Where We At???

I have just returned from a magnificent holiday in Canada. It is a beautiful country with wonderfully friendly people. I was based in Calgary which is a very clean and compact city. It is nestled on the beautiful Bow River that flows from the Rockies. Highlight of my trip was a visit to Lake Louise to view snow capped mountains that flank the startling blue lake. We arrived when the mountains were shrouded by mists and then suddenly the mists cleared revealing such an awesome view that my wife was moved to tears.

The Awesome Lake Louise

Inevitably when one travels one compares the country they are visiting with the country that they live. Canada is the second largest country in the world. It is 9.9 million square kilometres in size. Australia is smaller but still vast being 7.6 million square kilometres in size. Population wise the countries are very similar. Canada has 33 million people while Australia has 22 million. The enormous size of the two countries  means there is oodles of space and much untapped nature with wide open spaces. Interestingly the Country Rating World Guide rates both Canada and Australia as equal third best places in the world. Australia is reckoned to have the best living conditions in the world whilst Canada has many benefits from having the USA as its neighbour.  In  particular this link with the USA provides enormous access benefits for deaf people.  ( http://www.freeworldacademy.com/globalleader/rating.htm)

The vastness of Canada and Australia means there is oodles of natural scenery. This is Horse Shoe Canyon - the Badlands

Recently, in Australia, the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has begun to flex its muscle.  Rebuttal readers will know that the AHRC threw out an application for exemption to disability discrimination complaints from the major cinemas in Australia. Less well  known is that they also threw out an application for exemption to disability complaints by Pay TV providers in Australian in relation to the provision of captioning. The AHRC stated that the application from Pay TV providers was against the spirit of the Disability Discrimination ACT (DDA). And thank god for that!

The first thing that hits you when you arrive in Canada is that captioning is everywhere. Televisions in shopping malls have their captions switched on. In airports it is a similar story. You switch on the TV and cable TV .. all 240 channels provided by SHAW (A Canadian Telco) are captioned 24 hours a day. The soccer, shown live from England, was captioned as well. My jaw just literally dropped.

In Australia I have pay TV.  The lack of captioning on it means that for deaf and hard of hearing it is not great value. It is frustrating because there are shows that are captioned one day and then not the next. It STINKS. While free to air television is improving in its provision of captioning there are still too many shows that are not captioned.

I will grant you that Canada benefits from having such a close proximity to the US of A. BUT this is still no excuse for the shoddy treatment that deaf people get in terms of captioning in Australia. In terms of population and the vastness of area Canada and Australia are very similar countries. BUT technically Australia is richer. In 2009 the average income in Australia was $40 000 ranking it 19th in the world. In Canada average income is $38 200 ranking it 27th in the world. YET Canada is providing 24 hour, round the clock, television captioning! What excuse does Australia have???Absolutely NONE. One can only assume that Australian Television providers are simply mean spirited and the Australian Government lacking in  the fortitude to compel these companies to provide access that Deaf and hard of hearing people should have BY RIGHT!

The other glaring difference you will note upon arriving in Canada is the quality and speed of its Internet services. The friends I was staying with had a bundle that included cable TV, Internet, Phone (Video Phone) all in one for just under $100 a month. The video phone was attached to their television. They simply switched it on and dialled the video relay service when they needed to make a call or dialled direct to a deaf friend. Currently the Canadian video relay service is in operation from 9am to 11pm. In a few weeks it will be 24 hours a day.

What do we have in Australia? Pay TV where captioning access is a lottery. A video relay service that is from 9 am to 5pm and where sometimes there is no interpreter because none are available. A relay service we must access through Skype that sometimes drops out and varies in quality. The National Broadband Network cannot come fast enough. Australia is a rich country RICHER than Canada and it simply no longer has any reason to  not provide. I don’t care if Canada is benefiting from its close link to the USA – AUSTRALIA CAN afford it – There are no longer any excuses!

We stayed in Calgary which is a small city, about the size of Adelaide, with a population of around 1.2 million people.  It has appalling public transport  but is beautifully planned and very, very clean. In Calgary they have a small and independent Deaf community. We were fortunate to attend the Calgary Association for the Deaf’s 75th anniversary.  The Calgary Association of the Deaf maybe small but it is also exceedingly well run and entirely run by Deaf people at that. It has $ half a million in the bank and is looking to buy its own premises. It gets some Government support but only through grants that it applies for. It is run entirely by volunteers. It is a model that the Australian Deaf community should aspire to.

In  Australia Deaf community groups struggle to survive. They are dependent on support from benevolent and often patronising peak bodies like Deaf Societies.  Deaf community groups have to scrimp and save simply to make ends meet. As president of Deaf Sports Recreation Victoria I can say this with some authority. If tomorrow Vicdeaf told DSRV they needed to find a new office or withdrew the paltry funding that it provides to support DSRV, or if the Victorian Government withdrew the minimal annual grant it provides – DSRV would fold and die. Yet in Calgary, population 1.2 million, (Melbourne 6 million) there is a completely independent and relatively wealthy Deaf run Deaf organisation that could survive without any additional funding whatsoever. Where are we going wrong??

Interestingly, despite the obvious advantages that deaf Canadians have over their Australian deaf peers, they still have the political bun-fights that exist in Australia.   There is still that age old political argument of oral vs signing. There is still controversy about when and if kids should have cochlear implants and if they should be ablen to sign or not. I guess somethings will be forever universal.

We in Australia enjoy a wonderful lifestyle. We enjoy relative wealth, pristine beaches, wonderful weather, wonderful health and state of the art technology. We receive a high standard of education and have enormous opportunities for leisure. But most of all Australia is WEALTHY! I maybe naive but to my way of thinking Canada has all the logistical diffculties of distance and isolation that Australia must confront yet it PROVIDES a level of access that deaf Australians can only dream of.  Sure it is helped by it’s close geographical links to the USA but Australia CAN and SHOULD be doing better! Enough of the excuses – it can be done – Just get on with it!

9 thoughts on “Where We At???

  1. How is Australia richer than Canada?? I just know that Australia has much higher cost of living hence higher wage for people to earn to match. If the Australian government has managed to keep the country out of deficit then by all means I would agree that Canada is poorer – we had gone back into big-time debt.

  2. From a personal point of view I think the cost of living is very similar .. some better here some better there … I think if you look at debt per capita you will see Canada is ranked at 18 in the world with equivalent of 75% of its GDP being debt whilst Australia is way down at 110 with only 17.6% of of GDP being debt …. ( however you are supposed to say it 😀 ) So technically Australia is financially very healthy and well able to afford more than it does in regard to comparable countries. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_sovereign_states_by_public_debt)

    You can find anything on google ;-D

  3. Ah! Most of those countries that have less debt than Canada do not provide enough communication access to the Deaf anyway so that is something us Deaf Canadians should be proud of! 😀

  4. Indeed they should Robyn . Very proud indeed … To make matters worse I reckon little old New Zealand actually do a better job than spanking rich Australia .. It’s an absolute load of bollocks what they are providing in Australia … Shameful!!

  5. This is an excellent article, thankyou Gazza. I’m the Mum/Mother-in-Law of 3 adult Deaf people and have been through years of frustration at the lack of support in so many ways for the Deaf in Australia. My own theory about this is that deafness is not a glaringly obvious disability. I know that many unaware people wouldn’t even know they are talking to a deaf person – until they run into problems, and then they just give up. The Deaf don’t complain much either. They can’t just get on the phone and have a big rant at the TV station or their local MP or whoever they can find to help them. There needs to be a lot more publicity and effort made to get the message through to the general public. This is where my imagination dries up but maybe there’s be a way of getting a story on the do-good shows like “Today Tonight” or similar. Then there’s the whole other issue of deaf people having to pay for hearing aids and batteries, which I know are completely free in the UK to absolutely anyone who needs them. Why not here?

  6. Dean and I had a great conversation about this article…. Dean says that the Canadian Radio and Televison Commission has LOTS to do with providing captioning access. We also have the Charter of Rights – declaring that all people have the rights to equality. We are able to use these terms “Human Rights” and that would sent people scattering to ensure we get whatever access we require. Americans have their American Disablity Acts (ADA) and could use this against these non-providing people. Since the Charter of Rights have been passed, lots of accessiblity had evolved for the better. I wonder if Australia has the same thing. It is true that we have the advantage of living beside the USA with the largest Deaf population in the world – over 20 million Deaf people. What they have in regards of technology, us Canadians could fight to get the same kind, take our recent establishment of video relay service as an example. One thing we have great advantage over the Americans is that we get big tax returns, not them. 🙂

    Bottom line, I would not want to move to the USA because I feel that Deaf Canadians will always have great access to whatever we need as we always catch up with the USA pretty quickly. We do have great health care, plently of water supply, natural resources, etc. Why leave???

  7. Interesting article, Gazza. Relative wealth is irrelevant when it comes to access issues such as this, it is the political landscape that dictates who can get what as well as some bit of history thrown in. It is also the size of the economy that’s a determining factor not the GDP per capita. We could go on about world economics and politics but this is not what’s at stake here. Historically Australia has always been weak on social policy for various reasons and allow me to extrapolate some of them.

    For some reason the Australian Deaf community has been a bit brow-beaten the past 10 or so years, possibly because of the politics of a certain party that was in power for many years.

    Geography is also a deciding factor. You can argue that Canada is bigger than Australia so faces the same geographical constraints as we do, but if you look at a map you will see that 7 of the 11 most populous Canadian cities are bunched up in a small area of the country, plus a few other cities relatively close by, with the rest of them in the West. As logistics go it is economically easier to develop services in a larger metropolitan area, whereas in Australia our main cities are stretched thin along the coast. Hamilton, Ottawa, Quebec City, Montreal and Toronto etc occupy something like the distance between Melbourne and Sydney and I think this probably would have something to do with how the economy and politics have evolved over the years.

    Also Canada has a significant winter economy which we don’t have in Australia, a whole industry has evolved around keeping 32 million people warm, ensuring the roads are clear of ice and snow, of suitably equipping buildings, cars, transport and so-on, all this for about 3 months of the year or so. I don’t know how this works but I am willing to bet you that the winter economy somehow dictates social policy to some degree over there.

    Canada has 1/3rd more people than Australia has so this will have quite a significant impact on the overall economy.

    I am not making excuses for what has happened in Australia, but there are so many factors to consider, the wider economy, GDP, politics, geography, climate, natural resources and so-on.

    Perhaps it is worthwhile looking to see what we in Australia have which the Canadians don’t have, or which we do better than they do, and I don’t mean just the summer-time climate!

    • All very true Paul .. but bottom line remains the same. Australia can afford it, no excuses ….. Australias population is predominatly centred on coastal towns … the bulk being ib capitsl cities. Only in Queensland is the population outside of the capital greater than witin it. I would say the demographics are very similar in terms of population spread and the logistics similar too – but I am just offering an observation.

      As you say Australia is weak on social policy … it can and should be doing better. But the idea of comparing is a great idea … Any takers ;-D

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