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.

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2 thoughts on “Good Old Adelaide

  1. Thanks Gaz for this most interesting discourse.

    Like you I have wondered how the two separate Boards managed in the intervening years since the merger. It makes a whole lot of sense to have just one Board and two advisory committees (AC). It also makes far more sense to have at least one member of each AC to sit on the Board, to ensure that it is fully representative. And the AC member who has been appointed to the Board is an elected community representative, i.e. a Deaf community member, and that this represetnative has all the rights associated with full Board members and are just not co-opts without any voting rights.

    This is a major constitutional change which probably requires a member vote and I wonder if Townsend House have set the wheels in motion?

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