The Executive Payroll

greedyLes Twentyman is an Australian. He is a youth worker that advocates hard for homeless youth. He knows about charity so when he comments people listen. Twentyman most recently made some disparaging comments about CEOs that work for charities. Many he said are overpaid. Says Twentyman, “.. “Money is being shovelled out the wrong end.” Among other things Twentyman has called on Governments to look at the books of charities and withdraw funding for charities who are paying their CEOs over $150 000 a year.

Twentyman is a controversial figure. He points out that working in a community services organisation is not, “…. a career path for making lots of money.”  Having worked in the community sector for two decades I can testify to that. I can also testify that the workers that do the SERVICE work of the organisation, those that deal with the issues at ground level, are the lowest paid by the proverbial mile. Last year I spoke with a deaf worker that worked in the employment sector finding jobs for Deaf and hard of hearing people. I was shocked that last year was the first time they had earned over   $40 000 a year. The person had been working in the sector for over five years.

More recently a well known charity advertised for a Deputy CEO.  Rumours around the traps, that I can not confirm, are that the deputy CEO salary was in the range of $150 000 per year. If true one wonders what the organisation must be paying the CEO. It’s kind of obscene when workers at the grass roots are still being paid, in some cases, just over $40 000 to do the key work that an organisation was established for in the first place. More offensively it is this work that the organisations promote to get money from the gullible public only for the bulk of it to be paid to overpaid executives.

Some years ago I received the newsletter of an organisation. The newsletter, to save money, was printed on scrap paper. I came home from work one day to a rather bemused wife. She asked me if I had read the newsletter to which I replied I had not. She showed it to me and I was horrified to see on the back of one page there was a letter to  a successful applicant for a fundraising position. The newsletter had been printed on scrap paper and some careless worker, probably the CEO, had failed to dispose of this confidential letter. Somehow, I do not know how, this letter became part of the newsletter. Unchecked the newsletter went out to the members. Of course before it went out it should have been vetted, probably by the CEO, to ensure all was above board. But such a high paid worker couldn’t bother themselves with such a mundane task.

So what happened was the organisation members that received the newsletter read about an employment offer to the new fundraising manager. We saw the mans name, his address and also his salary range. The fundraising managers salary was a six figure salary. Again an obscene amount when grassroots workers of an organisation get paid a pittance. It was quite comical to witness the organisation frantically contacting members to ask them to send the newsletter back. Amazingly the CEO refused to accept blame, instead shifting blame to the workers that had assembled the newsletter.

Les Twentyman is not far off the mark. Our charity organisations, including those in the Deaf sector are top heavy in management. These managers receive very healthy salaries while the nuts and bolts workers get paid next to nothing. These organisations promote the great work of these nuts and bolts workers in an effort to get the public to donate money to the organisation. But where does the bulk of this money go? If  Les Twentyman is to be believed,  if the salary of the deputy CEO at $150 000 a year is correct and the fact that the aforementioned fundraising manager was on a six figure salary – it is clear that the bulk of fundraising money that should be directed to services is being gobbled by management. It’s obscene and we the public and receivers of the service should hold these people accountable.

A Response from the National Relay Service to the Third Person

From Sean Kidney, National Relay Service Outreach

The Rebuttal thanks Sean for his response. We felt it was important that it be seen by as many people as possible. Hence we have made Sean’s response into an official post.

I came across your post recently. Reasonable concerns, but I think I need to correct a few misconceptions …

1. First, NRS usage – relay service usage is actually pretty stable. There was small drop in usage in 2005-06, but since then overall numbers have climbed a little. While it’s probably right that lots of people now use SMS, email and MSN rather than the NRS, this seems to have been balanced by more people using the NRS to contact services that aren’t easily accessible through these newer technologies.

2. There has been a change in types of NRS usage, basically as a result of the launch of internet relay some 18 months ago. Over 20% of NRS calls have now shifted to the internet, and the numbers keep growing. This suggests that lots of people would rather use PCs than TTYs for calls. The other growth has been with people using “Speak and Read” – those who speak their side of a call and who read the response on their TTY. The growth in this group reflects increased usage among older people with an acquired hearing impairment, a high-need group that has in the past not known much about the NRS. They are often people (mainly due to their age) who have never learnt to type or don’t want to, so being able to speak into the handset (only available via an NRS call) is a real plus for them.

3. Your key point was about what the NRS has been saying about TTYs. The NRS has indeed been telling some organisations to consider using the NRS rather than TTYs – that’s because we have found in surveying businesses and government agencies over the past two years that many are not offering a functional TTY service. The TTY is either disconnected, or it is not answered, or there are no staff specially trained to take calls on the TTY. On top of that, the TTY is usually located in a contact centre or reception area and the person answering it can’t provide the info being requested, or the service required. For example, someone rings a bank call centre wanting to enquire about a loan, but the loans department doesn’t have a TTY, just the main contact centre. So the TTY caller can’t get the info required via a TTY. Businesses and agencies may advertise a TTY line – but in most cases it is not functioning in an adequate manner with a commitment to staff, train and respond to it adequately.

We’re not advising businesses abandon their TTYs, where this is a genuine and functioning TTY service. However, where it isn’t (which is most of the time), we’re suggesting that the businesses take their responsibility to the Deaf/hearing-impaired/speech-impaired community seriously and ensure they’re resourced and skilled to be able to provide their services via the NRS. We’re not trying to reduce accessibility to services, but rather trying to ensure that what accessibility IS being offered is genuine, functioning, efficient and meeting legal obligations. Ensuring that organisations are “NRS-friendly” improves customer access for members of the Deaf community – both those who depend on TTYs and the growing number of internet relay users.

4. The aim at the National Relay Service is to maximise access to telephone communications for the three groups specified in the Telecommunications (Consumer Protection and Services) Act – people who are Deaf, people with an acquired hearing impairment (there are some 400,000 of these in Australia), and people with a speech impairment.

There may well come a time when the NRS is not needed; that would be wonderful, because it would mean better options have been developed.

But, in the meantime, although people use SMS and MSN for communication with others who are Deaf, the NRS is pretty useful for talking to people who aren’t Deaf and who don’t use SMS – that’s most services, doctors, potential employers and even Thai takeways (at least until you negotiate for them to accept your SMS orders).

And by the way, you can use MSN to make a relay call to any of these services from a PC or a mobile.


Sean Kidney
National Relay Service Outreach

Red Rag to a Bull

mmatadorCertain things in this world are like a red rag to a bull. The mere mention of them is bound to get people going.  It might be animal cruelty, it might be the reasons behind the global credit crunch or something as mundane as to why a persons football team is performing like the local paddock hacks. For Deaf and hard of hearing people a sure fire way to get them going is to talk about cochlear implants or to belittle sign language.

The Rebuttal comments on many things. Our own favourite red rag is the lack of opportunities provided for deaf people by our Deaf Sector organisations to run these organisations. We have hammered home this arguments like a dog with a bone and probably will continue to do so. There is a lot of arrogance among hearing and some deaf people that work within the Deaf Sector towards people who are Deaf and hard of hearing. When challenged they will come up with some of the most amazing counter arguments.

Like recently when challenged for their lack of consultation they claimed that collectively they had 555 years of experience of both hearing and deaf staff. Thus implying that they knew enough to comment on behalf of Deaf and hard of hearing people. That they had left out important points in their submission to the government that they might not have if they had consulted properly did not matter. As The Rebuttal said in its PDF edition 555 years of experience as opposed to probably millions of years experience of thousands of  Deaf and hard of hearing people around Australia does not amount to much. Or, as we said, 555 years equates to being a fossil and indeed many within the sector are.

The Rebuttal has been blown away by the response to the article on the Cochlear Implant, Cochlear Revolution. What started as an innocent article to highlight an increasing trend brought out a myriad of emotions and responses amongst our readers. There were those that jumped on the band wagon proclaiming the wonders of the Cochlear Implant. There were those that reminded us that Deafness is a state of being and that the error of advocates for the Cochlear Implant is that they focus on deficits something many Deaf people do not feel they have. There were those that reminded us that by advocating Cochlear Implants in children and using adults as an example was to fuel false hope among parents looking for answers. And there were those that reminded us that whatever the issue communication was the key – not mode nor method. All valid arguments and all articulated with passion and intelligence that is inspiring.

More recently we wrote several articles about television advertisements from the Cora Barclay Centre in Adelaide. These ads, deliberately or otherwise, belittled sign language. They implied that spoken language was far superior to sign language and that it was the pinnacle of communication. Worse they used a young boy as an example. The boy signed poorly, obviously coached by someone that had little grasp of sign language, and then broke out into lovely speech with an affectionate lisp that announced that speech was a better way!

The outcry was enormous. responses were received from various parts of the globe. Nearly all of them Deaf. The message was simple, how dare they! Again the message was argued with passion and intellect. Among the outcry was a little voice that said, “Hey you criticised my old school and it is a good school and I speak great” or words to that effect. The writer was brave to make his voice heard among these predominantly angry Deaf community members and we admire him for that. For sometimes it is the little voice that is loudest and makes change. Not in this case, but the writer was brave nonetheless.

So thank you to all the people that respond and do so with so much passion. It makes producing The Rebuttal that much more worthwhile. Open and informed debate is essential in our society. Most importantly the responses to The Rebuttal articles  show the depth of talent and intellect among Deaf and hard of hearing people in our society.  Yes there were some hearing people that responded and their arguments are equally valid but the majority that respond are Deaf or hard of hearing. Now wouldn’t it be great if our Deaf sector organisations could recognise this and allow us Deaf and hard of hearing people to take control of  our lives and these organisations … Now that would make me happy!

The Cochlear Revolution

pondering2One comical day in July last year I was referred for a Cochlear Implant. My middle son had a routine check up with the Ear Nose and Throat Department at the Hospital. There were some concerns that he was suffering from a conductive loss of hearing. He received a clean bill of health. However, before signing him off, the doctor felt the need to consult with his boss. His boss, the head ENT surgeon, took a quick look and declared herself to be satisfied. The conversation that followed went something like this. “Are you the father?” I replied that I was. “Are you deaf” I replied in the affirmative. “But you speak beautifully.” I thanked her and in an effort to refocus her on my son jokingly stated that he was responsible for my fine speech. She was not to be distracted. “Have you heard of cochlear implants?” Again I replied in the affirmative. “You could benefit from one. I will refer you to the Ear, Nose and Eye Hospital.” She left the room, came back a few minutes later and told me the deed had been done. A week later we received my son’s ENT report and there at the bottom of the report it confirmed that I had been referred for a Cochlear Implant.
Since July I have not heard from the clinic. I have to confess that the referral left me in a bit of a quandary. After first laughing off the way the referral was made I have found myself seriously contemplating whether I should have a Cochlear Implant. I live in the country where sign language interpreters are expensive and hard to come by. I was born hearing, losing my hearing around the age of 10. This makes me a prime candidate for the implant owing to the fact that I have a memory of sound. I have three hearing children who prefer speech over signing. They try very hard to sign but are not yet fluent. I miss music. Deaf friends are hundreds of kilometres away. An Implant could help me socially. The list of reasons to have one continues to grow.
It is not just me. There is, in fact, a bit of a revolution going on. More and more individuals who are considered active members of the Deaf community are beginning to consider Cochlear Implants. Several in recent years have gone through with the Implant and have been pleasantly surprised with the benefits that the implant has provided them.
Adrian Doyle has been Deaf since birth. Adrian is well into his thirties and has been an active member of the Deaf community for all of his life and has other members of his family who are also Deaf. Adrian wore hearing aids pretty much from birth and enjoyed the benefit that the aids provided him. In Adrian’s words “ …sounds like a car zooming by, doorbell, dog barking, door closing, one to one conversation within limited range, telephone ringing ….” , all these sounds were part of his everyday life.
At age 25 Adrian’s hearing declined rapidly to the point that he no longer could hear any of these sounds with his hearing aid. Adrian went through a process of researching the benefits of the Cochlear Implant and decided after some intensive research to go through with the surgery. He professes that he was very sceptical about the benefits that he would get from the Cochlear Implant. However, he felt that as he could no longer get benefits from hearing aids there was no harm in trying.
Adrian has been very surprised at the benefits he has received from his Implant. He has no regrets and enjoys the benefits of access to sound. He has also found communicating with hearing peers much easier. Despite his initial scepticism he is rapt with the outcome.
Peter Miller, 47, is another who has recently had a Cochlear Implant. Peter has worked in fibre optics with Telstra for a number of years. Peter has a deaf brother and learned to sign relatively late in life. He has strong oral skills and participates in many Deaf community events. Most recently he chaired the awards committee for the Australian Sign Language Interpreters Association annual awards night in Victoria.
Peter decided to go through with the Cochlear Implant because in his words. “I wanted to improve my opportunities to advance my career. No matter how much interpreting I received I needed to communicate with my work colleagues all of the time.”
At Telstra Peter has an empathetic employer. When needed Telstra are always more than willing to provide for his interpreting needs. But for Peter this was not enough. He needed to be able to communicate fluently and at will with his colleagues. Peter was only recently switched on in January of 2009. He said being switched on was “.. a weird feeling.” But he is enjoying discovering a myriad of, “.. weird and wonderful sounds.”
Gayle, (not her real name), has been an active member of the Deaf community since her teens. She lost her hearing at six years of age. Now into her forties she, like me, also has a memory of sound. Gayle is a staunch Deaf community advocate. She has been quite vocal at times about the implanting of children.
After three decades of working and living in the Deaf community Gayle was at the cross roads. Socially the Deaf community was meeting her needs. However, she found that by limiting herself to only the Deaf community she was having difficulty establishing meaningful relationships with the opposite sex. She also had hearing children. Dealing with the school, communicating with the children, their friends and their parents was becoming increasingly stressful.
For Gayle considering a Cochlear Implant was a confronting thing. After some soul searching she decided to have an Implant. She has been surprised at the benefits she has received. She had thought background noise would be an issue but it has proven to be less a problem than she had feared. She is finding numerous benefits from her Cochlear Implant particularly when communicating with hearing people outside the Deaf community. Says Gayle, “ It is still early days but the implant, in the short time I have had it, has opened doors to me I thought were otherwise closed.”
These stories are a far cry from the early emotional days of the Cochlear Implants where headlines screamed that Cochlear Implants in children were child abuse. They are a far cry from the days when Deaf community militants decried the implant as the death of the Deaf community. Like Mark Twain’s death, this would appear to be an exaggeration. Many young people with Cochlear Implants become active members of the Deaf community. Perhaps The Deaf community have matured and mellowed. One thing is for sure, like it or loath it, we are likely to see more deaf people who are active members of the Deaf community have an implant in a similar vain to Adrian, Peter and Gayle. Is it the way of the future?

The Third Person

phonesDeaf adults in Australia from the Seventies, Eighties and the beginning of the nineties will remember what a nightmare it was trying to access telecommunications. I vividly recall stressing out as late as 1994 as Coordinator of an employment project because I could not do my job properly. I had to place people into employment which required that I be able to have quick and ready access to the phone. In Australia, at that time, we still did not have a TTY Relay Service. It was stressful, manic and insane. I bluffed my way through for near on two years. This was before email, before SMS. To say that it was difficult is to put things mildly. Looking back I think I was close to a break down from all the stress.

Back then Deaf and hearing impaired people were very much constrained to mundane and repetitive work. If you worked outside of trades and wanted to work in white collar work you were pretty much constrained to office work – doing data entry or mundane clerical tasks. I know of a Deaf man in Adelaide who worked for the Commonwealth Public Service for well over 50 years and never got beyond third level clerical officer. He was a brilliant man with fabulous language skills in Auslan and English but his opportunities were forever hampered because of his inability to access the phone.

Australia has always been behind comparable Western countries when it comes to technology, even more so with telecommunications. In 1995 we got access to the National Relay Service and the late Nineties saw the explosion of text based communication through email, SMS and instant messenger. With the introduction of the Relay Service and the rapid expansion of text based communication came more employment and social opportunities for Deaf and hearing impaired Australians. No matter that comparable countries had had this access for many years, better late than never.

With the Relay Service and text communication Deaf and hearing impaired people have begun to grasp greater opportunities. No longer are they confined to desk jobs. They can now deal with the public – they can phone out and receive calls or send and receive messages. Schools that cater for the deaf in Australia have been slow to grasp just how technology now impacts on the lives of Deaf and hearing impaired people. Using the Relay service, SMS and email are skills that need to be developed. Unfortunately it is only now schools are beginning to realise this. Sadly, just six weeks ago, I met a hearing impaired female that did not know anything of the text based technology that would allow her to be so independent. She was amazed, schools have a lot to answer for.

Technology has got to the point now that Deaf and hearing impaired people rarely use a TTY unless they really have to. They use MSN, SMS and email. Less and less they use the Relay Service. Apparently this has spooked some people at the Relay Service to the point that they have allegedly told some community organisations not to publicise their TTY numbers if they have them. The story going around the traps is that the Relay Service is encouraging organisations to only publicise the Relay Service Number and do away with their TTYs. Thus ensuring the only way Deaf and hearing impaired people can call these organisations is through the Relay Service.

If true, this is alarming. The Relay Service is a valuable service, many Deaf and hearing impaired people are still heavily reliant on the Relay Service. It is equally true that  many, because of SMS, email and MSN have managed to avoid using the Relay Service unless they really must. I am sure this has led to a rapid reduction in the demand for the Relay Service. I am only speculating here but it would not surprise me if the reduced demand has spooked the Relay Service to the point where they have begun to panic slightly. This may explain why they are trying why to have community based organisations and businesses to publish the Relay Service number rather than their independent TTY numbers where they are available.

The day that Deaf and hearing impaired people can do away with the Relay Service can not come soon enough. Sure it is needed now but it is a slow and cumbersome service. I don’t know anyone that likes it. Nowadays it is used mostly as a last resort when email, SMS and MSN can not do the job. The third person, the GA and the SK are frankly a pain in the butt. Community organisations increasingly use instant messenger as a means of communicating online. Telstra has an online text based service for example. The more organisations that introduce this sort of technology the better. Through my work, for example, colleagues have installed MSN so that I can communicate with them in real time. Its free and effective.

It should not be forgotten that there are still a significant number of Deaf people with literacy issues for whom text based communication will always be a problem. These individuals require Video Relay Interpreting or a Video Interpreting Service. This is likely to become a become a reality if Rudd gets Superfast Broadband introduced as he promised.

They day will come in the not too distant future where the text based Relay Service will be obsolete. One wonders if the Government should actually be planning now to get rid of the Relay Service. Would it not be easier to spend money introducing Online text based systems where Deaf and hearing impaired people can communicate directly with people and organisations. It is cheap and easy to maintain the only issue that needs to be considered and resolved is the one of  Online security. Just imagine instant and independent communication, free of a third person, any time anywhere. Will we be saying goodbye to the Relay Service soon? … One can only hope so. The day of complete independent telecommunications for Deaf and hearing impaired people could be closer than we think.