Maryanne Diamond - Part 2

Maryanne Diamond speaking in Bangkok, November 2012In Part 1 of her story, Maryanne Diamond provided an insightful look into her years as a child and young adult, as well as some of her early career experiences. In Part 2 we learn about the tremendously important roles she has played in her involvement with the World Blind Union (WBU) and some of her achievements during this period of her life. Ms. Diamond is an advocate for persons with disabilities and a self-advocate. Focused efforts to ensure equitable access for everyone are key to the work of the WBU, the DAISY Consortium, and other organizations which are working toward this goal.

In 2000 Australia hosted the General Assembly of the World Blind Union (WBU) World Blind Union (WBU). I played a major role in that event, firstly in the planning for the 3rd blind women's forum which would precede the General Assembly. Also, when I became Executive Officer of Blind Citizens Australia, I took responsibility for all aspects of the event, given we were the hosting organisation.

Following the General Assembly, I was invited to chair the WBU women’s committee. My leadership roles within the WBU continued when in 2004 I was elected First Vice President of the WBU, and in 2008 elected President.

A major initiative undertaken by the WBU Women’s committee under my leadership was the development of a leadership and training kit: "Leading the Way". This is a mentoring and leadership program consisting of a number of modules on leadership, mentoring, strategic planning, establishing and running an organisation, fundraising, communications and more. Modules of the program can be used as a standalone training program or combinations used depending on the audience or type of organisation. Although developed by women for women, it is equally appropriate to be used by men. The program has been translated into a number of languages and I understand elements of it are still used today.

WBU logo My primary areas of responsibility as 1st Vice President of WBU included monitoring of the WBU Strategic Plan, the work involved in determining the location of the 7th General Assembly, and much of the work in planning for that event. One area of responsibility I had which I am very proud of was leading the project to establish the permanent headquarters of the WBU. This included determining the location and recruitment of the first CEO, Penny Hartin, who commenced working with us November 2006.

WBU officers, August 2008, Maryanne Diamond is second from the left in the photograph Some of the achievements during my term as president of the WBU included establishment of a global employment resource bank (Project Aspiro), development of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) toolkit for WBU members to support implementation and monitoring of the UN CRPD from the perspective of blindness, re-establishing the World Braille Council, and development of partnerships with other organisations. A major achievement was being part of bringing together the WBU, ICEVI and IAPB into Vision Alliance. This is an important alliance that will ensure we have good pathways covering a wide range of activities from treatment to education, rehabilitation services, capacity building and empowerment. We have begun working together on low vision, disaster and emergency situations, "Education for All Vision Impairment" and Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) post 2015.

Braille21 Congress logo During this period we celebrated the bi-centenary of the birth of Louis Braille, held the Braille21 Conference in 2011. A very special event for me personally was attending and participating in the 5th Africa Forum in Ghana in 2011.

A major initiative I was closely involved in during my term has been the WBU Right to Read Campaign. With tremendous support from the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) and Sightsavers, Dan Pescod and Chris Friend have worked tirelessly on this. With less than 5% of published material produced in a format we can read in the most developed countries falling to less than 1% in the developing world, it was time to step up our efforts to change this situation.

In May 2009, Brazil, Paraguay and Ecuador tabled a draft treaty at the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) on behalf of the WBU which would allow sharing of books produced in an alternate format in one country with persons who are blind in another country. Current copyright law is national law and does not permit this.

With hard work and long negotiations over the last four years, we are delighted that in December 2012, member states took the decision to hold a Diplomatic Conference in June 2013 to negotiate this treaty. This is exciting; however, there remains much work to do to ensure the treaty is a meaningful and useable one. We cannot allow for a treaty which is difficult to use by individuals and organisations resulting in it not being used.

Maryanne Diamond at the podium, November 2010 We are very mindful that there is much work to be done to operationalize the treaty once adopted, and to ensure persons who are blind and the organisations which serve them know how to use it and do use it. Also, at the national level, copyright legislation should be consistent with the treaty content. Some efforts to begin this work are taking place by organisations such as some of the member organizations of the DAISY Consortium. In the WBU we are developing a plan of action to be undertaken, to support our members to have their countries ratify the treaty and to ensure it is used.

My term as president ended at the General Assembly in Bangkok. I was fortunate that Vision Australia, the largest organisation providing services to persons who are blind in Australia, had offered me a position as General Manager International Stakeholder Relations, which allowed me to undertake all my responsibilities as WBU president over these past four years.

On reflection, I think I have been able to bring to the WBU a strategic approach to our work, translating plans into action, and an organised way of working and the recognition of the value of fostering and building networks within and outside the organisation. Of course, none of this can be achieved by one person. It is about a team working together. I believe I played a role in the approach to our work by the leadership team working in a friendly, positive and respectful way, developing a plan owned by all of us, and staying focused on achieving that plan.

Maryanne Diamond with her husband and children, December 2012 I think that one of my major contributions to persons who are blind or have disabilities is my role as a parent – whether it was walking to and from school with my children, being present for various activities in the class room or school events, being part of my children's sporting and other activities, and so on. In these roles, I was there as a parent, not as a blind person. Using braille to access information at meetings and using my white cane getting to and from meetings, and participating as other parents did in those meetings, was a great way to influence their attitudes and beliefs about persons with disabilities.

I have been extremely fortunate in my life. I was blessed with a family who did not prevent or shelter me from doing what I wanted to do. My parents knew education was important and a key to my independence and choice in life. I was a good self-advocate through my school and post school years, and in finding employment. I was not afraid to take opportunities which came my way, and I have been fortunate that these have worked for me.

Editor's Note

Many people rise to meet the challenges that life presents to them, many do not. Maryanne Diamond has met many challenges and brought renewed focus and drive to the WBU, a renowned and world-wide organization. She has achieved a great deal and I am sure will continue to contribute to international efforts to ensure equal rights on all fronts for persons with disabilities as she begins her term as Immediate Past President of the WBU. It has been an honour to work with Ms. Diamond on both Parts 1 and 2 of her story; I now have an even greater respect for her as a person and as an international advocate. If you have not yet read Part 1 of Maryanne's story I am sure you will find it both enlightening and informative.