The Paradox of Opposites

The paradox in life is that for us to experience the highs in life we must also experience the lows. Opposites form the basis of many philosophies. Ancient Greek philosophers often articulated the needs for opposites. Simple opposites such as good/evil, sweet/sour, happy/sad, fast/slow- these are what allow us to experience and appreciate things. Without evil we would not understand good, without sour we would not comprehend sweet or without sadness we cannot appreciate happiness. Yin and Yang principles are similar – Each experience of life depends on an  opposite to exist. The debates of opposites and why they are essential have been raging for thousands of years. But still our society wants everything to be the same.

Opposites are what create diversity. Diversity is what makes up our society. We have fat and thin, Black and White, Male and female, gay and straight – and of course disabled and non-disabled. For the Deaf who don’t want a bar on disability let us say Deaf and hearing. The complexity and diversity of our society is what makes it interesting. The diversity is what motivates us. We see someone with more than us and we strive to be that way, for better or for worse.  Sometimes, like last night’s Australian Open Grand Final Tennis, we can only sit back and admire just how brilliant and healthy humans can be. We might never reach that level but knowing it is possible can motivate us to strive for that little bit more to make our lives more fulfilling.

Yet even though we know that opposites and diversity are what make us tick we still, as a society, try to create a society where EVERYONE is the same where conformity is the norm. Nowhere is this more obvious than Societies obsession with curing disability.

Perhaps I think too much but this train of thought began with my friend Craig’s Facebook status. Craig provided a link to a petition in the US.  The petition was to call a halt to stem cell experimentation aimed at wiping out deafness. The Deaf Community in America have called on President Obama to ban such experimentation. They believe it is genocide and an attempt to wipe out the Deaf community.

This brings rise to a number of opposites that are in play. Deaf and hearing is an obvious one. Sick and healthy is another (But we are not sick you can see the Deaf community screaming at this one. ) Then there is of course the opposite of desirable and undesirable. Clearly there are many hearing who feel deafness undesirable whilst the Deaf see it as desirable.  The more extreme of the Deaf will see hearing as undesirable and deaf as a state of wellbeing. The paradox of all these extremes is that we need them all. We need them so that we can measure, understand and retain what we value.

Imagine if all people felt that deafness was bad.  We would be going headlong into eradicating deafness. Possibly we would have the extremes like Hitler where there was enough belief in a superior state of being to create a philosophy of one is BEST. Hitler believed in a ONE BEST and in striving for a ONE BEST believed that all those seen as less superior had to be wiped out. The Jews had to go and the disabled were to be killed at birth. Only the so called SUPREMELY white and healthy, unblemished were to survive. Or in Hitler’s words the MASTER RACE – A race of white super beings! The rest were just subversive beings to be eliminated or to serve the needs of the MASTER Race.

And for a while it seemed Hitler might get his way as he marched his merry way to take over the world and eliminated millions of so-called undesirables. BUT it was not to be. WHY? Well because there was an opposite.  The opposite was, of course, the view that we are all equal and no one person is better than the other. And as one the opposites rose to challenge Hitler’s ascendency. Sadly millions died in the process. Perhaps these deaths were necessary if only to show just how abhorrent Hitler and his views were. Imagine if we had all thought like Hitler and the opposing force didn’t rise to challenge him? What sort of world would we be living in? Thank god for opposites even though its mind boggling that there were, and still are, so many that actually agreed with Hitler’s despot views.

And so we have people that want to wipe out deafness. There are people that want to create a society of super healthy unblemished people who fit the norm. The problem is that in this debate the line between good and evil is not as quite clear as it is with Hitler. You see all the people in this debate are right. They are all striving for a better world.

Last year Dimity came in for flack. She enraged the Deaf community with her views that deafness could be eradicated from our lives, “just like polio” But is Dimity an inherently bad person? No she is not. She believes absolutely in the philosophy that she promotes. The paradox here is that Dimity, by coming out and making such extreme statements, aroused the passion of the opposites. So enraged were the Deaf and their associates that they voiced the opposite view using whatever was at their disposal in the media – Websites and blog-posts, TV and Radio, newspaper columns all were alive with the debate. In fact Dimity did the Deaf community a huge favour – she aroused a sleeping giant and allowed society to see that there was another point of view. If Dimity had remained silent what might have happened? Well for a start millions of Australians would never have known that there was, in fact, an opposite view. Opposition to Dimity’s views would have been mute. The Deaf community would have been one step closer to its grave.

And this is the case with the petition to ban stem cell experimentation. It arouses a sleeping giant. It brings other views to the forefront. But what we should not do is see proponents of Stem Cell research as an evil. They can grow limbs for amputees, cure those with spinal injuries from horrific car crashes and eliminate painful diseases and conditions. Of course there are many who will say this is not ethical, that it belittles those with a disability and makes them seem undesirable. But how many Deaf out there would jump at the chance to be cured if they unwillingly found themselves a paraplegic? It is not black and white. We may not agree with the views of others but it is these opposite views that allow us to realise and value what we have.

Where we go wrong is to become extremist.  Like Hitler we become despots. People begin to advocate violence. This happened with Dimity where people began to circulate offensive graphics of Dimity with blood pouring out of her and with a gun at her head. All we need is debate that is calm, civil and passionate. But let us not mistake passionate for violence and extremism. Be thankful for the opposites like Dimity and stem cell researchers because it is through them that we are allowed to exist – But that does not make them wrong and us right – it is just a state of being – the Yin and the Yang!

The Australian Deaf Games – More than just SPORT!!

1000 or more people attended for the Australian Deaf Games in Geelong from the 14th to the 21st January. What a time they had! New friends were made, old friends reacquainted. Parties were had, ceremonies attended. Relationships flourished and love blossomed. For the Deaf who attended, and a large smattering of hearing people too, it was a social Utopia. Somewhere in there 16 sports competed for the John Lovett Cup but the sport seemed almost inconsequential.

Those who attended had a blast. Social Network sites were alive with comments about the great time that people had. To all who attended the Games must have seemed a smooth flawless a operation. Everything was organised and ready. The City of Geelong made millions from the Games for a relatively tiny outlay. Accommodation was paid for, cars hired, food eaten at restaurants, taxis caught to venues, tourist attractions visited and merchandise purchased. Make no mistake Geelong made a mint. 1000 deaf people turned Geelong into a virtual Deaf town for a week. Yet again Deaf people demonstrated just how much they contribute to the economy.

And all of this was organised by Deaf people and two full-time employer’s at Deaf Sports Australia. I was fortunate to be part of the Games Organising Committee. My role was transport. Other roles included Volunteers coordinator, interpreter coordinator, venues coordinator, sports coordinator, medical coordinator, finance coordinator, events coordinator – Nearly all of these roles and responsibilities fully voluntary and manned by Deaf people. Consider that many of these positions during the 2005 Deaflympics  in Melbourne were FULL-TIME PAID POSITIONS.

Despite the outward appearance of efficiency it would be misleading to assume that the Games were organised without hitches. There were problems, lots of them. There were financial scares. There were conflicts. There were complaints. There were last minute scrambles to fix problems. But with aplomb the Games Organising Committee handled them all and for the most part everyone who attended the Games had very little to worry about except to rock up and have a good time.

Sure it can be done better. I know that some sports became very frustrated, even angry that things needed to be fixed at the last minute. Strong words were said. A few tears shed but still these issues were overcome. In the background there is always drama but it is how you handle this drama that is important. Whatever was thrown at them the Games Organisers dealt with and full credit to them for that. Yes for some it was very hard but we live and learn. What we have all learnt will make the next Deaf Games even better. All of this will come out in a review of the process. Whatever mistakes were made, let’s not take away from all the members of the Games Organising Committee who all did a marvellous job.

What the Games highlighted to me, apart from the fact that the Deaf community is alive and well, was the vast array of talent that exists among Deaf people.  I can’t say just how much the Games cost but it is likely to be in six figures. It would not surprise me if one calculates all the voluntary contributions and in-kind suppport that it was in excess of half a million dollars. Sponsorship needed to be obtained, registration processes set up, online payment systems established, websites developed, accommodation and transport sourced, the Games promoted, insurance organised day to day logistics worked out and dealt with – The list goes on and on. And nearly all of this was done by Deaf people.

Many organisations would employ event organisers to do this. Consider for example that as part of organising the Games more than thirty meetings were had. This is just the Games Organising Committee. Many other meetings occurred through Deaf Sports Australia. And then of course there were the countless meetings that were organised as part of the host city bidding process. What a process that was with Geelong pipping Wodonga by the skin of its nose. The Games organising Committee exchanged in excess of 3000 emails. This band of skilled and dedicated volunteers saved Deaf Sports Australia hundreds and thousands of dollars.

Indeed I took the Liberty of researching how much an event organiser charges. It can be anything between $75 to $150 an hour. Some charge per person through the gate. Some charge a percentage of the overall turnover. Either way Event organisers are NOT CHEAP!

Let’s say 30 meetings at three hours each, that’s 90 hours. Consider that each individual Games Organising Committee member probably spent an additional 50 hours organising their particular portfolio. 10 times 50 and that is 500 hours. During the games 10 GOC members were on duty all day for 8 days as well as DSA staff and Board, the hours that they put in cannot be calculated. Myself as transport coordinator I was, for the first three days, working 15 hour days with little respite. Pre-Games meetings and individual portfolio responsibilities alone, if charged at the lower rate of $75 an hour would have cost Deaf Sport Australia $44 250. How do you calculate the value of the volunteer interpreters, 96 day to day volunteers, sports conveyors organising the day to day sports program … The cost is easily in six figures. And all of this by Deaf people!

And how much did the State Government contribute to the running costs, well AI Media captioning at the Closing Ceremony said $15 000 but I read Andrew Welshe’s signing at the closing as $50 000. Either way it was a paltry amount for what is one of the oldest sporting events in the world. But money didn’t matter. By hook or by crook DEAF people made it happen. By sheer skill and perseverance they put on a Games which were enjoyed by the majority of all who attended.

This skill and tenacity is what exists in the Deaf community and among DEAF people. Now why isn’t our Deaf sector head hunting these Deaf people to work for them? Their sheer passion and commitment alone is worth its weight in gold. Deaf people have talent in spades, its time our Deaf sector used this talent and PAID for it. Well done the games Organising Committee – You made the impossible possible and it was no FLUKE!

Demanding Quality

Many years ago Australians with a disability and Deaf people had to be grateful for what they received. Traditionally Australia, and indeed the world, looked after people with a disability through charity, and in many ways still do. This is no more so than in the Deaf area where the Deaf societies, and indeed even our advocacy organisations, are registered charities. If you are active in the deaf sector you will receive a constant stream of emails requesting that you buy lottery tickets or support the noble cause of Charity X. You can still find organisations that will pay deaf people a pittance to rattle tins on corners and even door knock to raise money. The attitude seems to be raise money any which way and bugger the consequences. The Rebuttal has written about fundraising before and caused great controversy in doing so. You may want to revisit that article, The Slums of Mumbaih  at

This charity mentality in Australia keeps people with disabilities and the deaf in the dark ages. It keeps us in the dark ages because when people give, it is common courtesy that one must show gratitude. Someone pops a coin in your tin-can, you give it a rattle, beam a smile and thank them profusely. Don’t get me wrong I think it’s great that people are willing to help but the thing is that charity is giving, as John Howard was often fond of saying, to the less fortunate. The paradox is that giving brings out the best in us but in terms of the disability and Deaf sector this giving to “the less fortunate.” mentality often does more harm than good. In fact I would go as far as saying it is one of the biggest barriers for progress for the disabled and the Deaf.

The Rebuttal has spoken often of the “Disability Economy”. Thousands of Australians rely on the disabled for their income. The CEO of your local, humble and caring charity takes home his flash car because of us. The case workers, the support workers, the audiologist, the speech therapist, the physiotherapist, the doctors and the innovators that come up with ground breaking technology all live off the disabled. Without us thousands will be out of a job and millions, nae billions, of dollars will go missing from the economy. Last year Cochlear announced a record $377 million profit. Sales were up 8%, revenue increased 17%. Good on them. But dare call us a charity when a tiny proportion of us are creating that much money for the economy. Hearing aids, hearing aid batteries, listening devices, Auslan interpreters, captioning (just ask AI Media who got a $1.7 million grant from the federal Government recently!) .. it goes on and on … We are goldmine make no mistake. Yes, The Rebuttal has discussed this before but still it astounds us how much deaf people alone contribute to the economy simply by existing!

The smart business people know that we are a substantial market. Cochlear doesn’t go about telling people that we need to be grateful to them for making a device that for many has opened up the world. They simply promote their device in a positive way. They give back through sponsorship of events and conferences too. Or AI Media doesn’t make itself out as a company that SAVES deaf people through access. It is simply out there, in your face, letting you know it has a service. And it ain’t free they are doing very well financially thank you very much! They too give back through sponsorship. The Captioning Studio is the new kid on the block. They too are constantly in your face. By all accounts they are a far superior service too and this is shown by the number of awards they are winning. What these companies have in common is that they are GRATEFUL to us …Cos hell they are getting rich on out account. Good on them for that too, it is what free enterprise is all about.

The point of all this is that we have substantial market power and the smart business tap into it. The dumb ones, and there are many, continue with their welfarish mentality. They continue to promote the idea that they are HELPING us and we need to be grateful. Never is this more obvious than with companies that have to PROVIDE to meet our needs. And who might these people be apart from the obvious well let’s out a few, namely the Big Four Cinemas, free to air TV and Pay TV.

Of course to them they see us as a burden. A cost! Because they have to pay extra for our captioning and they don’t want too. You have a market here of three to four million. You don’t just have deaf people but you have their families and friends too and this expands the market even further. When deaf people get access to movies and shows they watch with their families, not in isolation. You can count the number of times I have watched a movie with my lads at the Cinema on one hand because simply there is no choice.

Pay TV, namely  Foxtel and Austar are among the worst offenders. In 2011 Foxtel increased its profits by 15%. They are more profitable than free to air TV yet they provide the most appalling access to captioning. When they do provide it the quality is deplorable. Why? When potentially if they provided better access they could increase their market share even more? If they were smart they would INVEST in more captioning to attract more paying customers. But what do they do when one complains and asks for more? They give you free Lifestyle Food and Sport to shut you up!

Recently free to air have again requested an exemption to increasing captioning through the Australian Human Rights Commission. Why? They are increasingly under threat from Pay TV. You would think they would want to increase their market share. What better way than by increasing captioning access? But no! They continue to see us as a cost burden! PFFFFFFTTTTTT

The Big Four Cinemas are the worst. They want to force on us a technology called Captiview. A technology that is so basic, so prehistoric it has been described as a bendy armed alien with 1980’s font.  Early trends have seen Captiview being widely condemned. There are some that say its tolerable whilst there are many who absolutely deplore the technology. Captiview is being forced upon us because it appears to be the cheapest technology going and not, as we were led to believe, the best technology going.

Australians with a hearing loss who access movies through Captions are being told that Open Captioning is out because it’s not compatible with new digital technology that is being introduced by the cinemas. Yet information has recently come to light that this appears to be a furphy. Further there are seemingly better technology options around like Rear Window Captioning and captioning goggles.

We are told that Open Captioning is off putting to hearing watchers. Recently I tested this by putting captions on the Student Lounge TV at the university where I work. Six months later no one has turned them off. In Sydney and overseas captions on TV are permanent fixtures in waiting areas at airports. Has anyone complained? Does anyone really know if open captions are not liked by the majority of hearing patrons?  Has market research been carried out? Or is it all just an assumption???

Scarily the negative feedback to Captiview being witnessed in Australia appears to be matched in the USA. I recently subscribed to an online captioning group CACC. There are some that find Captiview “OK” and will tolerate it for access but there are MANY that complain of the discomfort it causes, the lack of access if you have vision impairments, the strain it causes from constantly refocussing … All these very same comments have been expressed in the short time Captiview has been in Australia. These trends appear to be ignored.

Alarmingly our advocates are telling us to tone down our negative comments. To be more positive or “we might end up with nothing”  But we are a market, a substantial market not something the Cinemas are “helping”. Invested in properly we will generate profit. But give us a sub-standard product and we will vote with our feet by not attending. I have no problem with people trialling Captiview and providing feedback but the Cinemas are rushing head on to install Captiview everywhere. I say put a brake on it, trial other technology too, get proper market feedback and then invest in system that everyone is comfortable with.  Common sense? Well as one witty scribe said, “the problem with common sense is that it’s not particularly common.”

WE ARE A MARKET! We have a right to demand quality! We pay and we want access and comfort on par with our hearing peers.  We have to realise this and promote this message to the hilt! We cost nothing but, hell, we make money for Australia and lots of it!