Blind Citizens WA Officer and Disability Advocate Erika Webb is someone who likes to get things done. So much so that she already knows what her tombstone should read ‘Here lies Erika – a do-er in life’.
I was born in Ireland so have a bit of the angry Irish women in me. It means I like to make change happen.Erika Webb
“In recent years I have toned down this activism streak to become more of a champion for disability rights,” she remarks.
From Ireland to Perth
Arriving in Australia when she was two with her parents and brother, Erika attended a primary school for children with disabilities and then went on to a mainstream secondary school.
For many people who have a disability, school life can be tough, but Erika says she had a good support network and threw herself into social activities including Scouts. At sixteen-years-old her parents, who worked in State and Federal Government, suggested she find work with what was then the Government owned Telecom Australia. She took up a position in records administration.
“I’m a good organiser, very methodical because I’ve spent a lot of my working life in record documentation. This background has helped me with my volunteering and advocacy roles.”
Blind Citizens – becoming an advocate and volunteer
At the age of thirty, Erika became involved in the Blind Citizens of Australia National Convention which was held in Perth. This was a turning point for her.
“I led a busy and fulfilling social life in my twenties, but at this convention it became clear there was so much more work to be done for people with disabilities. At that time the State Government wanted to make public transport more accessible, so I became involved with that.’’
Most recently, as a member of an advisory transport committee, she steered the way forward for the introduction of audible tactile traffic signals in WA.
Her lobbying work means that future pedestrian crossings in WA will have these so-called bleepers, something which she hopes will be rolled out nationally.
A founding member of the Albinism Fellowship of Australia, Erika has always been able to offer advice and support to people with Albinism.
“I like to think I’m a role model, such as offering peer support and connecting with parents, being there to give guidance, my lived experience can be very reassuring.”
Voting for change
Total privacy when voting is something most people take for granted at any election, but for people who are blind or have sight loss, casting your ballot in private isn’t an option. Erika is now on a committee to encourage the development of a universal online voting system to assist those with sight loss.
“I’m advocating for a system of ‘secret and verifiable, accessible voting’ because it would mean individuals could make a genuine vote in an online system which is 100% secure. This digital method could then be adapted for people living in remote communities or people serving in the Australian forces overseas for all future government elections.’’
The system would make voting fairer and would eradicate the need for someone who’s blind to ask staff at a polling station to help him or her mark their paper.
Erika’s volunteer roles take up a huge amount of time. There are dozens of groups and committees which benefit from her guidance such as Dog Guide Handlers Australia. It’s a subject close to her heart as her partner Greg Madson is blind and is currently on his third Guide Dog.
A keen promoter of sports for the disabled, Erika sits on the board for Blind Sports WA. She’s also a member of the Australian Sensory Disability Group, the Asia Pacific Accessible Tourism Steering Committee and Deafblind West Australians.
Up until recently, Erika was a member of the Rotary Group and Braille Authority WA. With such a busy volunteering schedule, can she ever see herself slowing down?
“Over the past year I have been trying to make more time for myself so I am now a volunteer ‘Befriend’ host. I organise a brunch group in the Joondalup area. It’s a great way for people, whatever their backgrounds, to become connected. They may have lost friends through a divorce or be new to the area and it suits me because it’s social and I’m a social person.”
Links with VisAbility
A past client with VisAbility, Erika is currently the Advocacy Officer for Blind Citizens WA. The office is next to Handa Hall in the Perron building. She’s been in this role for many years and is therefore on first name terms with many VisAbility clients. Good at networking, she has a strong online profile, running social media sites for various disability organisations. Her Facebook profile picture is of a meerkat, because it’s her favourite animal which she says sums her up well.
“Meerkats are extremely social and very co-operative animals which therefore gives them a strong sense of community usually living in groups.”
In her mid-fifties, she is still amazed at the number of people she meets who have heard about her achievements and volunteer work.
“I’ll meet people interstate, introduce myself and they always recognise my name. I’m encouraging change, so I suppose my life to date has been dedicated to a purpose. I’m making a difference and that’s something which yes, makes me proud.”
Erika’s volunteer roles past and present
- Australian Sensory Disability Group
- Blind Sports WA
- Dog Guide Handlers Australia
- AsiaPacific Accessible Tourism Conference and Expo
- Deafblind West Australians
- Government Advisory Transport Committee
- Advisory Group – Road Safety Commission
- Disability Network Committee
- Braille Authority
- Disability Advisory Group and Cycling and Pedestrian Advisory Group for Main Roads WA
- Rotary Group
- Disability Network Group – Department of Transport WA
- Disability Access and inclusion Group for Public Transport Authority and TransPerth
- Access and Inclusion Group for Perth Airport Redevelopment projects
If you’d like to find out more about the peer support and advocacy group visit the website Blind Citizens WA (link opens in new window). At VisAbility we have a range of low vision services and specialist services on offer which can be block-funded or through NDIS – look at what funding options are available to you.