Chris’s accessibility quest

When Vision Australia Manager of Government Relations and Advocacy Chris Edwards talks accessibility and inclusion, people listen!

Chris has more than 20 years experience working in the blindness and low vision sector holding leadership roles in employment, assistive technology and service delivery. He has also been a Seeing Eye Dog Handler since 2012.

Vision Australia is the largest and leading blindness and low vision service provider in Australia.

“I manage our government relations and advocacy team with our NDIS and Aged Care lead,” Chris says.

“My role is helping the community, government and stakeholders to understand the needs of people who are blind and low vision.

“I also work to positively influence outcomes that will help improve the day-to-day lives of people who are blind and low vision.”

These outcome goals include increasing inclusiveness, which for Chris means having the same opportunities as other people.

“Being inclusive means that I have the ability to make the same choices as other people in the community,” Chris says.

“This allows me to demonstrate what my abilities are and be able to articulate what my needs are and be heard and accommodated where possible.”

The example he gives is his passion for snow skiing around the world, where he reflects that if you can get a few basic things right with inclusiveness, you can do many things.

“I can ski black runs without very many adaptations at all,” Chris says.

“I have a helmet where I’m connected by voice to a ski guide that skis behind me.

“I have a blind skier bib on just to let people know that I can’t see. That’s pretty much all I need.

“Being included is having the opportunity to do something like skiing or any other hobby or work pursuit – just choices in life that are similar to other people.”

Being included at work for people with disability often means being able to operate in an accessible environment, which Chris says for people with blind or low vision, is about things that are predictable and consistent, right from the front door.

“With accessible workplaces or buildings we have physical challenges, we have technology challenges and we have people challenges,” Chris says.

“So when I think of physical challenges it often relates to navigating around a building, so accessibility means things like improving pathways.

“At Vision Australia we have hard surfaces where there are walkways and soft surfaces where there are work pods and those sorts of things to support people to move around safely.

“What’s great about some of these solutions is that it looks like clean, great design. Unless somebody pointed it out, people probably wouldn’t know it was an accessibility feature.”

And Chris’s view of what great accessibility is? He says it’s an experience that’s ‘seamless’.

“Where the experience that I have as a blind person, in practical terms, is no different than somebody who’s sighted.”

“So whether that’s accessing information, accessing the built environment or accessing education and employment, accessibility is creating that level playing field.

“When we’ve only got only 24 per cent of people with blind and low vision in fulltime employment, we know that there’s a long way to go to ensure that workplaces are able to effectively accommodate people with blind and low vision.

“When we’ve got accessibility right, it just creates a culture where people are able to get things done and demonstrate their true abilities.”