Its Christmas Time …

bobBut in our world of plenty, we should spread a smile of joy!
Throw your arms around the world at Christmas time
But say a prayer – pray for the other ones
At Christmas time, it’s hard but when your having fun
There’s a world outside your window …..

Oldies among us will remember the song Do they Know Its Christmas Time. Back in the mid-eighties lead singer of the Boom Town Rats, Bob Geldof, saw horrific film footage of the famine in Ethiopia. It wasn’t pretty. Inevitably the footage would focus on the kids. It was heart breaking. These starving skeletal kids, with bloated bellies, would stare helplessly at the camera. There dark eyes, large and beautiful, pleaded with us to make it better. This vision shook us to our core. Geldof was so moved that he was inspired to organise one of the largest fundraising events that was ever to be seen.

So moved was Geldof by the film footage that he flew to Africa to witness what was happening first hand for himself. He then flew home wrote the song, Do They Know Its Christmas Time. He then convinced a whole host of pop stars to produce it as a record. The stars included Paul Young, Bono, Boy George and Phil Collins. It is still the biggest selling UK song of all time. The song was the catalyst for a number of concerts, The Band Aid Concerts. This fundraising initiative, sparked by Geldof, was to raise over 100 Million Pounds Sterling. Geldof was later Knighted for his efforts. The memory of Band Aid reminds me that humans are basically very decent folk.

In 2012 a lot of angry words were written about the lack of cinema access. But when I looked back on 2012 I realised that mostly my fight for access was a successful one. It reminded me that there is a lot of good happening out there. Not necessarily by mega rich organisations like the Big 4 cinemas but by your every day Joe Blow and Cathy Can. The types of people that have a desire to simply make things happen. Most people, like Sir Bob, CARE!

Tamara Trinder-Scacco, for example, long ago realised that the Big 4 Cinemas were unlikely to provide the captions on the screen that were needed by her deaf daughter to access movies on the big screen. She decided to find another way. She approached the Lynbrook Residents Association that provide monthly outdoor movies for families. The Association had purchased, by hook and by crook, an inflatable movie screen and a digital projector. Tamara asked them if they would put the captions on for the deaf and they did. Why? So that everyone could access the movie. It really is as simple as that.

And then last week I approached one of the departments at my work that puts on films and cultural events in semi-rural areas. I had discovered that they had spanking new Digital Projectors installed at community hubs throughout the region. At these hubs they show some of the latest movies, art house movies and theatre. I asked if they would consider putting on captions for the deaf. Their response blew me away.

Now the technical guy had been told by his film distributor that to watch captions they needed an external device like CaptiView. I explained to the technical guy that this was not accurate and that recently a company had worked out how to put files designed for such devices on the screen. “Cool”, he said, “Ill make some enquiries and we can meet again in January to discuss how we can train the projectionist to do it.” It was as simple as that.

I started talking to the tech guy and his manager about how we might provide access. I suggested that they simply advertise some sessions as captioned and generate some interest among deaf cinema goers. The manager asked, “Why would we do it like that?” I explained because there might be some cinema goers put off by the captions on screen. The manager just scoffed and said, “Who cares? Let’s just have system where if a deaf person wants the captions turned on they tell the box office person who will then call the projectionist and make sure they’re turned on.”

After the last three years of listening to a myriad of excuses from the mega rich Big 4 as to why captions on screen cannot happen I was blown away by the attitude. One would think that this small little cinema would be frightened of losing customers. But the attitude was simply that it was access for all or access for none. It was totally refreshing.

The manager started to ask me questions about the blind. I explained about audio description. She was impressed by this and directed her technician to investigate how they might introduce audio description. She also asked about theatre and if it was possible to make theatre accessible. I explained about the Captioning Studio and the work they do to for captioned theatre. So she is going to look into that too. She is going to see if a touring theatre group want to work on getting their show captioned so they can offer captioned sessions for other regional areas too. It was easy and I was completely blown away by the ‘can do’ and ‘let’s do it’ attitude.

As I look back on the year and I realise that because I had been so wrapped up in the disgraceful attitude of the Big 4 cinemas that I had overlooked all the good things that had happened. When I looked back on the year I realised that it was virtually only the Big 4 Cinemas that had been obstinate in their refusal to take accessibility needs seriously.

For example my work involves capacity building. I must analyse access needs in the community that I work for. This might involve access to footpaths, access to buildings or simply access to information. I realised that throughout the year NO ONE had said no. I asked for different departments to accept responsibility to pay for interpreters so my own budget was not stretched. No problem! I asked that the wider community be consulted on footpath access. So seriously did they tackle this request that “Access Walks” have been organised where a group of people with disabilities will work with an Urban Planner to help him identify access problems on pedestrian routes. I asked for improved access to public toilets through the installation of adult change tables and hoists. It’s not as easy as it sounds but capital works are now engaged in a feasibility study to see how they can make this happen.

What astounded me is that all these people saying YES had absolutely no background or knowledge of disability. They didn’t have millions upon millions of dollars to play with either. All they had was an attitude that wanted to see improvements in access for people with a disability. I pointed out to one of our managers that there are economic benefits for improving disability access.  “Oh I don’t care about that”,he said, “It’s just the right thing to do.”

So this Christmas let’s remember that human beings are, in the majority, good folk. Most people just want to see a world that includes everyone. They want to see a world where people are all equal. It is unfortunate that the minority get most of the attention because there is so much good happening out there. The sad thing is that it is often this minority, blessed with resources and profits, which have so much power and control.

BUT Christmas is a time to celebrate. It is a time where the best in human nature is on display. In the words of Sir Bob,

It’s Christmas time, there’s no need to be afraid
At Christmas time, we let in light and we banish shade
And in our world of plenty, we can spread a smile of joy!
Throw your arms around the world at Christmas time ..

Keep up the good fight people!

Happy Xmas everyone and if you don’t celebrate Xmas just celebrate because!

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The Human Wronged Awards

Welcome to the Human Wronged Awards for Accessible Cinema for the Deaf. Nominees for these prestigious awards have been chosen for the sterling efforts to wrong deaf people in their fight for access to the cinema. Yes that life long past time of going to the movies, enjoying the show, eating bad pop corn and spilling your drink on your unfortunate partner is being denied the deaf. Not only that, romance is dead. Deaf cinema goers must somehow navigate their way around a bendy armed alien for a simple snog. Simply leaning over for a snog is likely to lead to tangles and even having ones eye poked out. Meanwhile chiropractors all over Australia have bought shares in the Big4 Cinemas. Never before have they seen so many stiff necks and headaches requiring treatment. Chiropractors all over Australia see the word CaptiView and rub their hands with glee.

But we are not here to chat we are here to celebrate the Human Wronged Awards for Accessible Cinema for the Deaf. With out further adieu I will announce the winners. As each winner is announced applaud loudly and thank your lucky stars for DVD and Blue Ray.

And the winner of the Honorary Deaf Person Award goes to the Disability Commissioner… GRAEME INNES … Graeme Innes come on doooowwwwwwn.  This award is to honour the person that most thinks like a deaf person. Graeme, of course, has been a champion of CaptiView. All over Australia Graeme has been congratulating the cinemas on the roll-out of CaptiView. In the newspapers, on Twitter, On Facebook and to whoever will listen Graeme has been promoting the fabulous benefits and access CaptiView has given to deaf people. Of Course Graeme, not being deaf, would have no clue as to the type of access CaptiView provides. BUT no matter, even though the deaf have told him almost as one they hate CaptiView, he is all knowing. There can be no more deserving winner of this award than GRAEME INNES – Give it up for DEAF GRAEME INNES one more time!

And wasn’t he a deserving winner. Moving right along let us move to our next sparkling award. This award, The Sieve Award, goes to the organisation that provides us with such inaccurate information about what is possible with captions in the cinema. The winner of this award has demonstrated an outstanding capacity to provide information in drips and so selectively that Sherlock Homes himself would struggle to get to the truth. First it was captions with Doremi were only possible with CaptiView. Then it was there are other captioning options but CaptiView is best. Then it was Open Captions are not possible, its CaptiView or nothing. Then it was Open Captions are possible but they’re bloody expensive. Then having found out that you could actually use the same caption file used for CaptiView to get Captions ON THE SCREEN they informed all that captions are an evolving process. Never was there any intention to mislead they say, even though they sent us all up the Garden path and beyond. We should never forget this pearl of wisdom that they provided – the deaf will take anything so long as there are words on screen. The Sieve Award honours such brilliant provision of inaccurate and misleading information, intentional or unintentional. There can only be ONE WINNER and we are hounoured to present this award to MEYDYA AGGSESS ORRZYTRALLLIIIIIIIAAAA …. COME ON DOWN!

Oh deary me, arn’t you just dizzy from all this excitement?

Our next award is the award that you have all been waiting for It is the Golden Logie, the Best Actor, the World Cup of the Human Wronged Awards.  DRUUUUMMMMM ROOOLLLLLL … This award is the YOU ALL KNOW NOTHING AWARD. Oh yes, the winners of this award will go down in history as having told the deaf that they are all ignorant. That they do not know what is best for them. That CaptiView is best. That spending 2 million on a white elephant is nothing. When 500 people loudly told them that the Cinemas were offering naff all they told 500 people they WERE WRONG. Screams and cries to be represented were ignored. SIT DOWN SHUT UP AND LET US DO OUR JOB they said. What would us savages know? Nothing, of course.  AND THE WINNER IS ….. There are actually two of them, OH MY GOD IT’S A TIE, how astonishing is this, the winners are …….. Oh they can not be named????… But we all know who they are don’t we? GIVE IT UP for them!!!  Oh come one now surely you can do better than that? Not even finger tappies? Oh alright then. Moving right along.

And our final award is the RICH GET RICHER AWARD!!! What a fitting way to end the night. There can be no better way to finish the night than to present the award for the filthy rich who just get richer. Rich they maybe but apathy is the game. Do they care? Not one IOTA … What are they providing?… As little as possible .. Do they listen? No for they are the real deaf in all this. Will they ever take 3 million deaf people and their associates seriously? When hell freezes over. There is no surprise here .. It pisses us off no end to present this award to filthy rich and getting richer the BIG 4 CINEMAS!!!!  WOOOO HOOOOOOOOOO!

Now go buy the DVD, its the only way you’ll enjoy the movie! (The Big 4 will love you for it, they probably have shares in the DVD distributor companies.)

My Day …..

Most people I know hate alarm clocks. They have all manner of alarm clocks to wake them up. Sometimes they use the old fashioned type that let out a shrill ring that alerts the sleeper that it is time to get up and face the day. Others have their alarm set to their favourite music or radio station so that they wake up to something pleasant. Me? I have an iPhone under the pillow that vibrates in such a way as to want to throw it against a wall when it wakes me so that it smashes into a thousand pieces. Of late it wakes me up at 5.15am so that I can get on the 6.15am train for the long trek between Ballarat and Lilydale. I can have a flashing light if I want, but that is equally irritating. The iPhone works just fine.

This takes me back to the day when I was interviewed for a place at Durham University. I was fortunate enough to be accepted into teaching there but could not find the finance to follow it through. The University had a support unit especially for the deaf. This was kind of a novelty back in 1984. I was interviewed by the Coordinator of the Unit. If I had taken up the offer I would have been residing at the University. The Coordinator asked me an astonishing question. “If you reside here Gary ..”, he asked, “.. Would you like a flasher by the bedside of a vibrator under the mattress.” True story! It took all of my will power to keep a straight face.

So anyway I wake up and shower. If I have time I catch some of the news with captions on the TV before I go. I hop in the car and head off to the train station. My routine is to grab a breakfast wrap and a coffee. When you are deaf ordering breakfast is always more complicated than it seems. Of course the coffee machine is going loudly and you don’t speak loud enough because you have not heard this in the background. Often the assistant mishears you and you get something you didn’t order like a fruit platter or strawberry yoghurt. Rather than have to go through the whole charade of communicating again one just accepts what is given and eats it. Hell it is not yet 6am and at that hour who can be bothered.

Of course the person at the counter has to ask questions. A simple request for a black coffee comes with it a Spanish inquisition as the counter assistant tries to clarify how you want your coffee. Of course the person at the counter is nearly always difficult to lip read. The conversation goes something along these lines:

Me: Black coffee please

Them: (Indecipherable)

Not understanding a word and being too tired to bother with clarification I use the age old deaf tactic of nodding and hope to the high heavens that this is the answer that they require. Usually what follows is an odd look because the question was either, “Do you want a long or a short black?” or “Do you want a large or small coffee?” Nodding, of course, is not the right option. Unfortunately phone a friend wasn’t available either.

Or worse they ask you if you want sugar with it and by nodding you end up with sugar that you do not want. It gets to a point where to avoid the need to answer all these questions and thereby have to concentrate hard at this god awful hour you ask for coffee and outline all your options like this: “ I’ll have a black coffee, small, long black, no sugar …”

And of course today you have said this bellowing at the top of your lungs because in the past the coffee machine had been so loud that they had not heard you. Only today you have come in so early that they have yet to turn the coffee machine on. You know this because the poor counter assistant has taken a step back so as to not end up with a perforated eardrum as you bellow your order at them. A glance round and you will see the looks of your fellow passengers who think you are a complete nutter for yelling out your order at the top of your voice.

Anyway, coffee had, breakfast eaten I hop on the train. I am very unsociable on the train. On my trusty iPad I have all the latest newspapers ready to read. World issues, sport and more sport, particularly English Premier League, are top of my agenda to read. I do not, I repeat do not, want to talk to anyone. But as is my luck, of all the people on the train, a little old woman sits next to me and wants to chat. I dismiss her by tapping my ears and giving her an apologetic look. Her face drops and she is deflated. The only thing that I understand is at the end when she says, “You poor thing ….”

Of course before I can even begin to read the newspapers I have fallen asleep because I am so tired. I am dreaming about the weekend. It is a lovely day. I am walking down the first fairway of Bunninyong Golf Club. Behind me, in front of me and every where are my two dogs, Tramp and Hermione. They are chasing anything and everything that moves. I have hit a wonderful 2 75 yard drive down the middle. I am lining up my second shot. It’s gonna be a birdie for sure. As I am about to hit my shot a long finger pokes me in the shoulder and wakes me up.

It is the conductor and he wants my ticket. He has been calling me and I have slept on unknowing. He is giving me a suspicious look. He clearly does not believe that I was asleep. He feels that I was ignoring him and thinks that I am a fare evader. I hurriedly get my ticket from the wallet and show it to him. He nods and makes his way up the aisle to check the other passengers. Of course he didn’t think that I was a fare evader at all but the paranoia of deafness sometimes makes me fear the worst.

Eventually the train arrives at Southern Cross. I scurry along as quickly as I am able without running. The Lilydale line is Platform 10. A quick stop for another coffee and I arrive on the platform with five minutes to spare. I look to the information screen to check which train is next. An expletive forms in my head – the message says to listen for announcements.

I quickly check my Metro iPad app to see if there are any updates about the Lilydale line. To my horror there are none. I look frantically for a Met worker so that I can find out what is happening. Thankfully I get a deaf friendly one who writes down all the information for me. I am to catch any train to Flinders and hop on the Lilydale train there. The City Loop is not running for whatever reason.

I get to Flinders and find the platform for my train. I look to the screen which assures me that the Lilydale train is next. A train is coming and I look to the screen again. It says it is the Glen Waverley Train. Confused I find a Met worker to see what is going on. Apparently an announcement was made and the Lilydale line has moved to Platform 3. I look to Platform 3 to see the Lilydale train just leaving. I resist the urge to break something.

Wearily I get out my trusty iPad. I fire an email to my boss. I am not going to make the 9am meeting. The interpreters, oh god the interpreters, I have to let them know too. I send Nic a text but the interpreters are already on their way. That is $343 down the drain.

I am buggered and the workday has not yet begun ….

Did You Hear the One About …???

One of the things people love and hate about me is my humour. I laugh very easily and heartily. It has been said of my laughter that it is extremely contagious. It is not uncommon for complete strangers to come up to me and say that they love my laugh. I don’t believe in holding it back, if you are going to laugh, laugh properly I say. But I can also have a very dark sense of humour which can put people offside.

Just a few days ago I made a bit of a whoopsie. I was at a function. At this function was a colleague. The colleague gets around using a scooter as she has mobility issues. She also has the most wonderful assistance dog. Now usually you must leave assistance dogs well alone as they are working dogs. But my colleague will have none of this. She encourages people to talk to and cuddle the dog at will. Now – being the marshmallow that I am – I gush over, cuddle and baby talk to the dog when ever I see it. I fancy the dog lies in wait for me. Whenever I am in a room its eyes follows me until I come over to say hello.  As I make my way over its considerable backside will sway wildly as it sets its tail wagging.

Anyway, after spending ten minutes or so gushing over the dog, I will remember my manners. I will say hello to its owner, who will beam me a smile and give me a look that clearly tells me that she thinks I am an amiable idiot. What was to follow would certainly have confirmed this fact in her eyes. Another colleague was talking to her. This colleague confessed that dogs normally frightened her. For some reason, this dog didn’t frighten her. The conversation went something like this:

Her: I’m usually frightened of dogs

Me: Really? No one can be frightened of this great big thing.

Her: Yes, you are right he is such a lovely animal. I feel I now know what to do to overcome my fear of dogs.

Me: What? Get yourself in a wheelchair.

Now, I was very tired. I had been up since 5am and it just slipped out. But my colleague, who owns the dog, chuckled ruefully. Her acquaintance? Her jaw just dropped! Red faced she protested that she hadn’t meant that, but something totally different. Then the penny dropped and she allowed herself a chuckle as well.

I apologised profusely. I explained that sometimes my humour is a bit dark and I hoped that I hadn’t offended anyone. But, strangely enough, we all began to relax a little. The tension that often exists in professional gatherings where people try to maintain their professional facade had melted away. We all became more open and relaxed and began to discuss a number of other disability topics.  I think I got lucky because this ill thought one-liner could easily have backfired.

But as incidents like this often do, it got my mind ticking over. In this case I began to think about humour in general, what makes us laugh and why? Of course, because I am currently commuting as total of five hours a day on a train, I have plenty of time to think about such mundane issues. So with my trusty iPad I began to research humour.

It seems a simple thing to ask. What is humour? But of course nothing is ever simple. The first thing that came up on my Google search was this. Humor is distinguished from wit, satire, and farce. It is less intellectual and more imaginative than wit, being concerned more with character and situation than with plays upon words or upon ideas; more sympathetic and less cruel than satire; more subtle than farce. On the other side, it shades into fancy and imagination, since it is concerned, as they are, with exploring the possibilities of unlikely situations or combinations of ideas, but differs from them in being concerned only with the laughable aspects of these imagined situations.”[1] I promptly nodded off only to be awoken when the train shuddered to a halt at Ballarat station.

Anyway a little bit later, a few days actually, I changed my search to, WHAT MAKES US LAUGH? The first thing that I read was this, “As adults we lose the ability to laugh.  We become conditioned and very much influenced by other peoples’ expectations of us.  There are heavier responsibilities upon our shoulders, as we grow up.  More serious people who we live and mix with encourage us also to be more serious.  We can get put down for laughing and being light-hearted, resulting in suppressing our natural cheerful state and so laughing less.  This has a dramatic effect upon our health and well-being.”[2]  I was quickly coming to the conclusion that people who researched and wrote about humour lacked in the very thing that they were writing about. Nevertheless it was interesting reading.

The Laughter Yoga Blog outlines three theories of humour. The first of these is – The Incongruity Theory. For those less literal, me being one, Google defines incongruity as, something that is incongruous. This didn’t help much with my understanding of the word so I searched for an example and came up with, an impeccably groomed woman who keeps a messy house.[3]  From this I came to the conclusion that the word meant contradictory or ambiguous. Or perhaps of having a double meaning.

But anyway I digress, the Incongruity Theory of humour suggests that we laugh at things that seem logical and familiar but are altered to be things that don’t normally go together. This certainly explains why we all laughed when I suggested that to overcome a fear of dogs becoming wheelchair bound was the option. An able bodied person deliberately becoming disabled so they might not fear dogs, ridiculous, hahahahahahhaha. It really isn’t that funny. To some who are living fulfilling lives in a wheelchair and have done so for many years you can kind of understand why they might have found my gaffe unfunny. I guess it all depends on ones experience and perspective.

The second theory of humour was, The Superiority Theory. This theory suggests that we laugh at someone else’s misfortune because it makes us feel superior. This is where my use of humour in the example I provided becomes a little more unacceptable. It suggests we laughed because we thought that being able to walk and not need a wheelchair was a superior state of being. Of course it is nothing of the sort. It is where sensitivity needs to come into the argument and shows when I made my gaffe that sensitivity was lacking to the extreme. I was lucky indeed that my colleague was able to see the funny side because it could so easily have offended.

The third theory of humour is The Relief Theory. This theory suggests that we find things funny when we are in stressful situations. Humour allows us to break the ice. In the example I gave we were all in a professional work situation where we were expected to be professional and serious. My gaffe allowed us all to laugh and relax in each others company. In a sense it was an ice breaker between us. It certainly worked because we had an engaging and enjoyable conversation thereon.

Make no mistake with the gaffe I made I GOT LUCKY. I got lucky because it is so easy to cross the line with disability humour. The difference between what is funny and what is offensive is sometimes often a very thin line. There is a train of thought that suggests that disability humour should be used only by those who have a disability or a strong association with disability. Such individuals can walk the talk.[4]  Some people feel that if you have no experience of disability and use disability humour that this is belittling and excluding. Disability humour used by people that have no experience of disability tends to highlight that they see the state of disability as a lesser thing or an object of fun. Disability humour used by people who themselves have a disability is often based on experiences that they have in life.

That said a very esteemed colleague of mine often admonishes me about my use of disability humour. My colleague feels that disability humour is, more often than not, unacceptable. She believes this because, “Laughing at something that hurts us, is not as simple or therapeutic as it sounds.” The truth of the matter is often that, “Laughter at disability always benefits those who don’t want to come to grips with what disability means.” These are wise words because disability humour often belittles and demonstrates that society does not value people who have disabilities. The use of words like retard and spastic, in particular, demonstrate this.

My colleague is one of the prime reasons that I am writing this article because she has made me really analyse why I laugh at certain things and certainly has made me more cautious. Nevertheless I maintain that there is a funny side to disability. For example comedian Adam Hills is lacking in a leg. He often makes jokes about his lack of a leg. But his jokes are funny because they are based on his experience which we can relate to our own real life experience. What follows is a great example, and yes I found it hilarious.  I went out with this girl once, we had been together for a little while, and we got back to her place for the first ever time. It was that moment of kind of sitting, you know, on the edge of a bed, and she went, ?ooh, do you want to stay the night,? and I went, ?oh, yeah all right.? She went, ?Oh, okay, Ill be back in a second.? And she walked out of the room. And I sat there going, awww oh, shit. I havent told her. Well now what do I do??You know what I mean? Well I cant wait for her to walk back in and just go, ?Look! [pretending to hold up his prosthetic] It fell off.? I considered doing a magic trick with a blanket [pretending to flourish a blanket and reveal not having a second leg]. I sat there for ten minutes thinking a) where has she gone for ten minutes? And b) How am I gonna bring this up in conversation? What can she say to which I could naturally respond. ?Really? Well Ive got one leg!? [gestures in that direction] Im not making this up. She came back in the room and went, ?Im really sorry, Ive only got one pillow.? [pauses for laughter, then repeats gesture] Ta da! She went, ?ah, that explains it!? ?It explains what?? She said, ?I spent half an hour at dinner rubbing your foot under the table and you didnt notice.”.?

This is really funny to me because as a deaf person I have been in similar situations. There always comes a moment when you are courting a would be partner who is hearing that you have to disclose your deafness. Unlike Adam Hills and his missing appendage deaf people usually cannot hide their deafness for very long. But we can relate to Adam’s turmoil and, in particular, the worry that others might think less of us. It is almost a relief that there is another person in the world who has had a similar experience to us. Knowing this we feel less isolated and more a part of the world. Many deaf people will have experienced the moment where we must take out our hearing aids. More embarrassingly we have had moments where we have left our aids in and they have begun to whistle loudly just as we were getting near to the crucial moment. It is a real life example and it makes us laugh. As a friend pointed out to me the joke works because, .. it invokes the vulnerability and emotions of both the disabled and able bodied parties. And it’s told by the disabled person who is well within their rights to poke fun at themselves. It’s human, it’s awkward and he still gets the girl.”

Generally speaking with disability humour one should ask themselves in terms of disability whether the joke encourages empathy, whether it promotes understanding, whether it makes people feel closer to people with disabilities or more relaxed.[5] If it does then it is probably the right type of joke. If in doubt, leave well alone.

When a joke belittles and marginalises people with a disability it has crossed the line. A good, or rather a shameful, example of crossing the line is highlighted in an article printed in the British newspaper the Guardian titled Getting a Laugh Out of Disability[6]  This article highlights an incident where ex Chelsea and Wimbledon footballer, Vinnie Jones, belittled people with an intellectual disability on the British version of Big Brother. In the show a participant was strutting around in a chicken costume. Jones called the participant a retard. He then apparently began to walk in a way he considered a “Retard” to walk. For me, and thankfully most of us, the word RETARD used in this context is among the most offensive that can be used. It is used to portray people with an intellectual disability as lesser beings of lesser value. When humour crosses this line it is unacceptable.

But I maintain that there is a place for disability humour. Used correctly, in the right context and by the right people it can portray people with a disability as an integral part of our society. Indeed disability humour can either, “include or exclude”[7] If the humour highlights the every day challenges and experiences of people with a disability in sensitive and humorous way, as shown in the example of Adam Hills, it is a good thing. If it is nasty and devaluing it should be avoided at all costs. It is possible for us all to laugh at disability but but it is often a fine line. If in doubt, leave well alone.

And on that note I will leave you with another Adam Hills joke, completely un-disability related:

“`So I told a joke about an inflatable boy who went to an inflatable school where all the students were inflatable, all the teachers were inflatable, and all the buildings were inflatable. One day he gets into trouble for bringing a pin to school, and the headmaster says `You’ve let me down, you’ve let yourself down, you’ve let the whole school down’.” 

 

The Gift

Has it come to the point that the Deaf Community in Adelaide has had to resort to ‘BEGGING’ ? – I do not use this word lightly. But begging is what they seem to have been reduced to. A week or so ago there was an article in an Adelaide Newspaper. The Deaf community are asking for someone or a company to invest in ‘262’. The famous ‘262’ is the heritage listed building on South Terrace that the Deaf community have called home since 1923. As part of this investment whoever buys ‘262’ can develop certain areas of the property but not the old building itself because it is heritage listed. The Deaf community have asked whoever wants to invest to then lease back ‘262’ to them long term so that it can remain as their home. In exchange the investor can make a profit from developing the areas of the property that do not come under the heritage listing.

Now some may call my use of the word BEGGING as extreme. But the fact of the matter is that the Deaf community in Adelaide is on its last legs. The truth of the matter is that unless they can find an investor, and soon, they will lose their spiritual home. This is despite the fact that the building was ‘gifted’ to them. Yes that’s correct, it was given to the Deaf community, just so long as they could find an incorporated body to help them run it. That incorporated body turned out to be the Deaf Sport and Recreation Association of South Australia. Wasn’t that kind of the “HEARING” administrators. (HA)

The HA knowing that the Deaf community loved and cherished ‘262’ decided that they would give it to them. But before you get all weepy eyed at their generosity let’s consider the facts. The first of these facts is that ‘262’ was not for the HA to ‘gift’ away. Let’s just remember that the old Deaf Society of South Australia was set up for Deaf people by Deaf people. How kind of the HA that had been trusted to look after ‘262’ to give it back by way of a ‘gift’. The fact is that they never truly morally owned ‘262’ to start with. What is a fact is that a succession of HA have made a mess of keeping it sustainable over a period of many years. So the reality is that the HA were saying, “We can’t fix the mess we made, here you can have it, fix it yourself.”

Now people may say that I am being ridiculous. But I have asked some questions and it seems that the main drivers in setting up the Deaf Society in Adelaide were Deaf people. There were three it seems – Bostock, Hawkins and Salas – who sought support from Samuel Johnston and Sir John Colton. Through sheer hard work they raised money to set up the first Deaf Society on Wright Street which was debt free. They moved to the current Deaf Society, 262, I think in 1923, with the help of benefactors. At the time ‘262’ was also debt free. So let us make no mistake – The Deaf Society was established through the nous of Deaf people FOR Deaf people and was paid for as the result of the efforts of DEAF people. The upkeep and administration of ‘262’ was trusted to HA who took it to its current state of near total collapse. Thanks for ‘gifting’ it back in such pristine condition. Well done!

Now on the Deaf Can Do website you will see a video message that explains how the HA of the Deaf Society are to ‘Gift’ the building back to the Deaf community. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L0RpvOewln8&feature=youtu.be ) They say all the right things about its importance and the fact it is the Deaf communities spiritual home etc etc etc … But what they are really saying is, “We want to move to Welland. We want to take all the services and money there because it is cheaper for us. You can have the building and be responsible for its upkeep because we don’t want it. We don’t want it because it is a cash hole that is swallowing up our money” What they mean in a nut shell is,  “Here you can have ‘262’ and with it all the headaches of its upkeep.” But of course they are saying it in a much nicer way.

One of the conditions of this ‘wash our hands of it’ gift was that an incorporated organisation must look after the building for the Deaf community. This incorporated organisation turned out to be the Deaf Sport and Recreation Association of South Australia (SRASA). Of course SRASA were not silly.  In the video they explain that before accepting the ‘gift’ they wanted to do their due diligence and make sure accepting the gift was viable. Until they had done that due diligence they were not prepared to accept the ‘gift’. This was a very smart move on their part.

SRASA were to make an announcement after the process of due diligence had been completed. The information we have received is that SRASA received considerable monetary support from the HA to employ a consultant to carry out this due diligence process. The considerable expenditure is alleged to be in the vicinity of $76 000. It seems that the consultant received this $76 000 to tell everyone what they already knew. SRASA lacked the financial capacity to be able to maintain 262. So the decision, it is believed, is for ‘262’ to be sold, parts of it redeveloped, and ask that a would be investor lease the heritage listed building back to SRASA for a long period of time. This is the situation as it is understood. Corrections are welcome and encouraged to clarify any errors.

Now it may have been possible that SRASA could have made ‘262’ viable IF they had been able to develop business opportunities that could build on what they know best. What they know best is all things Deaf. But you see one of the conditions of the ‘gift’ was, allegedly, that the Deaf Administrators (DA) who were to take over the building were not allowed to establish any services in competition to the HA services. This meant they could not apply for grants that the HA might want to apply for, they could not set up businesses such as say interpreter booking service in competition with the HA, they could not rent out the building space to other services that might be competition to the HA and so on. So the income stream to maintain 262 that was most viable and understood by the DA was to be denied them. (In this case Deaf Services)

So how were they to make money? They could significantly redevelop the building so that it was modern office spaces. But they needed considerable capital to do that. The building is in need of significant maintenance already. It has been quoted that it costs around $180 000 ever year in maintenance. This is money that the DA simply does not have. Arguably the condition that the HA want to impose on the DA to accept the ‘gift’ is illegal anyway. It is a restraint of trade. BUT if this was to prove the case the HA could just withdraw their offer of the ‘gift’. They hold all the aces. (And you can bet that they know this!)

In the video it explains that the HA has taken services for the Deaf community away from ‘ 262’ to establish these services at their Welland and Modbury offices. The money for these services was ACTUALLY gifted to the current HA because the previous HA of the Deaf Society had made a mess of the Deaf Society finances and cried out to the current HA for help. This cry for help all happened back in 2007. At the time the current HA insisted that the Deaf Society was still an independent organisation and that they were working in ‘partnership’ to save them.

Some partnership this turned out to be. They changed name of the Deaf Society to Deaf Can Do so that it matched closely to one of the business names that they owned. They have now taken control of all the services money. They have taken the audiology business and the interpreting business. In fact they have taken almost every income stream that was available to the Deaf Society and claimed it as their own. And what did they leave the SA Deaf community? They have left a building that is falling down around their ears and no means to maintain it. They have denied the Deaf community the right to set up services in ‘262’ that are most viable to the Deaf community.  These services would enable income streams that would assist with the maintenance of the building.  Is this really a partnership? Don’t make me laugh; this was a fully fledged takeover. It was a bloodless coupe!

So what is the situation? The Deaf community need to find an investor that will become their benefactor. They will lose control of the very asset that the generations before them worked so hard to establish. They have trusted over a period of many years that the HA would do the right thing by them. Instead of having a debt free spiritual home they are left on a wing, a prayer and a run down building. They have been robbed and pillared of their assets. They have lost control of their services and the funding that went with them. They are, in short, totally disempowered. They have no ‘gift’ just a continuous fight for survival. And what of  the HA? Well they just get richer and richer.

An Accessible Piece of Writing

SIGHHHHHHH!!! They are at it again. The Government has decided that I need to be spoken of in a certain way. I am, you see, a person. Not that I did not know this before but I have to be constantly reminded. Nothing, absolutely nothing must come before the person.  I am a not a blue eyed person. NOPE! I am a person with blue eyes. If I was lucky enough to have lots of money I would not be a rich person but a person who is rich, Of course I am deaf but not a deaf person rather I am a person who is deaf. You get the gist. I am sure Yoda was educated by our Governments and the ensuing confusion led to his unfortunate style of speech. What would Yoda say. “Deaf are person you” or “Person deaf you are” One fancies that the confusion and fear of getting it wrong would be enough to banish Yoda to silence forever.

In a moment of well meaning madness the Government has tried to develop a guideline to ensure that we speak about issues that are correctly of disability. You can not put at the front of anything disability… You must focus on the person. Of course in doing so the Government has unwittingly reminded us that a bad thing is disability.  So bad is it that last must come disability. Voldermort had it easy .. “Oh we do not speak his name…” Just try saying disa…. SHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

And seriously what this political correctness does is put a pox on disability. It’s like it is taboo, undesirable and only to be mentioned as an after thought. In making people worry so much about using correctly the term disability we unwittingly portray as a bad thing disability. Not wanted, not needed and something to be tip toed around. In a society that already makes negative assumptions about disability, this is a bad thing. ( And yes my placement of the word disability in these sentences is sarcasm at its worst.)

But this Government has actually gone a step further. You see if a person with that nasty trait needs to go to the loo we can no longer say they need a disabled toilet. We can’t even say they need a toilet for the disabled. Disabled has been banished from the loo for ever. We now must call these special loos an accessible toilet. I am not kidding.

It gets worse. You know those special parking spots, those ones with the symbols that look like someone is sitting on a very big potty but are actually supposed to symbolise wheelchairs, well you cant call them disabled parking spots any more. You can’t even call those spots parking spots for the disabled. You have to call them accessible parking spaces. We are fast removing the word disability from our lexicon altogether.

Perhaps you think that I am over-reacting but I am not the only one that feels like this. Stella Young wrote about this recently on the Ramp Up Blog.  Says Young, a proud Crip and wheelchair user, “Now, I find the concept of having to clarify my status as a person extraordinarily condescending. No one else is ever asked to qualify their status as a person. Gay men and women are not “people with homosexuality”. Women are not “people who are female”. Footballers are not “people who play football”. I’ve met a lot of disabled people in my time, and not once have I ever met someone whose impairment is so profound, that their status as a person is in doubt”

And that pretty much sums it up.  Come on world get over it. Disability is not a dirty word it is an integral part of our society. Sure it is not always a barrel for fun having a disability but please just use the word without reservations. The DISABLED – there I’ve said it – by and large don’t care where in the sentence you use the word disability just so long as you can use it with out it making it seem like the most deadly of taboos AND PLEASE stop spending countless millions of dollars trying to work out how to speak about us properly, just ask us and we will tell you.  The money, I am sure, can be better spent elsewhere. Like on an extra shower for someone who needs it for example.

As Yoda would say. Disability? Care not that you say or where us.

Phantom Sounds

As a kid I used to lie awake at night and listen. The night is never silent. If it were summer a mosquito would announce itself with its alarming buzzing. The old Westinghouse Fridge would drone endlessly into the night. Behind my closed bedroom door I would hear the KEEEWOOOOSH as someone from the family flushed the toilet. There would be a constant VROOOOOM as cars passed the house. Occasionally the more deep throaty chugga chug of a lorry would rumble by. I would drift off to sleep with the cricket’s chirruping endlessly into the night.

In the morning those darned sparrows would awaken me with their incessant chirping.  The more irritating and sinister squawking of crows could be heard in the distance. Out the front the rubbish man would announce himself with the clanging of tin lids for these were the days when rubbish men were among the fittest people on earth. They would run along behind the truck lifting and then emptying heavy metal rubbish bins into the garbage truck. As they did so you might hear the barking of an annoyed dog because the rubbish man had dared encroach on his territory.

I would be summoned from my bedroom by my mother calling up the hall that breakfast was ready. I would sit down in the kitchen eating my Cocoa Pops as my mother bellowed her instructions for the day. I was not to be late. I was not to forget my book, I was to clean my teeth and brush my hair. She would yell these instructions from all corners of the house – the lounge, the bathroom or the bedroom – as she set about getting herself ready for work. Occasionally my father, who had been on the night shift at Holden’s, would bark at us a plea to be quiet so that he could sleep.

As I ate my breakfast the radio would be blaring in the background. My favourite song that I listened for everyday was Daddy Cool and their Eagle Rock – “Hey Hey Hey good old Eagle Rock’s here to stay, I’m just crazy ’bout the way we move, Doin’ the Eagle Rock”  The Beatles were soon to break up and the radio stations played Get Back annoyingly and constantly – “Get back, get back, Get back to where you once belonged, Get back, get back, Get back to where you once belonged, Get back, Loretta , Go home” At the end of a song the announcer would announce the time reminding me that I needed to hurry up and get ready.

Before leaving for school I would sit and watch Veronica and Fat Cat. These were the days before we were bombarded with news from the time we woke up until when went to bed. Roger Ramjet was my morning friend. I loved that each episode the narrator announced– “As this episodic episode begins…” And then of course there was Roger’s catch phrase … “But that’s Impossible …”

As I watched Roger the chattering of children at the front of our house would build to a crescendo as they excitedly made their way to school. I would listen for David and Peter as they passed my house. This would be my cue that it was time to go. Occasionally I would hear the squeal of brakes as an inattentive child attempted to cross the road, many were the times that the wail of an ambulance would follow soon after.

As we walked there would be inane chatter.  We would talk about The Brady Brunch. The episode the night before had been about Marcia’s braces. Peter had an annoying habit of copying the mannerisms of this American family. I particularly loathed it when he used the term, “You did too …”  as he accused his brother of some misdemeanour at home. We would chat about the Big Match excitedly, particularly if our favourite team had been shown the night before. I have particularly fond memories of Brian Moore and his excitable commentating – “Moore, Brooking, Robson – Out wide to Dowell – He crosses – IT’S IN THERE!!” The distinctive theme music of the Big Match – Da Da Da DADADADA  –  has never left me.

School would start with an assembly. We listened as the students read their stories, announced their sports results or played the dreaded recorder. The recorder was, for some unknown reason, the instrument of choice. It sounded horrible and the students would all roll their eyes as some would be virtuoso launched into a rendition of Once a Jolly Swagman. As all this happened friends would be whispering to me as to what was to happen at recess time. We were to pick teams for the usual soccer match, it was my turn to be goal keeper. Dave had brought his brand new ball to school that he had got for his birthday.

And at the end of the day we would head on home. We would watch endless repeats of Get Smart, Gilligan’s Islands and the Brady Bunch. The theme songs of the latter two occasionally, in quiet moments, even now play endlessly in my head…. “ Theres Gilligan, the Skipper too, a millionaire and his wiffffeee …. “ Over dinner the family would share stories of their day as we listened to Alex Macaskil read the 6.30 news on Channel 7. Occasionally, my inquisitive young mind would seek clarification of the stories of the day. My father was always willing to provide me with an explanation.

I am now deaf but these sounds have never left me. When I see children walking to school my minds ear still hears their boisterous chatter. As the lorry passes by the deep throaty rumble can still be heard deep in my memory. I fancy as the sparrows sit in the trees that their chirping still wakes me as it did before. As the repeats of Gilligan’s Island commence the theme song plays its jaunty tune in my head. There is never silence.

Phantom sounds alive and as loud as ever.