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.