The Strange Deaf and HI Sector in Australia

forehead-slapAustralia has a really bizarre Deaf and hearing impaired sector. Within it there are some fabulous, skilled and talented people. It is unfortunate that the sector has a whole seems to find ways of appointing the strangest people to lead it. These stories will make you cringe. I, for fear of legal action, have modified these stories somewhat. But make no mistake – these things happened.

A few years back  I was part of a selection panel. The panel had to choose the head of the organisation. We interviewed three possible candidates. We had agreed when interviewing these candidates that Auslan, while important, came second to the ability to manage the organisation. We argued that it would be a prerequisite that the new boss learn Auslan and be able to converse in it after a set amount of time. At the end of the interviews there was one clear winner. A woman that had led several disability organisations and who had been in charge of government department budgets of several million dollars. She was a clear cut, hands down winner. But what we did not factor into the process was the fickleness of certain people within the panel. The applicant made one mistake. She professed to not understanding the opposition of the Deaf community to the Cochlear Implant. She did however say she was looking forward to finding out.

This was like a Red Rag to a bull for two Deaf members. That was it, despite obvious skills they had decided that anyone that did not understand the issues about the Cochlear Implant was not suitable. They further decided that despite agreeing to interview candidates that could not sign that they would now no longer consider the applicants that couldn’t sign. Effectively they had decided who they wanted even before the interviews because there was only one candidate who could sign.  Suddenly one panel member withdrew his vote saying that as he was not an active member of the Deaf community he didn’t feel he could vote. This meant the vote went from 3 to 2 in the woman’s favour to 2 all. I argued vehemently in favour of the woman, pointing out that  we had agreed that we would consider people that couldn’t sign and that the woman was far and away the best candidate in terms of leadership and overall skills.  The Two Deaf panel members didn’t care. They wanted someone who could sign and that was it. But worse was to follow.

The chair of the panel, who was a Child of a Deaf Adult (CODA) suddenly wavered. From being fully in favour of the woman she suddenly changed tack. “I have a Deaf mother.”, she said, ” .. and if I chose someone that cant sign I will never be able to look her in the eye.” After much debate somehow the panel contrived too pick the candidate that had finished bottom of the initial vote, who had minimal experience AND who could not sign either. The one candidate that could sign and who had more experience than the eventual winner missed out too. Quite how the panel came to the decision I will never know. I refused to back down but was eventually out-voted. The successful candidate lasted little over 12 months in the job. BIZARRE!

I was part of another committee that advised the government on issues of importance. The committee was formed of different people from different backgrounds. A mother of a deaf child wanted to join the committee. Before appointing her the head of the organisation advised the committee that the woman was a bit of a hot head and to proceed with caution. We took his advice but decided to appoint the mother anyway.

A few weeks later we had to consider the nomination of another person. The Head of the organisation waxed lyrical about this candidate.  He told the committee that the candidate was professional, experienced, committed  etc etc. “A must for the committee”,  he said.  We, the committee, were pleased with this nomination too and dutifully appointed her. There was one objection. This being the mother that we had appointed earlier. “I wouldn’t appoint her.” she said, ” But its up to you.”

It became clear very early in this episode that there was a certain amount of animosity between these two new appointees. Quite why I did not know but it soon all became clear.  At the time there was a high profile court case going on. The head of the organisation had neglected to advise us that the two new nominees were part of the court case and one had had to give evidence against the other. The committee often discussed the case and it was often argued that we should make a statement on the case that advocated pro choice.

When I found out that we had nominated two new members in such circumstances I flipped, and that is putting it mildly. “How on earth”, I moaned, “.. were we to function when two members were involved in such a tension filled situation.”  I pointed out that the head of the organisation had also appeared to favour one candidate over another and in doing so demonstrated his bias when he needed to be neutral. We had often discussed the case and what possible action the committee might take to bring attention to some of the issues that the case was about. “How can we do this now”, I said,  “…with two people who are actively involved in the case.”  I was told not to worry, that if this occurred the two would be asked to leave the room. This solution totally missed the point concerning the legal ramifications for having two people on the same committee, on opposing sides of the court case and on a committee that by its very nature had to remain neutral. I pointed out that if I had known all the details from the start I would have nominated neither of the candidates as it made the committee almost unworkable.  I resigned soon after. BIZARRE! (I later found out that there were actually three people on the committee who were involved in the case – BIZARRE!)

There are multitude of stories like this. Take the cringingly embarrassing fundraising campaign where a poster was approved to promote it. The poster had drawings of finger spelling on it that said HOW TO SAY I LOVE YOU. Underneath this statement was the drawing of two hands removing money from a wallet thus implying that you could buy love. Or the president who received a complaint  of misbehavior of one of his staff and brushed it off by calling the staff harmless and just overly tactile which, he said, “.. is acceptable among Deaf people.” (No the staff person was not deaf.) Or the Annual General Meeting of one organisation that tried to fill its quorum by phoning people on the night to ask if they would be proxies and allegedly paying the membership of one that might have been unfinancial without the persons permission. Under the constitution proxies needed to be received two weeks prior. Bizarre and sometimes illegal behaviour goes on.

It happens, its out there. It reminds us all that we need to be diligent for unless we hold these people accountable they will continue to make a mockery of us and the system. Stand up and be counted!

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7 thoughts on “The Strange Deaf and HI Sector in Australia

  1. Indeed you are right Robyn, the issue is whether we accept it or demand a level of accountability. Too many have got away with too much for too long.

  2. Robyn and Gary are right. Level of accountability very important. We must ensure that organisations (including those in position of power) are doing things ethically. There are laws in place and we should use these laws if we feel that there are any inappropriate conducts occuring (however small they may be).

    Unfortunately some organisations (including Directors) will also try and impose intimidating actions against the person in order to either gag them or to create fear. They then become innocent victims. I know, I was one.

    It is easier for organisations who have ample money (or have pro bono legal support) to make the innocent people feel threatened. If organisations (and Directors/management) have any integrity they would have allowed appropriate complaint handling processes to resolve any concerns fairly and ensure that the outcome is within existing laws.

    If incidents are happening as per what the article is saying you have to ask:

    What is the organisation value and principles?
    What is their complaint handling process?
    Do they believe in operating ethically?
    Do they believe in declaring their conflict of interest?
    Do they believe in using their position/organisation to harm people?

    If they can’t provide (or wont provide) all this information then alarm bells should be ringing.

  3. Too many orgs represent status, power and prestige for many people with low self esteem and no talent!

    Too many orgs. feed on the originality of the work done by grassroots Deafies, without as much as a credit, a thankyou or request for permission to use or builk on their work.

    That’s why I won’t volunteer, or donate my time. I have better things to do with my life than play Mother is Fucking the CEO!

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