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.