A Man of Integrity

I have recently returned from the Deafness Forum Summit in Sydney. It was extremely successful. The highlight for me was the dinner where Caroline Conlon and Todd McKenney put on a wonderful show of singing and signing caberet. For me this was the most important part of the whole conference. The conference was largely dominated by technology and ways to alleviate hearing loss. This in itself is ok, but what Caroline( who is Deaf), and Todd (who is famous and hearing), did was bring Deaf issues and Auslan to the attention of everyone. And in a sea of “fix it” mentality, it was very much needed.

This is not a criticism of anyone; it is just to say that the information coming from the conference was largely unbalanced. As a board member of Deafness Forum I know this was not a deliberate ploy. It is just that many Deaf people mistrust Deafness Forum and opted to not participate. The Deaf community should be thankful that they were represented by the excellent and iconic Colin Allen at the conference. Alone he stood up for the Deaf community and its language in what was largely a pro-fix it atmosphere. His integrity and willingness to speak out, knowing that he would create waves, stamps him as a man of integrity.

Colin Allen is an icon of the Deaf community. Mr Allen doesn’t just fight for the recognition of Auslan in Australia; he fights for the recognition of ALL community sign languages and all over the world. He represented the World Federation of the Deaf during the development of the United Nations Convention of the Rights of People with a Disability. He was part of a delegation that ensured that the right to use sign language was recognised in several parts of this important document. Of course Australia has signed and ratified this document thus ensuring that sign language is recognised legally. What this basically means is that Deaf people in Australia, if they feel they are being denied access to their langauge in Australia, can take their complaints to the United Nations. A very powerful tool indeed.

In Australia, Colin’s tireless work for the Deaf community can be directly linked to the access that many of us now take for granted. His fight for the recognition of Auslan and the Deaf community is one of the  major reasons that we have such great access to sign language interpreters. At work, at university, at school, in the courts or for medical appointments – all of this is largely because of Colin’s committment to the cause. Certainly there were others, but Colin is among the most important of these lobbyists.

Paradoxically the hearing impaired community probably have a lot to thank Colin for as well. Auslan is a primary means for access to communication in many areas of society for Deaf people socially, educationally, medically or profesionally. At the Summit there was Live Captioning – indirectly Colin’s work has highlighted the need for ACCESS to information in all all areas of society for Deaf and hearing impaired people. Hearing impaired people have succesfully used Auslan as an exmple of the benefits of access to information. But for those that do not sign, Auslan is not an option. Captioning is the equivalent access. Yes, we have a lot to thank Colin for!

Colin Allen was virtually alone at the Summit waving the flag for Auslan. Thank God for that. Why? Because the Summit, politically, was a triumph for Deafness Forum. Bill Shorten opened the conference. John Howard spoke as Deafness Forum’s Ambassador. Other politicians presented papers on the work they were doing for Deafness Forum. Attendees were left in no doubt, Deafness Forum has CONNECTIONS and more than a little political clout. Enter Colin Allen.

This is where the Deaf community need to be thankful that Colin Allen attended the Summit. Whether you agree with Mr Allen’s politics or methods is not the issue. What is the issue is that Mr Allen has the strength and intergrity to stand up and represent the Deaf community and Auslan. He, along with Caroline Conlon and Todd McKenney made sure that the conference was aware and did not forget.

Who can forget when Colin got up and challenged Bill Shorten for failing to mention Auslan in his speech. Mr Shorten gave a very powerful speech. He unfortunately chose, largely, to use medical language in his approach. Time and time again he used the term impairment or language that highlighted deficiency. Even I cringed at the constant use of the negative terminology and I am very middle of the road on the issue. But the crowd loved it. Shorten spoke directly to the audience and he rarely used his notes. His knowledge, passion and committment could not be questioned. He had the crowd in the palm of his hand.

But Colin Allen was having none of it. He let Mr Shorten know, in no uncertain terms, that he was offended by the constant use of the term  impairment in his speech. He let Shorten know that the lack of acknowedgement of Auslan and the needs of Deaf people was unacceptable. And he was HEARD!

To Mr Shorten’s credit he did not take a backward step. He apologised and hit back with his own views. Shorten urged focus on ISSUES and not oversights. He reminded people that the Government could not respond to the needs  of the sector when it was receiving conflicting messages from the Deaf and disability activist. He urged unity.

I certainly agree with Shorten’s views but I am thankful that Mr Allen provided balance to the debate. After Shortens’s speech and Mr Allen’s protests, the attendees were abuzz. Many felt that Mr Allen had chosen the wrong platform to challenge Shorten. They felt that he had alienated people. BUT I have absolute admiration for what Mr Allen did. HE MADE PEOPLE TALK AND LISTEN!

What Mr Allen did was put Deaf issues on the agenda very early in the Summit and at a key moment. By speaking out when he did he brought attention to the issue of Auslan and the needs of the Deaf community in a way he would not have been able to do by making a silent protest in the background. Many said that Mr Allen was showcasing but I digress. What he did was make everyone stand up and take notice. He made everyone talk and debate. And believe me they were still talking about his one man protest at the end of the conference. It was an astute move on his part.

This is the strength of Colin Allen. He is not someone that worries too much about upsetting a few sensibilities. He has the integrity and strength to stand up for what he believes. How many people have the strength of character to do that? Too often in this area I see people who want to be everyone’s friend. They tell you what you want to hear, then tell other people completely different things. They will tell you, for example, hand on heart, that they support the fight to throw out the Cinema Industry’s application for exemption, whilst telling others that they think the campaign is wrong. In short they have no integrity.

Integrity is something Colin Allen has in spades – We, at The Rebuttal, salute him.

The First Victory

I love finding quotes on the Internet. Something happens that stirs my intellect and I like to see if other minds have thought along similar lines. What one finds is that their thought processes and feelings are very rarely unique. If you have thought it, you can bet that at some time in history its been thought before by someone, somewhere. Recently I have watched on as two of our peak bodies have squabbled. I have watched on as the masses made themselves heard on the cinema access issues but were ignored by our so called leaders. Of late I have thought much about leadership.I have questioned my own leadership and also the leaders around me.

Some guy, obviously famous, but who I have never heard of – Lao Tzu – said of leadership, “A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.” This quote struck me because it pretty much sums up the Cinema Access Campaign. One person spoke out on the AHRC website to protest the cinema industries application for exemption to Disability Discrimination complaints and a few hundred more followed. The end result of this first voice of protest was that last week the Australian Human Rights Commission threw out the Cinema Industries application for exemption. Whoever this person was is a true leader.

One would be hard pressed to remember who that first voice was but it does not matter. The voice of that person created momentum. Others came on board to add weight to the arguments. The emotions were stirred. The energy was created. In the end the result was a  massive win for the people – Deaf, deaf, hard of hearing, blind and vision impaired- who were offended and angered by the Cinema Industry’s inability, nae, unwillingness to recognise their right to access and, worse, to recognise the significant market that these people represent.

In winning this first battle for better access to the cinema we all had to make a sacrifice. The 35 cinemas that were going to be fitted out for captioning and audio description will now, in all probability,  not be fitted out. One can imagine that the Cinema industry will now  retreat, tail between its legs and in retaliation actually do less than they already are. Not that it was much anyway.

Another author, completely unknown to me -David Kenyon, said, ” Those things which are precious are saved only by sacrifice.” What is precious here is dignity. What is also precious is fairness. The people that protested in the Cinema campaign protested not so much for cinema access but for dignity and fairness. Australia’s hugely rich Big 4 cinemas were telling some 4 to 5 million Australian’s with a hearing or vision loss that they were a burden and not worth investing in. This is demonstrated by the fact that they were only willing to invest .0125 % of their total profit in creating access for this significant market.

These people sacrificed what paltry access they were being offered to send a message to the Big 4 cinemas, to send a message to the Australian Human Rights Commission and to send a message to society that they were fed up being ignored, that they were fed up of being treated like charity cases and that they would no longer be treated without dignity. The sacrifice was access to the cinema but only FOR NOW. The clear message is that it is time for the cinemas to take us all seriously because we are no longer going to be trodden all over. The real fight has just begun.

The real tragedy of all this is that our leaders in the sector actually ignored the overwhelming voice of the people it represented. Some of these leaders have now seen the light and are backing the masses but some still stubbornly refuse to acknowledge the clear message that the people that they represent are screaming – this message is that they want REAL ACCESS, they want REAL RECOGNITION of their rights and above all they want to be treated with DIGNITY. That this message was at first ignored by our leaders was and is a disgrace.

Oscar Wilde, who I actually know of, said, “Those who lead the people can only do so by following the mob.” It is a message that our leaders could do well to heed. This is not to say that the mob cant be wrong, it can, but to constantly deny  the voice of the mob is not democracy, its dictatorship.  And dictatorship, said Stephen Vizinczey,  “is a constant lecture in instructing you that your feelings, your thoughts and your desires are of no account, that you are a nobody and must live as your are told by other people who desire and think for you.” Just for the record, I don’t know who he is either!

Congratulations to all who were part of the Cinema Access Campaign. Your voice and your commitment could well be the changing of the guard!


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