TRANSCRIPTION: Dimity Dornan Speech, Sydney, on 24 October 2007

The following is a a video of a speech given by Dimity Dornan in the presence of the then Governor-General at Kirribilli House, Sydney, on 24 October 2007 – nearly 4 years ago – where she likens deafness to polio 20 years ago, and claims that very soon hearing loss will be able to be ‘decimated’ as an illness. There is no captions on the video, but thanks to Rachael McQuillan and her husband Lenny, a transcript follows.

The Transcription:

Thank you, your excellency for inviting us to your beautiful home and for launching hear and say worldwide.

It has taken us quite a number of years to get to this point and it is a very exciting moment, and we are very proud to be here.

And I’d like to tell everybody a little bit about why we’re here, um, in detail. Because some of you, I don’t think, will be aware of all of the little bits and pieces that go together to make up what we’re hoping to do with hear and say worldwide.

I’m very honoured to stand in front of you today as we travel into a world of global hearing health, with the official launch of our new export program, hear and say worldwide.

The undertaking by the governor general to support this program is a testament to the importance of hear and say worldwide, and should be  seen as a real indicator of how close we are to the delivery of our vision of being the leader in the provision of access to listening and spoken language for children with hearing loss and their families worldwide.

Hearing loss, as we know, is the most common disability in newborn babies, worldwide, and it’s often diagnosed too late for optimal treatment. And in addition to this sad fact, there are presently only enough trained, uh, listening and speaking professionals to effectively treat 8% of all the children and adults, uh, worldwide with hearing loss. The good news is, today we stand where polio was 20 years ago. Through a combination of newborn hearing screening and most important point, the, our wonderful cochlear implants and digital hearing aids and early auditory verbal intervention we now have the potential to decimate the very serious consequences of hearing loss globally.

Recent research conducted both here in Australia and overseas has shown that the focus for treatment for hearing loss in babies should be on the brain. And that the ear is merely the conduit to the brain. The most urgent implication of this research is that hearing loss in babies is a neurological emergency, because the optimal developmental window for the auditory brain, for learning to listen, develop, and understand speech, closes very early.

This means that early diagnosis and followup intervention is critical to ensure that babies learn to listen, um, and through hear and say worldwide early intervention of our program will assist in alleviating this critical need for appropriately qualified hearing health care professionals and provide much needed teaching resources for this market. For example, we are currently working on a teaching resource for the 15000 children in china who will receive a cochlear implant in the next 5 years. Hear and say worldwide is a systematic approach to building on Queensland and Australia’s brain based economy by exporting knowledge and skills into the international market. Already, we’ve trained professionals in 12 countries over the past 7 years.

This year, we have already worked in Russia, I’ve made presentations in Germany, and Papua New Guinea, where we have a team ready and waiting to help those children who are needing our care. And we’re currently in the process of developing new programs for the malarian markets, and we’re very excited about this opportunity that we may be helping them to set up some cochlear implant programs by training their professionals there. And we have to thank for this the Queensland government, support from AusTrade, and the Australian institute for commercialisation.

A key to our success will be the development of close, strategic partnerships with our major technology providers. And I’m very pleased to recognise Mr Mark Salmon, the president for Asia pacific for cochlear in the audience. However, without the specialised therapy to support these technological devices, sound is just noise, and it is the specialised therapy that gives our hear and say centre children the ability to learn to listen and speak just like other children.

Now, to underpin this work, we have developed our research and development arm, which has it’s official opening shortly, the international hearing innovation centre in Brisbane, where we are combining leading researchers, such as the Queensland brain institute, the centre for cognitive neuroscience, and the centre for magnetic resonance, Australia university’s corporate partners, so that we’re building a hub of hearing research in Queensland to supplement the already great work being undertaken by the hearing collaborative research centre for Australia. Accordingly, they have recently announced their intention to co-locate a Queensland node of the hearing CRC with us at our new international hearing intervention centre in … in Brisbane.

Earlier this year Dr. Ventin Surf one of the co-founders of the internet, introduced hear and say worldwide to the Queensland business community when he stopped over in Brisbane, and he com- he shared with the audience his personal connection to deafness – Both he and his wife are profoundly deaf – and how his family has adopted the policy that no decibel will escape undetected.

[murmurs of laughter from audience]

It is this sort of passion and drive to remove the effects of hearing impairment that has brought us to this point today, where we can finally, officially launch hear and say worldwide, so, with this, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to all those people involved in getting us to this point in our journey. I hope they will continue to offer their invaluable assistance as we move further afield with this venture. I’ve very personally excited about what we can achieve with hear and say worldwide, because I believe that there is no better way for us to help the world, than to help people communicate more effectively with each other.


Thank you.


Thanks to John McGrgeor who brought it to our attention in the Facebook group: 10,000 signatures to have Dimity Dornan prosecuted- Deaf Cultural Genocide

FRAMING GRAVITY: Auslan Interpreted Art Exhibition Tour [If In Sydney, Do Come :-)]


The Event:

AARTBOXX Auslan Interpreted Tour

The Directions:


Exhibition dates 21 October – 5 November 2011

Sydney College of the Arts, SCA Gallery, the University of Sydney

Balmain Rd, Rozelle NSW (enter opposite Cecily Street)

Gallery hours
Mon – Fri 11:00am – 5:00pm Sat 11:00am – 4:00pm
Venue is wheelchair accessible with accessible toilets on campus. Limited accessible parking available. Bookings essential.
Further information: AART.BOXX 11: Framing Gravity. Contact: Josie Cavallaro 02 9251 6499 ext 105,
Framing Gravity logos
Subscribe to Framing Gravity mailing list

Related Links:

The Mad Square: Boxes, Boxes, and More Boxes

Framing Gravity: Exhibition

Accessible Arts

Saturday exhibition opening: Re-framing Disability

Re-framing disability: portraits from the Royal College of Physicians

There is no X-factor in patronising judgement

Understanding Dimity

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.



Deafness Is Rife Amongst our Advocates

It’s an epidemic. Deafness is everywhere amongst our advocates. I speak, of course, of our representatives in the cinema captioning campaign, namely Deafness Forum, Deaf Australia and Media Access Australia. These organisations appear to lack the capacity to hear us. We, the consumer, do our best to let them know our feelings about the new CaptiView system that is replacing open captions. But no matter how loud we scream our discontent we seem not to be heard. One can only assume that our advocates are deaf to our voices.

CaptiView is the new system that is replacing open captions in cinemas around Australia. The device is placed in the cup holder at the viewer’s seat and has captions transmitted to it digitally. The viewer then must adjust the device and then synchronise watching the movie and the captions on the device at the same time. It can be adjusted so the captions can be in the field of the big screen so that the viewer can see the movie and watch the captions without missing too much. In theory it sounds great but the problem is most deaf people despise it.

It was introduced after the Australian Human Rights Commission threw out a submission by the major cinemas to be exempt to disability discrimination complaints. The cinemas had put in an application for exemption after doing a deal with our advocates for a minimal increase in open captioning. Our advocates accepted the deal with no detailed consultation with deaf consumers. Deaf consumers got wind of the deal and let our advocates know, in no uncertain terms, that it was pathetic and unacceptable. Deaf consumers were up in arms, and rightly so, and demanded greater access. Our advocates told us we were all wrong and that we should accept what was on offer. This was the first example of deafness in our advocates. They just could not grasp that the MAJORITY of deaf people DID NOT ACCEPT what was being offered. Thankfully the Australian Human Rights Commission listened to the consumer and the cinemas’ application for disability discrimination exemption was thrown out.

The chastened cinemas immediately came back with an offer of CaptiView with much fan fare. Suddenly, after eight years of crying poor, they had an answer. Go figure! CaptiView was the answer they said. It would give us access to a far greater range of movies. A plan for its rollout was released and on paper it looked fantastic. Our advocates were all lovey dovey. They all jumped on board at the urging of Bill Shorten who said it was the best that was possible. There was a lone voice, however, who we shall not name, who urged the advocates to slowdown. The lone voice said, trial it first and see if the CaptiView device is acceptable among consumers. Of course this made complete sense. Why spend many thousand of dollars on a device that consumers might find unacceptable? But of course our advocates were deaf to this advice too. In fact they told our lone voice that he should “tone it down” and that he should “pick his battles”. And so the roll-out of CaptiView began.

Of course the consumers were largely kept in the dark. They were fed spin about how wonderful it would be. They said we would have much greater access and that the outcome was fantastic. Our advocates, who originally urged us to accept the cinemas’ application to exemption to disability complaints, suddenly all jumped on board and began to claim credit for the wonderful new outcome that they had achieved (?!?) Well ain’t karma a bitch!

At first the objections to CaptiView were a trickle. There were some positive reviews to come out about CaptiView, but they all seemed to come from within the circles of our Advocates. There were media releases that our advocates, particularly Bill Shorten, milked for maximum exposure. Media Access Australia even sent someone to review the CaptiView and wrote about it on their website. Bizarrely the reviewer was a hearing person. But a couple of months ago deaf people began to really voice their displeasure about CaptiView.

To find out what deaf people really think of CaptiView all that is needed are lots of deaf friends on Facebook. And it is comments on Facebook that really show what deaf people feel about CaptiView.

The rumblings first began in July. Sporadic comments started to appear that were very negative about the CaptiView.The Rebuttal wrote about this at the Blog in July, This article highlighted some of the comments that were being made about CaptiView. At best people said they found the system passable but not great. At worst they said it was ”useless technology” that they would never use again.

Deafness Forum saw fit to respond to this article. They insisted that objections to CaptiView were only a few and that there were many that found the system useful. Well not anymore. It is very clear that MOST deaf people HATE CaptiView. Positive comments about CaptiView are as rare as hen’s teeth, but not by much.

It started with Michael’s Facebook post. Michael wanted to know if there were any movies available with open captions. This post turned into a full-scale criticism of CaptiView.  There were 16 comments and not one was positive. People bemoaned the lack of choice and expressed dismay at the phasing out of open captions. They complained about the stress the system placed on the eyes and how deaf children and deaf people with vision or physical problems would find the system very difficult to use. One person went as far as to suggest that CaptiView, at worst, was a health hazard.

Then there was John’s post. John vented his frustration at the phasing out of open captions at the popular Jam Factory in Melbourne. John posted a link from Media Access Australia who is promoting the roll-out of CaptiView to the hilt. John’s posting received 24 comments.  Various people commented, “I don’t like CaptiView, I’ve tried and tested it.” – “…really hate the CaptiView system, a piece of crappy 80’s technology with a bendy arm taken from a Spielberg movie”“This is too silly… where are our options and rights to watch a movie like everybody else? What really is happening is that we have to conform of what is given or said to us… a joke!”  These comments are hardly positive are they?

And then there was Kate. Like John, Kate protested the phasing out of open captions and expressed her displeasure with CaptiView. She received 24 comments in support. Perhaps the best came from Dean, who had this to say, Why are Australian cinemas waiting on the other countries to come up with the solution (The latest I hear they think caption glasses will solve some of the issues). The cinemas boast $100m profits annually. The digital changeover is happening around the world and you have to wonder why Australia can’t lead and develop the right technology that caters for everyones needs and then sell the concept to the world rather than wait on others. Cinemas will get their money back plus more and the community will be satisfied. Golly Australia leads in heart transplants, medical solutions, critical black boxes for planes – so you have to wonder if the cinemas interest and commitment is really there. Any marketing person would jump at this innovation! Nothing to lose but a lot to gain.” All we need is to cure the deafness of our advocates so that we can all be heard! Can Australia lead the way?


The organizations of men, like men themselves, seem subject to deafness, near-sightedness, lameness, and involuntary cruelty. We seem tragically unable to help one another, to understand one another.

John Cheever


It is hard to believe it has been almost two years since we collectively campaigned for better access to the movies for deaf people. The Big 4 Cinemas might have gotten away with their exemption application if it wasn’t for certain people within Arts Access Victoria and Disability Legal Service who explained what the ramifications would be if we didn’t fight this. From people power, determination and campaigning, we were able to persuade the Australian Human Rights Commission to overturn the Big 4’s application for exemption.

That was the first battle won. An advisory group to the Big 4 Cinemas was established. CaptiView was put forward as the technology to provide closed captions. It looked as if things might start going our way.

Then the second battle began.

CaptiView was forced upon us. It is a device that does not bother other hearing cinema attendees. It provides access to deaf people. It seems to be a win-win for the all. Except for one small issue – someone forgot to run a trial and check the community’s responses.

To be fair, many of us went with an open mind. Despite this many of us are disillusioned. Some were prepared to give it a go over a fair period of time. Others knew it was useless for them. Children can’t navigate CaptiView. Tall people have to slouch to watch the captions on the device. Small people (children for example) can’t sit comfortably to see the device. Sore necks, sore backs, tension headaches were experienced after using CaptiView. Viewer comfort and safety are real issues.

No feedback / evaluation forms were left for customers. How do we communicate to the Advisory Group to cinemas? How do we keep our organisations accountable? How do we even know they are attending the meetings, much less advocating for us? We, the community, are not consulted, not informed and our advocates are deaf to our voices.

With this in mind, Action on Cinema Access organised a community consultation meeting in the last fortnight. Support for the CaptiView devices was underwhelming.

Many griped about the lack of consultation. All accepted open captions might be a thing of the past but did not want their access options limited. They were fair and reasonable. All they wanted was the opportunity to enjoy a movie. As it stands CaptiView hinders and for many spoils the movie going experience.

It is time that deaf consumers, the paying customers, were heard. The deafness among our advocates, unlike ours, is curable. All it takes is a shift in attitude.

If anyone wants a detailed summary and a copy of the powerpoint used at the recent community consultation meeting, this is available. Email Also contact your organisations involved in the Advisory Group. Ask them to advocate for you for proper access. At the moment, it is just not happening.

All we ask is that our advocates hear and act on our concerns. After all, is that not why they are funded?

letters and articles to:

All views expressed are the sole responsibilitu of the authors  alone.


Article by: Gary Kerridge

Editorial by: Marnie Kerridge



In a recent Rebuttal article, “It’s a Scandal” concerns were raised by Mr Simon Shepherd that there might be grounds for mistaken identity, given the proximity of very few male Deaf Facility co-ordinators in Australia.  The Rebuttal apologised for any distress caused. Mr Shepherd would like it known that he empathises with the issues raised in the article but wishes to have it acknowledged that the person/s referred to are in no way related him. The co-ordinator in question in the article was in fact a culmination of a few people from all over Australia with educational influence. The term ‘he’ was used as a generic term, however we acknowledge this may not have been seen as such. We apologise for any misunderstandings.

The Mad Square: Boxes, Boxes, and More Boxes

Our physical differences make us who we are, otherwise we will be someone else. If we weren’t occupying the disability box, we would be occupying another one. I’m sure it pisses the categorisers off knowing that we purposely upset the hierarchy of categorisation and the row of tidy boxes.

Ever since humans began running around the planet, categorising things and putting them into nice tidy boxes, there are other human beings who through circumstance, accident, quirks of birth or sheer wilfulness, stubbornly refuse to live in the stifling confines of someone else’s idea of what, or who they are.

Disability is one of these boxes. It marks us as different. It comes with a negative connotation that implies we cannot connect with the world, and that we cannot experience everything it has to offer, because we are lacking a faculty: be it hearing, sight, intelligence, or movement. What’s worse, it further implies that we have nothing to offer.

We often fail to see the person behind the disability due to fear or ignorance. We only see the packaging and not much else, which is why Emmanuel Kelly’s performance on The X Factor 2011, was a challenge for the judges and the audience. Will they see a singer/ performer, or will they see a young man with missing limbs, rising stoically to the occassion?

But we are different. Damn it, we are! No amount of gnashing and pulling hair out is going to change the fact that we have missing limbs, sight, hearing, mental faculties, restricted movements and whatever else constitutes disability. Unfortunately, because we don’t fit the social ideal, we are allowed to fall by the way side.

Accessible Arts recognises this, and its modus operandi is to promote full inclusion, access and cultural opportunities in the arts for people with disabilities through advocacy, education and information. In short, to give the people who don’t fit into these boxes, a leg up, so that they too can explore and fulfil their potential.

Challenging perceptions is what Accessible Arts is promoting with its upcoming exhibition, Framing Gravity . Framing Gravity is the fifth in a series of exhibitions that began in 2006, and aimed at giving artists with a disability, the opportunity to show their work as professionals, on the professional stage.

That’s the easy part. The hard work is in convincing audiences to view the work beyond the patronising rut of disability.

Which is why you are being invited to the Framing Gravity, which runs from 21 October – 5 November 2011.

We want you to come with an open mind, ready to be surprised, and come away with the knowledge, and understanding, that it is quite OK, to not fit into a box.

Related Links:

Framing Gravity: Exhibition

Accessible Arts

Saturday exhibition opening: Re-framing Disability

Re-framing disability: portraits from the Royal College of Physicians

There is no X-factor in patronising judgement

Framing Gravity Opening Night: You Are Invited

To Show you that The Rebuttal is not just all doom and gloom, but that we recognise there are good things in the world, we are posting the following invitation, for those of you who are in Sydney or will be visiting Sydney in October, 2011.

Framing Gravity - Recent works by contemporary Australian artists with disability
You are invited to attend the Framing Gravity Opening Night
Thursday 20 October, 6:00pm – 8:00pm
To be opened by Glenn Barkley, Curator, Museum of Contemporary Art followed by a performance by Georgia Cranko.

Scott Trevelyan, Bee'n a Tough Day Honey!, 2010
Been a Tough Day Honey! 2010 by Scott Trevelyan,
Auslan interpreted
RSVP for the Openng Night of Framing Gravity
Exhibition dates 21 October – 5 November 2011

Sydney College of the Arts, SCA Gallery, the University of Sydney

Balmain Rd, Rozelle NSW (enter opposite Cecily Street)

Gallery hours
Mon – Fri 11:00am – 5:00pm Sat 11:00am – 4:00pm
Venue is wheelchair accessible with accessible toilets on campus. Limited accessible parking available. Bookings essential.
Further information: AART.BOXX 11: Framing Gravity. Contact: Josie Cavallaro 02 9251 6499 ext 105,
Framing Gravity logos
Subscribe to Framing Gravity mailing list

Maturing, Why it is Hard for Deaf kids.

feelI have three kids. The joy of kids is watching them mature and develop. My three are all robust lads. All different, very intelligent and passionate about most things that they do. They love sport and are competitive to the extreme. They went through all the milestones learning to talk and walk, the terrible two’s,  starting school, l learning to read, making friends learning to share and the like. On top of this they have deaf parents. They moved from the deaf world to the hearing world at will. They have met people from allover the world. They accept disability as just a way of life. They treat no-one differently. You know how kids are cruel? Well recently a friend from soccer, who is grossly obese and who is probably the butt of jokes at school, returned to Ballarat for a visit. The middle son found out on FB and told him to come along to watch their next match and catch up. He did so and one by one my three went up to their friend and greeted him warmly. Difference is nothing to them. They are mature beyond their years.  That is not to say they are not kids, they are and they have their MOMENTS,  but their exposure to the world has meant that they have grown up very quickly and my wife and I are extremely proud of  them.

The point of the story, apart from demonstrating my pride in the lads, is that they have matured because they are exposed.  I like to think we guide them. We don’t mollycoddle or protect them overly so. We answer their questions openly and honestly without,  I hope, speaking down to them. We encourage independence through getting them to catch public transport or simply cooking their own Pizzas on Friday nights. We set them challenges, hell my youngest, at the tender age of 10, had read all the Harry Potter books. It is this exposure to life coupled with strong and flexible guidance that has, I believe, led to their maturity.   But what of deaf kids?

Lets consider this passage that I have pinched from a website that discusses how we can help kids to mature:

Taken from:

“As part of being responsible, children need to respect and show concern for the well-being of other people. Respect ranges from using basic manners to having compassion for the suffering of others. Compassion is developed by trying to see things from the point of view of others, and learning that their feelings resemble our own.

Daddy, why was Grandma crying?

She is very sad. One of her closest friends just died. Come and sit with me. Do you remember how you felt when your gerbil, Whiskers, died?

I felt sad and lonely.

I’m sure Grandma feels that way, too. Maybe you can think of a way to help her.

I could give her a hug…

That’s a great idea! I’m really glad you thought of it.

Respect for others also includes the habit of treating people fairly as individuals, regardless of race, sex, or ethnic group. As we mature, respect includes realizing that not all our obligations to others, such as caring for a family member who is sick, are chosen freely. And it includes tolerance for people who do not share our beliefs or likes or dislikes, as long as they do not harm others.

These habits are especially important because many of the wrongs people commit result from indifference to the suffering they cause.”

OK, this seems simple enough doesn’t it? Kid at dinner table asks question to dad. Dad answers and they discuss the issue. Dad imparts his wisdom to the child and child learns some nice and mature behaviours that will assist them to mature into well rounded adults. Simple isn’t it?

But no it is not. It is far more complicated. Perhaps the above conversation occurred at the dinner table where all the family were having dinner. Perhaps mum was there. Mum listens in and contributes her wisdom too. Little brother Paul pipes in with a question,  “Where do people go when they die?”  The subject changes to death and different views as to what happens when people die. They go to heaven or hell.  They have a funeral and are buried. “What’s a funeral?” Perhaps cremation comes up in the conversation and this is discussed too.  Perhaps spirituality comes into the discussion too.  Or cultures and how they respond to death. From this simple conversation about grandma being sad a host of topics and issues can be discussed.  The result? Growth in knowledge,  in the long term maturity and the ability to deal with and understand  a myriad of situations. And all of this comes from OVERHEARING.

But how do deaf kids overhear? Now the oralist will tell you that to help them overhear we must enhance their listening skills. Now we deafies know, particularly the more deaf we are, that aids and cochlear implants and the like will only take us so far. We know that in groups when all are talking that we miss heaps of information. We know that when their is a lot of background noise we often struggle. So simple dinner time conversations are not something that are made accessible by amplified sound.  There will be limits to how much information that deafies will receive in any given situation. The example given in the previous paragraph clearly shows that access to a simple dinner conversation can expand knowledge and, ultimately, maturity. How much of these conversations do deaf kids access?

Let’s revisit the above conversation. The family is in a lull.  The conversation on death has ended. On the television in the background Tony Abbott is being interviewed. Tony, being Tony, is telling the world that a woman’s place is in the kitchen. That central to the family is having a solid mother figure who carries out the traditional female role. It is Tony’s view that the onslaught of women into the workplace has led to the breakdown of family values. Of course Prime Minister Julia Gillard has to rebut this. Julia puts forward an alternate view. That women have a right to work without being made feel guilty. Julia argues that women working has brought greater income and opportunities to families. Julia argues that through work the talents and skills of women can be utilised for the greater benefit of the nation. On hearing this teenage sister,  Kirsten,  vents about what a sexist pig Tony is,  “What’s sexist” asks Paul?  And the family are off again in a spirited debate. Politics, values, work, tradition,  gender roles and the fact that Tony should never become PM are important topics that are discussed. For little Paul it’s a first.  For Kirsten she is learning to debate and respect differing points of view. Everyone learns and grows. Maturity is knocked up another notch. And all this from overhearing. But what if Paul was deaf?

And just how much overhearing happens everyday? In the play ground kids are discussing what they did last night. Paul is telling people that his Grandma’s friend died and she has gone to heaven. Katie says,  “My dad says there is no heaven, we are all dust.”  Peter says,  “Your dads going to hell, he doesn’t believe in god.”  Katie slaps Peter for saying nasty things about her dad.  Peter holds his face and bawls. Miss Coggins comes over and asks what happened. All the kids talk at once.  Miss Coggins takes hold of the situation and explains that violence is no way to settle a debate.  She touches on issues of respect and understanding different values. All the kids are listening in and learning. Perhaps Miss Coggins sees an opportunity to expand on the issues by discussing religion in the classroom. Paul goes home and at dinner says “Today Katie hit Peter cos she said his dad is going to hell and Miss Coggins said ……” And the family are off again chatting sharing, learning and maturing.  You can bet Katie and Peter are doing the same at home with their families. But what if one of them …Katie, Peter or Paul was deaf? Just how much would they be learning?

It is maturity that allows us to deal with life. When we become an adult and have to develop relationships with others maturity plays a part. Maturity gives us strategies to deal with different situations. Maturity allows us to respect others and discuss different points of view without resorting to violence. Maturity lets us deal with death, with tragedies and with crisis. Maturity is learnt behaviour that occurs from natural interaction with others and the environment, including the media. Maturity requires ACCESS to information through simple everyday tasks like dinner time conversations and classroom discussions. If the individual is deaf, just how much of this information do they miss?

Well the answer to this is A LOT. The consequence of this is that we have perfectly intelligent young deaf individuals, by virtue of lack of access to information through overhearing, who reach adulthood and are expected to deal with adult issues but in reality are still children. In reality the deaf 16 year old is often still 12.  They may act, look and seemingly be well adapted individuals but if one looks deeper they will discover that they are lacking in the knowledge, skills and strategies to deal with adult situations.  Of course this varies from individual to individual but the inability to overhear can and does mean many young deaf adults do not get enough information leaving them unprepared for the challenges of adult life. The result? STRESS and a higher incidence of mental health issues.

This is the a large part of the reason why research shows that young deaf people have much higher incidence of mental health issues than the general population.

Deaf children and adolescents exhibit higher levels of behavioral and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorders then the general population (Haskins 2000 & Chritchfield, 2002)  –

Parents in the present study, however, reported significantly more concerns on the social problem and thought problem scales than did Australian parents of hearing children and adolescents (The Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry [2010, 44(4):351-7) –

Communication problems, family stresses, and societal prejudice that accompany it [hearing impairment] could lead to problems ranging from suicidal depression to substance abuse and violent behavior” (Steinberg, July 1998) –

Research indicates that deaf children and adolescents are experiencing significant mental health issues such as low self-esteem, poor self concept, isolation, loneliness, anxiety and depression.  (Focus on Mental Health, 2010)

The list of research goes on. The findings are clear, BUT WHAT ARE WE DOING ABOUT IT?

The problems are nothing to do with how much people hear or do not hear. The problem is simply  providing deaf kids with access to information and interaction.(although the answer is not simple)  Hearing technology helps but does not fill all the gaps. Learning sign language helps but similarly doesn’t provide access when the bulk of people around you cannot sign.  What deaf kids need is strategies to access information and learn from others and their environment.

How much access do deaf kids have to classroom and social interaction? How much support is given to families to make them aware of the dynamics of learning  in the family and how it contributes to the child’s maturity?  What programs do we have that focus on FILLING IN THE GAPS with knowledge that deaf kids clearly miss in their day to day interactions? In short these kids need KNOWLEDGE and INFORMATION far greater than they currently receive and this gap needs to be filled.

Clearly we are not doing this. We TALK, we RESEARCH but we do not do. The consequence of the lack of maturity in deaf kids can be dire. SUICIDE! It happens! DEPRESSION! It happens! LOW SELF ESTEEM! It happens. POOR ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT, It happens.  Its time to stop talking about it and create programs to PREVENT and not DEAL with the problem after it has happened.  A website wont do it,  a conference wont do it, constantly talking abouit it wont do it.  Hell even this article wont do it!  What we need is action and one of the major strategies  is to find ways to fill in the gaps that deaf kids miss through their everyday interactions.  Help them mature through knowledge and from interaction – It’s not easy but it’s not rocket science either.



An Interesting Resistance

I love technology. I love the people that invent it. I love how I can use it and it has opened up the world to me. Captions give me access to the television  and now even the theatre if I so desire. An assortment of mobile phones have given me access to the phone network at any time by text and email.  I can even talk on the phone if  I want and have whatever the person on the other end is saying captioned. The Internet has given me access to free video conferencing. I can now beam up sign language interpreters to my laptop almost anywhere in Australia saving me thousands of dollars and making my life so much easier. if I so wish I could probably make arrangements to have an interpreter beamed to an Iphone using Facetime. I just need to get an Iphone or even an Ipad.  For the hard of hearing digital hearing aids, powerful in the ear canal aids, cochlear implants and even blue tooth have opened up the world to them.  In short because of technology the barriers that we all faced in years gone by have been rapidly knocked down.

Yet despite all he benefits there is still an interesting resistance to technology. The Deaf community for years have been resistant to Cochlear Implants and often justifiably so. The Cochlear Implant is wonderful technology but it is so often spouted as THE ANSWER and the MIRACLE cure that it isn’t. It has great benefits and many limitations and Deaf people have been oppressed with HEARING values for so long to great disadvantage that they have rightly been resistant. Thankfully the Deaf community is now more accepting of Cochlear Implants, indeed many young people who have implants have become active members of the Deaf community. BUT misinformation about the Cochlear Implant continues and the Deaf community remain wary, and so they should.

Hearing technology aside I have noticed an interesting resistance to new video technology in the Deaf community. Many have embraced it but many are concerned of its rapid introduction. I write this only as a personal observation as I have noticed that in the teaching of sign language and in the sign language interpreting fraternity that there is a great deal of caution about the introduction of video technology. A lot of  it is justified so I write this in an effort to make sense of the resistance.

Recently a friend put up a Facebook stream asking peoples views on the teaching of Auslan online using video technology and online technology.  He basically wanted to know what people felt were the benefits and disadvantages. I confess I believe that video technology CAN and should be used to teach sign language. There were many comments on my friends stream that also put forward the positives of teaching sign language online but there was some very strong resistance towards  it.

Many on the stream felt that sign language SHOULD only be taught face to face and in a classroom setting. They felt that interaction was important. That only by regular face to face interaction could sign language be taught properly. Online teaching, it was argued, did not allow this. The argument was that online teaching of sign language was too passive and did not allow for the essential interaction that was necessary to develop proficiency in the language.  The other argument was that teaching online through video was essentially two dimensional and that it did not allow the learner to see the full shape of signs nor fully understand the use of space and subtle expressions that were an integral component of the grammar of sign language.

I personally felt that these arguments tended to be a little negative.  In this I mean people were looking at it in negative and overly resistant way rather than looking at possible solutions. I am a strong  advocate of online teaching of sign language.  Living in a rural area I am fully aware of just how difficult it is to access support in the learning of  sign language.  Smaller populations, lack of qualified teachers and distance are all enormous barriers. What this means is that a parent of a newly born child diagnosed with deafness has virtually no access to good quality teaching of sign language that could greatly benefit their child.  I also feel that by providing access online you can create a spark in someone that can lead to them becoming interpreters or taking their learning even further. Then, of course, it also creates awareness and interest among people that might not ever have considered learning sign language.  More compellingly, we live in a time hungry society and online learning offers participants an alternative to learn in their own time frames and at their own pace.

I believe we need to be innovative. Online learning of sign language does not need to be passive. It can be interactive.   For example a special Facebook page can be set up for participants of a course. They can make videos and post them to Facebook and other participants would then watch and try to make sense of what people were saying. The instructor could also gauge what learners were learning and offer feed back by posting this on the page for all to see. Why not use Skype or Ovoo where participants can connect with each other, including with the instructor, to practice conversations and seek clarification.   With innovation there is absolutely no reason why online learning need be restrictive. I have found most ADSL connections to be suitable.  One barrier is the technology of the participants.  For good video and Skype connections the technology needs to be top of the range, this is something not all participants will have.  With the introduction of the National Broadband Network online options will only become more desirable.  Perhaps now is the time to develop protocols and teaching methods so that the NBN can be utilised to the maximum.

Interestingly there has also been resistance to the provision of sign language interpreting online by some elements of the interpreting fraternity.  As an avid user of  Skype to beam sign language interpreters to  many remote areas of Victoria, thus saving my employer thousands of dollars, I am surprisingly more understanding of this resistance.  Lets start with the arguments for Skype and online interpreting.

Skype has been a wonderful innovation for me. I have been lucky to have a good relationship with Auslan Services and they have been innovative in establishing a Skype interpreting service. The benefits for me have been enormous. I live in the country and my role covers an area that is almost half of Victoria. I must have meetings in remote places and if I were to transport sign language interpreters to all of these areas there would be nothing left in my work budget, and this is even with the Government subsidy. Skype has reduced my interpreting bill by over 75 %.  It has made my job just so much easier.  Even when interpreters in Victoria were booked out I have managed, through Auslan Services, to source interpreters in Sydney or Adelaide.  It has been a godsend.  I strongly believe that online interpreting will continue to grow.  I can see interpreters setting up in their own homes and delivering the bulk of their interpreting online.  I have used mobile modems at around 90% success rate.  Where I can get access to Ethernet or wireless my success rate has been 100%. I have had meetings one on one or where the group has been up to 20 participants.  I even used Skype interpreting in Canberra for a video shoot.

In the not to distant future online interpreting is going to provide MORE access. Where interpreting time was chewed up in interpreters travelling on the road this is now going to be reduced meaning more time is available to interpret.  Deaf people are going to take their laptops to the doctor and have interpreters beamed up for their consultations.  Universities and places of learning, foresee-ably, will set up booths, and interpreters will be beamed to lecture theatres and tutorials. The sky really is the limit. Again, because we will soon have the NBN, now is the time to explore possibilities and set up protocols. Time is of the essence.

BUT, despite all these benefits there is justifiable resistance. One of the worries is that any Tom Dick or Sally will set up a Skype business and work unmonitored and be totally unqualified for the work. There is a fear that Deaf people will have online interpreting forced upon them. The fear is that they will have no choice but to accept online interpreting,  even though they prefer face to face interpreting.  God forbid if they do not have the required technology and interpreters become cushy stay at home workers who do not want to travel.  The possibility is that access will be reduced for many rather than enhanced.

Most of all online interpreting IS NOT suitable for everything and everyone. At the Deaf Australia conferences in Hobart this year Jemina Napier and Marcel Lenehan gave a paper on the issue of online interpreting in the NSW court system, particularly to remote areas. The NSW court system is keen to set up online interpreting and commissioned a study into its use.  Macquarie University, where Ms Napier and Mr Leneham are based, carried out the study. The results were not positive.  A court structure is not well set up for online interpreting,  positioning of cameras, location of the witness box, the dock, court personnel and the like gave rise to a myriad of difficulties in conveying information.  A court is not a flexible place and the study highlighted situations that potentially could put the Deaf person at extreme disadvantage.  This clearly is not acceptable when mis-communication could be the difference between gaol or freedom. The recommendation was that in the current climate online interpreting not be used in court situations.  Despite the recommendation the NSW courts are apparently pushing on in exploring how online interpreting be used in court situations.  This is just one example where online interpreting could potentially cause more problems than it solves.

Online interpreting or teaching of sign language is not the answer to everything.  The rapid developments in online access is exciting but Deaf people and interpreter advocates  are right to exercise caution and seek answers. I am one of those that is like a child on a lolly shop, excited at all the possibilities BUT we need to provide choice and ensure Deaf people are not disadvantaged.  Often the push for online solutions is about cost and not choice, this should never be the case.  Resistance is often futile but in this case it is necessary.  However,  lets not resist to the point where we will cut of our noses to spite our faces. Flexibility And adaptability are the key words but lets ensure choice is not compromised in our insatiable quest for progress.



The Deaf Community Strikes Back

The Deaf community is forever under threat. Our society wants to fix everything. Deaf people must be HEARING.  First it was the cochlear implant. Through cochlear implants deaf people were going to be able to HEAR and assimilate. Then it was genetics. The Deaf gene has been identified. If identified parents who do not wish to have deaf babies can just abort. Then of course there is stem cell therapy. Through stem cell growth the thousands of tiny nerves and hair cells that can transmit sound to the brain can be restored and deaf people can become hearing. Diseases that caused deafness in the past such as Scarlet Fever or Rubella are well and truly under control leading to the incidence of deafness reducing dramatically. With all these threats it is a wonder that there is any Deaf community left at all.

But the biggest threat to the Deaf community is, arguably, not the medical fraternity but our iconic Deaf organisations themselves. Indeed Padden, in her paper, The Decline of Deaf Clubs in the United States, claims that there are very few places left that deaf people can call their own. More importantly Padden alludes that the health of a community is often measured by its “bricks and mortar.” Deaf clubs in the past were places where Deaf people met and conducted their business. They raised money through sales of alcohol and foods as well as other fund-raising initiatives. They provided Deaf people with control, pride and motivation. All of these things Padden describes in her paper.  It is a truism to state that  she could well be describing the situation in Australia and not the United States.

It is interesting, if one researches the establishment of Deaf Societies in Australia, they will discover that they were often started by Deaf people themselves. They were established as safe havens, a place where Deaf people could meet and socialise. Although I have not read it, John Flynn’s book, No Longer by Gaslight, apparently describes how Deaf people used to meet under a gaslight to converse, light being essential for their communication. The establishment of the Victorian Deaf Society meant that they could meet in comfort and “No Longer by Gaslight.” Deaf Societies were places that were the hive of activity of the Deaf community. Even the iconic Victorian College of the Deaf and its Bluestone buildings were established by a Deaf man,  FJ Rose. In those early days everything seems to have been driven by Deaf people themselves. Of course it was not that simple, many other benefactors were involved including the church who had the aim of “saving souls”,  but still Deaf people were there and at the forefront.

It is at these Deaf Societies that Deaf clubs were based. I first entered a Deaf club at 262 South Terrace in the early 80’s. I was an excited teenage boy chasing skirt. The Deaf club, at that time, was a mass of activity. Every Friday night it was packed. At the  262 I met people who have become friends for life. In the 90’s attendance at the Deaf club slowed to a trickle. Society had changed. Technology and choice meant that Deaf people were becoming more sophisticated. Where  in the past the only way of meeting people was at an agreed time at the Deaf club suddenly the telephone became accessible. Deaf people could now communicate at will. The TTY, SMS and email all meant that Deaf people had another means to keep in touch that did not require meeting at the Deaf club. A quick call on the TTY and an alternate meeting place could be found. Consequently it could be argued that the value and need for the Deaf club declined.

Technology probably played a part in the decline of the Deaf club around Australia but it was not the only reason.  Deaf Societies that were in the past a community based place became more “business” like. Everything became about dollars and cents and maximising assets. The rot started in NSW when the old Stanmore Deaf Society was sold.  Stanmore at one stage had a bowling Green out the back, a squash court and a thriving Deaf Club. Cost to maintain the green saw it abandoned and the opportunity to make a buck on the property,  in the end, became too much to ignore. Stanmore was sold and with it went the Deaf club. The Deaf Society moved to Parramatta and became a place where “welfare” happened. There was no longer a meeting place for the Deaf community. Increasingly Deaf people became marginalised with nowhere to go. Having lost its “bricks and mortar” at Stanmore it could be argued that the NSW Deaf community lost its soul. Something that, even today, it is struggling to recover.

A similar occurrence happened in Victoria. The Victorian Deaf Society, that hosted the Jolimont Deaf Sports and Social Club, was also sold.  In this case the reasons for the sale were not just to make money but also reduce overheads and risks. The old Deaf Society was falling down. Maintenance was swallowing funds. The buildings were not air-conditioned and in many cases were apparently an OHS risk.  After a period of consulting with the Deaf community it was agreed to sell up and move to the current premises. The old and iconic Jolimont Deaf Club was no more. It was replaced by the John Lovett Community Centre.

But, in my view, something went amiss in the planning. The Deaf community now had no control over the use of the Community centre. They had to compete with the Victorian Deaf Society staff and programs for its usage. Where as in the past they had a club that was “their own” with a bar, meeting places and even snooker tables they suddenly now only had a very small and soulless meeting room with a kitchen. A room that, even now, is not fully accessible. The Deaf community lost  many revenue sources including bar takings, and car parking revenue from sporting events at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.  Perhaps more tellingly and valuable, it lost its autonomy.  I mean now after 6pm one must carry a mobile phone. If you arrive after 6 pm you have to text someone upstairs to let you in. That someone must have a swipe card to operate the lift.  There is no soul, no ownership and no “bricks and mortar”.

BUT! It seems that the Deaf community is striking back. After years of being stagnant it has rediscovered its mojo. Deaf Sports Recreation Victoria (DSRV) are one of those organisations that are striking back. Not too long ago DSRV were in a mess. Post Deaflympics 2005 should have seen DSRV thriving. Instead, despite being based in Melbourne, it somehow missed the boat. It was an organisation on its knees.  DSRV is what was created when the Jolimont Deaf club ceased to be. For a time DSRV struggled to find its purpose. It had no home and seemingly no role. Its funding from Vicdeaf had been cut. While Vicdeaf provide it with free office space and a paltry $5000 a year DSRV were pretty much left in the lurch. Funding from the Government had remained static with no increase in over a decade. Not too long ago, despite the hard work of volunteer Board members it was very close to being broke. It required a serious reinvention of the organisation re-branding and refocusing.

DSRV had been heavily into sport. It branched out to seek further funding in recreation. It reestablished its reputation with the  State Government as the peak body for sport and recreation in Victoria. It managed to secure funding for projects and found its place in the community. This year it has organised a series of innovative and exciting events for the Deaf community. Trips to the snow, bike rides, ice skating, doggy day outs and more. Its alive and vibrant. It has resurrected itself with the dedication, drive, commitment and TALENT of DEAF people.  Its new president, Grant Roberts, has given it spark and leadership and its young and motivated Board has given it energy and purpose.

In NSW the Deaf community refuses to lie down. Despite having no community centre to speak of a dedicated band of volunteers ensures the DEAF CLUB lives at the Burwood RSL. Every week on Facebook there is something happening. Poker nights, monthly Deaf club nights, Fancy dress nights a small and dedicated band of volunteers brings the Deaf community together. And thank god they do because without them NSW may well have nothing. They are still struggling to set up a peak body for sport and recreation but they are slowly coming back to life.

Over in South Australia I recently gave an information session to the SA Deaf Community about the Australian Deaf Games. The 262 club rooms were packed. Not for me but for club night, I was an unfortunate distraction to the fun and games. In the 90’s and early 2000’s the SA Deaf community was asleep. It came alive only because of the efforts of its members to see it thrive. Witness Kats Parker galvinising the community through whatever means she can. She is everywhere. Kats is ably supported by Tim Morgan and Tanya Morgan (Not related). Together with old stalwarts  like Donovan Cresdee they have reminded Deaf Can Do that the Deaf community EXISTS and is going nowhere.  This year they celebrated 50 years of Deaf Basketball, they are celebrating 120 years of the Deaf Society. Events are being organised left right and centre and being LED by Deaf people. The talent and drive on display is outstanding.

Back in Victoria the old Victorian Council of Deaf People and now known as Deaf Victoria has sparked into life. Its restructured itself, re-branded itself and is out there consulting and encouraging the Deaf community to sit up and care. Recently, despite limited budget, they made a brilliant video to let the Deaf community know how important it is for them to record Auslan on the Census. Sure they took dramatic license, and in doing so put a few noses out of joint, but they showed courage, creativity and innovation. BUT mostly THEY made it happen! And on a shoestring budget at that.

Up in Queensland a young Deaf Athlete has been discriminated against. Deaf Sport Queensland have gone into battle for him. The Schools Athletics body is refusing to make their events  accessible for the young deaf guy. Through working closely with DSA and the legendary Dean Barton-Smith they have managed to create a national campaign to bring awareness to the situation.  Recently they received coverage through the news. It has been a skillful and cleverly orchestrated campaign and one that has been put in place by DEAF people, nearly all of them volunteers.

The talent and drive that exists in the Deaf community is outstanding. Most of the people keeping the Deaf community alive are dedicated volunteers. They do work, that if carried out by our Deaf Societies, that were ironically set up by Deaf people for Deaf people, would cost hundreds and thousands of dollars. Deaf Societies just do not give the Deaf community the recognition it deserves financially or otherwise. A free office and $5 000 just does not hack it. At this moment I am proud to watch the Deaf community strike back. It has been on its knees and attacked from all quarters whether it be medical sectors or Deaf societies that fail to recognise the real importance of COMMUNITY. What it needs now is “Bricks and Mortar”. The challenge for Deaf Societies is to help rebuild the foundations that they unwittingly knocked over.

Second Class?

My friend Alison reminded me today that deaf people, indeed many minority groups, often settle for being labeled as second class. Doing the rounds at the moment is an article that promotes captioned spectacles. Deaf people wear these spectacles while watching movies in the cinema. The captions for the movie are transmitted to the spectacles so that the watcher sees the captions in the spectacles while being able to focus on the movie. You can read this article by clicking HERE.

Many deaf people have commented that it is a wonderful innovation, and indeed it is. Many who are dissatisfied with the current Captiview system asked why this was not considered for Australia. Well I recall in the early discussions on Captiview one prominent advocate, who is the CEO of his organisation, commented that he had tried the spectacles and that he did not like them and said that in his view Captiview was far superior. I remember emailing him to remind him that it was his job to lay out the possibilities and that DEAF people should make up their own mind as to which was most suitable without bias and comment from anyone.  About this time a few of the more sensible advocates suggested a trial of different systems to see which was preferred but the said advocate and the Cinemas wanted Captiview and that was it. They were not going to consider any trial, we either accepted Captiview and that was that. Why? It is anyone’s guess. Possibly they thought a trial would be too costly and cumbersome. Possibly, and a scenario that I think is more likely,  is that some people had a vested interest in introducing Captiview. I would love to be an investigative journalist and really look into it but for now one can but speculate.  This is just one example  of DEAF people being treated as second class.  Deaf people must DO as they are TOLD by those, presumably, IN THE KNOW.

Alison’s ARTICLE touches on this theme. She quite rightly points out that we deserve better than to be shoved in to off peak times and be made to ADAPT. Why must it always be us. Indeed what harm do open captions do to anyone? They dont really distort the picture. After a time people will just get used to them in a similar way as they got used to wearing seat-belts argues Alison. But deaf people have to go into cinemas, ask for the spectacles and then wear them, all the time bringing attention to themselves. Why cant they just walk into the cinema and watch a movie the same as any one else? Why must we always ADJUST why cant it be other people? Is there any proof that open captions will stop people going to the movies? My three kids, all hearing, automatically switch the captions on even though they don’t need them. Ask them why and they will tell you that it doesn’t feel right without them. In short they have become conditioned to them. Open captions, points out Alison, cost nothing and more than likely wont impact on attendance but FEAR that they will means that Cinema bosses are willing to fork out millions when in all likelihood it might be cheaper just to introduce more open captions. But we are less important for some reason. Why should this be so? It’s a compelling argument. Read the article, Alison puts the argument far better than I can.

This theme of second class citizens seems to be the flavour of the moment. Recently I had a bit of a run in with Cathy. This isn’t new because Cathy and I agree on very little but have remained friends nonetheless. Cathy recently complained to Channel 9 because they screwed up the captioning on the popular The Block TV show.  After complaining to Channel 9 they saw fit to send Cathy a DVD of the episode they had messed up with captions. Cathy, while finding this amusing, thought that it was great progress because years ago Channel 9 would not even have bothered to respond. This is true but Gavin saw it from a different angle. Gavin had recently been on a study tour oversees and had seen just how superior that captioning was in America and Britain. Gavin argued that if Channel 9 were serious they would be looking into the quality of their captioning, finding out what went wrong and implementing solutions. Which is what they would do if their normal broadcasting to the general public broke down. Gavin argued that the sending of the DVD was nothing but a tokenistic gesture and was, in fact, Channel 9’s way of avoiding the issue. In short it was a PR stunt. I supported Gavin as I felt that it showed that the real needs of deaf people were being by-passed. Cathy was quite affronted, she felt we should be praising Channel 9 for their response and generally seeing things in a more positive light. Gavin and I argued that if we praise them they will think sending DVD will solve the issue and take the easy way out. Grant and Karen came out in support of Cathy and in the end we just agreed to disagree but it was a fascinating discussion. Were Channel 9 treating Cathy in a lesser way than others by sending the DVD and not making a commitment to improve quality of captioning? Or were they showing they recognised that access was important? My view is the former but Cathy’s is the latter. You be the judge.

More recently a friend sent me a fascinating email. My friend was being nominated to a committee by one of our advocacy groups. They nominated her with conditions. One of the conditions was that she, at all times, represent the views of the organisation that nominated her and not the CONSUMERS. In black and white the email laid out that the consumers views were irrelevant to the organisations views and that only the organisations views were to be presented. So we have reached a stage where consumer views mean nothing. We have reached a stage where a gang of five or six now control everything that is to be presented to the Government.  If consumers have a differing view then, well, sod them! Again deaf people are second class citizens with no input whatsoever … It’s a case of put  up or shut up … We know best -Bizarre!!

After reading Alison’s article I wonder if we, too often, accept second best? I wonder if we contribute to a mentality in society where we are GRATEFUL for all the help that we are given? Should we not change this around and remind people that they have much to be GRATEFUL for as well because of us and that the reward is reciprocal. Our value as human beings goes beyond the feel good stories in the news paper, we are  a vital cog in the economy providing valuable jobs and we contribute billions of dollars. Second class citizens? At the moment we probably are and will remain so if we continue to accept second best.