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.
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.