LIFE

I was fortunate last week to fly First Class. I sit on a government committee that they deem to be so important that members fly First Class. For the pedantic, it’s Busimess Class. I have told te Government that I am happy to fly economy but they are having none of it. The flight to Brisbane set the tax payer back $1069 each way for a whopping $2038 round trip. Given that there are  15 people on the committee flying from as far away as Perth, this is one very expensive meeting. I am sure they have corporate rates but still the cost is enormous. So being me I pulled on some shorts a scruffy t-shirt and runners and set off for the journey. Hell it’s Business class, if you are going to be spoilt you may as well be relaxed. They serve you with real cutlery in Business Class … All except the knife. The knife is plastic. Supposedly to discourage would be terrorists. Quite absurd really because the fork is still metal and capable of just as much damage. But anyway I lapped up free Chivas and red wine and while I was at it stole a glance back at the plebs in economy. I allowed myself a wry grin as heads at the end of the plane bobbed up anxiously, no doubt starving and wondering when the food trolley was going to reach them. Business Class is oh so much more satisfying when you are not paying.  If you want to know why they cant pay for your Auslan interpreters at your TAFE course, well I reckon its cos people like me are scoffing Chivas on tax payer money that could be better directed elsewhere.

I must be getting old because lately I have been reflecting on life. I came to the conclusion that we deafies owe a lot to the Egyptians and even the stoneage cavemen. The cavemen, you see, were the first people to write. They didn’t write as we do today but they told stories through cave drawings. These cave drawings told the story of the hunt and everyday life of those times. Through these drawings humans began to realise that they could record and remember events. As time went on this evolved to more abstract symbols like the early  hieroglyphics of the Egyptians. The Egyptians then invented paper which led to things being recorded on paper, bound in books and read by the masses. Thousands of years later the human desire to record, remember and be entertained led to not just books but also theatre, television, computers AND – much to the delight of the deaf, captions. From cave drawings to captions, surely I am not the first person to make this connection?

It is not just captions but text in general. I live for text. SMS, MSN, YAHOO, captioned telephony, Facebook, the National Relay Service, Captions, Facebook, emails, the Internet and yes, did I mention, – Facebook. 95% of my life is spent reading text in one form or another. It’s a wonder that I do not yet need glasses but without doubt life is so much easier for me as a deaf person because of text!

And captions are my favourite. Especially television captions. Especially live captions. Live captions are funny. The mistakes they make are just hilarious sometimes. Live captioners have a special machine that helps them type fast by use of phonetics. Words are programmed in such a way that the captioner need only type in a few letters or a phonetic symbol and the whole word comes up on the screen. But sometimes they get it hilariously wrong.

As is usually the way when I am trying to remember funny errors on live captioning I can not, so I thought I would do a web search to see if anyone had recorded funny live captioning errors. The funniest I could come up with was this – Take a look at the picture. This error is but the tip of the ice-berg – believe me this is not an isolated error.

What the captioner meant to say was evacuating. But somehow, through a slip of the finger, the live caption came out  as, ejaculating. Of course it was a very serious story but the image of men in the middle of the road umm – well you know  – while a a house or something is going up in flames is guaranteed to send even the most prudish person into hysterical fits of laughter.

And sometimes the captions just freeze. Last week I was watching Australian Rules Football. Australians will know that Australian Rules Football is a very fast and rough game, not for the light hearted. A goal was scored and they cut to an Ad. When the Ads had finished the final Ad had a caption that froze on the screen – it said simply “Gentle Music”.  For hearing people who are not aware, captions also cue in sound effects. Obviously many deaf cant hear the sounds in the back ground so the captioner will let you know whether there is music going on or traffic sounds just so the deaf watcher can get a feel of what is happening. These captions often do not capture the  dramatics of the scene. For example in an early Star Wars movie,  when that big star explodes, the caption was “BANG”

Anyway, back to the AFL. The Ad is finished and we are back to the game. There is a goal mouth scramble ,  a player gets whacked in the back of the head and goes flying, another has his knee  busted and is carried of in obvious pain, there is an all in melee as  players let each other know that they are tougher than the other … all the while the frozen caption down the bottom says “Gentle Music.” Imagine turning on the television at that very moment and seeing this violent scene with the caption “Gentle Music”. Perhaps you had to be there but take my word for it – IT IS FUNNY!

Then there is of course. me and my wife trying to communicate. When you are tired and married to a deaf person you tend to be very sloppy in your communication. My wife gets quite irritable  when I misunderstand her  and visa versa. Last night my eldest had to watch and critically analyse the movie Hairspray. It started well – his first question to me was ” Why the hell is John Travolta in a dress, couldn’t they have used a proper female.” He had a point.  Anyway when the movie was over  he had to go and write it up for school the next day. He did this in the kitchen.

After about half an hour he comes in and says something to his mother. She was a tad cranky. She was not feeling well and had a bad bout of mouth ulcers. In comes the eldest and mutters a pearl of wisdom that I did not catch. The wife sent him on his way with a tirade that went something like .. “that’s irrelevant, stop wasting time get back and finish your homework.” Of course, as his his way the eldest has to respond, ” but but but but ….”  The wife was having none of this and sent him firmly on his way.

As an interested spectator of the exchange I asked the wife what was going on. She replied with something that looked like, ” He is just telling me about being cynical.” I of course needed to put in my two bobs worth and said something about the need for him to be “Skeptical” rather than cynical. The wife looked at me as if I was a complete moron but I insisted that  a good critic uses skepticism and to be cynical would not win the eldest any browny points with the teacher. The convo went on like this for a couple of minutes with the wife getting increasingly cranky with me. To cut a long story short the conversation ended with ” I didn’t say cynical  I said sequel”  The eldest had come in simply to tell us that there would be a sequel to Hairspray. The wife sent him on his way and told him to FOCUS! I of course misuderstood sequel for cynical. When I said cynical she thought I had said sequel. When misunderstandings happen like this it is mandatory to abuse each other a few times before you find out that you have actually misunderstood each other.  This we did – but to our credit once we realised the error we saw the funny side and had a good chuckle.

Being deaf is so much fun sometimes – That’s life 😀

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Train Wrecks

I am a mere passenger. I sit in my chair, carry out my duties for work and family man while the Deaf sector seemingly self destructs. It’s like a sedate drive in the country. Quiet winding roads, cows in the paddock, the odd kookaburra flying by while the mists hover enchantingly inches above the grass. All is right with the world and then one comes upon a train wreck, the illusion is shattered bringing one back to reality. In this case the train wreck is the Deaf sector. The Deaf sector at the moment seems to be a tragedy in motion, seemingly hell bent on self destruction.

It started with the stoush between Deafness Forum and Deaf Australia. Deafness Forum innocently prepared a policy paper focusing on recognising Auslan as an official language in Australia. The idea of the policy paper was to create discussion and debate on the merits of Auslan as an official language. It would mean that Auslan has legal status and would provide enormous benefits for Deaf Australians when they argue for access to Auslan in education, employment and everyday life. One would think the Deaf community, particularly Deaf Australia would embrace this – but NO!

What should have been embraced turned into an embarrassing public stoush. When a simple phone call to clarify the purpose of the discussion paper would have cleared things up Deaf Australia chose to publicly criticise Deafness Forum. They sent out a media release and they got the World Federation of the Deaf to do the same – quite simply they said to Deafness Forum,  Auslan is our territory – BACK OFF.

The public slanging match necessitated the Government getting involved. This, despite the Government, particularly Bill Shorten, consistently asking the sector to show solidarity. Parliamentary Secretary for Disability, Bill Shorten, must now mediate this very public falling out. It is totally embarrassing and Deaf and hearing impaired people just look on in bewilderment as our advocacy sector seemingly self destructs. The outcome could well be the end of both Deafness Forum and Deaf Australia as the Government seeks to streamline the advocacy sector. The message is work together or perish – a message that Deaf Australia continue to ignore. We are lucky that there is an election coming up as the Government, if they are returned to power, is unlikely to act until after the election.

In Tasmania we have lost Australia’s first Deaf sector CEO. Grant Roberts did not have his contract renewed. Diplomatic messages have been sent out stating that TasDeafhave decided to not renew his contract. The official line is that TasDeaf have made – ” the decision to restructure the organisation so that the role of CEO has greater duties and responsibilities in relation to the financial management and growth of the organisation.”  Given that the former CEO, Grant Roberts, navigated the organisation through turbulent times which included relocation of Tasdeaf and the selling of financially draining assets such as the Pleasant Pines facility, one would have thought that Mr Roberts had already demonstrated his capabilities in this area.  But, no, in their wisdom TasDeaf have decided that they need a FINANCIAL brain. Community awareness and understanding of the needs of Deaf people would seem to be a low priority, something Mr Roberts has in spades.

The Rebuttal understands that there was no one employed as an Accountant at Tasdeaf. Mr Roberts was a very much a CEO and a community worker as well. This was necessary because of the lack of resources, fiancial or otherwise, at his disposal. He did not have an accountant employed to manage the day to day finances and ensure Tasdeaf reduced it debt.  He was expected to be a jack of all trades. Consequently Mr Roberts has fallen on his sword. The Board of  TasDeaf have decreed that his achievements to date and his obvious drive for self improvement were not sufficient. Clearly there has been a lot going on in the background that people are not aware of but one would have hoped that TasDeaf would have given mr Roberts the opportunity to continue to develop his skills and drive TasDeaf forward.

Keeping in mind that the Tasmania signing community is about 60 to 80 widely dispersed people and with only two FTE AuslanInterpreters Mr Roberts had a very challenging job indeed. Instead, despite navigating TasDeaf through some tough times, Mr Roberts has been given the heave ho. In a further development Colin Allen, who is also Deaf, has been appointed as Acting CEO of Tasdeaf for two months. While Mr Allen is experienced, he would seem to have had no more financial experience than Mr Roberts, having been in his role at the Deaf Society of NSW less than a year. In fact the TasDeaf President has described Mr Allen’s appointment as – professional development for Mr Allen. The Rebuttal thinks Mr Allen is imminently qualified for the role but clearly much has been happening in the background. There are many questions left unanswered.

Queensland Deaf Services have an interim CEO, Brett Casey, who is Deaf. This came about after Deaf Services Queensland severed ties with Deaf Services Australia CEO, Damian Lacey. They are currently going through their selection process to appoint a new CEO. We believe that Mr Casey is immensely qualified for the job, and one hopes that Queensland Deaf Services will see fit to allow Mr Casey to continue, if Mr Casey has applied for the position. If they do not, it may be a double whammy for Deaf people – first Grant Roberts then Brett Casey.

If they do not appoint Mr Casey, all we will have left is Collin Allen as Acting CEO of Tasdeaf. – At least he is half a CEO.  At Vicdeaf, they actively provide opportunities for Deaf people. At last count they apparently employed 33 Deaf people including some in senior management – At least they are proactive in recognising the talents and benefits of providing opportunities to skilled Deaf people. The rest of the Deafness sector should take note.

And the carnage continues for the Deaf Services Australia empire. The grandiose scheme to have one organisation servicing the whole of Australia’s Deaf Community is at deaths door. Queensland Deaf Services severed ties with Deaf Services Australia in February despite making nice noises about – “continuing the partnership.” Rumours have it, unconfirmed, that the Western Australian Deaf Society, who are the last part of the Deaf Services Australia umbrella, is next on the chopping block. After several years and thousands upon thousands of dollars being spent on the concept,  it all seems to be over.

The penny has dropped that unless one can provide a consistent and even service all over Australia and a service that can incorporate the differing political landscape of each state it can not work. Money that could have been better spent on developing strong Victorian services has been spread too thinly. The concept was sound but the reality something different all together. In Victoria the Deaf services Australia ship is listing badly with several employees leaving the organisation in a very short time span. At least Queensland, having been in financial strife, came out of it stronger but overall the concept has provided no benefits and has been an enormous financial drain.

The destruction in the Deaf sector does not stop here. Apparently one accommodation service was so badly monitored that the accommodation was a health risk. the accommodation was unkempt and mouldy food found in the fridge. In another area staff have allegedly been dismissed for speaking out about service delivery and have even threatened strike action. Meanwhile Deaf and hearing impaired people look on in amazement as the damage from one endless train wreck after another means that much needed resources, that should be targeted towards them, are swallowed up in repairing the mess.

The shining light has been the cinema captioning campaign. Last week the campaign and major stakeholders met with the CEOs of the big four Cinemas. A lot of debate occurred before the meeting and at one stage it looked like the various stakeholders might self implode. But in the end sanity prevailed and, as The Rebuttal understands it, the various stakeholders entered the meeting showing a united front. The outcome, it seems, was very favourable. The Cinemas even agreed to a period of community consultation so that the community can provide their input to the solution that they have proposed. This is what can happen when people work together for a common purpose. Watch this space because the success of this cinema captioning campaign could well be the Deaf sectors saviour.

Working as One

This week members of Deaf Australia have received a survey asking them to indicate what they feel is an acceptable level of cinema access. The Rebuttal is a firm supporter of consulting with the wider community before proposing things to governments or other organisations. On the one hand it is good that Deaf Australia is consulting but on the other it is not. Why? Because the issue of cinema captioning, especially in the last few months, has changed – the strategy has changed and the situation is now at a crucial stage that requires solidarity. Deaf Australia have sent this survey very much against the wishes of the other players in this campaign and this, potentially, can divide the campaign. At this crucial stage it is the last thing that we need.

Deaf Australia  have distributed their survey very much alone. It appears that they did not consult with the other players in this campaign. Perhaps they felt the need to be representative of their members and that is entirely their decision. Unfortunately their survey, intentionally or not, contains a number of inaccuracies. This article will attempt to show what these inaccuracies are.

First of all DA have claimed that it is not the cinemas fault that not all movies are captioned. They claim that it is the distributors who are at fault. The distributors are certainly the outlet that provides captioned movies but the reality is that they only provide what they see as the demand. What this means is that if the cinemas are only going to show one movie at three sessions a week that is what the distributors will provide. Like any business if a request is made for, and paid for, the distributors will move heaven and earth to provide because it is the market that drives them. If there is demand there will be supply.  Currently because cinemas provide very little access the distributors only provide what the market asks for.

The cinemas are the group that create the demand. They do this by asking for more captioned movies and putting on more sessions. If they say to the distributors, for example, we want to provide four movies per week with captions then the distributors, because there is money in it for them, will provide what is asked for. The cinemas MUST take responsibility to create the demand by providing realistic access. The CINEMAS are just as RESPONSIBLE as the distributors and in many ways more so.

Deaf Australia have sought to gauge from its members a level for captioned movies that they see as acceptable. They have taken, in my view, a rather paternalistic approach to this matter. For example they state to members, as if they were not aware already, that 100% captioning of all movies is not realistic. The majority of us know this already but the crux of the matter here is that by giving the cinemas a figure that people find acceptable then that is all that the cinemas are likely to provide.

Previous negotiations have tried to put a figure on what is a fair level of access and this approach, to date, has not produced results that deaf and vision impaired consumers find acceptable. This can be seen from the 465 submissions to the Australian Human Rights Commission in regard to the Cinema Industry’s application for exemption to DDA complaints . I have read all of these and anyone who has read them will clearly see that the vast majority have stated:

  • that .03% access to cinemas is an insult.
  • that having only one movie to chose from is not acceptable
  • that the times available to see the movies are not fully accessible, being mostly off-peak times.
  • the choice of venues is not diverse enough
  • poor standards such as clear advertising of sessions often mean people attend the sessions only to find the captions are not being provided.
  • that the cinemas are not respecting or acknowledging the size of the market. The market does not just include deaf people it also includes their associates and numbers in the millions. Proper access will see any outlay spent by the cinemas to provide captioning recouped. What this means is the cinemas need to INVEST to tap into the market just as they did with 3D technology.
  • that the cinemas are immensely profitable and can afford to provide a lot more access.

All of these points I am recalling purely from memory. These are the issues that the cinemas need to address. It is dangerous to give the cinemas a number that the consumers find acceptable because it puts the responsibility for working out access on US. Access is the responsibility of the Cinemas. As paying customer we expect a fair level of access. We are the market and the cinemas have to acknowledge that we are a sizable market and not just a burden. In this sense it is a clear mistake to say we will accept 17% or 20%. Why? because the campaign focused on the cinemas providing for the MARKET and it is for the cinemas to work out the level of access that meets the needs of that market not the consumers. In short the cinemas have to come to us with a plan not us to them.

Did you see the cinemas crying poor about 3D technology? Did you see them sending surveys to consumers saying – “Would you accept 3% of movies in 3D?” or “What is a fair level of access to 3D movies for you?” or ” Would you come on Monday or Tuesday, in the evening, in the morning?”  No! What they did was to develop a thorough business plan and then MARKETED the service to the hilt.  They took responsibility for working out the market and the level of provision, they invested and they took RISKS. And then they spent money on the technology trusting to hell it would make a profit.

The captioned movies market is exactly the same. If the cinemas acknowledge the market, provide the appropriate access when people can attend and provide the diversity of choice in venues and movies then their investment is likely to succeed. We the consumers are not a welfare case, we are a viable market. This is the approach of this campaign. The mistake of the past has been to provide  so called “acceptable levels” of access – This campaign is saying provide for the market and this is what the cinemas must do. They must invest and provide for the market. If they do the costs will take care of themselves.

One needs to remember that the Australian Human Rights Commission has ruled in the Cinema Access Campaigns favour. They have clearly said that the cinemas do not provide enough access, nor do they respect the size of the market. What is more the minister responsible for media access, Stephen Conroy, is backing the decision of the Australian Human Rights Commission. He has even called the CEOs of the Big 4 Cinemas to a meeting and when he calls they jump!  Again this is a first. The Government, until now, has steadfastly refused to become involved. In this sense the Cinema Access Campaign strategy has worked. Deaf Australia need to acknowledge this publicly and even thank them.

There needs to be one strategy and one approach to this campaign. Communication needs to be united and consistent. While it is commendable that Deaf Australia are consulting with their members the approach of their survey is the exact opposite of what the campaign wants to take. It is not about ego anymore it is about solidarity. The deal that Deaf Australia, Deafness Forum and Media Access agreed to in exchange for support for the Cinema Industry’s application for DDA exemption was clearly rejected by the consumers that they represent. The Cinema Access Campaign are the new kids on the block. They have, in a short time, changed the landscape. True, they put a few noses out of joint but look what they achieved. It is time for solidarity so I implore Deaf Australia to work as one with them.

Worldwide Campaign

BSL version here.

A Bristol University Centre that has been a beacon and an inspiration to Deaf people all over the world is facing savage staffing cuts which, experts say, would make it ineffective – and with it we may lose one of Britain’s proudest claims to worldwide academic leadership.

For more than thirty years, the Centre for Deaf Studies (CDS) has blazed a trail for others to follow in the fields of Sign Language Studies, Deaf Studies and interpreter training. It has a list of firsts for which most universities, let alone small departments, would give their eye teeth:

  • First funded research on sign language in the UK
  • First use of the term Deaf Studies, now widely used all over the world
  • First textbook on British Sign Language – still in use
  • First full-time training programme for sign language interpreters
  • First BSc & MSc in Deaf Studies
  • First Professorship in Deaf Studies
  • First Deaf person to head an Academic Centre in Europe
  • First full-time University training programme for Deaf people taught in sign language

In all, the Centre has chalked up nearly thirty firsts in thirty years – a return on (very modest) investment almost unequalled in the
increasingly bang-for-your-buck world of higher education.

But now, the CDS is threatened with cutbacks affecting 75% of staff. According to everyone who works there, this will make it almost impossible to continue teaching beyond the next couple of years. And students who have already embarked on courses such as the world-famous BSc in Deaf Studies may receive an increasingly inadequate tuition service, because staff will be so overstretched.

“This is a breach of trust – in fact a breach of contract – with those of us who came here in good faith because of the Centre’s reputation”, said one student. “I came here to learn from the best Deaf and hearing staff and go on to become a sign language interpreter. Now they’re planning to get rid of most of them.”

On Monday 10 May, the University Senate took the first step towards implementing the cuts. The decision now passes to a meeting of the University Council on Friday 14 May. The University has to make cuts of £15m per annum to its budget. The actual savings by removing the Deaf Studies undergraduate programme (staff costs minus the student fee income) is not much more than £100k per annum – hardly enough to consider putting this programme at risk and flying in the face of the University’s own Diversity and Public Engagement aims.

It is widely felt that the CDS has been targeted because it is seen in some quarters as a vulnerable minority interest. “Other departments who don’t want to bear the brunt themselves may just sit on their hands, hoping they might escape the worst if the CDS takes the biggest hit”, said one supporter.

If so, this would be seen in many quarters as not only cowardly, but against the law. Under the Disability Discrimination Act, all public bodies have a Disability Equality Duty to carry out a disability equality impact assessment of the community of any measures they take. There is strong evidence that Bristol University has hardly begun this process and is potentially acting contrary to the Code of Practice.

In fact, where so many Deaf people are concerned, far from rushing decisions through Senate at short notice, there is a requirement to allow extra consultation time because of the difficulties of communication. Ironically, the CDS has done more than almost anywhere over the years to improve communication and access for Deaf people.

But if the authorities acted at short notice, they must have been taken aback at the speed with which the campaign to Save Deaf Studies took off, once word leaked out. Within four days a petition started by a third-year undergraduate has gathered nearly two-and-a-half-thousand signatures from Deaf people and universities all over the world.

The CDS has always been a pioneer on a global scale. In 1996 it ran the first UK deaf-led project based in Africa – in Northern Uganda – funded by Oxfam and Action on Disability and Development. It has also pioneered Europe-wide initiatives. In April this year it launched a multi-million euro project in conjunction with police and fire services to give deaf people direct access to 999 services through videophones. Now all the effort that the team at CDS have put in over the decades is being repaid with an international outcry against the University’s cuts plan.

Academics from as far afield as Australia, Finland, Germany, Canada and the United States have leapt to the defence of the beleaguered CDS, with comments on the petition website and letters directed to the University’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Eric Thomas.

Two Assistant Professors from Utah Valley University in the USA wrote:

“.targeting programs such as Centre for Deaf Studies for budgetary cuts. stems from inability of majority culture to recognize and understand the significant contributions studies of minority cultures have towards the academic discipline of Humanities. those programs should be celebrated and promoted, rather than cut. Please reconsider before you implement such a disastrous plan – disastrous to greater understanding of humanity, disastrous to promotion of equity of humans worldwide – and disastrous harm to Deaf people everywhere.”

More comments from all over Britain and around the world can be found here on our website and the petition, at Save BSc Deaf Studies Campaign Petition.

Thirty years ago a beacon for the promotion of Deaf Studies was lit in Bristol. Now the campaign to save it is spreading like wildfire round the world.

For further information contact: savebristolcds@gmail.com

DEAF STUDIES UNDER THREAT !

This is a cross post, but please take the time to read, and respond.

The University of Bristol is currently considering plans to close the CDS’ long-running BSc degree in Deaf Studies and other parts of CDS’ work.

Why?

This is said to be for financial and academic reasons, that it is expensive and does not fit faculty priorities.

What would this mean?

Around 75 % of CDS staff will lose their jobs, including most Deaf staff. It will reduce CDS to a ‘rump’. We believe the consequences of these proposals will have a disastrous impact on Deaf and hearing people in many ways. These include :

  • exacerbating the existing crisis in the UK Deaf community caused by the acute shortage of interpreters,
  • negative effects on the present students,
  • severe reduction of CDS’s ability to continue its 30 year tradition of initiating and supporting progressive academic and other Deaf-related developments, including lobbying for Deaf rights and achieving equality with hearing people,
  • retardation of the global development of quality Deaf Studies work,
  • negative impact on Deaf people’s access to a wide range of vital information.

Under UK law, the University is required to carry out an assessment of the effect of its planned actions on Deaf/disabled people, and on the community in general. It is clear that you, the wider community have not been consulted in this way.

Your help is needed

So we ask if you can help this campaign. Please as soon as possible send a letter to the University decision makers. To express your own views about the value of CDS’s work. You would need to do this in the next few days, a decision is being made this week.

Please feel free to use headed paper from your own organisations if appropriate. Please also circulate this email widely and ask others to do so.

If you need detail about CDS history and list of achievements to help you write your letter of support, you can download them here: CDS History and CDS History: Detailed

In your letter, please do not mention individual CDS staff by name, as this may have a negative effect.

People to contact

Professor Eric Thomas
Vice Chancellor
University of Bristol
Senate House
Tyndall Avenue
Bristol BS8 1TH

Professor David Clarke
Deputy Vice Chancellor
(at the same address)

E mail: dvc@bris.ac.uk

Please copy any letters to: savebristolcds@gmail.com so we can monitor correspondence.

Thank you for your help. Together we can try and protect the global development of Deaf Studies from other similar threats in the coming wider financial crises.

Also, you can sign the petition, keep up to date with our Twitter stream and add a Twibbon to Your Twitter Avatar.

That's Fair

Carl Williams was bashed to death in gaol recently. This alleged cold blooded mass murderer met the fate that he is accused of dishing out to so many. Of course his life is glorified in Australia. He is the subject of countless newspaper articles, books and even a TV series called Underbelly. Just before his death newspapers alleged that his daughter’s private school fees were being covered by tax-payers as part of his plea bargain. Apparently by cooperating with the police, a few financial incentives were negotiated. He allegedly asked for them to clear his fathers tax debt too, but was refused. His trial cost the Victorian tax-payer millions upon millions of dollars. And now he is dead – Money well spent??

Last year in Brisbane, a man accused of killing three people complained because legal aide wanted to change his lawyers. He was yet to be proven guilty and the Government had seen fit to fund his legal representation. This is a good thing because he may well be not guilty and has the right for fair representation. The accused wanted the same lawyers that commenced his defense on the case because they were familiar with everything that had occurred during his trial. Fair enough. The accused has legal fees that are expected to cost the tax payer in the vincity of $2 million. This is not including other court costs and the costs of the prosecution lawyer. Guilty or not guilty the tax-payer is forking out. Everyone has the right for fair representation don’t they? That’s justice – Right?

Somewhere today, in Australia, a person with a disability has been discriminated against. They can’t get access to a building, education or every day things that the general populace take for granted like the movies. Many of them get to a point where they have to try and use the Disability Discrimination Act to protest against their discrimination. Discrimination is against the law – Right? It’s a bad thing. Murderers are brought to trial and sent to gaol if they are found guilty. They know that killing is wrong and so they must cop the consequences. It’s the same for breaking discrimination laws – Right? Its wrong with consequences – Right?

Not quite. You see, disability discrimination is essentially only against the law if the person with a disability complains about it. Discrimination can occur legally in Australia until someone sees fit to complain. Individuals must complain to the Australian Human Rights Commission who will then try to resolve the issue. If someone is found dead – the police kick into action. A thorough investigation happens. No stone is left unturned to find the cause of death. If foul play is suspected the police do all they can to find the murderer and bring that person to trial. What of discrimination?

Like murder, disability discrimination is against the law. Everyone knows it is happening. But who investigates it. If blatant discrimination occurs like what has happened with the Cinema Industry in regard to cinema access who holds the Cinema Industry to account? Does someone investigate it and say, “That’s wrong, We are asking you to stand trial and prove your innocence.” Do police go in and issue a warrant to investigate alleged discrimination? Do they force the Cinemas to comply with the law? The answer to these questions is – NO! First someone must complain the Australian Human Rights Commission mediate. And then what?

Well the Australian Human Rights Commission tries to get the person making the complaint and the organisation that is alleged to have committed the discrimination to agree on a fair outcome. If the two parties cannot agree on an outcome then the Australian Human Rights Commission basically says, “Sorry – cant help you – if you want to resolve this you now have to go to court.”

This I know because I recently made a complaint to the AHRC about Austar pay TV for poor and inconsistent provision of captioning. The process, over six months, was this – I complained and the AHRC clarified my complaint to make sure they had understood it – AHRC then took my complaint to Austar who then were asked to respond – Austar responded that they were “hurt” that I had made a complaint cos they are doing all they can to provide captioning, that captioning is expensive and that it hurts their hip-pocket (you are allowed a mocking giggle here) – AHRC contacted me and asked if I accepted Austars response and asked if I would withdraw my complaint – I responded no – AHRC responded that there was no hope of resolving the complaint and that I had to go to court if I wanted justice.

OK! Court it is. Like the accused murderer I would hope that there would be something that could help me pay my legal fees and have the matter dealt with in court with the full force of the law – not so! I have to pay! Little old me has to somehow compete with mega-rich Austar in the courts. Austar will be happy and able to fork out millions on a lawyer but less happy and apparently unable to forkout similar capital on captioning – go figure. I have to put my house on the line if I am to have any hope of having Austar held accountable. I can ask the courts to consider my financial situation. The courts may agree to cap court costs. The courts recently did this for a discrimination case. They capped costs to $25 000. Cheap! Mere pocket money for the average person – RIGHT?

So what am I to do? Risk my livlihood and house so that I can watch pay TV with captions? Or simply say stuff it – its not worth it? What happens if the courts find Austar not guilty? – OOOPS, gotta sell my house cos I wanted to watch a bit more TV with captioning. Sorry kids, pack up, we are off to the Salvos. I hear the food is not bad, certainly better than my cooking. It’s all worth it – the law will protect me – RIGHT?

This is what people with a disability are confronted with in Australia. A law that will only protect them if they can pay. If they can’t – well bugger that we will just have to let the discrimination keep happening. Do you remember Gail Smith? The mother of a Deaf daughter who took the Queensland Education Department to court for not providing Auslan for her daughter. She at first lost, appealed and then won. This led to the Queensland Education Department forking out $30 million to introduce Auslan to schools. It took god knows how many years to get to that point. I asked her recently how much it cost her financially – she said she did not know and that I would have to ask her lawyer – “Roughly”, I asked “How much do you think it was?” – “I don’t know…”, she said, “A lot.” Thats not including the emotional cost as well. The law protects us – RIGHT?

Well it does, if we can afford to pay for it. If we want to put everything we own on the line in the hope that the courts will agree with us then, yep, it’s a great law. Frigging fantastic law! What’s that I hear you say? SARCASTIC – me? Meanwhile murder trials are costing us millions of dollars. A dead mass murderer is having his child’s private school fees paid for at our expense for agreeing to cooperate with the police. Hell, they even considered wiping his fathers tax debt. Me – I just want to watch more TV and understand it – whose gonna help me? No one! No worries! I will just put my house on the line.

 That’s fair – RIGHT??