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?

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12 thoughts on “Australia, The Lucky Country? By Craig Stokes

  1. Makes me realize that Canada is well-balanced in regards to providing assistance to the Deaf people. Nope, no free bus passes for us, first CI is free but not the second one, CI or hearing aid batteries are not free, interpreter services are free for Deaf people, equipments are free as long as one proves they are “po” as in very, very poor. In my case, I am totally disqualified for free equipments because I own a house, cars, and have some savings. Post-secondary tutition and textbooks were free, but not anymore thanks to those who abused the government funding like being kicked out or dropping out. Age factor is not an issue here – there is no maximum age for any service to the Deaf. Degree of hearing loss also is not an issue – if one is fully oral and successfully uses CI, services are still provided to them. They could even claim Disability tax in order to receive more income tax return than their hearing peers.

    I must disagree with the idea of the government paying for the second CI. Having a CI is a privilage just like having laser eye surgery (ironically, patients have to pay for it). That is what sign language is for in the first place, yet, it is unfortunate that so many people do not think so!

    The Canadian government fully funds interpreter service for post secondary education and I took full advantange of it while I was a student! 🙂 I was very lucky to have all of my tutition and books paid for plus weekly allowance. I was probably one of the last few lucky students before the funding policy changed.

    Scotland is really spoiling those Deafies rotten! Tsk Tsk! I actually feel sorry for the Deafies cause they would never fully develop strong problem solving skills, not to mention self-advocacy skills. On the other hand, having stress-free life sounds blissful. There are times that I feel like moving to Norway or Sweden where their government fully respect Deaf community and its culture.

    You did not mention about closed captioned TV shows and movies there. Are the shows 100 percent captioned?? Here, 70 percent of them are. The bottom line is, as long as the Canadian government shows respect and support to the Deaf community, I am a happy camper. We are slowly getting there…

  2. Swings and roundabouts. I went profoundly deaf after poor hearing, but it happened in 36 hours, sheer and blind terror. I could not register as a disabled or even a deaf person, the first 3 years. I spent the next 11 YEARS having to struggle through work areas, arguing to the point of tears for some support that never came, got tormented and abused by people in the street, workmates (I cleared up crap mostly because that is all they deemed me fit for despite a professional apprentiship in motor control electrics and power station wiring).

    Even a further course (ALl undertaken while with no support !), in ‘business studies, (Again where I passed with distinction, it was never used or recognised, they saw me deaf they saw nothing else. Most love a trier, but unlike other countries Britia insists you have to succeed and be better than some hearing person with the same qualifictaions, even when you do that, they trip you up ‘because he can’t hear’. Yes he knows the job, no he has baggage and needs too much support from us… The state never gave it, why should we foot the bill ?

    By comparison those who went to deaf school had birth to death support/education and, a job albeit sheltered work on tap for most. There was no suggestion you could get a CI then, the sheer cost were the excuse. It was a very hard grounding in coping with deafness ! Had I not the strength of will I would not be here today, I’s be choosing the new patterns of rubber wallpaper.

    Most hard of hearing in my time were given medical notes that said “Delirium tremens” (Not sure if perfect spelling but, years later I looked it up in a medical dictionary,and it read “Work shy”…….. The suggestion was if you heard something and missed something else you were trying it on……..My background has made me critical of deaf support, and yes, some deaf need a lot LESS support and kick up the backside to get going, most here are already sleepwalking back to dependency and of the view they have some access that’s it, all done and dusted, hey ho back to facebook and twitter and the pub, in reality they have fewer rights than before, since it all hinges on the begging bowl and not a right in law the state is bound to provide for.

    There is a saying cruel to be kind, and I think some areas of deaf support encourage total apathy and don’t force deaf to face up to situations, especially on their communication, and they need to made to face up this. Culture is a luxury that was never afforded to us… and certainly we could never use it, to quantify our Isolation, lord what I could have done with the ‘benefits’ and ‘allowances’ and free passes deaf get now !

    Instead I got harassments, threats from the job centres, and told to walk if I couldn’t afford the fares which I did 5 days a week 3 miles there to the job centre and 3 miles back all weathers, I lived in the welsh valleys, and it was all hills too (Kept me fit I suppose !).

    The OZ approach is the right one, they open the door, after that YOU have to walk through it and make the best of it. America is similar, but Britain is far too soft, and we have a new generation of deaf with fat bums, and increasing waist lines, and little else to boast about.

  3. Personally I think there’s still so much stigma attached to being deaf that it’s hard for deaf people to get ahead. I honestly think you deserve all the free stuff Scotland has to offer.

  4. My, my, my! What an interesting article and so many parallels with my own experience. Like Craig I am an expat Aussie who grew up orally in Adelaide and went to a private school. But no cochlear implant for me, thanks!

    I can confirm what Craig says and my partner is Scottish but from the West whereas Craig indicates he’s living in the East. Because of the nature of my occupation I have become a bit of an expert on “benefits” deaf people are entitled here in the UK, Scotland included:

    DLA – tick
    Exemption from Council Tax – not exactly. If you are working and are on a full wage then you pay just like everyone else.
    Free public transport. Tick – it’s free in London as well.
    Rail pass. Tick but 33% not 25%
    Tax credits – like a pension top-up. Tick but you need to work a maximum number of hours and earn so much to remain eligible.
    Equipment. Tick. It’s from the Council not the Government.
    Free BSL classes. Erm, it depends who delivers the classes and what funding stream you are eligible for. They’re not universally free.
    Free hearing aids and batteries. Tick. Guess this applies to CIs too.
    Free Uni. Yes and no. Depends on your Council and a few other things. But not universally free for all deaf people though most deaf people don’t pay for an Uni education.

    And in addition:
    Most TV is subtitled (not quite 100%) and there are 2 BSL-only programmes, See Hear and BSLBT.
    There is plenty of BSL on TV (but late at night.)
    Practically all DVDs are subtitled.
    Access to Work. Potential there for you to get full-time interpreter support for work purposes and the funds you receive can be more than double your salary!
    Education. Wide choice of BSL or oral schools, boarding or day.
    Support at University and TAFE is very generous.
    Jobs. There are plenty of jobs here in the UK for deaf people, specially if they are job-ready. The recession is biting but there ARE jobs out there that deaf people can do and they are hired amid fewer prejudices.

    The British welfare system is excellent but not without its problems. I think the Australian public health system is far better. I can argue that the Australian education system is better too, deaf children can be challenged more at school than they are in the UK.

    It is staggering the number of Australian Teachers of the Deaf in the UK and they are often sought after because it is widely acknowledged that Aussie TODs are the best, I have been told this by several experienced British TODs.

    I think Auslan challenges the user more than BSL does the user. If you don’t know what I mean, find someone who does, and ask them.

    It is difficult to say which is better, the UK or Oz. I like it here because of career, social and travel opportunities. But if I had an excellent job in Oz I would be back here. The “deaf benefits” are only a bonus and not the reason why I am staying. But it is fair to say that if I moved back I would miss most of these benefits, especially Access to Work and free hearing aid batteries and maintenance!

    But I am glad I am Aussie and proud of it, and the UK experience has given me an additional perspective. I am able to function equally in society to non-deaf persons for the first time in my life, and this is important to me. But the Aussie experience has provided me with an insight into the harsh realities of life as a deaf person evident throughout the world and which is only thinly veiled in the UK.

  5. We’re bloody spoilt here aint we lol ! Sadly none of the adavances and support deaf have in the UK were gained by the latest generation of deaf people, but were all fought for and gained by the last one. Yes to gain real insight you have to be faced with some harsh realities, you need to see comparisons and realise how lucky you are toget what you do. AS Ipointed out we didn’t get it all on a plate (Or at all in my case !). The constant cushion of support, leaves many deaf complacent, selfish and unwilling to help each other or campaign for better. They’re sitting on their arses, what HAVE we done, giving them so much for them doing so little ? So they can play about on Twitter ?

  6. Well, I think I will invite Alison Bryan [mine and Gary’s good friend] to put forth her views here. She has been working in the Deafness area, and with Deaf people, in a professional and non professional role, for a number of years.

    What say you Gary?

  7. Why not.If Alison is game, cool. And MM I admire you for stating what you think but take the view that deafies should get equal access period. Being one of those at the forefront in making change here in Australia and having seen what many people have achieved thru sheer grit I sometimes get frustrated with the apathy of some of the younger group. But we are not all passionate about making change so cant expect all to think and feel as we do.

    Being deaf can be a pain and a drain on ones income so the benefits that countries like Scotland provide are a good way of minimising the disadvantage. I am all for it.

    As we get older we tend to get less tolerant and perhaps MM you and I are heading that way. But simply cos we had it harder in the past doesnt mean todays generation have it easy. They have it better, perhaps, but society costantly evolves and we need to be costantly at vigil to ensure deaf and other disadvantaged groups are not left behind in the evolution.

    Your dislike of FB and Twitter is your personal pet hate. For me they are great things and have opened up the world for deafies. No longer am I limited to just people who can sign or I can lipread. But have access to a whole world of people hearing and deaf and I am richer for it. Embrace it I say.

    Having said that MM I enjoy your forthright views. Disagree with them a lot but hell they make me think 😀

  8. Well I will disagree deaf should get access on the terms they are getting. Access is access is access…erm not I think. As for being an intolerant old fart, well, that is par for the course if you are older and less inclined to take bullshit (Sterotyping us oldies surely !).

    I’ve been a pusher and thorn in the side since I can remember, it is not to do just being deaf, that’s part of my life now, for the first 16 years of life it wasn’t. My dislike of trivia is personal, so natural I would not see much in that, I have a view it is not social at all, it’s well enough known, and because I keep getting bluddy invites to be a friend to total strangers, whom when I examine their input , I wouldn’t pee on let alone anything else.

    Life is too short. It’s how one uses the net, I have a view/s and that’s what I use it for, If I want trivia, I’ll watch TV which is dumb enough for anyone… I know I am ‘out of it’ as this is the thing, but allow some of us the choice. I do not think I am alone in having reservations regarding social networking, both medical view and some academic social viewpoints seem to go along with my own reservations. It is divorcing people from true interaction, that really take place o na face to face basis,’Face’ book is NOT that. 500 ‘friends’ ? right !!!!!

    The drive for greater inter-action with hearing as well as other deaf who don’t sign, or maybe don’t lip-read, is a recurring theme of mine, to me there is NO excuse of culture, or no excuse of community or communications, to put barriers in the way of that. I’ve blogged the experience of going deaf, and then, the assault on me, my intelligence, my communications such as they are, from cultural deaf and from hearing, I fight my corner best I can. Just because others do not experience the same things, is no guide it never happens, or I am a sad old fart who cannot cope with it.

    I’d back my independence against a lot of other people ! There is little to choose between being discriminated against by deaf as by hearing, there is no heirachy to it, although some try to do that. As regards the ‘Brit’ end of discourse, there is little point getting embroiled in what went before here, or why I and the Ms Bryan’s and Tony’s of this world dislike each other. I am not going to further it on other people’s blogs so they can sit there with their popcorn enjoying the fight.

    My one consolation, is that others who have go, will get the same when THEY get older lol….. i.e. unless they have given up the fight long before that… Strange as it may appear to some I do socialise, just, NOT online. Like yourself they might be deaf may well not be, I Practice what I preach, I have no set ‘affiliation’ to either status, this is why my blog is called at the rim, I could not, I would have thought, explained it any easier.

    Bit wet in Queensland innit…..?

  9. Dunno live in Ballarat. Other end of Oz he he.

    But some good points there. FB can be addictive and without balance dangerous. Iguess, like alcohol it is how u use or abuse it.

    Access, though, is not always access. Sometimes access is indirectly impacted by affordability. If you are paying thousands just to hear it impacts on your access to other parts of life. So subsidies and income support, say in the form of transport subsidies, can be a great equaliser.

    A good post with much food for thought, Thanks.

  10. I aint always a miserable Pom, MM unleashed (My other blog)shows I can laugh as well, usually at myself,and you will be gratified to know there is hardly a single reference to deaf things. So no, I aint obsessed about it…

    Transport subsidies are fine, assuming you HAVE somewhere to go lol……… If a deaf person has a job, then why are they getting free transport as well ? equality is it 🙂 It’s like flashing door bells and alerts, practical only to a point, you still have to communicate and follow whoever rang the bluddy bell ! and I find deaf make little attempt to forward THAT access area…

    Deaf issues are around effective communications to the world ‘outside’ there are many times where I read, “I don’t care what access I get, I am only going to take what I want from it.. and carry on being the deafie regardless.” Then ‘non-access’ take up is a right ?

    I am a fan of the use it or lose it realm of thought, and not a ‘global’ “Give deaf everything and jam as well..” Since I know how everything works, it revolves around demand, and money. I think ‘rights’ is a bit to the rear of that, usually we get rights when it is politically and financially expedient to be given them. Not because someone up the food chain, they think “Oh poor deaf people, let’s give them that.”

    People campaign for this or that access, then attend a consultation meeting with the powers to be, who will then ask “OK, how many of you are going to use this access if we provide it ?” Only to be met with outrage the question is asked. Seems logical enough to me. Especially given I responded (Or thought I did !), to a demand for minicom access to health areas and the police and job centres, only to be told after 2 years getting that, they called me and said they were not being used and they couldn’t justify the expense of waiting for a call.

    There is no answer to that is there ? Rights ? I think not responding to a visible and real need is fair enough, but not ‘access’ for its own sake, no deaf are really going to use. Why should we put effort into that ….?

    We are discriminating, because 2 people want this access and 200 don’t so we say no ?

  11. Gee whiz… I feel like moving to the old Dart… but what about beaches??? ohh… cant win em all…

    Ok so I take it that we all agree Australia should provide more benefits for deaf people? For Australia to achieve that.. and to start with hearing aids & interpreters must be provived free to all ages full stop. Deafies of Australia need to unite.

    We have Deaf Australia, Deaf Forum, each States Deaf Societies, DCA, Deafness Foundation. (have I missed any?) all claiming their niche and expertise? but definetly overlapping in a ridiculous number of areas, (getting a sense of deja vu here) often competing with one another for Government funding. This crazily fractured world of Australian deaf organisations makes us look silly. Divided like this, our lobbying power is minimal.

    Confusing to the average deaf person as to who does what? I think many deafies have given up worrying about it and now beyond caring. Imagine how confusing it is to hearing people in the bureacracies making funding decisions.

    The divide between “pro oral and pro sign” groups has a lot to do with it for sure. In my view having grown up oral and now can sign (some may argue that) I’m actually “pro both” but the divide has a lot to do with ignorance, stubborness and to a small extent elitism. Too many intelligent yet well meaning people going off in different directions darn sure they know best. Infomation sharing and education, bring the various groups and their members together formally and informally to understand each other better, is what we need to break down the divide and hopefully find common ground.

    I’d like to see most if not all these organisations merge, have a membership of thousands, have a deaf board, a deaf CEO, take the bit between the teeth, argue forcibly in public forums for change. He’d have to be the ultimate diplomat to appease both pro oral & pro sign. Have excellent communication skills, quick wit and turn of phrase to get people to change their perspectives.

    In an ideal world I’d install a certain Mr G.K. as Supreme Commander. He’ll have an unlimited budget to fly around as he pleases to use his awesome powers of persuasion to marshall a united deaf army upon Capital Hill to force real change for deaf Australians. (bet i’ve tickled him pink)

    We can dream cant we. But to start with we all need to talk about it more, ask all our friends to join somewhere? perhaps Deaf Australia is the best pick? and with the strength in numbers Deaf Australia can start agitating more effectively for change and talk mergers with above mentioned organisations to become a united irresistible force.

    Does anyone share this vision to unite deaf organisations? This site is the ideal place for like minded people to share ideas, to brainstorm to make this vision a reality.

  12. John you are, of course, absolutely right. you and many like you have been saying the exacyt same thing for a long time. Of course you are only a consumer and who they are funded to listen to so there is no way they will take any notice of anything u say. But don’t give up, banging your head against a brick wall is chartacter building.

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