Making the Law Count

handDid you know that in 1996 that 3 362 people died as the result of accidents in Chinese coal mines. Or that 16 workers died building the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Building the Empire State building led to the deaths of five construction workers. Death at work is a tragic and mostly unnecessary thing.  Recognising this governments the world over have enacted Occupational Health and Safety Laws (OHS). Indeed OHS is in our faces all the time. Have you seen the latest ads on TV.  Where  workers fall off ladders or slip on floors, as they fall we see their limbs hitting the ground and they are in X Ray format. In all their gory detail we see the pain etched in the faces of the workers and their bones shattering in slow motion. Its queasy but effective advertising that leaves the watcher in no doubt that OHS is an important thing.

In the Australian Capital Territory gross breaches of OHS laws that lead to death can attract manslaughter charges. Fines can reach $1 million and there is a maximum of 20 years imprisonment for gross breaches of OHS laws that lead to death. State OHS laws in Australia vary but standards must be maintained. Large fines and imprisonment are the norm. Employers are subject to random spot checks from inspectors that can lead to substantial fines. In short OHS is no joke. Employers breach OHS laws at their peril. And rightly so because serious injury and death is no joke either.

But it has not always been the way. For years employers got away, virtually, with murder. It goes as far back as the Industrial revolution when workers were forced to work in dangerous conditions and for ridiculously long hours. It took unions and intensive lobbying to get OHS laws implemented. To this day OHS laws still are not seen as being strong enough and industrial advocates continue to lobby for further protection. Thankfully governments have largely enforced OHS laws,  introducing imprisonment and large fines for breaches of the laws. In short OHS laws today offer PROTECTION. Employers are left in no doubt as to what they must do and what can happen if they do not meet the required standards.

This is a far cry from our disability discrimination laws. Our disability discrimination laws offer loop holes that are so big a herd of elephants could get through them. Our disability discrimination laws rely on the principle of reasonable adjustments and unjustifiable hardship. In short organisations can argue that they have taken all reasonable steps to avoid discrimination and they can even argue that they discriminated only because they did not have enough money to not discriminate.

Compare this with our OHS laws. Imagine Judy going to work tomorrow. The safety cover on the meat slicer is broken. She chops of her hand and can’t work in her chosen area ever again. The employer argues that they tried to fix the cover several times but couldn’t. Last month they lost a few thousand dollars and simply couldn’t afford to fix the cover. The judge takes a look at the case and says OK .. you did everything within reason and if you fixed it you would have gone out of business. Case dismissed.  Meanwhile Judy is left waving her stump in  a pathetic effort to remind everyone that she was the victim .. “WHAT ABOUT ME” – she cries. Too bad – money and profit comes first.

Of course this scenario is unlikely to happen in Australia or any other developed countries. Employers KNOW that if they break OHS laws they face big fines and are LIKELY to make sure the workplace is as safe as it possibly can be. Random spot inspections from OHS authorities serve to keep employers on their toes. In the case of injury workers compensation is likely to support workers like Judy. Admittedly there is no compensation for the loss of her hand but at least there is help.

Did you know that the Cinema industry have applied to the Australian Human Rights Commission for an exemption for another 2.5 years from increasing cinema captioning. Arts Access Victoria  put out a media release today imploring all and sundry to reject their application for exemption. Arts Access Victoria provided figures that showed that at current rates of progress it will be 1000 years before the deaf get full captioned access to cinemas. An absurd state of affairs.

In 2004, for example, Greater Union Cinemas posted a net profit of $52 million. Healthy by any standards yet it will not commit to any substantial increase in captioned cinema. We deaf people are expected to say thank you very much for whatever paltry handout we get and then accept this as our lot for the next three years. Imagine if we had Discrimination Standards similar to OHS laws whereby the standard was that  all Multiplex Cinemas must commit to at least 1 captioned session of EVERY movie per day including at least four peak time showings per week.  If they don’t then they face huge fines or six months in jail. (Ok Jail might be a bit extreme.) I bet you they would comply quick sharp.

Imagine if there were disrimination inspectors. At random they visit schools or workplaces.  They ask to see disability action plans, they check for accessible formats for information, they check if all meetings are interpreted for deaf participants and so on. If you don’t comply .. Fines. And what is more there are no excuses! Organisations have a responsibility to KNOW. Just like with safety.

Imagine with DVDs if we have a law that says EVERY DVD will be captioned … no excuses. $10 000 fines for distributors that don’t comply. Every DVD checked by the inspectors … No captions then face the consequences! Would they comply? HO HO HO HO .. you bet they would.

Legislating for discrimination in the same way as OHS is not hard. You just recognise that people who are deaf or have disabilities are active and contributing members of our society. You recognise that discrimination, like injuries in the work place, is preventable and abhorrent and you draft laws with punch that protect and prescribe what must happen. Enough of this Reasonable Adjustments crap … Enough of unjustifiable hardship nonsense – if safety can be dictated and prescribed then why not discrimination laws. Its not hard and it is not as far fetched as it seems!


communication(1)… Every word like an unnecessary stain on silence and nothingness . Samual Beckett.  Beckett could well have been foreseeing Facebook because many would say that this quote describes Facebook to a tee . There are cynics of Facebook, and I am one sometimes, who believe that Facebook is nothing more than inane drivel. Often it is but it is also hellish fun and it has done something that we cant do fully  in real life. It has bridged the gap between  hearing people and deaf people.

I guess this is truer for those deaf who have a good grasp of the English language and who can use text easily. Nevertheless hearing and deaf, through Facebook, communicate and interact as if their are no communication barriers. There is no broken sign language or exaggerated lip movements. No please repeat that, no pretending you have got the joke and laughing along so as to not look like a miserable bastard .. it’s just people interacting, sharing loving and laughing together at will.

The truth is that Facebook mirrors real life. Those people  who say, me included, that Facebook is inane drivel need to look back at their last face to face conversation. They would be hard pressed to remember what it was. Mine was talking about the relative merits of Carlton Cole and Zavron Hines with my son. This is serious stuff. One is a six foot three centre forward with pace and strength to burn, the other is a short  zippy right half with an eye for goal. They balance the team wonderfully. Important stuff this!!!

Meanwhile on Facebook my wife has announced she has hurt her finger at netball. This is, of course, something we all really needed to know.  We just could not survive not knowing. Somehow the announcement has sent people off on tangents. Brendan has started talking Arabic, my wife has replied in French, Colleen has shared that she didn’t like her French teacher while I have responded to Brendan that he is trying to get Colleen in the sack. Inane drivel, funny drivel .. pointless .. but no more pointless than my discussion with my son on the relative merits of two West Ham players.

On Facebook I can meet virtually anyone who has a good grasp of English and start communicating with them at will. I can do this through the chat feature or I can play on the status updates. I can share wit and wisdom at will. Hearing friends who know how will sometimes caption the videos they put up so that I miss out on nothing.  It’s almost a perfect virtual world. Almost because I can not share in the audio and the music but no matter,  I can interact fluently anytime.

I can’t do this in my real world. I can’t walk into a pub and start a conversation with someone at the bar. Well I can, but chances are it will be stilted. Chances are that the conversation will stop and start. If I meet someone I would hope to hell that there wasn’t anyone with them so that I could just focus on that one person instead of trying to follow a conversation with multiple participants.

We deafies from hearing families all dread the family reunions. Where everyone is laughing and joking and we have to hope that someone will cue us into the joke. Where auntie Martha with her moustache that  makes her impossible to lipread insists on being the only person that will talk to you. We indulge the family, do our bit and go home. Usually exhausted at the trials of trying to be part of the group.

But on Facebook I meet people and have virtual dinner parties. We link up on Yahoo messenger and  all chat and joke at will. No one is left out. We post pictures of our food. Share videos  and photos. We have little asides with individual members of the group . We share, laugh and sometimes cry. It takes us away from the constant struggle to be included and lets us experience something that is often not possible in the real world. All praise Facebook – for all its faults it means that for the deaf the virtual is often better than the real reality!!


FrustratedWomanI  have written about this before, and I will write about it again because it frustrates the hell out of me. Namely  Australia’s deafness sector and Australia’s disability discrimination laws. The sector because it is over represented  by a myriad of organisations who work at tangents to each other. The discrimination laws because they are putrid bags of nothing that require us to complain to get anything changed. Putrid because the moment anyone complains against an organisation it immediately creates a putrid air of non-cooperation to the point that it becomes a cesspool of bad blood where there has to be a winner and a loser.

It is frustrating because complain is all that deaf people and the sector seem to do.   Apparently at a recent Government enquiry into deafness one guy, to the embarrassment of the deafness sector,  told the enquiry that Australia had many deafness sector organisations  -“And they all hate each other.”  Although the Government enquiry was probably not the best place to air this opinion he probably isn’t too far off the mark.

Take for example the  bun fight that happened between Deaf Can Do and the National Auslan Booking Service this year in South Australia. It required the intervention of Deaf Australia. Traditionally, although it seems to be improving, Deaf Australia and Deafness Forum have not been the best of buddies and continue to eye each other with a degree of mistrust. More recently there was an alleged disagreement between two organisations where one took a significant bequest from another deafness organisation because the bequester had not realised there had been a change in the targeted organisations name. This latter example apparently ended up in court.

A few years ago there was also the bizarre situation of a Government funded organisation virtually stealing the business name of another. The established service was known as Hearing Solutions while the new service called itself  Hearing Loss Solutions. When approached about the similarities in the names the new service could not or would not see how consumers might be confused. In a bizarre twist the new service offered virtually the same service as the established one and the two service providers were located no more than five minutes apart in the CBD.  Our deafness sector is often its own worse enemy.

It seems all we can do in the deafness area is complain …and I am well aware this is exactly what I am doing now, just in case you wish to point this out to me.  When we are not complaining amongst ourselves we have to complain about discrimination because this is the only way to make Australia’s discrimination laws work. At a recent meeting one hearing impaired woman said that she dare not make any more complaints because she had so many in the pipeline. This was in regard to a complaint about captions on DVDs. My own wife feels that she sticks out like a sore thumb at work because the only way to improve access is to constantly complain about the lack of it. It wears you down in the end.

But that’s the lot of the Deaf  and people with a disability in Australia.  If they feel they are being discriminated against they have to first complain to the Australian Human Rights Commission. The Human Rights Commission will then attempt to resolve the complaint.  If they cannot, the next option is the courts. Usually everything just stops there because there are few willing to risk their house on losing a court case even when it is clear they are being discriminated against.

Australia’s discrimination law does not tell you what you must do or not do in terms of discrimination .. it just says discrimination is illegal. Other laws say dont kill or dont steal or go to jail. Australia’s disability discrimmination laws just say dont discriminate unless it’s within reason! If an individual feels they are discriminated against they have to make a complaint. Then it’s in the lap of the gods .. they have to hope that the powers that be agree with them. And if they don’t then they have to risk tens and thousand of dollars on a court case that they might still lose. It’s crazy.

We Deaf people and our organisations often don’t help ourselves either. We often cant even agree what it is we will complain about or how we will complain. Take  the captioned cinema campaign. It’s been going on for years. Apparently one person has decreed that Rear Window Captioning is not wanted because some Deaf people don’t like to stand out in a cinema as the ones using the technology. For those that don’t know, RWC is technology that allows the watcher to view captions on a device that is attached to the seat in front of them. The alternative is to have open captions for all. The benefit of RWC is that not everyone has to watch the captions meaning the general public are not inconvenienced.  RWC potentially could mean that all movies could be captioned rather than just a select few put aside for Deaf people. So because one or two don’t like the idea of RWC the whole campaign to consider cinema captioning through RWC was, allegedly, dropped.  I would have thought captioning  any which way is what people would want but apparently, because a few sensitive souls don’t want to stand out, we all have to make do.

Feel like screaming? You’re not the only one! Join me its therapeutic. Suffice to say there has to be a better way than this!