Tommy was eager. He wanted it and he wanted it now. The new PlayStation Number 17 was out. He saw it in the shop window. Glistening metallic black, shiny. alluring and only $1 299. He had to have it. Out came the credit card. It was his! Of course he had to get a few games too. There were only five on the market at this early stage. He purchased Texas Chainsaw Massacre 22. The graphics were awesome. Every little bit of blood, every droplet and every spurt was in glorious 3D. He was the first of his mates to have one! He couldn’t wait to show off his newly purchased toy.
Peter, his mate looked on. Peter wanted a PlayStation 17 too but had resolved to wait. And wait he did. Patiently he waited for the inevitable price drop and within 6 months the price was $700. He decided to wait a little longer and three months later the consoles were selling at $599 and there were a multitude of games to chose from as well. It pays to wait. Unlike Tommy who jumped the gun! And Peter owned his! Meanwhile Tommy is still paying his off.
Australia’s Deafness organisations are a bit like Tommy. They get excited when anything is on offer and grab it as early as possible. In recent years the Deaf community have benefited from the National Auslan Booking Service (NABS) and the Auslan for Employment Scheme. Great programs that have benefited thousands. But in hindsight one needs to ask – Are these good programs? Did the Deafness sector get starey eyed like Tommy and accept what was on offer too early? Could they have been more astute like Peter and waited? In their excitement to show off to the world and take credit did they jump the gun? Or were they just looking for profit? After all $17 million is going to pay for an awful lot of overheads, isnt it?
Personally I have always found NABS to be a strange program. Sure there are many that need Auslan interpreting when they visit a private doctor but equally there are Deaf people that need interpreting when they visit a lawyer, buy a home or attend a personal training session at the local gym. I often wonder if it would have been better for the Deafness Sector to push for more to be included in NABS. Sure it would put great demand on current interpreting supply in Australia but is it an astute use of funding to have the program only targeted at private medical appointments. Perhaps the Deafness Sector could have waited like Peter .. could have said to the government, “Thanks this is great, but maybe we can make the program even better.” They could have spent another 12 months developing the scope of the program and consulting with the Deaf community. Perhaps it could have been developed into a program more akin to an interpreter allowance. They could have looked at the scope for adding Live Remote Captioning to the options. Hindsight is a wonderful thing but one can not help thinking that time and thought could have lead to an even better program.
The Auslan for Employment Scheme (AFE) is another strange program. This program is $5 million over five years and was introduced at the beginning of 2007. The aim is to provide interpreting for Deaf people starting work or who have their jobs at risk. If they so wish they can use some of their funding for deafness awareness training. Again on the surface this seems a great program. BUT it’s limited to $5 000 a year. It’s actually for only nine months then you have to apply again and if you are lucky and convince the funders your job is at risk you might get another nine months. If you do not work full time the funding can be even less.
I got funding to pay for some of my interpreting needs through the AFE. The $5 000 lasted three months. That’s my lot and my employer must now foot the bill for any remaining interpreting. They are happy to do so but not everyone is as lucky as me. A lot of small employers cannot afford interpreting costs. Sure the funding helps but it’s a bit like giving a kid two licks of an ice-cream and taking it away. Again you have to ask whether the Deafness sector were too eager to accept funding without thought for the big picture goal. Could they have been tougher and said ..”NO! that’s not a good use of funds, lets make it a strong program straight away rather than some half arsed chocolate cake that will collapse in the middle.” And what about those deaf that need communication that don’t sign? Did anyone think of them?
There is a train of thought in the Deafness sector that we must accept what is on offer from the government. The idea is that once you get your foot in the door you can negotiate upwards from there. It is a strong argument and has some merit. However, there is another train of thought and one that many are reluctant to visit. This train of thought actually involves telling the government NO! Telling the government that the funding and program that they are offering is inadequate and can actually be construed as a waste of funding. This train of thought involves continuing to negotiate with the government to develop the strongest possible program at any given time. It is a much harder and can be a soul destroying process. It is also not without risk because the government may withdraw anything on offer and it is possible to end up with nothing.
BUT perhaps it is time to visit this method. Perhaps it is time to say to the government that the Deaf sector is not out for handouts an help but wants the government to INVEST in deafness and INVEST properly at that. Deaf and hard of hearing people are not asking to be HELPED but included and seen as value added rather than a drain. Proper and well thought out investment adds value and leads to better outcomes. In short we should tell the government to take their AFE and shove it! Not quite in those words but we should leave them in no doubt that the AFE is woefully inadequate to the point that we would rather not want it as it was offered.
Perhaps the Deaf sector needs to get tough. Rather than grabbing at short-term gains and profits they should hang out for real change and benefits. In doing so perhaps the government will see that Deaf and hard of hearing people are a whole economy in themselves. This ecomomy adds value to the country if invested in properly. American President Harry Truman once said, “Children and dogs are as necessary to the welfare of the country as Wall Street and the railroads.” It’s simple – the country needs us, not the other way around … It’s time to remind the government of this and in a BIG way.