Staying Positive

bikiesIt is twenty years now since I started working at the Deaf Society in Adelaide. In those twenty years I have seen a  few things. I had a drug crazed client throw up on my shoe and scream at  me that the Aliens were coming through the roof to get him. I have had clients kill themselves by burning down their house. I have assisted  clients into work and families to understand and accept and communicate with their deaf kids. It is funny because some years later a few old clients have sought me out on Facebook, just to say hello and thank me. It’s always moving to know you have had some sort of impact and assisted a family or a person to achieve something in life. The positives keep you motivated. And just as well because the negatives are often hard to bear.

Generally in my work people work well together. Most of us strive for positive outcomes. Sometimes we succeed and sometimes we do not. Sometimes we are dealing with controversial and difficult situations. I once witnessed a deaf child using signs that could be interpreted as disclosure of sexual abuse.  He was using signs that suggested that he had witnessed or experienced penetration. He was an otherwise happy child. His parents were lovely but rough around the edges. Under the law any sign of sexual abuse must be reported to the authorities. The child may have seen his parents having sex or watched a pornographic movie, this is still classified as reportable. You make such reports with a heavy heart because you know that the report you are about to make will turn the child’s family life upside down. It is sometimes hard to remain positive.  

I was looking back on my work life on the weekend. Primarily because I heard a tale that was among the most appalling I have heard in my 20 years. Allegedly an organisation was left a vast sum of money by an ex-client. The client left this money to the organisation as a way of saying thank you and enabling the organisation to continue to support others as they had them. Unfortunately the client used the wrong business name in his or her will. An old name that was now owned by another organisation. Allegedly the other organisation claimed the money for themselves which was against the spirit of the bequest. It seems that this is not the first time that this has happened either. If true this is one of the more appalling situations I have ever heard about in my time. Not quite the worst but right up there.

Back in the Nineties I worked as a Case Manager for people who had physical disabilities. My primary role was to assess the care they required to live independently in their own homes. It was often simply organising for them to have someone come in and clean the house or cook meals. It was sometimes more complex requiring transport, intensive care, transition from hospital to home and training in the use of assistive devices.  Mostly the solutions were very simple to implement – all they needed was money – something that is not always forthcoming.

I had one client who was a Bikie. A huge mountain of a man. He had tattoos over the best part of his body and the mandatory beard and earrings. He was from the Northern Territory. He had come off his bike there and his injuries led him to being a quadriplegic. In the Nineties the Territory lacked the facilities he required for his rehabilitation. He was sent to Adelaide for treatment. He later received a compensation payout and bought a home in Adelaide to be close to his rehab provider.

Over a period of time he became home-sick. He wanted to return home to be near family and friends. He asked me for assistance in arranging this. In Adelaide he lived in his own home. A carer came in in the mornings to help him out of bed, bathe him, prepare his meals for the day and so on. He naturally needed all of this arranged if he was to move back to the Territory. It seems a fairly straight forward request … But money was involved .. and money is something that many support organisations either take at will and give out very sparingly.  Human dignity is expensive. Money must be retained and dignity goes the way of the scrapheap!

I was determined to assist my client. I did some research and found out the relevant authorities to contact in the Territory. I called them and explained the situation. They point-blank said they did not have the funds to care for my client. If my client was to return to the Territory he would have had to live in a nursing home. There was no funding for him to live independently in his own home. They suggested that if the funding he had in Adelaide could be transferred then they could budget for my clients needs the following year and he would be able to live as he had in Adelaide.

Here it gets distasteful. I approached my organisation with the view of seeing if funds could be transferred. We are, after all , one nation. The money had already been budgeted for my client anyway. I reasoned that any other person could just pack up and move as they pleased. My client should have the same right.  Of course, because money is involved and money has a value far greater than life in the eyes of  many, the answer was NO! My client was understandably devastated. Both South Australian and Territory officials refused to deal.

But the client and I, we fought the authorities tooth and nail. So hard did we fight that my boss actually took me aside to remind me, and this is true, that the client was secondary and my primary focus was to protect the organisation and the Government Minister in question. I recall my reply to him was something along the lines of,  “@#$# that!”  My client paid me the ultimate compliment, he said to me, “.. Gary, why is a guy like you working for a bunch of c**ts like this?”  I offer no apologies for the language. He was a Bikie after all and what he said to me remains the the most profound compliment that any client has ever given me. 

Unfortunately before we could progress anything my client died. He developed a pressure sore which became infected. My last vision of this wonderful character was lying on his back asleep in hospital in full view of everyone. Just a sheet draped over his groin. His dignity and privacy not even considered. It was and is the most shameful way I have ever seen anyone treated.

So when I am depressed, when I hear of organisations swindling another, when I hear of clients going without while the bosses indulge I go back to the question of my client, ” … Gary why is a guy like you working for a bunch of c**ts like this?”  I never answered him. But the answer is clear .. Because if we don’t who will?  Besides as old clients on Facebook remind me, positive outcomes do occur. It isn’t all bad but sometimes it’s very hard to stay positive!

The Age of Big Business


HandShake_Business_EditedNot long ago a friend asked me how I prevent myself banging my head on the walls. He was explaining to  me how frustrated he was with the progress of change, with how access, Deaf organisations and committees seem to too slowly evolve or improve. I pointed out to him that change in Australia had indeed happened. Not at the same pace as the rest of the world but it had happened; and quite rapidly at that. For example not long ago we were able to watch only a few television shows with captions. Nearly all of these were Australian soap or artsy British shows. What is the figure now? I think it’s around 80%.

 Just over 20 years ago the University of South Australia would not pay for interpreters for my course. They relied on buddy systems to support students with a disability. Indeed on the second day of my social work training I had to get up in front of the class and declare that I was deaf, that I needed help with notes and ask for volunteers. I had to do this because the disability liaison officer of the day hadn’t done it for me as he had promised.

 I recently was appointed to the National Vocational Education and Training Equity Council advising the Deputy Prime Minister. I attended a forum in Tasmania that looked at skills training for Tasmanian equity groups. They were talking about the lack of funding to support people with additional needs. They were discussing how hard it was to find interpreters to meet the needs of Deaf students. Although this sounds bad one needs to remember that not that long ago the concept of paying for interpreters did not exist. It is indeed a huge shift to move from not even contemplating paying for interpreters and from using buddies to bemoaning the fact that there are not enough interpreters available. That is the new challenge, not funding interpreters but investing in the training of interpreters to meet the demand. To me, having come from an age where there was no chance of getting funding for interpreters, this is a positive thing. I mean, blimey; we now have interpreting through the internet as well. The change has been huge. Interpreting is now a multi-million dollar business.

We also have captioning. A few years ago the University of Melbourne introduced Live Remote Captioning for hearing impaired and Deaf students. Live Remote Captioning utilises the internet and phone to provide live captioning for students to access lectures. For those deaf people who prefer information in English this has been a godsend. The provision ofcaptioning and interpreting for students at university or TAFE is a far cry from the days when Deaf and hearing impaired students had to follow their appointed buddy around and look over the buddies shoulder as the buddy frantically took notes just to be able to follow lectures. Indeed my wife, in her final years of school, relied on her mother and sisters to take notes for her. This sort of thing would not even be considered today. The few companies that offer Live Remote Captioning are reaping ahealthy profit as well. The Deaf are good business.

I am part of the committee that is selecting the city to host the 2012 Australian Deaf Games n Victoria. In years gone by the Deaf community set up committees and organised the Games in the appointed capital city. Usually a few dedicated souls were responsible for organising things and they always did a marvellous job.Source: Bagshaw,Whole of life Approach)  The “NEEDY” are not welfare cases they are BIG BUSINESS. They create employment, demand, and MONEY. This is a cold hard fact. WE HAVE ECONOMIC POWER! How many reading this rely on us for their job?

In recent years the Australian Deaf Games have struggled. Costs have spiralled. Insurance liability, economic down-turns or simply the lack of committed volunteers are just some of the reasons that it has been difficult to sustain the Games. Indeed there were many who claimed the Games were not sustainable.

The Australian Deaf Games have now become a big business. Cities in Victoria have been asked to tender for the right to host the Games. Economic arguments have been developed as to how the Games will financially benefit the cities that bid to host the games. Cities throughout Victoria have put up their hands to host the games. Some have offered cash incentives of tens and thousands of dollars to hold the Games in their city. Apart from cash they have offered in-kind support such as transport or the free use of venues. No longer are the Deaf charity cases – they are BIG BUSINESS, something to be invested in. AND all of this has been driven by Deaf people! We don’t want charity nor do we expect it. We create opportunities, employment and money. We are BIG BUSINESS!!

The CEOs that send out the pitying fundraising drivel that lands painfully in our letter boxes need to take note. We have a lot to thank of people like The Rebuttal’s Dean Barton-Smith and the other Deaf people who secured the multi-million dollar funding for the Melbourne 2005 Deaflympics. They showed us the way and have not got anywhere near the praise that they deserved.

The people that lobbied to secure funding for the M2005 Deaflympics produced research that showed that the Games were likely to create $28 million in turnover for the Victorian economy. The Victorian Government provided $4 million in funding which was matched by the Federal Government. The economic benefits for Victoria were, in all liklihood, in excess of the predicted $28 million.

The Victorian Deaf community of the time played an enormous role in securing the M2005 Deaflympics for Australia and Victoria. Indeed they played an even larger role in securing the millions in funding to host the games. How much of the $28 million was returned to them for their efforts? A paltry $200 000. A puny return indeed. Deaf Sports Australia and to a lesser degree Deaf Sport Recreation Victoria, of which I am President, need to take some responsibility for this. Our leaders were asleep at the wheel. We must learn from this costly mistake and in the future ensure we get a fair return for the benefits that the wider community reap from our activities.

 Aside from the Deaf it has been suggested that by investing properly in people with a disability, by making them active participants in work, study and play that the economy would reap $46 billion. So yes we have come a long way and the new buzz word in meeting our needs is INVESTMENT. You don’t help and support people such as the Deaf you invest in them. By investing in the “NEEDY” such as us, lots of people benefit. It’s no longer heart warming to provide access through things such as captioning, interpreting or hosting things like the Australian Deaf Games – It is pure and simple – BIG BUSINESS!. Deaf organisations that continue to push the WELFARE and SOB STORY basket should take note. Deaf and hearing impaired people have come of age we are ready to take control. WE demand RESPECT!