It's All happening in Deafness

There is never a dull moment in deafness and at the moment, here in Australia, it is all happening. First we had the Cinema Captioning Campaign and a nationwide protest. Then we had the shock demise of Dering Employment, the British company that raised the hopes of everyone and fell apart in Australia  like a Flake chocolate bar. And then we had the likely demise of the grand concept of Deaf Services Australia with the joint CEO of Deaf Children Australia and Deaf Services Queensland resigning, although he remains at Deaf Children Australia. It is like a book you can not put down. Each day is like a page from a book and each page brings forward more excitement. Lord Byron wasn’t wrong when he said “The truth is stranger than fiction.”

Much has been written of the Dering and the captioning campaign in The Rebuttal lately. In the excitement of these two events the resignation of the Deaf Services Queensland CEO and its implications has slipped very much under the radar. A few years ago Deaf Services Queensland, then known as the Queensland Deaf Society, were in a bad way. Deaf Children Australia were branching out on an ambitious strategy to provide services all over Australia. Queensland was being targeted. As luck would have it Deaf Children Australia’s ambitions coincided with the old Queensland Deaf Societies problems. Somehow a partnership was struck and the Deaf Children Australia CEO became the joint CEO of both organisations.

Depending on who you believe, the Queensland Deaf Society were on the brink of extinction. They had massive debts. The new CEO tackled the problems head on. Over a period of years a number of sensible business decisions were made. Links with government were improved. Financially the ship was righted and the Queensland Deaf Society were saved. Hip Hip Hooray!

As luck would have it the Queensland Deaf Society problems coincided with the ambitions of Deaf Children Australia to establish Deaf Services Australia. It was almost a case of the strong  taking advantage of the weak. By establishing a partnership with Queensland Deaf Society the Deaf Services Australia concept had a platform to build on. Let’s not kid ourselves. Deaf Children Australia, with its concept of Deaf Services Australia, did not assists the Queensland Deaf Society out of the goodness of its heart. In many ways it was a bloodless coupe, the first step in achieving the dream of a Deaf Services Australia.

But what is, or was, the concept of Deaf Services Australia?  It was simply to have the deaf services organisations, the Deaf Societies, branded and operating under one banner. The idea is that as one organisation, with one fundraising and marketing structure and with a combined political strategy, Deaf Services Australia would have greater marketing and political power. In theory it is a great concept. Indeed Vision Australia and even The Guide Dogs Association have a similar strategy. However the Deaf Services Australia concept had a number of flaws.

Firstly it assumed that under one brand and one name that fundraising and marketing would be more successful. Again in theory this is good. But the reality is that deafness has never been a strong performer in fundraising. Research has shown that if you ask the public who they are most likely to give to in terms of fundraising, deafness consistently finishes at the bottom of the league table. Unlike blindness, physical disabilities or even the homeless, causes which are visual and where it can easily be shown how the fundraising  dollar makes a difference, deafness and its impact is hard to understand. Fundraisers consistently fail to show how the fundraising dollar will make a difference to deafness in a way that makes the general public respond with the level of donations required. The concept of one brand, one name, one market is admirable but it failed to address the public perceptions of deafness and show value for the dollar given.

The Deaf Services Australia concept also failed to take on board the political landscape of deafness.  Deaf societies in Australia are funded at a state level.  Having a National Deaf Society is all well and good but each Deaf society relies on funding from the State Governments. Different states fund to different levels. Unless you address the discrepancy of funding from state to state the concept of a national organisation for deafness cannot work.  Can you imagine the uproar if NSW was getting ten times the funding per consumer compared to Tasmania. Consumers would rightly be demanding equal services .. without equal services the concept of as national organisation is a farce.

There is then the case of Deaf Children Australia (DCA). DCA is a relatively wealthy organisation. It has the capacity to support deaf children in Victoria to a very high level. The Deaf Services Australia concept originated from DCA. What this meant was that seeding funding for the concept of Deaf Services Australia came from DCA finances. What this also meant is that funds that could be used well to service a smaller client base were being spread thinly to service a national concept that had not yet been shown to be viable. What is more, DCA were seemingly propping up organisations that were financially in the poo such as Queensland Deaf Society and later the Western Australian Deaf Society. The dilemma was  to either service the smaller market of Victoria well or try and service all of Australia in the hope that the Deaf Services Australia concept would take off. The risk was high.

Then there was the small matter of four state Deaf societies just not wanting to be involved. The NSW and Victorian Deaf Societies were simply not interested.  I know not of Tasmania.  The South Australia Deaf Society merged with Townsend House who in turn had no intention of joining the umbrella of Deaf Services Australia either. I know not of the reasons behind the reluctance to join but suspect it was a combination of mistrust, ego and, more likely, simply realising the concept of  Deaf Services Australia was not viable.  Without these four organisations the Deaf Services Australia empire could not be complete. It was dead in the water before it started.

Some six or so years after the concept of Deaf Services Australia started with the partnership between the Queensland Deaf Society and Deaf Children Australia the concept appears to be dead. The Queensland Deaf Society, now known as Deaf Services Queensland, has appointed its own interim CEO. It has made all the right noises about continuing the “partnership” with DCA but the reality is that Deaf Services Queensland is going it alone. How much money was wasted on the concept I do not know. Flights for staff, flights for the Board, accommodation, people hours, marketing etc etc … many thousands of dollars, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars, would have been spent on the concept. And to what gain? Well the Queensland Deaf Society survived and the Western Australian Deaf Society received a boost but did anything really change. For all the money that was spent the answer is quite simply no!

What next in the deafness area. Well rumour just in is that a certain organisation is trying to restructure how it pays interpreters in such a way that interpreters will be paid less. We hope its not true but there is never a dull moment in deafness so nothing will surprise us. Watch this space.

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11 thoughts on “It's All happening in Deafness

  1. You have to ask why so few deaf want to run their own show these days. There are hardly any that are CEO’s at all. Even the UK and American leading charities have no deaf at the head. Time to focus on why deaf are doing nothing rather than just apportioning blame hearing are doing it. Have ANY deaf stood for these jobs ?

  2. My friend .. here in Australia after years of being cast aside of the six major Deaf service providers … 3 now have Deaf people at the helm … slowly but surely we are getting there … you need to be a tad more positive 🙂

  3. I prefer shaming the deaf into action because they won’t get off their arse any other way here ! They won’t be ‘getting’ anywhere here because deaf charity work positions demand hearing (And a smattering of the welsh language too). unsurprisingly they are not ‘snowed under’ with deaf applicants ! I suppose Australian deaf care more… they don’t give a bugger here, a number agreed they didn’t WANT to work with other deaf people, go figure. I’m ultra positive but say it how it is without the flowers usually.

  4. And I should add to Gary’s comment there are at least two others who hold CEO positions in the non-Deaf sector so there is no reason why the deaf services providers cant employ them.

    In UK I know of one Deaf person (Aussie ex-pat)holding a CEO position.

    I can vouch that deaf people have applied for many of these CEO positions in Australia, but despite considerable qualifciations, extenstive experience, vast knowledge, ability to form wide range of relationships at all levels, track record of sucess, they continue to be overlooked due to being seen as an ‘adverse risk’ by certain people on the Board or who are in the position to make a decision.

    Also it is known sad fact that certain deaf people on certain boards have made efforts to block / dismiss capable deaf people for what can only be described as a fear of losing their own profile/reputation – anotherwords feel threatened. That is very sad.

    The real question should be asked here is why there are little to no senior deaf executives (eg general manager, deputy CEOs, COOs) within deaf service organisations as part of the sucession plan despite community demanding such for many years. Hearing CEOs / Board are to be held into account on this one.

    So your claim of deaf doing nothing is invalid. Maybe 10 years ago but now in the past 5-6 years.

  5. do you mean that damien lacey is back to just the DCA position only?

    anyway the Deaf ex-pat in London knew of a CEO DCD position being available in SA but decided not to apply for personal reasons. It could have been interesting if there was an outcome. the new CEO for DCD is a LOT older and will be at a retirement age in less than 4 years!

  6. I understand the frustration from the Deaf community in regards to the non-Deaf CEO person that runs the Deaf organisation inefficiently. There was one factor in the past board meetings I’ve attended to which bothers me mostly was the communication, even there’s some Deaf board members were sitting in the meetings. I’ve realised this is the “Great Wall of China” barrier and we couldn’t knock the Wall down even some of us in the Deaf community in Australia are highly qualified and professional workers are trying to knock them down too. Dean Barton-Smith mentioned in his previous comment “…deaf people have applied for many of these CEO positions in Australia, but despite considerable qualifications, extensive experience, vast knowledge, ability to form wide range of relationships at all levels, track record of success, they continue to be overlooked due to being seen as an ‘adverse risk’ by certain people on the Board or who are in the position to make a decision..” Unfortunately, this is probably true and it is like an “incurable” problem. There is no way in the world that we can resolve it. You have to remember the board management is sitting on top of the organisation which means, for example, you have to communicate with the organisation people from the lowest level to the highest level before you can make a decision.

    This is one of the reasons why I resigned from the board management after 10 years.

    There is one possible solution that could break the ice rather than resolving problems/issues. Here my view of summary points:

    * We need NEW PLAYERS to get into the Deaf sector that dealing with POWER STRUGGLES and the possible mergers.

    * They should be able to assist the Deaf sectors and its clients with increasing KNOWLEDGE of and INTEREST in Deaf services and community.

    * They should also offer the specialist expertise in media relations and contact with the public sector (funding providers)

    I believe those keys that could help to “ignore” or jump over the today problems/issues. It is like we are walking along the path of the Great Wall of China successfully without having knocking them down. Then one day we could have the Deaf CEO runs the Deaf organisation(s) efficiently. Get my emphasis?

  7. In the business world organisations have targeted recruitment. Rather than advertise they target people they know who have the skills they require. Deaf organisations need to have a little faith in the deaf professionals out there and target them for the leadership roles. Its not rocket science and the depth of talent amopng deaf professionals out there is truely outstanding. They certainly can do no worse than those that have gone before them.

  8. Charities in the UK recruit from the ‘3rd sector’ which is an ‘old boys network’ of failed HEARING executives from all over. While they post job adverts on deaf sites, it is clear, the qualifications required are not in the deaf domain.

    We are told NO deaf apply for these positions, we are not told WHY They don’t apply for them. I am convinced it is deaf apathy combined with a dedication to dis-empower the deaf from applying by operating a glass ceiling approach and not offering deaf people training to put them in the running.

    We are not snowed under with deaf charities here, only 2 count for anything. Without deaf being encouraged to gain the skills these jobs insist on, there can be no deaf in any executive position. One comment I read was “We don’t trust fellow deaf to do it… their history is in-fighting, they would bring down a charity in a short time if they ran it, near all their own ‘member-led’ groups are near bankrupt and failing. They would deplete the support network deaf need.” We just hope that is wrong.

  9. With regard to Derings attempt to establish a foothold in Australia the phrase ‘smoke and mirrors’ come to mind!

  10. MM some valid comments there. While there are some deafies who are their own worst enemies, hell a few say that I am too, we appear to be winning the battle in Australia. Slowly but surely. One of the hearing CEOs apparently and recently has been taken aback by the vocalism and assertiveness that currently exists among the deaf here in Oz. Long may it continue.

  11. Gotta be better than here where one hearing CEO newly employed said “I didn’t realise when I was speaking at a deaf/HoH meeting, some people cannot hear me…” I think a deaf or even a HoH person would have realised ! Perhaps I will emigrate to OZ…

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