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.