This is purely a speculative piece. Understanding Dimity is no easy task. She is a business woman and this article is an amateur analysis of her business mind. It could either be close to reality or way off the beaten track.
Ms Dimity is on the marketing campaign again. Dimity is the lady at the helm of the Hear and Say Centre in Queensland. She is a staunch advocate for hearing technology and teaching deaf kids to hear and speak. Her Centre is at the forefront of oral education in Australia. She has won awards and fights hard to get funding for her Centre. Dimity recently won business woman of the year. Being the business person she is, she could not help but give The Hear and Say Centre a plug along with her philosophies. She is well aware of staying on track and being consistent with her message. She is an astute politician as well as business woman. Said Dimity, “Deafness is a scourge that can be eradicated and consigned to history, just like polio.” It seems an extreme statement and may have been taken out of context. However, Dimity has form for similar statements so it seems unlikely. Dimity is fond of telling the story of the little deaf boy she met at the bus stop. He was crying and had lost his bus money. She was moved by his inability to communicate and was inspired to set up the Hear and Say Centre. The rest, as they say, is history. You can read about Dimity and her award at this link – Dimity
Dimity is very much of the view that deafness is a bad thing. For many, deafness can be a bad thing. Later deafened people find losing their hearing traumatic. When a person loses their hearing they face challenges just to communicate with their family and friends. Things that they may have valued like music are no longer accessible. They cannot speak on the phone. Work meetings become impossible. Adapting to deafness is hard work. For them a cure to deafness would be a godsend. These people and their families will relate to and embrace Dimity’s message. For most hearing people becoming deaf is a frightening concept. They value what their hearing provides to them. The majority will embrace Dimity’s message if only because it is all that they know. Indeed in Australia most people will read what Dimity has to say about eradicating deafness and be cheering Dimity on. Dimity knows this and milks it for all that it is worth. She knows that these people are the ones that will provide the bulk of the fund-raising dollar to her Centre. Hence she is disciplined and sticks rigorously to message, never deviating.
Dimity also milks deaf children to the hilt. She knows that by raising the spectre of deaf kids, cured, speaking and enjoying all that hearing has to offer she will tug on the heart strings. Richard A Friedman, writing in the New York Times described some of the motives that encourage people to donate. (Behind EAch Donation, November 2005) It is Friedman’s view that natural disasters inspire people to donate. Dimity knows this too. She paints a picture of Deafness being a disaster, a wreckage that must be prevented and fixed at all costs. People who are deaf are a rubble that needs to be rebuilt. What’s broken needs to be replaced and fixed. Deaf people are the demolished buildings that need to be resurrected. Dimity pushes this message for all it is worth. Deafness, make no mistake, is a disaster. That is what she wants the public to believe. Sadly, the majority do and these people are her market.
Friedman also talks about the types of people most likely to donate. It’s Friedman’s view that older people, rich people donate more. It is not limited to these people but definitely the older someone is and the more money they have, the more likely they feel the need to give back. You can bet your bottom dollar that Dimity has a strategy to target these business people; well established business people and older people. It is these people that are most likely to respond to her message and are her bread and butter. Possibly older people sensing their mortality, knowing that they could lose their hearing as they age resonate with Dimity’s disaster message. It’s bad enough that they may go deaf, but children? That’s terrible! Let’s fix it. Dimity did not win business woman of the year for nothing. She knows what she is doing. Indeed she believes so much in what she is doing that she will do all that is required to achieve her aim. She is as cynical and ruthless as the most hard nosed business person.
And then of course, Dimity plays on hope. She makes the comparison to Polio because it is a disease that we have beaten. She knows it has impacted on millions of people. By likening deafness to Polio thousands of potential sponsors can be attracted. Parents that see deafness as a deficit grasp at the hope. They enrol at the Hear and Say Centre. Numbers increase. Government funding increases. Like the buildings that rose from the destruction of the Twin Towers, lives can be rebuilt. There is hope for the future of any unfortunate child born deaf. Sure the Deaf community finds it offensive but the Deaf Community make up a very small percentage of the population. They are not Dimity’s concern. She is on a mission and she is going to succeed no matter what. It is hard to write this as it is the very opposite of what I feel BUT a wise man once said that to win, one must get into the mind of the enemy. And this is a battle we must win.
And yes she targets the Deaf community. She does it for a reason. Mark my word when she made the Polio comment SHE knew it was going to offend the Deaf Community and its advocates. SHE wanted a response to keep drawing attention to her mission. SHE knows that the majority of people don’t understand the values of the Deaf Community and for them to understand is a long process. People know hearing but they don’t know deaf and indeed they don’t want to. To them hearing is normality; deafness deficit. When we all scream GENOCIDE it plays right into Dimity’s hands. To most Australians deafness is something that needs to be fixed like cancer. To them comparing curing deafness to genocide is, for most, incomprehensible. When the Deaf Community attack Dimity she becomes the victim. This good lady that is working hard to FIX deafness. How dare we attack her?! She will milk this negative publicity for all it is worth and turn it into a positive for herself.
And yes Dimity is dangerous. She is misleading people. She is giving false hope. Parents think their child can be fixed. And when the child doesn’t achieve normality anger, grieving, blaming and good old fashioned heart ache is the outcome. Yes Dimity must be stopped. Yes she is a despot BUT somehow we have to be smarter and not play into her hands. But how? People have compared Dimity to Andrew Bolt who lost a case in court recently for writing discriminatory things about Aboriginal people in his newspaper column. But Dimity is not the same. Bolt is just an egotistical journalist who is hugely not liked. Dimity is seen as some kind of saint who helps poor little deaf kids. While there are similarities Bolt and Dimity are, in reality, poles apart.
Colin Allen has given it a go and I believe he is on he right track. Rather than attack Dimity he has reminded people of Australia’s obligations under the United Nations Convention of the Rights of Persons with a Disability. Mr Allen has, in particular, highlighted the sections in the convention that state countries must provide access to sign language. But while Dimity does not embrace sign language she hasn’t, as far as I know, attacked its use. She has just promoted her alternative. The United Nations also have a Convention of the Rights of a Child. A good lawyer will show that the rights of people with a disability and the rights of a child can conflict. For example the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the child states, ” ….that the peoples of the United Nations have, in the Charter, reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights and in the dignity and worth of the human person, and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom.” A good lawyer is going to argue that allowing a child to be deaf is putting them at disadvantage, prejudice, inequality, poor education and so on. All of the things WE point out happen to deaf people because society doesn’t provide fully for our needs.In short the United Nations Convention is a document that can almost be interpreted at will. As I said Mr Allen is on the right track but I am not sure just how useful the Convention will be in the long run.
Where Colin Allen has pulled a master stroke is by inviting Dimity to attend a Deaf Festival. Offering a hand of friendship to educate and inform Dimity of the positives of the Deaf community is a smart move. If she refuses it looks like she is snubbing people. But then and again, given the abuse she has received, justified abuse in many cases, she could argue that she did not feel safe and that is the reason she is staying away. Dimity holds so many aces it is not funny.
SO where to from here? How can we fight back? Well clearly we have to think LIKE Dimity. We have to sit back and THINK like the majority of Australians. We have to realise that our views and experiences of deafness are not that of most people and somehow we have to inform them without being seen as extremist. When we we talk of genocide, when we talk of prosecuting Dimity – believe me WE are the minority and its not a view that a lot of people share because DIMITY is seen as a savior. When we use these extreme terms we lose the very people we need onside to support us and that is the general public of Australia.
I suspect that the only way forward is through positive stories and by promoting the Deaf community in a positive light. I suspect strategies like Colin Allen’s invitation to Dimity to take part in the Festival are the right way forward. My friend Bryn suggested inviting Dimity to the Australian Deaf Games, one of the oldest ongoing sporting events in the world. Perhaps we should be using the Deaf Games as a means to rebut Dimity’s views and show the Deaf community in a positive light. Perhaps bringing out our big guns like Colin, the WFD President, Dean Barton Smith our ex Olympian at both deaf and hearing Olympics, our artists and academics who are positive role models, is necessary. Positive actions and positive stories this may be the only way that we can get people to see the other side of the coin.
Dimity just has too much support and influence. We have to fight back but let’s not play into her hands.