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?

3 thoughts on “For we are The Lucky Country!!

  1. Yes..I agree..but I do have a question..why are we still relying on hearing people to be our saviours? Why are we relying on the orgs? Bear with me, it strikes me time and time again, if we do have the brains, why aren’t we setting up our own businesses? Why aren’t we networking with each other? Inf act, why aren’t we supporting each other to succeed, instead of crabbing back to orgs? That’s the thing that irks me in the Deaf community, you have to shovel serious shit, if you aren’t affiliated with an org…. and no one wants to step outside the relative safety of one!

  2. You sound like you need a holiday Gary! I don’t think you or anyone else has any need to apologise for anything- all any of us can do in any particular situation is the best we can. You can’t control other people’s attitudes, but you can influence them – we all can. Look at political parties and how their fortunes ebb and flow, look at the enviromental debate in which one minute there will never be a price on carbon, and the next there is. What about the NDIS ? All these things are fluid. Change is constant so really who is say that no one person can’t change the world ? One of my favourite sayings is that there is no army so strong as an idea whose time has come. All us influence change so yeah, I wouldn’t lose heart. We don’t need to win, we only need to try I reckon. As for, ahem, captions, 😉 can I just say that yeah there are huge problems out there and employment for deaf people is a huge problem. It affects and demoralises us all, including myself. Health is another one, esp the mental health system that strikes me as very unsupportive of deaf people. I never really comment on education myself as I didn’t grow up deaf and don’t feel it is my place to comment but obviously its another huge area affectingthe futures of deaf kids. Yet I don’t think you can just say, hey let’s wait until we have sorted out these huge areas then we will think about the little stuff. Cinema is about stories- stories about ourselves, and communities and ideas as well. It feeds your soul and your mind, it is social and educational. So in a round about way we need access to cinema to nurture our souls so we have the energy to keep on chipping away at the big stuff. I also think we need to do it in groups, for the same reason – saving and pooling our collective energies and brains.

    • You are correct Karen. I apologise not necessarily for myself but on behalf of the nation that has let these people down. I apologise for our pettiness when others are struggling just to get a foothold. I know that I have done my absolute best over the years to make progress. It is demoralising that this progress is so little. It looks like the whole of the NDIS will pass most deaf people by. It will be focused on care, respite and other issues to do with very severe and profound physical disabilities .. Thats the feed back coming. I have no issues with these people getting this support, it is long overdue. I have issues that after all this time people still do not understand the impact of deafness in our society. I have issues that the deaf are everyones poor cousin. The Government feels that what we have is enough. The gist of my article was that for all the progress we think we have made, nothing has really changed. Yes I am tired. We have orgnaisations out there to support deaf people. This week alone three have contacted Marnie and myself simply because they have no faith in these organisatiuons. The frustration of these people just to get the basic access in life, interpreters at school, a job, a fair go … It hits home. Apologies aside this is the gist of my article. Australia is a cruel place. It is not for nothing it is ranked last in disability support among OECD countries.

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