Silence is Not Golden

“Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” Ellie Wiesel

Never has the above quote been more true than in South Australia at the moment. The last Rebuttal article focused on the interpreter situation in South Australia. We wrote this article after being sent the open letter to the Deaf community in South Australia from Deaf Australia. The letter, of course, outlined the situation between Deaf Can Do and the National Auslan Booking Service.

Since writing the article The Rebuttal has received numerous communications on the subject. None of them paint the sorry saga in a very positive light. Unfortunately the communication has all been off the record. People feel that they will be victimised if they say anything openly. This is not surpising in a small state like South Australia where everyone knows everyone.

The Rebuttal is known for saying things as they are. However we can only cop so many bullets on behalf of others. In the past people have spoken out and been threatened with legal action. We at The Rebuttal are conscious that a lot of what is going on borders on bullying and victimisation. However, the threat of legal action is very real and we must remain cautious.

It is not helped by the fact that many of the people that are writing into us might, if it was known that they have written, be threatened with their jobs. All it takes is for their name to get out and suddenly they will be seen as a threat. They might suddenly see that they are no longer booked for jobs or the job they have might suddenly not be there anymore. THIS IS THE SITUATION AND THE FEARS ARE VERY REAL.

It is also not helped by the fact that the state advocacy body, through no fault of its own, has board members who are in fact employed by the agency that they may have to complain about. This is part of the reason that Deaf Australia are involved, simply because Deaf Australia South Australia has members that are not in a position to complain. It is not a healthy situation at all but a fact of life in a small state like South Australia who have a very small Deaf community.

However, we would like to remind people that there are laws that protect people against bullying and victimisation. If you feel that you might be bullied or victimised and know that something not right is happening we would encourage you to talk to organisations like Deaf Australia, Deafness Forum or even the Australian Sign Languahge Interpreters Association for advice.

Clearly something is not quite right in this situation.  Remaining silent it will help no one. Seek advice now.

A Question of Choice

dollar-signsDeaf Australia, last week, circulated a letter to members of the South Australian Deaf community. The letter attempted to help the community make sense of an ongoing dispute between Deaf Can Do (DCD) and the National Auslan Booking Service (NABS). For those not familiar with NABS it is a service funded by the Commonwealth Government to provide interpreters for deaf Auslan users at private medical appointments. DCD are the major supplier of Auslan interpreters in South Australia. The dispute is clearly a complicated one that involves money, disputed agreements and business rights. One interesting area that was highlighted in the Deaf Australia letter was the fact that only four interpreters in South Australia are registered with NABS. The rest apparently are registered with DCD. It is this issue that this article will focus on because for Deaf people and interpreters it is a question of choice.

The Deaf Australia letter claims that it is only in South Australia that interpreters do not register with NABS on a large scale. The letter offered no reason but leaves the question open as to why this is happening. It could be for any number of reasons. Perhaps DCD offer the best employment conditions so interpreters prefer to work for them. Perhaps the interpreters prefer to work for  DCD because they find the NABS paperwork onerous. It is possible that they have a condition of employment with DCD that prohibits them working for other agencies. These reasons are purely speculative but one thing is clear – around Australia interpreters freely register with NABS but not in South Australia. It would seem DCD have a virtual monopoly on interpreter bookings in South Australia.

In response to the Deaf Australia letter DCD clarified the NABS issue in their publication, Deaf Notes. DCD state that they had written to NABS on the 9th June agreeing to waive all monies that are allegedly owed to DCD by NABS IF NABS 1)formally agree not to compete against Deaf Can Do Interpreting Services in South Australia; 2) refer all enquiries for non-medical bookings to Deaf Can Do; and 3) agrees to work with Deaf Can Do to eliminate the practice of freelance or casual interpreters ‘job shopping’ (i.e. cancelling on existing bookings to take a higher paid booking when one is offered).(Source: Deaf Can Do, Deaf Notes, Winter 2009)

DCD are saying to NABS that if anyone wants an interpreter for a job that is not a private medical appointment then they must refer them to DCD. Is this fair? Could it be seen as anti-competitive? One could argue that having to book interpreters through only one agency is limiting choice for the Deaf community. It could also be argued that by insisting that all non private medical interpreting jobs are referred to DCD it is akin to creating an interpreting monopoly. There are pros and cons of interpreter monopolies. First let us discuss the pros.

If all interpreting is booked at one agency it is easy for Deaf people to know where to book interpreters. It means that they know that the interpreter who they would prefer is at the agency. This would make it easier for them to obtain their preferred interpreter. Having interpreters based in one organisation also means it is easier to support them and ensure that they get the right training. Maintaining ethics and standards for interpreters could be easier having them based at one organisation.

Along with the pros there are a number of cons. Having all interpreting based at one agency means that agency can dictate the cost. With no competition the agency with the monopoly can charge as high as is legally allowable. If there are other agencies competing it means that prices have to remain competitive which can mean more access for Deaf people as it can make interpreting more affordable.

Another con of having only one agency is that it can also mean that quality and service become sloppy. One thing that competition does is keep a business on its toes. To ensure they retain business they present more professional and quality services. Without competition it is easy to become complacent and allow standards to drop. For interpreters it could mean they receive lower salaries. Why? Because if there is only one agency, that agency can dictate what interpreters are paid. Whereas if there is another agency it is likely to lead to the offering of competitive salary rates and this is an added incentive for interpreters to remain in the trade.

It is possible that DCD, as any business would do, are trying to protect their income source. They have asked NABS to formally agree not to set up a business in competition with them. Whether this is a good thing or not is debatable. Let’s look at Victoria as an example. In Victoria the Deaf community have a choice of agencies that they can choose from to book their interpreters. The agencies offer competitive rates and this is a good thing for the Deaf community. Indeed the agencies often work together referring jobs to each other when they cannot meet a booking. Interpreters are free to register with whatever agency they please including with NABS. The Victorian model ensures service to Deaf people is of the highest quality simply because if it is not consumers will do their business through a competing agency. Perhaps DCD should investigate the system in Victoria. It is an effective and efficient system.

DCD have asked NABS to assist them in eliminating what they call Job Shopping. This is where interpreters have accepted a job and later cancelled it because a higher paid job was offered. This is frustrating for the Deaf person who misses out on the booking. However, there are other issues that need to be considered. Job Shopping is seen as unethical and it often is. However, it is not a simple issue.

Interpreting is often seasonal. Most interpreters will tell you that school holidays and university holidays are periods when their income is very low. During this time many interpreters struggle to make ends meet. Sometimes they are in a situation where they must accept the higher paid jobs just so that they can pay their bills. Interpreters are largely self employed and are employed very much depending on the market at any given time.

In all of this it is important to remember that Deaf people and interpreters have rights. Deaf people should have the right to chose where and who they book their interpreters with. Interpreters should have the right to chose how they  want to be employed, whether it is self employed, with one agency or with several. This should not be dictated by others. In the coming weeks there is to be a public meeting in South Australia to discuss the interpreter booking issues. We hope that by presenting this information it will help open and honest discussions. More importantly we hope it assists in some way to resolve the dispute between DCD and NABS with constructive input from Deaf people and the interpreter fraternity.

The Chaser Team Get it Right! If Only Deaf Orgs Can…

I rarely write for The Rebuttal, preferring the comfy surrounds of my own blog. But, I just had to do another post, a short one, because of the “public” reaction to The Chaser’s recent program that contained a skit satirising Make-A-Wish Foundation. I understand that terminally ill children is a sensitive topic, but this skit is actually quite funny.

Why did I find it funny?

From the first frame, I instinctively understood exactly what they were doing. It recalled the “Shock! Mock Horror! Over Their Heads It Goes…..” shenanigans of Garys’ post From the Slums of Mumbaih (Bombay), where rather than actually talk about the points raised, some people took offence [a fence?] and staked out a defensive position, crying out, “Poor taste!”

Many of the respondents criticising the show, could not see past the images of sick children. Just like Deaf organisations that cannot conduct a fundraising campaign without dredging up hoary images of victims. And if you think about it, they use, CHILDREN! They don’t use words like POOR, CANNOT HEAR, HELP!

Which is exactly the point The Chaser team were making, but their detractors, pretending to be open minded, started gnashign teeth, openly weeping and wepping, and threatening to never again, watch a show, they never watch!

We need to invite the Chaser team to satirise other charities. 

“Sniff! Sniff! Woolies has run out of tissues!”

“Sniffle!” How are they ever gunna hear again? Sniffle!”

“Sniff! Sniff! How am I gunna dry these tears? Oh those poor Deaf children! WAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!”

“They have the right to beg for us! Huff! Huff! Woof! Woof!”

As far as I’m concerned, The Chaser team got it right. Their critics can go suck on a cold one!

Further Reading:

Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don’t!

Gary’s article Taking Control, has inspired some very articulate feedback. I decided to put my comments up as a post, rather than in the comments thread, because one comment in particular, by Andrew Stewart, of Deafness Forum, struck a chord with me. 

I am fed up with all these people who want to be consulted, yet they are not even members of the organisations that are fighting for them!

If people want an increase in the captioning in cinemas or theatre, what have THEY done about it!

Are they members of the organisations trying to achieve change? Have they sent an email – yes, just one tiny email – to their organisation saying that they would like to be consulted.

If the answer to either of these questions is no, then can these people please go away, and find somewhere else to throw a tantrum about. If they are not prepared to even communicate directly with, and support the organisations doing the fighting, then they don’t have the right to be listened to!!!

My outrage at these people is partly due to my years of fighting for hearing impaired and Deaf people in other areas, and being so fed up with all the armchair generals that won’t get in and help me in the fight!!!

I would like to say more, but I have more work to do to fight for people such as these whingers…

I understand the points that Andrew makes. I have worked as part of a Deaf organisation, I have felt that same frustration and bore the brunt of armchair critics. I have been [and am] a client/ customer/ member of a Deaf organisation, and found that my voice fell on Deaf ears! I am now, an arm chair critic. A very proud one, and I take issue with generalisations such as this.

When a group forms with the express purpose of carrying out a specific objective, and publicly make a statement that they are fighting for a cause, or that they represent a group of people, then that organisation has a responsibility to reflect the wishes of the people they have chosen to represent. By claiming representation, it is open to both praise and criticism. It cannot, claim representation, then make demands of the people it has chosen to represent, by distancing itself from any criticism or claiming sole credibility for success. Or more pertinently, remaining silent in the face of adverse

What organisations tend to forget, but their PR/ Marketing gurus would have you believe otherwise, is that they are judged by their actions. They are judged by their behaviour. They are judged on the disparity between their stated objectives and the actual outcomes. Organisations are judged by the quality and the attitudes of the people who run them. This applies equally to the funded, such as charities and welfare, and the different volunteer groups that congregate inspite of little or no funding.

I quite agree, that it would be nice if the “armchair critics” would get off their arses and actually contribute to the work of the organisation. More participants means more work done. More participants means more things achieved. But that’s not gunna happen. There’s always gunna be more armchair critics than people who get off their arses. But the point still remains, the organisation has made a public declaration of representation. As such, it has to abide by that declaration. Inspite of the “armchair critics”. Too often, an organisation behaves in a manner that is different to their stated objective. Gary’s article, From the Slums of Mumbaih (Bombay), illustrates this divide between rhetoric and action.

The problem with comments such as Andrew’s, is that it does not endear the organisation to its detractors. Indeed, it does not endear the organisation to possible membership. One could easily retort, “Well, we didn’t ask you to represent us!” But credit, where credit is due. Without people actually getting up off their arses and working for change, we would never see change. And here is me thinking, “Why can’t they simply say, ’But we can’t do it all, we need your help’?” That would be a much more credible response than the assertion to be heard, you need to join this group or organisation.

The question they should be asking is, “What is it that we are doing wrong that is causing people to turn away from us, to criticise us?” The action they should be taking is an inward one. They should be conducting a navel gazing exercise to work out how to attract more, self appraisal that leads to positive change.

There is a further problem with the concept of armchair critics. It is assumed that armchair critics are just that. It is automatically assumed that those who are all too ready to criticise, are not too ready to volunteer or to lend a hand. Sure, there are those whose modus operandi is to exercise their right to express their opinion, and nothing else. But what about those armchair critics who actually do know what they are talking about? What about those who have become armchair critics, because the organisations they have worked for or volunteered with, has chewed them up and spat them out?

Then again, why the assumption that “armchair critics” do nothing but complain? Do not people realise that the armchair critics may actually know something? May actually have some experience, in life? Do people not know that armchair critics could actually be engaged in things unknown to the groups and organisations.

As enjoyable as people are, and as lofty as their ideals may be, working in groups can be akin to shovelling shit. But I digress.

It has been years since I was actively involved in a Deaf organisation, 14, thereabouts, and I am in no particular hurry to rejoin. Nor am I salivating at the prospect. Except as a member, but I find myself questioning the value of my current membership to the Deaf organisation I currently belong to. I have been a member going onto me third year. I took the plunge and signed up as a member. The question now for me is, “For what?” My original intention, was to receive regular communication about what is happening in the Deaf community, events, sub committees, and so on.

I understand that the group is run by volunteers, with only so much time and resources that they can access. Nevertheless, my expectations of communication and regular are not being met. Recalling the last group I unsubscribed to, where I resigned from committee work, but kept my membership. But the communication was woeful, which put paid to my membership to that group [and sadly, many others]. How can an organisation expect involvement from people if they are not actively engaging with their members? I’m not saying it’s all bad, there’s a lot of good things happening. But equally, there’s a lot more, and anecdotal evidence points to nothing is being shared!

Dean Barton Smith is quite correct when he says:

Organisations need to really sell their membership benefits in order to attract and recruit new members. It is more than just getting a newsletter. It entails active engagement, feeling important and valued and having the means to contribute without fear or favour and more importantly for the organisation to REALLY know their members and capitalise their knowledge, skills and expertise.

That is the crux of the matter for me.

I have one lingering memory, of my time on the different committees that I have been a member of. The membership is all. That is, if you are a member, you are kept in the loop, if you are not a member, you are damned! I remember the work we did for the members, but not much time, if any, was spent on recruiting, team building or paying attention to those important things that make groups work. Groups and organisations tend to cater for everybody except for those that live in Whoop, Whoop and Timbuktoo!

You know, there is a wealth of knowledge and experience out there that is being wasted. Equally, there is a wealth of experience and knowledge that is not being shared by organisations. When one is working on a committee, project or working towards some objective, it is easy to get caught up in the work at hand and lose perspective. To lose sight of the very people that an organisation purports to represent and work for. That you can be guilty of the same things, that your armchair critics are accused of.

I could write about so much more, but perhaps I will leave the last word to Gary, who responded to Andrew:

I take the view that whether they are members or not we have to do our very best to represent as many people as possible.

Its so easy to say JOIN and you will be heard. This is poppy cock – Why should they have to join anyway. Most of these organisations are funded by the government to represent ALL not just the ones that pay their membership.

Who do you join anyway? there is such competition for the membership dollar that you could literally spend over a thousand dollars joining all the different causes that say they will fight for you.

And then they often waste time saying one is useless the other is better. They spend so much time squabbling one could not be blamed for deciding to spend their hard earned money elsewhere.

Certainly I understand it is hard to reach everyone. I just done think we are creative enough or serious enough about the task at hand of consulting. Too often a group of four to five people create the spin and the argument and because they are the people that are paid or volunteering for the task think well that they can do that regardless as to what others might think.. I am sorry .. No! … Its about the people and we have to make more effort to reach them.


This article was cross posted at Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don’t!

Desma Hunts Diaries

cleaningladyI love a night at the movies. I get all dressed up to the nines. Put on my lippy and my heels and look the part. After all it is the MOVIES …  You get to meet Brad Pitt and any other number of dishy men, you simply have to look the part.

I went to the movies a couple of months ago. I spent a great deal of time getting ready. It”s lucky I went to dinner beforehand because otherwise the afternoon would have been a complete waste. It was Brad this particular night, and Brad REALLLY  gets me going. Those eyes, that smile … That Anjelina has no idea how lucky she is!! But I arrived all excited … And the movie that was advertised was not on. It had been shown in an earlier time slot apparently. I WAS SOOOOO UPSET.

I wondered if perhaps I had made a mistake so I went to the newsagent and brought the paper. There, right before my very eyes, was the time … 2pm it said  not 10 am. Well I can tell you, I was not impressed at ALL!  I marched right back to the cinema to complain.  I had missed Brad and there would be hell to pay. I walked right in and demanded to see the manager.

And the manager, bless his soul flashed me the most patronising of smiles.  “How can i help you”,  he beamed from ear to ear. I put the newspaper in front of him, pointed to the advertisement, asked him to tell me  what time the captioned movie had been advertised. He said,  “It says 2pm – did you arrive late”,  all said with his irritating smile.

I told the manager that I had not, that I had arrived with half an hour to spare, (One simply does not arrive late for Brad.) “So what is the problem?” he asked. I pointed out to him that the promised captioned movie was not on as advertised. “Oh, Ill just check that for you.” And still that smile had not left his face. It was with great difficulty that I prevented myself from smacking him in the face with my hand bag.

He returned some 15 minutes later. To his credit the smile had been removed from his face. He was very apologetic. He stated that the normal time was 2pm, but this particular week the time had been changed. The newspaper had been informed but had neglected to change the time at the going to print. It was, he said, “.. completely out of my control.”

In my most sweet and sinister voice I told him that I had travelled 30 kms to arrive at the cinema because there is no other cinema that provides captions. I pointed out that I  had but one session to attend per week, unlike some people that had several per day that they can chose from. I pointed out that  my travel  had come at considerable cost and perhaps his cinema would like to reimburse me for the error. He replied that he was unable to do that but could offer free tickets to the next showing. I pointed out that the next captioned showing was, in fact, of a different movie. And do you know what he said with his beaming smile again in place – “Don’t worry, it will come out on DVD and I am sure it will have captions.”

Now at that point I should have hit him. it would have given me great pleasure. But for the first time in my life I found myself at loss for words.  He muttered that he would ensure that it didn’t  happen again, provided me with the free ticket and then ushered me out of his office door. I walked back to my car totally gobsmacked.

I arrived home still seething, threw my heels into the corner of the cupboard and  let it all out to my long suffering hubby.  ” How dare they”, I ranted.  “Wasted my time”, I moaned. ” Do they have any idea how long it takes to do my hair?” I gesticulated.  My hubby listened patiently and said, “Why don’t you write them a letter dear.”

And write a letter I did. And within the week I received a letter back from the manager. Written, I am sure, with that patronising smile firmly in place. And do you  know what it said – ” Thank you for your letter, I sympathise with your frustration. I have placed your letter on the staff notice board so that our staff can understand how you feel”


AHHHHHHH – I am Desma Hunt, Im Deaf and I am going to hit someone!

* .. With thanks to Michael hose real life experience of captioned Cinema in Australia is what this piece is based on*

Taking Control

moonLast week I was fortunate to sit through a fascinating presentation by a man named Dr Paul Collier who graduated from Oxford University. Paul spoke at the Australian Federation of Disability Organisations conference about British funding that is known as SELF DIRECTED FUNDING. Paul is a quadriplegic. To live independently he needs a personal assistant (PA). The PA helps him get out of bed, prepare meals, bathe and to participate in everyday activities such as work or even social activities. Paul spoke about how he is in total control of his support funding and how he decides who, what and where it is used. In Paul’s view, Australia’s disability support “…is in the dark ages.”

In Britain they have a funding system where money is allocated to the person with a disability. The person with the disability then uses that money for their access needs. If you are blind you might use it to have books translated to Braille or purchase technology to access the computer. If you are deaf you might use this funding to purchase interpreting. You could use this funding, for example, to get an interpreter to be able to communicate with a personal trainer at the local gym. If you were a parent of a deaf child you could use the funding to pay someone to teach your family sign language. If you were hearing impaired you might use the funding to purchase captioning to attend a school performance at your kids school. YOU decide!

Now at the time of writing I am not sure if all of the things I have just mentioned can be funded through the Self Directed Funding as is provided in Britain. I asked Paul if it was possible, for example, for parents to use the funding to purchase sign language tuition or even speech therapy for their child. He replied, “Why not!” But the beauty of SELF DIRECTED FUNDING is that it puts the person that receives the funding in control. The individual disabled, Deaf or whatever manages that funding and can also receive support as to how to use that funding if needed. In Australia we virtually have to beg for handouts. It is very disempowering and frustrating.

On the weekend I attended the ASLIA Victoria Interpreting Awards. As usually happens when I attend events like these people corner me to talk about The Rebuttal. One young Deaf woman spoke to me at length about her desire to bring young deaf people together. She spoke of her desire for a group of young Deaf women to attend a youth convention overseas. She was saying how frustrated she was that she could not find funding for them to attend. She had to beg to our Deaf Sector organisations for assistance. They provided the group with some of the funding but not enough. This made me think who has control over funding for Deaf and hard of hearing in Australia. Is it Deaf people? Is it the hard of hearing? Far from it!

In Australia our Deaf sector organisations control a huge amount of funding. If we Deaf or hard of hearing people want a piece of it we have to go beg for it. We apply to trust funds, plead poor and asking for hand outs. We have to put forward our case for money. Often we are competing against each other for these handouts. And who decides who gets this money? Is it Deaf people? Is it hard of hearing people? Are you smiling at the irony of it yet?

No, the funding is controlled by a small group of people, nearly all who are not Deaf or hard of hearing. The questions I ask are – would you rather control your own funding? – AND – do we really need people, hearing, Deaf or otherwise to have all the power as to how we should use this funding? In fact, if we had SELF DIRECTED FUNDING would we need any deaf sector organisations at all? Perhaps all we would need is advocacy organisations such as Deaf Australia or Deafness Forum to advocate for better access to things such as education, employment and captioning. Perhaps the assets of the Deaf Societies and Deaf Sector organisations could be returned to Deaf people to manage and use for things that they see as important.

Imagine if we were not paying massive salaries to management – how much money could be redirected to Deaf and hard of hearing people themselves to control and use how THEY want to use it? Why should we pay in excess of    $200 000 to a CEO, $150 000 to the deputy, six figure salaries to the various managers of departments when this money could be directed to Deaf and hard of hearing people themselves to use as they see fit? Is it right that $650 000 a year be directed at a management team of six people when client X in Timbuktoo cant even get $1 000 to attend a sign language class to communicate with their family? Think about it!

How much money are we spending on maintaining old buildings or new buildings to house these organisations? Millions of dollars a year are being spent on maintenance and upgrading car-parks. Often this money is being spent on buildings that cannot even be classified as assets because they are heritage listed or leased to government departments and cannot be sold. History is lovely but what would you prefer – a system where individuals are in
control of their destiny and their funding? – OR- to be able to stare at and visit a lovely old building?

Many years ago the late Anne McCrae, who was the CEO of the NSW Deaf Society at the time, gave a presentation. She suggested that we should all be striving for a system where Deaf Societies were redundant. The gist of what she was saying was that we should have a system that allows Deaf people and hard of hearing people to live independently without the need for ongoing support. My interpretation of what she was saying is that Deaf and hard of hearing people should not have to rely of Deaf Societies for their needs but they should be in CONTROL. Perhaps Self Directed Funding is a way to make this happen.

Now I know there will be people that say that that will be the end of the Deaf Community Centres like the grand old 262 building in Adelaide. But this need not be so. In my vision I see these assets being handed back to the Deaf communities of Australia to direct and control as they see fit. Perhaps 262 can be funded as a boutique hotel where all profits are directed back to the Deaf community to maintain its own Community Centre.

I am aware that there will be people who say, “But what about parents that have deaf kids and need support and information? “ Or “What about Deaf or hard of hearing people that have additional needs and require extra support?” Yes, these are issues that need thinking through but elsewhere it is happening, so why not in Australia? The question is – Do you want funding meant for YOU to be spent on things or people that take the funding away from YOU? It is a debate worth having. Indeed it is a debate we MUST have!

“The situation for people with disabilities and carers in Australia is a national disgrace,”
Dr Rhonda Galbally, chairwoman of the
National People with Disabilities and Carers Council.