Social Innovation and Visual Impairments

The story of this social innovation starts with a fight for services for people with failing eye-sight in New Zealand that included petitions, select committees and national reference groups. The need for services was never greater, while the old ways were never more bankrupt. At one point in 2016, it seemed as though the fight was going to succeed, but hope eventually fizzled out. The learning from this failed exercise has since fuelled the drive for the social innovation.

Social innovations are new social practices that aim to meet social needs in a better ways than existing solutions. Transformative social innovation introduces new approaches to intractable problems. In this case, the aim is to enable good lives for people with visual impairment, in spite of budget constraints.

The social innovation model for visual impairment is constantly evolving, but it currently consists of the following three elements:

A)  Community led development: The model involves creating a space where people are engaged in intelligently addressing their own problems. For example, when footpaths are made dangerous for pedestrians, the meaning of mobility is explored at many levels and political representations are made.

B) Citizen science: Funding for two individual projects have had citizen science at their heart. For example, in order to bring light into the old and dark homes of Dunedin, older people were taught about the science of light; and in order to meet the need for spectacles, children were engaged in learning how to screen each other for vision loss.

C) Communities of practice: Social innovation is an inter-sectoral approach. Over the last few years, the collaboration between the support groups and educational institutions has brought together a vibrant community of student practice. This has included the disciplines of design, IT, social service, law business, photography and occupational therapy. The students have come together in ‘connected difference’ across a number of projects to produce wonderful outcomes for people with visual impairment.

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