Do They Know It’s Christmas Time ???

GrinchMerry Xmas everyone. I am sure looking forward to 2014. It’s gonna be a great year if you have a disability. Abbott and his band of merry men have got your back you see and the knives are out:

It’s Christmas time, there’s no need to be afraid
At Christmas time, we let in light and we banish shade

We have so much to look forward to, don’t we? I mean The Abbott Government is making savage cuts to the public service. We got too many people working for Australian public service, way too many. So we are gonna get rid of a large percentage of them and run Australia on a skeleton staff. It’s only a little country after all. What are 23 million people in a country the size of Australia. They are but a smattering. There are plenty jobs elsewhere for em. Not at Holden though.

But in our world of plenty, we should spread a smile of joy!
Throw your arms around the world at Christmas time..

Of course when we sack these pesky public servants lets weed out those pesky disabled. I mean since 1994 we have managed to reduce the number of people with a disability working in the public service from just over 8000 to just over 4000. Let’s get rid of some more. Let’s throw em on the dole and make em get work somewhere else. They have to work for sure. I’m sure there are plenty jobs out there, just not in the public service. I stress let’s get em on the dole and looking for work. I mean, after all, we don’t want them on the Disability Support Pension do we? The bludgers, what a disgrace that would be!

At Christmas time, it’s hard but when your having fun
There’s a world outside your window
And it’s a world of dread and fear

And this is where I cease my jesting because this Christmas this is exactly what Tony Abbott and his Government is doing to people with a disability in Australia. He is creating a world of dread and fear. You see Australia is running in deficit. It’s not a huge deficit by world standards and Australia has the capacity to manage it. But it is a deficit nonetheless and of course if you are a Liberal deficits are bad things. This is even though most of us live our whole life in deficit. So to shore up the budget we have to get people with a disability working – Just not in the public service – NO SIREE!

To listen to Abbott and his rather unintelligent band of merry men he would have you believe that the deficit is largely the fault of people with a disability. The problem with Abbott’s band of unintelligent merry men is that they have power. The fact that they have power means that they are no joke!

And it’s a world of dread and fear
Where the only water flowing is a bitter sting of tears
And the Christmas bells that ring there are the clanging chimes of doom

And indeed people with a disability are weeping at the vicious targeting of them. I am not sure why Australia chooses to target the most vulnerable when the economy goes arse up, but there is no doubt that they do. Said Abbott, “ … nearly 60 per cent of disability pensioners had potentially treatable mental health or muscular-skeletal conditions. He said the disability pension cost $13 billion a year and the number of people receiving it was about to pass 800,000”

So what Abbott is suggesting is that that criteria for the disability pension needs to be toughened. He believes that there needs to be tougher guidelines for assessing disability to distinguish between those that have a permanent disability and those that do not.

It all sounds fine in theory but this is what happened in Britain. David Cameron’s Conservative Government decided that they would make it harder for people with a disability to receive disability benefits. What ensued was not budget savings but a human tragedy. The Austerity measures implemented by Cameron’s Government toughened up the criteria for receiving the British version of the Disability Support Pension.

Many individuals with a disability who previously qualified for the Disability Support Pension were deemed as fit to work. Many of them lost up to $130 a week as a result. This is despite having disabilities that severely impeded their ability to work. There were also horrendous delays in the assessment process meaning that many were left in limbo for long periods of time. The result was that 10 600 people with a disability died within six weeks of having their benefits cut. Surely this is a harsh lesson that Australia needs to learn from.

Well tonight thank God it’s them instead of you!

Quite rightly the Australian Disability community have responded in anger at yet again being labeled as burdens to the country. To listen to the Government (and this includes the previous Government too) one would think that people with a disability are just sponges that are bleeding the country dry. Stella Young sums this up when she sardonically states, “Ahhh, the old tough love chestnut again! Give us less cash and we’ll be inspired to abandon our sweet, sweet deal watching daytime TV and living off the hard-working Aussie taxpayers.”

The problem with strategies that focus on trying to get people with a disability into work is that they often assume that people with a disability are not working because they choose to not work. Young points out the fallacy of this perception when she explains to Mr Abbott, “ … I’m afraid you’re forgetting a fairly big factor in this proposal; the intense, deeply-rooted discrimination that occurs in every facet of life for people with disabilities, including employment.”

And believe me the prejudice and discrimination runs deep. I once tried to get a deaf guy a plumbing apprenticeship. We brought the guy in for an interview and the first thing the boss said was – “Plumbing is no good for a deaf bloke. How are you gonna communicate when you are digging holes. You can’t get out of the hole every time you need to communicate. The job will never get done.” He said this even before he asked my client any questions about his abilities. This is an example of the deep rooted prejudice that Young talks about.

And so this Xmas people with a disability have not only been labeled as bludgers but the Government is threatening them with a watered down version of the NDIS. It’s gonna be watered down because to do the NDIS properly will cost too much. Of course this is a very short sighted view because to not do the NDIS properly is going to cost Australia far more in the long run.

The blows are coming from all quarters and people with a disability are protesting loudly on Facebook – But where is the voice of our peaks! Why have they not come out strongly in protest? How are we going to get these protests of the pages of Facebook and out into the real world?

I suspect the muted response is because it is Xmas and they are all on holiday. There is a reason the Government releases news like this at Xmas. Everyone is on holiday and there is no one at work to raise even a whimper. It could also be that the peaks are so frightened to speak out with impending cuts coming that they actually fear for their future. Whatever the reason, the voice of our disability representative organisations has not been raised above a whisper.

It’s been a wonderful Xmas if you have a disability hasn’t it? 2014 is looking bleak indeed. WE need a voice, and a loud one otherwise the lot of people with a disability Australia, already worse than most other comparable countries, will continue to spiral to the bottom of a seemingly bottomless barrel!

And to the members of Government I have to ask …

Do they know it’s Christmas time at all?

Lyrics taken from – Feed the World – as Sung by BandAid

Merry F#$king Xmas

XmasIt’s Xmas time. We are all in frantic mode. Last minute Xmas shopping needs to be done. Holidays need to be finalised. Of course there is the frenzy to get the house ready and the food ready for the hoards that are about to descend on our houses on Xmas day. Somehow this year we have no less than 18 people to cater for in our household. It just happens you know. It’s a week before Xmas and the wife pipes up – “By the way there are 18 of us for Xmas Day. Is that alright?” Of course it is alright, it’s the silly season, we all do silly things. ( For the record, I jest, I went into it with my eyes open – my wife told me 9 days before not one week – and yes I still jest :-D)

But it is hard to get jolly this Xmas. Usually I have something nice to write about. I usually write an inspiring story and we go into Xmas with a goofy little grin. Good news stories warm the cockles of our hearts. The warmth energises us and helps us to get ready for the challenges of the New Year. I say onwards and upwards fellow men and women.[1] But this year it is a bit hard to get inspired. In fact it is down right depressing. And Tony Abbott and his band of merry scrooges are largely to blame.

The Australian icon, Holden is to close. Holden has been struggling for some time. The Australian dollar has been high and exports have taken a hit. Wage costs are relatively high while production, by world standards, relatively low. In short Holden was finding it extremely difficult to compete. They sought assistance from the Government to weather the storm and the Government said no … Basically the Abbott Government said get competitive or get out. Conveniently the Government ignored what Holden described as “The perfect storm of economic conditions.”

General Motors, the American owners of Holden, realising that the Government had so little value for it, decided to pull the plug. With no assistance to weather the economic times or restructure its business they decided to pull out in 2017. In pulling out a total of 4200 jobs will be lost in Adelaide and Victoria. This does not include people employed by car part component manufacturers who will also be heavily impacted.

Rather than empathise and apologise for the circumstances Prime Minister Abbott came out with this extraordinary statement – “Some of them will find it difficult, but many of them will probably be liberated to pursue new opportunities and to get on with their lives,” Well thanks heaps PM, Xmas for the Holden Workers will be bleak indeed. Not to mention that the Northern Suburbs of Adelaide, already among the poorest in Australia, just had its heart and soul removed. I am sure all these people find it liberating. Merry F#$king Xmas!

And then there was Joe Hockey. He’s a jolly chap isn’t he? You see the National Disability Scheme is expensive. It’s proving to be more expensive than first thought. Says Hockey, We are determined to deliver the NDIS but it has to be affordable,” (Note that he has used the term’determined’ which in this authors view is short of an absolute committment ) Suddenly the NDIS, which was officially launched in Victoria, Tasmania, NSW and Adelaide in July  this year has become not a launch but a trial. The focus on cost and the shift in describing the NDIS as a trial rather than a launch fooled no one.

The disability sector has a right to be worried about this non to subtle shift in its approach to the NDIS from the Government. The Government can wax lyrical about the NDIS being expensive and needing to be affordable but at the end of the day what they are doing is positioning themselves for a watered down version of the NDIS. What is really galling is that support to people with a disability is already done on the cheap. Care workers, for example, are paid a pittance. Indeed early price lists for purchasing equipment and services set out by the former Government were horrendously unrealistic and underpriced. Hockey is right on one thing; the former Government got it wrong. It was always going to be more expensive than they thought.

But providing full support to people with a disability is always going to cost what it will cost. For the NDIS to work and for people with a disability to be able to fully participate and have their needs met the simple answer is you have to pay what you have to pay. You cannot water it down and cut corners. The alternative is that people with a disability remain stuck at home – unable to work, unable to play and unable to be full members of our society. They same applies for their carers.  Are carers expected to never work and in many cases still be caring for their children who have disabilities well into their twilight years?

Mr. Hockey and his band of scrooges have to know the NDIS is not a COST. It is an investment.  It is an investment that will, in the long run, reap enormous benefits for people with a disability and the whole of Australia. Indeed Deakin University Academic Elizabeth Manning, whose 16 year old daughter has cerebral palsy, had this to say, “The NDIS makes cold, hard dollar sense. Thinking about it as some sort of welfare to be cut in bad times allows old-fashioned prejudice against people with disabilities to trump efficiency and money-saving investment.”  Manning goes on to perceptively point out – “There is nothing efficient about leaving people with disability and their families to spiral into crisis, when informal family carers continue to save taxpayers significant costs. People providing informal care are the most vulnerable group in the country, with the lowest levels of well-being and the most prone to poverty, marriage breakup and depression”

Understand this Mr. Hockey – Not rolling out the NDIS properly and focusing on costs and not social and economic benefits of the NDIS is the wrong way to go.  There is a reason Australian’s with a disability have some of the highest rates of poverty in the world and it is because this country does not provide for them properly. Focusing on cost rather than need is going to cost this country more in the long run. It’s just going to put more pressure and more cost on the welfare system. Worse, potentially it will cause great human suffering that need not occur.  Mr. Hockey is so in the Xmas spirit that he has chosen to raise all of this at Xmas, thus causing great duress and concern among those who live the disability experience. It must be nice to know that you are a burden to the country, especially at Xmas. Merry f#$king Xmas Mr. Hockey!

Moving away from the Government, mega rich BHP has sacked a deaf worker. The deaf worker in question has met every requirement of the job. He has passed all the tests including the Occupational Health and Safety test. Reports suggest he is an excellent and capable worker. BUT – BHP sacked him because of perceived communication problems. This is mega rich BHP, who I am pretty sure has the dosh to implement a system that will overcome any perceived communication difficulties. But no! Being deaf is a problem, even if you are an outstanding and capable worker. So off you go and play tiddly-winks or some other none to pressing or arduous occupation.  BHP are now subject to a human rights complaint for their troubles. ( May they lose and lose badly)  And so to you, the non to clever people at BHP, I say – Merry F#$king Xmas.

Over in South Australia the Deaf community had what is very likely the last function at their spiritual and cultural home that is affectionately known as 262. Regular readers of The Rebuttal will know the mega rich Townsend House, who are responsible for Deaf Can Do, have decided that to retain services for the Deaf community that they have to sell 262. This is despite members of the Deaf community making it clear that they would rather keep their building. They have let it be known, almost as one, that the services of Deaf Can Do have no value to them.

But it’s fashionable to ignore the very people that you are funded to serve. So 262 will be sold and un-needed and largely unwanted services will be subsidised from the sale. BUT the jolly souls at Townsend House have said they will buy the Deaf community a new home that the Deaf community will have full control over. BUT it seems that buying the said home is to have conditions with it. Conditions like having the money to look after the new home, which of course the Deaf community do not have. Money that they are now going to have to work their butts off to find.

Money that they do not have because Townsend House will sell the Deaf communities only asset. Of course you would think they would give some of the proceeds of the sale of 262 to the Deaf community to invest so that they can use it to maintain their new home. This may actually occur but until we know for sure it seems that the Deaf community are to be forever at the mercy of these unwanted masters at Townsend House. Always fearing another episode of mismanagement from the masters will put the foundations of the Deaf community at risk. To the masters at Townsend House I say – Merry F#$king Xmas. (Please note that the views I have expressed here are my own and should not be taken to be the views of the South Australian Deaf community or used to victimise the South Australian Deaf community in anyway.)

But do not despair! The Xmas spirit still exists. Of course it takes a child to remind us of this as we adults do our best to make a hash of the world. Just watch Claire Koch, who is just 5 years old, sign her schools Xmas carols for her Deaf parents – Completely unprompted! Watch her eyes and facial expressions – They are a joy!

And that is truly what Xmas is about. Merry Xmas everyone!

[1] I actually wrote “onwards and upwards chaps” – but thought this a little un-pc … I mean women are hardly chaps are they?

The Mind Game!




With thanks to Julie Judd for the Auslan translation that she provided at no charge. We are fortunate to have one of Australia’s finest interpreters providing us with much needed assistance for the Deaf community. Thank you Julie.

The real disability of deafness is not the lack of hearing but the way it plays with your mind. My friend Adam (not his real name) reminded me of this today. Adam and I were discussing deaf issues and Adam came out with an extraordinary statement. He said that he had not really fully come to terms with his hearing loss until he was 35. Even now Adam doesn’t see himself as Deaf and he certainly doesn’t see himself as hearing. Said Adam, “In some ways it’s similar to the questions of identity I faced when moving from the UK to Australia as a 10 year old. I am neither English nor Australian, but a mixture of the two. They are both comfortably familiar, but I feel I don’t particularly belong in either place. I just happen to live here, and that’s enough. Being Hard of Hearing is like that. We are not hearing, but we are not Deaf. We do not have a strong identity like the Deaf community, but we do experience many of the same or similar issues with access.”

Adam’s story is so typical of people who are born deaf but have had a mainstreamed education. Adam lived in a rural area and was bullied at school. He did not take this lying down and sometimes saw fit to retaliate. He admits he was sometimes disruptive in class. Perhaps it was his way of trying to be a cool kid and compensate for his deafness. Adam admits that he did not start wearing his hearing aids until he was 19 years old, perhaps another sign that he was in some kind of denial about his deafness.

His mother was active in the local area. She became an interpreter even though Adam did not himself sign. She set up a local parent support group for parents of deaf kids.  Adam never attended any functions that were organised by his mother. Adam admits it was because he just wanted to be seen as normal and for him mixing with other people who were deaf was anything but normal. Perhaps he just thought he was above those deaf people, after all he had done well at school and was pretty bright. He didn’t have problems, right?

Adam got through University with minimal support. He never asked for anything extra. Later he was to suffer from clinical depression. This is interesting because there is much research that indicates that depression and anxiety are much higher among people who are deaf. A few years later, most likely to try and understand where his depression may have come from, he attended a conference that focused on deafness and mental health. He was in his thirties by this time and got involved with members of the Deaf community for the first time.

Apart from needing to request some support at work his first experience of advocating for himself was when he started his Masters degree in 2010. He advocated hard for the University to provide him with captioning. It was a godsend and enabled him to complete his studies. Studying counselling provided Adam with an opportunity to self-reflect. It taught him a lot about himself and how his deafness had shaped him. But it took almost 35 years. Better late than never I guess.

Adam’s experience has many parallels with my own.  I refused to wear hearing aids for a long time. They were like a beacon that made me stand out like a sore thumb. I just wanted to be like everyone else. I remember friends showing off their ability to finger spell and me avoiding them like the plague – after all I wasn’t like those other deaf people – I spoke, I didn’t need this hand talk stuff.

Looking back I was an absolute mess. I was immature and lacking in any sort of confidence.  Interestingly, a bit like Adam, I was later to discover that I wasn’t really Deaf either. Although I had Deaf friends and partook in Deaf community activities I had a lot of hearing values. English was my language of choice, although I used sign language for social and professional needs. But I was very conscious that this Deaf culture they spoke about and this Deaf identity they spoke about was not really me. Do not get me wrong, I respect Deaf culture and the Deaf identity immensely.  A mark of my respect for it is that I understand what it really means and for me to claim it as my own would be a real insult to those that really do embrace Deaf culture and their Deaf identity.

Like Adam I was presented with an opportunity to really reflect on how my deafness had shaped me. For Adam it was studying counselling for me it was a job that I took on. This job was a research project titled the National Mental Health Education Project for Young Deaf People. What an eye opener that was!

The aim of this project was simply to identify factors that impacted on the development of positive mental health in young deaf people and then use this information to develop a model of support that could target some of these factors. As I researched I came across issues like bullying, family interaction, communication cycles, peer learning and stuff like how overhearing helps us to mature and develop. I learnt how overhearing helps us to develop the vocabulary we need to interact through each stage of our lives. It was fascinating.

I remember being completely gobsmacked by the story of the dinner table. It is a simple story where everyone chats away, it goes something like this. Mums talking, dads talking, siblings are talking and in the background the news is on television. Dad hears something on the TV and begins a discussion on it with one of his sons. The daughter pipes in and adds her views and in no time the discussion is lively and animated. Jokes are made and laughter happens.

Meanwhile the deaf child is sitting there watching it all, understanding nothing. As the family gets more and more animated the deaf child gets interested. In an effort to get involved the deaf child asks his mother, always the mother, what are you talking about. Mother looks at him and says – “Something about the war in Afghanistan, I’ll tell you later.”  Of course the deaf child gets back to his dinner. The opportunity for interaction, learning, language development and relationship building is lost forever.

This was the story that really inspired me because it reflected absolutely my own family experience. It was the story that really summed up my existence in a hearing world. It was a world where you were constantly struggling to get just tid-bits of information. And this information was the nectar of life. It is what makes you as a person and shapes you. Without it you face a constant battle to develop the language and information you need to interact with society in the different stages of life from childhood through to adolescence and adulthood. It is classic Erikson stages of life theory.

And this is what I meant at the start of this article when I said that deafness plays with the mind. Yet we as a society still largely focus on trying to make deaf kids hear. This is ok, and for some it helps a lot. But it doesn’t help enough. There is so much that kids who are deaf miss out on. Through my work I would often meet with kids who were described as having a mild to moderate hearing loss. What always struck me is that they would bemoan the fact that they missed out a lot in group settings. They would describe to me how much of a struggle it was for them to be part of the social group. Everyone thought because their hearing loss was relatively mild it did not have that much impact. The reality is that for these young mild to moderately deaf people It was hard, hard work. I suspect that this is the same for many young people with Cochlear implants.

I was fortunate that in 1999 I was given the opportunity to develop a program in Adelaide that focussed on the development of positive mental health in young deaf people. I developed a program that used role models, mentors and peer learning. We supported families using what we called communication mentors. A deaf person would go to the deaf kids family home. This was usually always after hours. We planned it this way because we wanted all the family involved. We wanted families to understand that they had a place in the communication cycle and this included grandparents and even close friends. We wanted families to be aware of the immense responsibilities placed on mothers to interpret all the family communication to the deaf kid. We wanted this responsibility shared. We wanted families to develop communication and include the deaf kids as much as they could. Why? Because it is through this communication that so much life learning occurs.

The communication mentor would share their own experiences and their own frustrations of growing up in a hearing family. They would pass on the skills, experience and knowledge that they had developed as a “successful deaf person” to the family.  This assisted the family to support the deaf kids to be more active members of the family. And it worked! Oh yes it worked. It wasn’t perfect but it targeted the real issues. It wasn’t just about making the deaf kid hear well. It was about everyone in the family being aware of the importance of communication and chipping in.

Then we had peer groups, life skill mentors, leadership groups. We linked young deaf people up in the country with young deaf people in the city.  We did this with really basic video conferencing. (It was 2000, fast internet was not yet here.) Together these country and city deaf kids planned events and functions. Signing and oral kids were thrown in a room and made to work out strategies where all could communicate. Groups of deaf kids role-played situations where they had to negotiate support needs at work or university and with real life professionals. It was all about developing “Deaf Life Skills” and entering into adult life with the skills and knowledge to be a successful deaf adult in life. That’s why we called it the SAIL program – Successful Adults in Life.

I say this without reservations and without a hint of conceit. It was the best program of its type in Australia and probably right up there among the best programs in the world. I was proud of it. I was really proud of it especially when it was expanded to include Blind and vision impaired kids. It expanded to four full time staff and every one of them was either deaf, blind or had a disability. And we had 30 or so casual mentors all who went through a training program. All who were required to do a Mandatory Reporting course. They were not volunteers; they were valued and paid workers. It was Australia’s first real Deaf Mentor program.

I said to my friend Adam that I wished that as a young kid that he and I could have had access to the SAIL program. I can tell you now it would have made my life so much easier entering into adulthood. The psychosocial needs of deaf kids are much neglected and not well understood.

So what happened to the SAIL program? Well the sensory sector in South Australia pulled it apart and destroyed it. Rather than try to understand its benefits they wanted its money. We had $300 000 back in 2000 and all the sensory sector did was fight over it. The program was evaluated independently and 98% of respondents indicated that they thought it was an extremely valued and needed program. Eventually SAIL was swallowed up into the services of Townsend House and operated by people who had no clue as to its purpose. It’s now, sadly, but a shadow of what it once was. Rest in peace SAIL – I hope that you can be resurrected someday soon. The Adam’s and the me’s of this world need you.



AbbottAustralia is screwed. About the only thing going right at the moment is that Australia’s cricket team has found its mojo and is giving the Pom’s a right old drubbing. Apart from that the whole country is going to the dogs. In fact the very funny, but valid, Urban Dictionary has come up with a new term. When something mean, wrong and unfair happens we say that the person or entity has been Abbotted.  Lose your job – You have been Abbotted. Get denied the right to marry – You have been Abbotted. Get thrown in a detention centre because you dared to seek a better life – You have been Abbotted.  Get denied basic care needs because the Government wants to save money – You have been Abbotted. Blame everyone else including the former government for your own meanness – You are Abbotting. Jokes aside it is really sad and serious. [1]

And Australia is becoming mean. Make no mistake about it.  In the Hunter valley a young man with multiple disabilities has been denied the chance to attend his school formal. His school thought it might be a tad embarrassing to have him there so neglected to provide him with an invite. His mother complained and received an apology. Gracefully the mother accepted the apology but has demanded action to ensure something like this never happens again. I can’t tell you much more beyond that. You see the story is a video story on the Nine NBN news site. Channel Nine is to mean to provide captioning. The Government is also to mean to enforce companies to provide captioning. Hence 3 or 4 million deafies like myself get no access. Damn it, Abbotted again![2]

Last weekend in Canberra there were many happy Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender (GLBTS) couples who got married. For the first time ever it was legal for such couples to get married. The Canberra Government legislated for such marriages to occur. As a result GLBTS couples from all over Australia converged on Canberra and legally got married for the first time. They were to be happy for no more than five days. This is all the time it took for their marriages to be annulled. You see George KING KONG Brandis, Australia’s newest Attorney General, doesn’t like such marriages and decided to puff out his chest and challenge the legislation in the High Court. Of course these people getting married were hurting no one at all but Brandis wanted to be King. Stupidly the High Court said Commonwealth Laws superseded the Canberra legislation and the marriages were null and void. Abbotted again and with a dose of Brandisitis to go with it. [3]

Rarely have I been so angry at a decision from the Government as the one that led to these marriages becoming void. I think probably 80% of Australians are in favour of GLBTS couples being allowed to marry, Some religious groups and others, that I can only describe as idiots, are opposed. Most of the idiots are in Government unfortunately. I reckon the whole of Australia should just shut down in protest until the Government sees sense. Go on a National Strike so to speak. It is not that far fetched. In fact it is already happening over in Iceland. Not so much because GLBTS couples can’t marry but because the Icelandic Government was crap.

A group of citizens (a lot of them) protested outside Iceland’s parliament. They forced the Government to resign and then this group rewrote the countries constitution. People power at it’s best. If we continue to get Abbotted in the manner that we currently are, I suggest this is the way to go. POWER TO THE PEOPLE! [4]

But Abbotting is not always visual. Sometimes it happens by stealth. Last year the Labor Government launched the much vaunted National Disability Insurance Scheme. The disability community across Australia rejoiced and celebrated. Of course the launch of the scheme was just the beginning. Much work needed to happen to make the scheme strong and workable. Recognising this, the Labor Government designed the launch in such a way that there was flexibility to amend and change how the scheme operated as it was rolled-out. Now let’s be clear here, the NDIS was OFFICIALLY launched. It is supposed to be the real thing and was to be national by 2018-2019.

Then, of course, Labor got turfed out of power. Australian’s got fed up of the inability of the Labor Party to govern itself. I mean if you can’t govern yourself you can’t Govern the country can you? So the whole of Australia got Abbotted as Australians voted the Abbott Government in. Of course the Abbott Government had promised until it was blue in the face that the NDIS would not be touched. Even though treasurer Joe Hockey said Australia needed to get in surplus before it got an NDIS Mr. Abbott publicly stated the NDIS would go ahead unheeded.

Now of late the Abbott Government has slightly changed its language in describing the NDIS.[5] You will note the Labor Government LAUNCHED the NDIS. Mr. Abbott has had a subtle change of language. You see the sites where the NDIS was launched are now described as trial sites – It’s no longer a launch. Prime Minister Abbott has said that although he – ” … absolutely” supported the scheme, there was a need to establish it on a sustainable basis”

And there you might actually have the first indication that the NDIS is about to be watered down in then interest of “sustainability”  Be afraid, be very afraid because it is not beyond reality that the NDIS is about to suffer a dose of dreaded Abbotting too. Remain diligent is all I can say and take lessons from the Icelanders.

On a brighter note there was a fake sign language interpreter at Nelson Mandela’s funeral. Some guy, apparently accredited as an interpreter, got up on stage and in front of billions of people worldwide flapped his arms and body in a series of made up gestures and pantomime. Worldwide the Deaf community and the interpreting profession were outraged. They went into overdrive. They protested and let it be known that the interpreter was a fake. They let the world know what real sign language interpreting was all about.

I profess I had a little giggle. Not because I am disrespectful of sign language, I use it in social and professional life after all, but because the fake interpreter was allowed to have got up on stage at all. It was an ironic kind of giggle, if you get my gist. But this fake interpreter has been a godsend for the Deaf community and the Sign Language interpreting profession because it has brought incredible attention to interpreting and sign language in a way that could not have been hoped for. And it has been mostly positive. Sure its shameful that Mr. Mandela’s funeral was tarnished in this way but the irony is that, even in death, Mr. Mandela is helping the oppressed. I would rather be Mandellered any day.

So on a rather depressing note I bring a year of The Rebuttal to an end. May 2014 be a better year for everyone. May you all avoid a dreaded Abbotting and continue to prosper. Despite the depressing last Rebuttal of the year – Life is generally good – But stay diligent people – Let’s keep the Abbotting to the minimum.

[3] Overseas readers may be puzzled by this. To explain Australia is a mish mash of Federal, State and territory laws. Canberra itself is a Territory and has its own laws. The trouble is that if the State or territory laws contradict Commonwealth laws, the Commonwealth wins.

Gary and Melissa’s Excellent Adventure.

imageI awoke at 5am. I was feeling queasy and a little bloated. I had a big day ahead of me at work and I was also flying out to Sydney to attend the Deaf Sports Australia AGM. I went to the couch to watch some cooking shows on Foxtel. I thought this preferable to tossing and turning and keeping my wife awake. None of them were captioned so I gave up and went back to bed. I slept fitfully.

By 7.30am I knew this was not some small tummy bug. The pain was worsening. I emailed work to let them know that I would not be in. I decided to rest in the hope that things would settle in time for my 4.30pm flight. By 2pm they had not settled but they were no worse. I decided to chance it in the hope that it was a 24 hour bug. I packed my bag and went to the airport.

At the airport I was meeting Melissa, the Prez of Deaf Sport Recreation Victoria. (DSRV) We were both representing DSRV at the AGM. The flight was delayed an hour because there had been storms in Sydney. Not that we actually knew this for sure. It is something I deduced having seen the weather on Sunrise that morning. There was nothing on the airport screens to let us know. If there were any PA announcements we had no access to these either for obvious reasons.

The flight was uneventful. Apart from the fact I was in a bit of pain. Even though my tummy ached my bowel movements had been fairly normal. It was uncomfortable but I endured the journey. Chatting to Melissa helped and then a bit of deep breathing got me over the line.

We landed uneventfully. In fact it was a beautiful landing. Melissa and I agreed that it was one of the softest landings we had ever experienced. It is ironic that from that moment onwards everything became a nightmare.

We were to be trapped in that plane for almost three hours.  Problems caused by the storms earlier had seen an enormous amount of cancelled or delayed flights. Planes were banked up for miles awaiting an opening at the arrivals gate so that passengers could get off. Initially Melissa and I just shrugged and attributed things to the storm.

After an hour we both became a little anxious. We were tired and hungry and I was in a lot of pain. Obviously we had no access to the PA announcements so had no clue as to what was happening and when we might be able to escape the plane. I tried to grab the attention of a flight attendant with no success. I tried lip-reading them as they were talking to passengers in the aisle. In the end I just asked the guy next to me, which I should have done in the first place.

I told him that we were deaf and asked if he could fill us in. He was not an easy guy to lip-read either but he did his best. I managed to get a little of the story. Long queues of planes  that were all waiting for a berth at arrivals and that it was not known how long things would be. The guy was great from then on. If he heard something he would tell us how much time it was going to be before the plane moved on.

Of course, my pain just got steadily worse. I was cramped up in a small seat, never a nice thing for a big guy. I was steadily getting dehydrated too. In short I felt crap. I tried sleeping, deep breathing and rocking. Melissa thought the rocking made me look like a praying Jewish guy.

Eventually, after about two hours, I got a flight attendants attention. As luck would have it he was very camp and spoke at 100 miles per hour. Even though I told him I was deaf he must have thought that I was the worlds greatest lip-reader because he yammered on, fluttered his eye lids and gesticulated excessively. About the only thing I understood was that there were lots of planes, we just had to be patient and he had no idea for how long. Come to think of it that’s probably all he did say but in 10 000 words.

So we were stuck in the plane for almost three long, tedious and painful hours. Even when we berthed we had to wait half an hour until they managed to get the plane doors open. But eventually we did get off and I was in a bad way.

Melissa and I decided to catch a train to our destination. We purchased our tickets and headed to the platform. The screens said the train was to arrive in 3 minutes. Half an hour or so later no trains had been sighted. In fact, in that time at least four should have arrived but they did not. I asked a guy what was going on. He had no idea. We checked the screens but there was no information there either. It is apparent that no PA announcements had been made so we were all in the dark. So much for Disability Commissioner, Graeme Innes, suing Rail Corp for the lack of audio announcements for the blind at train stations. Mr Innes was awarded $10 000 and donated this to charity. It seems that the charity is the only entity that benefitted from the whole saga.

I was feeling so bad that I told Melissa we had no option but to catch a taxi. This was going to be expensive because Parramatta is a long way from the airport. Of course there was a long line up for the taxi. Eventually, almost an hour later we got into a taxi. As I do, I told the taxi driver I was deaf and needed to lip read him. He was of Indian or Pakistani origin and impossible to lip-read.

Melissa and I were dog tired. It was past midnight by this time. To our horror the driver was in no hurry to leave. He wanted more people in the cab … Shared cabs are all the rage. He spent ten minutes seeking another passenger. Eventually we took off. The driver then proceeded to talk to Melissa and I from the front seat.  I was dozing in the back and was rudely awoken by Melissa because she could not understand the driver. No matter that we had told him we were deaf, he just spoke to us as per normal.

By this time I was at the end of my tether. I rather tersely told him again that we were deaf, could not understand him, reminded him of the address and told him not to bother talking because we could not understand him. Eventually we arrived at the hotel $122 poorer. Probably more expensive than the actual flight.

By this time I was a wreck. Melissa was also shattered. But the sorry saga was far from over. The guy at reception was of what seemed Filipino origin. And also impossible to lip-read. What is more, he steadfastly refused to write for me to make communicating easier. So after another half hour haggling with him because the room had apparently not been paid for, we eventually got to our room. In a great deal of pain I crashed immediately onto the bed.

After a few hours of trying to get to sleep the pain became unbearable. I got dressed grabbed my wallet and began to look for a taxi out the front of the hotel. Luckily for me there was a nightclub across the road. At they front of of the nightclub was a line up of taxis waiting to ferry drunk patrons home. I approached a taxi and the driver was of Sikh origin, replete with head gear.

Luckily he was not difficult to lip-read. I was in obvious pain and asked the driver to take me to the nearest hospital emergency department. He claimed he did not know where it was, closed the door in my face and drove off. My face, grimacing in severe pain, must have scared him off. I tend to think the driver was just an arsehole.

Eventually and after a bit more messing about I got to the hospital. This was the Westmead Hospital in Parramatta. And I have only the highest praise for them. Of course the nurses and doctors there were not without there comical moments When it came to communicating with me.

To witness Dr Henry throw everything he had into communicating with me was a thing of joy. His miming of diarrhea and projectile vomit were things of absolute comic relief. Henry was probably of Chinese origin and dressed immaculately with a collared shirt and tie. So his pantomime to communicate with me was all the more funny to watch. I made a joke with the other doctors that I preferred Dr Henry because he was walking theatre.

And there was the red head nurse who upon realising I was deaf, shoved his face inches from mine any proceeded to shout at me. I pushed him away and told him that his behaviour did not help the situation. He then proceeded to use passable sign language. He had some deaf friends he said. With over the top behaviour like that I am not sure for how much longer he will have any deaf friends.

Three days on it’s been an adventure, but perhaps not an excellent one. Tomorrow I head to surgery to have my gall bladder removed. An interpreter will be present so hopefully it will all be plain sailing from here on. As for Melissa the rest of her weekend was uneventful. As for me the adventure continues. 😀



The Fish Rots From the Head

fishSometimes when I feel really strongly about someone or an organisation I have to temper what I really want to say. Strong words usually come to the fore. Words like idiot, stupid, moron, pathetic and so on. In the end, depending on the context, I usually settle for three. These three words are … NOT VERY BRIGHT. When I use this term it is no slur on intelligence or the lack of … It is just my way of saying, in the kindest way possible way, someone is being extremely stupid.

So I will say it. Paul McClintock, Chairman of Myer, is NOT VERY BRIGHT. McClintock was interviewed by Damon Kitney of the Australian. The interview was printed on Saturday, 16th November. To recap; in May Myer CEO, Bernie Brookes, made the astounding statement that the NDIS would mean that Myer would suffer. According to Brookes the levy that was legislated to pay for the NDIS though Medicare would mean that less people would spend money at Myer. Brookes thought that this was unfair.

Disability advocates around Australia were rightfully outraged. They were outraged because Brookes clearly showed that he had no understanding whatsoever of the potential that is the NDIS. This is particularly baffling because Brookes is a business man. The NDIS, potentially, is going to create employment. It’s going to mean people with a disability all over Australia can get out and spend their money where as before many were confined largely to their own homes. It possibly will give greater capacity to many to obtain employment. Carers, who previously spent a large chunk of their time looking after their disabled children (many now adults), could be supported better. These carers would have more time and more money to spend.  So the loss created by the levy potentially was offset by the gains. These are the economic arguments.

Brookes was having none of this.  In his simplistic and black and white world the NDIS levy is a bad thing. Myer and other traders will be the losers. What is more Brookes failed to even acknowledge the enormous social reform that the NDIS would bring with it. Instead he chose to paint the disabled as burdens that were going to cost Myer and Australia money.

The disability sector got angry, and rightly so. For years people with a disability have been, and continue to be, undervalued.  Brookes’ comments were not just narrow-minded but they were a slur on every single person with a disability in Australia. It is well documented that Disability Commissioner, Graeme Innes, made a public call for Myer to right the wrong by increasing the number of people with a disability in their workforce.

It’s an old story and the controversy has long since died down. But Mr McClintock, for reasons known only to himself, decided to resurrect it. Not only did Mr McClintock resurrect the story and the controversy but he defended Mr Brookes. What is worse he all but retracted the apology that Myer made for the offence that Mr Brookes caused. I am sorry Mr McClintock but that was NOT VERY BRIGHT.

Said McClintock, ” …in retrospect I regret the second statement. Because it implied that we were in the wrong, and we weren’t. There was absolutely no reason for us to apologise,” I am sorry Mr. McClintock, but there was. Your CEO labeled people with a disability as a drain on Australia. Your CEO labeled people with a disability as a burden. Your CEO basically told Australia that people with a disability had no value. Understandably, this caused anger and distress.

For his ill informed comments Mr. Brookes got immense backlash. I am sure he got a lot of personal attacks which would have been very distressing. But at the end of the day his comments were ill thought out and in many ways even callous. People with a disability are knocked down and discriminated against everyday. For the CEO of such a large and iconic company like Myer to publically imply that the NDIS and people with a disability were not worth the money was just, well, NOT VERY BRIGHT.

Instead of leaving an issue that had long since petered out it well alone McClintock decided to boast. He boasted that he took the people on who had attacked Myer and won. He then went on to say the attacks on Myer and its CEO were unjustified. Well the Australians with a disability, their families and their supporters would beg to differ.

Apparently the attack on Myer, largely through the social media, damaged the Myer brand. Said McClintock, “Yes, lots of people pressed the button, signed up the petition, but was there any real evidence people had thought through and understood the issues?”  So now we are all sheep. We are simply followers that press a button cos its fun to do so. We don’t understand the issues. We don’t understand what the NDIS can potentially bring nor do we understand what people with a disability need. Is Mr McClintock for real?

Let’s be clear Mr. McClintock, the damage to the Myer brand was not done by people with a disability, their associates or supporters. It was done solely by the leaders of Myer. Firstly by CEO Mr. Brookes with his ill thought out comments and secondly by the subsequent response of the Myer Board that first apologised half heartedly then apologised fully. This damage has been further compounded by the NOT VERY BRIGHT Mr. McClintock who resurrected the issue and claimed the apology was an error.

The apology was the only thing that Myer did right in the whole fiasco. The fish rots from the head Mr. McClintock. It is time for the leaders of Myer to accept responsibility for the damage that they have done. Not so much to Myer, but to all people with a disability.

Off With Their Heads

chopIn 2005 retired doctor, Owen Lister, suggested that disabled children would be better off guillotined. Lister was the Deputy Mayor of the Swindon Municipality at the time. Lister’s reasoning was that money spent on the care of children with disabilities would be better of spent elsewhere. Unsurprisingly the controversy that ensued from Lister’s comments led to him resigning. Even though he resigned he was unrepentant. Said Lister, “It shows how peculiar we are as a society on this matter that we spend this vast amount of money caring for disabled youngsters to very little purpose at all. It would be better spent on those who might actually benefit, such as cancer sufferers.” Off with their heads! A totally reasonable response to the issue – What the …?

This story, even though it was printed in 2005, is still doing the rounds on Facebook. What the story highlights is that many people in our society, more than we care to acknowledge, think that the value of the lives of people with a disability is somehow of less value than for people who do not have a disability. No wonder so many people with a disability have such low self-esteem!

I recall a horrific story that occurred soon after current Prime Minister of Britain, David Cameron, was elected. Cameron’s Government has embarked on a tough policy of reassessing people with a disability who receive welfare payments. Soon after Cameron’s election there was a horrific story of a wheelchair using man being tipped out of his wheelchair and abused. As the story goes the man was accosted by a group of thugs and hauled out of his wheelchair. The thugs stood around him and hurled abuse. They are alleged to have shouted at the man, “Get up and walk you bludger.”

A succession of Australian Labor and Liberal Governments have also targeted people with a disability who receive the Disability Support Pension (DSP). The argument is that it is better for these people to work rather than be receiving the pension. There are also many thousands of people with a disability, according to the Government, who can work and are abusing the system by receiving the DSP. Rather than have these people be a burden on the public purse the Government wants them all to go to work. However, if it was that easy for people with a disability to get work then the employment rate for people with a disability would have increased. It has not; in fact it has remained stagnant for over 40 years. This really shows just how our society values people with a disability.

I read once of an experiment that was conducted by a man who was blind. This man sent out two separate blocks of 100 job applications. In one set of applications he indicated that he is blind. For these applications he received not one offer of an interview. In other set of applications he did not disclose the fact that he is blind. For these applications he received 73 offers for an interview. That’s pretty damning evidence on just how society views people with a disability isn’t it? By and large society seems to view people with a disability as incapable and too much of a problem to consider seriously. Prejudice is rampant.

Not only is the wider community guilty of undervaluing people with a disability in employment but the Government is too. Why else would the representation of people with a disability employed by the Australian Public Service have decreased by more than half since the 1980s? At one stage people with a disability made up more than 6% of people working in the public service. This figure is now under 3%. This is the Government that claims that people with a disability are a drain on the economy and need to work. Perhaps it should help the cause a little more.

The case of Kyla Puhle is a sad and glaring example of how the wider society values the lives people with a disability. Kyla’s disabilities required constant care. Caring for Kyla would have been very stressful. Kyla received respite support to address some of her needs. For some unknown reason her mother, Angela Puhle, and her father decided to remove Kyla from the care that had helped to provide for some of her needs.

Instead Kyla was left at home in a bean-bag and severely neglected. She died at the age of 27. When she was found dead she weighed just 12 kilograms. She had been neglected to the point that she had starved to death. She had been neglected by both of her parents.The father was later to commit suicide in shame. Angela Puhle received a suspended sentence for manslaughter. She was required to pay a $1000 bond.

It is true that Angela Puhle’s life was tragic, even hard. A host of excuses were put forward in her defence. Central to these excuses was that Angela Puhle’s treatment of her daughter was a coping strategy. As Stella Young pointed out in her hard hitting article, Disability is no Justification for Murder, “ …the offense of ill treatment of an animal – whether or not that ill treatment results in death – carries a maximum penalty of $50,000 or four years in prison.” What is the price for the life of a person with a disability? A $1000 suspended sentence. Regardless of the circumstances of Angela Puhle’s life, the punishment handed down by the court says a lot about how society values the lives of people with a disability doesn’t it?

In Australia this year the country laughed when a footballer set a dwarf alight. To add insult to injury, when told of this story on national television, one of the highest ranked sports administrators in the land slapped the desk and guffawed out loud. The footballer in question tried to excuse his behaviour as just having a laugh. In this country last week carers of children with a disability, tired of waiting in despair as their children suffer in pain in wheelchairs that they have grown out of, have had to embark on de-humanising fundraising campaigns to replace their child’s wheelchair. Would any of this happen if society really valued people with a disability? I think not.

I, for one, know who I would like to use the guillotine on – and it is not people with a disability.

Incus Films – By Tony Nicholas

Incus Films is a new production group founded by Tracey Savage in consultation with my good self.

We have created a survey, which can be found at

There is a multitude of content out there that has never been captioned and missed out on a big portion of audience and content that is captioned but is not easily accessible. Incus Films goal is to investigate and bridge this gap.

We are investigating building a fully accessible online portal where all films and videos are captioned. The aim is to have a website where Deaf and Hearing Impaired people, as well as those of us who need or enjoy captions for one reason or another can, access all the films and videos on the site knowing every one of them is captioned.

Our first foray into accessible media was the Read My Shorts, short film festival, staged in Sydney, Australia, and ran for six weeks in 2010. Every film shown at the festival was captioned. For Deaf and Hearing Impaired people, they had a choice of screenings, and for the film makers, it opened up a potential new audience. This project is a follow on from that.

To help us create the best site possible, we need your help.

It is a series of qestions about how you watch content and how you use captions (whether you do or not your input is still valid). We would appreciate it if you would take the time to complete this survey. If you would also forward this to family, friends and networks, that would be good.The data we receive, will be used to help inform the potential for this online portal. We want to create a product with high quality, accessible captioned film and video, with the best possible user interface.

We also plan to raise funds to get this project off the ground, pending the outcome of this and other market research. It will be a great way to access content never captioned before and another portal for filmmakers to get their work to a larger audience.

That’s why your input is really important.

If you have any questions you can write to:

Tracey Savage or I, will be happy to answer.

The Perils of Language

If the English language made any sense, lackadaisical would have something to do with a shortage of flowers.   – Doug Larson

1380578_10153377401325311_779322537_nThe only thing about language that one can say with any certainty is that it will eventually trip you up, particularly the English language. I have long said that English is the most nonsensical language of all. It is so complicated that the mere misplacement of a comma can change the meaning of a sentence completely.

A great example of this is the sentence – Woman without her man is nothing. This sentence was part of a famous research project. Men and women were asked to add commas to the sentence. Inevitably men would punctuate the sentence thus – Woman, without her man, is nothing. Women on the other hand would punctuate the sentence thus – Woman: Without her, man is nothing. This is a great example of the complexities of the English language. The mere placement of the comma can change the meaning of a sentence entirely.

English is full of synonyms and words that break rules . They look the same but sound different. Such words are forever tripping deaf people up, much to the mirth of others. Often reading a word is the first time a deaf person may have have encountered a word. This is because many deaf people miss out on the crucial vocabulary tool of overhearing.

When encountering a word in print for the first time people will typically try to pronounce it phonetically. This happens a lot for deaf people and often they get it horribly wrong. Who the hell thought up silent letters anyway. Without silent letters psychology would be spelt sychology. Even if it was, because we are taught to say things phonetically, many deaf people wouldn’t know if it was pronounced sickology or siekology. It is just cruel. If you want to really grasp the complexities of English consider the following poem:

When the English tongue we speak.
Why is break not rhymed with freak?
Will you tell me why it’s true
We say sew but likewise few?
And the maker of the verse,
Cannot rhyme his horse with worse?
Beard is not the same as heard
Cord is different from word.
Cow is cow but low is low
Shoe is never rhymed with foe.
Think of hose, dose, and lose

In recent days I have been thinking about language and how it embarrasses us constantly. This all came about because during recent and tragic NSW bushfires a sign language interpreter was photographed signing available. This was the source of much merriment to many.

For readers who do not know Australian Sign Language (AUSLAN) the sign for available is two middle fingers pointed upwards, a bit apart. It looks as if the signer is flipping the bird. But what one must also do is move the portruding fingers. One finger goes clockwise and the other goes anti-clockwise. To the untrained eye this actually makes the sign look worse because it gives the impression of flipping the bird repeatedly and to numerous people.

Of course, social-media being what it is, the photograph of the unfortunate interpreter became a national phenomenon. Said one wag, “ All this time I thought I was telling people to f#%k off and I was actually telling them that I was available.” I mean no disrespect to the interpreter in question, and particularly the victims of the bushfires, but this made me laugh. It made me laugh because translating one language to another is fraught with danger. Particularly when one is not proficient in a particular language.

Truth be known, the example of the interpreter signing available and having it misconstrued as a rude sign is not strictly translating. Really it is just people responding to their perceptions. Of course most people do not know sign language so the only perspective they have is what they know. Hence they laugh and mock the available sign because from their field of experience it is a rude gesture. Some hardliners in the Deaf community were actually upset that the general public were making fun of their language. Other nut-jobs have actually called for the sign in question to be banned.

It probably has been a good thing for the Deaf community because it has people talking about sign language. I am pretty sure that because of the photograph more than a few people will start to make some enquiries about sign language. Some of these people will end up learning sign language. Some may actually, over time, become proficient enough to become sign language interpreters. Who knows?

That said, the misunderstanding or misinterpreting of language can have tragic consequences. Consider the case where a very sick patient was being treated at a Florida hospital. The patient and his family only spoke Spanish. They were assisted by a bilingual staff member. The family members were gesticulating and saying intoxicado which the staff member translated as intoxicated. Doctors began to treat the patient as if he was drunk or had a drug overdose. The proper translation of intoxicado is poisoned. The consequence was that the mistreatment led to the patient becoming permanently paralysed. The hospital in question ended up having to payout $71 million to the unfortunate patient. Moral of the story? Always use a professional interpreter.

In today’s world we have infinite opportunities to make a mess of language. We are constantly communicating through any number of electronic devices, virtually 24 hours a day. Sometimes the autocorrect on these devices causes untold embarrassment. I am hopeless with the small keyboard of a smartphone. I am forever making mistakes. It has become so bad that I have apparently invented a new language called GARYSPEAK.


When using mobile devices like smartphones autocorrect mistakes can be hilarious. The web is fully of side splitting examples. Imagine the message to the left appearing on your phone as a text message.

Then of course we have live captioning on TV. Live captioners have the most difficult of jobs. They sometimes make mistakes. Usually this is because they sometimes phonetically present words that they hear. Once they appear on the screen there is no going back.  Live television has been host to some hilarious live captioning errors. Below is an example. This error ironically occurring during bushfires in America: (Evacuating is the correct word)


As William James once said  – Language is the most imperfect and expensive means yet discovered for communicating thought.  ~ We can do well to heed these words, because the mistakes we make with language are often unforgiving.


Whistle Pops and Me!

popsRecently Ramp Up editor Stella young wrote an evocative and moving article on ramp up. Ms Young has what she calls dodgy bones and is a wheelchair user. In the article she wrote a letter to her 16 year old self. Said Young to her self. “ .. The truth is, there will be people who will overlook you, who will pass you over and ignore you. There’ll be people who are really attracted to you, but whose feelings are squashed by the social pressures of what the media and society tells them is acceptable attraction. That’s ok. It’s just the way it goes. The good news is, it’s nowhere near as bad as you think it’s going to be. Not even close.”

In the passage Young is talking about sex and relationships. The reality is that the passage could be about almost anything. It could be about joining a sporting club. It could be about going to work. It could be about attending university for the first time. Ms Young highlights fears and concerns that nearly all people with a disability can relate to.

The paradox of disability is that the physical or medical component of our disability is not really the crux of our worries. The crux of our worries is fitting in. It’s a psychological thing. As a child or a teenager the worst thing ever is to feel different and be left out. In the back of ones mind is always the possibility of rejection. Often rather than be rejected the person with a disability will just withdraw all together. It becomes all too hard.

As a kid and teenager I did not cope with my deafness at all. The focus was always on making me hear better. Doctors, audiologist or special education teachers were all the focus was on. No one helped me to deal with my demons. No one told me how it would be or helped me to understand how I would feel. Make me hear better and ensure that I got educated properly then all would be well. It doesn’t work that way.

Primary school was perhaps not so bad. I lost my hearing at the age of 8. I already had a core group of friends. I was good at sport so acceptance was always there. But deafness does funny things to how others perceive you and it dents your confidence. For example when captains pick the sporting teams, before deafness I was always one of the first picked. After deafness I was the last.

And then their is the subtle bullying. Not the physical, just the psychological. I was a pretty proficient lip-reader but like most lip-readers I would sometimes get it wrong. This caused much mirth among my peers. They would come up to me at the school crossing and mouth, “ ..are you a poof?” I knew what they were asking but I would say yes”. The reactions from all around was mortifying. I learnt very quickly who my friends were. I could not believe that they could be that mean. Even so called best friends would try. In retrospect the damage to my self esteem started very soon after I lost my hearing.

Inevitably your school marks suffer too. I went from a student near the top of my class to an also ran. I was in a mainstream setting with no support. No visiting teacher and no integration aid. I had to fend for myself. Failing a test was something foreign to me and I began to fail a few. When this happens you feel stupid and worthless.

To compensate I tried to become more popular. I became the class clown. Rather than complete work I would shove it under the table. Inevitably this would get me in trouble. When confronted by the teacher I would make flippant remarks that would make the class laugh. I got in lots of trouble but the negative attention was better than no attention at all.

And then high school came. Oh to be different and not fit in at high school is the worst thing ever. Wearing hearing aids was not cool. Losing them was. Allowing the dog to chew the mould up was a strategy. Forgetting hearing aid batteries was common place.

And high school is so much harder. You are going from one class to another. There are different teachers. There are different teaching styles. Some are easy to lip-read and some are not. The first two years at high school, before I attended a unit for the hearing impaired, were a nightmare. These years were so bad that I once wagged school for two weeks straight. Eventually they rang my mum and I was caught. I would just go to shopping centres and read the paper. There is no way I could do that today. If your kid is so much as an hour late they text you to ask where they are.

High school is about maturing too. From running around in the playground and burning energy at primary school your peers suddenly become boring. They want to talk all the time. The want to sit in circles on the oval and discuss who has got the hots for who. If you are deaf, and the only deaf in the village so to speak, interacting in these groups is well nigh impossible.

And how do you learn from your peers so that you can mature. Overhearing and discussing issues like sex and relationships is just so important to a kids development. Discussing what one heard on the radio or over hearing conversations on the bus all contribute so much to social learning. For the deaf kid who is mainstreamed into a hearing school  – It’s a lonely place.

And getting a girlfriend, Oh dear! Oh my god how cringe-worthy that was. I mean I knew girls were interested in me. I would get secret valentines every year, sometimes two even three. But I just had this great fear of approaching girls. There was one girl; Robyn was her name.  I was absolutely besotted with her. I used to walk my dog past her house every day in hope that she would notice me.

After a couple of weeks it was clear that the strategy was not working. Even sitting against the fence at the display homes across the road from her house didn’t seem to work. What I did was buy a whistle pop. You know those lollies that are actually a whistle.  I would walk past her house and blow it as loud as I could. To my horror this strategy actually worked. One day she came out and invited me in.

And I sat at her kitchen table and said absolutely nothing. I grinned stupidly and drank my lemonade. I thanked her and as quickly as possible and got out of there. We never spoke again. Even now at 49 years old I go crimson red just thinking about it.

To me this is what disability is more often about. Sure the physical part of disability causes its issues but the psychological impact of disability and how it affects young kids with a disability gets lip service. It is hard, hard work. It is often emotionally very painful. The scars often carry through to adulthood.

But it gets better. Eventually you do grow up. You get that first kiss. You get that first job. Some of us graduate and have families. Most of us, not all of us unfortunately, do end up having happy, eventful and fulfilling lives. But it takes time. As Stella Young says, ” Go ahead. Lead a rich and messy life. It will get better and better, and just
when you think it can’t get any better than that, it will.”

But it takes time. I just wish we could find a way to make it a wee bit less painful in those early years!