An Ode to the Baird

John Logie Baird is a friend of the Deaf. Not that he had anything to do with the deaf but in inventing the system that led to television as we now know it  he set in motion a series of events that have created a situation in the present time where opportunities abound for deaf people like never before.

Baird probably had a shed out the back. He was probably a bloke, just like me, your mate or your husband who can be found out back in the shed playing with bits and pieces of motorbikes and wondering why there is a bolt left over after having just replaced the carby. Baird had an idea and started joining bits and pieces of wires together. No doubt he got this idea from the work of others.  But wherever he got the idea from one day he joined a wire together , tightened a bolt switched on and suddenly found that he could beam, across a room, an image of something onto a screen.

Of course Baird was qualified for the job of creating electrical things. He studied electrical engineering. Apparently during his life he had a number of failed agricultural ventures. He tried setting up business to produce honey and even fertiliser but all these ventures failed. Most likely because he wasn’t really into or qualified for agriculture. He was into electrical stuff. His networks and knowledge were all electrical. Somewhere along the line he realised this and focused on where his energies were most suited. When he stuck with what he knew he achieved amazing things.

Now I am no electrician and wouldn’t dream of working in the field but what Baird created seems, to my limited knowledge, to have led to an array of amazing inventions. Surely Baird’s early invention is directly associated with the computer monitor. Using Baird’s idea of beaming things through electrical whatnot’s to screens the amazing goings on of the computer can be seen on a screen. Did you know, for example, that Baird was also into fibre optics? Very soon the National Broadband Network will use fibre optics to bring super fast broadband to 98% of all Australian homes.

Through fibre optics we will be able to connect with each other through web-cams and see each other, presumably, crystal clear. Already Doctors all over the world use video conferencing to consult. In India, for example, specialist doctors link up with local GPs to hold consults with patients who cant get to their clinics. Apparently the specialist instructs the local GP what to do and look for while looking on through video conferencing.  In Australia, once the NBN is rolled out, this will be possible and all through the computer using web-cams. What is more, from what I am reading, through the NBN specialists will be able to measure things like heart rates and blood pressure on patients who are 1000’s of kms away. All of this because Baird somehow worked out how to send a television signal to a screen. (Yes, I am aware that we can also trace this back as far as Alexander Graham Bell and the telephone, but for the sake of the narrative I am sticking with Baird. And anyway Bell discovered the telephone by mistake while trying to invent a machine that would help his deaf mother speak.)

Why is all this relevant to the deaf? Well simply because through Baird’s idea of beaming up a motion picture through electrical impulses to  a screen we now are able to meet a variety of different communication needs of the Deaf. Lets take the example of Ai media and their captions to classrooms idea.  Simply though having an audio connection Ai Media can now provide deaf kids in the classroom with instant captioning and better access to learning. All the kids need is a laptop and from a destination in Sydney captions can be beamed to any classroom, anywhere in Australia.

Now I have no time for the cynics that say Ai media  are flogging themselves to death and becoming wealthy at the expense of the deaf. There is no such thing as a free lunch. If the owners of Ai media can make a buck and deaf kids can get a better education, that’s a good thing in my view. People need to get of their high horses. But still this goes all the way back to the humble John Logie Baird who worked out how to beam images through electrical impulses. Text or pictures, whats the difference? It’s all  beamed from one destination to another.

Last week I saved my work $1500 in interpreting simply because I was able to beam up an interpreter from Melbourne to remote Victoria on my laptop using free Skype software. I wrote about this in the last Rebuttal and since then I have had over ten meetings and only one of them failed and that was because my modem ran out of credit. Why cant we use this concept in the same way as Ai have with captioning and beam interpreters, properly qualified ones, to classrooms so deaf kids can have ready access to discussions? How long before universities catch on and beam interpreters up remotely to  lectures to save travel time and waste of interpreter time on the road? How long before deaf people take their laptops to the doctor and have their consult either captioned or interpreted on the screen? It’s all possible, and all thanks to the Baird.

The times they are a changing. All we have to do is move with them. Hats off to the Baird whose vision started it all. He truly is a friend of the deaf.


Now in it’s fourth week, READ MY SHORTS continues to entertain audiences with its variety. Last Monday saw a film THE MONEY, which was a hearing take on a Deaf joke about sign language interpreters.

READ MY SHORTS is the only film festival that has been set up from the outset with access for Deaf and Hearing Impaired audiences in mind. More than this, it is a festival that allows Deaf and Hearing Impaired people to meet the filmmakers, participate in Question and Answers sessions, and participate in mainstream cultural offerings.

All films in the festival are captioned, and an Auslan Interpreter will be present for the Q & A sessions.

There will be: Six Short Films per night, Guest Speakers, Q & As with the “auteurs”, Audience choice spot prize, a Critic’s Choice Award which goes into season filmmakers prize draw, and an Industry Panel chaired by legends Jolene Langland, IRENE WALLS, Martin Simpson and Tracy Savage.

It will be running for three more weeks: Monday 29th November, 6th December, and the Finals night, 13th December.


Time: 7 – 9.30pm

Where: Royal Albert Hotel, 140 Commonwealth St, Surry Hills, Sydney, NSW, Australia

For more information visit out website Read My Shorts/ or contact us by email

GLOBAL FINANCES – By Paul Bartlett, Oz Expat in the UK

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock the past few years the fact that the world’s in the midst of a global financial meltdown must not have escaped your attention. I’m sure that you must be wondering what this has to do with deaf people? My response is – plenty!

Like other minorities and disadvantaged groups, deaf people rank pretty lowly in the order of priorities with governments all around the world. As some of you would know, the number one priority is paying off international debts; you only need to look at countries like Somalia and Chad to see this. Food and shelter for citizens come pretty low down the order, and human rights come even lower.

Any spare cash is used for meeting the needs of the disadvantaged whoever they may be, and bugger all, all those human rights issues. Now I have painted some sort of picture, how do deaf people come into this? I will go through several issues one by one.

Access rights.

It is expensive to ensure that deaf people have equitable access to the main language in any country. In Australia this is English and access comes in the form of Auslan Interpreters, telephone relay services, subtitled TV, captioned movies and theatre and so-on. Very few deaf people, if any at all, have any political influence around the world and those deaf politicians in other countries that you have read of have no real political clout.

The past few decades Governments have been putting more and more funds aside to ensure that access rights of deaf people are being met, and they are hoping to get something in return in the form of extra income in the form of taxes, but I cannot see how there can be any balance of payments here. Now that governments have smaller budgets, and don’t tell me that growing GDPs equals bigger budgets, this will be one of the first cutbacks to make, especially when ins don’t equal outs for them.

As long as the international financial uncertainly continues we will see access rights slowly being eroded around the world, especially government sponsored access. Also free legal services will experience cut backs so unless you have oodles of money it will be very difficult finding a free legal aid service to support your suit if you wish to bring one against somebody.


Deaf ed is expensive. All those specially trained teachers of the deaf. All those speech therapists. All those educational psychologists. All those educational service case managers. All those communication support personnel. All those hearing aids and other listening devices and so-on. Hearing children don’t require all that. Also what additional income do the governments get from spending big on deaf kids? A little in extra taxes gained maybe but like above, no balance of payments here.

Deaf ed is going to be a victim of the GFC whether we like it or not.


These can be any government-sponsored service for deaf people. Funding for deaf charities. Social workers who can sign. Funds for community centres. Funding for employment services. The money pot is going to dry up over the next few years and services are going to be increasingly prioritised, with a greater percentage of funds set aside for real emergencies i.e. life/death situations. The solution for governments here is to fund either mainstream services or multi-discipline ones. Ring-fencing funding for deaf people is going to be less of a priority for a while. So services and organisations for deaf people are going to feel the pinch in the coming years.

I could go on and on here with other examples but what’s the point. More pertinently, what can you do and what is the way forward?

Advocacy organisations need to put forth tailor-made arguments in light of these circumstances supporting their cause. There needs to be less emphasis on human rights and equality issues and more on the benefits to the governments and the wider community as a whole. For example organisations could argue that there is huge potential out there for deaf people to generate extra income for the government in the form of taxes, i.e. income tax, GST and VAT and others.

Talk also about integration within the wider community, how better funding for deaf people will lead to a more integrated community. And better integration equals less crime and violence and so-on. Use the same arguments ethnic minority groups use to prevent ethnic violence by community education. Exploit the growing number of older people becoming deaf. Baby boomers born in the early 1950s are now around the 60 mark and many of them are losing their hearing. Argue that the incidence of deafness is on the increase and any funding for deafness will see a profitable return. Forget about the deaf/hard of hearing dichotomy, there are more important issues at stake now. Also due to the evolution of technology there are now cheaper ways of providing communication support i.e. video relay interpreting and

I don’t want to come across as being fatalistic, all I want to do is to say to everyone that there are other ways of ensuring that our rights as deaf people can be protected and there are other ways of approaching this. Arguments we have used in the past hold lesser validity these days and we can applurselves on the progress we have made over the past 30 or so years. But at the same time we need to be realistic.

I Remember the Time …..

You begin to realise you are getting old when you are sitting among friends or gazing absently into the distance and you paraphrase most of your thoughts or utterances with, “I remember the time….” And so it was last week when I set up my laptop for a meeting and beamed up the lovely Nic from Auslan Services through Skype to interpret for me. I was 150 kms from Melbourne and until then I had to get my interpreters from Melbourne. With travel time and kilometres on the car the cost could be nearly $1000. The further you are from Melbourne the more it costs. So it was not surprising that the first utterance that came from my mouth was, as my bemused colleague looked on at the gadgetry and was asked to don a headset, “…..I remember the time.”

A little over 20 years ago if I needed communication support I had to rely on an empathetic colleague. That colleague was usually someone who could either sign or was prepared to take notes for me. There were very few qualified interpreters and I took what I could. Often to deal with phone calls a colleague would take the call and relay short messages to me while covering the mouth piece. Not that they had the time, they just did what they had to do so that I could do my job.

When I started work the TTY had been in Australia for some time. It was a wonderful tool if you could afford it. Back then it cost as much as a decent television does now. It was only useful if someone at the other end had a TTY. If they did not then it was back to finding someone to relay messages for you. And then in 1995 they finally introduced the National Relay Service. I remember that fateful very first day when I got set to make my first official work call through the new NRS. What a downer that was because the system crashed and we all had to wait til the next day. Later that year I arranged a date over the phone for the first time through the Relay Service. WOOOOO HOOOOO was I beginning to live life!

And here I was a little over 20 years later in 2010. I was 150 kms from Melbourne. I had my spanking new laptop purchased by the Government. I was switching on my spanking new mobile modem that was also purchased by the Government. This laptop and modem were beaming up the lovely Nic from Auslan Services to interpret for me, also paid for by the Government. At that moment I was literally gobsmacked.

Less than five years ago if I wanted interpreters in remote areas I had to pay for them from my program budget. It’s not a vast budget and I have to use it to service half of Victoria. As much as three quarters of that budget was going to interpreting. For me to get two interpreters to Warrnambool, just under 300 kms from Melbourne for a basic two hour meeting cost me over $2000. I was lucky I was on a Government funded program and had an empathetic employer because if I had not, I have no doubt I would be on the dole.

Just for a little moment as Nic interpreted I was proud, simply because I had pushed hard for this solution to the problem. I, with many others, have been advocating technology as a solution to distance and remoteness for the last decade. I am not ashamed to say that as Nic began to interpret for me I was a tad emotional. (I hope I hid it well.)

Just last week my wife, who is deaf and a teacher of the deaf, supported a student 200 kms away through Oovoo. She did this on a post office issued Vodaphone Prepaid Mobile Modem and a little notebook that cost $366. She was able to converse via Oovoo in sign language to the student for over an hour. If she had wished she could have transferred documents via Oovoo. She could have received written work from the student and provided feedback. She could have supported the student’s teacher with advice using the text facility of Ovoo without the need to spend hours driving on the road. AND she did this out of hers and my pocket. Why? Well it seems because  the powers that be are not yet with it. There are solutions to issues and cheap ones too. I cannot understand why people are dilly dallying. “I remember the time…..”

And just two weeks ago a friend invited me over for a BBQ. They were showing off their new IPhone 4. They were excited about the new Facetime application.  If another person has an Iphone 4 and there is a wireless internet network that the IPhone can log into – crystal clear on the IPhone you can see each other well enough to converse via sign language or interpret. Technically, rather than having to lug around a laptop and a modem, I could use this medium for my interpreting needs. Sure it’s limited by the need of a wireless network BUT consider this? If you are logging into a wireless network you have no need to pay for expensive phone data plans to access the service. I remember the time when a girl put her phone number in my back pocket and my cousin called her pretending to be me because I was too embarrassed to tell her I was Deaf … Yes indeed I am getting old – I would never do that now (Being married is part of the reason)

Why are we not using this simple technology to provide counselling services or early intervention support to parents of deaf kids? This sort of stuff is particularly useful if you are living in rural and remote areas or if you have the issue of transport or childcare. Using a simple laptop and Skype or Oovoo it is possible to provide good quality support. Less travel time, more people time, less CO2 in the air. All the costs of getting the right technology, and these costs are absolutely minimal, would be offset by the reduction of costs in delivering service. All it takes is vision and a willingness to give things a go.

Our current Labor/Bits and Pieces Government is on the ball with technology. It virtually won the election on the National Broadband Network (NBN) issue and superfast internet. The two independents that eventually gave Labor power listed NBN as one of the major reasons they supported Labor. If there is one problem with Skype and Oovoo it is that it can vary in quality. The NBN will put paid to that. And did you know about the Digital Education Revolution (DER)? The Labor Government has provided 2.4 billion dollars over seven years as part for the DER. Any one providing support to deaf people in education needs to look this up and tap into it, Check it out on

It is mind-blowing just how far we have come in terms of communication and technology. More importantly this technology has opened doors for the deaf that we would not have thought possible even 5 years ago. I could and should have mentioned captioned telephony too – space does not permit – but it is another important development. Yes I remember the time when technology was what prevented inclusion of deaf people in many facets of society, the humble telephone was the start of it all. Not now – not ever again. I am proud to say that I played my part in the revolution – Now YOU the reader must get out there and make it all happen. Show your boss, your colleagues or your teacher this article – the world is your oyster.

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Arthur C Clarke

Good Old Adelaide

Adelaide is my home. I lived there for nearly all my childhood and a large slab of my adult life. Given a choice I would call Adelaide home. My recent holiday to Canada, staying in Calgary, reminded me very much of Adelaide. Calgary is very small, only 1.2million people live there. It is very clean with wide open spaces and streets. There is an almost complete absence of a rail networks in Calgary, not unlike Adelaide, so ugly criss-crossing rail-yards do not exist. Apart from my childhood Adelaide is where I started my working life. My career as I know it began at the then Royal South Australian Deaf Society, now known as Deaf Can Do. I Always take a keen interest in what is happening in Adelaide particularly my beloved Adelaide Crows and the Deaf Society, the hallowed 262. (So called because the address is 262 South Terrace.)

So it was with interest last week that I received an email about what is happening at Deaf Can Do.  The Rebuttal has enjoyed a rather frosty relationship with Deaf Can Do. Previously known as Deaf SA the organisation nearly folded a few years back. A number of failed business initiatives and constant cuts in government funding had seen the assets of the organisation rapidly whittled away. As a last resort to survive they asked Townsend House to form a partnership where they shared administration, the CEO and fundraising initiatives. At the time there was great concern that Deaf SA would be swallowed up by Townsend House and control over assets such as the iconic 262 would be lost.

Over time Deaf SA changed its name to Deaf Can Do. The Rebuttal received many emails from Deaf residents of SA who complained that they had not been consulted about the name change. Many commented that they found the name patronising and one wag (not us) mockingly coined the phrase Deaf Can’t Do. The logo of Deaf SA, which was stylised hands in tune with sign language, was changed to a butterfly that we at The Rebuttal compared to a squashed butterfly on a windscreen. We called it road kill. More to the point we suggested that what Townsend House were doing was silently and bloodlessly taking over Deaf SA by naming it Deaf Can Do, in line with their children services Can Do 4 Kids. This was vehemently denied by the then CEO and also the President of Deaf Can Do. Nevertheless we urged the Deaf community of SA to remain diligent and to ensure that their control of Deaf community historical property, namely 262, was not lost.

Later The Rebuttal wrote  a strong article criticising fund-raising methods of a sensory organisation in SA. The gist of the article was that having Deafblind person, a very intelligent one at that, rattling a can for money in a shopping centre was not the sort of image that portrayed Deaf or Deafblind people in a positive way. The article , The Slums of Mumbiah, brought a stinging rebuke from the then Townsend House and Deaf Can Do CEO who outed his organisation as the one in question (it had not been named) and suggested we were taking away the right of the individual to chose how he wanted to be employed and that in doing so we were elitist and arrogant. Debate on this article continued for many weeks and responses were received from all over the world. The majority decrying such fund-raising practices.

As a result of The Rebuttal’s reporting on the issues the relationship with Deaf Can Do has been, as I said, frosty. So it was with interest that we read the open letter from Deaf Can Do’s current CEO, Judy Curran, to the Deaf community of South Australia. Previously Deaf Can Do and Townsend House had separate Boards of Management but shared one CEO. Now this has changed. They still the have one CEO and now also have only one Board of Management. The open letter from Judy Curran was explaining the new arrangement of having one Board of Management.

In her letter she explained the reasons behind having one Board of Management. She outlined the need for “integrated structures” and this could be achieved by having one Board of Management. What this means is that Deaf Can Do and Townsend House will no longer have separate Boards of Management. In essence, the one Board will oversee both organisations. The new structure will see two Advisory Committees established to advise the new Board of issues of importance. One will advise on issues related to policy in regard to Deaf Can Do, the other will focus on policy relating to young people with a sensory impairment. Presumably the Board will be guided in their decision making by these two Advisory Committees. The goal of this new structure is a more “unified organisation” and one that will lead to “Greater and more viable achievement” – quite how is not clear but that is the reasoning behind the decision.

The one Board of Management does make a lot of sense. Having two Boards of Management for what is, essentially, one entity was always something that was going to be difficult. Quite how it all worked these last few years I do not know. If one board made a decision that the other didn’t agree with, who had the the controlling decision. Was it Townsend House or was it Deaf Can Do?  As I said, I do not know, but it was potentially a messy arrangement. What this new arrangement also means, in our view anyway, is that Townsend House and Deaf Can Do are moving closer to becoming ONE organisation. It’s not quite there yet but it’s slowly moving, peacefully and bloodlessly along that path.  It is not a bad thing, but lets be honest, these two historical organisations Deaf Can Do and Townsend House, both with a rich history, are becoming one.

The major issue will be the power that the Advisory Committees have. Are they committees with clout? Or are they tokenistic committees that are set up to be seen as giving the Deaf community and associates of young people with a sensory disability, such as parents, a voice but, in reality, no control.  The proof will be in the pudding, but one hopes that these so called “Advisory Committees” have far more power than to just give advice. One would further hope that these “Advisory Committees”, presumably made up of grassroots stakeholders, would have an equal amount of say and control as do the Board of Management professionals that are often made up of accountants and medical minds. Only time will tell but someone needs to be asking these questions as the new structure is rolled out.

The positive of all of this is that it is all being communicated to the Deaf community. It was terrific that the new CEO took time to listen to the community about their concerns over the Deaf Can Do logo and involve them in the development of a new one. It is very clear that the Deaf community views were taken seriously and that every attempt will be made in the development of the new logo/s to incorporate the views of the Deaf community.  Real consultation is the best sign of respect and it certainly looks like this respect has been given. What we need now, if it hasn’t happened already, is for someone to translate all of this written communication into Auslan so everyone in the Deaf community has access to this vital and important information.

# In the original draft of this article we stated that there were separate CEOs for Deaf Can do and Townsend House … This was an error and we have since corrected it.