Cynic? Who me? and I wonder why? by Gary Kerridge

Deaf Children Australia is a reasonably rich deafness organisation that was set up in the 19th century by a Deaf man, Frederick John Rose. Originally this organisation was set up as a school for the deaf and later expanded to become a service  provider. Over a hundred years later the organisation still exists. Its purpose, at the moment, seems to be to swallow up every deaf services organisation in Australia. The Australian Deaf community have a great deal of cynicism regarding the motives of the organisation. The question on every one’s lips or hands is, “What will they or HE do next?”

The people that run Deaf Children Australia and their partners believe that Australia needs a national deaf services organisation. Currently Deaf Children Australia has a partnerships with two other Australian deaf services organisations. They work in partnership, seemingly sharing resources, administration, governance, business, financial services and blah blah. They remain separate companies but have one CEO – the CEO signature on emails reads CEO – Deaf Children Australia, Deaf Services Queensland and Western Australian Deaf Society, rather like a roll call of honour that cries POWER!  This POWER in the hands of one person is what worries so many in the Australian Deaf community and deaf services sector.

The cynics, of which I am one, believe that the motive behind the expansion of Deaf Children Australia is one of ambition rather than a desire to develop a stronger deafness sector. The cynics believe the issue is one of control rather than one of efficiencies. The cynics believe that Deaf Children Australia are spreading its considerable resources too thinly in the name of control and power. The traditionalist want a return to community links and services instead of grandiose business ideas.

The cynics believe that the term partnership is nothing more than a front. It’s a nice term that leads people to believe that everyone is working together with shared visions, equal input and equal power. This is nonsense because part of the reason that the partnerships were set up was because the partnership organisations were in such a dire financial situation that they needed DCA money to get them out of trouble. The cynics believe, nay they know, that the POWER lies with the one who has the money, which is Deaf Children Australia.

In the interest of fairness it is necessary to list the “For Arguments”. In a perfect world  we would have one Australia wide deafness service. It would have one management structure servicing all the state based branches. It would have one brand which will increase fundraising. State government’s would recognise it and fund it accordingly. Funds would be distributed evenly so that all states had equal service. Streamlined management would lead to funds being alloocated for better services in regional and rural areas.  These are the FOR arguments. BUT – are they realistic?

Having been in the disability sector in Australia for 20 years I honestly do not believe they are. Australia funds its service organisations very much on a state basis. South Australia funds very differently to Victoria as does Western Australia. Queensland is a different kettle of fish again. The reality is there are huge discrepancies in state funding. The partnership model does not address these discrepancies. As such, unless Deaf Children Australia are prepared to top up funding to ensure equity accross the states nothing much will change. What is more, it means that money that is for Deaf Children Australia’s core business – children – is being directed away from that core business.

The aim of Deaf Children Australia is, in the future, that the partner organisations become one Deaf Services Australia. If, right now, Deaf Services Australia existed as a one organisation it would have to deal with the huge discrepancies of funding from the states. Presumably a Deaf Services Australia would distribute any fundraising moneys equally so funding was equitable – not equal equitable! How they would work this out is anyone’s guess.

It is argued that a one brand will help with fundraising. Quite how is not clear. Theoretically it could but the reality is that deafness has always been the poor cousin when it comes to donations. The public give to visible and well known charities like the Salvos, RSPCA and the Blind. One brand will not change the public perception. Deafness will still be the poor cousin. It is questionable whether the money and resources spent on Developing a Deaf Services Australia will make much dent into the public fundraising psyche. In theory it sounds good but there is no evidence to show that the one brand will increase fundraising to deafness in anyway. The probabilities are that it will not. Some huge losses have been made in recent fundraising initiatives in the deafness area and with the current Credit Crunch fundraising is unlikely to improve in any great way.

Deaf Children Australia talk of a shared services model that will be marketed under the one banner of Deaf Services Australia. Presumable they feel it will improve services nationally, increase fundraising dollars and lead to better services all round. Quite how this will occur has not been fully explained. The model is flawed because it fails to take into account state politics and funding. The model has an unrealistic view that the one brand will somehow make a huge difference to fundraising. This authors view is that it wont and in the haste to TAKE OVER Australia blind ambition has gotten in the way of rational argument.

In the meantime, while thousands of dollars are spent trying to set up the model and while boards and management spend countless hours flying around Australia and staying in Hotels at great expense the dedicated services staff of Deaf Children Australia try to maintain services while the focus is elsewhere. It is a  sacrilege that thousands of dollars are being spent on what will most likely make very little difference. What Deaf Children Australia could do is to service Victorian deaf children well with its considerable wealth. Instead it has chosen to spread itself thinly around Australia in what the cynics see as a mindless power grab. Will it improve services in anyway? This cynic thinks not. For the sake of our deafness sector one can only hope that the plan succeeds because the heritage that great Deaf pioneers like FJ Rose established is in real danger of being lost.

Desma Hunt's Diaries #6

It is official. Deaf people mean nothing to Channel 9 or even Australia. We are inconsequental, know nothing morons who sit in the dark and gibber.

People who are deaf, according to Channel 9,  dont need access to information. The only information they will give people who are deaf is information that they must so that they do not get fined. How else can you explain why they have cut their captioning content from 83% to something like 55%. Coke once advertised that, “Things Go Better with Coke.” – Well lets sing to the same tune, “Things are lousy at 9”

But it is not just Channel 9. It seems to be the whole mentality of this sodding country. People who are deaf do not matter. Here we are in Australia, a rich country, putting up with what can only be seen as paltry amounts of access. Recently the Australian Human Rights Commission gave the free to air television companies an extension on their need to increase captioning. What was it? 5 years or something and I bet they will get another 5 years in 5 years. The Commonwelath government gave us the $5 million dollars over five years to meet ALL our Auslan interpreting needs in employment. After 21 years of age we may as well chuck out our hearing aids cos the commonwealth Giovernment wont buy us anymore til we are 65. Spend millions making us hear then take it away. Talk about taking candy from a kid.

In America captioning is coming out of its rear end and in Britain Employment Support is ongoing for the life of your employment. In Denmark they provide you with a free laptop for phone access anywhere anytime. All this for the deaf. Yet in Australia, a comparably rich country, we have access to captioning when TV decides it can afford it. We have employment support over five years that in total, for all Deaf Australians, wont even by you a house in Sydney’s Western Suburbs and we have to hope our hearing aids dont die on us when we are 21 .. Which they usually do a year or so after we turn 21.

ENOUGH. Australia can afford it … NIKE Kevin – NIKE!!

Im Desma Hunt, I’m deaf and Australia is a suckhole of excuses!

Lessons from Obama

A slave becomes president. Now that’s Karma. Barack Obama is the president elect of the United States of America. He is America’s first ever Black president. It’s been a long time in coming but the conquered are now the conquerors. If Obama got anything right it was in his slogan “Yes We Can.”

“Can we change?” asks Obama and then swiftly answers his own question, “Yes we Can!” The questions rolled off his tongue “Can we beat Racism?” – “Yes we can!”; “Can we create peace and prosperity?” – “Yes we Can!”  The cliches run of his tongue like water cascading down a waterfall, but it is inspiring and America has bought it. And thank god for that! It’s a long way from Obama’s ancestors chained to the bottom of a boat, transported thousands of miles, sold to the highest bidder and then more often than not abused.

Obama won – That’s Karma!

Deaf people and any people who face discrimination should be inspired by Obama. We should adopt his slogan – ” Yes we can!” Ask the question – “Can we have 100% captioning.” – Answer it at the top of your voice or with the most assertive and flamboyant signing you can muster – “YES WE CAN!” Ask the question – “Can we run our own lives and organisations?” Answer it with gusto – “YES WE CAN!”  Ask the question – “Can we make Australia provide for all our communication needs?” What’s the answer?  “YES WE CAN!”

What Obama has shown, as Nelson Mandela had shown before him is that the little people can win. From descendant of slaves to leader of the free world! If that’s possible, well the small matter of 100% captioning should be a piece of cake. It’s already happening in America!  Me thinks we accept too little – “Can we get more?” – “YES WE CAN!” You just gotta believe.

Desma Hunt's Diaries #5

What fabulous news it was to hear that Deaf Australia won the tender to provide Auslan Training for the Queensland Education Department. The Queensland Education Department allocated $30 million over five years to introduce Auslan to the schools. I don’t know how much went to Deaf Australia but it would be a significant amount of money. OOOOOOOH I wish it was me!

Even better they beat the nasty Empire Builder to the tender. The Empire Builder doesn’t get involved in peanuts. He only goes for things that will make him look big and important. That Deaf Australia won is the BEST news the Deaf community has had for a long time. That the Empire Builder lost is EVEN BETTER!!

BUT .. and there is always a but – No sooner than Deaf Australia won than the whingers came out of the cupboard. “Deaf Australia are an advocacy organisation, they cant provide services.” .. ” The courses they provide are little baby courses.”  – ” They don’t have the experience.”  And out they came with negatives left right and centre. Well let me remind you that Auslan is the language of the Deaf community and the Deaf community own it. Who better to teach the Queensland people than a Deaf run Deaf organisation?

It is a vote of confidence for Deaf people and we should all be proud! To the whingers I say, ” Get back in the cupboard.” Who would you prefer Deaf Australia or the Empire Builder? …. As Yoda would say ” Be with the Force may you.”  And may the force be with Deaf Australia on this one. It’s either that or Darth Vader.

Have Boots Will Travel

Congratulations to Deaf Australia on winning the tender for providing Auslan training for the Queensland Education Department. It is fantastic news for them and Deaf people in general. It is fantastic news because it recognises that Deaf people and their families own Auslan. It is therefore fitting that they should be in control of teaching it.

Rumour has it that Deaf Australia beat off a joint submission put in by the empire builder, Deaf Children Australia and Deaf Services Queensland. That is millions of dollars of fire power against little old Deaf Australia and Deaf Australia won. Talk about David against Goliath. It is a fabulous achievement that should not be underestimated. I have criticised Deaf Australia in the past for their inability to work constructively with Deafness Forum but that is a different issue. The achievement to win this tender was enormous.

I was even more happy to hear that Donnovan Cresdee has been appointed to lead the program. Dr Don achieved his Phd last year. His research centred on differences in grammar between Auslan and English and had great relevance to how we teach Auslan. Dr Don has been a loyal servant to the Deaf community and when I heard that he was involved in heading the program I was rapt.

What has all this to do with Have Boots Will Travel. Well Dr Don has had to move to Queensland for this role. Based in Adelaide, where he has been lived for most of his life, he has had to move away from family and friends to take up this post. He will commute and will get great support from his wife, Alex, but it would have been a heart wrenching decision to make. But that is often the lot of the Deaf professional.

Dr Don is no stranger to moving around. To further his education he attended Gallaudet University in America. His Phd was supervised  under the Charles Sturt University in Darwin. In the last few years Dr Don has had to travel Australia, working in Sydney and Melbourne just to put his considerable talents to use and to achieve his Phd. It is true that hearing people have to move around too but for Deaf professionals an open airline ticket should be offered with their qualifications.

Dr Don owes his new job to Gail Smith and her family who took the Queensland Education Department to court for the lack of Auslan provision to her daughter. After a struggle that lasted several years Gail’s family won their case but not before they had to pack up and leave their family and friends so that their daughter could get access to Auslan in her education. Her victory came at great personal and financial burden. Years from now the Deaf community will be thankful to Gail’s family for their courage to keep fighting. It seems travel and drama are almost a prerequisites of the Deaf and their families. Perhaps Deaf Australia should honour Gail’s family by naming the new program after their daughter.

Myself, just to further my career, have lived in Adelaide, London, Queensland, Sydney, Melbourne Alice Springs and now Ballarat. My home and heart is in Adelaide but their simply are no opportunities there for the Deaf professional. I could stay and try to compete with hearing people for jobs but recognise i would be facing an uphill battle. I have to go where the work is and I do. Dr Don has had to do that too.

Others have had to move too. Look at where our modern Deaf pioneers are now. Colin Allen is in the Balkans or is it Cambodia? Robert Adam is in London.  My great friend Paul Bartlett is also in London and unable to come home to Australia simply because their are no opportunities for him. My wife and I had to move to Alice Springs simply so she could get experience as a Teacher of the Deaf, something she could not achieve in Adelaide. We are a transient lot us Deaf people – but not by choice.

I had a debate with a friend on the weekend who suggested that our Deaf organisations have no obligation to promote Deaf professionals over hearing professionals.  He suggested that our Deaf organisations are only obliged to ensure that they achieve the bottom line goal of survival with minimal risk. Therefore, said my friend, if Deaf professionals apply for jobs with Deaf organisations and get beaten by more experienced hearing people then that is just too bad. How do we compete? How do we get 15 or 20 years experience in various roles when we face an uphill battle to access interpreters, captions and access to information that hearing people take for granted?  My friend could not answer that question.

Do Deaf organisations have a responsibility to promote Deaf people over hearing people? You bet your mother they do. Why? Simply because if they cant take a risk on Deaf professionals then they have no right to tell the wider community to do so too.  It is not the role of Deaf organisations to save each and every Deaf person but by promoting Deaf people to management roles at least they practice what they preach. At the moment, bar one or two, our Deaf organisations are the worlds worst hypocrites.

So congratulations Deaf Australia. The Auslan tender win is a feather in your cap. If the Queensland Education Department can put their faith in a Deaf run Deaf organisation to run a multi-million dollar program then surely this is an example for others to follow. To YOU – and YOU know who you are – Sit up and take notice!

This Speaking Voice of Mine is Nothing But Trouble – Submitted by Billy Thatcher

I speak…fluently…but it’s not fair that hearing people can understand me while I have the hardship of ‘listening’ them back.  I am totally deaf.  So, what’s the point in my speaking in the first place if I cannot understand them?

When I was younger, my hearing loss was not so bad.  I was diagnosed with a mild hearing loss.  This greatly helped in conversations with hearing people.  As I got older, my hearing gradually got worse and now I am profoundly deaf.  What good is my talking voice when I am profoundly deaf and having such difficulties hearing and lip-reading the hearing people that I am talking to?

It’s much easier for me to engage in legalities by writing as it enforces the communicator to write back, even though they’re hesitant to do so.  After all, I get to keep the paper of what has been stated between us.  In fact, I have used these written statements as evidence of previous conversations to my benefit when needed.

Those who speak and are proud of their talking voices…good for you, but from my point of view…whoopie do!  Yes, my talking voice can be understood, I speak…but, I can’t hear or understand others!  It’s not that I disrespect anybody for being ignorant, I simply can not hear and its hard’n’stressful for me to wisten (a combination of Watching and Listening; although, it’s not a word).

I am concerned about the false encouragement given to many deaf people who speak. Many are often told that they ‘speak fluently and crystal clear’, when the fact is, they have a horrible sounding voice. This false encouragement leads to the deaf/HI person believing that they have a pleasant voice when the reality is that their voice sounds horrible. Unfortunately, these false assurances cause great pain when the deaf person finds out that they actually have an awful sounding voice.

To this day, my parents insist that I speak well. I am skeptical about it and try to keep verbal speech to a minimum.  Auslan to me is for keeps and it allows me to communicate effortlessly.  This is how it should be … ‘communicating effortlessly’.

People nowadays want to communicate effortlessly. But professionals and authorities such as the Education Department and schools with philosophies that disregard sign language think speaking is the solution to communicating effortlessly.  It’s not, not for those who are deaf or who sustain heavy hearing loss later in their life. After all it is a fact of life that most of us lose a degree of hearing as we get older.

There are many older folks who have hearing difficulties and still speak fluently; however, they still have a hard time trying to understand what is being said by others.  Communication between carers, families and friends of these individuals is often strained. If only, people learned sign language they could communicate effortlessly with anyone at anytime especially those who are Deaf or who have lost their hearing.  That is, if they do not have any other problems with their body.  We should all admire Scandinavian countries and other countries who implement mandatory sign language in their schooling programs.

Between English and sign language, which method would be better for communication between those who sustain hearing loss and those who have no hearing loss? The answer is straight forward – Sign language! We know that everyone loses at least some of their hearing as they age. For those that lose their hearing completely what good is speaking?!

People, institutions, or any others that endorse the philosophy of speech over sign language are bloody idiots. They are contributing to the undeniable consequences of communication hardship. Of course, taking up sign language is a personal preference, but don’t say I didn’t warn you and I wish you all a peaceful old age.

(The Rebuttal thanks Billy for his submission. It outlines many frustrations that many Deaf and HOH people experience. We are happy to print Billy’s views; just remember the views are Billy’s alone.)


I rant” said comedian Dennis Miller, “therefore I am.” Miller was a funny guy, he also said, “..a recent poll showed that you are very much more likely to be shot by a fat cop if you run.” Miller is spot on about ranting. We rant so that people know we exist. We simmer and finally boil over – The rant comes and the world knows that right here is a person that feels strongly about something and they sit up and take notice.

What is ranting?  The Brainy Quotes website defines ranting as – To rave in violent, high-sounding, or extravagant language, without dignity of thought; to be noisy, boisterous, and bombastic in talk or declamation; as, a ranting preacher. If you look at free online dictionaries they tend to define a rant as a violent speech that incites anger. But a rant does not have to be violent a more sedate definition can be found at The Free Dictionary which defines a rant as to – Talk in a loud and excited way.

And this is generally what a rant is. It is a person that has become so incited, so excited or so angry about something that they have to let the world know. It doesn’t have to be angry. The sports fan can be so excited about their favourite team that they can rant about them with joy. In the same breath they can become so upset about an umpires decision that they can begin an angry rant about why umpires are the devils incarnate. People rant about injustice and they rant about joy and they rant about exciting experiences. A rant is just someone expressing their thoughts in an excited and enthusiastic way.

Ranting does not always get the desired result. The sportsperson can rant at the referee for an absurd decision and the referee can show his displeasure of the rant by issuing a red card. The politician can rant about what he she sees as government mismanagement to which the government usually responds by reminding the politician that his party was once in power and now it his their turn NA NA NA!. The wife can rant about the lack of help around the house to which the husband usually responds to by pretending to look busy. From these examples one would think that ranting is counter productive. So why do it?

We rant because we know that our rants, done well, can rally people. On this site we recently had a rant about those awful Cora Barclay Ads. It struck a chord with readers throughout the world. They rallied behind and said how terrible the ads were. When people rally change can happen. Often this is why people rant – simply to voice displeasure and make change.

Rants can be done by voice or they can be done with actions. In 1968 Olympics in Mexico who could ever forget Black Power. The following was taken from an article in the Sydney Morning Herald; It remains one of the most vivid Olympic images – a picture once seen, never forgotten. It was courageous, non violent protest, benign but impassioned dissent. They meant to bring further attention to ciovil rights issues, to give pride to African-Americans, and they succeeded.

Make no mistake the actions of the two black athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos including the white Australian, Peter Norman were a rant. A smart rant, a silent rant and an effective rant. The two black athletes simply had had enough, there anger could no longer be hidden. With their simple black gloved salute they screamed louder than any voice – “Racism is unacceptable, inequality is unacceptable – We and black people have had enough LISTEN”

For their trouble Smith and Carlos were branded black Nazis. They were branded as being disrespectful of the American Flag. They were expelled from the Olympics. They received death threats and rocks through their windows. Smith was thrown out of the army for un-American activities.  “There are still threats,” Carlos said. “I was never concerned about those punks. I just let them know it will be remembered, that life doesn’t stop when you leave this planet.” (Sydney Morning Herald) Make no mistake the world did remember.

Ranting can also be used to install fear. It can be used to make people do things that humans would otherwise not do. Hitler, Idi Amin and Stalin were all effective ranters that did enormous damage. Used in the wrong way ranting can cause unspeakable pain. Unfortunately these ranters stand out. They give ranters with true intentions a bad name.

Make no mistake we need to rant. Sometimes we need to rant to make change and other times we need to rant simply to get it off our chest. The late Kurt Cobain once said;  My generation’s apathy, I’m disgusted by it. I’m disgusted with my own apathy too, for being spineless and not alwats standing up against racism, sexism and all other isms the counterculture has been whining about for years. Simply put, say nothing then nothing changes, you will only have yourself to blame.

Then and again Abraham Lincoln also said; ” Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt” There lies the dilemma of the ranter but remain silent at your peril.

Losing It

Shirley Stott Despoja’s recent posting on bullying took me back to when I lost my hearing. I lost my hearing between the ages of 8 and 10. Young enough for me to realise what was happening but not mature enough to realise how it would impact on me.

My overriding memory is how it impacted on those around me. Particularly my parents. Doctor appointments were frequent. Discussions went on between Doctor and parents while I just sat quietly watching it all unfold. I had enough hearing to understand what they were saying. I had several surgeries and after the first one to rebuild my eardrum I can still recall the conversation:

DR: The surgery was a complete success, a complete success. It is baffling why there has not been a significant increase in his hearing.   (I was always ‘his’ never mentioned by name.)

Mum: But will it improve? (Asked in a panic stricken voice.)

Dr: Absolutely no reason it should not. ‘His’ inner ear is very healthy and everything has healed beautifully.

Suitably relieved both my mum and I went home thinking all would be ok. But of course it was not. It got worse so that by age 10 I had a severe to profound hearing loss.

As my hearing began to drop the Dr refused to acknowledge it. My parents also refused to acknowledge it. I remember that my parents sought a second opinion as to whether I was deaf or not. It was recommended that I get a hearing aid without delay. My mother went into mini-hysterics insisting I did not need one, was not getting one etc. My father, who had taken me to the appointment, tried to convince her that perhaps it was time. But she was adamant. There was no way I was getting a hearing aid, all would be fine. A classic case of denial.

At one stage  the Dr actually tried to blame me for my hearing loss. He suggested that it might be psychological. I was sent to a psychiatrist for an evaluation. Nothing came of it of course but I vividly remember being in a room with a group of kids with severe behavioral problems.  They screamed, threw things, punched and kicked.  The safest thing to do was to sit quietly in a corner and read a Dr Seus book. The the psychiatrist actually suggested that my hearing loss might be related to being withdrawn and shy. But as I said, nothing came of it. It was just a bizarre period of my life.

The attitudes of those around me had impact. My mother refusing to accept I needed a hearing aid, the Dr suggesting it was my fault and my parents constantly talking about hearing loss in a negative way led me to believe that deafness was a bad thing, something to be hidden and ashamed of. I eventually did get a hearing aid. This was put on in the toilet where no one could see. Hair was grown long so no one could see the aid. The shame and embarrassment factor was reinforced by people saying -“You cant even see it.” Kids are impressionable and I certainly was.

As my hearing began to drop I became quite paranoid about it. I would wake up of a morning an issue a few grunts “UH UH UH UH” in different pitches to check I could still hear. I would bang on my bed-head to make sure I could hear the noise. Check that I could hear the birds outside and the next door neighbours dog. The morning my mother woke me up and I realised I could not hear her voice at all. That has stayed with me forever.

What really gets you when you lose your hearing is how people’s attitudes towards you change suddenly. As a kid I was great at sport. When they selected teams I was one of the first chosen by the captains. Suddenly I was the last. Friends thought it was hilarious to test my lipreading ability, “Are you a girl?”, they would mouth or “Are you a poof?” I knew what they were saying and would always answer “yes” just to see their reaction. Needless to say I found out who my true friends were very quickly.

Looking back I realise I was an incredibly strong character. I just took it all in and tried to make sense of it. But the image of shame and embarrassment associated with hearing loss is always my first memory. I once wagged school for 14 days in a row before the school saw fit to call my parents. I wagged it because I got fed up of teachers pressuring me to wear my hearing aids. I left hearing aid batteries at home, dropped ear moulds down the toilet and deliberately lost hearing aids. The hearing aids were the thing – without them at least no-one would think I was different. Another classic case of denial.

I’m 44 now and an active member of the Deaf community. My job is with the disability sector. Deafness has taken me all over Australia and overseas. I’ve made it my life and I would not change it for quids. It is character building, it is interesting and most of all it is me. But I don’t kid myself, losing ones hearing is hard work and people did and do treat me differently. It takes time to adapt – some people do and many do not. It is certainly true that being young I was more adaptable but there was pain involved in adapting and it never fully goes away.

Bullying and the Deaf – By Shirley Stott Despoja

Paper for conference on Bullying, in Hobart, October 16, 2000. By Shirley Stott Despoja

bullyWhen I lost a lot of hearing suddenly, after being mildly hearing impaired for some years, my then partner cancelled my opera subscription. Isn’t that simply a pragmatic response to someone’s disability? How can that be called bullying? The very fact that I ask myself that, still, is a sign of the bully’s success. The bully’s actions, to be perfect bullying, must be ambiguous. He must be able to show his clean hands. He must be able to put a respectable gloss on his actions. I am, he said, only thinking of you. But in another way, cancelling my opera subscription is a very good example of what bullying is all about, what it does to us.

Bullying clips our wings.

Bullying stops us from flying: flying over the top of our disabilities, soaring to acceptance, to reconciliation with our previous ideas of what we were.

Bullying gets in the way of grieving, the very naturaland necessary process of coming to terms with loss. Loss of hearing is a major loss indeed. Although comparisons with other forms of sensory loss are odious to most of us, Helen Keller, who was both blind and deaf, made no bones about it. She explained that blindness separated her from objects but deafness separated her from people. Loss of even a moderate amount of hearing separates you from the soft voiced lover, the sweet-voiced child. If it happens suddenly you are in a panic of isolation. Some stay in that state of panic for the rest of their lives. walls go up all around you. The looks on the faces around you say it all: from now on you are a source of irritation to others. Your deafness predominates over your personality. Getting through to Shirley becomes a task, when once getting to know Shirley was perhaps a pleasure, perhaps a disappointment, but not a task.

And deafness enrages people, often without their knowing it. Not the deaf people, but others.

One day in the late 70s, when I first became arts editor of The Advertiser, I was pinned against the wall of my office by an enraged man who said I had failed to recognise him and that he would not let me go until I did. It is true that I had met him once before and obviously his ego wascruelly stung that I did not recall his face to give it his name. The truth is that a person losing hearing concentrates so fiercely on the lips that must be read that she or he often fails to take in the whole face. It is not failing memory. It is panicked deaf behaviour, but most newly deafened people think they are losing their memories if not their minds. I got out of that sticky situation by ducking under the furiously raised arm.He behaved foolishly and didn’t deserve an explanation, but his dislike followed me down the years. Deafness has consequences like that. We don’t, on the whole, tell people about what happens, because quite often people are enraged by deaf behaviour without knowing it.

But we who are deaf know it.

It savages us.

We can’t often speak about it.

This is what one person found about his daily life when he was thinking about the low self-esteem of many hearing impaired people like himself.

The main problem is that we get walloped across the kisser a hundred times a day. But each wallop is subtle. Each blow is unobtrusive, almost concealed. There’s never anything you can complain about, or put your finger on. My hearing aid dealer (he says) takes off my hearing aid. “Wow, you’ve really got this one cranked up!” he says, as if he’s caught me stealing pennies from orphans. Bang. All of a sudden I’m one-down. I was doing something wrong and I didn’t even know it.

The phone rings and I answer. I have to make the caller repeat something he’s saying six times. And I still can’t figure out what he means. So he gets mad. Bang. Right across the kisser. I’m at a meeting at work and my wristwatch alarm goes off, but I don’t hear it. First one person gives me a dirty look, then a second, then a third and then a fourth. Finally I catch on when they point at my wrist. Bang. Bang. When people routinely get angry with you and communicate that your behavior is puzzling, you start wondering about yourself. It can’t just be them; it’s got to be you – they’re right. You ARE strange. You ARE different.

(written by Paul Saevig; Across the Kisser;

The hearing impaired are perfect bully fodder. Drop your voice level one little notch, and you can watch me squirm. You can see my confidence dissolve before your eyes. You can see, if you look into MY eyes, the beginning, the swelling of panic. Keep your voice low an instant longer. Now I must declare. I say to you:

“ Sorry, sorry, I am deaf, I didn’t hear you. Would you repeat.”

Listen to yourself as you repeat. People can’t seem to repeat without raising their voices, not a notch, but quite a lot. Do I hear the words you are shouting? No: I am paralysed by the thought that I hear anger, I hear exasperation, you think I am stupid. If you are a nice person you will repeat what I missed quietly, firmly, looking in my face, and perhaps choose other words if you want to break the stalemate.

If you are a bully, oh, you are loving this. You enjoy your own exasperation. You shove in the knife;

“You ought to get a hearing aid?”

“Hearing aid?” I say. “I am wearing one.”

“Then you’d better get a stronger one”.

It is said with a smile whose sweetness can hardly be contested.

“Just a suggestion.”

And the bully shows his clean hands.

We are at work now. The bully turns to the other people in the daily editorial conference, a group situation which my hearing aid does not cope with. I am struggling, sweating. trying to pick up clues from lips and body language, anything. The bully (name removed) smiles, “What are we going to do with cloth-eared Shirley?” he asks in a voice of great kindness. A second or two passes..yes, I have heard it right. Cloth-eared Shirley. I turn to my colleagues. “Should he say that?” I ask. “Oh come on, Shirley. You have to have a sense of humour. Try laughing at yourself for a change.” The pack have been led. They have no trouble finding me. And the bully has told them it’s OK.

The demand for the deaf to have a sense of humour is a bullying tactic any of us who speak frankly about our disability continually endure. Sometimes it comes from the deaf themselves who believe they must laugh at themselves to appease the hearing world.

Where are our resources? To what can we have recourse? If hearing impaired people complain about bullying abuse we are more than likely to be told that we misheard! Our relationships, at work anyway, are, by this stage, probably so impaired that we dare not present ourselves to be supported. A professional is just as likely to say he or she finds it difficult to communicate with us. Yes, upfront just like that. Try finding a therapist when you are deaf. It is not impossible, but it is difficult. As one malepsychiatrist said to me once (in a letter, he was not going to set himself up for tiresome verbal repetition) he was in the business of communicating subtle thoughts and nuances. My deafness would naturally impede this.

Do we ring a friend? Listen to music? Turn on the TV to forget? Some of us can, most of us can’t. It is the nature of deafness that our resources are cruelly limited. Even our talents and skills are under threat. The bully must smile at that. The deaf are paranoid, aren’t they? No, the hearing world is paranoid about the deaf. What could be more sick and suspicious than the frequently uttered: “She can hear quite well when she wants to.” It is obvious to anyone that a hearing impaired person hears better in some situations than others, but this is used against us, to invalidate our disability and replace it with character failings: stubbornness, evasion, cussedness. The very common phrase falling on deaf ears is a good example of deaf being a pejorative word. Deaf ears, it is implied, are stubborn and uncaring. If something falls on deaf ears it is implied that someone is at fault: the deaf who don’t want to hear. In truth, the hearing impaired strain after hearing, are more conscientious than most in trying to follow an argument or just acquire information. My daughter has done her best to have this phrase removed from Senate parlance because of the hurt it causes tohearing impaired people. Some hope! (Shirley’s daughter is the now retired senator Natasha Stott Despoja)

The suspicious incantation: “she can hear when she wants to” is the bullying family incantation. It is among the commonest reactions to adult deafness in the family. Not mine thank God. After the workplace bullying I have described, The Advertiser ship sailed into calmer waters. Bullying and copycat bullying receded and the staff felt safe again. Not I, however. I finally left the Advertiser not because I was too deaf to do my job. Far from it. I parted company (after years of abuse and an act of violence) because I was accused of NOT being deaf. Some people with whom I had worked for years said I was using deafness as an excuse for getting out of some jobs.They said I could hear well enough when I wanted to. With a borderline-profoundhearing loss and 30 years of struggle trying to hear – my deafness was a mountain I climbed daily – that accusation literally sent me madfor a bit. At least I felt the world was too mad for me, anyway. I brought a workers compensation case and was successful. But you never escape the bullies.

Until now I have used the word deaf and hearing impaired interchangeably. And I am sure that most of you are aware that there are differences. I can only speak as a person who has post-lingual, acquired hearing loss. I became hearing impaired in my 20s and wore a hearing aid from age 28. I am now classified as having a severe-borderline-profound hearing loss. Technology has improved my ability to live in the hearing world, but never imagine that hearing aids correct hearing as spectacles correct vision. At best hearing aids amplify sound with some degree of discrimination. In the past three years I have been able to supplement my hearing aids with a Microlink assistive FM device. This minituarisation of the hearing technology that has been used in TV studios and schools for some years enables me to hear radio, TV and the human voice a lot better than before in several situations. It cost $4000 and is not covered by any kind of benefit, so its blessings are beyond the reach of many. The description “hearing impaired” or “hard of hearing” which is favoured in the UK, soundlike genteelisms. Without my hearing aids I am deaf, so I feel no qualms about using that word with a lower case d.

Incidentally, my dad was deaf. He was deaf in the days when hearing aids were primitive. He wore large headphones and carried the microphone around with him in a case, like a small brief case. He was a carpenter working on Sydney’s wharves. His mates called him Deafie. One day he found his lunch order was always written as for Defy. That appealed to me a lot when young, ambitious and hoping to be an editor one day, I struggled with the prejudice and bullying in the workplace. Deaf, defy. I used to tell myself. But when it came to bullying, my defiance went to mush, of course.

But the capital d Deaf who use Sign are a culture within our multi-cultural society. They do not regard their lack of hearing as a disability. They are proud of their beautiful and expressive means of communication. I don’t romanticise their world, but they are proudly different from the small d deaf. I cannot speak at all for them. But I do know that many of them feel bullied by the promotion of the cochlear implant and the assumption ofthe wider population that to hear by any means is desirable. The cochlear implant, which earns so many dollars for Australia, is a threat to Deaf culture.

Among the most vulnerable in the world of hearing impairment are the late-deafened, as they are often called. They are the people who acquired hearing loss not only post-lingually, but in their later years when learning to use a hearing aid is difficult, a test of their patience, their nerves and the ability of ageing fingers to twiddle the little wheels of the volume controls. Minituarisation, developed because of vanity and the shame hearing impaired people feel about wearing hearing aids, has been a curse for these people in many instances. When I was a young woman trying to hide my hearing aid behind my hair and full of shame because of my disability, I thought it terrible to be young and hearing impaired. Now I have to say thatI am glad I acquired all the skills I have nowwhen young to compensate and to cope with technology.

The late-deafened have to cope with familyand friends who may be unused to the problem and are often unwilling to modify their ways to accommodate or even understand it. The late deafened face hostility and are often bullied into isolation within the family, let alone in the wider community. If you are told often enough by a family member that you are not trying, that your hearing aid needs turning up because you are not hearing or needs turning down because it is squealing, the will to cope dies. Family members manage their stress and guilt about the situation by saying “She can hear when she wants to,” or that “He has just given up.”

I do not underestimate the stress deafness puts on the other member of a partnership or other members of a family. I have found myself, often enough, critical of a hearing impaired person who depends too heavily on a partner in social and other situations. I too have been exasperated when a hearing impaired person refuses to try different means of hearing, such as assistive listening devices so that the TV and radio are not forever too loud for others to bear.

But often you will find behind that resistance a history of being rejected for their disability – and bullying. I first wrote about bullying in the l980s, long before I was emotionally able to write about hearing loss. I wrote a column for The Advertiser every Saturday, and because at the time bullying of the grossest and physical kind was going on around me – even as I wrote – it was an act of considerable bravado. But in those days I still thought the pen was mightier than the sword. Well, mightier than a slap in the kisser, anyway.

So I looked for bullies in general and I found them everywhere of course. In fact I began to wonder whether we were all working very hard to make the world fit for bullies. There were bullies on the bus where the boys used their schoolbags to cut a swathe to the seats where they could best torment the girls. Bullying was a huge part of domestic violence. I witnessed bullying in a hospital. Bullying was everywhere and most of all in the workplace. I had no trouble at all identifying it.

We all know when we are being bullied. It is when we are forced to fulfil someone else’s expectations out of fear, regardless of our own standards. If we are young this is accompanied by stomach cramps; if old, by chest pains. A bullied member of our editorial conference threw up regularly before he got to the door of the room that was his torture chamber. I had an archetypal bully for a maths teacher at school. She not only exposed wrong answers: she wrong-footed the child who tried to explain or apologise. She played cruel games with children’s names, physical appearance and posture. The victim was brought to the blackboard for more torture. Some kids wet their pants. A few kids bought immunity by ingratiating themselves with this monster. Even as a halfbaked 12 year old I knew that if the class rebelled against the bullying we could stop it, but it never happened. Never did we attempt to challenge the hypothesis of her power, which was that we were all lazy and despicable and powerless. Our worst fault was our complicity with the bully, and knowledge of that may have been pain sharper than that of being bullied. I tried to test that belief at a class reunion 30 years later. The subject was changed very smartly.

We know when we are doing the bullying. We want perfection at someone else’s expense and get a thrill from the by-product of fear and our ability to assume innocence easily if someone notices what we are doing. The advantage of the bully is feigned innocence and the disadvantage of the bullied is self-blame. The deaf are seriously into self blame. It is rare that they can declare their handicap without apologising: Sorry? Sorry? They say. I didn’t catch that. Sorry. The biggest achievement of my deaf life was to learn to say What, without adding sorry. I lapse often.

Well back in those days, before I even thought of writing about deafness, I thought I would test my belief that bullying was universal and increasing in our climate of restricted employment,by asking people for their experiences of being bullied.

There was a strange reaction. If I asked them by phone ( a special volume control phone) I could hear an intake of breath on the end of the line, then silence, followed by excuses about being busy or a change of topic. If I asked them in person, they would break eye contact, and mumble something like: “Well if you want examples from literature.” Or tell a story about someone else being bullied, never themselves. Bullying is a common experience but one so painful that it is not often willingly shared. People will deny it if they can. If they can’t deny it, they may justify it.

As a journalist who has asked people to talk about terrible things in my time I found that people will talk more readily about their dead children than they will talk about bullying. The years pass and I am free from having to dissemble at last. I am drawn into the world of deafness – hearing impairment – and I discover bullying all over again. I see the hearing bullying the hearing impaired. I see the mildly hearing impaired bullying the severely hearing impaired. People tell me about their reactions to hearing impaired family members, thinking I will sympathise with them, when what they are describing is their bullying behaviour to a person with a disability. an invisible disability, of course,a common disability, a goddam irritating disability, so maybe that makes it OK. In their minds, anyway.

But now we are in the age of the world wide web where everyone confesses and shares experiences. The internet is the perfect medium for the deaf. I believe that I can post a question about bullying and deafness on a hearing loss newsgroup and get a picture of what bullying the deaf are subject to. And I find the very same resistance, the same denial and evasions, the same changing of subject, the same pain that is, I have come to believe, for many anyway, unspeakable. A few people leave messages describing how they are or were bullied. A few. Most of them slide from talking about their own excruciating experiences to the safer ground of needing to protect deaf kids from bullying.

But then other kinds of responses started to flow. This one:

“I’m 40 years old and I grew up in New York City. I know all about bullying and I’m a stronger person for having dealt with it as a boy. Listen: this topic really isn’t worth discussing: sorry. I just prefer not to whine about the minor hurdles in life.”


“ Instead of wasting your time doing a paper on bullying, why don’t you do a positive paper on cochlear implantation or the auditory/oral/verbal method of oral therapy. Hearing impaired people are often bullied, accused of faking deafness to get out of work or family responsibilities. I have been on the receiving end.. although I never regarded it as bullying by the other person. actually I saw it more as a form of abuse.”


“Right. Kids get bullied. That’s life. As a parent you have to pull that kid through it by giving him the right way of thinking. You don’t want a hearing impaired child to have a chip on his shoulders. You want to rise above it. I don’t know, this thread is getting a little old.”


“I have been bullied, of course, but that’s human nature. You say you are being bullied because your neighbour rudely says you are too deaf to hear her screeching cocky so she’s not going to do anything about it. Have you asked her if she is troubled by something in her life at the moment? My friends sometimes use a bullying tone when I can’t hear what they say. They don’t mean anything but I shed a few tears often. My husband used to make me repeat things to him so that I knew what it was like to live with a deaf person. I am more concerned for the children.”


“Bullying is like shit. It happens. This topic is boring.”

You don’t have to be very smart or sensitive to hear the pain behind those replies, despite the denials and attempts to end the conversation. As I said: the deaf are perfect bully fodder. In many cases they think they deserve to be bullied. Not all bullies are loud mouthed. There is the bullying silence. Many hearing impaired people are left in that bullying silence as their relationships fail under the impact of their difficult, their infuriating disability.

Australian author Kate Llewellyn has written wonderfully about this in her novel, Dear You. For the biography she is writing in her fictional persona, she tries to interview a woman who remains silently carving away at a block of wood, “toying,” says Llewellyn, “with the steel tip of her malice towards me.” The author calls a taxi to leave, whereupon the bully protests, showing her bloodless hands. But, as Llewellyn says, “As always with the bully, it is not on the hands but on the boots. It happens when no one else can see or hear. It is in the school lavatory away from the eye of the teacher or others. Quietly, swiftly, the kick to the groin. Then the deadly air of innocence comes down like a knight’s visor. Only the victim, lying there quietly, gestures to the boot. “Not everyone is willing to look.”

Desma Hunts Diaries #4

I planned to go shopping today. Deaf Netball Victoria are having their 50th anniversary celebration next month. Hubby and I are dressing up to the nines. I wanted to go shopping to up-size my Little Black-dress. I have to breathe you know. I am sure it will still be little.

On my way out I checked my email. There were several Deaf related emails. Deaf Sports Victoria are having their AGM, $20 I must pay before Friday so that i can vote. I also have to renew my membership to Deaf Children Australia because i always like to support the little kiddies. That’s $50; but why an organisation as rich as them and who have a penchant for takeovers that would rival Rupert Murdoch needs to charge so much i am not quite sure.

Then of course I have to renew my Deaf Australia membership, that’s $30. Not to forget Deafness Forum which is $38. And of course my various sporting memberships – Deaf Netball, Deaf Ten Pin bowling. My goodness being deaf is an expensive business – All up these various memberships will set me back nearly $300.

That Little Black-dress – perhaps I can let it out a little!

I’m Desma Hunt. I’m Deaf and I’m paying for it.