The 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.