Language vs Communication

I have been working in the disability sector for a long time. My expertise is working with deafness, obviously.  Mostly I have worked with people from the Deaf community. Usually these people have been born deaf or lost their hearing early in life before they had started to learn language. Many of these people struggle with English. It is not that they could not use English, rather it is that their deafness has made it difficult to learn English as it is spoken. Often they can make themselves understood in English, and very well at that, but they make significant grammatical errors.

But hearing people who are not knowledgeable about the issues of early deafened individuals often pass judgement on these deaf people. They see them as slow and incapable. They see them as uneducated. Some of these deaf people are native Auslan users. Even though they are strong with Auslan they still make grammatical errors in English. Because of this they are often over looked for jobs and promotions. Often they stay at base jobs for many years never achieving promotions. Meanwhile hearing colleagues who might have been there a lot less longer pass them by.

It is really unfair. I have always been very angry that the hearing world cannot overlook grammatical errors when meaning is obviously clear. To me it has always been important that a person is able to communicate what they need or want and be understood. If that can be done any grammatical errors, even spelling errors, are really unimportant. Unfortunately I am in the minority.

Consider these two examples which I have taken from a web page that is discussing what we shall call Deaf English:

“Good one, and I DO have good reason here… Almost all deafies who learn English through English instead of ASL. That’s the MAJOR problem!!! Deafies’ natural language happened to be ASL. Problem is that they were never educated about ASL in the first place so that they can better understand English! There was so much opposition in hearing world on ASL from pre school to even in college! Hearing thinks its BAD IDEA or WRONG to teach deafies English with ASL… “

Why do I think this way. About 10 years ago, I learned what ASL really is, I dropped my jaw and realize that it is a LANGUAGE PERIOD. ASL has its own rules, syntacs, structures, etc. Same with English language. Unfortunately Deafies just happen to use these rules naturally and not even know it. If they had knew there is such thing in ASL, they can better compare English and ASL and will always say ohhh got it… It rarely happened.

What you have just read is entirely comprehensible. It is clearly written by a person who is intelligent. It is written by someone who has a good grasp of why many people who are deaf struggle with the English Language. I have highlighted in red some of the more glaring grammatical mistakes. My question is – Do they really matter? What the individuals has written is fully comprehensible. In my view that should be the only thing that we judge.

In reply to this another deaf person wrote:

I don’t know ASL well…
and still my grammar is messed up.

It is just that I didn’t hear much of what people said,
and all of my life… I didn’t have closed caption tv.
And the schools I went to… they didn’t taught me well…
I always made C’s and D’s

Some of the more pedantic people who are experts in English might find other areas of this paragraph with errors. They might even say that the language use in the paragraph is immature. BUT – Does it matter? In my view NO! What matters is this person has communicated a complex concept effectively. They have done it in a way that is readily understood. We are in no doubt of their message. YET, they will be judged for this and even overlooked when it comes to applying for jobs and promotions.

I well recall a friend of mine who got a job quite high up in an organisation. She was deaf and made minor grammatical errors such as you see above. I had a Board member of the woman’s organisation contact me. They were concerned about her writing because it made them look unprofessional. I asked if  there was anything that the deaf woman wrote that could not be understood. The Board member admitted that this was not the case. They admitted that everything that my friend wrote made sense, despite the minor errors.  All she could say was – “… but its not professional!”

Sadly, the hearing world is not only ignorant of the struggles many deaf people have with English grammar but they are also unforgiving. Rather than look at the skills and the talents of the deaf person they judge them on their English grammar. Don’t get me wrong. I get that grammar is important and is often crucial to meaning but this is not always the case. What is important in the end is that communication happens and everyone is understood. That is my view anyway.

But it is not just hearing people that are language snobs. There are people in the Deaf community who are too. Often times I have seen members of the Deaf community mock people over their use of Auslan. Like it or not the MAJORITY of people who are members of the Deaf community learn Auslan as their second language. There are very few PURE users of Auslan in the Deaf community. As it is with English there are language elitist in the Deaf community who will mock, ridicule and even exclude people who are Deaf who they feel do not meet their lofty standards.

Most people that I know who are Deaf who sign use a combination of Auslan, English and what is known as Sim Com. Sim Com is where people speak and use sign language at the same time. Often you will see Deaf people use a sign in the wrong context. For example you have the sign for affair. Affair in English can have two meanings. One can have meaning for when a person cheats on their romantic partner, as in having an affair. The  second can mean a persons or an organisations business or personal matters such as – I am putting my affairs in order or the Department of Consumer Affairs. Yet English, being the daft language it is, uses one word to mean both of these things. It all depends on context.

In Auslan there are two separate signs to represent the the different contexts of the English word affair – One will be the sign to signify one is cheating on their partner and the other will be the sign for business. Yet users of Auslan quite often just use the one sign for affair. Which is the sign for cheating on your partner.

So one might say Office of Consumer Affairs and use the sign where the tips of the fingers of the right hand tap the closed fist of the left hand twice. Contextually one might visualise a department where consumers are all having affairs. The point is that for many Auslan users for whom Auslan is their second language, English is never far from the surface.

I have many deaf friends who use Auslan. I have to be honest, very few of them are absolutely proficient. And if I am totally honest many use Sim Com to a degree. They may not actually speak, but they mouth the words in English order. They might sign – Me – Last Saturday – went football – See Essendon vs Crows – But mouth a perfectly grammatical English sentence .. “I went to The football on Saturday to see Essendon and the Crows.” 

If I am really honest, most of my Auslan interpreters also use Sim Com to a degree as well. They do this because they know that English is my first language and by providing me with English cues it enhances my understanding. They probably adjust their interpreting to meet my requirements. Whereas if they were to interpret for a native signer they may actually use close to native Auslan. It all depends on the customer I guess.

The point I make is that even with this hybrid of Auslan, English, mis-signs, broken English or broken Auslan we all manage to communicate and swimmingly at that. That is all that matters in my mind. I have worked with too many people who have been so language deprived that expressing themselves is a daily challenge.

Life is too short to be worried  about fickle rules that are often pointless when communication is obviously clear. I understand there is a need to preserve native Auslan in all its beauty and English as well for that matter. It would be a tragedy if the best of these languages were lost. That said, it is not an excuse for language snobbery and exclusion. Communication is the key and we all need to come down from our high horse and remember that.

And on that note I leave you with this quote. Replace English with Auslan and speak with write and the meaning is just as valid:

Even if you do learn to speak correct English, whom are you going to speak it to?

Clarence Darrow

 

There’s Something About Andy

English is my first language. I bastardise the language everyday. I misspell, misplace and misgrammar virtually every aspect of it. English is simply the most absurd and ridiculous language to learn and use. It has a myriad of pedantic and unnecessary rules. It has words that sound the same  but mean different things. I am having a sale/sail today is one simple example. We have to be in context to know what someone means. Otherwise we are left to guess whether I am likely to drown or proffer a number of bargains to buyers.  And that is the crux of English, it often just makes no sense. Consider these examples taken from https://www.oxford-royale.co.uk/articles/learning-english-hard.html

One of the reasons why English is known for being difficult is because it’s full of contradictions. There are innumerable examples of conundrums such as:

  • There is no ham in hamburger.
  • Neither is there any apple nor pine in pineapple.
  • If teachers taught, why didn’t preachers praught?
  • If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat?
  • “Overlook” and “oversee” have opposite meanings, while “look” and “see” mean the same thing.

So anyway English is open to be made fun of and I make fun of it – All the time!

The thing is that when I take the piss out of the English language the whole of England does not come down on me. I don’t get crucified for daring to challenge or bastardise the language. People just chortle or roll their eyes and carry on with their lives. BUT if I were to make fun of Auslan, which is my second language, you could bet that a large slice of the Deaf community would come down on me. Why is this so?

The Deaf community is sensitive and extremely protective of Auslan. Indeed Deaf people the world over are as equally protective of their sign languages. This is understandable because for many years hearing people have sought to oppress sign languages through suppression.

The HEARING world typically  wants Deaf people to assimilate. To do that Deaf people had to communicate just like everyone else. It couldn’t be done if they were using that damn fangled hand talk could it? By golly they would only be able to understand themselves and what good would that be? And sign language is so graphic it’s akin to sin. We cant have that can we? The Deaf, they’re dumb you know? – So let’s  make them as much like hearing people as we can so that they will be less dumbsome. Believe it or not these are all historical reasons that you will find as to why sign language had to be suppressed.

Attempt of the hearing world to suppress sign languages has caused much damage to Deaf people. It has often led to language deprivation. Language deprivation impacts on learning, development, relationships, mental health and so on. We in the Deaf community are all very aware of the damage the suppression of sign language has caused. More importantly, the suppression of sign language impinges on basic human rights.

This is why  Deaf people are so fiercely protective of their language and community. It is also why they are so extremely cynical and defensive towards the motives of many hearing people. Especially when it comes to hearing people using and abusing sign language. This is what Andy Dexterity has found recently.

But who is Andy Dexterity? Dexterity is an artist, and a damn fine one at that. His art is unique because it fuses contemporary art, particularly music, with a combination of mime gesture and sign language. He is really creative and great to watch if you like his style of art. He is also much acclaimed and has won numerous awards. He apparently advises the Wiggles on what is known as sign dance. He  clearly loves sign language and seems to have an aim to fuse sign language as much as possible with mainstream art. To learn more about Dexterity click on this link – https://andydexterity.com/about/

Below is an example of his art:

 

 

 

Recently Dexterity gave a Ted Talk. His talk was a combination of English and samples of sign language. He has put the Deaf community offside with this talk because he appears to have made himself a spokesperson of the language.  Above all his Ted Talk was not accessible.

I have watched his Ted talk. He uses signs mainly to make a point. He often breaks rules. For example at the start he signs “My name is A N D Y ..” He finger spells his name. As he finger spells he pronounces each letter separately.  The Deaf community would not do that. Rather they would finger spell their name then mouth/say their name once they had completed spelling it. They would not mouth/say each letter of their name separately.

I fancy that Dexterity has chosen to pronounce each letter of his name, not to break rules, but rather to show his audience that each letter that he is forming with his hands represents the letter he pronounces. He has done this, in my view, because he knows there are people in his audience who do not know sign language and it is his way of showing them that sign language can represent each letter of the alphabet on the hands. It makes sense to me but members of the Deaf community have become annoyed about this as they feel he is misappropriating Auslan.

He also seems to have upset the Deaf community in how he portrays sign language. In his Ted Talk he signs in a way that is almost childlike. He has done so to engage with his audience and pique their interest. In doing so he has come across to many in the Deaf community as infantilising their language. It is a little bit cringe-worthy. Especially as the Deaf community have fought so hard to have Auslan taken seriously. He started by talking and signing the dialogue below:

“Hello hello …

Welcome to the Tedx Sydney show

My name is A N D Y (finger spells and says each letter)

You’re name is what?

(Cups ear) Pleased to meet you

How are you? How are you?

Thank you I’m good too

Let’s start, come on dance and sing

Let’s all sign

And have a really good time.

It really was a bit Play Schoolish.  This probably is not surprising given that Dexterity advises and choreographs sign songs for the Wiggles.  But seriously this is probably the first introduction to sign language that many in the audience have had and what must they have thought? Many would have been thinking it was a cute and sweet way to communicate.  It was not the best way to start something as serious as a Ted Talk that had a heavy focus on sign language. It is understandable that many in the Deaf community felt patronised and mocked by Dexterity’s introduction. I am sure that was far from his intent.

In his talk Dexterity explains his art is made up of  mime, gesture and sign language that are forms of physical communication. Then I pretty much get lost because he speaks and just adds a sign here or there. There was no interpreter and no captioning so it is very frustrating.

It galls me that he is representing Deaf people and I cannot  understand all he is saying. It leaves me flat and more than a little angry. A bit of lipreading and I understand some of what he says, “… 5% of the worlds population have a disability ,  360 million  have something or other, oh my goodness, oh my goodness, … thumbs up you are best …. ” I am sure the rest of his speech was thrilling but that was all I could get so about there I gave up.

Can I just say Andy .. Please make sure everything you do is accessible .. especially if its about Deaf people and especially so because you are the Ambassador of  Deaf Australia.

I have been following the outrage against Andy. Some people were really angry. Said one, “.. the more I see of him the more angry I get.”  Many are frustrated with him and the reasons are quite extensive. They include:

  • He makes glaring Auslan grammatical errors.
  • He speaks and signs
  • Sign dance doesn’t fully interpret a song
  • He misappropriates Auslan
  • He doesn’t use Deaf people as part of his message
  • He mocks the language by making it seem infantile

And the big one HE ISN’T DEAF and has no right to use Auslan for his own personal gain. This last one maybe so, but when the Deaf community and it’s stakeholders started using Auslan for commercial gain those people who invested in it, Andy being one, gained a stake in it. It is an unfortunate spin-off of commercialisation.

I will be honest. I am not quite sure why people are as angry as they are. I see a lot of benefits from having someone like Dexterity on board. As Deaf Australia alluded in their media statement about the outrage towards Dexterity, he is a bridge to the mainstream in away that many of us cannot be. His style, his talent, his networks and the fact that his work brings so much attention to sign language can potentially mean many more people will go out there and learn Auslan. Some will become interpreters. Others will simply learn it and spread the word. Dexterity with his talent and networks can benefit the Deaf community in many ways.

It is equally true that we have many Deaf people that can have a huge impact if  Deaf Australia were to appoint them as Ambassadors. Actor Sofya Gollan, for example, arguably could have just as much impact as Dexterity. Being Deaf she would be an excellent representative too. We have Colin Allen and Dean Barton Smith – Both who have enormous reach and impact. And what about our very own Alastair McEwin of Disability Commissioner fame, although he maybe conflicted.

There are many that could fill the role alongside Dexterity. Let’s hope that Deaf Australia will consider the breadth of talent among Deaf people that exists within Australia who could be brilliant ambassadors. They certainly would be great role models for Dexterity and lead him down the right path.

If Dexterity is going to be an Ambassador for the Deaf community he has to spread a message that is relevant and accepted by the people that he is representing. It’s important that he consults and takes on board the feedback that they are providing.

I feel the degree of anger towards him is not all warranted. He certainly has made mistakes, that Ted Talk being among the worst. That said, in my view, he has much to offer. I hope the Deaf community can find a way to accept him, work closely with him and help him spread a message that will promote Auslan and bring more people into the Auslan fold. Hopefully people will not cut off their nose to spite their face.

 

Have we all become Gnashnabs?

No one likes a gnashnab. A gnashnab is a miserable person that moans and whines all the time. Every little thing that they see they have to complain about. They nitpick and are seemingly never satisfied. Gnashnab is an old English word that was used to insult people who grumbled about things all the time. It seems that this is what we in the Deaf and disability sectors have all become.                       http://www.dictionary.com/slideshows/12-insults-we-should-bring-back?param=DcomSERP#Gnashnab

I probably am one of our prime gnashnabs. The Rebuttal has been around for over ten years now. In that time I have complained about anything and everything that impacts  on the ability of people who are Deaf or disabled to live a life that they see fit. I have complained about Deaf Society’s and the lack of Deaf people leading them.  I have complained about cinemas and their inability to provide a source of access that does not break down mid movie or indeed not start at all.  I have complained about our Deaf sector advocates for not consulting nor listening to Deaf people. Rather they would choose to dictate to Deaf people what they thought was good for them. I even complained about Graeme Innes, who is sacred in the disability community. Yup, I am a gnashnab who is right up there with the best of them.

The paradox is that our Australian society, and indeed our disability legislation, means that the only way that we, the Deaf and disabled, can get change is to complain. When things are lacking, if we want them to improve, we have to bring attention to them. No captions? Then we have to complain that there are none. No accessible toilets? Then we have to complain that there are none. Can’t get on a bus cos bus stops are in accessible? Then we have to complain about it to action change. Our very own Disability Discrimination Act is so pathetic and weak that it requires the whole of the Deaf and disability population to become gnashnabs for it to even kick into action.

I am probably taking a much too liberal interpretation of the word. I think gnashnab mostly refers to people that continuously make petty complaints.  But the thing is that we Deaf and disabled people have become so accustomed to complaining that the minute we get a chance to complain, we do so. And so it was recently when the Deaf guy got kicked off Ninja Warrior.

I confess I had no Idea that a Deaf guy was on Ninja Warrior. I wasn’t watching that crap. Instead I was watching other crap called Masterchef.  But the world being what it is, within minutes of it happening, I found out that Deaf guy screwed up on Ninja Warrior.

First it was Facebook Messenger and then it was Facebook itself. Maria came on Messenger asking me if I knew the fella. She messaged me and Mike. I didn’t know him but Mike did. “He didn’t last long.”, said Mike.  That was kind of ironic because Deaf guy lasted for a fair few days after that.

It seemed that every other post on my Facebook feed was about Deaf guy. Now I don’t want to understate the achievements of Deaf guy. That he lasted 3.7 seconds of the obstacle course doesn’t matter. His achievement was being there. His achievement is being a wonderful specimen of a fit human being. He is 48 and fit as a fiddle. He pumps iron and has a body many men, years his junior, would be proud of. I, as a lump of lard, envied him greatly. Let’s take nothing away from him. He is awesome.

That said, he lasted 3.7 seconds. He jumped from one board to another. Slipped, his foot hit the water and the buzzer went off. That should have been the end of it because once you touch the water you are out. But he seemingly didn’t realise his foot had touched water and carried on. It was all a bit  cringe-worthy because a studio official blocked his way waving frantically while his stepson interpreted for him that his time was up. Deaf guy looked pained and shocked. Nevertheless, he accepted his lot with dignity and hopped down. His Ninja Warrior journey was over. But not for the gnashnabs.

I am not sure poor Deaf Guy realised what was coming. Probably just as well because if he had he may well have chosen to never leave home. The minute he slipped Channel Nine became Deaf and Disability public enemy number one.

How dare they let Deaf guy go up there without a proper interpreter. How dare they not  put flashing lights in for him. You know, he didn’t even understand the rules properly cos he didn’t have a proper interpreter. How dare Channel Nine make him look like such a doozy in front of the world. And it went on and on. As we say to our friend James when he is hysterical – CALM DOWN FLUFFY!!

Of course the gnashnabs are entirely right. But lets put a few things in perspective. The producers of the show probably had no idea of the political sensitivities that the gnashnabs had highlighted. Most likely the Deaf guy and his family were their sole source of information about deafness.

Sure they could have researched better but if Deaf guy says, ” .. hey its OK my boy can interpret.”, who are they to refuse him. It’s likely they had no idea of visual alerts. Let’s face it, the visual alert could have been as simple as a red flag waving so that Deaf guy knew his foot got wet and he was out.

It is a fact of life that we Deaf and disabled often have the responsibility to inform and request. We have to disclose our needs. If we do not then most likely we wont get. It is not fair but that’s how it is. None of us know what happened with Deaf guy and the producers but to hear the gnashnabs was to think that Channel Nine had near murdered him.

The truth is there were many risks that Channel Nine created and they could have been in serious trouble. Say, for example, he got the wrong information from the “unqualified” interpreter, jumped the wrong way and broke his neck? Who would be liable? Most likely Deaf guy cos he probably signed a waiver. But perhaps the waiver was written in a way that he did not understand and he signed it without being fully informed. There are heaps of scenarios.

In a perfect world the producers would have known these things but they did not. They are like 95% of Australia. An Australia that is almost solely designed for people who are not Deaf and disabled. An Australia that only meets the needs of Deaf and disabled once someone says … “look I cant get up steps. I need a ramp!” … So they add it on later at great expense. Hell, I worked for a council that put Braille signs on the wrong side of toilet doors, put a disabled park in a place that no person, unless they were a contortionist, could get out of or into and placed a sofa in front of the one door that people in wheelchairs could use to access a building. Believe me when I tell you that a high proportion of non-disabled are often – “Not very bright”

And then there was the poor stepson that interpreted. He was virtually labelled as incompetent and setting his step dad up to fail. How bad was that? I really felt for him. I think that to say many of us over-reacted is putting it kindly.

Let’s be clear. In an interview after the event Deaf guy said he didn’t realise his foot hit the water and it was a bit of a shock for him when he was told. So it seems he really did understand but it was just unfortunate. I’ve lost count of how many times my deaf netball team have streamed up the field  and kept throwing the ball fifteen seconds or more after the whistle has gone for an infringement. Meanwhile umpires are chasing them down frantically to get them to stop. It is a Deaf world problem. Deaf guy said he wanted the hearing world to know what it was like to be Deaf .. And he certainly achieved that.  http://www.nowtolove.com.au/celebrity/tv/exclusive-australian-ninja-warrior-contestant-paul-cashion-speaks-out-elimination-39226

Is this the society of Deaf and Disabled that we have created? Have we created a group of people that, by conditioning and necessity, react angrily and complain incessantly? Is this because they know that this has been the only way that change has happened in the past?

So that’s what they do. It doesn’t make for a fun world to live in a lot of the time. All I can say … is fix that bloody DDA please, and quick, so we dont all have to continue to be a bunch of gnashnabs. It’s embarrassing and tiring!

Pauline Hanson is not all wrong!

Pauline Hanson is a repulsive being. There is no other way to describe her. She is racist and ignorant. Most recently she described disabled kids as a hindrance to the education of normal kids that want to, “.. Get ahead in leaps and bounds.”  You see our Pauline, that upstanding Australian, believes that kids with disabilities get too much attention from teachers and therefore other kids are neglected.  A lot of attention has been focused on her mentioning Autistic children but she actually was referring to all kids with disabilities. Said our Pauline, “… teachers spend too much time with autistic children and children with disabilities to the detriment of other students.” (Taken from the Courier Mail)

Pauline claims she has been taken out of context. She claims it’s not that she doesn’t want these disabled kids educated but rather that they should have special classrooms or more special schools to look after them. This is so the other kids don’t have to suffer them obviously.  Inclusionist have had a field day with her.  They say that since the 90’s the philosophy of inclusion has changed education for the better. (Paraphrased from The Guardian)

I want to address the elephant in the room. As much as I hate to say it, Pauline is not all wrong.  Nor are the inclusionist all right.  In fact one could argue that inclusionism, as it relates to education of kids with a disability, has failed many of them.

Inclusion, according to the Oxford Dictionary is, “….the fact of including somebody/something; the fact of being included.” Unfortunately that is how the education system defines disability inclusion. If they are there then they are included. Of course this is far from the case. Inclusion can be the most secluding thing ever for a person with a disability.

Over almost 30 years in the disability sector I have seen some horrendous things in the name of inclusion. I remember an organisation I worked with enrolled a deafblind girl who was 22 in a walking group. Problem is the youngest in the walking group was about 70. They would walk and she would follow. They would eat and talk and she would just eat. She never said a word to them nor they to her. But she was included so that was ok. Right?

So many times I have seen disabled kids in a school setting. Of course they are mainstreamed but at lunch they sit alone. In group discussions they say nothing and are ignored. When work needs to be done they are taken away into a room with the teacher aid and given a book to colour in. They might be teenagers when this happens.

Back in 2011 I was asked to observe a young deaf girl in her classroom. Her mother was worried as the young deaf girl seemed depressed and not happy with school. The girl was mainstreamed and had a class interpreter.  In the morning the kids sat down at their table. It was Monday and they were to write about their weekend.

Diligently the girl began writing about her weekend. The rest of the kids were all chatting with each other and sharing their stories. The girl watched them. You could see her anxious glances around the table. She was wondering what her peers were talking about and the interpreter did nothing. Later they went for story time. The interpreter would interpret the teacher telling the story. The teacher would ask questions and the kids would answer. For some unknown reason the interpreter didn’t interpret the answers from the kids. This meant that the girl had no access to peer learning.

I later wrote a report outlining what was happening and how the school could facilitate better inclusion. The school refused to acknowledge the report. The interpreter apparently threatened to resign because she felt insulted by the report. The school were angry claiming that I did not understand classroom dynamics. I guess that sometimes the truth hurts. Inclusion was clearly failing this girl.

And I remember being a teacher aid for a couple of young  deaf aboriginal people. In the morning the home class got together and then got to work. When they got to work I was asked to take the aboriginal students to another room and teach them. I was virtually their teacher. They would take part in sport and excursions and sit with me the whole time.  As soon as we returned to the class I would be asked take them into a room and teach them. Is this what we call mainstream education?

And then there was Charlie. He was a five year old in a classroom. Story time that day was a story about animals. The teacher read this innovative picture book to the class. Basically the book allowed the teacher to flip tags that had parts of various animals and create bizarre creatures. The creature might be a mix of crocodile, kangaroo and wombat. A Crokanbat. The kids loved it.

The little deaf guy didn’t have much speech to write home about but he was excited about the Crokanbat.  He got up and pointed while squealing delightedly. He clearly wanted to know what the creature was. The teacher shushed him and when he refused to be quiet removed him from the class and made me take him to the library. Yes this actually happened. His questions unanswered. His language learning opportunities lost. His soul destroyed.

I am sure there are success stories out there where inclusion works really well. But when it does not it is a disaster. It is soul destroying and I am sure it contributes to poor self-esteem and mental health issues later in life for many of these kids with a disability.

And this happens because the system is horrendously under-resourced. Teachers are expected to be a Jack/Jill of all trades. They are expected to deal with a class and also support kids with disabilities too. Most are not trained in disability and get minimal support from visiting teachers and minimal support from teacher aids. It’s not that inclusion is wrong, it is that the system just does not provide the tools nor the funding to make it entirely successful.

I don’t like segregation either. I would rather the system provide the level of support that it needs top to make inclusion a success. The reality is that it does not and it is the poor teacher that is expected to do it all. It is a recipe for disaster and often is.

As abhorrent as Pauline Hanson’s view are she is not entirely wrong. The system needs to change and it needs to be funded properly. As it stands, at this very moment, inclusion in schools can be the the most secluding thing ever for many kids with disabilities. It is doing them great harm.

So hate Pauline as much as you want but the end of the day she may have done us all a favour bringing the issue to the table. Our job is to keep it there and highlight all that is wrong with inclusion policy in education and everywhere.

A Precious Resource

You know that since I was at secondary school I have actually been receiving a lot of my information second hand. This is because I have had to rely on interpreters, captioning or note-takers to get my information.  I have to put an enormous amount of trust in the person that is supporting me. If they get it wrong, I get it wrong. If they don’t understand, I wont understand. If they pick and choose information that they think is relevant and exclude stuff they think is not – well I have to hope to high heaven they are good judges of information.

At school I had note-takers. This was BC – Before Captioning. The teacher might sign somethings to me in crappy Signed English occasionally but  mostly I relied on their notes. So in class the teacher would jot down the important information. If there were discussions happening in the room I generally got no access to that cos the teacher didn’t note this. In that sense I had no access to peer learning. So what I had to do was learn based on the information my teacher/note-taker thought was important. I passed somehow, not sure how but I did.  I was apparently the first deaf person to matriculate from a Centre for Hearing Impaired in Adelaide. This was in 1983.

It’s true I barely passed but no matter. I was a shit student. There were more important things in life than studying endlessly – soccer being one. But nevertheless I passed on what was really very limited access to information and what I could garner from my own limited reading. Looking back, that’s a  huge achievement.

So after secondary school I decided I was going to be a teacher. A teacher of the deaf (TOD). I reasoned that I would be good at it. After all, who understands deaf people better than deaf people themselves? I remember when completing my last year of school I nominated a number of courses. Parks and Recreation was one. Aboriginal studies another. Teaching was my priority. I was accepted into all of them but chose teaching. I wish I had chosen Parks and Recreation now. Being outside all the time in the wilderness has an appeal. But I reasoned at that time that Park Rangers communicated by two way radio and it would be too hard.  Whoo boy, how I and times have changed.

So I started teacher training at the Salisbury College of Advanced Education. I attended for six weeks or so and sporadically at that. This was 1984 and disability support for tertiary education in South Australia was non existent. I had no note-takers and no interpreters, nothing. I didn’t learn much. Correction, I didn’t learn anything. If this experience taught me anything it was that access to at least some information is better than no access at all.

After six weeks I found out that there was this university in Durham (England) that provided support to deaf students. They had a teacher of the deaf course so I went out and bought me a plane ticket, wrote them a letter and left for England. All before I even knew if I would be accepted or not. Meanwhile I didn’t even withdraw from my course in Adelaide, I just left. No doubt the record reads FAIL somewhere.

So away to England I headed , got myself an interview at Durham, got myself accepted and found out that I didn’t have enough money to afford the fees. No doubt there were grants around I could have accessed.  But the Red Lion up the road and the English Deaf community had more appeal. In short I was too busy having a good time.

Meanwhile in Australia Mum and Dad were besides themselves and trying to find money from the Australian Government to fund my studies. While they were on their hundredth phone call I was probably downing a pint while chatting to some attractive deaf woman. Mum and Dad even got in the newspaper. I still remember their serious faces in the article photograph while holding up a photo of me smiling broadly. The gist of the article was that I was deaf boy wonder trying to make good in England and abandoned by the Australian Government.

BUT mum and dad’s efforts were not wasted because they found out about a teacher of the deaf course that was being set up by the late and great Dr Des Power in Brisbane. So I flew back to Australia and before I knew it I was on my way to Brisbane to study. Dr Power was way ahead of his time. He got funding for interpreters and note takers so that Deaf students could access the course.

It was perhaps the first time that I had close to full access to information. I say close because I was till learning Auslan at the time so I didn’t really have full access. The supply of interpreters was also a bit limited. I was the student that had to do without when interpreters were in short supply. I spoke well, you see. So when interpreters were in short supply they were prioritised to the students that were full signers and didn’t speak so well.

Again I wasn’t the best student. I lived at the University Halls of Residence. It was brilliant but also distracting. Beer, social functions, pool tables, table tennis, ready access to the city and night clubs – Well it sure beat being stuck in a dingy little room studying all night.

I generally did OK. I once had an all night study party where we studied for an exam that was at 9 am next day. We had started at 7pm. We had beer, a couple of breaks to play cards, ordered pizza and ribs. Naturally we studied a bit. We finished at 7am next morning showered, had breakfast and went to the exam. How I got a credit for it I will never know.  I reckon that the access that I was being provided played a large part in it.

BUT, alas, along the way I broke my leg three times. I got a bit depressed about that. I was trying to imagine myself in a room with 30 screaming kids, five days a week, for the rest of my life. That was even more depressing than the broken legs. So I upped and left back to Adelaide and enrolled in a Social Work course.

I went from Queensland where I was spoilt for access to Adelaide where I had none. Although support was promised, it was never forthcoming. I actually had to stand out in front of the class and ask students to help me by sharing their notes. This struggle went on for six years until I graduated.

I fought and fought for access including meeting with the Education Minister. I appealed and wrote countless letters to the Vice Chancellor explaining my difficulties. It was not until my final year that I got access to interpreters. And even then I had to fight lecturers to allow the interpreters into their classrooms. Believe me when I tell you that I value all the support that I can get. I’ve worked hard for it and earned it.

So over the years I have used interpreters and captioning in a variety of situations. Work, recreation, training, study, medical and social gatherings. I am always thankful for the interpreter and captioners. I do everything that I can to make sure they have optimal conditions so that they can interpret or caption to the best of their ability. I make a point in giving opportunities to young interpreters so that they can upskill. We all know that there is a lack of supply. If us deafies don’t take some responsibility to upskill the interpreters who will?

My respect for interpreters is immense. When I use them I take control of the situation. I try my hardest to stop people talking over each other so as to make sure the interpreters job is easier. If they have optimal conditions then I get optimal information. I make sure they have breaks. I am patient when I know a speaker is difficult or speaking too fast and will often ask speakers to slow down. Interpreters know that they can tell me when a situation is hard and I will try to rectify it. Good interpreting and translation is a team effort.

I have been at the bottom in terms of access and now I am at the very top. I know that interpreters (and captioners) are a precious resource that need to be nurtured, encouraged and supported. Criticism of interpreters worries me. It’s not that interpreters should be immune from criticism because its only from criticism that they can grow. The problem is that often this criticism is unfair and unrealistic.

I am well aware that interpreters must be good. They are often in situations where people’s futures or lives are on the line. Because of this they sometimes have to take control. This means that they sometimes have to tell people to repeat things. If this slows down the process then so be it.  They sometimes have to ask deaf people to finger-spell more slowly.  Their job is one of immense responsibility and accurate translation is crucial. For this reason if a Deaf person says to me that interpreter X was crap because they asked them three times to slow down their finger spelling I’m likely to go into battle for the interpreter rather than the Deaf person. Sure, its not ideal but accurate conveying of information must be the goal at all times.

Interpreting is a limited market. I would love for them all to be brilliant here and now. Bottom line is there are many that need years to get to the level that we deafies, especially professionals, desire. For that reason we have a responsibility to lower our expectations a little, support interpreters more and help the market upskill and develop.

If an interpreter is struggling with finger spelling now it is only through constant exposure that they will get better. So if they say slow down – just do it, even if you are a big wig academic. Otherwise our lofty expectations may create a world where only the best survive and there are even less to serve the market than there are now. I’ve been there and I have no desire to return.

Death …. deaf … and other thoughts.

By and large death is a good thing. Without death our world would be so horrendously overpopulated that we would long ago have destroyed the earth. I mean we humans are doing our best to destroy it anyway but because of our friend death we have survived this long. You see death has a purpose. That purpose is not just so that we don’t overpopulate but it is also so that others may survive. When an animal dies it decomposes. The decomposing leads to nutrition in the soil that feeds plants, that feeds us and feeds other animals. It is the circle of life as they say. It is a truism that the demise of an animal, be it human or otherwise, is another animals gain.

Yet we humans are obsessed with staying alive. I understand that we have to survive for a certain amount of time. If death happens faster than life then there will be no life left. There has to be balance. Likewise if we are staying alive at a rate that is so much greater than death then the resources of the world cannot cope. Humans know this. We hear all the time that a certain animal is breeding at such a rate that it needs to be culled because it is killing itself and there is not enough food to go around. Kangaroos, koalas, rabbits, wild horses and so on have all been subject to culls. Of course humans would never consider culling themselves but the Chinese tried a one child one couple policy. The forced abortions and sterilisation that followed, as well as the persecution are just some of the many shameful examples of mans inhumanity to man.

I have had great cause to think about death lately. Recently my father died and some good friends have passed this year too. I am a fatalist and accept death for what it is. I sometimes think humans should concentrate more on alleviating pain rather than the obsession with prolonging life. Of course it is a fine balance. If there is a disease that is going to make us all perish so that there are no humans left then of course we need to find a way to beat that and survive. But if our obsession is just about staying alive forever then we are not doing ourselves or the world any favours.

My father believed in god. He did not believe in god in the traditional religious sense of heaven and hell. He believed that the world had far too much order to have just been created randomly. He could not fathom that some randomly colliding particles led to everything we see today. He believed that the world had a delicate balance that  needed to have been worked out and planned. Whether this was by a God or some other supernatural power he did not know. But for him there had to be something. In that sense he was a profoundly spiritual person.

And death and life, I guess, are part of that balance. It is a delicate balance too. We humans are so selfish and so besotted with living that we fail to see this. We fear death far too much and need to really understand its purpose. For my father his death was timely. His body had worn out. Death was welcome for him as it alleviated his pain. If he had a choice he would have liked to have controlled when he died rather than just fading away and suffering as he did. But, alas, death as it relates to humans is far too complex for that.

I was protected from the worst of my fathers suffering by the tyranny of distance. My father lived in South Australia and I in Melbourne. While I saw him as often as I was able his care was with my mother, sister and my sisters family. They provided for him in every way that they possibly could. He was very lucky indeed.

That is one of the positives of death and suffering. Mainly that it mostly brings out the best in people. When people are sick and in pain by and large people rally around. They offer support be it morale or a simple cooked dinner. They show that they care in a way that they probably didn’t in times more sedate. My father would have known that he was loved. I think he held on as long as he did because he felt that love and cherished it.

My father and I had a complex relationship. It was complex because it was built on empathy. You see, he and I struggled to communicate. I was deaf and he a mumbler. He was so very hard to lipread. My mother and my sister would be my interpreter, particularly in the later part of his life. My kids would also interpret for me. My son Tyler assisted me to communicate with my dad for an article I wrote about his life. At the  end my eldest son was there to interpret  for me when he was near death. I am grateful for their assistance.

I am often angry that deafness deprived me of what one might call a normal relationship with my dad. When I was young and before I became deaf he and I had many great conversations. We talked about religion, politics, football, cricket and life. He was the one who told me to defend what I saw as right. He said never take a backward step and stand up for myself. He told me many a joke and my children still suffer these jokes. Even when I lost my hearing we still managed to communicate. He would gesture, write in the air or on his palm. He never gave up.

But as he and I got older we became less tolerant and committed to communicating with each other. We relied too much on others, or mostly I did. Consequently we communicated less and less. But we understood each other in a way many people cannot. A nod, a look a shrug of the shoulder or a raising of the eyebrow was all it took. Towards the end when he could not get out of bed any more I shook his hand. It was a typical strong hand shake. He held on just a little bit longer than normal. Just his way of saying, this might be the last time, acknowledging me and letting me know he loved me. It’s more than words can do.

But even so I get angry sometimes. I wish I could have just sat at the end of his bed and talked. Asked him  where it hurt and what he wanted me to do. Or simply have a chat about life and stuff to distract him from the inevitable. But we could do none of that. We just had to settle for assistance from my mum, a nod  a look and that firm handshake. I wish it could have been more. That it was not pisses me off often. It is one of the really cruel things about deafness – It isolates.

That my dad is dead is not something that worries me so much. Death is needed, inevitable and often good. That my deafness prevented me from knowing him better, well that is harder to come to terms with. Such is the way of death and deaf.

Dear Gino and Al … I want cinema access!

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AN OPEN LETTER TO GINO MUNARI, General manager  for film buying, Village Cinemas and Al McEwin, AUSTRALIA’S DISABILITY COMMISSIONER AT THE  AUSTRALIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION.

Hi Gino and Al

My name is Gary Kerridge. Al and I are well acquainted. Gino and I a little less so. Though we did meet many moons ago in Canberra at a Cinema Access Advisory Group meeting.

Gino, I saw recently your response to Dean Barton Smith. Dean had written to your CEO about cinema access, or more accurately, the lack of it.

I noted you blamed the suppliers for providing dodgy and unreliable technology for captioning. Blastard suppliers!!! You would think they would have quality controls … but hey we are only deaf, what do we matter.

It made me revisit those heady days back in 2010. Remember that Gino and Al? Those were the days.

That was back in Shorten and Innes time. They negotiated a deal with the Big 4 cinemas. Remember that Gino?

We were to have a trial of Captiview. You know, try it and get feedback as to whether it was any good. If good great. If not … well back to the drawing board.

But that didn’t happen Gino and Al. Those clever people at the cinemas decided to roll it out fully anyway. I don’t know why because initial feedback about the technology was that it was terrible. Mind you, not your fault Gino, it’s those blastard suppliers.

But anyway, Gino and Al, we all had such high hopes you see. Because there was an agreement that would bring wonderful and previously undreamt of access.

Remember that agreement Gino and Al? If you have forgotten here is the agreement. https://www.dss.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/05_2012/cinema_access_implementation_1.pdf

Let’s recap. By the end of the agreement in 2014 the Big 4 cinemas would have 242 screens providing access. Wow!!!

And you know cinemas with 6 screens would have at least one accessible. Over 6 screens and up to 12 screens would mean at least two were accessible. If there were more than 12 screens then three screens would be accessible. Just wow when you consider before that we were lucky to get one a month.

But wait – here is the best part. By 2014 every screen that was equipped with captions technology would show captions at every session. Pardon me if we felt a bit like kids in a lolly shop.

So Gino and Al – what happened? It’s now 2017. At Chadstone today I can see Beauty and the Beast is captioned  at four sessions and that appears to be it. Chadstone is huge, what’s happening at all the other accessible screens?

And you know, Gino and Al, even when access is given it often fails. Batteries are flat on technology. Captions drop out. Captions are not received. If you wear glasses sometimes you have to take them on and off to see captions and movie alternately. Tall people have to slump cos the Captiview designers thought all deaf people were short. It isn’t a pleasant experience. In fact it’s awful. Watch this video if you don’t believe me.

But it’s those blastard suppliers isn’t it Gino. Shocker.

And you know, Gino and Al, the cinemas received a grant to help with the roll out. What was it $480 000 or something. Despite your protestations, Gino, of extensive capital outlay by the cinemas the tax payer contributed. And very little of what was agreed appears to have occurred. Given this, Gino, will the cinemas pay it back. Or perhaps get those blastard suppliers to do it for dishing out, well, Craptiview.

And in closing, Al, given the cinemas have clearly not held up their end of the bargain, they appear to have broken the law. SO – what will the Australian Human Rights Commission do about it?

Yours in the Hope of Full Access

Gary