As I sit on the lounge I laugh my head off at what we are watching. I look across at my daughter who is sitting looking rather blank, but deep in concentration.
Next I find myself in tears “oh how sad”, I look across again to find my daughter still looking rather blank, but still concentrating very hard.
I smile, laugh, cry, am astounded, my feelings getting a real workout on all levels, but my daughter is still sitting very perplexed.
At the end I look into my daughters eyes and exclaim “Wow that was so moving, so many emotions in one story.” She sits quietly. I add a leading question, “What did you think about that story?”, her reply “ok”. Surely she got more from it than that. I ask again “What did you think about the funny part”, her reply “What funny part?” – What did you think about the sad part?” Her reply. “Huh?”
“Ok, so tell me about the story, what did you see?” Now I’m sitting very blank, but deep in concentration, I don’t understand, but what she says makes sense. Her story brings me to tears, because what she saw, was not what the story (or characters) spoke. She has watched it in silence and pieced together what she thought was the story, her story so different but so brilliant.
I now proceed to tell her what the story spoke to me, now she laughs, n cries and says “Wow, really! I can now see that”, but in her world of near silence she has watched the documentary like a jigsaw puzzle, piecing it together with only part of the pieces, but changing it to fit what she sees not hears.
A saddened feeling emerges, because what if this was an emergency and she got the mixed message. What if it was a story about her and it she got it wrong, one of my hopes is that it doesn’t send her into depression or isolation (as so many deaf people feel). What if it was her job, or classroom, a misinterpreted direction? What does she hear from the radio, tv, movies, teachers, coaches, friends, family and friends? How can she talk to her friends without them laughing when she got the story wrong? Maybe that’s why she prefers to stay home.
What can we do? I see a deaf world trying to fit into a hearing world. Some of the most amazing, inspirational people are deaf. What is the definition of disability really? Why can’t deaf people compete at Paralympics? Why can’t captioning and interpreters be a priority?
Isn’t being deaf a bit like an amputee (no disrespect intended). But people without hearing have had something in their auditory processing amputated whether they were born without it or lost it along the way. Is a loss of communication and language a disability? Sigh… Why are the simple things in life for some not easily accessible for other or a priority. Sigh…
Korrina’s daughter is deaf. She posted her thoughts on Facebook and has given The Rebuttal permission to reproduce them here. As a deaf person I can relate to her thoughts. Before captioning became readily available on television I recall watching TV shows with my parents. My poor mother got a work out. When ever anyone laughed I would demand to know what was happening. I would get so frustrated when she would tell me, “Tell you later.” Nowadays most shows on free to air TV are captioned but on Pay TV this is not the case, particularly documentaries. Like Korrina’s daughter all we can do is watch, concentrate hard and hope that we get the gist of it all.
And this is what it is like for a deaf person watching TV or a film with out captioning. Sure we all have varying levels of hearing loss but we still miss a lot. The funny parts, the sad parts, the mystery and the key messages of the story we deaf people piece together largely from visual cues.
This passage from Korrina where she questions her daughter to ascertain how much of the TV show she has understood is harrowing for me. It takes me back to when I started social work studies. At the time I had no note-takers or interpreters. In group work people would discuss the topic of the lectures. Different students were responsible for leading the groups. To score points with our tutor they would try to draw me into the conversation. This was known as gate opening. I would break into a cold sweat because 9 times out of 10 I wouldn’t have a clue what people were discussing. It felt like the Spanish Inquisition!
Korrina expresses her fears for her daughter as a mother. She notes that what should be a simple answer, providing access, is not provided. Why can’t her daughter have the same access as everyone else? The solutions are already there. Why must our society constantly create barriers rather than break them down. I am reminded of Labor heavyweight Bill Shorten who said, “A rich country like Australia has no excuse to not provide for people with a disability.”
Yet here we are with Australia ranked bottom of the pile for comparable countries in the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) for disability support. Here we are with rich and profitable cinemas providing us with substandard and unreliable captioning. Here we are with one of the most profitable Pay Television franchises in the world who will not provide full captioning access even though nearly all the programs they show have captioning provided overseas.
And Korrina is right to worry, “… one of my hopes is that it doesn’t send her into depression or isolation (as so many deaf people feel)” And this is what poor access or the lack of it does. It isolates, it frustrates and it prevents the acquisition of knowledge all of which can ultimately lead to depression. It is not for nothing that statistics show that depression is higher among people who are deaf than the general populace. And the solutions are so simple …. We have to do better than this.