I am very fortunate to work where I do. I work at the University of Ballarat who are an organisation that not only believe in access but who actually provide it too. Whatever I need they will consider and if I say that it is necessary they will provide. Interpreters, captioning, technology – you name it they will ensure that all my access needs are met. It is interesting because they are not an organisation that is involved with disability as their core business BUT operate as if it actually is. They practice what they preach and I am the lucky beneficiary of their willingness to invest in my needs.
This is a far cry from some of our Deafness Sector organisations. I was horrified on the weekend to hear from a colleague that the Deafness sector organisation that he worked for would not provide for all his needs. As the story goes the organisation that he works for was willing to purchase a special Smart Phone so that he was able to carry out his business at the same level as his hearing peers. Purchasing the technology was done through the Federal Governments Workplace Modifications Scheme so in a sense it cost the organisation NOTHING!
Now a Smart Phone is a gadget that is more than a phone. It includes iphones and Blackberry phones in its family. These phones are a godsend for the deaf as they enable the deaf who rely on text based conversation to be mobile. Emails can be accessed virtually anywhere and the National Relay Service can be used to make phone calls. Instant messenger such as MSN and Yahoo can also be accessed to keep in contact with colleagues and clients alike. And of course they have the trusty old SMS. No longer do the deaf have to rely on others. Smart Phone technology allows them to operate equally with their hearing peers. Communication by the phone is no longer an issue.
Now I got my Smart Phone at work from the WorkPlace Modifications Scheme too. The proviso to get it was that my work had to agree to cover the cost of the plan that I needed to provide reasonable access to enable various functions such as the Internet, instant messenger and email. Good Internet mobile phone plans can be obtained if one shops around. For my work it was not an issue. I was told to find the plan I needed and all else would be covered. Of course my work has nothing to do with deafness but they show an awareness that would make any so called Deafness sector organisation proud.
Now my friend, who works for a Deafness sector organisation, was encouraged to get the Smart Phone through WorkPlace Modifications Scheme. The Smart Phone was dutifully acquired. Great stuff! Except the Deafness sector organisation refused to connect the Internet package to the phone. The reasoning being that if they did so for him, they would have to do it for all their staff and they could not afford too. Now readers will you please join me in banging your head against the wall in frustration.
I find myself at this point of this article rubbing my eyes and holding my head in frustration. Again one of our Deafness sector organisation bosses, one who has spent a proverbial lifetime in the field, can not or will not embrace or understand the concept of equity. Equity is that wonderful policy that aims to make the playing field fair so that all can compete. Sometimes to make things fair you have to invest in the required support. It is not about providing everyone with the same sort of support but it is about ensuring that everyone can do the tasks that they need to do. This means, particularly for the deaf professional, that a phone with the Internet is needed simply to enable independence and to utilise the skills of the deaf professional to the maximum.
Unfortunately, still, after decades in the field, people in the Deafness sector, the bosses, usually hearing, who should know better – DONT GET IT! Yet my boss who has nothing to do with deafness DOES!! I would like to blame ignorance but this particular Deafness sector boss has no such excuse. In fact he makes the ignorant seem enlightened. So incensed was I when I heard my friends story that I encouraged my friend to make a complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission because, in my view, my mate being denied full access to communication is clear cut discrimination. Just picture it – a deaf person taking a Deafness sector organisation to the Australian Human Rights Commission for discrimination. The embarrassment to the organisation would be immense!
My friend declined this avenue. He said that if he did so the backlash from his boss would not be worth it. He said it would just make his job really difficult. I pointed out that the Disability Discrimination Act also protected people with disabilities from such victimisation. My friend said that he was just fed up with having to complain all the time. The stress and the worry, he said, would just not be worth it. And so everything ends there.
I don’t blame my friend. Why should he have to complain. Why cant the law just offer him protection! It doesn’t so his boss, once again, gets away with it. And he will continue to get away with it until someone holds him accountable! But who will be brave enough to put it all on the line and take on the undoubted stress and hardship that will occur from taking the issue further. It is a national disgrace that society continues to walk all over deaf and disatvantaged Australians in this way
And so begins 2010. With another tale of woe. What will we do? Sit on it or fight it? We at The Rebuttal hope the energy that was shown at the end of 2009 for the Cinema captioning campaign spills over to other areas … The late Don Chipp of the defunct Australian Democrats once famously said .. “Keep the Bastards Honest” Well we don’t want just honesty we want accountability … We say KEEP THE BASTARDS ACCOUNTABLE in 2010!!