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.

12 thoughts on “A Man of Integrity

  1. Ahhh – integrity its an interesting word in today’s society.

    Does it happen reguarly? Well frankly from what I have observed, no.

    Does it happen rarely? From what I see, few and far between.

    Well done Gary on another thought provoking article and for Colin for showing the guts to stand up and say “Hey this is not right and need to be corrected.” to the politican who suppose to know his stuff and be sensitive to the community itself.

    Unfortunately there are some small minded, blinkered people in our community who are quick to tell someone to ‘shut their trap’ when they speak out passionately about something that they know so much about and desire for a better future for the current and next generations. If these people are rocking the boat for the wrong reason – fair enough but back it up with facts. If they are rocking the boat for the right reason – then give them due credit and support them for they would not be raising something far deeper and disconcerting in this instance.

    Unfortunately these small minded people like to imply ‘character threat’ that if they continue to speak their minds their repuation is at risk. Just what crime can be committed when one speak out in the best interest of those that they serve? I thought we live in a free society with the right to speak out without fear or retribution? This is why we have Human Rights or have we suddenly become a communist country?

    What Colin did was brave and admirable. It would have not doubt assume that the environment of the room that day would have changed so quickly that you can almost hear (in this case feel) the pin drop on the floor.

    Integrity is a word I value. Intregity is a word I live by. Integrity is a word that I like to give our current leaders the opportunity to show it in the manner that Colin and Gary can show. Unfortunately, and unless I can be proven wrong, this wont happen because it will expose them of their flaws. Hence when they are questioned we need to ask, are they really giving us the answer they want us to hear or rather an answer we need to know?

    Integrity is what gets people to come together and build trust, loyalty and solidarity. Without integrity, you dont have much to gain and we wont move forward. A leader is not a leader without any followerrs. He/she need to lead by example. Speak the truth and if one has erred then be honourable to admit one’s fault. There’s no capital punishment in that. Your respect will only grow a notch or two.

    I even bet the so called leader and critics within our community wouldnt have the integrity to even respond let alone justify their actions to date and more so why they should mistreat certain individuals. I challenge them in this blog.

    I am proud of who I am and not afraid to speak my mind as so long as I know I have done my homework and speak with credibility. Unfortunately I cant show my name because of these very people who like to cause harm onto those who speak for what is right. For those who like to shoot these people down and gagged them, I say to you, you are either jealous or simply dont have the integrity to stand up for what you should be standing for or have the guts to take the bullets that will come your way. Leadership arises from the ability to stand up againist the almighty odds knowing true well that you will sustain some collateral damage but in the end the objectives will still be met.

    Furthermore, integrity ential the ability to be assertive, forthright and honest in regards to your position and any involvement you may have that could potentially position yourself or the organisation in an questionable manner. By being forthright and honest you cannot be judged and your true chracater will show through. I hope we can see more of this in the future.

    Hats off to you Colin. Hats off to you Gary for showing the guts to show what integrity means. To the knockers, well least said the better.

    (Now lets see if the critics and so called leaders will ever respond to this blog and show their true integrity. Nil repsonse will confirm what I have said above.)

  2. A man of great integrity is a rarity in today society.

    Sadly, many organisations or workplaces have rules set by the certain people that restrict the integrity itself.

    Here’s the quote:

    “Integrity has no need of rules.” Albert Camus (1913-1960)

    Cheers 🙂

  3. I too have experienced being told to butt out when there are issues that affects signing Deaf people.

    With my involvement in excess of 5 years with a particular organisation I stood up for the rights of signing Deaf people and eventually was the only Deaf person left on the board – I was asked to leave.

    The organisation organised a meeting/mini AGM – I was told by a hearing professional and a Deaf professional to butt out and that I was hindering the process, and really not on the same page as others. Just because I was passionate about Deaf issue and was concerned at the direction of organisation which was not doing much for signing Deaf people. The thing was the people who told me to butt out did not spend late nights meetings, given up weekends to attend to matters, organise recreation for Deaf/Hearing Impaired youth, over the five years… I and many others had put in the long hours.

    I continue to highligh the issues at many places that seems appropriate regardless of where a person thinks its not appropriate or not. It’s too easy not to say anything, but I choose not to sit back and be silent.

  4. Same here, signing deaf are too upfront for many systems and they don’t like it. Most charities concerned with them have removed them from office, preferring to work with go-betweens. Check most major systems,signing deaf have been sidelined for good. The issue is they are just backing off now, or moaning from the sidelines, when they should be kicking the doors down.

  5. Craig.. keep fighting for what is right rather than what people think you should be saying to please others.

    This article has been up a week now and no sight of any response from the critics and leaders who like to think otherwise. Have I we now proven our point?

    Do we really have real leaders with real integrity in Australia? Or are they really fence sitters who like to paint the real go getters , movers and shakers in a negative light because they are simply jealous of what they can really do and know what they are saying is right?

    • Its ok MM we all feel like a total arsehole from time to time. Its the motive that matters. 😀

  6. Craig…

    I refer to your comment “The organisation organised a meeting/mini AGM – I was told by a hearing professional and a Deaf professional to butt out and that I was hindering the process…”

    This is one of the great examples of the consumer problems. We couldn’t report this matter to the Consumer Affairs. This is because of the so called self-governance which means an association has rules in order to manage and administer its affairs. Consumer Affairs could not investigate the matters because it’s a simple breach of an association’s rules.

    However, I was told by someone that you need a stroke of genius to find a way to shake the very foundation of that organisation fell into pieces. If you know how, please keep it in your magic rabbit hat for the last resort. Cheers

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