Looking Back – By Gary Kerridge

frustratedThe Slums of Mumbiah edition of The Rebuttal has caused quite a stir, within Australia and overseas as well. The article received over 40 comments. The bulk of them were in support of the message of the article. There were some objections from staff and Board members of Deaf Can Do, who willingly identified themselves as the sensory organisation in question, and we have dutifully published these word for word in the comments section.

There were some wonderful, articulate and intelligent comments put forward. My personal favorite was the one from Ms McCrimmon, solely because it gave us a perspective outside of deafness and reminded us that issues for the Deaf Community often ring true for other groups of people.

There was some negative feedback as well.  I and others found the comments submitted by representatives of Deaf Can Do defensive in nature and seemingly designed only to paint Deaf Can Do in a more positive light. Many readers felt the main point of the article and the ensuing supportive comments were lost on the people from Deaf Can Do.

Interestingly, as individuals commented, nearly all in favour of the arguments and sentiments of the article, those from Deaf Can Do became suddenly, silent.  Wise?  Perhaps, but sad too, because honest debate can only happen when people put forward alternative arguments. Perhaps these individuals would have found a more receptive audience had they put their arguments in a less indignant and defensive manner.

The memories provoked by this article gave me cause to revisit the first article that was ever produced by The Rebuttal. In it we bemoaned the lack of Deaf people in management positions in Australian Deaf sector organizations. We tried to highlight the talent that had been employed by the Deaf sector and lost. None of us wanted to see a Deaf vs hearing attitude but it is a truism then, as now, that deaf people representing deaf people is a powerful tool for change.

The deaf talent that has passed through our deaf sector in Australia is phenomenal. It is, though, seldom retained within our community. For whatever reason, it has not been properly nurtured nor appreciated. It is good to have Deaf people out in the general community working in various roles and there are. But why are there so few in positions of authority within the Deaf Sector? The Deaf Sector is an agent for change. We at The Rebuttal, firmly believe Deaf people in control presents a strong, positive image that will assist and promote that change in a very big way. Unfortunately, at the time of writing, not including Deaf Australia, I can only list three Deaf people in upper management roles of the deaf sector. This is three years on from the original Rebuttal article.

Why are people like me and many I know, qualified, experienced, skilled and deaf – not being used to the greatest possible effect by our deaf sector organizations? Why, you must ask yourself, are there so few Deaf CEO’s and the like in the Deaf Sector? I may sound like I am blowing my own trumpet here but I have decided to list my experience and qualifications below. If nothing else to make the point that my qualifications are as good, my experience as relevant  and in many instances not more so, as the hearing people that work in the sector.  There are many Deaf who are even more qualified or have at least as much experience as I.

I have been involved in the disability and Deaf sector for twenty years. I have been a volunteer, a worker and a board member. I have sat on committees that advised the government on Deaf issues and need.  I lobbied successfully to my university to provide and pay for support for people with a disability at a time when they relied, almost solely, on BUDDY systems. I’ve sat on sporting organization groups, been a consumer and a service provider. I have provided counselling, family support and even developed what was probably Australia’s first ever deaf mentor program (don’t quote me on that.)

Yes, I have experience, lots of it. I have raised money and been successful in getting funding through funding applications. I have secured sponsors and government commitment. I have educated and changed community perceptions.

And NO, I am not finished! Not only have I done all that but I have also recruited and supervised staff, handled budgets, allocated funds and set up offices. I have written policies and procedures for programs, developed training and implemented it. I have developed online materials, made them accessible for people with a disability and worked in employment and in education. In addition to that I got married and I am bringing up three kids.  HELL YES I KNOW A THING OR TWO!

Yet after 20 years in the field, with yonks of experience, paid, voluntarily and sometimes just because I cared I still cannot find a role at anyone of our Deaf or Hearing Impaired organizations UNLESS … I do it for free! Yes, FREE.  On committees, boards and so on. I am happy to do this because I believe in the cause and want to assist positive change BUT!

Our Deaf Sector organizations will employ a banker and a marketer with no experience of deafness whatsoever but they don’t see fit to actively recruit me and the many deaf people like me unless I volunteer. Yet they will spend thousands on consultants or they will spend thousand paying an organization to organize rattling tins in a shopping centre. When presented with a deaf person with marketing skills, leadership skills and the like, who also lives the issues of deafness but who may have less experience in the marketing areas than say a hearing person – they will employ the experienced marketer, the business person with no experience of deafness over the deaf person. This makes no sense to the deaf community. It may to the reader, but it doesn’t to us.

For example; a dear friend applied for a job with one of these organiations. He is extremely experienced, talented, committed, capable and very motivated and yet could not get past the front door! He was made to sit a psychology test that told him he was a shade of blue and green – very similar to what you might find in New Idea ; “What color are you ? ARE YOU HOT?”  I kid you not. Multiple choice questions. Pick what matches your personality the best.  It seems experience in deafness did not matter; marketing experience was inconsequential, leadership skills unimportant and proven business acumen was not relevant. If you are not orange you’re not in!  And how much they paid the psychologist – I don’t know. If I had to guess, I’d say thousands of dollars.

Now, forget me and my trumpet blowing for a minute and think of the BROADER issues! There is something seriously wrong with the attitude of our Australian Deaf Sector. It seems they are quite happy for people to learn about deafness, to promote inclusion, to stamp out prejudice and discrimination and to demand respect and equality for the Deaf.  However, they seem far less inclined to put those ideals into practice themselves. Not only is it unfair and hypocritical but it is a complete waste of talent.  It is a travesty and just plain insulting.

Australia, The Lucky Country? By Craig Stokes

kiltI was born and raised in Australia, brought up orally and went to an independent oral school in Adelaide. I had a cochlear implant when I was 14, and completed my schooling with grades good enough to get into a course in university where I eventually completed my degree. I have lived in three countries – Australia, Scotland and France. Comparatively rich countries but worlds apart in terms of providing support to the deaf. This is my story.

In Australia, because I am ‘Oral’ and able to communicate effectively without needing assistance (other than the cochlear implant), I was classified as ‘able’ therefore, unable to claim the Disability Support Pension (DSP). Instead, I worked hard to earn enough moneyto be deemed as ‘independent’. This allowed me to claim the ‘Youth Allowance’ to pay formy living costs while studying full-time at university.As soon as I turned 21, I was told that I was no longer able to receive cochlear batteries for free, all the services and cochlear materials were no longer free. Upon hearing this, and studying full-time on the Youth Allowance – I lodged complaints to the Health Ministerand my local MP arguing that age cut-off was far too drastic especially whilst I was on the youth allowance. I reasoned that the DSP was higher than the Youth Allowance, and people on the DSP were getting the services for free – why should I have to pay for the services when peers with lesser hearing impairments to me were much better off? I argued that with the cost of replacing a cochlear implant at $8,000, it was an unjustifiable hardship to placeon a university student struggling to get by. I wasted my breath!

I had no choice but to be put on the private health insurance and for my parents to prop me up with the costs. Basically, after I turned 21, I didn’t get anything from the Australian government for being deaf. For a rich country like Australia this is a shameful situation. When I first moved to Scotland – I visited DeafAction in Edinburgh. I sought advice concerning support for my cochlear implant and other support services. The DeafAction social worker was amazed that I was so ill-informed. She didn’t think I should pay for anything. She provided me with forms for the Disability Living Allowance which is up to £60 a week. This is provided on top of what you earn through work and it’ll pay for a few rounds of pints!

In Scotland deaf people are exempt from council taxes – which were over £1,000 a year for the house I lived in. Being deaf I was eligible for tax credits (tax returns) on virtually all taxes I paid. This can be paid weekly or monthly – however you choose. Buses are free for people who are deaf or disabled – and it’s free across Scotland. If you fancy trekking up to Inverness – a good 5 hours drive away? Go for it – it’s FREE! The passes are valid for 3 years and worth well over £350 a year. People with a disability (including me for being deaf) can have a rail pass which gives them and their accompanying friend a whopping 25% discount off the tickets. The rail pass is for every train that goes outside the city to another city/town (ie, Edinburgh to London etc). These train tickets can be expensive, so it is appreciated.

Deaf people can get an equipment loan from the Scottish Government, and these are also free, provided you return them when you no longer want them or are broken. Technology that I was able to access included a TTY, flashing doorbell, vibrating alarm clock and several others which left me feeling overwhelmed. I wanted a simple life – not to be cluttered by technology that I’d probably never use.

But wait! There’s more! Free British Sign Language classes. My friend was fascinated with the fact that I was deaf and enrolled himself into a British Sign Language course. He enrolled himself before he realised I didn’t even know how to sign. He made some enquiries and discovered that the course was free for me too, purely because I’m deaf. I wasn’t working at the time (I had only just arrived in the country) so I joined the coursewhile looking for a job, just for something to do. The course was nationally recognised and it was valuable in terms of qualification and skills.

Services targeted at my Cochlear Implant were all free. Cochlear batteries were free. I was told that if there’s anything I need – just give them a buzz and they’ll make sure I have it. I emailed them once saying that the cochlear was making funny noises. I thought that the cochlear was on its deathbed and wanted to give plenty of notice. The next day, a parcel arrived – a replacement cochlear which they sent through the post!! My first thought was “Crap – you just sent £4000 worth of equipment through the post?!” This would never have happened in Australia.

An audiologist in Scotland questioned me about life in Australia because he was impressed with my accent. He asked me if I was planning on getting a second implant. I scoffed at the idea, saying it would be far too expensive. He gave me a puzzled look, and politely informed me that the second implant is free – everything is paid for by the NHS. I could not believe it.

University courses are free for Scottish people (lucky buggers). However, students must get a loan for their own living costs which are very high. Students studying full-time on the Disability Living Allowance, however, can simply apply for the Income Support (muchlike the Unemployment benefits in Australia) to pay for their living costs. This is on top offurther financial assistance towards rent, and bills in extreme circumstances (ie, temperature goes below 0 degrees).  Scotland is a gold mine– the Deaf’s Ballarat of the 21ST century. Now, the question that I’ve been asking myself during my moves is … where should the rights and support for people with a disability stop? Having the bus pass was laughable. I’m much more mobile and active than the majority of the population, I speak more coherently than a lot of people in Edinburgh (Their are a lot of foreigners in Edinburgh, and the Scottish accent is known to be difficult to follow) and although I might require the occasional “please repeat”, I show no other sign of being “disabled”. There is no reason why I should get free public transport. I, on the other-hand, having tasted the liberty this card provided me. I would hate to give up the free unlimited access to all buses all over Scotland! It is a dream to be able to run to the bus stop and jump on any random bus without having to worry about money or whether I’m wasting a trip by just hopping on for two stops (lazy me!).

I could go on, but I do wonder which country is getting it right. I feel much more liberated and alive in Scotland than I do in Australia because I feel really privileged and I love the treatment and welcome I’ve received. I really do love having that bit of extra cash from all the savings to spend on socialising and drinking with my friends. But I would not have been as successful as I am now if it hadn’t been for the more difficult lifestyle in Australia. (And of course, my parents, family, school and friends!!). In summary, Scotland, identifying me as ‘disabled’ has made me feel like I’m living in a gold-field, while Australia prepared me for a realistic life as an ordinary person, though I was clearly and severely disadvantaged at times – I wasn’t seen to be ‘disabled’ by the Australian government. Where should the line be drawn?

From the Slums of Mumbaih (Bombay) PII

I normally write at i.Mephisto:i.Muse & i.Amuse! but decided to camp here for a change. 

Gary’s article From the Slums of Mumbaih (Bombay), has garnered quite a few comments. One of the rarer instances of [Australian] Deaf people getting off their arses and actually contributing to a public forum, and putting forth, considered, erudite and intelligent commentary.

What was unusual, was the response from a CEO of a Deaf organisation. I consider it unusual, because most of the time, leaders of [and] deaf organisations refuse to engage directly with their critics. Most choosing to remain aloof, refusing to entertain, let alone, engage in any open debate. Regardless of the veracity of any of the criticisms hurled at them, even if only to alleviate the critics concerns. This is a familiar scenario that plays out with depressing frequency in Deaf communities the world over.

Personally, I think it’s a good thing that a CEO of an organisation can be so moved as to offer a comment on an issue of concern. It is a good thing. One that does not happen often enough. The last time it did, was to…………………. yeah! I remember that! But that is not the point here. The point is that, a CEO has bothered to enter into a commentary. So, a few audio claps all around for that effort. Deaf people can dry their hands, and everybody else can turn up their hearing aids or cochlear implants.

Or just tear your hair out!

Contrary to Paul Flynn’s assertion [he being the CEO who made his presence felt in the comments, not once but twice], From the Slums of Mumbaih (Bombay) is not sensational journalism. It is a personal reflection by the author, Gary who is A DEAF PERSON, on the age old existential dilemma of “Deaf and Disabled People Shaking Organisational Money Makers, While Crying”. The article was an HONEST reflection by Gary, who OPENLY ADMITTED his ambivalence and personal dilemma over the situation he described.

So WTF is the problem?

Everyone is entitled to their opinion, we know, but dismissing Gary’s article as an act of tabloid sensationalism, and a cynical maneuver to increase The Rebuttal’s readership, is ignoring the central point that Gary was trying to make. A point that all the other commentators understood. A point that Gary is continually having to clarify in the comments to From the Slums of Mumbaih (Bombay). I mean, Gary loves beating his head against a brick wall. Well, it is a favourite pastime of Deaf people. Last time Gary was in Sydney, he showed me how to beat my head against a wall, without shattering my skull. I will tell you the secret in another post, but, anyway, to compound the lack of objectivity displayed, by not engaging in the very issue being raised, and instead obfuscating the debate by throwing up words like “hard working volunteers, deficit, board representation, welfare issues, health issues, mental welfare, et al”, is to…….. compound the obfuscation.

I am breathless at how the charity/welfare model remains firmly entrenched. In the intervening years since I left New South Wales Association Of The Deaf [but not the last organisation I was involved with], and it has been over a decade, some things have changed, but to mine own eyes, it’s not much. Gary is right. The victim mentality is the first port of call in any marketing and fundraising campaign that taps into people’s natural tendency to be moved to tears. It is demeaning. I expect our Deaf [and disability] organisations to do better than this. It is 2009, not 1909!

I recall, the first time I joined the Deafness Awareness Week committee, representing NSWAD, back in 1989 [I think], and one of my first ports of call, was to have negative depictions of Deaf AND deaf people thrown out. My motto was “create awareness through depictions of life, not misery!” To see that it has since splintered off, morphed into a Hearing Awareness Week….. says it all really.

Now, if the thrust of Gary’s post, is that “using the victim mentality to tug at people’s heartstrings, imploring them to part with a few coins, to help the poor “insert your favourite fundraising target here”, is ultimately demeaning, then Paul’s comment [which ignores the meaning of what Gary intended]:

What gives you the right to suggest that people with a disability do not deserve the right to choose what they do with their time?

compounds that demeanity [don’t search your dictionaries, the word doesn’t exist, but it means the perpetual state of being demeaned. Trust me, I’m a linguist.] Well then, what are his comments?

Paul, we accept that people have the right to choose what to do with their time, and that includes Shaking Organisational Money Makers, While Crying, but what are you, Paul, a CEO of a Deaf organisation, actually defending? The choices implied here, seems to be 1. shaking the money maker and crying, 2. shaking the money maker and smiling, or 3. having no life at all?

I take those comments as a slur. Because those comments ignore the fact, that for many, choices are actually limited, or non existence, and not much, beyond fundraising activities, is being done to expand those choices.

I keep reading and re-reading your comments, Paul, and those of your sole supporter, and I cannot help but feel, that there is more interest in maintaining the status quo, which is short termism, than in change for the better, which is long termism. And long termism, as we all know, demands a far greater effort. Hey, I could be wrong, but the argument that short term priorities of mental health and other welfare issues, are the main issues, just doesn’t wash with me. They were short term priorities 20 years ago when I first entered the Deaf community, and they are still short term priorities now. It really raises the question, are our organisations devoted to upholding the reigning hegemony, band aid solutions, or providing lucrative career paths for hearing people? It is the same in the same in the US, it is the same in the UK, and seems to be the same everywhere else.

Everything in the Deaf community is short term priorities. Which obviates the need for mentoring Deaf people to take on leadership roles and run the very organisations that purport to represents them. The RNID in the UK, found it’s current CEO, at an organisation that represents veterinary interests. Basically dealing with animals. Visualise this, if you can. The speed of change in the Deaf worlds leaves a sloth breathless.

Though, I will hold my hand up to the fact, that there are things going on behind the scenes, that I don’t know about, that are agitating for change. However, it is what I can see that counts. It is what is visible that counts. And from what I can see, it is not all good. Though, I do appreciate the hard work of looking for gold in a coal mine.

Paul, we all know the human fall out, which is a direct consequence of the way the hearing world treats deafness and deaf people. We all know the human fall out of the hearing world’s failure to deal appropriately with the way they don’t deal with deafness and deaf people. Paul, we all know the human fallout as a result of the Hearing world not allocating the necessary resources to support those that fall through the cracks. We all know the human fallout that continues to this day, because the speed of change for Deaf people, as I’ve said before, leaves a sloth breathless. We know all this shit. I have known it here in Australia, and I have known it over in the UK. Same shit, different food!

Yes, Paul,we understand that these issues need addressing, but some of us more savvy types, Savvy Deafies also understand that there are, as Gary aptly put it, more intelligent ways to fundraise, to achieve our aims. So the question is, is it a choice between Shaking Organisational Money Makers, While Crying, or Making People Laugh So They Don’t Notice They Are Handing Over Money. You know, hearing people never seem to be short on imagination, then again, when it comes to Deafness and Disability, only one thing will do.

For us to get better as a people, we need to be engaged with as people, with talent, skills and imagination, not just participating in a committee that will decide the colour and model of next year’s Organisational Money Makers. Though, I have it on good authority, that they will be blue for a change. Long term, they are planning for puce, torpid and morbid. In that order.

Paul, I don’t know you personally, and I have no brook with you personally, but you are the head of an organisation that represents Deaf people. As a professional, part of your role, is to LEAD. As the leader, representing and working for Deaf people, your job to is SUCK IT UP, TAKE IT ON THE CHIN, and HEED what Deaf people are actually saying! Your job is to also acknowledge this. Your job is to take on board what Deaf people are saying. Your job is to BE SEEN to be LISTENING……

The fact that you responded to Gary’s personal musings, a DEAF person’s ruminations on the state of the world as they see it, as if it were a sensatorial [another fictitious word I just made up to describe the perpetual state of sensationalism], sensation seeking, merely a canonisation piece by the author and for the author’s own vanity, printed in this morning’s edition of The [insert your favourite brand of toilet paper here], was an exercise in poor judgement. You have trampled over a DEAF PERSON’S fears about the very choices he has available to him.

Tony [aka Mephisto]

PS Paul, Gary speaks for a lot of people!

PPS I am writing in the style that represents what many of us feel.

PPPS THIS, Timothy, is clever writing!

PPPS Cross posted at i.Mephisto:i.Muse & i.Amuse!

From the Slums of Mumbaih (Bombay)


Auslan version, click here

I was visiting my folks on the weekend. I was in Adelaide playing golf and catching up with friends, attending a party and relaxing on the beach drinking good coffee. All was good in the world. My kids played in the sand, cracked jokes and generally charmed everyone in sight. It was just splendid really. Adelaide is my idea of urban Utopia. I took my mother to lunch and shopping at one of the major shopping centres of Adelaide. In one short moment this urban Utopia was shattered, I suddenly found myself in the slums of Mumbaih.

I understand that disability rights in India have improved immensely in recent years. However, I vividly recall seeing a documentary about disability in Asian countries. There was a scene of a young disabled child. The child walked only on his hands dragging his useless legs behind him. He walked on his hands through the slums of Mumbaih. He had a dirty tin cup. He would brandish this at passers by hoping for a hand out. He was dirty and unkempt. It was harrowing to watch.

So here I was in urban Utopia. I was walking through a modern shopping complex. Last week Australians received $900 each as part of the Australian Governments strategy to kick start the economy. The stimulus package they call it. People were out in force spending their $900. I marvelled at the happy faces. In the distance I saw an old friend. He is Deafblind. Years ago I taught him English. He is an intelligent man and he even studied overseas.

As I moved closer I saw that he was sitting down on a beach chair. His white cane was in front of him. In his hand he held a tin cup by the handle. Emblazoned on the cup was the name of one of the major sensory charities in South Australia. My friend cannot see a lot. Neither can he speak. Sign language is his preferred mode of communication, either very close up or tactile. He could sense people walking by him but not really see them.

He was not able to really explain why he was there. So he moved his head from side to side as he sensed people walking by. As he moved his head he waved the cup in a wide ark in front of him. His face was a picture of panic. Not knowing who was around him, just hoping that his movements would attract enough attention for a hand out.

I stopped in my tracks. No more than a few metres from him I knew that he could not see me. I just stared. I was totally transfixed and horrified. This proud and intelligent man had been reduced to a beggar for a charity. His dignity totally shattered. Visions of the disabled boy from Mumbaih and his tin cup flashed in my head. What had they done to this proud human being? In my eyes they had destroyed the last shreds of his dignity.

I beat a hasty retreat. I could not face him. I could not talk to him or say hello even though I had not seen him for several years. I found my mum and my kids enjoying lunch in the food hall. I excused myself on the pretext that I needed to get something for my friend’s birthday. I headed straight outside and sat down on a bench. I was not yet angry just shocked. The anger came much later. As I write this, the vision of my friend waving that cup and moving his head frantically from side to side is still vivid and shocking.

At first I tried to make excuses for the charity. Do not ask me why. Perhaps sub-consciously I did not want to believe that what I had just witnessed was actually happening here in a wealthy country like Australia. I said to myself, “The Government doesn’t fund them enough” – I reasoned that if the Government funded them enough the charity would not be reduced to this sort of begging. I reasoned that my friend, an intelligent man, knew exactly what he was doing, and therefore this made it ok. I reasoned that my friend was paid for the charity work that he did. Not much, but it was a supplement to his pension.

In the end I could only find anger. Anger – that people like my friend could be exploited in this fashion. Anger – that he, through lack of opportunities and through lack of support from successive Governments, had been reduced to a street beggar for a charity. Anger – that this proud and intelligent human being was being viewed as an object of pity by the passing public.Anger -that if I never saw my friend again this would be my last vision of him.

I really wish that I had gone over to say hello. Perhaps by saying hello I could have reassured him that all was ok. Perhaps he would have smiled and felt less isolated and alone. Perhaps by communicating with him the public would have seen that there was more to the man than just a beggar on the street. I did not and I will forever regret that.

This sort of fundraising strategy goes on all over the world. Not just in Australia. People with disabilities protest that they do not want to be promoted as objects of pity. They plead that they be promoted as human beings with hopes and aspirations. They want to be promoted as people who contribute to and enrich society. Very rarely are they listened to. The mighty dollar speaks loud. Human dignity is but a small price to pay.

Oh! – I know that charities need money. I know that they are underfunded by the Government. I know that many provide excellent services and have dedicated staff and require money to sustain this.BUT – Why must we tackle these problems by destroying human dignity? Why must we raise the spectre of suffering, wretched lives and pity just to get a dollar? There has to be a better way.

Years ago I and deaf staff where I worked protested about a poster that was used to raise money through a Radio-thon. All day the radio made announcements imploring the public to donate. The messages were overwhelmingly negative. Poor deaf people living wretched lives, suffering, isolated and lonely. A poster was produced showing finger spelling for HOW TO SAY I LOVE YOU – At the bottom of the poster was the picture of two hands opening a wallet. Say you love me by giving me money. We protested vehemently and were told by the boss that we needed to get over it. We were told that we had a “Holier Than Thou” attitude to fundraising. In short we were dismissed and ignored.

I am not angry now. I am just sad, that in a rich country like Australia, that my friend, an intelligent and dignified person, had been reduced to a beggar for a pittance. I feel shame for Australia and shame for the charity that allowed my friend to be reduced to this sorry state. Thank you for reading and listening – I know that at least some people care.