Accessible Cinema – Important Information. By Gary Kerridge

Firstly in starting this article I would like to offer a formal apology to Deaf Australia and Deafness Forum. I have been guilty of overly aggressive and unprofessional comments that have not been necessary. In particular I have told people in public forums to give Deaf Australia the middle finger over their refusal to give more support to the anti-CaptiView lobby. I have also suggested that people take their membership dollar elsewhere from Deaf Australia and Deafness Forum. In both cases this is highly inappropriate. Although we hold differing views both Deaf Australia and Deafness Forum do a lot of great things for Australians who are Deaf and hearing impaired.  They deserve a lot more respect than I have dished out. I apologise unreservedly. While I will not agree with Deaf Australia and Deafness Forum’s position on CaptiView I respect it is their right to hold a different view. This whole CaptiView debate has become far too personal and I offer this apology under no pressure from anyone. It has not been demanded of me but I feel it is appropriate that I offer it.

I wanted to use this article to inform people of a few things about CaptiView. We know that the “Big Four” Cinemas (the four major chains: Hoyts, Events Cinemas (Greater Union/Birch, Carroll & Coyle), Village Cinemas, and Reading Cinemas) are committed to much greater access to cinema by 2014.  A large number of these cinemas will have Closed Captions by 2014, with at least one accessible screen for each of their cinema complexes.  It will depend on the size of the complex but all going to plan Deaf and hearing impaired people will have a greater choice of movies by 2014. While it is not in dispute, that the cinemas are committed to this access, it currently appears that this access will be entirely through the implementation of CaptiView technology.

This is the sticking point. While Deaf Australia and Deafness Forum believe that CaptiView is the best available technology many Deaf and hearing impaired people have informed Action On Cinema Access group that they do not believe CaptiView is the best available technology to suit all requirements and provide broad access. Based on the feedback from these many people who are Deaf and hearing impaired the Action On Cinema Access (AOCA) group feel that there are better options and believe that alternative options should be provided in conjunction with CaptiView. AOCA is committed to presenting an argument on behalf of these people who are deaf and hearing impaired that suggests trialling of other technologies and that retention of Open Captions in some instances is crucial, particularly for children and those with other access needs such as people who are deaf who have vision impairments. AOCA asserts that there is better technology available or will become available very soon such as Rear Window and the Sony ‘subtitle glasses’.  AOCA is of the view that the cinemas are 100% locked in to the introduction of CaptiView and nothing else.

The only real difference between the AOCA and Deaf Australia/Deafness Forum is on this issue of trialling. All three groups want better access and as indicated in the Accessible Cinema Implementation Plan … CaptiView is the one area where opinions differ. Before locking in CaptiView technology AOCA is requesting, on behalf of many people who are Deaf and hearing impaired, that comprehensive trialling be implemented and feedback obtained from the paying customer as to the the effectiveness of various technologies and options. This feedback should then guide the cinemas as to which technology or options that they should be investing in. And, of course, AOCA feels, as do many people who are Deaf and hearing impaired, that there is an important place still for open captioning.

For people who are not quite up to speed with what is happening all this has come about from the conversion to digital technology. In the past cinemas rented movies in those great big cans, loaded them to movie projectors manually and showed the movies. Captioned films either had the captions burnt directly onto the film strip or projected simultaneously from an alternative projector. Nowadays, all movies are downloaded over the Internet to a cinema’s digital server. At the Big Four cinemas these are downloaded to a Doremi server. The Doremi server is excellent technology. It allows the transmission of a variety of accessibility files including Open Captions, Closed Captions, and also Audio Description for people who are blind. Caption files come in different formats. There are data files that can be used with a variety of different devices.

What people need to understand is that the caption files are, as this author understands it, provided as part of the rental agreement when cinemas rent movies from distributors. It appears that they are not an extra cost; the cinemas just have to request and activate them prior to screening a movie. For example the new Margaret Thatcher movie that stars Meryl Streep is rented by the cinemas. If they have CaptiView they just need to ensure that when they rent the movie that they request  the data files for transmission of the Closed Caption files to the CaptiView device. If they have Rear Window, they request the equivalent Closed Caption data file for the Rear Window device. If they have, in the foreseeable future, Sony’s ‘subtitle glasses’ they request the same Closed Caption data file for the Sony glasses. And so on. Likewise, Open Captions have a data file that just needs to be requested and activated for the cinema to project it onto the screen. All of these options can (or will soon be able to) be used with the Doremi server. All it depends on is that the cinema has the devices to receive the captions be it CaptiView, Rear Window, Sony ‘subtitle glasses’, or whatever. It is the cinemas choice. One would expect that they would choose a device that the customer is responsive to.

Let’s emphasise here, these data files are at no extra cost, the cost is purely in the purchase of the device that receives the captions. Paradoxically for Open Captions there is no extra cost for a device hence no extra cost to transmit Open Captions. However the Big Four Cinemas believe Open Captions will lead to them losing money as Open Captions deter hearing customers.

Hopefully that does not sound too complicated.  But what all this means is that the cinemas have the capacity to trial other devices and get viewer feedback as to which one is most suited to the Deaf and hearing impaired viewer. It does not have to be CaptiView, but can be any number of devices including the option of Open Captions. The sticking point may be the cost, but at this stage the author has no clear information about the cost difference between devices.

Of course the cinemas are reluctant to retain Open Captioning, stating that they feel it deters other customers. AOCA believes, as do many people who are Deaf and hearing impaired, that this assumption lacks any science and is calling for proper research on Open Captioning to properly gauge public perception of Open Captions before Open Captions are completely dismissed out of hand. After all, cinemas were full at the recent French Film Festival, and in showings of ‘A Separation’, which are all open captioned and attended by hearing people.

Anecdotal evidence from many people who are Deaf and hearing impaired suggests that, at this time, the CaptiView device is not well accepted. There are some people that tolerate it, even like it, but many others do not. Children who are Deaf and hearing impaired (and parents) have reported finding it very difficult or impossible to use. Hence the strong call for trials of alternate technology before there is further investment in CaptiView. If at the end CaptiView is seen as the best, then that is fine, but at the moment feedback from many people who are Deaf and hearing impaired to AOCA suggests that there is much resistance to CaptiView.

The reality is that AOCA wants to ensure that the roll out of accessible cinema is successful, as do all of us. There is a real fear that using CaptiView alone, without first trialling other technology, will mean that many people who are Deaf and hearing impaired will stop going to the cinemas . This other technology might even be iPads or smart phones that have the capacity to receive captions.  The problem is that at the moment there is no hard data as to which technology is the best suited for access to all.

Remember that if CaptiView is not the device of choice it will not impact on Audio Description for people who are blind in any way. For those that do not know, the roll out of Audio Description for people who are blind is a large part of the Accessible Cinema Implementation Plan. Technology for this is currently being rolled out in conjunction with CaptiView. Audio Description, at the moment, is transmitted with an entirely different data file and device (currently Doremi’s Fidelio system). If, for example, Rear Window replaces CaptiView, this will not change anything for the roll out plans for accessibility for people who are blind.

The bigger issue is that there is a real fear that deaf and hearing impaired viewers simply will not attend the movies if CaptiView continues to be rolled out despite such negative feedback. This will mean the Accessible Cinema Implementation Plan for Deaf and hearing impaired will very likely fail and we will be stuck with CaptiView for a very long time once the roll-out is completed. Cinemas will simply argue that there is no demand due to lack of attendance/use of CaptiView and refuse to invest in alternate technology This is a very valid concern.

Hopefully, this article makes the Action On Cinema Access stance a little clearer. If the author has made errors please feel free to point them out and present alternate information. Above all let’s stop the disrespect for each other and enter into informed and calm debate. WE encourage readers to investigate the views of Deaf Australia and Deafness Forum and come to their own conclusions.

Again apologies to all that might have been offended by previous articles on this subject but if we were not passionate about things in life nothing would ever change.

With respect.

*I would like to dedicate this article to all that are out there fighting for better access for all of us. Particularly I would like to thank AOCA for the technical information within and their dedication to ensure people like children and those with physical and vision issues who are also deaf have a strong voice at the national level.

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CaptiView Survey Conducted via Facebook by Gary Kerridge

Regular readers of The Rebuttal will have read several scathing articles about CaptiView. These articles have been motivated by regular feedback coming from users that they simply do not like the system and that it spoils their viewing pleasure. The Rebuttal has made claims and has been accused of being misleading, ungrateful, stirring trouble and avoiding the facts.

Facts are funny things. For example we were all told that Open Captioning was not possible with the Doermi server. Apparently not so. Apparently there are “Keys” which can be purchased that make Open Captioning possible with the Doremi server. Punters were told that CaptiView was the best technology available to be used with the Doremi system. Well this is not the case now. We know that recent developments have made other devices like the Sony Captioning Glasses and Rear Window Captioning compatible with the Doremi system. All you need is those magical “Keys”.  The Sony Glasses are not yet compatible but The Rebuttal has been in touch with Sony and Sony expect that the Sony glasses will be made compatible with the Doremi system very soon. What this means is that there are OTHER alternatives to CaptiView that Deaf and hearing impaired cinema goers should be allowed to trial these before CaptiView is tied in to all cinemas.

A big concern has been that Audio Description for the Blind and Vision Impaired will be impacted IF Deaf and hearing impaired have their way and get the roll out of CaptiView stopped. The reality is that this need not be the case. The CaptiView device uses the Doremi system. The Audio Description device, known as Fidelio, also uses the Doremi system. Rear Window is compatible with the Doremi system too and what The Rebuttal understands is that if Rear Window were to be part of the trial Audio Description roll out need not be impacted at all. Other technology CAN be used, this is the bottom line.

The final issue is that there are many, many Deaf and hearing impaired viewers that want Open Captions retained in some form. There is strong resistence from the cinemas to this. At first they claimed this was because Open Captions were not comaptible with the Doremi system. This now appears to not be the case and that with right “Key” Open captions are possible. They also claim that “hearing” viewers dont like Open Captioning. This is an assumption that needs to be backed up with research. The other claim is that Open Caption movies in the past were poorly attended. The Counter claim to this is that Open captions were mostly in off peak times, at limited venues and did not provide a choice of movies. There is a lot to be researched before open captions are dismissed off-hand.

Clearly there are many options and The Rebuttal has long said Deaf and hearing impaired people should have a stronger say. To gauge just how people are feeling author of this piece, Gary Kerridge, conducted a small Facebook Survey. The report of this survey can be downloaded here. The findings are interesting indeed. However, they should not be taken as conclusive, rather they should be seen as “preliminary” findings. The Rebuttal hopes people will consider the findings of the survey report and at least use them to guide further surveys and strategy in the roll out of captioning for Deaf and hearing impaired in the cinemas.

To Read Survey Right Click Here on this link, and save to your computer

It's Completely Mad!!

The world has gone mad, and not in a nice way. Last month I was horrified to read of an incident in the UK. Over in the UK the Conservative Political Party that is now in power is working frantically to get Britain’s budget back in the black. Part of that policy is to try and cut expenditure on disability. Of course it is always people with a disability that are targeted. You see there are people pretending to be disabled everywhere so that they can get Government benefits. It has become a bit of a disabled witch hunt. So much in fact that people in the street have begun to abuse the disabled.  Reports of taunts to people with a disability about “faking” their disability since the government has publicly targeted cuts to disability pensions have risen 41%. There was a horrific story where a man was dragged out of his wheelchair by louts who demanded that he, “Get up and walk you lazy bastard.” The worlds gone mad!

I comforted myself with the thought that this could not happen in in Australia and then I remembered Kurt Fearnly.  Fearnly is one of Australia’s elite Paralympians. He is made of stern stuff having crawled the Kokoda Trail. He was once made by Jetstar to pack his wheelchair in the luggage. They insisted that he had to be “pushed” onto the plane on one of the Jetstar wheelchairs. For a proud and self-resilient man like Fearnly this was an affront to his human dignity. Said Fearnly, “An able-bodied equivalent, a normal person’s equivalent, would be having your legs tied together, your pants pulled down and be carried or pushed through an airport.” Fearnly refused to be pushed and instead crawled through the airport on his hands and knees to his seat on the plane. This was in 2009. Jetstar later apologised and changed their policy. Surely things have got better since then? Nope! You see the world has gone stark raving mad. http://www.smh.com.au/travel/travel-news/fearnley-fury-over-jetstar-wheelchair-policy-20091124-j9cz.html#ixzz1ownZ18ex

One would have thought after being publicly embarrassed by Fearnly like this Jetstar would have been more empathetic towards the needs of people with a disability. Especially those in a wheelchair but NO! In 2008 a passenger in a wheelchair was stopped from boarding a flight because the airline had a policy of no more than 2 wheelchairs per flight. The passenger was made to catch another flight because there were already two people with a wheelchair on the flight. Not surprisingly the passenger was very angry at such discrimination and took Jetstar to court having been unable to reach agreement through the Australian Human Rights Commissions Disability Discrimination complaints process. One would have thought it was a clear-cut win for the person in the wheelchair but NO. Just very recently the judge ruled in favour of Jetstar. The judge ruled that a mega-rich and successful company like Jetstar would experience Unjustifiable Hardship if they transported more than two people in a wheelchair. Such logic befuddles the mind. To rub salt into the wound the person in the wheelchair was left $20 000 out of pocket for having the gumption to complain. It could have been worse you know, the person in a wheelchair was LUCKY that disability discrimination court cases are capped at $20 000. Thank the lord for small mercies! Jetstar is a sister company of Qantas and one wonders just how Qantas are going to transport the Paralympians in wheelchairs to the 2012 London Olympics. Two at a time one would imagine. It is just crazy!

But it doesn’t end there. In Victoria a mother of a child with cerebral palsy took the Victorian Education Department to court and ….. LOST. What did the mother want? She simply wanted her child be able to participate fully in her school activities. She wanted her to be able to participate in school camps and receive support that would enable her child to have an equitable education to her peers. The court, naturally, decided that it wasn’t the Education Department’s responsibility to provide such access because the child had cognitive and physical issues. So the court has basically ruled that if you learn differently or have different needs and you want a mainstream education that the Victorian Education Department does not have to provide the support the child needs. The other choice is to send them away to a “Special School” No disrespect to Special Schools but shouldn’t we all have an equal choice? Well apparently if you have a disability, NO. Said the mother, It’s a real indictment and parents of children with disabilities should be really concerned about their kids’ education and this government’s commitment to it,” http://www.theage.com.au/news/NATIONAL/Mother-of-disabled-child-loses-case/2007/01/19/1169095964253.html

I had cause to think about this case and others on the weekend. Things in South Australia have really gone to pot. In one week my wife and I had contact from several deaf people over there asking for advice and support.  A deaf teacher graduate in South Australia has been told she will never be ale to teach unless she is fully supervised all the time. Two mothers contacted us expressing frustration at the fact that a South Australian school has allegedly seen fit to employ a profoundly Deaf person with limited signing skills as a “classroom Interpreter” for a profoundly Deaf signing child. I am all for employing deaf people in almost any role but this decision is insane. Sure employ her as a classroom support person but as AN INTERPRETER, come on! Deaf parents have become so disillusioned about education for deaf children in South Australia that they have been making enquiries to move their children to Melbourne based schools. They have just become so frustrated at the state of affairs in South Australia. Watching all this happen is completely demoralising, the world has gone completely mad.

It really is totally insane. You want to advise people to make a disability discrimination complaint. You know that it is is often the only way forward. Indeed Graeme Innes, the Commissioner for Disability at the Australian Human Rights Commission, keeps telling us all to COMPLAIN.  His logic is that the more complaints we make the more powerful the law will become. But why would we advice any person with a disability or any associate like a mother to make complaint when a judge will rule that no more than two wheelchairs can be allowed on a plane? Why would we encourage them to make a complaint when a mother who does so has the blame for her child’s lack of progress placed firmly on the child because of diminished cognitive and physical functioning? Why would we do so knowing that if a complaint is made and no resolution found that court is the only option? Especially when we know that If the case is lost the person making the complaint could be$20 000 out of pocket! It seems like people with a disability almost have no rights at all, and if we do these are restricted to what society tells us we can have. Our rights certainly are not equal. It is completely mad.

Please will someone see sense and restore some sanity!

 

Footnote: There is another scandal brewing that I have been unable to write about for fear of prejudicing any complaint that maybe lodged. It is not pretty!

For we are The Lucky Country!!

I’m lucky! I have a great family, great friends, great employer and an intelligent loving wife. By all means I have nothing to complain about. I can get out of bed there is food on my table, fresh country air, my three lads are chatting away, the dogs are joyous to see me and, in fact, the world is my oyster. I went to the theatre on Monday. Sure a little bit under duress but I could easily fork out $200 bucks for tickets. After there was even enough dosh left over to sit down for a lovely meal among friends. Life’s good! But I am depressed.

Why? Maybe I can live in a cocoon. In my cocoon all these nice things are happening. It’s warm, it’s fuzzy and laughter abounds. But I can’t. You see this fortune that I have, modest that it is, is built on the suffering of others. I, you see, am a disability advocate. My job is to advocate so that other people with a disability can get the same opportunities that I can. The problem is I that I am failing miserably. The world that I am paid to make better is, in fact, going backwards.

In my work I have assisted young people. Many of them are struggling to come to terms with their disability. I tell them that they need not be depressed, that there is a society that is being built to meet their needs. Where years ago there were no opportunities, opportunities now abound. Technology, I say, has opened doors to the world. Government programs like JobAcces, I say, mean that they can now apply for work with confidence. Employers will ask who is gonna pay and they just say, “it will be covered by the government”, and mostly it will.

I teach them not to talk about help. I say to them to never say, “I need help to talk on the phone by ….”  What they should say is, ”I have developed skills to use the phone through …..”  Turn the negative to a positive I say. Show the world how you function. Inspire them with positiveness I say.

Parents talk to me about their fears for their disabled children. I try reassuring them. I tell them my own story. How I beat the system, got through University, got a job, brought up three smashing lads, remained happily married and I even drive a car. (Believe it or not I am still asked, “.. will my child be able to drive?” ) I tell them stories of other positive people. The Deaf Olympian, The Deaf Lawyer, the Deaf actor, The Deaf teacher, the blind man heading the Australian Human Rights Commission Disability section or the blind people that acted as belayers for other blind people during a rock climbing exhibition. I tell them about Kurt, the paralympian, who crawled on his hands and useless legs across Kokoda and I tell them about the woman I employed with deformed limbs to work with signing deaf people and how we overcame the problems. I remember her putting up her shortened limbs with missing fingers and asking,” How will I sign with these? “ …”We will work it out”,  I said and we did. Hell she even played for my netball team, and she was good, not the best, but good.

And I have led them astray. I have lied to them. I have given them a false sense of positivity.  Because it seems that for every one of those successful people there are ten that cannot get over the line. I have Deaf friends, with brilliant minds, fantastic skills and they are unemployed. Among them a Master of Business, a lawyer and a person with a PHD. I have other friends who have graduated, immensely qualified who cannot get work anywhere.  Teachers, a Bachelor of Disability Studies, Social workers… All who have worked their butts off to get where they are and they cannot find work.

One cannot even get registered as a teacher! And if she does they’re gonna place restrictions on her. She won’t be able to teach in a class on her own.  She will always have to teach with a hearing person present.  Hell, she cannot even do yard duty because she is seen as a risk to the students.  I worked with this person and even employed her as a mentor. Told her there was nothing that could stop her achieving her goals and now this. And it’s legal apparently because it is Departmental right to screen out who they consider risky. They can just make crap assumptions about things they know nothing about and it is ok because it is policy. Bugger the fact it is breach of the Commonwealth disability law, bugger the fact that it is a breach of the United Nations Convention of the Rights of People with a Disability of which Australia has signed up to. It is policy, it is ok!

Surely the law will protect my friends? Surely the law will prevent this gross breach of human rights? I called to find out and believe it or not no one knows. Possibly, maybe, maybe not, maybe  the Department is within their rights. There is nothing concrete.  It’s legal to make the disabled virtually unemployable and second class citizens because of some half arsed idea that they will be a danger to others. But complain they say because if you do not complain you will never know. Complain? Don’t make me laugh. What will happen then? The department will refuse to budge and it will end up in court. Some judge with no experience of disability will then make a decision which will confound everyone. That’s why no more than two people in wheelchairs can fly on plane at any one time.  Because some judge decreed it was so.

And then you will approach some kind hearted non-disabled person, working from the goodness of their heart in the disability sector for support.  “Just go along with what they want”, they say. ”It’s just the way it is.” Just accept being second class, it’s just the way it is. Know your place in the world. It’s way down their at the bottom. Thank you very much.

And what is our deaf sector doing? They cannot even agree on an approach to lobby for captioning for god sake. Hell why are we focusing on captioning when these gross breaches of human rights are going on. It’s easy. It is a great way to see easy progress. It’s a luxury lobby. What of these real issues? These people on the scrapheap because society has made an assumption that they are not good enough! What are we doing? I hereby declare not to write another word about captioning for I am as guilty as anyone on this matter.

Yes I am depressed. The world has gone backwards. I have spent a lifetime fighting for change.  Indeed I have spent half my life as a disability advocate and the worlds gone backwards. I and others like me have failed. And for those I have misled I apologise profusely. It should not be this way but the fight must go on. What alternative is there?

TRIBES – Why the father ROCKS!!

I attended theatre last night. It was my first experience of theatre since seeing The Phantom of the Opera. On that occasion I bought tickets for our first wedding anniversary. I quite enjoyed the special effects. That chandelier falling down and the swift stage changes left me fascinated. The story line was something else altogether. But the wife enjoyed it. My best memory is rushing of to Jezza’s house for the FA Cup final. There is only so much romance in me.

Tribes was different. It was my first experience of captioned theatre. I found it a bit difficult to get in the groove. The captions are on two TV screens to the corner of the stage. The stage being central and the screens being far right or left meant catching some of the nuances and emotions of the actors was difficult but not impossible. Occasionally the actor’s thoughts were captioned on a large type of LED screen centrally above the stage. When this happened you almost got whiplash – captions, LED Screen actors, all at once. No matter it was manageable. It is the best technology going so until better technology comes around I am thankful for the access. (And before the knockers start, CAPTIVIEW at the cinema is NOT the best technology going, it is a different kettle of fish.)

But Tribes was about all things Deaf and to its credit it is one of the first productions I have seen, Children of a Lesser God included, that made an attempt to properly examine the issues that confront Deaf people, deafened people, the Deaf community and hearing attitudes. It did so with humour, sensitivity and intelligence. I have always found Children of a Lesser God melodramatic tripe. But Tribes is different, it really explores the issues properly.

Sure parts of the story were a bit disjointed which I think occurred because the writers tried to cram in too much into a short time frame. The ending, I found, was really unsatisfactory and failed to conclude what was, until then, a great story. Perhaps I am being overly critical but it seems that I am not the only person to feel that way.  Kate Herbert writing in the Herald Sun, said of Tribes, “ …in its entirety, it feels unbalanced with various narrative threads not converging coherently.”  Herbert was also quite harsh on Luke Watts who played Deaf character Billy, describing his acting skills as limited. I think this is harsh. Perhaps he has improved since Herbert wrote her review. http://www.heraldsun.com.au/ipad/review-tribes-melbourne-theatre-company-12/story-fn6bfkm6-1226269817409

But this is not a critique of the play, it is really an exploration of the themes that it raised. Anyone who is Deaf, deaf, losing their hearing or an associate like a parent would have found the themes confronting. In this piece I am only going to explore the father, Chris. Surprisingly I had great empathy for him.

Chris in the play was Billy’s father. He was a typical British male. Very much like my own father. He was opinionated and with a view of everything under the son. Northerners were twats, sign language was bunk and limited, his children were lazy and should get a job. He was loud, he swore profusely and made nasty jibes at his family members. And I loved him.

Chris reminded me of so many fathers that I have worked with and would love to work with again.  In a past life I worked with deaf kids and their families.  My work with the families was diverse ranging from assisting them to deal with behavioural issues, communications support and to just being there for them to debrief. Nine times out of ten I dealt with the mothers. The fathers were rarely present. It was almost like it was the mother’s job.

Mothers attend the doctor’s appointments, counselling appointments, teacher’s appointments, audiology appointments and in fact almost anything that is related to the child’s deafness. It is almost like it is a pre-defined role. While the mothers are doing this the fathers are at work earning money while the mother does “the duties”. It is nothing to do with laziness it is just that in the 21st century, like it or not, the roles of mothers and fathers are pretty much as entrenched as they ever were.

The consequence of these predestined roles is that the father gets information second hand from the mother. The mother will come home and de-brief after appointments revealing only the bits that she feels were valid. Sometimes the mother will leave pamphlets lying around the house and the fathers will read bits and pieces. A website maybe left open and the father will catch a glimpse. Fathers absorb this information and make of it what they will. Of course being males they supposedly have an emotional detachment to it and they tend to just get on with it. This is far from the case they often just find it difficult to express what they are really feeling. Emotional detachment is often just the father’s way of hiding their fears.

Meanwhile mothers are out there attending appointments. The mothers ensure the speech therapist appointments are kept and ensure speech practice happens when it should. Fathers look from behind their newspapers or over their shoulder while watching the footy as all of this is going on. Contrary to popular opinion fathers do care but they often just feel at loss as to what they can do. It’s not for nothing when Billy declares he will no longer speak but will sign until his family learn to sign that the mothers cries, “ … but Billy I taught you to SPEAK remember????”  This is so often the way it is mother, therapist and interpreter. Mother’s just seem to take to this role naturally.

But to me it was Billy’s father who was the gem. Talking to friends after the play Chris (the father’s name.) did not endear himself to the audience. He was generally regarded as the opinionated bigot. Far from it say I. For me when Billy brings home his deaf girlfriend for the first time it is the father’s reaction that is most telling. Why? Well he was full of questions, he wanted to KNOW! It was almost like he wanted to make up for lost time.

He gave poor Sylvia the Spanish Inquisition. He wanted to know everything about her. Her views on the world, how she communicated with her deaf parents, her work and most of all he showed a fascination with sign language. Yes his questions were ignorant, insensitive and even coarse BUT HE WANTED TO KNOW. He was interested and far from being the detached father one could see that all through Billy’s life he had WANTED to KNOW. He cared. Like all fathers, he cared. It is just the way he expressed it that was odd.

But for me it was Chris, paradoxically, who had always accepted Billy for who he was. When Billy announces he is leaving the family Chris proclaims, “..if only I had told him that of all my children I had always considered him the most intelligent of all.” It was his way of saying that he never saw Billy as just the deaf person. While others focused on Billy the deaf boy, for Chris he was just Billy his intelligent son.

And at the end when Billy separates from his deaf girlfriend and returns to the home Chris said it all. He squeezes him on the shoulder and says, “…Old chap.”  As if to say I was never worried, I had complete faith in you.  Yes Chris, despite his abrasive front, understood more than most people gave him credit for. Just like my dad.

If you live in Melbourne go see it! As David Stratton would say, Five Stars!!