It's a Scandal – By Marnie Kerridge

I don’t want to be put on a pedestal.  I just want to be reasonably successful and live a normal life with all the conveniences to make it so.

Althea Gibson 

(Tennis player Althea Gibson (1927-2003) became the first African American to compete in the U.S. Nationals. The next year she became the first African American to play at Wimbledon, England.)

It is always a case of one step forward, two steps back isn’t it? Well maybe not always, but it certainly feels that way sometimes. We have the rollout of new cinema technology. The one step forward is that we get increased cinema access time and will be at the forefront of deaf/hearing impaired /vision impaired cinema access worldwide when this happens. The two steps back is that the technology being used is not perfect, has many critics and the powers that be have chosen to not involve the community to get their feedback and support.  Don’t be fooled by Deafness Forum’s latest email promising to pass on all our concerns. It is just a tokenistic ploy to keep us quiet.

And then, The Rebuttal heard a story from a person studying to become a teacher of the deaf. This person is currently working as a Student Support Officer at a Deaf Facility, working closely with deaf students and their staff. This inspired the idea of further study to become a teacher of the deaf. In a community where there are teachers who cannot sign well, she had a valuable contribution to make. It is true she cannot speak well but she is a confident and skilful communicator. It is true that there are some typical deaf grammatical errors in her written English skills but her language and expressive skills are excellent.  On the flipside of the coin you could argue that it is also true that many hearing teachers can speak and write English well but their expressive and receptive skills in sign language are totally inadequate. Yet these same teachers are still allowed to work in a signing environment with deaf kids.

Let’s consider the discrimination our aspiring deaf teacher of the deaf is facing because of perceived ‘defects’. Teaching rounds are an integral part of a student teacher’s study and development. It can be tricky for the deaf student teacher as their rounds need to be done at regular schools with hearing students. Usually there is a way around it. Some have used interpreters to be their voice and ears. Others have used extensive lip-reading and oral skills. Transparent negotiations occur between the deaf student teacher and the assessors/ lecturers. Modifications are made. The actual assessment of lesson plans, appropriate teaching methods, control of the classroom, strategies remain the same as they are with hearing student teachers. The only modification is having support to deliver a lesson.

The lecturers of our aspiring deaf teacher of the deaf did all the above. However, later and without consultation, they also gave her extra assessments where they tested her ability to cope and communicate in a hearing classroom. This extra assessment came as a complete surprise to her. This is a clear case of direct discrimination as she is being required to do an assessment because she is deaf that is not a requirement for hearing students.  It seems that her teaching skills were less significant than her ability to communicate in a mainstream classroom. One can only assume from this example that the powers that be believe that English and hearing are obviously the most important requirements for teaching!

Some may think this is a fair decision to make but we believe it is blatant and uncalled for discrimination. If the aim is to become a teacher of the deaf, why make this pathway more difficult? Our aspiring deaf teacher of the deaf eventually would have been in a school setting where she was an equal with her students’ communication needs. What recourse was there if she had “failed” her extra and unfair assessment? Why not work with her to ensure she has strategies and skills to manage a hearing classroom, rather than deliberately presenting obstacles?

As it was, she passed with flying colours and that was when the lecturers told her about the extra assessment. The worst part of it was that they patronisingly thought they were doing her a favour! Was this the end of her troubles? Not by a long shot!

Teaching rounds occurred in a mainstream school with a deaf facility. She was able to teach a combined class of deaf and hearing students, and the hearing students had developed communication skills to communicate with the deaf. It was an ideal setting. Her report was excellent. The co-ordinator of the Deaf Facility, however, felt it necessary to note that she would have trouble finding work because she couldn’t speak clearly enough and this would disadvantage the deaf students who had cochlear implants. A COORDINATOR NO LESS!! Isn’t it comforting that a person in such power has such a bright outlook on the career prospects of the deaf – NOT!

Obviously, all deaf kids are not equal. The co-ordinator is correct in stating that the kids with cochlear implants need appropriate speaking models. It is also correct to say that the signing kids require appropriate signing models. A fact he managed to conveniently overlook.  In the past, even when this co-ordinator had a Deaf teacher of the deaf who could speak and sign fluently, he did not employ her as a classroom teacher. This Deaf teacher has taught close to 400 hearing students in a school! The worse problem she has is finding adequate funding to use for interpreters at all school based meetings and Professional Development and that is an Education Department issue. So obviously, there is a perceived bias over the facts the ears don’t work – never mind the qualifications and skills of the deaf person.

So our deaf teacher who is studying and soon to complete her Masters in Deaf Education has been beaten to the post by two other hearing students studying the same course. Both jobs involve Auslan. Neither can sign, one assumes the students will be made to SPEAK to support the teacher rather than the teacher SIGN PROPERLY to support them. Maybe the students should get a support teachers wage!

The bias is appalling. Our ears don’t work. We can’t communicate the same way as hearing teachers. We are expensive. It is all too hard. Just get teachers who can sign a little bit and are fantastic speech and listening models instead like we have been doing for the past many years. And we wonder why deaf education has not improved?!

We need both types of workers – hearing and deaf. We need to cater for all the educational, linguistic and auditory needs of the deaf students and by doing this we balance our workforce. Deaf students need deaf teachers too. They need to see other deaf teachers who maybe are not perfect in English or can’t speak that well too and know that like them, they can achieve.  THEY NEED INSPIRING DEAF ROLE MODELS. Not patronising, “You speak so beautifully”, hearing teachers that value normalisation above all.

The odds are stacked against us with discrimination at university, within Deaf Facilities and the Education Department.  It is always one step forward and two steps back.  No, in fact, we are just going backwards, there are no forward steps. We deaf people can become AND ARE effective teachers of the deaf.  We remind those hearing teachers of the deaf who are discriminating that YOU ARE BREAKING THE LAW. One hopes that very soon someone will make a complaint under the Disability Discrimination Act to the Australian Human Rights Commission. It has to happen. It is a scandal and it’s time it ended!

EDITORIAL

Are you fed up? You can bet your bottom dollar we are. Back in 2006 when we started The Rebuttal our very first article spoke of using affirmative action to get deaf people into management roles at our deaf sector organisations. Deaf facilities at schools are Deaf sector organisations.

Now fast forward to 2011 and we have a Coordinator at a deaf facility finding barriers to employ a deaf teacher of the deaf.  Apparently a brain, good motivation and ability are all secondary to good speech.

It is not just the Coordinator that is the problem. The University that is training the deaf person to be a teacher of the deaf is implementing barriers. They are implementing barriers by insisting that the deaf person have a special assessment to show that they can communicate with hearing people. That the deaf woman has been communicating successfully with hearing people all her life seems to have passed them by.

There are strong words that we could use for these people but to do so would be counter productive. What we at The Rebuttal want to do is to remind these people that they are DISCRIMINATING against deaf people by making ASSUMPTIONS as to what deaf people can and cannot do. We want to remind them, because they obviously have not kept up with legislative changes, that DISCRIMINATION is against the law.

It is discrimination to prejudge the abilities of a person with a disability and require conditions that they would not expect of people without disabilities. There may be situations where safety issues require different types of conditions (eg blind people driving) but this situation that Marnie Kerridge has described is not one of them.

It is frustrating. It is 2011 not 1911. Even in 1911 these attitudes would have been appalling. It’s time for these people to get out of their ivory towers and WAKE UP!

We heard of a situation recently where an immensely qualified deaf person was sacked because of a break down in relationships with their manager. Their appears to be much anger involved but the senior HEARING managers at the organisation saw fit to place the blame for the break down in the relationship squarely on the deaf person’s shoulders. We cannot go into details but why is the fault placed squarely with the DEAF person! There is something very wrong here.

We at The Rebuttal are tired of deaf people being taken for mugs. The Captiview captions device situation is a point in case. Some deaf people have seen fit to raise a number of issues about Captiview. It spoils viewing quality, children find it difficult to use, it requires intense concentration making it hard to relax. These are some of the many issues people have raised.

The response? We quote from a Deafness Forum response to us and its members, “We have recently received a small number of complaints about the change-over in some cinemas from open captions…….as well as many positive comments.” Deafness Forum then went on to explain why Captiview had been introduced but NO WHERE were the concerns raised by deaf consumers answered.

Deaf people asked for a trial and instead had a system that clearly is far from pleasing imposed on them. Tell us any other market of 3 to 4 million that would have a product imposed on them that they might not want? A prudent business would at least do its market research before investing in a product. But deaf people have to PUT UP OR SHUT UP. It’s a disgrace.

THIS IS A SCANDAL and it MUST END!

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7 thoughts on “It's a Scandal – By Marnie Kerridge

  1. My god… this article certainly made my blood pressure rise by a few millimeters in the Hg (Mercury) needle! May I please reproduce this article and pass it around to my colleagues?

  2. Interesting article, we certainly need more ” deaf / hearing impaired ” co coordinators & “deaf / hearing impaired ” like minded people in higher management positions within respective education departments. They will make excellent role models for aspiring teachers of the Deaf.

  3. Geez – this is appalling!! In my experience as a student teacher – I have been sent to hearing schools for teaching practicums and none of those schools had a Deaf Facility, and I was able to teach a hearing class with an interpreter supplied by the University. No barriers were implemented by the school and University – they made sure that I was able to teach without any barriers. If I am able to teach a hearing classroom, then Deaf teachers are ABLE to teach too!!

  4. God, this is shocking. I wonder if the teacher involved can make a DDA complaint ? Easier said than done when it is you it is happening to of course, and difficult when the job has already been decided but it probably wouldn’t do her any harm to talk to the DDLS and see what they say ? I think what would really help is if deaf people could set up some sort of peer support group for anyone considering or making a DDA complaint because it is fear that is holding people back, certainly not that discrimination isn’t happening.
    With Captiview I agree entirely. We ought to follow it up- maybe get back onto Arts Access and see if a meeting can be held to talk about this? Or, if not, meet ourselves and think through where we want to go with it. Maybe just tackle it from the angle of us wanting to have a group trial of the technology ( I have never even had a chance) and evaluation from that ? It is unbelievable that it is being rolled out without consultation.

  5. I am currently studying to be a Deaf/Hard of hearing impaired teacher at Newcastle University and reading this article is pushing me back right down to day one. I am hearing impaired myself too. This is a joke! This will not hold me back, I will push further and succeed…. Of course I have literacy issues myself personally… so what! Over the years I have learnt so much with full support from the teachers and lecturers at Uni.
    I am doing a practicum in a hearing class and I am having an interpreter throughout the practicum in November. It has been approved without a question asked. So far I am lucky to study at Newcastle University (NSW) as they do meet the Disability Standards for Education (2005) since the day I enrolled in 2005 with a notetaker and an interpreter. All adjustments were made where neccessary.
    I am sharing this article and will raise this up with my fellow students at Special Ed!
    The above article presents two types of unlawful discrimination: direct discrimination and indirect discrimination. Direct discrimination is when someone treats you less favourably or plans to treat you less favourably, than a person who does not have a disability, in similar circumstances. Indirect Discrimination is when you cannot meet the criteria, a rule or requirement because of your disability, and people without your disability can meet it. A classic example is a institution requiring all students/teacher to speak/read and comprehend/understand English, which means that a hearing impaired student or teacher cannot participate in class. It doesnt happen in reality but it can in a hidden way.
    What I find is that with the article written above is a indirect discrimination. It is hidden and the treatments may not be aimed at the person with a disability but the effect is unfair to that person with a disability! Outrageous hey!

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