Ranting

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; http://www.saywhatclub.com/essays/ekisser.htm)

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.”

Another:

“ 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.”

Another:

“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.”

Another:

“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.”

Another.

“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.

Lance Allred and the Mad World

I received an article about Lance Allred last week. Lance is apparently the first ever deaf person to be offered an NBL contract in America. His contract was for ten days. I imagine he had ten days to prove himself. He didn’t and he was cut. I am not sure why he was cut. Perhaps he just did not make the grade. Perhaps his coach thought it was just all too hard to incorporate him. Apart highlighting that Allred is an obviously great basketballer Allred’s story reminded me, yet again, that we live in a world that is full of ignorant bigots.

Allred is famous in America for being the the centre of a discrimination scandal. His coach apparently lost it with him and in front of all his team mates and screamed that Allred was, ” Deaf, Dumb and a disgrace to all cripples.” His coach also called him “75% deaf” with no heart and accused him of using his deafness to take an easy ride.

His coach Rick Majerus, a well known and respected coach in the US, when confronted with his remarks said ” I honest to god don’t remember. I’m not even going to address it.” A wonderful case of selective memory. Amazingly after such a tirade his employer reacted to a discrimination complaint against him by saying that he had no case to answer. The defence being, “basketball often brings out the worst in him.”

Allred was also raised in a Polygamist cult. He would be used to discrimination and bigotry because when he was 5 he was told by a minister of his church that god had made him deaf because he had not been faithful in a previous life. Given that the cult believed that being faithful meant marrying whoever took your fancy this makes no sense at all. Given the obvious stresses of his life It is perhaps not surprising that Allred developed Obsessive Compulsive Disorder in his teenage years. It can only happen in America.

Sport seems to bring out the worst in the bigot. In my younger years as a talented soccer player, I was often left on the bench while less talented players played. I once came on with fifteen minutes to go and scored two goals. I missed a hat trick when my shot was frantically cleared off the line. I expected to be picked for a full game the next week. Instead i was dropped completely. The coach claiming that communication difficulties made it too much of a risk when we were chasing the title. I would have thought that goals would have helped the title chase, but there you go.

I was a less talented but ultra keen netballer. As a defender in mixed netball I was hard to pass. I often played with Deaf mixed netball teams. I was signing away to my mates one day and the opposition Goal Defence started to mock our signing. I yelled out to him that it was just as well  he couldn’t understand us cos we were talking about him. The umpire had stern words with me and accused me of stirring up trouble.  She demanded of me to, “Make sure you talk during the game, I want to know what you are saying” I told her to welcome to my world. I think the point was lost on her.

More seriously deaf Athlete Dean Barton-Smith nearly missed out on selection for the Barcelona Olympics in 1992. This is despite the fact that he had met the qualifying standard not once but twice, was ranked number 1 in Australia, was ranked number three in the Commonwealth and top 20 in the world. Barton-Smith was initially told that he would not be selected because it was felt that he had little hope of finishing in the top 16 at the Olympics.

Barton-Smith was made to suffer enormous stress over a period of time and feared not being selected. This is despite meeting all the selection criteria. He has never really been clear as to why he was almost not selected. It was suggested that the Australian Olympic Committee had not expected him to qualify and had not budgeted on his selection. There was suggestions of politics and strained relations between the Australian  Olympic Committee and Deaf Sports body over deaf attitudes towards the Paralympics. it is still a mystery to this day as to why he was nearly not selected.

Had Barton-Smith been a hearing athlete it is doubtful that he would have had any question marks placed over his selection. Imagine the best 100m sprinter in Australia, Top 3 in the Commonwealth and top 20 in the world being told he or she would not be selected for the team even though he or she had met all the qualifying requirements. It would not happen, selection would be automatic. Add deafness to the equation and suddenly people start finding excuses for non selection. Bizarre and disturbing.

Oliver Wendell Holmes once said that, “The mind of a bigot is like the pupil of the eye, The more light you shine on it, the more it will contract” This may well be so but as these stories show and as The Rebuttal’s recent article A Blast from the Past shows, bigotry and discrimination are never far from the surface. Sometimes the best we can do is simply laugh and ridicule the attitudes of the bigot as Dick Gregory did when he said,    ” I am really enjoying the new Martin Luther King Jr stamp – Just think of all those white bigots licking the backside of a black man.” Laughing may well help us cope but the attitudes of the bigot can do us great damage. Unfortunately we have to be constantly on our toes.

Who is Laughing Now?

Our disability discrimination laws are a laughing stock. They have to be the most ridiculous and toothless laws that exist anywhere in a comparable country in the Western World. The residents of an Australian suburb that took their Council to court will testify to that. This is a tragic tale of a group of people with a disability who tried to stick up for their rights. They discovered that the council had failed to comply with requirements of the Australian Disability Discrimination Act (DDA). As a group they decided to take the council to court. They lost on a technicality. Consequently Australia is now the laughing stock of the world in regard to disability discrimination.

This group of people with a disability proved that the Council broke the law. They apparently had their case thrown out because they complained as a group. The Australian DDA states that only individual complaints can be heard. Class action or complaints are not allowed. So the judge has allegedly ruled their case to be void. Never mind that the council is putting up barriers to disability access contrary to the DDA, you can’t complain as a group and therefore the Council is in the clear. To add insult to injury, the group that complained now find themselves faced with having to pay court costs in excess of $50 000. I really hope they sue their lawyer because any mug that knows anything about the DDA will easily discover the law only allows individual cases.

The DDA in Australia is essentially fairy floss. To activate it individuals must first complain. If they don’t complain then organisations such as the Council can more or less do as they please. The DDA in Australia only allows individuals to complain. What this means is if there is an issue that impacts on 10 000 people with a disability then they must all complain individually. You can’t launch one complaint for 10 000 people which seems logical; you can only complain individually.

Theoretically if 10 000 people complained on the one issue the Australian Human Rights Commission would have to deal with each complaint individually. The efficient way would be for 10 000 to come together and make one complaint. But NO! In Australia we have the ridiculous and costly situation where each complaint can only centre on one person.

What is more the Australian DDA is not a prescriptive law. It sets out standards that organisations are supposed to follow. However, in Australia organisations only have to follow the standards if they can afford to follow them. They can argue Unjustifiable Hardship and cry poor. What they must then do is demonstrate to the courts why they cannot afford to provide access. It is a lengthy and costly process.

Most individuals who make complaints cannot afford legal representation. This alone prevents many people from complaining under the DDA. What is worse, organisations like the Council CAN afford legal representation and will often get the best. They will draw out cases as long as possible. Many individuals know that this may happen and fear complaining lest they be out of pocket.

Indeed there was a recent story of a deaf person in NSW who took a cinema to court through the DDA for not providing captioned movies. He mysteriously withdrew his case at the last minute. Rumour had it that the cinema paid him out to keep quiet. More likely he realised the ongoing cost of the case would be beyond his financial resources and backed out. I am sure this has happened to many people with a disability wishing to complain under the DDA.

The most well known case involving deafness in Australia centred on Gail Smith and her deaf daughter. Gail and her husband believed that the Queensland Education Department had broken the law under the DDA because they did not provide sign language interpreters for her daughter. She originally lost her case at great financial and personal cost.

To get support for her daughter she had to move literally from one side of Australia to the other. Her family had to uproot leaving friends and support networks just so that their daughter could get access to education. The stress and financial strain must have been enormous.

Eventually Gail appealed the case findings and won allowing her to move back to her family and friends and forcing the Queensland Education Department to provide for her daughter. To get to that point it took several years, lots of money and great personal stress.

One may argue that this shows that the Australian DDA does, in fact, work. What poppycock. No person should have to endure what Gail and her family endured. In Australia if you steal you break the law. If you murder you break the law. The law is prescriptive in most areas. In most cases the law clearly states what you can and cannot do. It is as simple as “though shall not steal”, “though shall not kill.” What is more you clearly know what will happen if you do.

Yet our disability laws state basically that you have to try, you have to show that you did your best. If an organisation can do that they can metaphorically get away with murder. Imagine the outcry if someone robbed a bank and his defence was, “I tried not to” and the judge said, “Yes I can see you did, off you go back to mum.” There would be an outcry of epic proportions.

The Council broke the law and got away with it. The fault is entirely with Australia’s loose and weak DDA laws. It is time to come up with a law that clearly prescribes what organisations need to do in terms of disability access. The current laws fall well short of this and makes Australia look like a joke in the eyes of the world. I can guarantee you the Council in question get the joke and are laughing all the way to the bank.

A Blast from the Past

In the late 1990s I worked at VSDC which is now known as Deaf Children Australia. January of each year was generally a slow time with children being away on holiday. We used the time to tidy up minor administrative issues and set ourselves up for the New Year. One January my manager sentme down to the dungeons to sort through old files. The dungeons were the basement of the big old bluestone building on St Kilda Road. Down there you will find a big old bath the size of a small swimming pool. In years gone by deaf children boarded at the building and this is where they apparently bathed. I had visions of regimented deaf children all lined up and made to bathe with each other while supervisors looked sternly on.

The dungeons are a fascinating place. At the time it contained files going
back a long way. I found files of deaf people who I knew that dated back to
before the war. These files tell a fascinating tale of a world long gone. One
of the things that struck me the most at the time was that deaf boys all
seemed to be encouraged towards trade type jobs while deaf girls were
encouraged towards sewing and cooking. Indeed the museum at the
Bluestone building contains boot making apparatus. One can imagine rows of
young Deaf boys in their long pants in a boot making workshop learning to
make boots while the girls were in another part of the building sewing or
cooking.

But really it is not a world that long gone. When I was finishing school in the
late 70s and early 80s I was not encouraged towards academic pursuits
either. I was encouraged into trades as well. Indeed I left school twice. I left
once to become a labourer in a cane furniture factory and left the second
time to become a cabinet maker. It was bizarre really because as a wood
worker I made a great ballerina. I was hopeless at wood work but always
great at English. I loved writing and reading and was very good at both. Yet
despite having talent in this area I was stereotyped into trades and never
encouraged to do anything else.

Until very recently I believed that the attitudes I faced and the attitudes
that the old students who attended the St Kilda Road deaf school faced were
largely a thing of the past. I now know of deaf people who are journalist,
lawyers, doctors and deaf people who are CEOs of organisations (ironically
only one of them at a deaf organisation). My great friend Donovan Cresdee
obtained his PHD last year into his 6th decade of life. This is a far cry from
the man who worked as a process worker in a tube making factory when he
left school.

If I had my time over again I wish someone had advised me to become a
journalist. I remember suggesting to my teacher back when I was at school
that I would make a good teacher of the deaf. I was told that it was not
possible. I was told that I would have to work with a class of hearing
students for four years first and that this was impossible for a deaf person. Meek and mild that I was at the time I accepted this as fact. God knows what they would have said if I had suggested journalism.

I was thinking recently how much better things would be for me if I was at
school now. Expectations are so much higher these days. Or so I thought
until I attended a friend’s 21st birthday on the weekend. At my friend’s party I met Sue, a young and extremely bright deaf girl who has recently left
school. Her recent experience shattered all of my positive illusions.
Sue is 19, having left school after completing year 12. She has a cochlear
implant but is heavily involved in the Deaf community through sport. She is
bright, energetic and friendly. Her language ability is fantastic and while she
has some minor English grammar issues she has very good written English.
Hell, even the articles I write have to be checked umpteen times because
my grammar is so poor.

Having successfully completed year 12, Sue left school with extremely high
expectations. She is a talented and creative photographer. Her aim was to
obtain work in the photography industry. She decided that rather than study
after leaving school she would go straight to work. This is not uncommon for
many young deaf people. After all, many of them have been at school more
or less since they could walk. Speech therapy and constant intervention to
help with speech development begins at a very early age.

Sue signed up with an employment agency. This agency is a specialist agency
that helps people who are deaf or hearing impaired look for work. Sue told
her case worker that she wanted to become a photographer. Her case
worker shot her aspirations down in flames.

Sue was told that her aim to be a photographer was not realistic and that it
was a competitive industry which required intensive communication. She was
encouraged to look for other work. It was suggested that there might be
opportunities available at her local supermarket as a shelf stocker that were
more in line with her capabilities.

And here was me thinking that the world had progressed since I had left
school. To put it mildly I was flabbergasted. Not so much because of the
case worker’s attitude but because the attitude existed within an agency
that provided specialist support for deaf and hearing impaired job seekers.
My friend Sue, from being a happy and confident school leaver, professed
that her self esteem was now shot to pieces. I emphasise here that she
herself used the term self esteem. She is a very aware girl with enormous
potential and it beggars belief that she is being made to apply for work as a
shelf stocker.

In an age where people in Adelaide have deaf Dr Don and Dr Bev, in Sydney
and Melbourne they have Alastair and Rebecca who are qualified deaf
lawyers and in Melbourne and London are Dean and Paul working as deaf
Executive Directors for their respective employers, surely we can do better
than this? How many more talented young deaf people will have to suffer the
same fate before Australia wakes up? Sue has had her aspirations shattered.
Brendan O’Connor and Bill Shorten who head the Rudd Governments
disability employment consultation, all our educators of the deaf and all
people who assist deaf job seekers– I hope that you are listening