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.