let’s Talk” events all around the country.

I am privileged to have met many of you at events like these over the years, and I have always loved this part of my role. Staying connected and hearing from you about what you want and need from the Blind Foundation has been inspiring and a highlight of my role. It has guided the direction we have moved the organisation in, and I can’t thank you enough for helping us move forward. I thank you also for your growing trust in collaborating together over time.

While we can’t do everything that would make a difference for New Zealanders with vision loss, we can certainly put our best foot forward in the areas we heard from you are the most important.

I am incredibly proud of the progress we have made in some of these key areas such as working with the broader disability community through the Access Alliance to progress accessibility legislation. Our focus on preparing and modernising the Blind Foundation services through the new person directed service delivery model is another highlight. The change is happening now, and it is about providing individual services based on need. Importantly, it has come out of a co-design process with our clients and staff.

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We have more recently responded to unmet need by “opening our doors” to help more people who are impacted in their daily lives by sight loss. This has meant incorporating functional vision considerations as well as visual acuity into new client criteria. Along with improvements to our registration process, we have seen an uplift in people registering for our services over the last year.

I am also proud of how we have broadened to become part of a much wider blindness, disability and eye health community, through our close relationships with like-minded organisations like Vision Australia and CNIB (in Canada) and through the Eye Health Coalition. Another highlight is our new pan-disability Access Advisors and Accessibility Tick initiatives (see p. 8) supporting businesses to make employment more accessible to people with disabilities.

All of these things come together to make the Blind Foundation the modern, forward thinking organisation that it is today.

I have often repeated that I made the best career decision of my life joining the Blind Foundation, and it still rings true. It’s not going to be easy saying goodbye. However, I am confident that the next Chief Executive is going to continue leading the organisation down a transformative path that continues to put blind, low vision and deafblind Kiwis at the centre of its actions to help them achieve a life without limits.

It has been an honour to be part of such an active, inspirational and generous community. Thank you so much for the role you have played in helping the Blind Foundation go from strength to strength so we can better serve Kiwis with vision loss into the future.

Photograph caption: Sandra Budd with Access Alliance members and supporters at the launch event in 2017.

Warmest regards

Sandra Budd

Chief Executive

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The Inside Word

Blind and Low Vision NZ—evolving our name

As New Zealand’s main provider of vision rehabilitation, we see we have a responsibility to do a better job of letting those who may benefit from our services know that support is available to them.

Over recent years, we have consistently heard the need to build greater awareness of the Blind Foundation with the people we could be supporting and the eye health professionals who connect people with us. This is backed up by research showing that we are only connected to around 40% of potential clients, and that many people do not know or connect with what the Blind Foundation does or who we support.

One way we are addressing this is through defining the perception we want people to have of the Blind Foundation. In doing this, we included the views of a wide range of people including clients, consumer organisations, donors, volunteers, referrers and staff; as well as potential clients, donors and volunteers. The needs and wants of these groups of people are slightly different, but all are important.

Through this, we determined the Blind Foundation should be known for making the big difference to people who are blind or have sight loss—through supporting them with the skills to do the things they need and want to do. Also at our core is our role in advocating for accessibility and inclusive communities, and highlighting the importance of eye health in New Zealand.

After this lengthy review, and to reflect the essence of who we are, the decision has been made to evolve our name to Blind and Low Vision NZ. This name was strongly supported in name testing workshops for being much clearer about who we are and who we support. The legal name of the Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind will not change.

We will take a gradual approach to changing our name. Initially we will use “formerly the Blind Foundation” alongside the new name. Materials will be updated at the earliest natural opportunity rather than overnight. We expect to see the new name in use from later this year and look forward to sharing more as we progress on this journey.

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Access for all: Entering a new era


Why care about “access for all”?

“Access for all” is set out as a priority in our 2015-2020 strategic plan. We believe every New Zealander should be able to fully participate in society, have the opportunity to learn, to get a job, and to take part in community and social life. Right now people, including blind and low vision New Zealanders, may encounter all sorts of barriers that exclude them from having the same access as others. We want to change that.

End box.

In December 2018, the government signed off on a major accessibility work programme to thoroughly explore how to achieve full accessibility for disabled people and all New Zealanders.

This milestone was a big win driven by the Access Alliance, of which the Blind Foundation takes an active role. The Access Alliance remains a trusted partner working with the Ministry of Social Development in this next phase. The next key moment will be when the Minister reports back to the Cabinet Social Wellbeing Committee in June on progress and options to move towards a fully accessible New Zealand. In the meantime, the Access Alliance is continuing to seek the support of New Zealanders by tuning people in to the benefits a fully accessible society has to offer.

In the same way we are seeking the government’s support to remove access barriers for blind and low vision New Zealanders, we are also working with businesses and other organisations to pave an accessible path for their customers and staff. These initiatives are all picking up pace, signalling a promising new era where accessibility considerations are becoming the norm in more places than ever before.


If your business or workplace is interested in throwing its support behind a fully accessible Aotearoa New Zealand then get in touch with the team at accessmatters@accessalliance.org.nz.

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The business of access

The Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind (RNZFB) Board, saw the potential in creating a service separate to the Blind Foundation that would enable it to operate with a pan-disability approach to working with businesses and organisations on their access-related needs.

In response, Access Advisors was created last year as a consultancy service. Access Advisors has also created a new programme for businesses called the Accessibility Tick.

In October last year, Vector became the first in New Zealand to be awarded the Accessibility Tick. Since then, a number of others have followed suit and more names are close behind. ACC, Adecco, Auckland District Health Board, Ricoh and Sudima Hotels are among those recognised for their commitment to becoming more accessible and inclusive.


What is the Accessibility Tick?

The Accessibility Tick is awarded to New Zealand organisations that have demonstrated commitment to accessibility and inclusion through policy, culture and environmental changes, taking meaningful steps to improve their accessibility and inclusion.

The team helps organisations by providing them with the structure, tools and support to implement an action plan that makes this possible. The Accessibility Tick partners include a range of disability support organisations that bring diverse and specialised knowledge to the programme.


Why is the Accessibility Tick good news for Kiwis who are blind or have low vision?

Every business or organisation awarded the Accessibility Tick must show far-reaching commitments to making accessibility and inclusion practices part of how they operate. Organisations with the Accessibility Tick have risen to the challenge of overcoming access barriers, and are forging ahead to make themselves accessible for their employees and their customers.

The more businesses and organisations that get on board, the more change we should begin to see in the ways these places provide service to customers and welcome capable employees into their workplaces, regardless of disability.

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Street appeal: The path towards accessible spaces that work for all

Being able to get to where we need to—whether that’s work, study, social or everyday activities—is something we should be able to do safely and confidently. Both urban and rural environments have their own sets of challenges when it comes to getting around. Infrastructure like public transport can be hard to come by in rural communities, while city spaces are often chaotic and cluttered.

You’ve probably heard about (or encountered) the swift and quiet electric scooters that have recently stormed onto footpaths around New Zealand cities. These are an example of how the challenges on our streets are ever evolving, and one where the Blind Foundation will continue advocating for safe and accessible spaces for people who are blind or have low vision. We are proud to be working on projects alongside city councils, transport agencies and other advocates to ensure the needs of our community are heard.

While today’s challenges need work, we can also celebrate the progress that has come before us to help smooth the path forward over time. Read on to learn about some of the everyday infrastructure designed to help you when out on footpaths, shared spaces and crossing streets.

Where we have come from


The “cane” had been used as a tool for travel for centuries. In 1921, James Biggs of Bristol claimed to have invented the white cane after painting his walking stick white to make himself more visible to motorists. Today, the white cane is used as a mobility tool by people who are blind or have low vision.



Mobility training was developed in the 1950s after World War II to help veterans who had been blinded. In the 1960s, universities started training programmes for Orientation and Mobility Specialists.

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New Zealand’s first audible “buzzer” pedestrian crossing installed outside the Jubilee Building in Parnell, Auckland. At this crossing, when the buzzer sounded it indicated to a person who is blind that it was safe to cross.

Mary Schnackenberg’s story

Mary Schnackenberg remembers New Zealand’s first buzzer crossing from when she was living in what was known as The Blind Institute—today this is where the head office of the Blind Foundation is located in Parnell, Auckland.

Photograph caption: Mary Schnackenberg.

“They were New Zealand’s first and I believe they were installed in 1954. The Blind Institute Director of the day, Wally Christiansen, brought back the idea [for the buzzer crossings] after one of his trips overseas.

“At night we slept in the dormitories on the first floor. Night noises were often comforting if sometimes a bit disruptive of sleep. There was the matron’s chiming clock along the corridor. And there was the audible traffic signal below the dormitory windows.

“Years later I was listening to Radio New Zealand narrating “Games of Choice” by Maurice Gee, Oxford University Press, 1977. On page 152 is the paragraph “He came to an intersection. A buzzing sound told him to cross. Tall black pines stood up, strung with painted lights. The sea was yellow and green.” Fact in fiction at last.”




Blind Foundation Guide Dogs began. Prior to this, we used to work with Australian services to bring guide dogs in to support New Zealanders who are blind or have low vision.



New Zealand’s first audible tactile traffic signal (ATTS) installed. This became the national standard and is now the norm for signalised crossings in New Zealand.

What’s the difference between a buzzer crossing and an audible tactile traffic signal?

An audible tactile traffic signal crossing relays more information:

  • An audible cue guides you to the pole where the push button is located.
  • A tactile arrow on the faceplate indicates the direction of the crossing.
  • The faceplate pulses slowly when it is time to wait and speeds up when it is time to cross.
  • The audible cues are ambient sound sensitive, meaning they will be louder during the hustle and bustle of the daytime compared with the dead of the night.




Road and Traffic Standards (RTS) 14—Guidelines for facilities for blind and vision impaired pedestrians was developed by the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) in collaboration with the Blind Foundation and Blind Citizens New Zealand. This includes guidelines for tactile paving—the yellow dots that signify important information such as where the footpath ends and the road starts.



We developed the standard for “shared spaces” in collaboration with Blind Citizens NZ and Auckland Council. This became an Auckland Council standard, subsequently adopted by NZTA and included in RTS 14. This standard then went on to be adopted by the World Blind Union.



The Blind Foundation began collaborating with BlindSquare, a navigation app providing real time information about a traveller’s environment outdoors and indoors, first released in Wellington’s city centre.



The Government signed off on a major work programme to thoroughly explore how to achieve full accessibility for disabled people and all New Zealanders.



Where next in creating universal accessibility?

There are some exciting developments on the horizon. If the government chooses to create accessibility legislation (see page 8 for more), law will replace guidelines and over time we will begin to see the access needs of people with sight loss and all New Zealanders much better met. Watch this space!

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Working together: What’s possible when we collaborate to create an accessible shared space

In our major cities with growing populations, the competing demands in public spaces like footpaths are growing. Sandwich boards, seating, plants and bicycles can all be potential hazards. Then there are the people, often much more focused on the smartphone in their hand than the environment around them.

But, if accessibility matters are considered early in the design phase of developments like new shared spaces, there is all the potential to get it right and create a great environment for everyone. So, what does a good shared space look like?


What is a “shared space”

Shared space is the term used to describe an urban design approach where the traditional distinction between footpath and road is removed. Fast becoming popular in New Zealand and around the world, they present another challenge in how they can be designed with access and safety in mind.

End box.

Photograph caption: Dan Shepherd walks down Elliot Street with his white cane.

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Photograph caption: Shared space environment in Elliot St, Auckland. Photo credit: Auckland Transport.


Elliot Street in Auckland’s city centre role models how shared spaces can work well

If you have been to Auckland’s city centre, you may have come across the shared space in Elliot Street, which opened in 2011. It follows the standard for “shared spaces” incorporated into RTS 14—Guidelines for facilities for blind and vision impaired pedestrians. It was one of the first to comply with these standards and more shared spaces across Auckland have followed suit.

There is a continuous accessible path of travel (CAPT) from the building line—meaning a clear, wide path reliably free of obstacles on both sides of the street. Next to it is the “activity zone” featuring seating and plants, and in the middle is a space for cars and other vehicles. However, the lines between the different zones are blurred.

“There’s no footpath, and no road,” says Chris Orr, Blind Foundation Access and Awareness Advisor. “There’s no curb, but the real game-changer, when it comes to accessibility, is something called a tactile delineator. It takes the place of a curb without being a curb and on Elliot Street rough tiles serve this purpose. It looks like a design feature for aesthetic reasons, totally innocuous, but you can detect it with your white cane or feet.”

Dan Shepherd, National Manager at Blind Sport New Zealand, has just completed his orientation and mobility training with the Blind Foundation.

It’s a big step for Dan to move to the white cane.

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“As someone who identifies as low vision, there can be some stigma around using the white cane for some people. I have some functional vision but I do need some support with my mobility. Accessing the support available to me through the Blind Foundation, including embracing the white cane as a mobility aid, has been a life-changing step.

“Now my white cane not only supports me with my mobility, but for the first time it gives me an identity as part of the blindness community in my wider community. My white cane is a tool for advocacy and awareness of sight loss.”

Dan finds navigating the shared space easy. He uses the tactile delineator as a reference point to walk with confidence in the zone free of obstacles.

“Shared spaces are really important because they bring the community into the city. It’s really positive to see that Auckland Council has worked closely with the Blind Foundation to make this space accessible to everyone. The tactile delineator has definitely helped make this shared space accessible to our community,” says Dan.

“We were very proud of this work,” says Chris, “it was a great illustration of what can happen when you work together. You can create a space that can work for everyone.”

Photograph caption: Dan Shepherd holds his white cane at the top of the Auckland Museum steps


In case you missed it: We featured Dan Shepherd in our February edition of our client newsletter Korero. Go to blindlowvision.org.nz to read his story about orientation and mobility training, which also includes a video.

End box.

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Five tips for navigating a shared space

Carina Duke, Blind Foundation Orientation and Mobility Practice Advisor, gives her top tips:


You can walk in any location in a shared space as long as you do not hinder others.



Use the continuous accessible path of travel (CAPT) as a traditional street layout to avoid obstacles.



Use the tactile delineator to maintain a straight line away from the building line.



The tactile delineator can be used for alignment to cross roads.



If the shared space street is intersected by another street, there should be directional tactile pavers to indicate where to cross.


Would you like to learn more about how to make the most of environmental cues to help you get around? Contact us on 0800 24 33 33 or email info@blindfoundation.org.nz

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Comedian Sam Smith may have low vision but he’s riding a career high

After being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2015, comedian and writer Sam Smith’s vision deteriorated. However, the 33-year-old’s career has never been brighter—he works at MediaWorks’ Three and has an upcoming show at the International Comedy Festival.

What motivated you to want to become a writer and a comedian?

I started out in the traditional way, by getting a dentistry degree. While I was at uni in Otago I got involved in the Capping Show—a sketch comedy revue show. I’ve always enjoyed comedy, but that’s what got me writing and obsessing over it.

I finished my dentistry degree and was looking for a way to keep writing while being a dentist, so I applied to do a masters in creative writing in Wellington which I got in to. That taught me to be proactive in finding writing gigs, so I sent an email to the producer of 7 Days asking if I could submit jokes for Jeremy Corbett to say at the end of each round and he luckily said yes.


How has multiple sclerosis affected your vision?

One morning I woke up and my left eye didn’t work anymore. It was just completely black. I went to the hospital and then the vision in the lower half of my right eye went as well. Luckily it stabilised there, and in fact got a little bit better. I’m now running at about 25% vision in my left eye, and 75% in my right. So overall about 50%.

Photograph caption: Sam Smith sips a hot drink.

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Photograph caption: Sam Smith live in concert.


Has your deteriorating vision affected your career?

It put an end to me ever going back to dentistry, that’s for sure. Nobody wants someone pointing sharp things in their mouths by feel.

I can’t ever see the back of an audience, but that means I can pretend I’m performing to thousands and makes me feel like a rockstar. I don’t look blind which is both good and bad. If I joke about it people don’t realise I’m telling the truth, they think I’m doing a weird gag about it. The other side of it is that people don’t treat me any differently, which is nice.


Have you received any support from the Blind Foundation to help you adjust to your vision loss?

They have so many services that have been useful. I’ve got all sorts of little gadgets that help me around the place—a device that beeps when I’ve filled my tea cup to the right level, sunglasses for all kinds of weather, techniques and strategies for walking around town and getting my confidence back when I started out, a great library service, everything.


What advice would you give to someone who might be thinking they can’t continue working because of their vision?

You can still do everything. You may have to alter the way you do those things a little bit, but you can still do everything. If you’re a blind lumberjack there are probably chainsaws with braille on them. Talk to people about what you want to keep doing and there will be a way around it.


Is there anything else you would like to add?

At first I thought losing my eyesight was going to be the end of everything, but it’s really not. It’s added a cool aspect to me that I can brag about.


Sam Smith is performing 7-11 May at Q Theatre, Auckland. Go to www.comedyfestival.co.nz for tickets.

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Bright sunlight, dark shadow and a love of life

Not so long ago, Judy Hale was often seen walking around Cambridge with a guide dog at her side. Now trying to navigate a quieter life, she has packaged her story into a book that is being sold to raise funds for The Blind Foundation and its Guide Dog Services.

Photograph caption: Judy with her book and current Guide Dog Utah.

My ancestors arrived in New Zealand from England, Ireland and Scotland during the second half of the 19th century and their movements eventually led to my birth in September 1940 in Ngaruawahia, Waikato.

Following a blessed rural life spent around Maramarua in North Waikato, enriched with family love, animals and the land, in 1977 our lives were plunged into disarray at the death of my dear husband Barry at the age of thirty-eight. We missed his strength, his praise, his hands, his voice and his love. Our children were aged thirteen, eleven and eight. Tentatively I regained a reason to exist, motivated by love for the children, our farm Waikarakia and tremendous support from family and friends. Ten years and one day later I lost my sight, sense of smell and some sense of taste in a horrific equine accident. I’m grateful, I could have lost my life.

This story has been written for my children and grandchildren, but I hope it will provide others with a sense of worth no matter what trials they must face. I owe a great part of my confidence and positivity to Guide Dog Services and the Blind Foundation.

Some days are sunny, some overcast and some stormy, but like the plants in our gardens, we must all continue to grow.


“Bright sunlight, dark shadow” can be purchased at PaperPlus, Cambridge. They can also be ordered through Sam (Samantha.lifestories@gmail.com) at $35 plus package and posting.

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Every organisation needs a Sandra

Neil Jarvis reflects on Chief Executive Sandra Budd’s time at the Blind Foundation. Neil worked with Sandra on her leadership team and he is also a member.


Every organisation needs a Sandra—especially at the right point in its history.

Sandra Budd came in 2007 at a critical point in the Foundation’s long story.

Within months of her arrival, we realised that while things had worked well for years, they had to change. The way in which services are delivered in the 21st century is markedly different from before. Equally, and rightly, clients expect more say, more direction and more choices in how they get what they need. The Foundation and its clients are partners, not one entity doing good unto another. So, Sandra set about gathering people around her who could make a new vision real.

And then the Global Financial Crisis hit. The impact on our finances and projected income was striking. This did not phase her. Sandra knew what needed to be done, and simply revised the means by which we’d do it.

Then Canterbury was devastated by Mother Nature. Again, Sandra led us through the inevitable shockwaves, while also ensuring that there were sufficient staff on the ground to check up on those most affected.

Throughout this and later, she kept a steady course, moving the organisation forward. It would become a strong vibrant contributor to the lives of New Zealanders. She made sure we had a voice round the table when talking with Government. She supported a groundbreaking campaign to make New Zealand a truly accessible country—not just for blind people but for everyone.

She made sure our voice was heard loudly on the international stage, where we contributed to innovative developments and brought back new ideas to deploy.

It has only been twelve years, but Sandra’s contribution has been monumental. She will be remembered as a major game-changer in our organisation. She deserves the thanks of the community, and its best wishes for the future.

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Apps for accessing information and getting around—the pros and cons

Be My Eyes, BlindSquare, Aira—these are just a few of the many apps available on smartphones that can help with getting around. Our Blind Foundation Technology Advisor Thomas Bryan weighs them up.

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Be My Eyes

This app connects people who are blind or have low vision with sighted volunteers from all over the world through a live video call. Volunteers assist with things like identifying the contents of a can, giving advice on what clothing to wear, or identifying the right button to push on an appliance.


  • Free, simple to use.
  • Works on iOS and Android.
  • Has a large team of volunteers.
  • Can be used around the world.
  • Connects you with a volunteer that speaks your language.



  • The app uses your phone’s camera in order for the volunteer to assist you, so should not be used for reading confidential information such as credit card numbers and other personal sensitive information.




Through a video call made either on your smartphone or by using hands-free Aira Glasses, Aira connects the user to a trained professional agent who can assist with enhancing their everyday experience. Aira is new to New Zealand, and available free of charge at Wellington Airport currently. You could use it to find your way around shopping malls, airports, schools, find a seat at a stadium and so much more.


  • Trained professionals assist you to carry out a wide range of tasks and/or access information.
  • If using the glasses option, the technology is hands-free.
  • Can be used in a number of countries.
  • You can sign up as a guest and access free locations.
  • You can use your phone to connect or use the custom glasses allowing you to keep your hands free when walking around.
  • Available for both iOS and Android.



  • To gain the full features/service you will need to pay a monthly subscription. Pricing is about $90 for 100 minutes per month.
  • Wellington Airport is currently the only guest location in New Zealand.
  • This app also uses your phone’s camera so care should be taken not to show sensitive information when using this app.

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BlindSquare is an international app providing a wide range of information about your surroundings. It does this by pulling data from GPS and where possible iBeacons, allowing indoor navigation information where they are installed. You can use BlindSquare to find your local coffee shop, plan your trip, share your location with friends, access transport information, book an Uber and more.


  • Used in many countries around the world.
  • Has both a free and paid version.
  • Offers voice control.
  • Supports braille.
  • Provides access to indoor navigation where available.
  • Upgrades are free.



  • Paid version ($69.99) if you want to access all features outside free event zones.
  • iOS only.




Clew is a new iOS app that records a user’s path and then guides the user back to their starting point. Clew was created to help people who are blind or have low vision to remember a location such as returning to a seat in a room. Designed to work indoors, Clew uses augmented reality to record landmarks along your route.


  • Free.
  • Easy to use.
  • Simple controls.



  • Only available for iOS.
  • Suitable for short trips like from the reception to a meeting room.
  • You cannot save trips.

None of the above applications will be fool proof, but at the right time they can serve as wonderful supplementary aids to your white cane, guide dog or mobility skills.

Caution: Any device that requires you to be listening to it when out in the street should be used with caution. Do not use headphones, which may affect your ability to hear traffic and other hazards—we suggest using a small Bluetooth lapel speaker or bone conduction headphones available from the Blind Foundation shop.

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Technology products available in the Blind Foundation shop

We stock a wide range of products for people who are blind or have low vision. Here are a few you might be interested in.

Bluetooth Bone Conduction Headphones

The lightweight and comfortable Trekz Titanium headphones are wireless and a safe alternative to traditional sports headphones and earbuds. Bone conduction technology doesn’t compromise hearing with an open ear design allowing you to hear your surroundings.

Client price: $168.00 Public price: $224.00


WayLink Scanner

Place WayLink tags on items around your home, load information onto them, then scan them to read it back. This device connects to an app on your iPhone or Android.

Client price: $179.00 Public price: $239.00


To browse more items, visit blindlowvision.org.nz/shop or call 0800 23 33 33 and speak to our equipment specialists.

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Imagine no more: Access the library using only your voice

Photograph caption: A black and white photograph of staff maintaining the talking book players in the 1960s

The Blind Foundation’s accessible library has been a much-loved service for members for over 120 years now. Lending of books began first in braille and moon embossed scripts, and talking books were introduced in 1937 on vinyl records, imported from overseas. The transition to audio cassette came in the 1960s and ten years ago the move was made to CDs.

Tracking the technology evolution, the vision for many years has been to provide library access over the internet.

Library manager Geraldine Lewis says: “How great would it be for members to have instant access, to any library book they like? This has been our goalpost for a long time.

“There are many prolific readers who belong to our library, and they can’t get onto their next books fast enough.”

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In 2015, the Blind Foundation library launched online access through “BookLink”, and now it has taken online delivery further by creating a “skill” (which works a bit like an app) for use on an Amazon Alexa smart speaker.

“It seems futuristic, but opening our library up to be used on a smart speaker is really just part of the continuous evolution of our service. We are lucky to be at a time when technology and infrastructure has come along so far it has given us a wonderful opportunity to create a way to access our library that makes it faster and easier (for many members) than it has ever been.”

Known currently as the “Blind Foundation skill”, its development was the culmination of meticulous research involving library members and specialist knowledge including machine learning to create the ability for the library service to be served up in DAISY format (which makes accessible books easier to navigate) on a smart speaker.

Those involved in the research gave the smart speaker and library skill a big thumbs up. The majority said they would recommend it to other library members, agreed it was easy to learn how to use the library skill and listen to audio books, and most also reported incorporating Alexa into their everyday routine.

The Blind Foundation library skill is available to access now, and any Blind Foundation service user can get on board.

If you have wireless internet access, and the technology capability in your household to get the smart speaker setup, all you need is an Amazon Alexa device and to phone our National Contact Centre to get started. If you are interested but missing one of these components, get in touch anyway to see how we can support.


The Blind Foundation accessible library has more than 18,000 books and magazines in its catalogue, and a range of ways you can access it. To find out more about our library service, please call 0800 24 33 33 or email library@blindfoundation.org.nz

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Everyday living

St John Medical Alarm: Discount now available

With credit to a proactive Blind Foundation client who saw the value in medical alarms for many people connected to the Blind Foundation, we are pleased to share a discounted rate for the St John Medical Alarm is now available to all clients.

Trevor Plumbly, 77, raised the idea of the Blind Foundation supporting a discounted rate for a medical alarm at the Blind Foundation’s “Let’s Talk” session in Albany last year.

“Because I’m elderly I am at risk of falling, and being blind makes the risk much greater. I got a St John Medical Alarm as a way of providing peace of mind to myself and my wife Pam, so that when I’m home alone if I do fall it is going to be easy for me to get access to help.

“It made us all feel secure and made me happy to be by myself.”

St John’s Head of Telecare, Nick Coley, said: “We have been working with the Blind Foundation to formalise a preferred working arrangement that will extend pricing and benefits to all clients of the Blind Foundation nationally.

“St John are delighted to be able to work together to support blind and low vision New Zealanders to live safe and independently in their homes.”

The St John Medical Alarm discount is available to all Blind Foundation clients who are new and existing users of the service.

Discounted rate: $13.95 per week* (normally $19.95)

To access the discounted rate, phone St John on 0800 50 23 28 and have your Blind Foundation membership number handy.

*Discounted rate valid for two years from 1 March 2019.

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What is a St John Medical Alarm?

A St John Medical Alarm is an emergency calling device that is monitored by St John. It consists of a base unit that either connects to your home phone line or to the cellular (mobile) network, and a small pendant that you wear.

  • In an emergency, push the button on your pendant or base unit.
  • St John call you back and talk to you through the alarm speaker to check if you are okay.
  • If there is no answer, St John will organise for an ambulance to be sent.
  • If you answer, St John will check you’re ok and organise the most appropriate help for your situation. This could include an ambulance, a paramedic in an alternative vehicle, another emergency service or expert advice. Where appropriate, we may also notify your preferred carer or a family member.

Photograph caption: Blind Foundation Chief Executive Sandra Budd and Peter Loveridge, St John Director of Customers, Supporters and Commercial Services sign the agreement.

Photographs caption: St John’s product images. From top; St John Pendant & Watch, St John Erica, St John Eve.

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Kiwi Access Card—Blind Citizens NZ, advocacy and collaboration

Have you ever needed to produce identification? If you have, you may have experienced one or more challenging situations. You might even have been asked to produce your drivers’ licence.

Blind Citizens NZ has been advocating for many years for Government to introduce a form of identification that would be widely accepted. Up until now, a passport or the 18+ Card have been the personal identification alternatives to a drivers’ licence. However, for many, the cost to purchase a passport was a step too far, and the 18+ card is for proof of age.

Through our ongoing advocacy, collaboration, and the support of many, we have achieved some success with the new Kiwi Access Card.

Our efforts gained momentum in 2015, when we brought the issue to the Disabled People’s (DPO) Organisation Coalition. The collective voice of the DPO Coalition led to a collaborative piece of work led by Blind Citizens NZ, which also involved Government, Hospitality New Zealand, and other stakeholders including the Blind Foundation.

Our advocacy and leadership has contributed to the establishment of the Kiwi Access Card, launched on 14 January this year. Designed with every New Zealander in mind, this replaces the 18+ Card and better meets the needs of everyone who needs a form of secure identification to give them access to goods and services.


Blind Citizens NZ National President Jonathan Godfrey comments: “We are very proud of this accomplishment and how our work has benefited not just blind people but our community as a whole.”

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How to get a Kiwi Access Card

Applications can be made via NZ Post. Valid for ten years, the card costs $55. Pick up a form from your local shop, or download one at kiwiaccess.co.nz

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Community highlights

Braille Music Retreat brings community together

20 participants across New Zealand and Australia made music together using musical scores transcribed into braille.


An enthusiastic group of singers from all around New Zealand and Australia came together in Auckland for a very unique event earlier this year: Three days of making and sharing music together at the BLENNZ Homai Campus.

Sixteen blind and four sighted participants from New Zealand and Australia attended for a weekend of singing and making music together using musical scores transcribed into braille.

The event was a unique collaboration between the Blind Foundation and BLENNZ, with help from several dedicated blind volunteers from around New Zealand and Australia.

The group had three days to rehearse eleven pieces—prepared beforehand—with a recording session on the last day facilitated by Ese Aumalesulu, an Auckland-based musician and music producer who is blind.

The retreat will take place every two years in loving memory of Lisette Wesseling, a talented New Zealand soprano and passionate advocate for braille who passed away in 2016 and inspired the event through her love of braille, community and music.

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Auckland Arts Festival 2019: The Introduction of Te Reo Māori Audio Description

The Auckland Arts festival ran from 7 to 24 March 2019. The festival’s programme celebrates the richness of Aotearoa New Zealand arts and culture, showcasing both local and international events.

The commitment of the Auckland Arts Trust to make festival events accessible to all audiences is reflected not only in the programme but also in the production and delivery of events.

In September 2018, Kāpō Māori Aotearoa agreed to identify fluent te reo Māori speakers interested in training as audio describers to audio describe in Te Reo Māori the production of the Patricia Grace and Robyn Kahukiwa children’s story “Te Kuia me Te Pūngāwerewere—The Kuia and the Spider”, which was performed by Taki Rua Productions at BLENNZ on 21 March 2019.

In December we were pleased to confirm Jamus Webster and Te Hamua Nikora as our inaugural trainees. Jamus and Te Hamua are staunch supporters of Kāpō Māori Aotearoa and stalwart advocates of Māori performing arts, te reo Māori and all things Māori.

Having trained te reo Māori audio describers is a significant milestone for our community and a positive step towards making te reo Māori and te ao Māori more accessible for not only our members but also the entire kāpō community.

Kāpō Māori Aotearoa would like to acknowledge the Auckland Arts Trust and their team for their comittment of making te reo Māori and festival events accessible.

Ko taku reo taku ohooho, ko taku reo taku mapihi mauria

(My language is my awakening, my language is the window to my soul)

Chrissie Cowan

Chief Executive Officer

Kāpō Māori Aotearoa


Kāpō Māori Aotearoa—An organisation of integrity that delivers because it cares about its people.

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Summer Kids Camp 2019

Kayaking, waterslides, rock climbing, music jams and arts and crafts were just some of the activities that happened at our kids camp at Mi Camp, Taupo, 14-18 January 2019. New friends were made, new skills learnt, and most importantly—a lot of fun had!


Kapiti Island day trip

Clients, volunteers and staff members explored Kapiti Island off the coast of the lower North Island on 16 October 2018. Their day trip included learning about some of the island’s history as well as walking, exploring and listening to bird song.


World Braille Day 2019

To celebrate World Braille Day on 4 January 2019 and Louis Braille’s birthday some people got spotty and showed their dots. We ran an email competition and a winning entry was this photo pictured of Methven House Rest home residents wearing spotted outfits and playing Twister. To see more winners and entry highlights visit blindlowvision.org.nz


Find out what’s happening in your area. There are many events, clubs and activities supported by the Blind Foundation all over the country. If you would like to find out more or get involved, phone the National Contact Centre on 0800 24 33 33 or email info@blindfoundation.org.nz

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Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind (RNZFB) Board Elections 2019

The RNZFB has elections for Directors to the Board occurring each year. Each Director serves for a term of three years. This November, three Directors will be completing their term. Those completing their term are Deb Boyd, Clive Lansink and Judy Small. The retiring Directors may be nominated and stand again.

The Board is responsible for the governance of the organisation and leads the Foundation forward in fulfilling its objectives under the strategic plan.

The Constitution lays out how elections are held and how the Board operates. All candidates are nominated and elected by Governing Members. As the election nears, we will share information about the candidates and the election process. Between now and then, we will prepare and send out information about what it means to be a Board member and where you can find out more information.

The results of the election will be announced at the AGM on Saturday 9 November, which this year is being held in Whangarei as well through our communication channels.

Only Governing Members can vote in the Board election. If you are a client of the Blind Foundation and you are not sure if you are also a RNZFB Governing Member, or entitled to vote, please call the National Contact Centre on 0800 24 33 33. If you want to register to vote, they can help you with that too.

Key dates to pencil in your diaries.

16 August: Call for nominations to stand as a Director.

13 September: Last day for nominations.

3 October: Voting packs circulated.

1 November: Last day to vote.


If you would like more information about Board elections, the Constitution or the voting process or timeline, please contact the Returning Officer, Jane Moore jamoore@blindfoundation.org.nz.

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Special interest and peer support groups

The Blind Foundation is proud to support and partner with organisations directly representing the interests of Kiwis who are blind or have low vision.

These voluntary groups, known as consumer organisations, work together to create a better New Zealand for people who are blind or have low vision. We collaborate on projects and advocate for change, sharing information along the way.

Together, this group is called the Blind Sector Forum Aotearoa New Zealand (BSFANZ).

Contact details

Albinism Trust

Phone: (06) 367 5900

Email: albinism@inspire.net.nz

Website: albinism.nz

Blind Citizens New Zealand Inc.

Mail: National Office, PO Box 7144, Newtown, Wellington 6242

Phone: 0800 ABC NZ INC (0800 222 694) or (04) 389 0033

Email: admin@abcnz.org.nz

Website: blindcitizens.org.nz

Blind Sport New Zealand

Phone: (09) 930 1579

Email: dan@blindsport.kiwi

Website: blindsport.kiwi

Deafblind Association of NZ Charitable Trust

Phone: 0800 450 650

Email: info@deafblindassociation.nz

Website: Deafblindassociation.nz

Kāpo Māori Aotearoa

Phone: 0800 770 990

Email: info@kapomaori.co.nz

Website: kapomaori.com

New Zealand Vision Impaired Empowering Women (NZ VIEW)

Phone: (04) 476 7329

Email: nzviewinc@gmail.com

Parents of Vision Impaired New Zealand (PVINZ) Inc.

Phone: (04) 293 8236 or 0274 402 073

Email: david@pvi.org.nz

Website: pvi.org.nz

Retina New Zealand

Phone: 0800 569 849

Email: admin@retina.org.nz

Website: retina.org.nz

Retina Youth

Phone: 0800 569 849

Email: youth@retina.org.nz

Website: retinayouth.org.nz and Facebook group

Support and Education for our Youth, their Families and their Friends.

Phone: 021 0235 4395

Email: seyffnz@gmail.com

These details are correct at the time of printing. Please check the Blind Foundation website for updated details and more information at blindlowvision.org.nz

Back page


The back cover of Outlook has a full page Blind Foundation promotion ad. There is a large photograph of a young girl on her knees looking at some spring tulips growing under a tree. Copy reads as follows:

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The gift of a life without limits

To receive an information pack about how a gift in your will can make a profound and lasting difference, contact Supporter Care on 0800 366 283 or visit blindlowvision.org.nz/wills

Logo: Blind Foundation

End of Outlook: Autumn 2019