It Could be Australia! No Wait! It is!

brown460The recent posts from Paul Bartlett and the article and The Strange Deaf and HI Sector in Australia have generated some fascinating comments. The interesting thing has been the attitude towards the British RNID by many Deaf people. It really has so many similarities with Australia it is uncanny. You can imagine CEOs in respective Australian and British  organisations reading this and thinking that it is just Tall Poppy Syndrome. That because they are successful people want to knock them down. Indeed I once heard a CEO respond to critics by saying that the criticism was not valid and that it was just Tall Poppy Syndrome. And in doing so dismiss his critics as insubstantial.

In an effort to understand the situation in Britain I decided to do some research into their biggest organisation RNID – Which I presume stands for Royal Institute of the Deaf but have since been told by a wag that it stands for Really Not Interested In Deaf. It gives one an idea of the hostility that some Deaf people feel towards RNID. In my research I came accross a fascinating Blog, Fintan Ramblings that has revealing article about RNID, at least from a Deaf perspective.

It seems the RNID have set themselves up as the Say SO organisation for the Deaf. Apparently according to the Finnan Blog they have promoted themselves as the centre of expertise in British Sign Language (BSL). This is despite being led by hearing people that can’t sign. When the British government recognised BSL as an official language there was a certain amount of funding available to educate the public about BSL.  No doubt this included BSL tuition. Deaf groups, led by Deaf people – who naturally own the language- were keen to get this funding to raise awareness in the general public. They even asked the RNID that they (RNID) not apply for this funding as it would be better off controlled by Deaf people. RNID apparently ignored this request and competed for the funding against the Deaf led groups.

As much as one million pounds was up for grabs, approx Australian  $2, 247, 552.16 (Don’t you just love online currency converters.) Quite rightly the very people that owned the language wanted to be the people that controlled the funding that was targeted to promote that language. Typically and disrespectfully their request was ignored by a rich and arrogant organisation, in this case RNID.

Fintan is very vocal about this issue. Here is a selection of direct quotes from the Blog.

“We don’t want to see ‘Deaf Pounds’ going straight into the pockets of the RNID’s fat cats.”

“SLOW TO ADVOCATE FOR POSITIVE CHANGE BUT QUICK TO TAKE RESOURCES AWAY FROM THE PEOPLE.”

And my very favourite:

“Their Chief Executive is hearing which sends a clear message to Deaf People and the wider world that they (deaf people) are not capable of running their organisation. Deaf people say that they are ready and willing to take over the organisation and work with the disability movement for concrete change. If they seriously want to advise the government on employing deaf people they could start with themselves.”

The big beef that the Deaf community have with RNID is that they apparently showed no interest in the campaign to officially recognise BSL as a language. It is alleged that they offered little or no support to the Deaf community to lobby for the recognition of BSL. YET, when it became apparent that there was money in it RNID were all over the topic and promoted themselves as the experts in BSL. They showed no respect and no support for the views of the Deaf community. To my Australian readers I bet this all sounds very familiar.

Remember the Deaflympics in Melbourne in 2005. Lobbied for and achieved by Deaf people. Funding obtained from Federal and State level by Deaf people. In the end who headed the organising committees. Hearing people at both CEO and Chair level. What did this show? It showed that hearing people had no faith in Deaf people to organise the show themselves. Hmmmmm, perhaps RNID were advising them.

How many Deaf people do we have running Deaf organisations in Australia? … Just 1, not including Deaf Australia. They cant even give this guy the title of CEO, he is a “General Manager” Who won the recent position for Deputy CEO that allegedly offered $150 000 in salary? Not a Deaf person I can tell you. Do they have faith in Deaf people to run these organisations.? Well their actions clearly say no. Doesn’t this all sound so familiar? It could be RNID!

What about the recent tender in Queensland to provide Auslan teaching to Queensland schools. For those that don’t know the Queensland Government offered $30 million over the next 5 years to introduce Auslan to their schools. Deaf Australia won the tender and thankfully so. But who were they competing against? I will let you guess, suffice to say that in this case it was not RNID. That Deaf Australia  won the tender is good news for Deaf people because it shows faith in having Deaf run Deaf organisations control what they own, in this case Auslan. That they had to compete against organisations that already have enough money and for something that is rightfully theirs is mind boggling. Deaf Dollars for Deaf people not the fat cats – Sound familiar! It could be RNID.

“We call on the RNID to get our of out lives.”

Fintan is aggressive and angry. Judging by some  recent responses to articles on here there are many in Britain who feel the same. Yet RNID continues to ignore and disregard the views of Deaf people. In Australia we have a very similar situation but our Deaf community is passive. It does not speak out and challenge our organisations in the same way as the British Deaf community do RNID. Perhaps we need to be more vocal, perhaps we need to stand up and be counted.  If we don’t and end up with policy like the Auslan for Employment Scheme, a blatant attempt to get Interpreting dollars rather than support the needs of Deaf people, we only have ourselves to blame.

Stand up and be counted or suffer the consequences. And oh! By the way, there are certain people that are Deaf in Deaf advocacy that try to wear two hats .. I am all for partnerships but advocates need to be impartial, if you cant do that because your boss is on the other side, make a choice! It can only be one or the other!


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13 thoughts on “It Could be Australia! No Wait! It is!

  1. “In Australia we have a very similar situation but our Deaf community is passive. It does not speak out and challenge our organisations in the same way as the British Deaf community do RNID. Perhaps we need to be more vocal, perhaps we need to stand up and be counted.”

    “Stand up and be counted or suffer the consequences.”

    I know deaf people in Australia have tried to stand up and be counted only to be treated shamelessly by the organisation. Worse certain deaf people even side on with these so call experts in order to save their own skin. They simply can’t handle conflict (even when they know very well that the issue raise goes to the very core of what deaf people want) so they go against their own ‘deaf leader’ ideal.

    You have provided some shocking examples that leaves me a little embarrassed by what we are allowing to happen. In addition, we should be asking the deaf organisations, what succesion plans do they have in place to mould future deaf leaders in the employment sector especially towards managment / CEO level.

    I know of at least two CEOs of a deaf organisation in Australia that been in their position for over ten / fifteeen years and have yet to make a concerted effort to attract, recruit, develop and promote deaf people in senior management positions. There is simply no excuse for such lack of planning.

  2. The contents of these two articles are both alarming and shocking.

    Surely such organisations as those depicted have a legal responsibility under respective National Disability Services Standards to be accountable and transparent for their actions and to consult with their clients and members wherever possible.

  3. Alarming ? fact ! Consult ? a curious phrase for a group (RNID), claiming to represent 9 million people, and with no deaf people or mandate, run by hearing too, the question is, WHY ? what are grass roots doing about it ? Here not a lot, just a few of us doing what we can, whilst the rest seemingly quite happy to take what is given. I am as annoyed with them as I am with the RNID, since this undermines our very basic want to be as independent as we can be.

  4. This is turning into an interesting debate and I am trying my best to refrain from providing an opinion. However I can say this about the RNID – they are not generally a front line service provider, they employ lots of people and appear to serve a function but I have never been clear as to what is their raison d’être. Their mission statement is pretty broad and their website shows that they do all sorts of things relating to deafness, but they don’t specialise in one singular aspect of deafness.

    The RNID has pretty little meaning in the lives of deaf people in the UK. They are not a “Deaf Society”. Even though they are a membership organisation, it is not in quite the same way Deaf Australia are. They are not an umbrella body. I am not sure how to categorise the RNID. Deaf people in the UK generally look to either their local council or local deaf charity for support with their day to day lives, they do not look to the RNID (or even the BDA for that matter).

    However the RNID are pretty influential mainly because of their considerable size and political clout. The Government listens to the RNID and because of their clout the RNID has been successful in implementing policy changes. But thereby lies a problem. Often policy changes favour the Deaf community and other times they work against the Deaf Community. For example, supposing hard of hearing people lobby the government for a law saying that deaf people must be given cochlear implants, so the RNID helps them and wins. But this is not what the Deaf community want.

    Or the Deaf community lobbies the government saying that all severely / profoundly children and their families are to learn sign language from birth, and wins. But this is not what the Oralists and many parents of deaf children want. How do you satisfy everyone? But this is perhaps a overly simplistic view of things and we all acknowledge that the issues are far more complicated than this. But I am trying to portray the function of the RNID and why deaf people don’t like them.

    It has been my long held view that if deaf people want a deaf organisation to change the way they work , represent them or how they go about things, they need to become members en masse of this particular organisation and vote in the changes. This is true democracy and constantly whinging won’t work.

  5. Sure, RNID can’t please everyone. But they shouldn’t go aroundn saying they represent everyone, if their modus operandi is going to piss everypone off.

    Joining a group is a way to enforce change. Sure, but so is voting in elections. Don’t like the current political party, vote them out.

    Too simplistic this view is. It doesn’t undo the damage by the current ruling mob, and when the new mob come in, they don’t undo, change, or whatever, disagreeable policies instituted by the previous mob.

    In short, they maintain the status quo.

    Leaders have a responsibility to LISTEN and ENGAGE. They have a responsibility to put their money where their mouth is.

    Orgnaisations like RNID, have no excuse. If they want to appeal to everybody, and represent everybody, then they have to, they have a responsibility to make everybody happy. They can’t abdicate from that responsibility.

    With the recent ITV Wales sign language campaign, they didn’t [to my knowledge] seek out the initiators of this campaign, and ask if they could either help or support them. Instead, they jumped on the bandwagon, without as much a nod or credit to the initiators of the campaign.

    They used this as another opportunity to show everyone how they represent everyone and how they make no one happy. Except their CEO and shareholders!

    So, Paul, don’t go too easy on RNID, or organisations like that.

  6. Or in the UK, there needs to be changes at Charity Commission level who can call themselves a charity and proclaim to represent a group. Sometimes the focus of regulation is wrong; and actually goes against the very people it was intended to serve.

  7. Paul, thanks for the extensive comment. It certainly gave me a better understanding of the issues with RNID.

    I disagree with the membership comment though. It is far to simplistic to say join and make change or shut up. Joining can, if an organisation is fair dinkum, make change. However in many organisations the CEO manipulates the membership.

    Technically the Board of an organisation should be selected from its membership. This is a furphy. The Board of most organisations are CHOSEN by the CEO. The CEO arse licks a few people who he or she thinks will back his or her vision or picks those that have connections and money.

    Sometimes he or she will approach a Deaf or HOH person to join THEIR Board. Often times because the constitution says that they have too. This person then becomes the Token Deaf or HOH person with little or no clout.

    The CEO is supposed to be accountable to the Board but mostly the CEO MANAGES the Board. They do this by hand picking the Board. It is hand picked to make a smooth ride for his or her vision. NOT the vision of Deaf or HOH.

    Usually a New Board member becomes a member AFTER he or she has been approached to join the Board. The CEO approaches them, they agree to become a member and they pay the membership. The AGM is promoted as late and as quietly as possible so that no one from the membership base that the CEO doesn’t want will or can nominate. Its all run by the CEO for his or her benefit.

    There is one organisation that has a 9 year limit on Board membership. At one a lakey of the CEO was about to reach his 9 year term. So that the CEO did not lose his mate he got him to join the Board of one of his partner organisations in a different state. In this way he still has this person backing HIS vision. Any one opposed to the vision will never get a look in and most likely won’t even know when the AGM is anyway because it was promoted on the hush.

    Joining SHOULD give you clout but rarely does. Some CEOs are great and ethical. Too often they are arrogant with no regard to thje real constituents. Especially if such constituents have ideas contrary to their own.

    Negative? Yes, but often the reality.

  8. Gaz, I agree with everything you say and agree that the CEO should lead the organisation and so-on.

    For memebrship organisaitons, voting en-masse and in blocks is probably the best way to ring in the changes, The larger the membership base is the more difficult it is to set things up in the favour of any voting block.

    However it has been done many times in the past with political parties and the Government in where-ever they are. It is just a matter of implementing up a strategy and careful and thorough planning,and understanding the constitution of course. Often constitutions make it difficult for changes to be effected without the sanction of the incumbent Board but there always is a way. Afetr all constitutions always have a provision for makign changes and if teh organisaitn is a memebrship one then the memebrs must vote for the changes.

    It may be necessary to plan for this over 5 years. Some constitutions require one to be a member for at least 2 years before they can vote or whatever so play along with this. Then a change in the constution may be necessary to enable motiuons to be acceopted from teh floor and not via a mandatory 28 day period etc. So sign up the masses to effect this change. Also you may need to make an amendmwent saying that AGMnotices must be made public.

    Then the followign year elect a new Board and Chair and throw out the incumbents.

    The problem with this is keepign the members attention for 5 years or whatever it is. They may lose interest. Also if the membershiop of the organisaitn in quesiton is say 5,000 then you need at least 2,500 friends aand sympathisers. A bit of secrecy is necessary in case those who want to maintain the status quo catch wind of what you are plannign and rope in their own sympathisers.

    To overcome this suggest arranging a mass memmbership enrolment just before the cut off date for proposals and catch the Board unawares. And vote in teh changes by the sheer weight of numbers.

  9. Paul, some years ago a group in Adelaide tried to change the board. A number if them became members of the organisation and attended the AGM to vote out the existing Board.

    What happened was the existing administration had not approved their memberships. So after paying membership the administration simply did not approve the membership so they were inelligible to vote at the AGM. The Board were then relected unopposed.

    It caused an outrage at the time but just goes to show, again, its not an even playing field. Bot surprisingly the said organisation nearly went into administration several years later and exist today only because of the riches of another organisation.

    It is no wonder people get disillusioned.

  10. It is good to see the CEO debate is alive and well. Its sad to see that the problems we have with one CEO in particular seem to be common place in other parts of the Globe.

    Since Deaf Australia wimped out and took their discussion page away, allegedly because their President works under the CEO in question, the debate has all but died.

    I bring you an encore of that NUMBER 1 Hit .. I’m a CEO.

    I’m a CEO
    A travelling I will go
    South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania
    I have the travel Mania

    Resources for my staff
    Oh please dont make me laugh
    The Deaf girl that needs service
    Perhaps when I hit the surface

    There’s places to go
    Perhaps next the snow
    Thursday Island, that was fun
    It’s a nice place in the sun

    Goodbye I’m off again
    I gotta save the Deaf in Spain
    Gotta save the Deaf in Spain
    Deaf in Spain (and fade)

  11. Hello Petra, and welcome back!

    Aren’t you glad we aren’t gonna censor you?

    You wouldn’t have saved all the other songs would ya?

  12. Anyone could form an organisation by registering with the Consumer Affairs. You could then name an organisation “Whatever Deaf Community” runs by a group of Deaf people. Get the Oz lotto ticket tonight and perhaps you could donate some of the 40 million dollars to a newly Deaf formed organisation if you win.

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