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.

Michael Clarksons Response to the Queenslander of the Year Award Debate.

As a professional teaching in the field of deaf education I don’t particularly agree with some of the comments made by Julie Judd – President of CODA Australia in response to the awarding of Dimity Dorman’s Queenslander of the Year Award. At the risk of being branded a traitor I would like to offer the following views:

1. Julie Judd claims that only one third of deaf children are suitable for an implant. Through my experiences as an educator working with many children with cochlear implants, being an implantee and having a daughter who has a cochlear implant that is not as successful as the majority of children with implants, the one third figure is grossly untrue. Deaf children with normally shaped cochlea and perfectly formed auditory nerve branches are perfectly suitable for a cochlear implant and provided they are implanted prior to the age of two do achieve appropriate linguistic outcomes as any average hearing child due to the plasticity of the brain during the language acquisition process during the infant and toddler years.

2. While I agree with Julie Judd in saying that historically, the deaf community has endured oppression and faced adversities, her comment about ‘normalising a deaf child to the detriment of their cognitive development is tantamount to criminal activity’ is taking things to an extreme to the point of farce. Yes in the past when the technology was not around, natural sign language was a very valuable tool in the cognitive development of any deaf child. Now that the technology is available to provide great listening and linguistic outcomes during the toddler years, achievable cognitive development via listening and speech is realistically possible.

3. Recently the Queensland Government has contributed 30 million dollars over a period of 5 years to retrain teachers of the deaf to add Auslan as a communication skill. For the Queensland Government to also award the Hear and Say Centre 4 million dollars to provide achievable listening outcomes for deaf children (whom the majority have cochlear implants and are under the age of entry to school age) is a fantastic opportunity for children who have the potential and chance to enjoy the same privileges as their hearing peers. We are not normalising children as Julie Judd claims, but more of giving deaf children the chance to enjoy the same privileges as their hearing counterparts. The point here is about providing options for children to choose which communication medium they would like to pursue in their language and linguistic opportunities be it signing or speech and audition.

However in saying the abovementioned points, I would like to add that I find that teaching institutions such as teacher training universities and colleges fail to address the outcomes provided by the Australian Association of Teachers of the Deaf (AATD) mainly in the areas of communication in natural sign languages. I am proud to say I have acquired the skills of all communication mediums (Auslan, Total Communication and Auditory Verbal [A/V]) where the latter was quite challenging to acquire in terms of my handicap. Even though, it was challenging, it is rewarding to be able to help children to achieve auditory development in leaps and bounds. I find it extremely disturbing that while I put in the hard yards to maintain professional development in the A/V field, most of my colleagues do not share the same sort of commitment when raising the issue of professional development in the field of signing communication. I am my daughter’s Itinerant Support Teacher Hearing (the politically correct term for the Visiting Teacher of the Deaf) simply because of the fact that there is no teacher of the Deaf in my region who is fluent in Auslan. I rather be my daughter’s dad than to be her teacher.

I am a proud and culturally enriched deaf individual who love interacting with deaf people through natural sign language, but at the same time, I allow my deaf students the opportunity to communicate in whatever communication medium they feel comfortable in. Don’t get me wrong, I have a deaf daughter who is a very fluent natural signer and I have many fears for her future. Will the deaf community still be around when she reaches adulthood? Will she have as many deaf friends in her adulthood as we did when we left school? Will she be required to live in the expensive metropolitan areas in order to maintain contact and interaction with other culturally deaf people? Believe me, these questions serve to encourage and fire me to get on the propaganda wagon of the deaf community, but to deprive the 95% of deaf children the chance to enjoy the same privileges of their hearing peers would be as Julie Judd says… “a criminal activity”.

Michael J Clarkson B.Ed, M.Spec.Ed

Teacher of the Deaf