Awakenings

1989 was my year of awakening. In that year I commenced work at the then Royal South Australian Deaf Society. I became life long friends with Dr Don Cresdee and in one of many long chats that I had with Don he told me about the Deaf President Now rally that had happened at Gallaudet University the previous year. Of course Gallaudet is the famous University for the deaf in Washington DC. One must remember that this was before the Internet, Facebook and Twitter. News generally filtered in very slowly. Dr Don was a past student at Gallaudet and he was in the know. I remember that he had somehow obtained videos of the Deaf President Now rallies. They fascinated me.

Here was a group of Deaf people fighting for what they believed in.  The rally had been about electing a Deaf President at Gallaudet. In its wisdom the Board of Management at Gallaudet had elected a hearing person to the post of President. This was despite the fact that there were two Deaf candidates for the post that were imminently qualified. The Deaf students at the University erupted. They wanted a Deaf President and they wanted one NOW. They took control of the University and sent the University into lockdown.

The videos that Dr Don had obtained were eye openers. They showed Deaf people campaigning. Angry Deaf people protesting passionately for their rights and taking control. They locked the gates and prevented any one getting in. Earlier this year Julia Gillard was physically accosted by angry Aboriginal protesters, well these protesters were small fry compared to the protesters at Gallaudet.

The Gallaudet Deaf President Now protest received mass media coverage in America. Famous people, both Deaf and hearing, lent their support. What fascinated me, among other things, was that the videos were captioned. THE NEWS CAPTIONED??? In 1989, in Australia, we were still a decade away from such access. What’s more there was actually a news program especially for the Deaf … Deaf Mosiac.

I remember as the rally unfolded the choice of the students, I King Jordan, lost his nerve. He had apparently met with the Board of Gallaudet who had convinced him that the protest was futile. He tried to get the students to back down. Apparently he was worried that people would get hurt, property damaged and that the reputation of Gallaudet would be tarnished. The students refused to back down despite his pleas. I remember at the time thinking he was letting the troops down but the reality is that it could not have been easy for him.

There is a fascinating account of the Deaf President Now rally on the Internet. It tells of the meeting that the students had with the hearing president elect. The president elect, Zinser, apparently apologised for not knowing sign language. She was just beginning to learn and ambitiously said that she would learn quickly and soon would not need an interpreter to communicate with them. She was described as a nice woman, who seemed sensitive but really did not listen.  Her pleas for “shared agendas” and “compromise” were shouted down. The students were having none of it. It was a Deaf President Now or it was nothing!

What is most fascinating is that the President elect, Zinser, actually went on record as saying she thought it entirely feasible for a deaf person to “one day” become President and that she would be encouraging deaf people into policy and management positions. (Where have Deaf Australians heard this before???) Apparently Marlee Matlin was brought into help with negotiations and she was furious when Zinser said this. “ I’m tired of the same old news that a deaf person will ‘someday’ become this or that”,  she is reported as saying or words to that effect. (And where have we heard that before too.)

The students were determined. They were going to win and they did.  Apparently the students went as far as hot-wiring Gallaudet buses and driving them to the gates of Gallaudet to act as barriers.  Eventually the students and their determination led to Zinser resigning and the position being offered to I King Jordan.  I King Jordan was already a dean of the College of Arts and Science within Gallaudet. He was obviously very skilled. It is baffling then that later in the piece one of the Gallaudet Board of management trying to explain their decision said, “We felt the Presidency of Gallaudet is a very complex and demanding job that requires experience, skills and knowledge related to administration. Knowledge and experience of deafness started to become less important.” Someone was later to ask Zinser if she would consider heading a furniture manufacturing company to which she answered that, “… she had no experience in furniture.”, thus implying that to administer a furniture company you needed knowledge about furniture. BUT … when it comes to deafness, a knowledge of deafness doesn’t matter! !!?? Sounds familiar doesn’t it? Incidentally in not appointing I King Jordan initially the excuse was, “. …we felt he needed more time.” I wonder where we have heard that one too.

What the 1988 protest did for me was show me, perhaps for the first time, what human rights were all about. For the first time I saw a group of deaf people mobilising for what they believed as right and just.  They wanted the world to see what deaf people were capable of. They knew that a deaf person at the head of their University would demonstrate faith in the abilities of deaf people and would inspire deaf people for many years to come. They certainly inspired me. In fact I have spent a whole career advocating for change using the principles and arguments they put forward all those years ago.

There are paradoxes in this. The first paradox is that I King Jordan, in my view, is not Deaf, well not culturally any way. Arguably he is a hearing person who cannot hear. He lost his hearing when he was 21 in a motorcycle accident. He certainly embraced and emphasised with the Deaf community but he, like most members of the Deaf community and its leaders, learnt sign language and about the Deaf community very much later in life. He, like many others, after he had developed a mastery of sign language became accepted among the Deaf community. But is he really Deaf in the real sense of a word as say Colin Allen, President of the World Federation of the Deaf. Allen, of course, was born Deaf into a Deaf family and used sign language (Auslan) from birth. He is one of the natives, so to speak.

The second paradox is that later I King Jordan became the subject of a student protest himself. He resigned as President in 2006 having overseen the change in Gallaudet from a College to a University and dramatically increasing its capital. Shortly before he resigned he was involved in selecting the new President. He was accused as selecting the person who he had “groomed” for the role and of having a selection process that was not open and accountable. Ironically the President they chose was deaf but this time the students believed that she was “not deaf enough”.  Is it a case of the Deaf community becoming too militant perhaps? Or perhaps a case of people like I King Jordan being a big fish in a small sea and them wanting to see a “Real Deaf person” in the role. That is another debate for another time.

But the fact is that the 1988 protest by Gallaudet students made the world sit up and take notice. It inspired a generation of deaf people to aim high and fight for their rights, and I was one of them. I King Jordan was later asked what the original protest and his appointment as President had achieved for deaf people. He had this to say, How did I improve the lives of deaf people? What happened is, the lives of deaf people improved because people who are not deaf saw that I was a successful President. When I succeeded as President, they saw, oh, deaf people can do this high-level job. So if deaf people could do that, then they can probably do other jobs as well. And I think the most important success I had, the most important thing I’ve accomplished in 19 years as President of Gallaudet is to have succeeded as President because by doing so I become a model for success and other people, young and old alike. They know they can succeed as well.”  And to me this is the lesson that the Deaf sector in Australia need to heed. As for deaf people they need to heed the fact that remaining silent achieves nothing, speak up or miss out!

  • Congratulations to Deafness Forum Australia on a magnificent Deafness Summit in Melbourne from April 28th to 29th. You should be very proud.
  • Information in this article has been sourced from:

Deaf President Now

http://books.google.com.au/books?id=wG6JD6zLdh4C&pg=PA94&lpg=PA94&dq=f+president+now+rally&source=bl&ots=X55Wp7vguV&sig=PLbIvmwBZa70fkJiL0URDgthbiw&hl=en&sa=X&ei=e9ydT8vGENGQiQep68TkDg&ved=0CDYQ6AEwAw#v=onepage&q=f%20president%20now%20rally&f=true

 

NPR EXCLUSIVE:
I. KING JORDAN, OUTGOING
GALLAUDET UNIVERSITY PRESIDENT,
DISCUSSED CAMPUS PROTESTS AND
FUTURE OF DEAF EDUCATION
TODAY ON TALK OF THE NATION

http://www.npr.org/about/press/061129.jordan.html

Advertisements

Gimme Gimme

A friend made an interesting point on Facebook this morning. She pointed out that Government supports such as the Auslan For Employment Scheme have led to a rapid increase in the price of Auslan Interpreting.  She was suggesting that if Auslan interpreting was recognised and covered under the much vaunted National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) then it would lead to ever increasing prices.  Paradoxically this will make interpreters even harder to source. This is an issue that we will have to confront if Deaf people succeed in getting Auslan interpreting on the agenda for the NDIS.  Namely that by getting Auslan interpreting recognised under the NDIS we will create more demand. Supply has to meet that demand and if it does not, the law of economics dictates that prices will rise. But this isn’t the only problem.

Now it won’t just be Auslan Interpreting. It is likely to include live remote captioning too. Hearing impaired people that do not sign will want to access live remote captioning for a variety of situations. Perhaps they will go to a wedding and want to access speeches and the ceremony. They will book live remote captioning. Suddenly it won’t just employment and education that uses live remote captioning but a whole range of social and everyday functions like the doctor for example. As far as I know Australia has three major suppliers of live remote captioning. Will they be able to cope with the rapid spike in demand?   As with Auslan interpreting, when demand outstrips supply prices will rise.

Then of course those people that want to access live remote captioning will want the technology that allows them to do so. NDIS funds are supposed to be very much self-directed.  You use your funds to purchase services and technology to meet your access requirements. To access live remote captioning laptops and audio devices will be required. For the Deaf that want Auslan interpreting this will also be the case. As the National Broadband Network becomes operational online interpreting through Skype is going to be more and more accessible. Deaf people will need laptops and audio devices to access online interpreting too.  Technology providers are gonna make a mint.

In Finland deaf people can apparently access funds that allow them to book interpreters for a trip down the pub so they can socialise with their mates. If we have self-directed NDIS funding how many of us will use it to book interpreters for social functions? Gone will be the days when Deaf people wanting to pick-up at the pub checked their pockets or hand bag for the trusty notepad and pen. Deaf guys are gonna be using interpreters to relay their pick-up lines.  The mind boggles.

Then of course we have hearing impaired people that need technology like listening devices for the TV.  Or they want improved hearing aids. Or their cochlear implant becomes out-dated and they want the latest 1000 frequencies model.  There are bluetooth devices that assist listening to your mobile phone or even your home phone. Previously unaffordable, NDIS funding will be used to buy these too.

It won’t just be the Deaf it will be the blind too. Anything from everyday mobility devices, computer hardware, computer software, house designs to improve their mobility about the house and even human aids like readers or mobility guides will be sourced with NDIS funds.

Where will it all end?  People with disabilities all over Australia are going to want, want and want. Will the NDIS be able to cope with the demand?  Will the system even be able to meet the demand as we all scramble to use our self-directed dollars? Will it give rise to, ”cowboy support”,  as unscrupulous people see the NDIS as a quick way to make a buck. Spare a thought for the people charged with developing the framework for a workable NDIS. It is going to be a nightmare.

People with disabilities in Australia are grossly underfunded. Priority has been, and in my view rightly so, to address the needs of those who rely on carers and who need support for everyday tasks such as hygiene, being fed and getting out of the house. That said other disability groups have rightly asked the question – What about me?

On Monday 30th April there is a rally for the NDIS. Around Australia rallies are being held where people with a disability are going to let the Government know just how important the NDIS is. Deaf people are being called to arms also. Deaf Victoria has been particularly vocal in calling people to arms. Others around Australia have been doing likewise, kudos to all who have been involved in the campaign for a Deaf presence at these rallies. It is Important that Deaf people are heard.

This is just the beginning. Establishing the operational framework for the NDIS is going to be an extremely complicated business. It may well be that Governments will say the deaf get enough already. They may say that the Auslan for Employment Scheme (AFE) is already providing. They may say that NABS is meeting needs. They will point out that AFE is flexible enough to be used for live remote captioning.  They will argue powerfully that our need for an interpreter at our sister’s wedding does not equate to being able to get a severely disabled person out of bed and fed in the morning.

I have no doubt there is going to have to be a lot of give and take. Deaf people are not going to get everything they want. There will be limits. In the early stages priority will be to those that have basic everyday needs just to live in their own homes and get out and about. That does not mean that people who are Deaf and hearing impaired will miss out but crying out ACCESS is not going to cut it. Now is the time to start thinking HOW and REALISTIC in terms of what the NDIS should provide.  The rallies on Monday 30th April are only just the beginning. Much needed as the NDIS is it’s going to be along hard road.

 

A Tribute to Lord Jack Ashley

Lord Jack Ashley has died. Lord Ashley was the famous British MP who was deaf.  He lost his hearing in 1968 after complications occurred from a routine surgery to repair a perforated eardrum. One day he was fully hearing and the next day he was deaf. At the time he was apparently one of the stars of the Labor Party in Britain. Many saw him as dead cert to earn himself a ministry. In fact he was apparently being spoken of as a future Prime Minister.

One can only imagine what it must have been like to one day wakeup as a fully deaf person in 1968. In a time when there little or no assistive technology and at a time when live remote captioning was unheard of it must have been traumatic to the extreme for Lord Ashley to lose his hearing given his position as an MP. So distraught was he that he offered his resignation believing that there was no possible way that he could continue.

Fortunately for him, Britain and indeed the world Lord Ashley’s was convinced to continue. His colleagues, including the Prime Minister, implored him to remain. His wife Pauline was instrumental in convincing him to continue. She apparently told him, “Look Jack, there are hundreds of thousands of deaf people and seriously disabled constituents in this country, not least in the Potteries and your own city of Stoke-on-Trent, where many men and women suffer from one form or another of industrial disease. You can use your affliction to make them feel represented.”  http://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/jack-ashley-deaf-mp-who-campaigned-tirelessly-for-the-rights-of-disabled-people-7668932.html

He was to remain in parliament in for almost four decades. He was a champion of human rights for the disabled. His campaigning and reforms changed the life for people with disabilities in Britain. His list of achievements are considerable. Most noticeably he was the first person to introduce a bill to parliament for the introduction of anti-disability discrimination. His initial attempts to have anti-discrimination laws implemented while not successful,  ultimately led to the introduction of disability discrimination legislation for Britain in 1995. Other notable achievements included heading the campaign that eventually  won compensation for victims of the drug Thalidomide. He was also active in campaigning for stricter safety measures for the introduction of new drugs. http://www.disabilityrightsuk.org/lordashleyobituary.htm

We live in a day and age where we demand access. In 1968 the sort of access we take for granted today was but a pipe dream.  For Lord Ashley to continue in parliament he had to adapt quickly. He took a crash course in lip-reading and his devoted wife attended parliament with him writing notes and assisting him to understand the debates that were happening.  Colleagues would scribble notes for him to ensure he understood as much as possible about what was going on.

So respected was Lord Ashley that even the opposition MPs assisted him. Conservative Prime Minister, Edward Heath, would apparently ensure that when he spoke in parliament he always faced Lord Ashley so as to assist him with his lip-reading. Heath was not known for his kindness. He was apparently rude to the point that he would not talk to dinner guests and even charged people to attend his 5oth anniversary in parliament.  Like many people who are deaf Lord Ashley had trouble modulating his voice when giving speeches in parliament.  An opposition Conservative MP would assist Lord Ashley to modulate his voice by placing his hand on own his head if Lord Ashley’s voice was too high and on his knee if his voice was too low.

Lord Ashley was one of the first to introduce live remote captioning into the workplace. He did so to enable him to better follow parliamentary debates. Using a stenographer and basic computer technology with a dictionary data base he had captions transmitted to a cathode ray monitor that was in front of him. This was later adapted to provide live television captioning for the Royal Wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana. Look at how live captioning has grown today, even theatre is live captioned. Deaf people the world over have a lot to thank Lord Ashley for. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_Ashley,_Baron_Ashley_of_Stoke

Lord Ashley had a cochlear implant in 1993. He was always thankful for the benefits of the implant while at the same time remaining realistic. He has been variously quoted as saying the implant made people sound like “Donald duck speaking under water.” or a “Dalek with laryngitis”.  He was also very empathetic of the Deaf Community.  Of his deafness lord Ashley had this to say, “When I lost my hearing and became totally deaf, someone said: ‘Jack Ashley’s not really deaf, he just can’t hear’. It seemed to be a ridiculous comment but I later discovered that born-deaf people, who may be without speech, and who rely entirely on sign language, are a distinctive community. They are proud of their history, heritage, and that comment indicated, rightly, that I was not one of them. That is clear in retrospect but it shows how easily misunderstandings can arise.”  Lord Ashley was no one trick pony he understood the issues of deafness and disability like very few people do or can. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/jack-ashley-deaf-mp-who-campaigned-tirelessly-for-the-rights-of-disabled-people-7668932.html

For me Lord Ashley was my first role model. I first heard of him at a time when I was trying to plan my own career path.  The word that most often came from teachers lips was CANT. “You can’t be a teacher because you cannot hear the students” – “You can’t be journalist because you cannot possibly interview people.” – “You can’t work in a bank because you cannot serve customers.”  There was a never ending list of CANTs.

Reading of the achievements of Lord Ashley inspired me to aim high.  Lord Ashley showed me and many others the way. He showed us what was right and fair. Above all he showed us that anything was possible with a dose of good old fashioned guts and humanity. His is a story worth telling. RIP Lord Ashley.

Making a Difference

Life has a funny old way of making you look back. Yesterday I went to the gym at my work. I get a cheap rate being a staff member. Last week I had key-hole surgery on my knee. The doctor has prescribed riding on an exercise bike as part of the rehabilitation.  As I stepped on the bike for a very slow and mildly painful session I looked up at the televisions that are on the wall. As you cycle or run on the treadmill you can watch your favourite show and this takes your mind off your bursting lungs and complaining legs. There were three televisions and each one of them had the captions on. I smiled broadly because I knew this was part the legacy of my work at the University of Ballarat. Just two days before I had resigned to take up a new position in semi-rural Melbourne out in Lilydale. The captions in the gym told me that I had perhaps had more than just a little influence at the University. It was an immensely satisfying feeling.

On the day I handed in my resignation I met my boss. We spoke of the work that needed to be done before I left. We spoke of budgets and what was left over to be spent, what needed to be handed over and what needed to be tied up. It was just your standard wind up. Then my boss said,  “Let’s talk about your legacy to the University.”  I said, “I guess I have done my bit where it’s needed.”  This was not good enough for her and she proceeded to roll off a list of my achievements and my influence. It ranged from making the University think of access from top to bottom (Captions in the gym).  She mentioned programs like Online Access that will create access for a generation of rural people with disabilities. “You”, said my boss, “ …have had influence that is going to last for many years to come.”

A particular area she emphasised was my focus on technology. Educational institutions around the world are rapidly moving to online delivery of education.  People are now time hungry and have to pay for their education. To do this they must work and study at the same time. Many cannot physically attend the place of education and prefer to study online.  Overseas students can study online too without having to leave their home country, they are seen as a bit of a cash cow. In fact where on-campus and online education is offered there is research that shows that over 70% of students will chose the online option. But as we move headlong into online education we have forgotten access needs. The blind can’t watch online videos and the deaf need captions.  People with learning and processing difficulties often need audio transcriptions to access text based information. My boss reminded me that I was one of the few that has constantly put forward the message that this online stuff needs to be accessible and that I had provided cost efficient solutions as to how it can be done.

It is hard to describe the feeling of self-worth that her words gave me. It is immensely satisfying just to know that an idea, a concept or a piece of work that I had completed has had such a profound and lasting implication. It is immensely satisfying knowing that as the result of this work the University is now considering access needs for online delivery of education. It is fair to say I left the meeting with my boss feeling ten feet tall. Interestingly just seeing the captions in the Gym on the television was equally satisfying.

In the work that I do you do not often see immediate results.  It can be a very hard slog. I often think I would have loved to have been a Chef or a tradesman. As a Chef you see your completed work at the end, if you are any good at it you might get glowing and instant feedback as to how your work has made the eater happy and satisfied. As a builder you can sit back and admire your handiwork with satisfaction. It must be incredibly satisfying knowing that the house you have just completed is going to provide shelter, warmth and good times for generations of people. It is almost instant gratification. In my work this is very rarely the case.  For example I worked on a concept for the online delivery of sign language interpreters through Skype for several years before it came to fruition. The pinnacle for me was using Skype to deliver interpreting to an all-day conference in Townsville last year. At times I thought it would never happen but you have to persevere.  Now Skype interpreting is the way for the future, particularly for sign language users living in rural and remote areas. It would have been so easy to just give up and move on to the next project.

In my work you have to deal with prejudice and ignorance every day. There are still employers who make assumptions as to what people with a disability can and cannot do. Years ago I had an a apprentice group training scheme tell me that people who are deaf cannot be plumbers because they would not be able to communicate with peers while they were digging holes.  “Plumbers” said the boss “ …dig holes and scream out their requirements to people working around them. There is no way deaf people can do that.” Twenty five years later there are hearing teachers of the deaf, hand on their hearts, who will tell you that deaf people can’t be teachers of the deaf, “….because they cannot teach speech”. Worse are the bosses and the bureaucrats that just smile at you and nod patronisingly and refuse to return calls or emails thereon. Recently we had the horrific case where the Teachers Registration Board is refusing to accept the registration of a person who is deaf and suggesting that even if they did it would a restricted registration. The Teacher Registration Board want to impose restrictions where the teacher who is deaf will have to teach with a hearing person at all times.

It is these examples that can make this work so soul destroying. When you are still dealing with this sort of nonsense a quarter of a century after you started your career you begin to question whether it is all worthwhile.  Then of course you have seeming progress that is actually regression. The Accessible Cinema Roll-Out is a point in case. If ever in your life you want to see a case of more is less, the Accessible Cinema Roll Out is it. You sometimes just feel that it has all been a waste of time and you want to give it all away.

And then something happens to remind you that what you do has a little bit of impact. For me it was captions at the Gym.  And then it was my boss reminding me of my “legacy”. But none better was the feedback that I got from an old client who is now a very dear family friend. This is what the client/friend posted on my Facebook wall for all to see, “Hey G, just a quick message to say thank you for rubbing your advocate skills on to me back in the good old days. You have taught me to stead on and to find another way to redeem the right and never to give up fighting for it as I will always get there in the end! I have just done that last week on two separate occasions!!!! Thanks once again G!!!! ”  

The last quote, when I read it, turned me into a blubbering mess. It is fair to say it was one of the most moving moments of my career. The person in question had just been subject to the worst case of discrimination that I have ever witnessed. That I had provided her with some of the strength she needed to stand up for her rights and fight the system made me realise what my work is all about even if progress often seems non existent or painfully slow. And for all the advocates out there who sometimes feel it’s all too hard, remember that you make a difference, even if it’s just captions in the gym. YOU MAKE A DIFFERENCE; keep up the good fight.


Carpe Diem

Did you know that in Australia it is conservatively estimated that there are 4 million people with a disability? This is roughly 18% of the population. There are probably many others. For example people who have yet to disclose their disability and who choose to just get on with their lives. There are others not yet diagnosed who may have mental illness or learning disabilities. The real figure is any one’s guess. Probably it is over 20% of the population, we will never know.

Adrienne Francis talking on ABC radio claims that people with a disability in Australia are two and a half times more likely to experience poverty than other Australians. She claims that more than half of the estimated 4 million people who have a disability in Australia live in poverty. What is more shameful is that this rich country of ours, Australia, has a poverty rate for people with a disability that is TWICE that of other comparable countries in the Organisation of Cooperation and Development (OECD). YES; twice the rate. http://www.abc.net.au/pm/content/2011/s3382570.htm

Graeme Innes, the Disability Discrimination Commissioner, on the same program claims that only 40% of people with a disability in Australia are participating in employment which ranks Australia BOTTOM of the barrel among OECD countries. Let us repeat this simple fact; AUSTRALIA IS WEALTHY. What excuse does it have???? Let us also consider that of this miserly 40% of 4 million people who are part of the employment market how many of them are actually in well-paying jobs? How many are doing mundane repetitive work? How many are right up there on top of the corperate ladder? That 40%, bad that it is, does not tell us the real story.

In Australia disability policy is focused on reducing the cost of disability to the economy. Disability is seen as a burden to the public purse and the answer is to get Australians with a disability off “welfare” and into employment. The problem is that it doesn’t matter what employment, just as long as its employment. If it is low paying, no matter, it is a job isn’t it?

Even the much mooted National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) is about reducing the cost of disability to the Australian economy in general. Sure it’s an important policy and if designed properly it will mean better care and support for people with a disability. I won’t knock it; it is much needed. But the NDIS will be, essentially, a new tax. Like Medicare a percentage of the every Australians salary will be deducted to pay for the Scheme. Apart from allocating $10 million for set up costs, which will take seven years, there is no new money coming from the government coffers.  Even this $10 million has come from cuts to other programs. The money for the NDIS will come from OUR pockets. The aim of the NDIS is to reduce the overall burden of funding disability support through a new TAX. I for one support this but don’t let the Government try and convince you that THEY are paying for it because make no mistake it is WE who will pay for it.

Now, perceivably, the NDIS will lead to greater participation of people with a disability in Australian society. It will enable them to participate more in the community. It will free up income of people with a disability that is used to cover cost of care, assistance and equipment and allow this money to be spent in other areas of life. Again this is a good thing but will this “freeing” up of income mean that people with a disability will get out of poverty? No it will not. This will only happen if people with a disability are given opportunities to increase their income in REAL terms.

This is why I was so very impressed with Kate Larsen, the outgoing CEO of Arts Access Australia. Ms Larsen printed a wonderful article on Ramp Up. In the article Ms Larsen described how, upon accepting the CEO role at Arts Access Australia, she also effectively handed in her resignation. You see Ms Larsen wanted to have a person with a disability heading Arts Access Australia within 12 months. http://www.abc.net.au/rampup/articles/2012/03/30/3467452.htm

True to her word Ms Larsen resigned. Apparently people around her and within her organisation tried to convince her to stay on. Apparently there is a section of the people who she worked with or in partnership with who felt that Arts Access Australia would not be able to find anyone to replace her.  Ms Larsen, quite rightly, finds this attitude depressing and points out that, ”… there’s clearly not a lack of candidates out there. People with disability make up nearly 20% of the Australian population. And although education and job opportunities have not always been accessible, the majority of people aren’t born with their impairments, but acquire them over the course of their working lives. Which means there’s a wealth of qualified and experienced job applicants out there who perhaps just aren’t being given the opportunity to lead.”

What Ms Larsen is advocating is that Arts Access Australia proactively target people with a disability to apply and take up the role of CEO. It is quite simple; she believes people with a disability have a wealth of talent and should be leading an organisation that focuses on people with a disability. What is more she walked the talk, she resigned and has publicly come out and said Arts Access Australia MUST be led by a person with a disability. I know one thing; I want to buy Ms Larsen a beer. She is a breath of fresh air.

You see if you want people with a disability out of poverty they must be given opportunities.  Drastic action needs to be taken. Australia needs to revisit the policy of Affirmative Action. In the 1960’s and 1970’s Affirmative Action was a buzz term. It was used effectively to promote women into management positions. Affirmative Action had its critics. For example there were people that claimed that many of the women who were promoted into management positions were mere tokens.  It was claimed that they had not earned their positions and that the opportunities were handed to them on a plate. This is nonsense, what Affirmative Action did was provide these women with opportunities to expand their skills and knowledge and hence compete for other jobs. While there is still great disparity between what men earn and what women earn, which makes no sense, Affirmative Action has meant that women have been able to gain the experience that has allowed them to at least COMPETE.

Why should this be different for people with a disability? Why can we not aggressively target positions of authority and management to people with a disability so that they can develop the skills and experience to be able to compete for higher paying jobs? Kate Larsen gets it, now it is time for the disability sector, in particular the Deaf sector to follow her lead.

It’s just ridiculous that a deaf man who last week received two offers of CEO jobs cannot even get his foot in the door of a deaf organisation for a job as a Fundraising Manager. It is crazy that the first people that a Deaf sector organisation will target are those with “connections” but with absolutely no knowledge of deafness. It is crazy that a person who is deaf with nearly a quarter of a century of experience in the sector is overlooked for simple management positions simply because a hearing person has  an extra degree although they have no experience whatsoever in deafness. Can you imagine a five star restaurant employing someone as head chef whose basic experience in cooking was as a house wife? It just would not happen.

We need the Deaf sector to show faith in the abilities of people who are Deaf and hearing impaired. If they don’t how can they expect the “outsiders” to. We have the ridiculous situation where a Deaf teacher is being told she cannot work alone as a teacher and must be supervised by a hearing person at all times.  Last week we had Red Rooster contacting a Deaf girl on the phone for an interview. She rang back through the relay service to be told “perhaps this job is not for you.” RED ROOSTER of all organisations. Ten minutes later the girl received an email saying she was not successful. It’s absurd.  To my mind if the Deaf sector cannot proactively employ its own they cannot credibly advocate to other organisations to take on people who are Deaf and hearing impaired.  They have to practice what they preach.

BUT there is an opportunity on the horizon. Vicdeaf are again without a CEO. They seem to turn over CEOS more often than people do pancakes. Here is an opportunity for them to lead the way. Draw up a hit-list of suitable Deaf candidates and aggressively recruit them.  Perhaps they can take a leaf out of Kate Larsen’s book and show the world just what people who are Deaf can do. It is the right thing to do … Carpe Diem.