Did you hear about that lovely hearing CEO? She has just come in to work in the Deaf sector. She is such a lovely lady, and very clever too. It’s amazing with no knowledge of deafness and an obvious handicap of having a hearing mentality that she has managed understand deafness so quickly. Despite everything she is doing a wonderful job, and she got that job not because she was hearing, but because she was the best person for the job. Inspiring indeed.
Now let’s write this in a different way.
Did you hear about the new Deaf CEO. She got the job as CEO of the World Deaf Society. Despite her obvious handicap of deafness she has overcome this to get the job. Not because she was deaf, but because she was the best person for the job. She is so very clever too. She has managed to understand the role of a CEO and carry out the job wonderfully despite being deaf. Inspiring indeed.
Now hands up who found the introductory paragraph offensive? Who felt that I was mean for taking the piss? Who felt it was patronising? Who felt that it was fair? Who cringed knowing who I am talking about? Now all these questions apply for paragraph 2 as well but there is one additional question who found paragraph 2 more acceptable than the introductory paragraph? Truth be known is that both are patronising twaddle. BUT the second, which has been paraphrased, was actually written in an official publication about none other than Colin Allen, incoming president of the World Federation of the Deaf and Director of Services at the NSW Deaf Society. I am sure, in fact I know, I was not the only person that cringed when I read it.
This is a difficult piece to write because I know the CEO in question meant well, and here I am patronising the patroniser. Indeed the CEO has demonstrated a willingness to really listen to her Deaf community and involve them in the decision making process of her organisation. Much of this is because of the tireless work of Deaf community advocates who, entirely of their own bat, constantly remind the organisation about just who they are serving. But nonetheless she listens, which is a great thing.
However, her comments about Mr Allen, who is not just clever but close to genius and an absolute legend of the Deaf community, are to put it mildly, off and very patronising. But she clearly did not want this to be the case. She was trying to offer praise but went about it in the wrong way. I am also aware that this article may cause her some offence, I apologise for this as I write this only to create debate and discussion and I hope she takes it this way.
It is more concerning to me that she writes of Mr Allen getting his job because he was the best person for the job and not just because he was deaf. I am sure many, like me will have also cringed at having Mr Allen being described as having overcome his deafness. Mr Allen has not overcome his deafness but has sought to tell everyone he is DEAF and VIABLE as a DEAF person and has achieved everything because he is a DEAF person, not despite of it.
As an advocate these sorts of comments also worry me because it shows a lack of understanding of equity. People love to preach equality. They love to preach merit but these principles are not equity. Equity is about levelling the playing field. Now it is simply a fact of life that opportunities for deaf people are not as abundant as they are for the general populace. They have to overcome prejudice and compete with people who have, by weight of opportunities, received many more opportunities and thus are more experienced.
What this means is that sometimes you have to CREATE opportunities for deaf people that level out the playing field. This does not mean that you give them a job just because they are deaf, they must have the skills to do the job. BUT one needs to realise that a deaf person coming through the system, competing against a manager that has had 25 years of experience in umpteen management positions is automatically disadvantaged for two reasons;
1) The hearing managers have not had to overcome as many barriers to get where they are. ( Although I acknowledge that many may have overcome barriers such as poverty, distance, gender imbalance and so on. So I may be over generalising here.)
2) Opportunities for the deaf in management have only become more prevalent in the last 10 years or so through the rapid development of technology and growth in the interpreting industry. This means many deaf people simply do not have the same experience.
So somehow to level the playing field you develop policy that uses affirmative action to provide greater opportunities to deaf applicants. This isn’t patronising, it’s just sound policy. It’s not a new idea either. It’s been used for years, particularly with woman to encourage them into management roles and reduce the pay disparity between men and women. It is also used regularly with Aboriginal Programs to promote Aboriginal people into management roles and employment.
Deaf sector organisations will tell you that they employ deaf people and they do, and some at the very top too, but it is not enough. They need active policies to get more deaf people to the very top of the management pile. Not because they are DEAF, but because they are good enough and they need to be demonstrating more value and recognition of the very people that they SERVE. If they don’t how do they expect the rest of society to follow?
It’s been an extremely frustrating year. Every week, virtually, I receive emails from deaf people who are blatantly discriminated against. They can’t get interpreters for their graduation dinners, access will not be provided to parent teacher interviews, a deaf athlete with amazing abilities is told that the only way he can get support is to enter Athletes with Disabilities events and more recently Marnie Kerridge wrote of the situation about the aspiring teacher of the deaf that had additional assessment requirements placed on her. For nearly all of these I have managed to get the organisations involved to change their decisions by gently reminding them of their obligations under the DDA. Despite this it is still frustrating that this type of discrimination is still occurring. But some cases are more problematic.
The case of the athlete is particularly frustrating. Here is a young man with immense ability that wants to compete against able bodied athletes because he CAN. Athletes with Disabilities are elite athletes. The way that an amputee runs or swims requires a specific technique, a different strategy, adjustment for use of different muscles and so on. It’s not wonderful that they are competing “despite of”, its wonderful because the skill required is awesome. They are elite athletes.
Deaf athletes are different. In most senses they compete in the same way as mainstream athletes. Sometimes there are slight adjustments like flags or strobe lights but apart from this the skills and techniques they use are generally not different to the mainstream. It is patronising to the extreme to Athletes With Disabilities and deaf athletes, to lump them all in one basket. They are not competing “despite off”, they are competing because they have SKILL and ability and they should never be lumped into one basket simply because they have disabilities.
So that is my Rant. I apologise for offence caused to the CEO in question. She certainly did not set out to upset anyone. Unwittingly she raised a few eyebrows and hopefully by discussing these issues in a public forum like The Rebuttal we can encourage debate and change. Controversy is not all bad and as Lyman Beecher, advocate against slavery, once said- “No great advance has been made in science, politics, or religion without controversy.” And on that note feel free to REBUTT me on anything I have said .. Debate is good.