Achievements and reflections by CEO Elizabeth Barnes

Elizabeth Barnes with a Guide Dog. Picture credit: Victoria Wilkinson

This past year has been a time of great change for everyone at VisAbility. As we welcome in a new decade, it’s a good time to take stock on all our achievements in 2019.

Our new CEO, Elizabeth Barnes has been reflecting on our accomplishments across WA and Tasmania. Here she shares her thoughts to clients and staff.

Looking back and moving forward

Organisational change is a fact of life and while we may resist change, change can bring about good. As 2019 draws to a close and we say goodbye to one decade and hello to a new one, I’m thinking about all that’s been achieved at VisAbility.

At the beginning of the year VisAbility secured recognition from the Australian Institute of Management WA receiving the 2019 Pinnacle Award for Human Resource Management Excellence.

Our clients are at the heart of everything we do, but our staff at VisAbility bring drive and passion to their work every day.

As an organisation we are receiving wider publicity and press coverage which is raising our profile. This year we’ve had articles and films published in The West Australian, on Today Tonight, Channel 7, the ABC and numerous regional and online papers across Tasmania and Western Australia.

Greater provision of client services

There’s been an increase in demand for our Accessible Services with both companies and individuals realising the importance of becoming more inclusive. In July this year we ran a series of workshops promoting website accessibility. VisAbility will be running more free workshops to government organisations, thanks to grant funding.

Braille Services continue to be in demand. VisAbility in Tasmania helped to create both Braille and large print version of menus at the prestigious Hotel Soho. More councils and businesses including Mona (link opens in new window) – the Museum of New and Old Art, Australia’s largest private museum are now reaching out to our accessible team in Tasmania. Our relationship with Mona also led to a White Cane Day event at the museum with our clients.

2020 will see the unveiling of our re-branded Living Aids online shop. Our daily living aids and technological solutions provide support to people across a range of ages and disabilities. This equipment offers individuals greater freedom so they can live the life they choose.

Toybox and KITES

The start of 2020 will be a busy one. We’ve been successful in our bid to secure ToyBox – a resource offering four thousand specially adapted toys to children with special needs in WA. The service which loans the toys out is nearly 44-years-old so there’s a lot of prestige and history attached to this collection. It will be operating from the back of our building, with the entrance on Sunbury Street. Toys old and new have moved across into their new home.

The introduction of the ToyBox Service aligns well with the launch of our new KITES provision. KITES will roll out in mid-January. This new service will benefit those aged under seven. With the tagline ‘Any child, any challenge’, we’ll be supporting children and their families who may have developmental delays along with children who have disabilities.

VisAbility has always worked closely with the peak national organisation, Early Childhood Intervention Australia, which promotes the interests of children with disability and/or development delay. This bond has been strengthened with the appointment of Sebastian Della Maddalena, Manager of our Therapy Services as the board member for WA.

Children and youth projects

We’re receiving greater recognition of the work we’re doing with much younger clients. This year we became a Telethon beneficiary for our Sensory Stories Kits. We wanted toddlers and younger children with disabilities and vision impairment to share the enjoyment of reading. Our tactile book project featured in a short film over the Telethon weekend.

This year saw the launch of ‘How I Learn’ (link opens in new window), a tool to empower students aged eleven upwards with their learning requirements as they transition through high school. This project launched by Reece Whitby, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Disability Services Minister, was made possible through funding from the Non-Governmental School Centre Support.

The ‘How I Learn’ initiative incorporated a website and online portal where children could advocate their preferred methods of teaching for their unique disability. This was my first official event with VisAbility and I was very impressed with the way the event was organised and special thanks go to Monique Ziegelaar, Speech Therapist.

We’re experiencing a shift in the way services are offered to clients with the roll-out of the NDIS and My Aged Care. Both offer greater choice and hands back control to individuals about the services and support they require.

Fundraising and Guide Dogs

Watching how our Guide Dog program transform lives never fails to amaze me. It was a proud year for Guide Dogs Tasmania (link opens in new window) when Kim Ryan, Puppy Program Coordinator won the Derek Freeman Scholarship. This is a top award from the International Guide Dog Federation and it is a great achievement. Kim took part in a learning program in Croatia where she was able to exchange ideas.

The Guide Dogs Engagement and Development team in Tasmania have expanded its fundraising programs. Registrations for Pawgust doubled in numbers to 400. We also had a record amount of volunteers collect for the annual Street Appeal Day in Tasmania. More than $7,000 was raised.

At Guide Dogs WA (link opens in new window), the fundraising income increased to $4,744,291 for the financial year. We have nearly broken the $5 million mark. This money came from a number of programs including Gifts in Wills. Bequests rose from 160 bequests to 220. We also saw an increase in sponsorship, the annual Guide Dog Day Street Appeal and income from events such as the Perth Upmarket.

Recognition for our staff

The spotlight has again fallen on many of our staff who show commitment to the roles they serve. Ryan Honschooten, Youth Support Officer in WA won a 2019 WA Disability Support Award for his achievement with young people.

Ryan was also selected to be on a question panel at the NDIS State Annual Conference. Access consultants David Vosnacos and Vithya Vijayakumare also spoke at the event. Between them they have vast knowledge on assistive technology and immersive technology.

Naomi Gilson, Occupational Therapist in Tasmania spoke at the Optom Conference in Hobart, a key events in Australia. Naomi has been instrumental in nurturing professional development among key businesses and organisations in Tasmania. This includes the Hobart Eye Surgeons group.

Of course, we have to recognise those staff who have left us for new challenges and acknowledge their valuable contribution. These of course include our former CEO Dr Clare Allen, and more recently the Deputy CEO Debra Barnes. Debra was instrumental in steering VisAbility in the right direction against a backdrop of change.

As we look back on these achievements and welcome in a new decade, we look forward to future successes. With your continued dedication and teamwork we will overcome any challenges, realise our goals and become a stronger organisation.

It just remains for me to wish you all a very merry Christmas and a happy, healthy 2020.