Speaking Out – By Rodney Adams BA, DipEd, MstSpecEd

Auslan Translation – Click here

Recent Australian figures show that 25% of science teachers do not have a science qualification and about one quarter of maths teachers do not have a major in maths.   I am sure that the statistics of teachers of the deaf with no expertise in Sign Languages would be far higher. Not even a Certificate II in Auslan from TAFE is sufficient. I have been teaching this course for over 10 years and have encountered many teachers who fail to master the theoretical  or practical aspects of grammatical Auslan. There is a serious lack of accountability in the deaf teaching profession.

The practice of qualifying teachers to work in a class where proficient signing is essential, (and this includes teacher aides working as interpreters), and who are unable to communicate fluently in Auslan is unacceptable. Not only are deaf students limited by an inadequate linguistic method but they are being disempowered. The continual use of Manually Coded English, (whether it be Signed English or some visual form of English), has left me perplexed. Countless studies have shown the harder the subject material becomes, as it does in the high school years, the less effective MCE is. Many teachers do not have the linguistic ability to conceptualise English into a language medium that is accessible for the deaf. The lack of Auslan skills from these teachers leads to the “Dumbing Down” of deaf education.

In NSW the Department of Education realised sometime ago that “recruitment and retention” of Aboriginal teachers is crucial to the success of Aboriginal students. Is the recruitment and retention of teachers of the deaf who are Deaf equally crucial for the education of deaf students in Auslan? I think it is and we need to aggressively recruit suitable Deaf people as teachers of the deaf. Not only do deaf children need more deaf role-models but they need good linguistic models.

Hearing teachers of the deaf are often insecure with their signing. Unfortunately such teachers have a monopoly over deaf education. This is often reflected in the signing ability of the students that graduate from our schools. Many are in need of sign therapy! Is it benevolent paternalism or economic self interest that prevents deaf teachers from teaching deaf children? It is probably both.

I believe, as do many Deaf people, that bilingualism is the most effective method for developing good communication skills, acquisition of language and developing a healthy sense of identity. However, having worked in a number of educational settings I am more inclined to believe that all methodologies used to teach deaf children have limitations, even bilingualism! Even so, the arguments for bilingualism are compelling.

There are many different views of bilingualism but the one I like most is by Francois Grosjean, who states that “Every deaf child, whatever the level of his/her hearing loss, should have the right to grow up bilingual. By knowing and using both a sign language and an oral language (in its written and where possible its spoken modality) the child will attain his/her full cognitive and linguistic and social capabilities.” (1999).

Grosjean’s view means that both the sign language of the Deaf community and the written and oral language of the hearing majority are used equally for the deaf child’s education. As Deaf people we should not devalue the importance of spoken language in its oral form any more than the hearing majority devalues sign languages.

Naturally some children will be dominant in Auslan while others will be dominant in spoken English. Some will even be balanced in both languages. Whatever language and degree of hearing loss, bilingualism will enable deaf students to communicate more effectively in both the Deaf and hearing worlds. Aside from learning two languages there are many other benefits of bilingualism. Bilingualism increases mental flexibility and understanding of other cultures. Studies also reveal that bilinguals often outperform monolingual children academically and in problem solving.

Our Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is bilingual having learned Mandarin during his diplomat posting in China. It is well accepted that ‘Cultural intelligence’ and knowledge of a second language will enhance future opportunities, both in education and employment. In an increasingly global world Kevin Rudd is an excellent example. Is this belief reflected in deaf education?

Increasing numbers of Deaf children, particularly those with cochlear implants, have been denied access to Auslan. Auslan can be used to improve language acquisition and can be used as a tool to enhance interaction and access to spoken English. Auslan and spoken English languages can exist in a mutual partnership within an educational program. Far too often this does not happen. Is it because hearing parents and professionals find it too difficult learn another language? Instead the easier answer is to make the child speak and conform into mainstream society – Never mind the impact of this attitude on language development!

Most parents want their deaf child to learn to speak, which is perfectly good and natural. But parents are being misled and deaf children denied access to the learning of Auslan under the misconception that it will impede speech development. Why is there still enormous aversion to the learning of sign languages in conjunction with spoken language? Research abounds that demonstrates the benefits. It makes no sense. Educational authorities need to forego the conclusion that sign languages are an inferior language. It has been shown through intensive research that sign languages assist, not impede, the development of spoken language. (Emmory, 2002).

Studies from the University Of Washington, USA (2002) have indicated that if sign language is not taught at an early age then that child will not acquire the fluency of a child who has been exposed to sign language in their early years. I am sure many non-native signers wish that they had been taught a sign language during their early school years. Surely it is better to provide deaf children with thorough language development through sign language knowing that the acquisition of spoken language is going to be an enormous challenge. The acceptable answer seems to be that semi-lingual and semi literate deaf children are ok if some recognisable speech is the outcome!

A recent Australian educational conference concluded that ‘the next divide in Australia will be between those students who have a global outlook and an international language and those who do not’. The same principal applies to deaf children. It is estimated that there are more bilinguals than monolinguals in the world today. Deaf children should have this opportunity too!

“The lesson of our age is that languages are not mutually exclusive, but that human beings and humanity itself, are enriched by communicating in more than one language.”

Kofi Annan, General Secretary of the United Nations


The Rebuttal is two years old in October. It started in 2006, just before the Australian Association of the Deaf National Conference. Our first piece attacked Deaf sector organisations for not making enough effort to promote and encourage deaf people into leadership and management roles. The message was clear, employing deaf people is not enough. There needed to be a proactive effort to promote deaf people and deaf employees of these organisations into management positions.

This first edition received much acclaim. The Rebuttal was hit with an influx of subscribers to the point that we now have 400 on our mailing list. We know that The Rebuttal goes out to more than this 400. We have received emails from America, New Zealand and Britain. To this day we are still receiving subscribers. It has certainly slowed but last month (July 08) we  received another three subscribers so we know that The Rebuttal is still being distributed.

The popularity of The Rebuttal surprised all of us. We thought that it might cause a bit of a stir but not to the degree that it did. People read The Rebuttal at leisure. Sometimes they read the January Rebuttal in March. The beauty of the Rebuttal articles is that they are timeless. The issues can still be relevant months and years after an article is released.

Grandstanding aside – The Rebuttal is far from perfect. It receives criticism. Some of it deserved, some of it not and some of it just plain bizarre. For example we were criticised for being a bunch of hearing impaired South Australians not relevant to the Deaf community. Considering we consist of two South Australians, a Queenslander a Victorian and several silent guest editors who live all over Australia and even in Britain we had a good laugh about that one.

It’s funny that we were accused of being a bunch of hearing impaired people with no relevance to the Deaf community because one of the other criticisms we receive is that we are too Deaf focused. This criticism is more valid. One of the things that we believe is that Deaf and hearing impaired issues have more in common than they have difference. One of our aims was and is to highlight these issues. We accept that we have had more Deaf stories than hearing impaired. We have tried to balance this but are the first to admit we have not been entirely successful. The Deaf are traditionally quite vocal whilst the hearing impaired seem to be more passive. We can only repeat what we have oft asked .. C’MON you hearing impaired people out there .. We need to hear from you.

We are often accused of criticising and not offering solutions. We stir the pot just for the sake of stirring the pot and do not offer any constructive solutions. This we refute strongly. If we criticise deaf sector organisations for not being proactive enough in promoting deaf people to management and leadership positions we suggest a solution. The solution is Affirmative Action. We have said it over and over again that deaf people do not have the same opportunities in management and leadership as do hearing people. The solution is to recognise this and provide these opportunities to deaf people through Affirmative Action policies. In doing so it evens out the playing field, potentially allowing deaf people to gain the skills and experience to compete for management positions in mainstream employment. This is a solution!

We have criticised the Auslan for Employment Program. We can not think of a more shortsighted piece of social policy that has been approved in recent times. It is short term and ignores the needs of hearing impaired. What is worse is that the pursuit of the dollar and short term political acclaim has meant this policy is enshrined in the legislation. Replacing the Auslan for Employment Program with a more effective program will take years. It’s introduction and acceptance was small picture stuff on a grand scale. And they expected us all to rejoice and be thankful! The mind boggles.

Our critics will say hearing impaired have support through the Workplace Modifications Program, convieniently ignoring the fact that assistive listening devices are only part of the solution.  Real time captioning and note taking offer solutions for many but can not be funded.  Hence, many hearing impaired people are being denied opportunities.

Again we offered a solution. We have suggested an employment program that offers long term support and not just short term support for job seekers. We have suggested part of the solution is to adopt a program like the Access to Work Program in the UK which offers long term and ongoing support. We have suggested that Auslan be part of a larger employment support program and offered as one of many options along with captioning rather than a separate program as it foolishly is now. All viable solutions. Thankfully it looks like the Rudd government is now considering the need for an more all encompassing and ongoing employment support program. Stay tuned because we believe it will happen sooner rather than later.

In recent times one of our criticisms is that Deaf Australia have become too isolationist. We believe that Deaf Australia try to go it alone on too many issues. They refute this, claiming that they work closely with other organisations on many issues. This may be so but we do not believe it is enough. We strongly believe that there are overseas models where Deaf and hearing impaired groups share resources, management and political messages and have offered several examples. We believe there is a case for merging Deaf Australia and Deafness Forum and that it can be done successfully. Again a solution!

This last point, we know, is very controversial. We understand that there is a lot of mistrust and a desire to retain and maintain independence. Indeed our recent article, Say it Isn’t So highlights that many of these fears are still valid. BUT the hostility and sniping that goes on between our two peak bodies Deaf Australia and Deafness Forum does Deaf and hearing impaired people no favours at all. In fact we believe it is an embarrassment. Arguments like “Deafness Forum only have five Deaf members and we have 400” are childish. Worse they are misleading as they fail to debate issues such as organisational membership and the degree of representation that occurs through organisational membership. We say again to Deaf Australia and Deafness Forum – SORT IT OUT!

Our favourite criticism is that we foster a Them and Us mentality. We find this laughable. Some of Them agree with Us, Some of Us agree with Them. Some of Them don’t understand Us or Us Them. Savvy?

Neither are we. The reality is there is a Them and Us. Them and Us have for far too long whispered and complained in the background and pretended all is fine and dandy. It is not! Them and Us have avoided talking publicly about these hard issues for far too long. It is amazing, for example, that it took Carol Lee Acquiline to come back to Australia and raise the issue of deaf in management. This issue had been largely put too bed and forgotten. Carol Lee publicly reminded one of Them that he had promised to be gone in ten years and nurture a Deaf person in his place – 25 years ago.

As long as these hollow promises keep happening and action not occurring there will always be a Them and Us.  Raising these issues does not foster a Them and Us mentality, it merely reminds us that the Them and Us issues still exist. If it didn’t there would be no need to raise the issues.

A final, and again, valid criticism is that The Rebuttal is too negative. Indeed The Rebuttal often highlights issues that are construed as depressing and negative such as poor education, lack of employment opportunities and the sad and sorry state of relationships between Deaf Australia and Deafness Forum.

At one stage we put put out three articles very close together in Carrie, Finlay and Dave. These articles touched on issues and difficulties in families, provision of support and at school. While highlighting many home truths they largely touched only on the negatives rather than the positives. Indeed we have seen parents reading Carrie break down in tears. Jane, a friend and mother of a deaf girl said to us – “Please stop it – I have to believe there is some hope for my daughter!” This is a fair point.

We have tried to bring some positive stories too but acknowledge that articles that touch on valid but largely frustrating and depressing issues have been dominant. There is a lot to be positive about too so we hope to bring more humorous and positive stories such as a Liar and a Fake in future editions.

We never thought we would still be going after two years AND with Auslan versions as well. While not everything is in Auslan we are proud of this achievement – After all we are only volunteers but we are showing that access is not expensive nor is it rocket science – just needs a little commitment and motivation. Thanks to everyone who has stuck with us. We hope you get as much from reading The Rebuttal as we do from bringing it to you!

Please Say It Isn't So!

I woke up from a bad dream last night. I dreamt that I was watching television. Bolt had just run like lightening and secured the 200m sprint. In my dream he ran it it in 3.4 seconds. Dreams are like that you know. He had celebrated by shaking his thang as only a Jamaican can do and it cut to an Ad .. A community services announcement.

The Ad had a child, boy or girl I cannot recall. The child was signing on the screen. Looking rather sad. The dialogue went something like this:

” This is how i used to communicate” (Signing in stilted Auslan)

There was then a flash, fire works and inspiring music. (Weirdly enough in my dreams i am never deaf)

Then in a loud and beautiful voice the child speaks:

“Now there is a better way! – Donate to us and make sure all kids speak like me!”

I woke up in horror. It was just a dream. Things like that just did not happen in the real world and then I remembered. My dream, although in dream state and slightly exagarrated, had actually happened. The emails on my computer were sad proof of that. The dream resulted directly from reading them.

I fear being sued so I cannot name the organisation, but an organisation somewhere in Australia has actually put an Ad on television that mirrors my dream, albeit without the special effects – thank god! But it is true, someone has had the gall to create an advertisement to raise money for an organisation that suggests that signing is ann undignified way to communicate, a lesser means of existing. The Ad suggests that if you donate money we can do away with sign language forever – “Speech is the future, give your money to us to make this possible.” (Authors words – not those of the Ad)

Now I have not seen the Ad, I am only going on what I have been told. But if the Ad mirrors what my emails have told me then the creators and the organisation that allowed it to go to air need to bow their head in shame. I showed the emails to my wife, she was utterly speechless.

When will this sort of garbage stop. When will professionals acknowledge the beauty the worth and benefits of sign language. When will they look at the research and acknowledge that sign language actually assists the acquisition of speech and does not hinder it. And more importantly when will they accept and stop oppressing people who are Deaf and who exist in perfect harmony with our society.

Deaf people from the state where this Ad is being shown, if the Ad is as bad as it sounds, PLEASE, PLEASE complain for all you are worth. This Ad is a step back to the dark ages, MIlan has raised its ugly head. Stop the world now please, I want to get off!

What? Me Normal?

I missed out on a job last week. It was to head a disability advocacy organisation. I was beaten by the proverbial Manchester United of Advocates. In comparison I am just Championship League material. More like a Preston North End .. Knocking on the door constantly but not quite making the grade. My conqueror, on the other hand, probably is on first name terms with the Prime Minister … such are her credentials. I dare say it was a far gone conclusion before we were even interviewed. No shame in losing to someone of this calibre. I am the worlds worst loser, so its just as well the successful applicant was so good.  Before going on I apologise to all readers with no knowledge of the English Premier League. A lot of the above will make no sense at all.

I didn’t help myself by crashing my computer, losing my application, catching flu, redoing everything at the last minute and then sending the wrong documents, not just once, but twice. I must have come across as an eccentric dodderer. What really struck me though is just how heavily involved the successful applicant was in the Disability sector. I thought that I was too after 20 years, but one look at the successful applicant’s involvement in the Disability sector and it was obvious that, although I am experienced, I am primarily seen as a Deaf/hearing impaired advocate with some involvement in the disability area.

This got me thinking about the general view of Deaf people, who are members of the Deaf community, towards the topic of disability. Deaf people, (With a capital D), are well known for feeling uncomfortable with the Disability label. They prefer to be known as a linguistic and cultural minority. Indeed it is the case that they largely are. BUT society in general still finds it hard to understand why Deaf people see themselves this way.

It does not help that the Deaf sector quite happily apply for and receive funding from the Disability sector. Largely the organisations that serve the Deaf community exist on Disability money. Fundraising is often done by Deaf sector organisations using Disability themes and messages. Deaf Australia, the so called battison of the Deaf community, receive Disability funding too. It is no wonder that society, as a whole, is confused by the “We are not disabled” message put forward by the Deaf sector.

Don’t get me wrong, I fully support the cultural and linguistic claims of the Deaf community. It is just that the Deaf community cannot seem to sell this message to the larger community. Many people in the larger community feel that the Deaf sector is hypocritical to willingly take Disability money while claiming, at the same time, that they are not disabled. In the defence of the Deaf sector, if they didn’t take the money they would be dead and buried because the Multicultural Sector certainly will not provide the sort of money needed to exist that the disability funding will.

Recently I had a meeting as a representative of Deaf Sport Recreation Victoria. We were discussing inclusion for people with disabilities in sport. At the meeting were representatives from other major disability sporting groups. As a whole the disability sporting groups preferred to be fully integrated as much as possible. Wheel Chair Sports, for example, prefer their major competitions to be scheduled as part of the normal mainstream competitions. They would still compete against other wheelchair athletes, but their competition would be a part of the normal mainstream event. Other Disability sport groups prefer this sort of set up too.

Now as a representative of the Deaf community I felt compelled to point out that the Deaf community had a different view. Deaf sport prefers to be separate from the mainstream. The Deaf community prefer their own events where its solely a Deaf event. I took pains to point out that this was not anything to do with not wanting to be involved with people with a disability but was rather to do with a cultural and social values that are an integral part of the Deaf community. I don’t think I explained it very well because other participants in the meeting gave me some strange looks. It was very hard to tell the disability groups that I fully supported and understood their want to be be fully integrated into mainstream events while, at the same time, not wanting to be involved myself.

This is an ongoing problem for Deaf sports. They do not want to be part of the Paralympics. They want to retain and maintain their own competitions. Deaf Sports Australia has an ongoing battle to convince the government of a view that is very different to that of disability groups. Deaf people getting together is like a gathering of a like minded cultural group. Similar to, for example, the Jewish Games. The government sees Deaf people as a disability group. They can not understand why Deaf people do not want to be part of something as massive and successful as the Paralympics.

Disabled groups don’t seem to understand it either. One wonders if the Deaf community is being seen as elitist and separatist. They are not, of course, but one wonders if this is the inherent view. The skillset for competing in sport for Deaf people is not all that different from the mainstream. Perhaps they need to be more visual, but really they compete in pretty much the same way as able bodies athletes. An amputee or a wheelchair athlete is different. The skills they have developed to compete in their chosen sport are awesome and elite. The balance is different, the timing is different and often even the rules are different. For Deaf people sport happens pretty much as for any able bodied person.

The difference is in the social and linguistic interaction that occurs. The social and linguistic interaction is a thing of great value. It is something that Deaf people want to retain and maintian. And so it should. BUT convincing the powers that be and other Disability sporting groups of the cultural and linguistic need is not something the Deaf community has fully succeeded in achieving.

Sport aside – Deaf people, outside of the Deaf community, are largely disabled. Mainstream society is largely not accessible to them. Indeed they are only Deaf, (with a capital D), when they are in the Deaf community. In mainstream society they face many barriers for access, pretty much like other disabled groups. They are not Deaf but deaf! Access to good education, access to communication and even access needs for transport  are all things they have in common with Disability groups. Transport? I hear you all say … Well the deaf person who has not missed a train, plane or caught the wrong bus because they didn’t have access to public announcements is a very rare individual indeed.

There is much to be gained by being more fully involved in the Disability sector. There is much to be gained in identifying key themes of access to lobby for as part of the Disability sector rather than going it alone. Yet all to often Deaf people have to be dragged in, kicking and screaming, to the Disability table. It is hard enough to get Deaf Australia to even cooperate with Deafness Forum, let alone to get them to see the value in being more fully involved in the Disability sector.

Let’s be fair, it is not just Deaf people that struggle with the Disability label. The Disability sector has trouble with it as well. It’s a generally despised word. Full of negative perceptions and vibes. I am forever attending meetings where people do not want to use the word. You can’t, for example, call a young kid at school disabled. It’s not cool. You have to come up with some cool term … “Differently Abled” – “A person with varying  Abilities” – Some one with a Learning Disability is “Learning Challenged”. A Dwarf is a “Short Statured Person”.

Amazingly I find that these PC terms that people come up with are usually created by people who do not have a disability and are trying to find a nice way to describe people with disabilities. By and large people with disabilities have no problems with the term disabled. You ask someone that can’t see what they want to be called and most will say vision impaired or Blind. They will let out a deep sigh of frustration if you call them visually challenged. I met a short statured person recently and asked him what term he prefers …”Me?”, he said, “Call me a midget, otherwise I am Peter Short”

That is my experience. People with disabilities are less obsessed with the words and labels than people who do not have a disability. “Take the Dis out of Disability”, “What the hell is normal anyway?” are slogans that, I am betting, were created by sensitive people who do not have a disability. My view is that the majority of us people with a disability wish society would get over coming up with PC terms and get on with providing the money that is needed for access. Deaf or disabled – Access is needed by us all!

Road Kill

I am a South Australian. My career in Deafness started there at, the then, Royal South Australian Deaf Society. It was a fantastic place to work. The friendships I made there last til this day. Hell, I nearly married the receptionist there! I have nothing but fond memories of the place and often yearn for those care free days when I was an aspiring social worker out to make my mark.

People have been emailing me about the place lately. It seems there are a few unhappy people in South Australia who, like me, remember what the Royal South Australian Deaf Society once was. One wag has emailed me and said that the place has become an embodiment of ROAD KILL. He urged me to check out the website, so I did. And there, right before me, was a picture of Road Kill.

Not so much an animal, but an insect. On my screen was the new logo. The Royal South Australian Deaf Society is no more. Its name was changed some time ago to Deaf SA by an administration that brought the place to its knees. It is now known as Deaf Can Do and its logo is a butterfly. One that looks incredibly like it has been squashed on a car windscreen. Take a look yourself at this link.   http://www.deafcando.org.au/

I guess it is a matter of opinion, but the butterfly looks as if it has been squashed and is oozing yellow goo. The yellow goo is supposed to be the map of South Australia. My friend, the wag, believes it is Road Kill – And I am sorry to say I have to agree.

Road Kill aside there seems to be some disenchantment with the changes that have happened to the dear old Deaf Society. I am told, via email, that there is a core of people who find the logo childish. That it makes this once proud organisation seem like a page out of Winnie the Poo. They feel the identity of the organisations has been changed without consultation with the Deaf Community. They feel pushed aside and ignored. The affinity that they once felt for the organisation has been destroyed. I am sure that Deaf Can Do will dispute this strongly, but nevertheless these are the sentiments being expressed to me.

This is one view. The other view is that the logo and name change is fresh and professional. The name CAN DO has apparently been researched and is a viewed as a positive name likely to attract funds. Fundraising, of course, is incredibly competitive. The new fresh logo and name change will help the organisation be noticed and promote positive vibes. It is a release from the negative recent past, a new start.

There is another more sinister argument. This argument states that the Royal South Australian Deaf Society has been taken over. A few years ago Townsend House, also known as Can Do 4 Kids, rescued the Deaf Society from what seemed like certain closure. There was an uproar then. A fear that that the iconic home of the Deaf Community, building 262, would be sold and the Deaf Society swallowed up in Townsend House.

The community were told, at that time, not to worry. Townsend House only wanted to help. The relationship between the Deaf Society and Townsend House was a partnership, a sharing of resources and talent. Building 262, they said, would never be sold. The SA Deaf Community, on being told this, breathed a collective sigh of relief.

Yet now the Deaf Society has a new name Deaf Can Do, incredibly similar to the name Can Do 4 Kids. The butterfly that is now the logo for Deaf Can Do was apparently stolen from the top of the little girl that makes up the logo of CanDo4Kids. True, it’s a very different butterfly. It’s alive for a start.

Everything seems to be aligned to CanDo4Kids. Have we witnessed a bloodless coup? Have we witnessed a silent takeover despite assurances that the Deaf Society would remain independent? Only time will tell.

People have written into me and asked me to write something about this. I have encouraged them to write something themselves and promised to publish it in The Rebuttal. Some can’t because of who they are, some wont because they fear backlash, some wont because they are all talk and no action – Whispering in the background achieves nothing so I have chosen to publicise what people are saying, but not willing to own.

The proof, as they say, will be in the pudding. The new name and logo may turn out to be a resounding success. Butterflies are deaf after all, especially dead one.

It may well be the powers that be are positioning themselves to take over the Deaf Society. They will argue that it is not financially viable, they will argue that a streamlined administration and fundraising department will decrease competition and provide more much needed fundraising. Whatever they argue though, you can bet the Deaf community will be passive bystanders, not knowing what is going on or what is happening because no one is telling them and worse, no one is asking them what they want.

All I can say is be alert and ask plenty of questions.  You might not get any answers, but don’t be caught off guard as you were the last time Building 262 nearly hit the dust!