The Last Post

The Cinemas have screwed up. The promised Caption Cinema roll out that was to commence on December 14th now has not happened. Apparently the cinemas discovered that watching captions with 3D movies leads to the watcher becoming sick. Not everyone, mind you, just some. So they decided that the technology was flawed and they needed to reconsider the roll out. Of course it is not just caption watchers that get sick from watching 3D movies. There are warnings that go out to pregnant women, the elderly and people who have epilepsy that watching 3D movies can make them ill. But of course this didn’t prevent cinemas rolling out 3D did it? They just issued a warning – watch at own risk. Presumably a pregnant woman in agony in a cinema or people throwing fits is no business of theirs. WATCH AT OWN RISK AND BE DONE WITH. (http://www.crunchgear.com/2010/05/26/video-bill-nye-the-science-guy-explains-why-3d-movies-can-make-you-sick/)

But we deafies that need to watch movies with captions are a fragile lot. So instead of rolling out captioning they have decided to proceed with caution for our own good. “We didn’t know people would get sick!” they claim. “It’s not our fault that the technology has let us down!” they proclaim. That most movies released are 2D and that sickness watching 3D movies is nothing new is not something that the cinema bosses highlight. And let’s not forget our Blind and vision impaired friends! Presumably they get sick listening to 3D movies through audio description so we have to delay the roll out of that too. Bottom line is that the excuse the cinemas are spouting to delay and water down the rollout of captions to cinemas is POPPYCOCK. It’s an excuse! They are throwing their toys out of the pram because they had their hands forced when nearly 500 people let the Australian Human Rights Commission know that what the cinemas were offering was pathetic and that they wanted more. And for once the Australian Human Rights Commission showed some teeth and told the cinemas that what they were offering was an insult and that they needed to do MORE! Now all of this seems to have been to no avail.

And you the consumer who are reading this – Did you know about this? Have you been informed? Have the organisations that represent you asked you what you feel about all this? At the time of writing Deafness Forum have just issued an explanation of what is happening through their One in Six newsletter. This is all fine but were you, the paying member, asked what you want? The answer is no, because it has been decided for you.

We were promised 14 captioned cinemas as the first stage of the Captiview roll out. There will now be just three. Apart from the health excuse it is understood that there are legal and contractual issues hindering the roll out too. But Deaf, hearing impaired, Blind and vision impaired were promised that the technology was THE ANSWER. And now at the final minute, with no prior warning, the cinemas are claiming circumstances beyond their control. Why was all of this communicated at the last minute? It seems to us that the Cinema bosses are not taking Deaf, hearing impaired, Blind and vision impaired customers seriously. Can you imagine them treating the general paying customer in this way? They would be in damage control!

Letting the cinema bosses water down the roll out of captioning and audio description has been touted as compromise. It is not compromise it is backing down! The excuses spouted by the cinemas simply do not hold water. The cinemas are disrespecting Deaf, hard of hearing, Blind and vision impaired people. And our representative organisations have rolled over like a dog wanting its tummy tickled. All of us deserve more RESPECT than this!

The Rebuttal, being the equivalent of Wikileaks, are letting you know. We are the Deafileaks of Australia and are letting you know for the last time ever what is happening. Yes folks this is the last post, the last Rebuttal ever. What will happen when The Rebuttal closes?  Who is going hold our representatives – THE GANG OF FIVE OR SIX (or maybe seven, occasionally 8 ) – to account? Who will be the people asking the hard questions? Who will take up the mantle?

At the time of writing The Rebuttal has produced in excess of 160 articles. Many of these are on the Blog. The Blog was made possible by Tony Nicholas who provided us with space on his web hosting, free of charge. Articles generally were produced in the E-zine format and then placed on the Blog. Sometimes they were just produced on the Blog and likewise we sometimes just produced the E-zine. There were, in fact, other articles that did not get past the editorial team. Sometimes because they were just plain rubbish and other times because they were a wee bit too controversial. (Hard to believe, but true. 😀 )

The Rebuttal was and still is popular. Indeed over 1500 responses in various shapes and sizes have been received by email and at the Blog. Some praising, some criticising and some just wanting to make sure they didn’t miss an edition. We regularly receive responses from the UK, the USA, New Zealand and Canada. Our articles are often linked to other sites such as the hugely popular Deaf Read.

The Blog remains extremely popular. In the last 12 months the site was visited   179 869 times. We know that people visit the site from all over the world. There were 289 389 page views. 3114 of those were classified as spammers. I am no expert in web hits and I know some of these hits are us putting up new articles and checking comments, but it seems a lot. It is something all of us on The Rebuttal team are rightfully proud of.

There is a misconception that The Rebuttal was all about attacking Deaf sector organisations. This is far from the truth. Some articles were designed to hold our Deaf sector organisations to account, there is no doubt, but many were simply about living life deaf. Some articles were angry, some were funny and some reduced the reader to tears. Some were political, some were celebrations of achievements and some were just written for the hell of it. Many were written by other contributors. Debbie Kennewell wrote about the joys of Facebook and its impact on the Deaf community. Elizabeth McCleod wrote about her experience of becoming deaf in adulthood. Rodney Adam and Sandra Hoopman contributed articles about education. Michael Uniake wrote about the cochlear implant. Shirley Stott Despoja wrote about deafness and bullying. These are just some of the contributors. The Rebuttal was never just about the four editors. It was for the Deaf sector and the community at large. And they used it, and we are so glad that they did.

But now it is over. For the last four years we four at The Rebuttal have taken praise and bullets alike. In fact in a recent job interview one of us was even asked what we would do with The Rebuttal if we won the job. We have been called saviours, we have been called smug and elitist and we have been called just plain old sh*t stirrers. The truth is we were just four people that cared and tried to create discussion and debate. Now it is someone else’s turn. Be quick because if the example of the cinema captioning is anything to go by The Rebuttal will be missed indeed! As William Faulkner once said, “Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world…would do this, it would change the earth.” Now it’s over to you. The Rebuttal is dead – long live The Rebuttal. Thank you all for your readership.

POSTSCRIPT

This last Rebuttal is very hard to write. The Rebuttal has been a joy to be involved in. It has been our pleasure to bring you a host of articles over the last 4 years.

Some of these articles were controversial and some were just about life. Some were written by others and not just the four editors. But always they were about deafness and demonstrated the frustration and often the richness of the deaf experience.

There is no doubt that The Rebuttal was sometimes a dog with a bone. We raised issues that others would not touch in public. The Deaf Services Australia concept was challenged as spreading resources too thin. The Townsend House and Deaf SA “partnership” was touted as really being a merger of the two organisations, much to their disdain. And now there is only one Board of Management. How right it seems we were.

In the Fragile State of Deaf Sport in Austraia we questioned the lack of funding for Deaf sport and whether Deaf Sport Australia were on the righ track. When the Auslan for Employment Scheme was released we were scathing of it. We called it bad policy, not the least because it ignored hearing impaired people who did not sign and who also had communication needs at work.

Did we have influence? We think we did. We were sometimes “summoned”. This is where an organisation would call us for a private chat. Usually to ask us to water down our views. We never did but what we did do was offer the Rebuttal for these “challenged” organisations to REBUT us and air their own views. Some did, while others chose to remain silent. More than one CEO contacted us to ask us to write about something they wanted to air but they felt that they could not because of their POSITION.

The Auslan for Employment Scheme was a constant thorn in our side. Originally it offered funding only for 12 months and it ignored the needs of hearing impaired people who could benefit from live remote captioning in the workplace.

We felt that our representatives had too quickly accepted what was on offer. We were loud and critical. We were asked to “hush” We were told it was a good start and to be thankful.

BUT bad policy is bad policy and if no one speaks out nothing gets heard. So speak out we did. Did we influence the issue? Who knows but it is interesting to note that the scheme now is ongoing and you can now claim the cost of live remote captioning through it as well. All we can say is that we said it first.

There were also attempts to censor us. We know of more than one occasion where a CEO contacted the CEO of another organisation to try and shut us up. We know one even approached their Board of Management with a view of giving us a legal warning but was reproached. We were lucky that we had “friends” and supporters and they warned us of many things. One of our favourite incidents was to be told to use a pseudonym so that our views could not be linked back to organisations we might be associated with. Yup! Openness and debate is often frowned upon.

All we ever tried to do was to create discussion and debate. We wanted The Rebuttal to be a tool where the status quo could be challenged. Most of all we wanted The Rebuttal to be for Deaf and hearing impaired people and to show deafness in all of its various forms – political, funny, sad and, most of all, just a way of life to be celebrated openly and with passion.

We hope that we have achieved this. This is the last Rebuttal. Farewell and thank you. The Rebuttal is dead –

Long live The Rebuttal!!

THE FINAL SAY

Marnie Kerridge – The Rebuttal has been both a bane and joy in my life. Difficult – in the time it takes to write, proofread and send out editions. Scary – in the fact that there were threats of litigation. Disturbing – to see how my family were treated by challenged organisations and individuals and how opportunities were quickly cut off for us.

Joyful – in seeing deaf issues finally getting a voice. Triumphant – that all organisations and individuals were put on notice and made to be accountable. Successful – that some issues educated the wider community.

The Rebuttal has been an important and integral part of the Deaf and hearing impaired sector. It is your turn to keep everyone on their toes and accountable. Don’t lie back and be subservient – you are worth the fight. Rebut!

Adam Brown – Wow! Has it really been 4 years already?!

It is with much sadness and regret that I reluctantly walk away from my editorial responsibilities at The “Butt, as it has become fondly known. The emptiness that I feel is akin to having buried one of my beloved children!

When I embarked on this venture with my fellow Editors we could not have possibly foreseen how successful and popular it would become. Whilst we have no doubt put some considerably stiff noses out of joint and smashed some to smithereens with our at times controversial and evocative style, I would like to earnestly thank our devoted readers for their continued encouragement and support as we have sought to bring pertinent Deaf and hearing impaired issues to the attention and conscience of the general public and powers-that-be.

It has been an enlightening and enriching experience, and I have been endlessly humbled by the many strangers that have approached me over the past 4 years to either encourage, rebut, debate or discuss the diverse points of view presented. Many of you have become dear friends, and I look forward to continuing these associations with you in the coming days as we reflect on the phenomenon that was “The Rebuttal.”

To Gary, Marnie, Dean I thank you sincerely for your warm friendship, advice and encouragement to “live a little”. I will miss the many laughs, stresses, debates and arguments that have ensued as we’ve raised against time to prepare articles for deadline.

At the end of the day when all is said and done, I hope that “The Rebuttal” has has demonstrated that there is a wealth of skill, knowledge and ability out there within the Deaf and hearing impaired community, and we truly do have the ability to evoke and provoke much needed change in deafness and hearing impairment services and supports, provided that we remain united and vocal in continuing to advocate passionately for our needs in these constantly changing and evolving times.

Stay strong!

Dean Barton-Smith – Dean was one of the major drivers of The Rebuttal. Recently Dean was elevated to President of the Australian Federation of Disability Organisations.

What this meant was that Dean was no longer in a position where he could make independent political comment such as that which is printed in The Rebuttal. As a result he reluctantly withdrew from his involvement.

Without Dean there would have been no Rebuttal. Thanks Dean for everything. We know as President of AFDO you will make sure the consumer, the little person, is heard and represented fairly!

Gary Kerridge – I think I’ve said enough already! KEEP YOUR VOICE LOUD!


AND FINALLY  THE PRESTIGOUS THE REBUTTAL AWARDS FOR 2010 GO TO !!!!!!!!! (Drum roll!!!)


The World War III Award! – This Goes to Deaf Children Australia and the Victorian College for The Deaf – for their very public stoush about the sale of land at the historic Bluestone building on St Kilda Road. They both claimed to have support from the Deaf community for their views. This was a furphy as the Deaf community is very much divided and mis-informed. We thinks the Deaf community are in Switzerland on the issue!

The Who Are You Award! – This goes with much fanfare to the BIG 4 Cinemas for their shoddy treatment of Deaf, hearing impaired, Blind and vision impaired people. They promised us captions and audio description by December on a large scale and now they are rolling out excuses for delay like there is no tomorrow. As far as they are concerned they wish we did not exist, we are such a burden. They may as well ask WHO ARE YOU??


The Members Dont Matter Award – This goes to our many representative organisations. Take your pick – Deaf Australia, Deafness Forum, Media Access Australia etc etc … For their shoddy treatment of Deaf and hearing impaired people in the Cinema Captioning Campaign. Nearly five hundred people wrote into the Australian Human Rights Commission and nearly all of those 500 people protested loudly at the captioning deal that our representative organisations had brokered for us.  Not good enough and MORE was the clear messsage. What did our representative organisations do? Supported the cinemas thats what. Showing us yet again that our hard earned membership dollar means nothing! ( by the way the finger in the award refers to what they gave to us not what we are giving to them. )

The Eddie McGuire Award – Eddie everywhere they call him in Australia. So called for his ability to be seen virtually everywhere.  This prestigous award goes to AI MEDIA!  The Deafness Forum Summit!    The Australian Caption Awards! Every five minutes on Facebook! The Inventors! Foxtel! Austar! – U name it they are there! They give a new meaning to the word SLICK!

The Showing The Way Award – There can only be one winner of this award and that is AUSLAN SERVICES! Not only did they win Interpreter Agency of the Year but they constantly give to and support the Deaf community in a way that puts our large Deaf support service agencies to shame. THEY GIVE! Not like a certain organisations that makes its members BEG! Take note and learn we say. Congratulations Auslan Services!

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An Ode to the Baird

John Logie Baird is a friend of the Deaf. Not that he had anything to do with the deaf but in inventing the system that led to television as we now know it  he set in motion a series of events that have created a situation in the present time where opportunities abound for deaf people like never before.

Baird probably had a shed out the back. He was probably a bloke, just like me, your mate or your husband who can be found out back in the shed playing with bits and pieces of motorbikes and wondering why there is a bolt left over after having just replaced the carby. Baird had an idea and started joining bits and pieces of wires together. No doubt he got this idea from the work of others.  But wherever he got the idea from one day he joined a wire together , tightened a bolt switched on and suddenly found that he could beam, across a room, an image of something onto a screen.

Of course Baird was qualified for the job of creating electrical things. He studied electrical engineering. Apparently during his life he had a number of failed agricultural ventures. He tried setting up business to produce honey and even fertiliser but all these ventures failed. Most likely because he wasn’t really into or qualified for agriculture. He was into electrical stuff. His networks and knowledge were all electrical. Somewhere along the line he realised this and focused on where his energies were most suited. When he stuck with what he knew he achieved amazing things.

Now I am no electrician and wouldn’t dream of working in the field but what Baird created seems, to my limited knowledge, to have led to an array of amazing inventions. Surely Baird’s early invention is directly associated with the computer monitor. Using Baird’s idea of beaming things through electrical whatnot’s to screens the amazing goings on of the computer can be seen on a screen. Did you know, for example, that Baird was also into fibre optics? Very soon the National Broadband Network will use fibre optics to bring super fast broadband to 98% of all Australian homes.

Through fibre optics we will be able to connect with each other through web-cams and see each other, presumably, crystal clear. Already Doctors all over the world use video conferencing to consult. In India, for example, specialist doctors link up with local GPs to hold consults with patients who cant get to their clinics. Apparently the specialist instructs the local GP what to do and look for while looking on through video conferencing.  In Australia, once the NBN is rolled out, this will be possible and all through the computer using web-cams. What is more, from what I am reading, through the NBN specialists will be able to measure things like heart rates and blood pressure on patients who are 1000’s of kms away. All of this because Baird somehow worked out how to send a television signal to a screen. (Yes, I am aware that we can also trace this back as far as Alexander Graham Bell and the telephone, but for the sake of the narrative I am sticking with Baird. And anyway Bell discovered the telephone by mistake while trying to invent a machine that would help his deaf mother speak.)

Why is all this relevant to the deaf? Well simply because through Baird’s idea of beaming up a motion picture through electrical impulses to  a screen we now are able to meet a variety of different communication needs of the Deaf. Lets take the example of Ai media and their captions to classrooms idea.  Simply though having an audio connection Ai Media can now provide deaf kids in the classroom with instant captioning and better access to learning. All the kids need is a laptop and from a destination in Sydney captions can be beamed to any classroom, anywhere in Australia.

Now I have no time for the cynics that say Ai media  are flogging themselves to death and becoming wealthy at the expense of the deaf. There is no such thing as a free lunch. If the owners of Ai media can make a buck and deaf kids can get a better education, that’s a good thing in my view. People need to get of their high horses. But still this goes all the way back to the humble John Logie Baird who worked out how to beam images through electrical impulses. Text or pictures, whats the difference? It’s all  beamed from one destination to another.

Last week I saved my work $1500 in interpreting simply because I was able to beam up an interpreter from Melbourne to remote Victoria on my laptop using free Skype software. I wrote about this in the last Rebuttal and since then I have had over ten meetings and only one of them failed and that was because my modem ran out of credit. Why cant we use this concept in the same way as Ai have with captioning and beam interpreters, properly qualified ones, to classrooms so deaf kids can have ready access to discussions? How long before universities catch on and beam interpreters up remotely to  lectures to save travel time and waste of interpreter time on the road? How long before deaf people take their laptops to the doctor and have their consult either captioned or interpreted on the screen? It’s all possible, and all thanks to the Baird.

The times they are a changing. All we have to do is move with them. Hats off to the Baird whose vision started it all. He truly is a friend of the deaf.

Read My Shorts: SPREAD THE WORD

Now in it’s fourth week, READ MY SHORTS continues to entertain audiences with its variety. Last Monday saw a film THE MONEY, which was a hearing take on a Deaf joke about sign language interpreters.

READ MY SHORTS is the only film festival that has been set up from the outset with access for Deaf and Hearing Impaired audiences in mind. More than this, it is a festival that allows Deaf and Hearing Impaired people to meet the filmmakers, participate in Question and Answers sessions, and participate in mainstream cultural offerings.

All films in the festival are captioned, and an Auslan Interpreter will be present for the Q & A sessions.

There will be: Six Short Films per night, Guest Speakers, Q & As with the “auteurs”, Audience choice spot prize, a Critic’s Choice Award which goes into season filmmakers prize draw, and an Industry Panel chaired by legends Jolene Langland, IRENE WALLS, Martin Simpson and Tracy Savage.

It will be running for three more weeks: Monday 29th November, 6th December, and the Finals night, 13th December.

So, COME ALONG AND BRING YOUR FRIENDS

Time: 7 – 9.30pm

Where: Royal Albert Hotel, 140 Commonwealth St, Surry Hills, Sydney, NSW, Australia

For more information visit out website Read My Shorts/ or contact us by email readmyshortsfilmfestival@gmail.com

GLOBAL FINANCES – By Paul Bartlett, Oz Expat in the UK

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock the past few years the fact that the world’s in the midst of a global financial meltdown must not have escaped your attention. I’m sure that you must be wondering what this has to do with deaf people? My response is – plenty!

Like other minorities and disadvantaged groups, deaf people rank pretty lowly in the order of priorities with governments all around the world. As some of you would know, the number one priority is paying off international debts; you only need to look at countries like Somalia and Chad to see this. Food and shelter for citizens come pretty low down the order, and human rights come even lower.

Any spare cash is used for meeting the needs of the disadvantaged whoever they may be, and bugger all, all those human rights issues. Now I have painted some sort of picture, how do deaf people come into this? I will go through several issues one by one.

Access rights.

It is expensive to ensure that deaf people have equitable access to the main language in any country. In Australia this is English and access comes in the form of Auslan Interpreters, telephone relay services, subtitled TV, captioned movies and theatre and so-on. Very few deaf people, if any at all, have any political influence around the world and those deaf politicians in other countries that you have read of have no real political clout.

The past few decades Governments have been putting more and more funds aside to ensure that access rights of deaf people are being met, and they are hoping to get something in return in the form of extra income in the form of taxes, but I cannot see how there can be any balance of payments here. Now that governments have smaller budgets, and don’t tell me that growing GDPs equals bigger budgets, this will be one of the first cutbacks to make, especially when ins don’t equal outs for them.

As long as the international financial uncertainly continues we will see access rights slowly being eroded around the world, especially government sponsored access. Also free legal services will experience cut backs so unless you have oodles of money it will be very difficult finding a free legal aid service to support your suit if you wish to bring one against somebody.

Education.

Deaf ed is expensive. All those specially trained teachers of the deaf. All those speech therapists. All those educational psychologists. All those educational service case managers. All those communication support personnel. All those hearing aids and other listening devices and so-on. Hearing children don’t require all that. Also what additional income do the governments get from spending big on deaf kids? A little in extra taxes gained maybe but like above, no balance of payments here.

Deaf ed is going to be a victim of the GFC whether we like it or not.

Services.

These can be any government-sponsored service for deaf people. Funding for deaf charities. Social workers who can sign. Funds for community centres. Funding for employment services. The money pot is going to dry up over the next few years and services are going to be increasingly prioritised, with a greater percentage of funds set aside for real emergencies i.e. life/death situations. The solution for governments here is to fund either mainstream services or multi-discipline ones. Ring-fencing funding for deaf people is going to be less of a priority for a while. So services and organisations for deaf people are going to feel the pinch in the coming years.

I could go on and on here with other examples but what’s the point. More pertinently, what can you do and what is the way forward?

Advocacy organisations need to put forth tailor-made arguments in light of these circumstances supporting their cause. There needs to be less emphasis on human rights and equality issues and more on the benefits to the governments and the wider community as a whole. For example organisations could argue that there is huge potential out there for deaf people to generate extra income for the government in the form of taxes, i.e. income tax, GST and VAT and others.

Talk also about integration within the wider community, how better funding for deaf people will lead to a more integrated community. And better integration equals less crime and violence and so-on. Use the same arguments ethnic minority groups use to prevent ethnic violence by community education. Exploit the growing number of older people becoming deaf. Baby boomers born in the early 1950s are now around the 60 mark and many of them are losing their hearing. Argue that the incidence of deafness is on the increase and any funding for deafness will see a profitable return. Forget about the deaf/hard of hearing dichotomy, there are more important issues at stake now. Also due to the evolution of technology there are now cheaper ways of providing communication support i.e. video relay interpreting and

I don’t want to come across as being fatalistic, all I want to do is to say to everyone that there are other ways of ensuring that our rights as deaf people can be protected and there are other ways of approaching this. Arguments we have used in the past hold lesser validity these days and we can applurselves on the progress we have made over the past 30 or so years. But at the same time we need to be realistic.

I Remember the Time …..

You begin to realise you are getting old when you are sitting among friends or gazing absently into the distance and you paraphrase most of your thoughts or utterances with, “I remember the time….” And so it was last week when I set up my laptop for a meeting and beamed up the lovely Nic from Auslan Services through Skype to interpret for me. I was 150 kms from Melbourne and until then I had to get my interpreters from Melbourne. With travel time and kilometres on the car the cost could be nearly $1000. The further you are from Melbourne the more it costs. So it was not surprising that the first utterance that came from my mouth was, as my bemused colleague looked on at the gadgetry and was asked to don a headset, “…..I remember the time.”

A little over 20 years ago if I needed communication support I had to rely on an empathetic colleague. That colleague was usually someone who could either sign or was prepared to take notes for me. There were very few qualified interpreters and I took what I could. Often to deal with phone calls a colleague would take the call and relay short messages to me while covering the mouth piece. Not that they had the time, they just did what they had to do so that I could do my job.

When I started work the TTY had been in Australia for some time. It was a wonderful tool if you could afford it. Back then it cost as much as a decent television does now. It was only useful if someone at the other end had a TTY. If they did not then it was back to finding someone to relay messages for you. And then in 1995 they finally introduced the National Relay Service. I remember that fateful very first day when I got set to make my first official work call through the new NRS. What a downer that was because the system crashed and we all had to wait til the next day. Later that year I arranged a date over the phone for the first time through the Relay Service. WOOOOO HOOOOO was I beginning to live life!

And here I was a little over 20 years later in 2010. I was 150 kms from Melbourne. I had my spanking new laptop purchased by the Government. I was switching on my spanking new mobile modem that was also purchased by the Government. This laptop and modem were beaming up the lovely Nic from Auslan Services to interpret for me, also paid for by the Government. At that moment I was literally gobsmacked.

Less than five years ago if I wanted interpreters in remote areas I had to pay for them from my program budget. It’s not a vast budget and I have to use it to service half of Victoria. As much as three quarters of that budget was going to interpreting. For me to get two interpreters to Warrnambool, just under 300 kms from Melbourne for a basic two hour meeting cost me over $2000. I was lucky I was on a Government funded program and had an empathetic employer because if I had not, I have no doubt I would be on the dole.

Just for a little moment as Nic interpreted I was proud, simply because I had pushed hard for this solution to the problem. I, with many others, have been advocating technology as a solution to distance and remoteness for the last decade. I am not ashamed to say that as Nic began to interpret for me I was a tad emotional. (I hope I hid it well.)

Just last week my wife, who is deaf and a teacher of the deaf, supported a student 200 kms away through Oovoo. She did this on a post office issued Vodaphone Prepaid Mobile Modem and a little notebook that cost $366. She was able to converse via Oovoo in sign language to the student for over an hour. If she had wished she could have transferred documents via Oovoo. She could have received written work from the student and provided feedback. She could have supported the student’s teacher with advice using the text facility of Ovoo without the need to spend hours driving on the road. AND she did this out of hers and my pocket. Why? Well it seems because  the powers that be are not yet with it. There are solutions to issues and cheap ones too. I cannot understand why people are dilly dallying. “I remember the time…..”

And just two weeks ago a friend invited me over for a BBQ. They were showing off their new IPhone 4. They were excited about the new Facetime application.  If another person has an Iphone 4 and there is a wireless internet network that the IPhone can log into – crystal clear on the IPhone you can see each other well enough to converse via sign language or interpret. Technically, rather than having to lug around a laptop and a modem, I could use this medium for my interpreting needs. Sure it’s limited by the need of a wireless network BUT consider this? If you are logging into a wireless network you have no need to pay for expensive phone data plans to access the service. I remember the time when a girl put her phone number in my back pocket and my cousin called her pretending to be me because I was too embarrassed to tell her I was Deaf … Yes indeed I am getting old – I would never do that now (Being married is part of the reason)

Why are we not using this simple technology to provide counselling services or early intervention support to parents of deaf kids? This sort of stuff is particularly useful if you are living in rural and remote areas or if you have the issue of transport or childcare. Using a simple laptop and Skype or Oovoo it is possible to provide good quality support. Less travel time, more people time, less CO2 in the air. All the costs of getting the right technology, and these costs are absolutely minimal, would be offset by the reduction of costs in delivering service. All it takes is vision and a willingness to give things a go.

Our current Labor/Bits and Pieces Government is on the ball with technology. It virtually won the election on the National Broadband Network (NBN) issue and superfast internet. The two independents that eventually gave Labor power listed NBN as one of the major reasons they supported Labor. If there is one problem with Skype and Oovoo it is that it can vary in quality. The NBN will put paid to that. And did you know about the Digital Education Revolution (DER)? The Labor Government has provided 2.4 billion dollars over seven years as part for the DER. Any one providing support to deaf people in education needs to look this up and tap into it, Check it out on http://www.deewr.gov.au/Schooling/DigitalEducationRevolution/Pages/default.aspx

It is mind-blowing just how far we have come in terms of communication and technology. More importantly this technology has opened doors for the deaf that we would not have thought possible even 5 years ago. I could and should have mentioned captioned telephony too – space does not permit – but it is another important development. Yes I remember the time when technology was what prevented inclusion of deaf people in many facets of society, the humble telephone was the start of it all. Not now – not ever again. I am proud to say that I played my part in the revolution – Now YOU the reader must get out there and make it all happen. Show your boss, your colleagues or your teacher this article – the world is your oyster.

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Arthur C Clarke

Good Old Adelaide

Adelaide is my home. I lived there for nearly all my childhood and a large slab of my adult life. Given a choice I would call Adelaide home. My recent holiday to Canada, staying in Calgary, reminded me very much of Adelaide. Calgary is very small, only 1.2million people live there. It is very clean with wide open spaces and streets. There is an almost complete absence of a rail networks in Calgary, not unlike Adelaide, so ugly criss-crossing rail-yards do not exist. Apart from my childhood Adelaide is where I started my working life. My career as I know it began at the then Royal South Australian Deaf Society, now known as Deaf Can Do. I Always take a keen interest in what is happening in Adelaide particularly my beloved Adelaide Crows and the Deaf Society, the hallowed 262. (So called because the address is 262 South Terrace.)

So it was with interest last week that I received an email about what is happening at Deaf Can Do.  The Rebuttal has enjoyed a rather frosty relationship with Deaf Can Do. Previously known as Deaf SA the organisation nearly folded a few years back. A number of failed business initiatives and constant cuts in government funding had seen the assets of the organisation rapidly whittled away. As a last resort to survive they asked Townsend House to form a partnership where they shared administration, the CEO and fundraising initiatives. At the time there was great concern that Deaf SA would be swallowed up by Townsend House and control over assets such as the iconic 262 would be lost.

Over time Deaf SA changed its name to Deaf Can Do. The Rebuttal received many emails from Deaf residents of SA who complained that they had not been consulted about the name change. Many commented that they found the name patronising and one wag (not us) mockingly coined the phrase Deaf Can’t Do. The logo of Deaf SA, which was stylised hands in tune with sign language, was changed to a butterfly that we at The Rebuttal compared to a squashed butterfly on a windscreen. We called it road kill. More to the point we suggested that what Townsend House were doing was silently and bloodlessly taking over Deaf SA by naming it Deaf Can Do, in line with their children services Can Do 4 Kids. This was vehemently denied by the then CEO and also the President of Deaf Can Do. Nevertheless we urged the Deaf community of SA to remain diligent and to ensure that their control of Deaf community historical property, namely 262, was not lost.

Later The Rebuttal wrote  a strong article criticising fund-raising methods of a sensory organisation in SA. The gist of the article was that having Deafblind person, a very intelligent one at that, rattling a can for money in a shopping centre was not the sort of image that portrayed Deaf or Deafblind people in a positive way. The article , The Slums of Mumbiah, brought a stinging rebuke from the then Townsend House and Deaf Can Do CEO who outed his organisation as the one in question (it had not been named) and suggested we were taking away the right of the individual to chose how he wanted to be employed and that in doing so we were elitist and arrogant. Debate on this article continued for many weeks and responses were received from all over the world. The majority decrying such fund-raising practices.

As a result of The Rebuttal’s reporting on the issues the relationship with Deaf Can Do has been, as I said, frosty. So it was with interest that we read the open letter from Deaf Can Do’s current CEO, Judy Curran, to the Deaf community of South Australia. Previously Deaf Can Do and Townsend House had separate Boards of Management but shared one CEO. Now this has changed. They still the have one CEO and now also have only one Board of Management. The open letter from Judy Curran was explaining the new arrangement of having one Board of Management.

In her letter she explained the reasons behind having one Board of Management. She outlined the need for “integrated structures” and this could be achieved by having one Board of Management. What this means is that Deaf Can Do and Townsend House will no longer have separate Boards of Management. In essence, the one Board will oversee both organisations. The new structure will see two Advisory Committees established to advise the new Board of issues of importance. One will advise on issues related to policy in regard to Deaf Can Do, the other will focus on policy relating to young people with a sensory impairment. Presumably the Board will be guided in their decision making by these two Advisory Committees. The goal of this new structure is a more “unified organisation” and one that will lead to “Greater and more viable achievement” – quite how is not clear but that is the reasoning behind the decision.

The one Board of Management does make a lot of sense. Having two Boards of Management for what is, essentially, one entity was always something that was going to be difficult. Quite how it all worked these last few years I do not know. If one board made a decision that the other didn’t agree with, who had the the controlling decision. Was it Townsend House or was it Deaf Can Do?  As I said, I do not know, but it was potentially a messy arrangement. What this new arrangement also means, in our view anyway, is that Townsend House and Deaf Can Do are moving closer to becoming ONE organisation. It’s not quite there yet but it’s slowly moving, peacefully and bloodlessly along that path.  It is not a bad thing, but lets be honest, these two historical organisations Deaf Can Do and Townsend House, both with a rich history, are becoming one.

The major issue will be the power that the Advisory Committees have. Are they committees with clout? Or are they tokenistic committees that are set up to be seen as giving the Deaf community and associates of young people with a sensory disability, such as parents, a voice but, in reality, no control.  The proof will be in the pudding, but one hopes that these so called “Advisory Committees” have far more power than to just give advice. One would further hope that these “Advisory Committees”, presumably made up of grassroots stakeholders, would have an equal amount of say and control as do the Board of Management professionals that are often made up of accountants and medical minds. Only time will tell but someone needs to be asking these questions as the new structure is rolled out.

The positive of all of this is that it is all being communicated to the Deaf community. It was terrific that the new CEO took time to listen to the community about their concerns over the Deaf Can Do logo and involve them in the development of a new one. It is very clear that the Deaf community views were taken seriously and that every attempt will be made in the development of the new logo/s to incorporate the views of the Deaf community.  Real consultation is the best sign of respect and it certainly looks like this respect has been given. What we need now, if it hasn’t happened already, is for someone to translate all of this written communication into Auslan so everyone in the Deaf community has access to this vital and important information.

# In the original draft of this article we stated that there were separate CEOs for Deaf Can do and Townsend House … This was an error and we have since corrected it.

For the Love of It!

I have just stepped down after four years as President of Deaf Sport and Recreation Victoria (DSRV). I think the  best way to describe my involvement with DSRV is BUSY! In fact it often seemed like it was another part-time job. Despite this I enjoyed the involvement. Certainly the things that I learnt and the contacts that I made were invaluable. You never really do anything for nothing. There is always some sort of reward driving you on. Sometimes it is for the recognition, sometimes its for the skill development and at other times it is simply because it gives you a feel good factor. You would not want to do it for nothing, I can tell you that now, but the rewards go beyond the monetary.

The early days of my involvement in DSRV were particularly intense. I took over at a time when the organisation was perhaps at its lowest ebb. It was a once proud organisation that had its foundations demolished from underneath it. Previously it was  based at the old Victorian Deaf Society at Wellington Parade. The Victorian Deaf Society, for a number of valid reasons, sold the property and moved to modern offices. In doing so it sold the clubrooms and the spiritual home of DSRV. From having a clubroom, a bar, snooker tables and a central meeting place for Deaf community groups suddenly it had nothing. What is more it had one of its major fundraising revenues taken from it. It used to coordinate car parking at the premises when football and cricket was on at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. It was a nice little nest egg. When I worked  at the Victorian Deaf Society back in 1996 it used to appall me that certain hearing staff would complain about the car-parking because it messed up the lawns on the grounds – It was a small price to pay, in my view, as it was money that DSRV really needed.

But anyway the Victorian Deaf Society sold up and moved. DSRV had to up and move with it. I know not what happened but the potential windfall that should have eventuated from the Melbourne 2005 Deaf Olympics did not happen. This is despite DSRV, who were then known as The Victorian Deaf Sports and Social Club, playing a major role in winning the bid for Australia.  The assets from the old club, the money, the furniture, the snooker tables etc were somehow whittled away to the point that when I took over as President, DSRV was technically insolvent. The accounts were checked and despite having money in the bank it was worked out that the money in the bank would not have covered what was owed. In fact DSRV were $ 4000 in the red. What’s more the Victorian Deaf Society had, some years before, drastically cut its subsidy to the DSRV Coordinators wages. While it provided office space for DSRV it meant that DSRV had a large chunk of its revenue removed.

So the hard work began to resurrect the organisation.   A new board was recruited with a particular skill set. A new Coordinator was recruited. A wonderful 5 year plan that had previously been developed was scrapped and the organisation simply planned year by year to survive. The organisation was re-branded with a new logo. There was a focus not just on sport and recreation but also on health and well-being. An aggressive strategy of developing partnerships and reestablish trust with the Victorian Government was embarked on. Grants were applied for to give the organisation a  focus and to develop a track record of innovation and success. All of this was done with a Board of volunteers and a Coordinator who worked just 2 days a week, very much underpaid and who in reality often worked double that time. It required commitment, tenacity and not just a little bit of skill.

We certainly made mistakes along the way. But to make progress one needs to make mistakes. We certainly sometimes lost our desire and energy.  I, in the last year, was not particularly effective but the Board carried me along.  And there was conflict. An organisation, though, cannot operate without conflict. There has to be conflict. There has to be a robust exchange of ideas. Without it change cannot happen. That people are prepared to challenge and argue is a sign that they have passion and desire. John Dewey knew what he was talking about when he said. ”  Conflict is the gadfly of thought. It stirs us to observation and memory. It instigates to invention. It shocks us out of sheeplike passivity, and sets us at noting and contriving.

Today, despite having a large chunk of its revenue removed, DSRV is relatively healthy.  It, however, relies on grants. What it means is that it has very few assets. These grants, while they provide DSRV with an operational focus, have to be expended. Every year DSRV must hope that these grants are renewed because if they are not, the organisation will fold. It is a stressful existence.  It survives largely on the goodwill of its Board and the willingness of its Coordinator to put in the extra yards. Its survival is not helped by having support from organisations like Vicdeaf slowly whittled away.  Vicdeaf, for example, used to technically be the employer of the DSRV worker. The DSRV worker was on a Vicdeaf contract and Vicdeaf provided payroll support. Very early in my time as President Vicdeaf asked that DSRV set themselves up as the official employer of the Coordinator and removed payroll support. This meant that DSRV had to change how it supported its Coordinator. It also meant that somehow DSRV, with a group of volunteers had to process the Coordinator’s pay. Thankfully Auslan Services, a small family business, agreed to take over the payroll. If it had not the demands on the volunteer Board to process the Coordinator’s pay every fortnight with  tax, super and the like would have been immense. Vicdeaf do still support the Coordinator through a $5000 salary subsidy and by providing free office space. DSRV are grateful for that.

At one point in the last year I had to argue to try and retain some funding for DSRV. It was a relatively small amount but in perspective was 20% of the total finances that DSRV had in the bank at that time. DSRV had to argue strongly to retain that  funding. We pointed out, for example, that the Board were providing many thousands of dollars in volunteer support for DSRV.  Now if I were to charge DSRV at the hourly rate I am paid at present, and for the travel time and KMs it took to serve as President from Ballarat that is 110 kms from Melbourne, DSRV would owe me in excess of $50 000. Auslan Services have every right to charge for payroll but do not. Ryan Gook, Managing Director of Auslan Services, served on the Board and Auslan Services also provided financial input in the form of sponsorship. Penny Gillet, qualified physiotherapist, gave up her time every Wednesday for 12 weeks to coordinate the Healthy Body Image program for Young Deaf People. She wrote and successfully obtained the grant for this program and managed all of the funding. Vicki Li and Sarah Maree Gillepsie redesigned DSRV website free of charge. Normally this would have cost DSRV thousands of  dollars. DSRV receives many, many hours of free labour. I think people forget the commitment that is required for an organisation like DSRV to survive. I found it offensive, knowing what the Board provide, that more able organisations would even consider removing support and funding that is, quite frankly, essential for DSRV to survive.

There are other small Deaf community organisations that also face many challenges to survive. Last weekend I partook in the Victorian Deaf Golf Championships. Over thirty people took part. Accommodation for its members, trophies and dinner were all organised by this dedicated band of people. I recall a time where the Victorian Deaf Golf Club struggled to get more than four people to its golf days. Through the sheer hard work of its volunteer committee it has prospered and grown. It receives no funding whatsoever. Without the dedication of its volunteer committee it would have folded many years ago. Even in the bad times it took the efforts of a few dedicated people to keep it afloat. This is the story of many Deaf sporting and social groups. They etch out an existense on the minimal funding that they get from their membership fees and through fundraising events like BBQs at Bunnings.

My hat goes off to these people. I know first hand of the dedication and commitment that is required to keep these organisations afloat and it is immense. Less than a decade ago Victorian Deaf community groups could plan their meetings to coincide with the Friday Deaf Club at Wellington Parade. They would finish their meetings with a drink at the bar and a yarn in the club. Now this is all gone. They have to fight to get a meeting time at the John Lovett Centre. The lifts shut off at 6pm so that someone must wait downstairs with a swipe card to let attendees in.  It is totally souless. I think the late and great Deaf community advocate that the Centre is named after, John Lovett, would have been appalled. Times have changed for sure.

These organisations are the life blood of the Deaf community, without them there would be no community. The hard work of these dedicated volunteers needs to be given the recognition it deserves – Perhaps it should start with recognition and greater support from the bigger more wealthy organisations that have the capacity to do more. Think about it – I ask employees of  these organisations to consider why they are where they are today, why their salary is paid, why they have food on the table??? – The answer my friend is not, as Bob Dylan would say, blowing in the wind, the answer is DEAF PEOPLE! Remember that while you a sipping on that glass or Merlot – wont you!