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.
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)
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!