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Blind People Left In The Dark By Y2k Commission

Blind and vision impaired people are outraged that the Y2K Readiness Commission has refused to meet the cost of distributing Y2K material in braille and audio.

While every sighted New Zealander has access to brochures and a refrigerator magnet telling them how to prepare for potential Y2K disasters (after a national mail-out by the Commission) people who are blind have been told they will have to rely on charity to get the information.

The Commission has asked the Foundation for the Blind to "pick up the challenge" and cover the $26,262 cost of distributing 7150 audio and 346 braille copies of the Y2K material to blind and partially sighted people, adding that blind people can always ask their friends and neighbours to read the material to them.

"I think the behaviour of the Y2K Readiness Commission is absolutely outrageous because they are expecting voluntary agencies to do government work," says Jonathan Mosen, National President of the Association of Blind Citizens of New Zealand. "If it's important enough for every household in New Zealand to receive a brochure with this information then it's important enough to ensure that New Zealanders who can't read print don't miss out. Yet blind people have been singled out as a group which doesn't deserve a freely accessible copy of this information."

Y2K Readiness Commission Communications Manager Lyle Griffiths acknowledged in her letter to the foundation that the commission had been charged by Government to make information available "to all New Zealanders."

However she then admitted that the Commission could not reach certain minority groups and so it was encouraging organisations like the Foundation for the Blind to "disperse and reinforce the messages to their own communities."

Mr Mosen is insulted by that attitude and has called for a Government review of the commission's work. "If the Y2K Readiness Commission is charged with informing all New Zealanders about Y2K issues then it is clearly derelict in its statutory duties and this is an issue the Government must take a stance on."

Mr Mosen said people who were blind and isolated were particularly vulnerable in the event of infrastructural breakdowns at the turn of the millennium. "The Commission should be making an extra effort to get the message across. Eighty per cent of people who are blind or visually impaired are over 60. Many live on their own and have disabilities in addition to blindness. They need to know what to do if the phone, the power and/or the water stop working. I understand that much of the printed material put out by the Y2K commission would allay many of the fears many of our members have about the Y2K bug if only our members had access to it."

Meanwhile Royal New Zealand Foundation for the Blind Division Manager Adaptive Support Mary Schnackenberg, who oversees the production and distribution of braille and audio material to Foundation members, is appalled at the Y2K Readiness Commission's attitude.

"As a blind person I feel completely left out, I feel marginalised and I really object to voluntary agencies which I have to help raise funds for being forced to cover what is a tax payer funded activity if you can read print. This is clearly an issue of great importance to all New Zealanders and worthy of a national household mail-out. Yet the commission has taken the stance that people who are blind or visually impaired don't matter."

Ms Schnackenberg added that the television advertising was "totally useless" for people who are blind, because it gives no verbal information about how to prepare for the Y2K bug, simply telling people to read the brochures sent out to every household.

"When I've talked to various blind friends we have no idea what we are supposed to get for the preparedness kit," says Mary Schnackenberg.

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