Carrie – from the Archives

Again in the context of the Ai Media debate we bring you an oldie. These are the issues that we need to consider in the context of the debate.

Carrie is six years old. She is sitting at the dinner table with her family. She looks down at her Brussels sprout with absolute loathing. She isn’t going to eat it unless it’s forced down her throat.

She gazes around at her family members who are all in conversation. Mum is in an animated discussion with her sister. Dad is typically silent, fork in mouth, while he watches Sally do her job as principal on Home and Away. Her two brothers, Aden and Finlay, are discussing something loudly and obviously not agreeing. She looks at her brothers and uses the universal sign for “What’s up?” Palms facing upwards, elbows bent and a shrug of the shoulders. Finlay, with over-exaggerated lip movements, replies, “Tell you later,” while clumsily signing, “Tell you over”.

Carrie sighs and toys with the idea of trying to find out what the others are talking about. In the end she decides not to. She knows that the response from other family members will be the same as Finlay’s “tell you later.” She looks back down at her Brussels sprout. It suddenly becomes more appealing.

Carrie’s mother, Katie, watches her out of the corner of her eye. Like most mothers she can sense when something is not quite right with her children. She knows that Carrie is often isolated within the family at times like this when they are all chatting avidly. She is at loss as to what to do.

The family lives in a rural area. Services are few and far between. Just that day Katie had been in a meeting with her daughter’s school. She was trying to find some money to pay someone to teach her family Auslan. Katie felt that this, at least in part, would help make the family more inclusive for Carrie. She was handballed from one organisation to another and no-one seemed to want to take any responsibility. The family had learnt some rudimentary signs from a book and CD-Rom and Carrie had taken to signing like a fish to water.

She likes her doll. She and her doll can communicate without problems. She wishes her life could be just the same.

Dinner over, the family retreats into the lounge room. Usually Carrie will sit on her father’s lap. She just likes his man smell and rough beard. The two of them cannot really communicate well. Bob, the dad, is impossible to lip-read and cannot find time in the day from work to learn to sign. This night Carrie does not sit on Bob’s lap. She finds a doll and sits on her own near the heater. She thinks of her day at school. She likes her doll. She and her doll can communicate without problems. She wishes her life could be just the same.

Carrie is mainstreamed into the local school. She communicates as best she can with her FM system. She has no support apart from her visiting teacher who comes every fortnight to offer advice to her teachers and 45 minutes of learning support to her. This morning she had been in class. The teacher had been reading a book. Carrie did not understand a lot of it but she loved the pictures. The story, this morning, involved an animal, or rather a hybrid of animals. The teacher showed a picture that was part wombat, part crocodile and part kangaroo. A Womcrocroo, the teacher had said it was.

Carrie understood none of this but she loved the picture. As soon as the teacher showed it to the class Carrie was on her feet pointing animatedly. She wanted to know what it was. The teacher told Carrie to sit down and that she would explain it to her later. Carrie was disappointed. She felt humiliated, frustrated and angry all at the same time. She let out a little scream of frustration. The teacher made her sit outside.

This memory is vivid in Carrie’s mind as she plays with her doll by the heater. She adds Ted and a few of her brothers’ Power Ranger toys to her play. The doll is the teacher and in Carrie’s perfect world everyone in the class can communicate. She asks and answers questions and she is an active member of her fantasy class. She smiles for the first time that day. In the background she catches a glimpse of her mother in deep discussion with her father. Her mother is crying again.

She is angry that support is so sporadic in rural areas. Organisations from the city constantly haggle about time and money.

Bob does not know what to do. He rarely has time to attend appointments about Carrie’s needs. The appointments are always in the day and the responsibility for them falls almost solely to his wife. She works part-time and he works long hours. His wife is crying. She is telling him about her latest appointment. She wants support to get the family communicating with Carrie.

She is frustrated at having to constantly justify herself to the people that have the money for support. She is angry that support is so sporadic in rural areas. Organisations from the city constantly haggle about time and money. She speaks of Auslan, isolation and language acquisition.

Half of this Bob does not really understand. Instead he listens and lets her vent. He wishes that there was more that he could do. He bemoans the fact that family support is so bloody family unfriendly. Why can’t they offer support at a time when all the family can take part? The appointments to meet support people are usually at 10 in the morning. At this time he is at work and the kids are at school. Pointless, really!

Carrie watches her mum cry. Although she does not know what her parents are talking about she knows they are talking about her. She has no words for how this makes her feel, but she feels anxious and worried. She does not quite understand why she has upset her mother so.

Her two brothers and her sister listen to their mother and father discussing Carrie AGAIN! They are resentful in some ways. Carrie always appears to be the centre of attention. They sometimes wonder if they exist at all. Carrie goes to bed. It has not been a good day at all.

It’s morning. The family are sitting at the breakfast table. Carrie’s mother is in deep discussion with her sister. Dad is typically silent, spoon in mouth and admiring the attractiveness of Mel on Sunrise . Aden and Finlay are discussing something loudly and still not agreeing. For Carrie the whole scene is strangely familiar. She looks at her doll sitting on the table and wonders what the day has in store for her …..

David – From the Archives

In the context of the debate over captioning, sign language or both that has arisen from the publicity surrounding Ai Media and classroom captioning we bring you and older edition of The Rebuttal. We ask readers to consider David’s situation and where captioning and signing would fit into David’s life, particularly in terms of classroom and social interactions. This article touches on many of the issues raised by Rebekah Rose-Mundy.

David walked into his classroom and sat down. Around him there was a bustle of chatter. Richard and Adrian had their heads locked closely together in an obvious conspiracy. Debra and Meg whispered and giggled as they gossiped over the latest school yard romance. David watched everyone in animated chatter. He understood none of it. His head was filled with the noise of the class room. Screeching chairs, tapping pencils and a cacophony of mingling but indecipherable voices. The teacher entered the room and there was silence. A final screech of chairs and a tap of pens on desks, the class came to attention and the lesson was underway.

Today’s lesson was Australian History. Mr Isterling had forgotten to attach the FM microphone again. David had dutifully placed it on his desk. All it required was for David to put his hand up and ask Mr Isterling to attach it. But, hell, David has to ask him to do it nearly every lesson. He couldn’t be bothered today. It always meant he had to speak and bring attention to himself. David was very conscious of his deaf voice. Every time he spoke he sensed his class mates whispering around him. He was sure that they were whispering about him. No! David would leave things as they were.

Mr Isterling spoke, “Today’s lesson …will …learn …… turn to page ….pa….” Dutifully the class opened their books and turned to the correct page. David furtively looked over Peter’s shoulder to see which page he was reading. Peter, knowing that David was unsure which part he had to read, pointed to the paragraph they were supposed to be reading. The paragraph was quite interesting. It was about the development of the Australian larrikin trait. Reading was always David’s favourite part of a lesson. He understood most of what was on the page, interaction was minimal. It was just David and the book.

He would not know what to answer. He would look stupid. He dug his nails into the palms of his hands.

David was engrossed until Peter gently nudged him. Mr Isterling was talking again. David had not heard him. He realised his battery had gone flat. There were batteries in his pencil case. All it required was for David to insert the battery into his hearing aid. But this would mean that David would have to fumble with his ear in what he considered an uncool way. He was sure that when he did so everyone in the class stared at him in fascination. Apart from the odd glance they didn’t really, but David’s anxiety was very real.

Without the benefit of his hearing aid David had to rely totally on lip-reading. With his hearing aid he could hear some things and his lip-reading helped him to understand some of what he heard. At best David understood about 30% of what his teacher said. Without his hearing aid this percentage was drastically reduced. Without the benefit of his hearing aid, coupled with Mr Isterling’s bushy beard, he understood nothing. David found himself developing a cold sweat. He was sure the teacher was going to ask him a question. He would not know what to answer. He would look stupid. He dug his nails into the palms of his hands.

Suddenly the class erupted into laughter. Paul, the class clown, had made a joke. Even Mr Isterling chuckled and Mr Isterling was not known for his sense of humour. Peter, next to David, was beside himself with mirth. David looked around the class and smiled. He laughed too. He did not know why, but the laughter was infectious. Anyway, he didn’t want it to seem as if he had not got the joke.

Mr Isterling put on a video. It was about the Great Depression. Phar Lap and Donald Bradman figured prominently. Derelict men sat on the streets. Old people were interviewed about their experiences of the Depression. Manning Clark had a lot to say. David knew he was Manning Clark because his name flashed up on the screen. David realised that this was the author of the book that they had been reading. In fact the only parts of the video that David had understood were the names of the people that flashed up on the screen. Captions would have helped but the video was not captioned. David made as much sense as he could of the video over the next 30 minutes.

Mr Isterling explained the evening homework to the class. David did not understand a word of it. He looked to Peter with a questioning shrug. Peter wrote down for him what they had to do. David was thankful for this because communication with Mr Isterling was nigh on impossible. David usually made up for what he missed in class by reading profusely. This was really his only learning. He received no benefit from classroom discussions or from Mr Isterling.

His deafness set him apart from his school mates and he hated it. This fear of interaction and unwanted attention was his constant companion.

On the bus going home from school David sat by himself. He liked to sit at the very back of the bus so he could see everyone in front of him. If he could not get a seat at the back he found himself anxiously looking around. He feared that someone would be talking to him and he would not know. He wondered if they were staring at him, talking about him or making fun of him. Being a teenager he felt a strong desire to fit in. His deafness set him apart from his school mates and he hated it. This fear of interaction and unwanted attention was his constant companion.

David arrived home from school. “How was your day?”, asked his mother. David answered as he usually did, “Good” His mother smiled. “Teenagers”, she thought to herself, “ are such a surly lot..” David headed to his room and threw his bag in the corner. He lay down on the bed and covered his face with his arms. He was knackered…

Rebekah Rose-Mundy's response to Tony Abraham's Letter to the SMH

Thank you Tony for your response I am pleased to see you are still seeing ‘Sign Language’ is still viable for many deaf children thank you. This is important to me to know that. However I still have questions that are not answered.

How can a deaf child find out what a word means? It a one way communication, how does the deaf child have the chance to ask a question? Even with a 7 second delay and for the deaf child to absorb the information, consider a question, type in the question? (I am not sure how the 2 way communication fit in?) and it will take total about 30-40 seconds? I am assuming. Students unable to hear the question, does the teacher rephrase the question or just give the answer?  This will disrupt the class or you will provide Ai Live awareness training to the whole class? The whole school?

I think it wonderful to see a business is becoming successful and that there are a few deaf people within the business as well who are in the management level of the business. Why aren’t they saying something? Why didn’t they inform the deaf community? Why didn’t they reply instead of you, Tony?

Another thing, why wasn’t the option of Ai-Live and Interpreting is the ideal choice for signing deaf children promote in all of the public media? My biggest concern is that because my children are bi-lingual they have access to both spoken English and sign language. The Department of Education will say to me ‘Your son can use speech, can hear well with hearing aids and is able to read English so Ai-Live is the access we will give. Your son does not need an interpreter’ when I would love to provide both Ai-Live and interpreter for my children BUT is the Department of Education going to accept that? Probably not because they can see a cheaper solution and therefore do not have the concept of understanding of deaf children and their needs

Captions to complement not replace sign language.

Tony Abrahams, CEO of Ai media has written this letter to the editor of the Sydney Morning Herald. We print it here as a follow up to the Opinion piece submitted by Rebekah Rose-Mundy. There is also a Facebook page where people can debate and share their views. join in the debate on http://!/pages/Access-Inclusion/208255599219

The debate about captions versus sign language is a good one to have.

Kate Matairavula (Letters, July 24) points to a critical situation where Auslan (Australian Sign Language) is a fantastic method of communication; namely, face-to-face conversations between Auslan users. Ai-Live is designed for a very different, but equally critical, setting.

Ai-Live is designed to meet the specific educational needs of deaf and hearing impaired students in mainstream classrooms; providing direct access to spoken English via word-accurate English captions – without the need for sign language as an intermediate step. Today’s Aussie deaf kids need solid English literacy to ensure their employment options are maximised in an inclusive and broadband-enabled labour market.

With Ai-Live, for the first time, deaf students and parents now have a choice between using captioning and Auslan interpreting at school. People will no doubt make informed choices about how and when they use different communication options based on what works in each situation.

Lest anyone fear that captions will kill Auslan, our experience at Ai-Media suggests quite the reverse. Having deaf colleagues in the workplace or at school is one of the best motivators for others to learn Auslan (with the Auslan tutor on the iPhone, this has never been easier). The top two signs at work are “coffee” and “lunch”.

Can we all agree that achieving the genuine inclusion of deaf and hearing impaired people in society demands better than a one-size-fits-all approach to communication?

Tony Abrahams
CEO, Access Innovation Media
Macquarie Park

Opinion – by Rebekah Rose-Mundy

AI Media have been in the news recently. They have been on The New Inventors show on ABC and have been promoted widely through numerous newspaper articles. They have been promoting their new system of classroom captioning to much aclaim. Rebekah Rose -Mundy challenges the assumption that the AI  Media classroom captioning is the new and cheaper alternative to Auslan interpreters. We thank Rebekah for having the courage to submit her strong  and challenging views.

I wonder what are your thoughts on Ai Media? They are saying Ai Media (live captioning) costs about $40,000 a year and interpreters cost about $100,000 a year. They are saying it cheaper and better for deaf children to be educated by using Ai Media instead of interpreters.

It was recently shown on ABC and it was published in the Sydney Morning Herald. Time and technology had changed so much in the past 10 years and I agree with you we are forgetting what we used to have whilst now we are ‘whinging’ about not enough access or if it not the right type of access.

However about this type of technology, it is amazing how live captioning is now becoming a ‘must have’ for deaf people, I applaud such technology and I am proud to have access to this technology BUT I have to say there is a place and time it should not be used. This is my opinion, I feel sadden about the ‘loud’ marketing of Ai Media and misinforming about Interpreters used in schools.

Remember when we all were young (I am one of those people in your generation) we didn’t have interpreters we had hearing welfare people who could sign. They would trot along with us to appointments and fingerspell/sign for us. Over time, interpreters became more professional and almost everything we have interpreters that is the most amazing access for deaf people. We are now training more and more people and we have courses to make them more fluent in sign and today I cannot live without an interpreter.

Till now, Ai Media is saying out loud ‘Schools can save money on interpreters by using Ai Media instead and deaf children will access to a better education by improving literacy skills’. Yes I am furious because I have 4 children and 3 of them are deaf. One is already in a deaf non signing program and when he is ready to start mainstream I aim for him to have an interpreter for assembly, sports, excursions, and eventually become his full time interpreter.

We all know how much it is a battle to argue with the Department of Education about our children needing full time support in the classroom while they say ‘only can give 10 hours a week support each child’ and what happens to the remaining 20 hours?

I have asked a few questions. Where does interpreters fit in? How will a deaf child ask the teacher or their peers a question? How can the deaf child ask the laptop please wait so he/she can look up in the dictionary for the meaning of a word not known? How can the deaf child ask for clarification when he/she see a word that have many concepts? How can the deaf child learn emotion intelligent through a lap top? Why do we want to isolate the deaf child more by cutting off all means of communication? And yet to learn their answer of my questions.

I am concerned and I am trying not to jump hoops I am disappointed to see the moral of the company is about business and not the deaf community. I am disappointed to learn there was no consultant among the deaf community about Ai Media. I am concerned that deaf children will miss out so much on natural communication and self worthiness.

Should I be called a ‘whinger’ because of my personal opinion of Ai Media or should I be allow to speak out because I am a deaf mother of deaf children whom I want them to succeed in education by using interpreters instead of live captioning.

A Dance Event For All The Five Senses

Sencity is a multi-sensory, multi-faceted, special and unique event that brings deaf, hard of hearing and hearing people together.

Sencity started in Holland in 2003, and had many successful events in Europe and Africa, with the Deaf communities there. Now, Sencity has come to Australia.

Deaf people do not hear the melody of the music in the same way that Hearing people do, but we know that music can be experienced through their other senses – touch, sight, smell and taste. That is what Sencity is all about, music through all the five senses.

It will feature sign singers, music interpreters, aroma-jockeys, video-jockeys and food jockeys. The highlight is the vibrating dance floor. These will enhance the stimulation of the senses. This will let everyone experience Sencity in their own way – party with your senses.

Sencity is also hoping to bring Signmark, Deaf rapper, to perform.

The event is being co-hosted by The Deaf Club Sydney and Skyway Foundation, and it will be held at It is at Home Nightclub in Darling Harbour: Tenancy 101 Cockle Bay Wharf, Sydney, NSW, Australia

This is a unique event not to be missed!



$17.00 AUD per ticket to be sold at The Deaf Club, (Club Burwood or Parramatta RSL, Sydney, Australia) until 26th August 2010.$25.00 AUD at the door, Home Night Club on 27th August 2010.
Or visit this site:

And remember:

Means – No Admittance to night club!!

For more information about Sencity, visit the website:

Sencity’s Youtube Channel:

Join these Facebook groups to keep up to date:


From Whence We Came

Someone reminded me today that it was 41 years since man landed on the moon. I was 5 years old then. I remember sitting outside in the garden and looking up at the moon. As I stared intensely I could not understand why I couldn’t see them up there. Surely Armstrong and co would be visible? Perhaps they were on the other side. Who knows? Back then I was also hearing, but probably just starting to become deaf.

Today it kind of hit me that should I have been older and deaf back then and I was to see the advances that have occurred in access for deaf people today, I would be awestruck. Like the little boy that sat in the garden wondering how man got all the way to the moon I would marvel at the advances of humankind in providing access to the deaf. Who would have thought, back in 1969, that one day you would turn on your computer, press a button and be able to sign to your friends on a screen, a screen very much like the screen that beamed us the first moon landing?

I remember as a 13 year old, having been deaf for just a few years, needing to get my mother to call my friends on the phone. “Mum”, I would ask, “…can you call Phil and get him to meet me over the oval for a game of cricket?” Phil would sometimes call my mum too and ask if I would meet him or invite me away to his family’s beach shack. That’s the way it was back then.

Then came the 1980s and the wonderful Telephone Typewriter (TTY). Can you believe that back then a TTY was about $700? But through a TTY we could at least phone friends if they also had a TTY. It was access to the phone and by golly were we happy with that! I could never afford a TTY but when I could get access to one I would phone everyone that I knew who had one! I probably drove them insane but it sure beat having to ask your mum to do it for you. I cringe remembering how fast I typed back then.

In the 90s came the Relay Service. Blow me down, I could even phone for a pizza. The first time I did it from Adelaide I ended up in Annerley in Queensland. Some of us will remember that when you called the 13 numbers in the early days of the Relay Service, you would end up at a pizza shop in Queensland because that is where the Relay Service was based. Frustrating as it was, we didn’t care – we had ACCESS.

When I started work I had to grab John or Barbara to make calls for me. Occasionally Kirsty at reception, who I dated for 5 years, would help out. Back then, as deaf people, we all were limited in what we could do. Applying for jobs was a nightmare because we always had the issue of phone communication. We all dreaded the inevitable interview question, “ How will you cope with the phone?” The standard answer back then was that we would “trade” phone work for other work with colleagues. It wasn’t very convincing.

The Relay Service simply opened up the world to deaf people. And now most of us rarely use it. Emails come directly to our phone, instant messenger keeps us in contact with everyone and SMS still sends us all broke. But WOAAAAHHHH!!!!! Compare that to the 80s and 70s and you will see that what we have now is simply awesome. Hell, in a bar in England in the 80s, a girl shoved her phone number in my back pocket – I had to get my cousin to ring her and pretend he was ME! That’s how it was back then!

And then of course there were the movies. As a six year old I was not yet deaf. I remember going into town with my nine year old sister to watch Bambi. In the queue that day were two deaf boys. They were from the South Australian Oral School. I remember this because they wore their blue caps with pride. Their mother had managed to get a device or something from the counter that would help them hear the movie. She waved it in their faces saying “YOU WILL BE ABLE TO HEAR!!” I remember thinking how dorky they looked in their caps.

Last week Bill Shorten, the Australian Human Rights Commission, Media Access Australia, Action on Cinema Access, the Cinemas, the man up the road and his pet budgerigar all announced the new cinema captioning arrangements for deaf people (as well as audio description for the blind.) In  five years we will move from having access to 105 screening out of 40 000 at select cinemas to be able to access over 800 screenings at nearly all cinemas operated by the so called Big Four.

Now since becoming deaf at ten years old I have seen countless movies at the cinema but understood few. Imagine back in 1977, when Star Wars first came out, being in a situation where movies would actually be captioned for the deaf!! Imagine being able to access such classics as Grease, Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind without having to constantly ask your mum questions like, “What did Richard Dreyfus say when the shark bit him in half?” We would have been in Utopia.

Back then we would not have even dreamt that we would have captioned TV. Blimey, now we have something like 75% of TV shows captioned. Soon we will have captions at nearly all cinemas. And of course we are still not happy. Captions through CaptiView suck because it makes us stand out in a crowd or is too finicky. Or live captioning obscures the ball when you’re watching the World Cup. How sucky is that? Well go back to 1977 and you will find that it’s actually not very sucky at all! In fact it’s frigging awesome!

I mean look what digital TV has done for deaf people. I am not sure that many of us know but it means that virtually every TV will be able to show captions. No longer do we have to seek out a special TV that has Teletext. No longer do we have to pay an extra $300 or so just so that we can access captioned TV. How good is that?

Technically we don’t even have to buy a TTY anymore. Nearly everything that we need to be able to use the phone is at our finger tips on the computer. We can access the Relay Service on our computer. Captioned telephony allows us to speak on the phone, any phone really, while sitting at our computer. If you have an Iphone you can use captioned telephony anywhere. The ABC IView allows us to watch television programs that we have missed by putting them  online and with captions. Amazingly all of these advances have really only come about in the last 20 years.

For sure it is a better world. Sometimes we need to celebrate what we have achieved. Sometimes we are so focused on getting MORE that we forget just how far that we have come. That does not mean that we stop fighting for more and better access. It just means that we need to look back and be content, celebrate and be thankful. Keep up the good fight, for sure, but remember to look back  and feel pride in the victories we have all won.

Getting it Back to Front

One of the projects I am doing at work at the moment is to test the Disability Employment Service (DES). I am trying to set up precedents as to how the various support programs provided by the DES can be used to assist people with a disability. One of these programs is called Jobs in Jeopardy. What I have done is referred myself to the program. My argument is that the $6 000 provided for me by the Employment Assistance Fund to pay for interpreting is not enough. I am arguing that it provides only three months a year of my costs. I work on a tight budget and it is getting to the point that Auslan interpreting costs are such that there is little left over for me to be able to run my program effectively. So much does it cost that, in fact, my job is in jeopardy.

So I referred myself to the program. I got registered with Centrelink and had an Employment Program Plan drawn up. The goal of the program was basically to identify ways that will allow me to keep my job and apply for other jobs at the same level. I even went through a process to evaluate whether I was suited to my current job which I passed with flying colours. After three appointments we got the formalities completed and my case worker finally asked the question. “How do we solve your problem?” I said, “With money?” She said, “Where from.” And I said, “ I thought you knew.” and she said … “ well there is $6 000 through the Employment Assistance Fund, will that be enough?” This all left me wondering if she had understood anything I had told her previously. But that is what she asked me even though for three appointments I had been telling her that the Employment Assistance Fund could not meet my requirements.

She then asked me, “What other options are there?” I asked her if she knew of any and she replied in the negative. This, you have to remember, is a person that assists people with disabilities to locate employment. Now I am very knowledgeable and I know of a variety of strategies that I can use to meet my needs in the workplace. BUT what if I didn’t? What use would this Employment Consultant be? My jobs is supposedly in jeopardy, I need solutions to my issues urgently and three weeks into the process the consultant divulges that she hasn’t a clue to how to solve my issues. It’s kind of scary!! In fact she hadn’t even researched anything!

So anyway this process started in May. We are nearly in August and the Employment Consultant hits her straps. She sends me an email and says she might have found a solution. She emails me a link for a company in Adelaide that provides Live Remote Captioning. “Do you know of this technology?” she asks. I explain that I do indeed and that I have used it before. And she says –     “….Oh good, you can explain how it works when we meet.”  It left me wondering if she had bothered to actually find out how Live Remote Captioning works.

So we meet and I explain to her that you need a phone line and a computer and that it’s about $165 an hour to use. She was flabbergasted. “$165!!!!” She exclaims, “Why is everything so bloody expensive??” In the next sentence she says that she has a new client that has a learning disability and is nearly illiterate. The client wants to do some training – “Gary?”, she asks, “Do you know of any supports that can help him?” I do and am more than happy to help but it just leaves me wondering just how these “Employment Consultants” support job seekers with a disability – The one I have seems to know next to nothing about adjustments or alternatives in the workplace.

Over the last eight weeks or so I have given my Employment Consultant a lesson in deafness. I have taught her about the National Relay Service, got her to book the Video Relay Service, explained to her how the Video Relay Service works, she was amazed that Skype is actually free. I have demonstrated captioned telephony and given her a lesson in broadband and webcams and how these can be utilised by deaf people in employment. I know these things and I expect people that work in the deafness or disability area to know these things  – but very few do. How many opportunities are lost because of the ineptitude and lack of knowledge of the people that are employed to supposedly support people who are deaf or have disabilities? It beggars belief. As it turned out she had worked as an Employment Consultant for years but only in the disability area very recently. Well DUH!

The deaf sector is well known for employing people who have no knowledge of deafness. Often they look for people with “Government” or “Business” connections. How many case workers working with signing deaf cant sign for sh#t? How many people have been in the sector working with Deaf people for over a decade are there who still only have rudimentary signing? How many CEOs have worked in banks or the health sector and after a number of years are still struggling to finger spell their names? How many fundraisers employed on six figure salaries launch fundraising campaigns that tug on the heart strings and offend the very constituents they are supposed to be representing? How many case workers or teachers of the deaf tell you a deaf person cannot communicate properly when in fact the issue is that the teacher or case worker have never properly learned to sign? They are every where!

If someone was to work in a bank one would expect that they would be employed based on their knowledge of the banking sector. One would not expect that a bank would employ a carpenter simply because the carpenter worked with figures. They would want someone who understood the sector and rightly so. Yet in the disability sector or the deafness sector it often seems that knowledge of disability or deafness carries very little weight. What this often means is that the people that the sectors employ often have no passion for the role and after a time they move on. It’s a constantly revolving door.

The manager from the Department of Human Services might know the Government well but when it comes to advising a deaf person on their employment needs or a parent of a deaf child of family issues that may arise they are far from the best people available! The fundraiser on his six figure salary might have been great at Canteen but understanding the public perception of deafness and, indeed, how deaf people want to be portrayed is entirely another thing. The CEO that came from the banking sector and dealt with hundreds and millions of dollars is unlikely to be inspired by the lack of money available for the local Deaf youth group when there is money to be made from retirement villages. How many hearing administrators have lasted more than two years for Deaf Sports Australia? Passion and desire are commodities that are too often under-rated.

This, I believe, is where the Deaf and disability sector has lost its way – it has forgotten why it is there – it has forgotten the needs of the people it is there to serve. The pursuit of the mighty dollar has blinded it. While I understand there is a need for money and particular skill-sets I firmly believe we undervalue people who have a REAL knowledge of the people they are paid to work for. Consequently the lack of passion and desire has lead to a revolving door where thousands of dollars is being wasted on recruitment of staff. There is a real need to put more focus on employing people who know about the people they are serving. Passion, desire and REAL knowledge are assets that are, sadly, underrated in pursuit of the mighty dollar.

The Blue Stone Consultations- Report complied by Gary Kerridge

Congratulations to the Deaf  community for attending the Deaf Children Australia consultation about the sale of its assets related to the iconic Blue Stone Building. Quite rightly the Deaf community are concerned about any sale of assets related to the historic blue Stone Building on St Kilda Road. Tough questions were asked, some answered and others not. The Deaf community must remain diligent and ensure they have as much input as possible into any decisions on sales of assets or otherwise. Congratulations must also be provided to Deaf Children Australia for having the courage to hold the consultation meeting. Lets hope it will be the first of many before any decisions are made. The following report is based on information provided by various readers of The Rebuttal. Names have not been used. This is because the focus should be on the issues and not the individuals.

The consultation commenced with some information on the history of the property.  Some of the land at the current property was donated by the Government of the day whilst other parts were purchased by the school, the Victorian School for the Deaf, over the years. There is much history connected wit the property and this has resulted in much of it being heritage listed. What this means is that much of the property is protected from development and only certain parts of the property can be sold. This means that Deaf Children Australia are limited in their options in terms of being able to make money from the property,

Part of the problem with being based at the iconic Blue Stone buildings is that they are heritage listed. Maintaining and repairing the building is a constant drain on resources. For example the basement area currently requires some work that will require considerable capital. There were some discussions about turning it into a Centre for Deaf Children if the Deaf community are responsive to the idea. If the area where the current primary school was located is sold there were suggestions that a second storey could be built on top of the current Cook Centre and the primary school could be relocated there. The Fenton Hall area is not heritage listed and is being considered as part of a sale.

This is the gist of the information that was provided to the Deaf community. Questions were asked about previous sales of assets such as the Princess Elizabeth Junior School and assets that were sold when the current CEO of Deaf Children Australia was based at the Deaf Society in South Australia. It was pointed out that such sales did not appear to have benefited the Deaf community in South Australia as it nearly closed in 2007 only to be saved by a merger with Townsend House. The focus on these questions was to raise the point that sale of assets does not always reap benefits. There was a certain amount of skepticism of a sale based on the fact that the community does not feel there have been benefits for the Deaf community from past sales of assets.

Interestingly some poor decision making of the past was raised. Not the least being the failed lottery of Deaf Children Australia a few years ago. (the first prize was to be to the value of $1 million) This author was actually on the Board of Deaf Children Australia at that time. It is fair to say that the author actively supported the lottery decision. In the end the lottery was actually cancelled and ticket purchases refunded. A very substantial amount of money was lost on the lottery that was mostly allocated to marketing the lottery. Reviews of the lottery debacle  of the time found that insufficient market research had been conducted as to how people would respond to the lottery and that ticket prices were too high. It’s easy to say that hindsight is a wonderful thing but the reality is that the management and Board of DCA at the time, including this author, did not do their home work and acted in haste. It was a very poor decision indeed that led to very substantial losses. Members at the meeting were quite right to raise this issue as it raises questions of past decision making.  They have a right to know if lessons have been learnt from the past and if processes have been put in place to ensure a repetition of such mistakes does not reoccur.

Other pointed questions were asked .  Attendees wanted to know if there was a valuation of the land that was proposed for sale. This information was deemed confidential as it might  jeopardise any negotiations if it became common knowledge. Knowing the internal valuation could lead to a buyer bidding substantially less than they might otherwise. Questions were asked as to the existence of a budget and business plan related to any proposed developments. The answer to this was rather vague – apparently the consultation was the “first step”. Presumably other consultations will occur and the Deaf community will have an active input into any development plans.

Deaf Children Australia spoke about a vision for DCA for the next 150 years. Quite rightly questions were asked as to how the sale was going to contribute to sustainability for the next 150 years. Questions were raised about appropriate business management and governance of the process. Clearly the Deaf community wanted to ensure transparency and accountability were in place. The only response to this line of questioning was that it was “noted”

The consultation that occurred on the 8th of July is apparently part of an 18 month process to have a plan in place by 2016, in time for the 150 year celebrations. Clearly there is much that still needs to be done. Although discussions of the sale 0f assets appear to have been happening for sometime it is clear that the Board and management of DCA want to ensure proper consultation and planning occur before any decisions are made. For this they should be congratulated. Even so, it is important that the Deaf community remain diligent, ask questions and seek answers. Hopefully lessons from past sales of Deaf community assets have been learnt and that the Deaf community can have an active input in any decisions that are made.

# This report has been put together using feedback from Deaf community members that attended the consultation. It is possible that inaccuracies may occur. People that attended the meeting are encouraged to use the comments section to clarify information or add any information that they feel is important.#

HEY! We Are Over Here!

Its happening again! The Deaf community are the last to know. Part of its history is under threat of being sold off. Of course the Deaf community are only told when negotiations are well progressed. In this case parts of the property at the historic Blue Stone building on St Kilda Road are being considered for sale. Apparently the car park at the back, the buildings where the popular Trade Block Cafe resides and the area where portable classrooms currently exist are being considered for sale. All of this is alleged, nothing is confirmed.

This year marks 150 years of Deaf Education at the location. 150 years ago FJ Rose, a Deaf man from England, established the then Victorian School for the Deaf. The school is now called the Victorian College for the Deaf and is located in modern buildings next to the historic Blue Stone  building. The Blue Stone building is now host to Deaf Children Australia (DCA) who manage the whole property.  DCA have instigated the possible sale of parts of the property, allegedly for $22 million.

Many of the Deaf community have been educated at the school. Many have life long friendships that started at the school. Some have made careers from the school while others have taken part in helping the school in either a voluntary capacity or members of the Board. The property is one of the last remaining icons of the Deaf community in Victoria. Not surprisingly more than a few people in the Victorian Deaf community were angry when they heard of the possible sale of assets connected to the property.

I am not sure why it is. But often when decisions are to be made about assets that are connected to the Deaf community, the Deaf community are the last to know. In the early 1990’s the NSW Deaf Society sold its property and community centre at Stanmore. It was purely a business decision. The Community centre was closed and no thought was given to what would happen to the Community centre. The Community centre was the spirit of the Deaf community. It is where Deaf people socialised, where sporting clubs had their meetings and where many of the events for the Deaf community originated. It provided the Deaf community with an identity and a central meeting place.

Once the NSW Deaf Society moved to its current property at Parramatta there was no Community centre. Sure, deaf people could meet at Parramatta but there was no bar, no comfortable meeting place and no sense of belonging. It is fair to say that as a result the Deaf community in NSW became increasingly dispersed and isolated. Pockets of the community met in different places. There was no central meeting place. It took many years for the Deaf community in NSW to recover its sense of identity. This all could have been avoided if the sale of the Stanmore property had actively involved the Deaf community from the very start and identified issues such as the future of the Community centre as early as possible.

A similar situation occurred in South Australia. A few years ago the Deaf Society of South Australia, (Deaf SA), were in such dire financial circumstances that they were in danger of closing. To rescue the Deaf Society Townsend House, who service Deaf, deafblind and vision impaired children in South Australia, were approached withe view of a merger. It all happened very quickly. Of course the Deaf community were the last to know. They were the last to know their spiritual home was under threat and they were the last to know a merger was being considered.

Naturally the SA Deaf community were very angry when they discovered the dire financial circumstances of its spiritual home. They wanted answers. They wanted to know how Deaf SA had got to a point where they were on the brink of closure. Why had they not been told earlier? Why, when all was nearly lost, were they informed, almost as an after thought.? It was a very emotional time and many in the South Australian Deaf community were perplexed and upset that they had not been informed earlier of the situation. Belated public meetings and consultation could only paper over their hurt and concern.

Now in all fairness in considering these issues one must realise that often there are sound business reasons for making such decisions. For example at the old Victorian Deaf Society that was sold, the buildings were so old and rundown, lacking in heating and air conditioning that they were actually an occupational health and safety hazard. Repairing the buildings would have cost many millions of dollars. Selling and moving was, in the end, the only option. Likewise the NSW Deaf Society buildings at Stanmore probably had overheads that were a drain 0n the Deaf Societies resources. There is no issue with making sound business decisions, the issue is involving the Deaf community in the process – and not just at the end!

The powers that be at these organisations may actually find that if they involve the Deaf community as early as possible in the process concerning these business decisions that the Deaf community may actually understand and support these decisions. The Deaf community, if consulted early in the process,  may help to actually identify issues that need to be addressed. Issues such as where Community centres will be located or how Deaf community history can be conserved could be incorporated into the decision process. These are essential components of any decision, not just after-thoughts.

One forgets that in many instances that these Deaf institutions were actually established by Deaf people. Sure, how these institutions are operated has changed but still the Deaf community have a huge connection and stake in  these institutions. They, too, want to see these institutions survive. They understand business reasons but want to see that Deaf community concerns are addressed also. The Deaf community should be involved and informed at the very BEGINNING of discussions and NOT when decisions are so far progressed that they can have virtually no influence on the process.

The sale of parts  of the historic Blue Stone property that has hosted the Victorian School for the Deaf for the last 150 years is a prime example. There are solid business reasons behind the sale. Maintenance of the property is expensive. Sale of parts of the property will decrease overheads meaning more capital can be directed to services for deaf kids. The $22 million is a huge sum of money that can be used to sustain and ensure the survival of Deaf Children Australia and, one would hope, the Victorian College of the Deaf. Other reasons, such as heritage listings, prevents sale of the property. This means that there is only part of the property that can actually be used to grow assets. The sale is not necessarily a bad thing.

In fact Deaf Children Australia are holding a public forum to discuss the sale of parts of the property on July the 8th. The Rebuttal took time to email the president of Deaf Children Australia, Noel Henderson, to establish what is happening. Mr Henderson was kind enough to reply. He stated, in part, that no decisions had been made on the sale of any part of the property but a sale is being considered. He further informed us of the public forum on July 8th. The Rebuttal urges concerned members of the Victorian Deaf community to attend. Listen to the reasons and voice  your concerns. It could well be your last opportunity to do so.

While we commend Deaf Children Australia for consulting with the Deaf community before any decisions have been finalised the question remains –  Why so late in the process? Clearly discussions on a sale have been occurring for a long time – Why have the Deaf community only been involved now? Yes, we know confidentiality is an issue, that sensitive business discussions were happening but this is still no excuse. We are dealing with a valuable part of the spirit and history of the Deaf community – the Deaf community need to be having a bigger say in the decisions that impact on their assets. We say involve the Deaf community as early as possible! Not only is this respectful, but  our decisions makers may actually find that by doing so it actually facilitates the decision making process rather than hinders it.