Petition is successful with 348 signatures
To: Board of Directors of Blind Low Vision NZ (Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind)
Let Martine Abel-Williamson Stand for President of the World Blind Union
The petition had the desired effect of causing the Board to take the approach they should have taken in the first place. Once Martine got the chance to get in front of them in open session, she was in her element and she did the rest.
We the under-signed call on you to recognise Martine as a passionate, hard-working, successful, blind New Zealander who has already made a considerable contribution to the World Blind Union, and to enthusiastically support her taking the next logical step and stand for the position of President of that organisation.
Martine Abel-Williamson is a totally blind New Zealander who advocates passionately for people with disabilities both here and around the world. Her energy and leadership over more than twenty years has been widely recognised. In 2016 she was awarded the Beamish Memorial Medal, the most prestigious award from Blind Citizens NZ, the primary consumer organisation (Disabled People's Organisation - DPO) of blind New Zealanders. In 2018 she received a Queen's Service Medal (QSM) for services to the disability community. Later that year she received an Attitude ACC Supreme Award "for changing the lives of people with disabilities". You only have to "Google" her to see all the things she does.
The World Blind Union (WBU) is the primary global organisation representing the estimated 253 million people world-wide who are blind or have low vision. Martine became active in this organisation in 2007 as one of two New Zealand delegates. Since then, while still working hard for disabled people right here in New Zealand, she has put a lot of her energy into the WBU, advocating at the international level for blind and low vision people to be more included in everyday life throughout the world. She started by advocating for better recognition of the needs of blind and low vision women in developing countries, focusing on our own Asia Pacific Region. Very quickly she took on other truly global projects on issues important to blind people around the world, such as making urban environments more blind-friendly, lessening the impact on blind people from silent cars and e-scooters, and making it easier to travel internationally with a guide dog. In 2016, she was elected to the global position of Treasurer.
Martine's international travel expenses have been funded generously by Blind Low Vision NZ, (formerly the Blind Foundation or the Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind) New Zealand's main provider of specialist blindness services, with a smaller contribution from Blind Citizens NZ. These are the two member organisations representing New Zealand in the WBU. The cost has been roughly NZ $20,000 per year. Given Martine's energy and enthusiasm for the work, this is a reasonable contribution for a small country like New Zealand to the work of the WBU. This investment brings back much greater returns to New Zealand through Martine's hard work. Martine does not receive any payment for this effort.
Last year, Martine sought support from New Zealand to nominate her for the position of President of the WBU, with the encouragement of high profile members of the WBU internationally. This requires both Blind Citizens NZ and Blind Low Vision NZ to agree. The Board of Blind Citizens NZ put forward Martine's nomination as WBU President. However, this nomination has been blocked by your decision with no reason given.
We are deeply disturbed by your decision! It absolutely defies the outstanding record of work Martine has done on our behalf. It damages Blind Low Vision NZ's fine reputation as an organisation that supports blind people, and undermines the very principles of the WBU as found in that organisation's Constitution. Your decision prevents blind people in New Zealand from putting forward the candidate selected by our primary DPO and stops people from across the world choosing between Martine and other potential nominees.
Martine is well known for her strong empathy for disabled people, particularly blind and low vision women, in developing countries. She is equally at home presenting on our behalf at a comfortable air-conditioned international conference centre, or just sitting and talking to other blind people while sipping fermented mare's milk in a Mongolian yurt. That is why she is an inspirational role model for so many disabled people around the world who dare to dream. They know she is there for them, but also she gives them a sense that they too can succeed. Standing for President is one thing; Martine would still have to do a lot of work to win support around the world. If she is successful, she would make all New Zealand proud. But unless you as the Board of Blind Low Vision NZ change your mind, she will not get that chance. Time is running out as nominations are due in early March.
Therefore we call on all of you now to come out into the open and enthusiastically give your full support to Martine as a passionate, hard-working, successful, blind New Zealander - the person that Blind Citizens NZ has nominated as its candidate for WBU President. Let her at least stand in the election.
Why is this important?
I hope you will agree it is completely unacceptable for the Board of Blind Low Vision NZ, as a public charity and New Zealand's primary provider of blindness services, to hide from scrutiny and take such a defiant, unilateral, and provocative action against a high profile blind New Zealander, without a word of explanation. The Board's actions are so hard to explain that some are asking what on earth is really going on.
One director, Clive Lansink, has openly stood up to say that he is embarrassed by this decision. He has said that he did support Martine's nomination, and he knows of no genuine reason why the Board of Blind Low vision NZ has chosen to block her aspiration to stand as President of WBU. They have agreed to support her to stand again as Treasurer, so cost cannot be the reason.
We and many others believe that a decision like this must be open and transparent and should fully take into account the clearly stated wishes of Blind Citizens NZ as Blind Low Vision NZ's DPO partner.
We're here to support Martine and we hope you are also. But at the same time, we hope you agree that the Board of a public charity like Blind Low Vision NZ should not behave like this.
Please join us in calling for the Board of Blind Low Vision NZ to come out of hiding and enthusiastically give its support to Martine as a passionate, hard-working, successful, blind New Zealander - the person that Blind Citizens NZ has nominated as its candidate for WBU President.
Note: if signing this petition from overseas, please just enter 0000 when asked for your postcode.
The following links may be useful if you want to quickly check more into Martine's background:
Receiving qSM: https://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/GE1806/S00011/martine-abel-williamson-awarded-qsm.htm
Attitude ACC Supreme Award: https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/108946777/martine-abelwilliamson-wins-attitude-award-for-changing-the-lives-of-people-living-with-disabilities
World Blind Union global website: http://www.worldblindunion.org/English/Pages/default.aspx
World Blind Union Asia Pacific website: http://wbuap.org
How it will be delivered
I will ask to appear in person before the Board at its next meeting on 29 February and will deliver this petition in person.