David

David walked into his classroom and sat down. Around him there was a bustle of chatter. Richard and Adrian had their heads locked closely together in an obvious conspiracy. Debra and Meg whispered and giggled as they gossiped over the latest school yard romance. David watched everyone in animated chatter. He understood none of it. His head was filled with the noise of the class room. Screeching chairs, tapping pencils and a cacophony of mingling but indecipherable voices. The teacher entered the room and there was silence. A final screech of chairs and a tap of pens on desks, the class came to attention and the lesson was underway.

Today’s lesson was Australian History. Mr Isterling had forgotten to attach the FM microphone again. David had dutifully placed it on his desk. All it required was for David to put his hand up and ask Mr Isterling to attach it. But, hell, David has to ask him to do it nearly every lesson. He couldn’t be bothered today. It always meant he had to speak and bring attention to himself. David was very conscious of his deaf voice. Every time he spoke he sensed his class mates whispering around him. He was sure that they were whispering about him. No! David would leave things as they were.

Mr Isterling spoke, “Today’s lesson …will …learn …… turn to page ….pa….” Dutifully the class opened their books and turned to the correct page. David furtively looked over Peter’s shoulder to see which page he was reading. Peter, knowing that David was unsure which part he had to read, pointed to the paragraph they were supposed to be reading. The paragraph was quite interesting. It was about the development of the Australian larrikin trait. Reading was always David’s favourite part of a lesson. He understood most of what was on the page, interaction was minimal. It was just David and the book.

He would not know what to answer. He would look stupid. He dug his nails into the palms of his hands.

David was engrossed until Peter gently nudged him. Mr Isterling was talking again. David had not heard him. He realised his battery had gone flat. There were batteries in his pencil case. All it required was for David to insert the battery into his hearing aid. But this would mean that David would have to fumble with his ear in what he considered an uncool way. He was sure that when he did so everyone in the class stared at him in fascination. Apart from the odd glance they didn’t really, but David’s anxiety was very real.

Without the benefit of his hearing aid David had to rely totally on lip-reading. With his hearing aid he could hear some things and his lip-reading helped him to understand some of what he heard. At best David understood about 30% of what his teacher said. Without his hearing aid this percentage was drastically reduced. Without the benefit of his hearing aid, coupled with Mr Isterling’s bushy beard, he understood nothing. David found himself developing a cold sweat. He was sure the teacher was going to ask him a question. He would not know what to answer. He would look stupid. He dug his nails into the palms of his hands.

Suddenly the class erupted into laughter. Paul, the class clown, had made a joke. Even Mr Isterling chuckled and Mr Isterling was not known for his sense of humour. Peter, next to David, was beside himself with mirth. David looked around the class and smiled. He laughed too. He did not know why, but the laughter was infectious. Anyway, he didn’t want it to seem as if he had not got the joke.

Mr Isterling put on a video. It was about the Great Depression. Phar Lap and Donald Bradman figured prominently. Derelict men sat on the streets. Old people were interviewed about their experiences of the Depression. Manning Clark had a lot to say. David knew he was Manning Clark because his name flashed up on the screen. David realised that this was the author of the book that they had been reading. In fact the only parts of the video that David had understood were the names of the people that flashed up on the screen. Captions would have helped but the video was not captioned. David made as much sense as he could of the video over the next 30 minutes.

Mr Isterling explained the evening homework to the class. David did not understand a word of it. He looked to Peter with a questioning shrug. Peter wrote down for him what they had to do. David was thankful for this because communication with Mr Isterling was nigh on impossible. David usually made up for what he missed in class by reading profusely. This was really his only learning. He received no benefit from classroom discussions or from Mr Isterling.

His deafness set him apart from his school mates and he hated it. This fear of interaction and unwanted attention was his constant companion.

On the bus going home from school David sat by himself. He liked to sit at the very back of the bus so he could see everyone in front of him. If he could not get a seat at the back he found himself anxiously looking around. He feared that someone would be talking to him and he would not know. He wondered if they were staring at him, talking about him or making fun of him. Being a teenager he felt a strong desire to fit in. His deafness set him apart from his school mates and he hated it. This fear of interaction and unwanted attention was his constant companion.

David arrived home from school. “How was your day?”, asked his mother. David answered as he usually did, “Good” His mother smiled. “Teenagers”, she thought to herself, “ are such a surly lot..” David headed to his room and threw his bag in the corner. He lay down on the bed and covered his face with his arms. He was knackered…

And The Winner Is ……

HEY! the captioning awards are next week. Did you know? On August 23rd, at Rydges in Sydney, there will be a slap up bash. Channel 7, Foxtel, Austar, and the Australian Communication Exchange with support from Deafness Forum will bring us these awards. Captioning has come a long way since the dark old days where the intellectual stimulation for Deaf and hearing impaired people was Neighbours and a few interesting shows on the ABC. We should take the time to celebrate, praise and slap people on the back. But while we do this let’s remember captioning access is far, far from perfect. This in mind I would like to award Prime (7) the captioning award for the Most Aggravating and Stupid Scheduling of Captioning ever in the Western, Eastern or Alien World. (Even though they are a sponsor of the awards)

I live in rural Ballarat. I watch 24, admittedly an acquired taste. Jack Bauer can never die. He saves the world, his lovers, his children and their pet dogs. His wounds heal in a nanosecond. He shoots people, cuts their throats and loves them the same. His pained and emotional looks whenever he slashes someone’s windpipe is a lesson to us all in how to murder with compassion.

Jack’s pained looks of failing and guilt were too much to bear. In the background the mushroom cloud rose into the air hauntingly

In short, 24 is great fun. It is release from a tedious day and quite exciting. Every Wednesday I pressed the remote in anticipation. The momentum and excitement were building and then suddenly, after three weeks, there were no captions. I clicked! 24 came on, no captions, there was an ad break and in this ad break our esteemed and fellow hearing impaired Prime Minister, John Howard, came on to make an announcement. What it was about, I would not know, because, despite government policy to the contrary, it was not captioned. And neither, unfortunately, was the rest of the episode of 24. Not to worry thought I. “A technical problem. Captions will be back next week.” And next week, there they were, captions blessed captions. Jack killed a few more people, but bugger the nuclear bomb went off. It killed thousands. Jack’s pained looks of failing and guilt were too much to bear. In the background the mushroom cloud rose into the air hauntingly.

“Goodness .. can’t wait for next week” thought I. The next week the time for 24 came, the credits for 24 commenced and .. bugger .. it wasn’t captioned …. I screamed, I literally screamed. Anyway in the ad break that kind old gent John Howard came on again. What it was about I would not know because his announcement was not captioned. And neither was the rest of 24.

And next week all was back to normal, killing, car chases and the like were all captioned so that I knew of every bang and scream. All was right in the world. And the week after it wasn’t captioned. John came back on with his severe and serious look, no doubt apologising for the lack of captions on 24 – I wouldn’t know because whatever he said was not captioned and neither was the rest of 24. This charade went on for the whole series. John, not to be beaten by mere excitement, even came on the very last episode so that the very last and exciting episode of 24 was not captioned either.

To add insult to injury whatever the Wally of a PM had to say wasn’t captioned either (Not that I really cared, but still…).

Was I frustrated? You bet! Was my wife frustrated? You bet! What was this all about? Well apparently the esteemed PM of Australia had bought himself some airtime to make announcements to people in rural areas. In doing so his announcements interrupted the captioned feed from Melbourne that was beamed to rural areas. What this meant was that the rural TV stations provided their own feed and for some reason the copy of 24 that they had did not have captions. To add insult to injury, whatever the Wally of a PM had to say wasn’t captioned either (Not that I really cared, but still…).

Confused? Well imagine how I felt! But that’s how it went. Every other week, because John Howard had something to say, we missed the captioned feed from Melbourne and the feed coming direct from the rural Prime station did not have captions. We complained, we screamed, we emailed but all to no avail. Media Access Australia said to complain and we did. And then we even complained about having to complain and have nothing happen. And then we simply just screamed. It was the pits!

So the award goes to – (And guess where my vote won’t go?)

Finlay

untitledFinlay sits at the kitchen table, across from his mother, who is close to tears, and his father who is red faced with anger. He is being blamed for smashing his mother’s favourite perfume bottle against the wall before his parents arrived home. Carrie, Fin’s sister, sits quietly with her other siblings, Aden and Jenny in the lounge. They all know he is in trouble, but only Aden and Jenny can hear the yelling, because Carrie is deaf.

“But I didn’t do anything,” cries Finlay. “You always blame me for whatever happens.” Neither of his parents believes him. The only other possible culprit is Carrie. His parents are protective of Carrie. Their sorrow and guilt, because of her deafness, will not allow them to accuse her. No, of course, it has to be Fin. Fin gives up protesting. He knows from past experience that he will be punished anyway. He just wants it over and done with.

Fin and Carrie were born18 months apart. For some unknown reason Fin has become Carrie’s main protector and communicator. Perhaps it is because they were born so close together. Everywhere Fin goes, Carrie follows. Everything Carrie does, Fin has to do too. And if he does not, often his parents will make him. “Don’t be mean”, they will say. “She only wants to play.” He always seems to be feeling guilty.

Fin and Carrie, over time, have developed their own form of communication. It is a mixture of signs, gestures and oral communication. Fin seems to be forever trying to let Carrie know what is going on around her. When communication with Carrie becomes difficult his parents even ask him to “please explain to Carrie.” Sometimes Fin tires of this interpreting role and will tell Carrie that he will “tell her later.” He doesn’t quite understand why this makes him feel so guilty. He certainly does not often understand Carrie’s anger towards him when he refuses to interpret for her.

He remembers specific incidents quite clearly that make him feel sometimes that Carrie is like his Siamese twin. This “other” thing that never lets him do the things he wants, never lets him choose his own hobbies, never allows him to have his own friends, never allows him to be as dismissive of Carrie and her needs as everyone else seems to be able to be. He is always her interpreter, her translator, her guide in the world. She is always his responsibility and his family think it is “wonderful” that they are so close. In truth they have a love/hate relationship that is based on dependence and guilt. No-one understands this. They each feel as alone as the other; unable to take comfort in each other because it only seems to reinforce the roles they have been relegated to.

Carrie was born hearing, but became profoundly deaf at age two through illness. Finlay can still remember being held up to a glass window to see his baby sister lying in an adult bed with nurses completely covered in full length white gowns, caps and masks. At one time Fin thought she had died and the people surrounding her in white gowns were angels taking her to heaven.

When she came home everything was different. During the day Aden and Jenny were at school and his father was at work. For most of the day it is just Fin, Carrie and their mother. Often friends of their mother will visit. The conversation is always about Carrie. The attention is always on Carrie. Fin never seems to get any attention. He knows it is irrational but this makes him feel strangely resentful and angry towards Carrie. Fin can not make sense of these feelings. Usually when Fin feels this way he has an overpowering sense of guilt. This, in turn, makes him feel more resentful and angry. It is a vicious cycle.

Sometimes Fin just wants to be angry, to find someone to blame. But who does he blame? Carrie or himself? No, they are just kids, they don’t know what is happening, and are just trying to cope with what they have in front of them. His parents? No, they do what they are told by the professionals. It is the only thing they know at this early stage in Carrie’s life. If Fin knew better he might blame the system, the schools, the bureaucrats and the advisors. It will not be till much later that Fin will understand these issues. Meanwhile Fin is just confused, often angry, powerless and helpless.

In later years Finlay will witness much of Carrie’s grief and anger. It will be years before he fully understands where this comes from. He will ask himself, “Is it her Deafness, her difference, the communication issues, the way we were raised, the way the system views and treats her, or all of those things, or just Carrie’s natural way?”

Carrie is watching television. The captions are on but she cannot yet fully understand them. As always she asks Finlay to explain what is going on. Finlay is happy to oblige. He wonders how long it will be until she can fully understand the captions. When will he be allowed to be Finlay, a person without a deaf sister, able to do the things he wants without her around? Fin walks to his bedroom and shuts the door. He pushes his bed across the door barricading it from unwanted intruders. For the next ten minutes he will dream of a life without his sister. There is a knock on his door, it’s Carrie …

Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the future. – John F Kennedy (US President 1961 – 63)

Carrie

Carrie is six years old. She is sitting at the dinner table with her family. She looks down at her Brussels sprout with absolute loathing. She isn’t going to eat it unless it’s forced down her throat.

She gazes around at her family members who are all in conversation. Mum is in an animated discussion with her sister. Dad is typically silent, fork in mouth, while he watches Sally do her job as principal on Home and Away. Her two brothers, Aden and Finlay, are discussing something loudly and obviously not agreeing. She looks at her brothers and uses the universal sign for “What’s up?” Palms facing upwards, elbows bent and a shrug of the shoulders. Finlay, with over-exaggerated lip movements, replies, “Tell you later,” while clumsily signing, “Tell you over”.

Carrie sighs and toys with the idea of trying to find out what the others are talking about. In the end she decides not to. She knows that the response from other family members will be the same as Finlay’s “tell you later.” She looks back down at her Brussels sprout. It suddenly becomes more appealing.

Carrie’s mother, Katie, watches her out of the corner of her eye. Like most mothers she can sense when something is not quite right with her children. She knows that Carrie is often isolated within the family at times like this when they are all chatting avidly. She is at loss as to what to do.

The family lives in a rural area. Services are few and far between. Just that day Katie had been in a meeting with her daughter’s school. She was trying to find some money to pay someone to teach her family Auslan. Katie felt that this, at least in part, would help make the family more inclusive for Carrie. She was handballed from one organisation to another and no-one seemed to want to take any responsibility. The family had learnt some rudimentary signs from a book and CD-Rom and Carrie had taken to signing like a fish to water.

She likes her doll. She and her doll can communicate without problems. She wishes her life could be just the same.

Dinner over, the family retreats into the lounge room. Usually Carrie will sit on her father’s lap. She just likes his man smell and rough beard. The two of them cannot really communicate well. Bob, the dad, is impossible to lip-read and cannot find time in the day from work to learn to sign. This night Carrie does not sit on Bob’s lap. She finds a doll and sits on her own near the heater. She thinks of her day at school. She likes her doll. She and her doll can communicate without problems. She wishes her life could be just the same.

Carrie is mainstreamed into the local school. She communicates as best she can with her FM system. She has no support apart from her visiting teacher who comes every fortnight to offer advice to her teachers and 45 minutes of learning support to her. This morning she had been in class. The teacher had been reading a book. Carrie did not understand a lot of it but she loved the pictures. The story, this morning, involved an animal, or rather a hybrid of animals. The teacher showed a picture that was part wombat, part crocodile and part kangaroo. A Womcrocroo, the teacher had said it was.

Carrie understood none of this but she loved the picture. As soon as the teacher showed it to the class Carrie was on her feet pointing animatedly. She wanted to know what it was. The teacher told Carrie to sit down and that she would explain it to her later. Carrie was disappointed. She felt humiliated, frustrated and angry all at the same time. She let out a little scream of frustration. The teacher made her sit outside.

This memory is vivid in Carrie’s mind as she plays with her doll by the heater. She adds Ted and a few of her brothers’ Power Ranger toys to her play. The doll is the teacher and in Carrie’s perfect world everyone in the class can communicate. She asks and answers questions and she is an active member of her fantasy class. She smiles for the first time that day. In the background she catches a glimpse of her mother in deep discussion with her father. Her mother is crying again.

She is angry that support is so sporadic in rural areas. Organisations from the city constantly haggle about time and money.

Bob does not know what to do. He rarely has time to attend appointments about Carrie’s needs. The appointments are always in the day and the responsibility for them falls almost solely to his wife. She works part-time and he works long hours. His wife is crying. She is telling him about her latest appointment. She wants support to get the family communicating with Carrie.

She is frustrated at having to constantly justify herself to the people that have the money for support. She is angry that support is so sporadic in rural areas. Organisations from the city constantly haggle about time and money. She speaks of Auslan, isolation and language acquisition.

Half of this Bob does not really understand. Instead he listens and lets her vent. He wishes that there was more that he could do. He bemoans the fact that family support is so bloody family unfriendly. Why can’t they offer support at a time when all the family can take part? The appointments to meet support people are usually at 10 in the morning. At this time he is at work and the kids are at school. Pointless, really!

Carrie watches her mum cry. Although she does not know what her parents are talking about she knows they are talking about her. She has no words for how this makes her feel, but she feels anxious and worried. She does not quite understand why she has upset her mother so.

Her two brothers and her sister listen to their mother and father discussing Carrie AGAIN! They are resentful in some ways. Carrie always appears to be the centre of attention. They sometimes wonder if they exist at all. Carrie goes to bed. It has not been a good day at all.

It’s morning. The family are sitting at the breakfast table. Carrie’s mother is in deep discussion with her sister. Dad is typically silent, spoon in mouth and admiring the attractiveness of Mel on Sunrise . Aden and Finlay are discussing something loudly and still not agreeing. For Carrie the whole scene is strangely familiar. She looks at her doll sitting on the table and wonders what the day has in store for her …..

Children seldom misquote. In fact, they usually repeat word for word what you shouldn’t have said. ~Author Unknown

The Rebuttal – Editorial Comment

Welcome to The Rebuttal

The Rebuttal is an independent and community conscious newspaper that raises issues and information for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Australians and those who service and support them.

Comments expressed by the authors of articles in The Rebuttal do not necessarily represents the views of the publishers of The Rebuttal. All views expressed are the sole responsibility of the authors alone.

Paul Creedon on Dissent

The article, The Pursuit of Truth, focuses on a minority perception – but a perception common to many people who are members of, or work with or around community organisations. Community organisations are generally those that have a membership, Boards of Directors and who generally provide services for no profit.

Organisations like the Australian Association of the Deaf (AAD), all of the Deaf Societies, Deafness Forum and thousands of other cultural, disability, environment, sporting and special interest groups operate in this way around Australia.

Usually these community groups are created by people who value different things to the mainstream. They might believe in a different path, assert things are unfair, seek to challenge the way things are to create a better future for themselves and people like them. This ‘difference’ is what they are all about.
So why is it that while these groups live or die based on their success at dissenting with the mainstream community many are so unable to accept or manage dissent in their own ranks? Why do so many exclude people with a different view, who ask different questions, people who challenge, who debate, who dissent?

What is it about us, even when we want to break down an old system, that makes us want to produce a new world that is as intolerant as the old? What is it about these organisations and about us as a species that is so resistant to real openness, and real change?
At the core of this article are those sorts of questions.

Albert Einstein is reputed to have once defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. In other words, if you really want things to change then you have to do things in a different way yourself. The argument as logically applies to organisations as it does to individuals – if an organisation wants a different world then it needs to be a different organisation. If it wants the world to be more inclusive and accepting of its members’ differences, then perhaps it needs to be accepting and inclusive of others as well.

Agree or disagree with the views of this author, we bet that you have felt that your voice hasn’t been listened to by one organisation or another at sometime in the past.

You might have been told “you aren’t a member”, “you will get sued”, “you don’t know what you are talking about”, “you don’t have a right to know” or something similar – we have all heard something like this at sometime in the past.

It’s frustrating, it’s scary, it’s belittling and often it’s just wrong – but more importantly it prevents open discussion and debate. If Deaf/deaf/hearing impaired/HoH (or whatever definition you choose) people are really to have a say in their futures then open debate – of all stakeholders – is the only way.

Unfortunately, the Rebuttal seems to be the only forum that currently allows and encourages that debate. So like always have your say – like this author has!