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.

12 thoughts on “Looking Back – By Gary Kerridge

  1. Lol So Australian deaf also live in the past ? I thought it was just Brits… Fancy assuming you need deaf people involved in their own organizations RADICAL ! I Often feel I am listening to echoes here, deaf just get drunk, do not get involved then wonder why charities and others have head-hunted hearing people and professionals to raise the dosh instead….

    Begging today is a professional art form, mainstream are not caring to see deaf doing it for themselves, if they see that they think they’re OK. Then deaf object to being portrayed as ‘deserving’ or ‘Isolated’ or ‘suffering via deafness’.

    Deaf don’t get it, nobody is going to give you money if you are confident ! My only gripe is why deaf still buy in to charity at all, either you have an access as a right or you don’t, and that should not be dependent on someone throwing a dime/cent or penny in the tin.

    My advice ? kit yourself out in rags, wander the streets with a tin and look a lot more bloody needy… too much positive deaf imaging means less of a handout geddit ? Deaf people running deaf support ? where ya bin livin’

  2. I just spent the last hour or two reading up on all the latest blogs and responses … I can only say … “Wow!”

    I think Paul Flynn would benefit from going to Flinders University and discussing his fund-raising methods with the professors in the Disability Studies. Additionally, he could go and visit the psychology department to discuss the effects of using the ‘pity’ method of fund-raising. I’ve studied psychology and disability studies and quite frankly, I think Garry is right; he may be sensationalist, yes, but justifiably so.

    If I was the CEO and was concerned about activities for the members of the Deaf community or DeafBlind community, I would be searching for ways for the members to contribute *positively* to the wider society. A beautiful example of fund-raising for my school was teddy-bear making. Students learnt how to sew, how to make the cutest and cuddliest bears which were then sold in raffles or sold directly for fund-raising purposes. I even did this for the Hearing Unit and the teddy-bear making process was great fun because we all gathered together on a set day to make as many bears as possible – we chatted and interacted for the whole day. I loved it!! I can now sew my own clothes simply because of this one fund-raising event!!

    I remember a few years ago, my parents received a letter from DeafSA asking for donations and splattered on the page was how sad, tragic and lonely the life was for a Deaf person unless they received donations to pay for the support. I immediately ripped up the letter and told my parents that I thought it was disgusting that they portrayed Deaf people like that. Frankly – if I had known the person photographed (As Garry knew the person with Deaf and blindness), I would have responded with outrage too.

    I am also curious to know why there appears to be so few wonderful high-flyer Deaf role models? Surely the Deaf Community should have the highest proportion of Deaf role models and CEOs etc? I think Garry has a valid point – Can any of the organisations working with Deaf people honestly say that they are helping the members become the leaders of their own organisation?

    Paul Flynn – your response made me cringe to the point that I think I may have permanent spasms and cramps all over. If you can’t bear to sit down with Garry and listen to his blether; then please, PLEASE, for the sake of the Deaf Community – go and visit the Disability Studies department at Flinders University; They may not be specialists in deafness or Deaf Communities, but they have an extraordinary amount of experience and expertise in working with all types of disabilities. They will be thrilled to assist you and your organisation to improve the image of the Deaf Community and improving the lives of the Deaf people in the long run.

    Looks like I’ll need the contact details of the registered massageuse who recently posted on this blogsite! All those cramps!!


  3. Thanks Gary for having the courage to tell it exactly how it is. I realise that by doing so you inevitably leave yourself open to personal criticism and attacks which may ultimately affect your future career prospects within the Deafness and hearing impaired sector due to upsetting the status-quo.

    Maybe I’m just too simplistic and logical for my own good, but Gary’s recent blog regarding the lack of Deaf leaders in deafness organisations has me shaking my head vigorously to the point that my brain is rattling inside my skull. (Pass on the details of that masseuse Craig, or even better, a neurologist!)

    I can’t personally recall any other community group where leaders are not nurtured and developed from within their own constituents. E.g, the gay and lesbian community, victims of domestic violence and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities all have rather noteworthy and vocal leaders who have been developed and supported from relevant organisations who provide support services to them.
    When will Deafness and hearing impairment service providers take a leaf out of their book and follow suit?

    Current fundraising practices used by deafness and hearing impairment organisations are also primitive, demeaning and quite frankly, pathetic. Consider the fundraising initiatives of other sectors – SIDS has red nose day, which is a positive way of promoting awareness of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome or “Cot Death”. The image of people walking around in public with red noses does not have any negative connotations, as it doesn’t portray babies and children at risk of this syndrome in a needy, begging state, does it? (Unless the poor child happens to suffocate due to the red nose restricting their nasal passages or being accidentally swallowed!)

    When are we going to see some creativity, zest and passion within the Deafness and hearing impaired sector for a change? Have we really come that far from the times when Deaf and hearing impaired people would be shut away in institutions and simply forgotten about?


  4. We’re all holding out for a hero, or maybe a heroine who knows ? But hope is all there is at present. What we see is still lots of individuals who are prepared to go at it, the fire is still there, but few if any of them prepared to unite in strength to make things happen, that’s our undoing.

    All the facebooks in the world and twitters seem not to be utilized to maximum effect where it can count either. It’s a numbers game, 1 against the system is admired, but pretty pointless in the scheme of things without support. They just carry on, on their own with no-one else with them, until they reach burn-out, then the next Kamikaze campaigner steps up to the plate to do the same thing, DOH ! it’s the Lemming Syndrome’ so bloody pointless and aimless…..

    We need real deprivation before we can get anything really moving again, as they seem quite happy to beg from charities for what they need now, we’d have been ashamed years ago to do that…. it is why we campaigned for captioned access, interpreters etc, now we get deaf sitting on their bums with their mouths open like baby chicks, waiting for some charity mother hen to drop food in them.

    The only thing they know about right, is it is opposite to left….

  5. This won’t get through mate. You just can’t drop bricks on CEOs or the board management of Deaf organisations. You need to find a way to make this work. I have seen this going around in the circle many times for so long. One of my favourite quotes from the ICT and business world, “think outside of the square”.

  6. Oh I love irony Tim.


    Perhaps the Deaf organisations and boards can lead the way?

  7. oh Tim if it were that’s easy we would hve resolved this years ago.

    All it takes is for deaf orgs to see deaf people as more than their pay cheque and Bobs your uncle.

  8. And to put their personal vendettas and egos aside to work together not only with their constituents, but also fellow service providers in order to create a somewhat more unified, powerful and impacting lobby.


  9. I rather fear raising these issues get nowhere either. BORING ! is what seems to be most reactions. YOu have a small sector of very able deaf who ARE doing it for themselves and extolling the virtue of that, but the fact remains the majority are still standing in the handouts que blissfuly oblivuious or caring of that. Of course the more ‘able’ deaf are the very ones we need as the vanguard to support those lesser so, but instead they leave them to the systems. My brother’s keeper, obviously does not carry much kudos in the deaf community these days… because we are not all in that same boat any more. The boxes are ticked, so who cares where the support come from ? begging bowl ? patrons ? It’s there don’t knock it ? Have we lost already this fight ? Charities and such are no longer responsible to us or anyone else, and backed by corrupt state systems in whose interest it is to perpetutae that, since it saves them having to foot access and empwoerment bills, or give real rights, cushty, they enable charities to do it, on a shoe-string, they get the flak, the sysytem just drop them a few quid now and then, the state claims they ARE empowering grsas roots via the charities ??!?! Run by animal rights rejects, and bike raisers, all hearing.

  10. Then why prolong the boredom MM by “contributing”, to these debates? You just love the sound of your own voice!

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