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On Top While Being Down Under: An Australian Perspective

Editor's Note: Mathew Christo is a sociology student at the Victorian University of Technology in Melbourne, Australia. He recently completed his Advanced Diploma of Justice and will commence the Advocacy and Mediation degree in 2006.

For those in society who are blind or vision-impaired, it is becoming increasingly apparent that participation in everyday life is essential for success at home and work. In many countries around the world, especially in western civilization, legal and justice systems have incorporated laws pertaining to anti-discrimination and equal opportunity, including protective policies and procedures at state and local levels. These measures have provided a framework for products and services being available to blind and vision-impaired citizens, and have contributed to the creation of specific organizations to deal with everyday issues.

Education is critical for any individual wanting to enjoy a healthy and safe life in the world today. For those of us who have physical disabilities, education plays even a greater role. In addition to state and federal education systems, disability service organizations help initially to educate and provide for the needs of disabled children in their local communities.

In the state of Victoria where I reside, the Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind (RVIB) helps vision-impaired students within and outside the normal conventions of education. RVIB also branches out to provide Victorians with services relating to employment, technology, daily living skills and library information. These services cater to many different individuals needing formats such as braille, cassette, large print, tactile and audio. For further information, visit: http://www.rvib.org.au

Other state and federal supports exist to help individuals and groups throughout society. The Department of Human Services (DHS), along with the Centre Link welfare component, aids disabled citizens in general. Where transport, mobility and technology are concerned, for example, DHS offers the Future for Young Adults program, a scholarship to help those outstanding students who wish to continue their education past secondary level. Centre Link not only provides for mobility and taxi funding to help travel to and from workplaces, but also for travel to specialized educational institutes. Visit Centre Link at http://www.centrelink.gov.au/ and the Department of Human Services at: http://hnp.dhs.vic.gov.au

An organization whose influence is countrywide is Blind Citizens Australia (BCA). This organization promotes participation of citizens of any age in dealing with government policies in relation to legislation and reform, with needs and concerns about disability services, along with addressing the obligations of voting and the like. In addition, BCA allows for questions and concerns from members, who feel their rights are being threatened, by encouraging them to attend scheduled meetings and participate in regular audio productions and broadcasts. Special-interest branches include the Young Blind Citizens Victoria branch and the Computer Users Group of Victoria in Melbourne. Visit: http://www.bca.org.au/

Adaptive technology is a crucial element for individuals to become independent at home, work and school. Computer technology has brought the internet and online services to a great number of people who can interact on the same level as sighted users. While screen-reading software and computer systems can be marginally out of date or overpriced in Australia, we are easily able to access all the benefits of online interaction and internet-related research. This accessibility extends to personal online business, to productivity gains in the employment arena, and to academic endeavours.

Apart from computerized technology, adaptive equipment plays a major role in terms of entertainment and home activities for people with disabilities. Whilst at times specialized products and equipment can be difficult to acquire quickly in Australia, they are available and easily imported if necessary. Technology distributors exist nation-wide, meaning delays in obtaining equipment are few if technology contacts are in the hands of all members of blindness-related agencies.

Transport and mobility are also issues impacting blind and vision-impaired individuals throughout the world. Depending upon where one lives in Australia, various programs and services are available to help in the transport and mobility areas. An example of one of these services in Victoria is the Guide Dogs Victoria Association, which offers specialized training in the use of guide dogs, as well as in orientation and mobility with other aids, such as the long cane. Where public transport is not available, like in a regional country area, Guide Dogs Victoria helps to formulate strategies to promote safe travel, mobility and independence. Information about this organization can be found at: http://www.guidedogs.asn.au/index.htm

In Victoria and in Australia generally, there are a number of organizations and associations that serve the needs of blind and vision-impaired people. A network of agencies attempts to deliver products and services to make home, employment and study experiences accessible. These services and utilities will have to continue to grow and become more modernized as the pace of change impacts society as a whole. We can only hope they will keep pace far into the future.

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