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!