Mean!!!

I have been a mite frustrated of late. You see I am living in a very rich country. This country I live in has resources that are the envy of most of the world. It is rich in a way that most countries can only dream of. But this country I live in is mean. It is mean beyond comprehension. It won’t let gay people get married. One of its politicians compared gay marriage to having sex with the family pet. Australia’s politicians, who supposedly represent us, voted against Gay marriage even though polls were showing that most of Australia is for it. But worst of all it treats people with a disability as absolute rubbish. So much that they treat people with a disability worse than 27 other comparable countries in the OECD. Cop this Peeps – Australia ranks LAST!

It really is unforgivable that many people who have severe disabilities can only have two showers a week. It is unforgivable that they are virtually prisoners in their own home because this rich country won’t make a society that is accessible for them. It is unforgivable that people who are deaf are being denied opportunities to enjoy such simple pleasures as going to the movies. And why?  All because Australia’s mega rich cinema industry, among the richest in the world, does not want to pay for decent access. It is just mean beyond comprehension. (Please do not insult our intelligence by suggesting that CaptiView is access.)

And you know in Australia it is almost legal to treat people with a disability like crap. We have a law that purports to prevent discrimination but does anything but that. It’s a law that says you can’t discriminate but you actually can if you can show that you have reason to. Consequently Australian organisations and business, whenever they are held to account for discrimination, simply cry poor. “It’s too expensive”, they will say, “It is Unjustifiable Hardship.”

Hardship?  My arse! Recently Al McEwin, who is deaf and a lawyer, spoke about Unjustifiable Hardship in Australia’s disability discrimination law. McEwin, who was speaking as part of a panel discussing accessible cinema, explained that Unjustifiable Hardship can be broken into two components. The first is the word UNJUST.  McEwin explained that this word means, “Lacking in justice or fairness”. The second part of the word is Hardship which means,“ a condition that is difficult to endure, suffering, deprivation and oppression.”

McEwin rightly pointed out that our mega rich cinemas certainly were not going to suffer any unfairness or endure any deprivation. McEwin pointed out that Hoyts alone had revenue of $927 million last year and that $2 million laid out to provide access wasn’t going to make any particular dent in that. In fact, arguably, that $2 million will be returned at profit by giving proper access to 2-3 million Australians who are Deaf or hard of hearing.

I mean Graeme Innes, our Disability Commissioner to the Australian Human Rights Commission, recently tried using the DDA to make the huge Rail Corp company provide audio announcements on trains and at train stations. The blind need such audio announcements so that they know what platform to go on and when to get on and off their train. Innes insists that Rail Corp have an obligation to provide full audio announcements under the DDA. Given that Innes is a lawyer and also blind you would think he would know what he is talking about.

Innes made a complaint about Rail Corp to the AHRC. I am not sure if Rail Corp actually submitted to conciliation as usually is the case when a complaint is made but the case ended up in court for ruling by a judge. The judge wouldn’t rule and instead sent Innes and Rail Corp away to try and resolve the issue themselves. All Innes wanted was audio announcements so that the blind in Sydney don’t end up in Melbourne when they are aiming for Redfern. Rail Corp said adapting its services for audio announcements would cost close to $1 billion. Perhaps it is just me, but this seems implausible.  What protection or support did the DDA offer Innes? Well in this case, as is often the case, absolutely none.

What sort of law is it that allows people to keep breaking it until the victim decides to complain? Then when they complain they have this cock a hoop system that tries to resolve issues by conciliation. If conciliation fails, and it often does, it ends up in court at great expense. Then of course the poor judge is expected to make a ruling on some vague chook scratching of a law that is supposed to explain what is reasonable. Then of course the offender is allowed to continue discriminating because they claim Unjustifiable Hardship, which is the only part of the law that anyone seems to understand.

A good law says wiki – answers .com is one which is:

1) Clear
2) Possible to follow
3) Enforceable
4) Consistent with the country’s constitutional right

The DDA certainly is not clear. It’s certainly not possible to follow it because most of it is not even explained properly. It is certainly not enforceable because no one can really say what is and is not discrimination under the DDA because there are so many shades of reasonable. It’s a law that champions ‘reasonable’ but one mans reasonable is another’s unfair. It certainly doesn’t support Australia’s constitution which is supposed to be built on the principle of a fair go.  To misquote Bumble from Oliver Twist, “The DDA is a Ass, A idiot.”

Because Australia’s disability discrimination law is so pathetic, so easy to manipulate and almost impossible to enforce Australia’s disabled are left in the dark ages. It perhaps would be a little bit more acceptable if Australia was poor and unable to provide but it is not. It is a mega rich country. But let’s not blame the law, as weak as it is, it really just comes down to common decency. Australia should provide because it can!

When Greece and Mexico, hardly economic giants, are performing better than Australia in terms of outcomes for people with a disability there really has to be something wrong. Surely we can do better than this. We don’t need a law; all we need is a heart.

RANT OVER!

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The Ultimate Con

George Parker died in 1936. He was a brilliant if somewhat corrupted fellow. He is famous for selling famous American landmarks to unsuspecting tourists. He apparently sold Brooklyn Bridge almost weekly. He would convince his victims that they could charge a toll if they brought the bridge and become very rich very quickly. Several times the police had to stop people as they attempted to erect toll booths at the bridge. Other land marks that he sold to naive investors included the Madison Square Gardens, the Statue of Liberty and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Quite how he managed it is any ones guess. He must have been an extremely smooth talker. Not unlike the people who have managed to smooth talk people who are Deaf and hard of hearing into believing that CaptiView was going to offer us all more access to the cinema. Parker would not have been out of place as one of the representatives for the Big 4 Cinemas who have foisted CaptiView upon us.

Last week there was a Forum about cinema access. The Forum was organised to coincide with The Other Film Festival. A panel was held to discuss cinema access for people who are deaf or have vision impairments. Disability Commissioner for the Australian Human Rights Commission, Graeme Innes, was part of a discussion panel. Mr Innes came under fire from all quarters. Many people that attended the Forum made it very clear to Mr Innes that they were very dissatisfied with CaptiView. Under much onslaught Mr Innes absolved himself of any blame and planted the blame solidly with the Federal Government.

 According to people that attended the Forum Mr Innes implied that the introduction of CaptiView was Bill Shortens fault. Mr Shorten had been the Parliamentary Secretary for Disability when The Australian Human Rights Commission decided to throw out the Big 4 Cinemas application for exemption to Disability Discrimination Complaints. At the Forum Mr Innes is alleged to have said that it was Shorten who brokered a deal for CaptiView with the Cinemas. Apparently it was Shorten who agreed, without consultation with anyone, that the Big 4 Cinemas would no longer have to provide Open Captioning if they agreed to introduce CaptiView.

For the first time it became clear that deaf people had been sold out. Shorten had brokered away rights to open captioning without consultation. For the first time it became clear why the Big 4 Cinemas and the Government have ostensibly refused to consider any other alternative except CaptiView. Like Parker selling things that did not belong to him, the right of quality access to the cinema for people who are deaf had been sold from under them.

It was virtually legalised discrimination. All the cinemas need to do is to ensure CaptiView is installed as agreed in the Accessible Cinema Roll Out Plan. It did not matter whether cinema goers who are deaf found CaptiView acceptable or not. A deal had been done. The whole Accessible Cinema Roll Out Plan has been a charade.

Initially our advocates all urged that CaptiView be ‘trialled’ before rolling it out widely. The trial was a quality control measure to ensure that the device was effective. Of course the powers that be all nodded wisely and made soothing noises. What liars! If Innes is to be believed CaptiView was a done deal the minute Shorten agreed to it with the cinemas.

Over time it became obvious that CaptiView had many, many problems. People who were deaf  who have vision impairments could not use it. Children who have short attention spans found it virtually impossible to use CaptiView. Tall people had to slump in their seats to align the device with the screen. Stories were common telling of eyestrain and headaches from the constant refocusing from device to the screen. Diligently the Action on Cinema Access Group brought these issues to the attention of the cinemas and the Government. But neither the cinemas nor the Government cared.

CaptiView was the technology of choice and nothing else would be considered. It was the technology of choice even though it often did not work. It was the technology of choice even though it often dropped pout in the middle of movies. It was the technology of choice even though it became obvious that CaptiView was widely LOATHED. You see it had already been agreed that CaptiView was it. OUR rights had been brokered away!

Not only were our rights brokered away but we were lied to. We were told that with the new Doremi digital severs that open captions were not possible. This is not true. We were then told that it was possible but complicated. This was again not true. We now know that open captions are possible IF the right captioning file is requested. Once the correct file is obtained it is virtually a matter of flicking a switch. We were told that alternate technology would be ‘considered’. Again a blatant lie because CaptiView was the technology of choice ad the only technology that COULD be considered by virtue of the Shorten deal.

We were told it would provide more access to more movies. Perhaps it gives access to a variety of different movies but is it actually more access? There are only six devices per screen. Only six people who are deaf can watch a movie at any one time! And even then there is no guarantee that the CaptiView devise will work. Stories abound of cinema goers who are deaf attending the cinema because it was advertised as captioned only to be told that the movie is not captioned. People who are deaf and who want to attend the movies have been treated like dirt.

Mr Innes cannot be absolved of the all blame. Mr Innes, knowing full well that this deal had been brokered without the input of the consumers, chose to tell no one until last week. This is the same Mr Innes who has been championing the Accessible Cinema Roll Out at every opportunity even though he is well aware of the immense dissatisfaction from many consumers.

On the day of the Forum Mr Innes took to Twitter praising the cinemas for opening six more venues with CaptiView and Audio Description. The day after attending the Forum and hearing the views of dissatisfied consumers, including a consumer who is blind, Mr Innes again took to twitter praising the cinemas because they are set to complete the Accessible Cinema Roll Out two years ahead of schedule. Is Mr Innes listening to us at all?

 It’s clear that as far as CaptiView goes, we are stuck with it. Whether we like it or not this largely ineffective and discriminatory technology is here to stay. People who are deaf have been sold out. They have been lied to and they have been conned. Mr Parker would have been proud.

And Let There Be Respect

Without feelings of respect, what is there to distinguish men from beasts? Confucius

The last week has shown this to be true. In an attack on the American Embassy in Libya last week four people, including the American Ambassador to Libya, were killed. The killings were supposedly in response to an anti-Muslim video that had been distributed in America.    

The American Government was at pains to point out that it was not the anti-Muslim video that had sparked the killings.  They rightly highlighted the fact that killings were the responsibility of terrorists and that it was a highly organised attack that would have taken some time to plan. Whatever the reason the killings were senseless and the result of total lack of respect for human life.

Around the world fundamentalist of the Muslim Community were outraged at the anti-Muslim video that was being distributed. Protests, many which became violent, were held all over the world. In Sydney we were confronted with the horrific photograph of a four year old standing next to his baby brother holding a placard that exclaimed, “Behead all those that insult the prophet.”

Anti-religious people must be having a field day. You can imagine them sitting around the breakfast table discussing religious zealots gone mad. They will be pointing out that religion is the root of all the violence in the world and all because of some mythical God that means different things to different people. Religion, they will claim, is bunk. The one thing they all forget is that the violence is the work of a minority, not the majority. The majority of religious people are peace loving and give an enormous amount to their communities.

The beast that Confucius spoke of has truly arisen in the absence of respect. Why has this happened? Seemingly because man is still struggling with the age old question of, “Where did we come from?”  Was it a God that created the Universe and life within it? Perhaps it was a group of Gods. Or perhaps it was just a natural catalyst, a Big Bang in which a series of totally random and natural occurrences led to the universe and life as we know it.

People of great intellect claim that they have the answers. But do they? We can talk theories but in reality do we really know? Scientist will claim that there is no proof of God whilst religious people will claim that there is no proof that there is not a God.  Christians will claim Jesus was the son and ultimate messenger of God whilst Muslims will lay similar claims to their Prophet Muhammad. Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists have different beliefs altogether.

One thing that I do know is that they cannot all be right and they cannot all be wrong.  It was the German philosopher Frederick Nietzsche who said, “You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist[i]Perhaps we should all take what he has to say on board. In considering the question of our existence human beings simply do not have all the answers. The real answer is probably a combination of all our beliefs and theories. Perhaps we also need to simply accept that we might not have the intellect to truly comprehend how it all began.

I do not claim to any expertise in religion. I claim no particular understanding of the science of the Big Bang except that it was a catalyst that led to life as we know it. What I do know is that when beliefs collide violence and death are often the result. Let’s be frank, science contributes to this violence.  Science, by challenging religious beliefs, contributes to the conflict. Indeed was it not misdirected science that created weapons of mass destruction?

Human beings are a stubborn breed. So stubborn that they will defend to the death what they believe. But usually the beast that leads humans to kill and main to defend what they believe is only aroused when they have been disrespected. Perhaps we need to heed the words of the Beatles in their song, “Let it Be”,

And when the brokenhearted people

 Living in the world agree

There will be an answer, let it be

For though they may be parted

There is still a chance that they will see

There will be an answer, let it be

 With respect.


[i] Interestingly Nietzsche was thought to be Anti-Semitic. Defenders of Nietzsche claim that this is not the case. They argue that on his death his sister, a confirmed Anti-Semitic, had his work heavily edited with Anti-Semitic messages. Hitler is said to have referred to the works of Nietzsche to justify genocide of Jews in WWll. Disrespect giving rise to the beast again.

750 000 Years

When I was a kid I got in trouble with the police. I was 8 years old. Mum and Dad had gone to work and it was school holidays. I woke up in the morning, brushed my teeth, had my Coco Pops and I was gone. Fun was to be had, the sun was shining and there was no way that I was going to stay inside. I met Tim and Simon up at the Gully. The Gully was a sharp crevice that we climbed down. There we had all sorts of fun. We caught lizards and many was the time that my mother would scream at me to “GET IT OUT”. Sometimes Tim would bring his mini motor bike. Tim would ride and I would sit on the back. We would race around the paddocks. Many a time we fell off, the grazes we brought home were a sight to see. Tim’s parents and Simon’s parents were at work too. Like mine they just left them to their own devices; just as long as they were home in time for tea.

Being boys we got up to all sorts of mischief. Life as a boy would not be life if we did not. On the fated day that we got in trouble with the police we were bored. The motor bike had broken down and we couldn’t find any lizards. We decided that we would climb an olive tree. These olive trees grew along the side of Nelson Road. They were enormous things with ripe and squishy olives. Don’t ask me why but Simon spotted a lorry coming up the road, he dashed down the tree with a ripe squishy olive and threw the olive at the passing lorry and it went ‘SPLAT’ all over the side of the lorry. This sent Tim and I into fits of mirth. We were boys after all.

So it became a challenge. We would sit up the tree, dash down, throw our olives and if we hit the cars we would dash up the tree and hide. Every time we hit a car or a lorry we would scream in jubilation. This went on for about half an hour. Tim spotted a near new Cortina coming up the road. Down the tree he dashed and let fly – ‘SPLAT’ – the over ripe olive burst and oozed all over the passenger side window. Tim dashed up the tree out of harms way.

But this time the car screeched to a halt. A little old lady got out and she was furious. (In truth she was probably only about 40 but 40 was OOOOLLLLLDDDD) She stood in front of our tree, hands on hips and screamed her rage, “What do you think you are doing?”, She raged, “Do you want to kill someone?”  For some reason, up on our lofty perch, we all answered in unison; as if she was a school teacher, “No miss!”  She pointed at us, “You, you and you, get down right now!!”  Down we came, heads bowed in shame.

“Right” said the old lady taking out a pen and pad from her car, “Name and address please.” We all could have given her a false name and address; I mean she would never have known. But in our fear we blurted out our names and addresses which she wrote down diligently onto her pad. “You’re parents shall be hearing from the police and I hope you are all suitably punished!”  At that she was gone.

True to her word she reported us to the police. That evening the police visited our homes and had a chat to our parents. My father was furious and gave me an almighty whack on the backside. I was grounded for the rest of the holidays. That was punishment indeed. And although I could have gone out during the day when my parents were at work and they would never have known I did as I was told. After all what I had done was stupid and that was the consequence.

This was 1973. This would not happen today. Eight year old kids home alone? SHOCKING! Roaming the streets alone! SCANDELOUS! Climbing down gullies and climbing up trees unsupervised! GAAAAASSSP. Catching lizards? What if they got BITTEN! But this was an age when kids were kids and kids had fun. Today kids are marshmallows to the ninth degree.

As a parent today I despair. My kids cannot do anything. They go to soccer training which is just over a kilometre away from home. They are not allowed to walk home alone. The coaches won’t let them. The coaches will make them wait at the ground for their parents to arrive. My eldest kid was made to ride his bike to and from training when he was 12. Apparently he tells me the other parents would OOOOHH and AHHHH and say how disgraceful it was that he was made to get home on his own. If it rains and the ground is a bit muddy they call the games off because, “Its not safe.”.  I remember the mud-baths we played on when we were kids. Not one game was ever postponed. After the game we would find the muddiest part of the ground and all dive in head first. It was fabulous fun. I despair for what our kids are becoming, I really do.

When I was seven I caught a bus to Adelaide on my own to meet my mother for doctor’s appointments. I went to the city with my ten year old sister to watch Bambi, I didn’t cry when Bambi’s mum got shot, honest, I just had water in my eye. We were independent. My parents would prepare me, “Now you catch the 502 at 11.30. Just tell the driver you need dropping off near the Forum on O’Connell.” And we did that many a time. I would catch the bus on my own to Rundle Mall, go down Hindley street and play the games at Downtown. The place would be packed with kids. Not any more, kids are wrapped in cotton wool!

“Once upon a time in New York City, it wasn’t a big deal if pre-teen kids rode the subways and buses alone. Today, as Lenore Skenazy has discovered, a kid who goes out without a nanny, a helmet and a security detail is a national news story, and his mother is a candidate for child-abuse charges.”  So begins the story on the American Today show website. I raised my arms to the heavens and screamed,  “HALLELUJAH”,  when I read it. I screamed because out there, there is a parent like me. A parent that wants their kids to learn life skills to get on in life. Life skills are certainly not something that kids will learn living in a cocoon.                                                                                       ( source: http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/23935873/ns/today-today_news/t/mom-lets–year-old-take-subway-home-alone/  )

What struck me about this article is that it pointed out that far from being more dangerous today; the world is actually a safer place. Said Skenazy, The era is long past when Times Square was a fetid sump and taking a walk in Central Park after dark was tantamount to committing suicide. Recent federal statistics show New York to be one of the safest cities in the nation – right up there with Provo, Utah, in fact.” Yes that’s right, New York, that place where you supposedly get mugged just walking out the front door, is one of the safest cities in America. But the problem is that the parents have convinced themselves that the world is a more dangerous place today. It is, in fact, not the case. Skenazy believes that, “The problem is that people read about children who are abducted and murdered and fear takes over”  Skenazy simply doesn’t think fear should rule our lives. Inevitably though, it does.

I insist the WORLD is safe. It is no more dangerous today than it has ever been. Skenazy, for her trouble, got labeled a child-abuser and an irresponsible parent. She didn’t even give her kid a mobile. She gave him some coins and said if he were to get lost to call her from a public phone. What an arse!  So incensed was she that she embarked on her own research. She approached the public and asked them this simple question, What if you wanted your child to be kidnapped by a stranger and held overnight? How long would you have to leave him or her outside and unattended for that to actually happen?”                                                                                                                                ( Source: http://stats.org/stories/2009/land_free_home_scared_sept2_09.html  )

Skenazy notes that kids are actually safer today than they were in the seventies. In fact the chances of your kid being abducted ar approximately 1 in 1.5 million. The world has gone insane. Skenazy tells stories of a school bus being evacuated because there was a single peanut on the floor. She tells stories of kids being dropped off at their door by the school bus rather than  a designated bus-stop. Worse the kids are not allowed off the bus unless they are met by a parent.

If you think it is any different in Australia, think again. Just last week a school was in the news because it banned kids doing handstands and cartwheels for fear of injury. God forbid what they would have done in the seventies when kids hung upside down on monkey bars and ate their lunch just to see if they could actually swallow while hanging upside down.

What society is doing with this ridiculous protectionist attitude is stealing kids of their childhood. It is creating a “Marshmallow State” where kids simply do not know how to take risks or initiative. Skenazy believes that the world is losing “perspective.”  People now make assumptions and the assumption is always negative. We see every person as a potential abductor or paedophile says Skenazy, “ …until proven otherwise.”

And that is the world that we have created. We have created a world where everyone is assumed bad instead of good. We have created a world where fear dictates our every decision. Mostly this hysteria has been created by a media that is hell bent on reporting every negative occurrence that they can almost to the exclusion of anything else. Despite what the media will have us believe statistics actually show the world is generally SAFER today.

For the record; how long would it take your child to be abducted if you left them outside?  Answers that Skenazy received ranged from ten minutes, an hour and right up to three months. The answer is approximately 750 000 years. I kid you not. I don’t know about you but personally I will take the risk!