That Chef!!

chefIf you are on Facebook and a Masterchef fan you will be in no doubt that the current Masterchef series has a deaf competitor on it. You would have received, at last count, 5432 notifications letting you know that Bonny is deaf and will be on the show. You would have received any number of articles that have highlighted the fact that Bonny is on the show. These articles, up until the launch of the show yesterday, have been at pains to point out that although Bonny is deaf that they had not made any allowances for her. She was one of the guys and gals and had to compete just like anyone else. She is such a good lip-reader, apparently, that the shows producers even had to cover their mouths when talking secret Masterchef business that competitors were not supposed to be savvy to.

Cynicism aside it’s great that Bonny is on the show. It’s great because being deaf, and a chef in a busy restaurant kitchen is no mean feat. Anyone that is an avid watcher of celebrity chef type shows will know that a kitchen is all about communication. Everything seems to be done at a frantic pace with chefs and kitchen staff yelling out to each other at the top of their voices. It usually goes something like this;


“YES CHEF!!!!”





All of this happens in the midst of a cacophony of banging pots, screaming voices and the occasional smashing of plates and glasses. The chefs must be on their toes. If an order is missed or messed up there is hell to pay. It is a tough place for a deaf person to be so kudos to Bonny and several other deaf chefs that I know for working in such a cut-throat industry.

I took the liberty to Google workplace adjustments for the deaf chef. There is a not a lot of information on the topic but there was an interesting article about a deaf chef from Indonesia and how he had adapted to working in a busy five star hotel kitchen. It seems the chefs develop their own form of communication as can be seen from the following passage from the article, “When Malfatti needs to get Lioe’s attention, he’ll take one of the restaurant’s heat lamps and shine it toward Lioe. Then comes a series of hand gestures: an open hand across the abdomen stands for a slab of ribs, flapping his arms means chicken wings, and tickling the palm of his left hand with the fingers on his right hand replicates a crab, for crab cakes”[1] I am sure each deaf chef has their own unique system but clearly innovative forms of communication need to be and are developed.

But Bonny does not have the time to do this. She has been thrown into a competitive environment where it is every chef for themselves. She has had to adapt, and fast. I am sure as the show goes on there will be some rogue chefs, wanting to win the big prize for themselves, who will make things hard for Bonny. In the world of reality TV it is a dog eat dog.

And of course there are the TV critics. At best Masterchef is corny. It can be riveting entertainment but it is full of cliché and fabricated situations.  Anybody on the show is fair game for journalists and for any Joe/Jane Blow that wants to make cynical and nasty remarks. If it is not in the newspaper it will be done through social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Indeed it has started already and our deaf Bonny has not been spared.

Journalist, Ben Pobjie, writing in the Sydney Morning Herald[2], was scathing. Pobjie is well known for his cutting satire. He did not have many kind things to say about the new Masterchef.  Of Cassie, who last night won immunity, he said, “ … is only 19 and clearly too big for her britches” Next in the firing was Matty who Pobjie disparagingly introduces as having, “ …an early bid to be this season’s Designated Idiotic Hat Wearer.”  He introduces Rhett, “…whose eye was particularly caught by his own dish, a delectable-looking arrangement of colourful paper strips in a glass.

You get the gist? Pobjie has nothing kind to say about anyone. It is very clear that Pobjioe has no time whatsoever for fabricated reality shows such as Masterchef. Each to their own I guess. But Pobjie, it seems, went one step too far. He even had a go at deaf Bonny. Oh dear!

He described Bonny as being, “Disgustingly rude” Why? Because she confronted the esteemed Matt Preston and she, “insolently dares to speak to the great man without being spoken to, with the pathetically thin excuse that she is “deaf” and needs to hook him up with a special microphone…..”

Of course Pobjie is being entirely tongue in cheek with this article but with his remarks about deaf Bonny he has offended many in the Deaf sector. Aussie Deaf Kids put up a question about the article asking if Bonny was being rude or just asserting her needs. Several responses indicate that the reader took great offence to Pobjie’s remarks.

This is best demonstrated by the remarks of David Brady, President of Deafness Forum who said, The comment was grossly insulting and I was shocked to read of it this morning. The writer clearly do not understand that this is what hundreds of thousands of deaf/HI Australians face everyday” He was not the only one miffed either.  Kelly protested the fact that the writer of the article singled out Bonny’s deafness, It wasn’t a great article for anyone, but to pick out someone with a disability is wrong.”

I actually interpreted the writer’s intentions as more having a go at Matt Preston. Mr Preston can sometimes come across as haughty and flamboyant. His loud clothing and plummy voice make he seem aloof, which he is not. But by singling out the one incident where Bonny was disclosing her needs Pobjie hit a raw nerve.

Let’s be honest. The whole article was nasty. He did not have a kind word to say about anyone. He clearly is very cynical about reality shows. By writing about Bonny in the way he did perhaps he was showing us all that he felt Bonny was the equal of all of them. Perhaps by not shying away from including Bonny in his nasty diatribe he was demonstrating that he thought Bonny was made of stern stuff. In short he did not discriminate.

I have no doubt that Bonny can stand up for herself. The fact that she has survived as a chef in a top restaurant in Australia tells me she is not easily intimidated. The fact that she is taking part in Masterchef shows she wants to get out there and show the world what she is made of.

We, on the other hand, in being offended by Pobjie’s comments are being a tad hypocritical. We have spent the last month issuing 5432 notifications on Facebook to let people know there will be a deaf chef on Masterchef. When someone else points this out in a not to pleasant article aimed at putting down the entire show we take umbrage.  People in glass houses and all that.

Bonny has crossed that white line and decided to take part in this high profile show. Unfortunately she is going to be the focus of both the good comments and the bad. But don’t worry the girl is clearly tough and talented. Not because she is deaf, just because she is! GO BONNY!

All Peaked Out


There is a bit of discussion going on at the moment about the Disability Peaks. Disability Peaks are organisations that are funded to provide advice and advocacy at a policy level to the Australian Government. They look at the system as a whole and try to develop campaigns to influence positive change for people with a disability. The discussion that is happening focuses on how effective these Peaks are. The general consensus seems to be that many are not very effective at all.

Possibly they are not very effective because there are so many of them. I took the liberty to investigate just exactly how many of them there are. Through a quick desktop search I discovered no less than 15 Disability Peaks. The targets of these groups are varied and include carers, brain injury, mental health, cerebral palsy, physical disabilities, disability services, Multiple Sclerosis, blind, ethnic people with a disability, deaf and women with disabilities. The 15 that I uncovered probably is not all of them. I can think of the First Peoples Aboriginal Disability Network and Blind Citizens Australia. Both of these organisations were not listed in the data base I discovered.

It is easy too conclude that there are too many Disability Peaks. However, there is a need for many of these groups. The danger of having one all encompassing Disability Peak is that smaller groups such as the First Peoples Disability Network, Multiple Sclerosis and ethnic people with a disability would get swallowed up in the larger issues. One size does not fit all. There is sometimes a need for smaller groups to have their own individual representation so that they do not get swallowed up by the larger and more influential groups.

If you look at the list of Disability Peaks you have to ask whether all of them are necessary. There seems to be a fair amount of duplication going on and one wonders whether a lot of resources are swallowed up by having organisations that essentially duplicate each other.  As an example People with Disabilities Australia and the Australian Federation of Disability Organisations appear to be doing essentially the same thing yet funding is being provided for two CEOs, the administration of the organisations and on costs such as rental and so on.

One of the criticisms that is commonly directed towards the Disability Peaks is that, in developing their advocacy strategies and in advising the Government on issues, that they do not consult widely. The disability community as a whole often bemoan the fact that they feel ignored by the Peaks. They complain that the Peaks are controlled by a small Board and the decisions that they make do not have a lot of relevance to the general disability population.

To overcome this perceived lack of relevance the disability community urge the Peaks to consult. The Peaks in turn will turn round and say that they consult as much as they can. They will say that they are largely underfunded and lack the resources to be able to consult as widely as they would like. This is a relevant argument. BUT – could this be overcome if some of the duplication that is currently happening was eliminated. Would a larger, better funded and resourced organisation have a better capacity to consult with the community that they are supposed to represent? This issue of duplication needs some serious consideration.

The Deaf sector also has two Peaks, Deaf Australia and Deafness Forum. Deaf Australia will argue that they are a completely different organisation from Deafness Forum. They will point out that they are representing a cultural and linguistic group. They will point out the Board structure of Deafness Forum lends to it a danger that the needs of the smaller signing Deaf community run the risk of being overwhelmed by the larger group. Having sat on the Deafness Forum Board I can confirm that this is certainly true. There were times, particularly in my first spell on the Board, that there was evidence of negative bias towards the Deaf community. In my second spell this was less evident but if the wrong people are elected to the Board there is a real risk that the needs of the Deaf community would get lip service.

Even though this is the case you still have to ask the question as to whether there is a need for two Deaf Peaks. Is it possible to structure one Peak so that its constitution ensures the rights of the Deaf community are not swallowed up by the issues of the larger hard of hearing groups? Let’s face it so many of the issues that Deaf Australia and Deafness Forum advocate for are essentially the same. Education, captions, technology, employment and the NDIS are all issues that both organisations represent. Perhaps the time has come to revisit whether there is a way to combine funding and resources to develop a larger Deafness Peak. This would be a Peak that protects the rights of the smaller cultural and linguistic Deaf community within its constitution. If it could be done it would certainly have the potential for a more powerful and effective organisation.

Before Bill Shorten moved on from the disability portfolio I recall he was in the process of reviewing how our Peaks operated. One of the things that frustrated him, if I remember correctly, was that our Peaks are often in conflict. He bemoaned the fact that they often presented conflicting messages to the Government. He argued that this often meant that the Government just ignored them completely. He was encouraging the Peaks to work smarter. Before he moved on there was a lot of concern that through his review many of the current Peaks would be defunded. Disappointingly the mooted review of the Peaks died a silent death. It was something that is much needed.

Perhaps it is time to revisit this review. There has to be a better way to represent people with a disability than is currently happening. Too often the larger and powerful National Disability Services control the agenda with minimal consultation with people who have a disability. Meanwhile the smaller and underfunded Peaks are busy squabbling with each other and struggling to make ends meet. If we really want representation that follows the slogan, “Nothing About Us Without Us” then some tough and smart decisions need to be made. Amalgamation of those organisations that are essentially duplicating each other is something that seriously needs to be considered.

Einstein once said that the definition of insanity was making the same mistakes over and over again. It certainly seems this way with our Disability Peaks. Change and forward thinking is desperately needed.

2013 – The Year of the Advocate!

imageAs a disability advocate I found 2012 one of the most depressing I have ever experienced. The writing was probably on the wall towards the tail end of 2011. Around that time it was announced that Australia ranked bottom among the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development Countries in regard  to poverty and people with a disability. Throughout 2012 Australia did its best to confirm this ranking, not just for poverty but for everything.

It started with the horrendous decision of the courts to back Jetstar Airlines. A person in a wheelchair had apparently been refused boarding to a plane because two people in a wheelchair were already on the plane. I may not be telling the story accurately, but that was the gist of it. The person saw fit to take Jetstar to court for what would seem an obvious case of discrimination. But the courts ruled in Jetstar’s favour. Jetstar can now insist that no more than two people in wheelchairs fly on their planes at any one time. The brave person who took Jetstar to the courts ended up more than $30 000 out of pocket for her troubles. So much for the apparent cap on all DDA court case costs. It is supposed to be $20 000.  Even $20 000 is enough to put the majority of us off from going to court. Particularly given that we have the totally ineffective Australian Human Rights Commission in our corner.

Of course Australia has a history of mistreating people with a disability on our airlines. Who can ever forget the Kurt Fearnly saga. Fearnly, one of Australia’s elite Paralympians and who also crawled the Kokoda Track, was forced to check his personal wheelchair into the airplane luggage. The airline insisted that Fearnly be pushed around and board the plane in a standard airport chair. Fearnly refused to accept this affront to his dignity and chose to navigate around the airport and board the plane on his hands and knees. Fearnly was furious, he argued that, An able-bodied equivalent . . . would be having your legs tied together, your pants pulled down and be carried . . . through an airport.”[1] The culprit? Well the ever understanding and compassionate Jetstar of course.

Some may point to the introduction of the NDIS as showing that Australia is making inroads towards improving the lot of people with a disability. But is it? Sure if the NDIS manages to get up it will be triumphant.  We have reason to be sceptical because what the NDIS actually highlighted was the ugly side of Australia’s attitude towards disability access.

The smart politician knows that disability access is not a cost. It is an investment. Invest in disability so that people with a disability can better participate in everyday life and the return of that investment will be immense. It has been estimated that just by improving the employment rate for people with a disability to 64% that this would contribute a further $43 billion a year to the economy.[2]

Obtaining the benefit of this increased participation in employment would be largely dependent on having a society that provides for the needs of people with a disability.  This means ensuring that where needed they can have their personal needs met, be transported, access information and also access infrastructure. The NDIS, structured properly, will go a long way to achieving this goal. But do our politicians see investing in disability as having a return for investment?  Well if you are a Coalition politician, it would seem not.

Joe Hockey made this clear in an interview in December last year. He had this to say, “We’re not going to make commitments we can’t afford to pay for. Under us you will get a full NDIS when we can afford it.”[3] Pretty obvious isn’t it? To me it is obvious that the Coalition do not see the NDIS as an investment but as a cost to the economy. We disability folk are expensive. We take, take and take.

It’s not just Hockey either. The delightful Premier of Queensland, Campbell Newman, is also crying poor. Said Newman, “I’m ready at any time to do a deal with the Commonwealth on the NDIS, but it’s got to be on terms that are practical to Queensland – terms that are practical in a financial sense.” Well one would think $43 billion added to the GDP makes complete financial sense. But it would seem that Coalition politicians, quite frankly, can’t see it. Thank god that Barry Farrel, the Premier of NSW, agreed to cough up some money for the NDIS that matched the Commonwealth’s input. This gives us some hope.

One of the most harrowing cases for me in 2012 was the case of a teacher of the deaf graduate who is deaf in South Australia. The graduate, a young woman, upon graduating applied for teacher registration. On the teacher registration form there was a question asking if she had a condition that would prevent her from teaching. Having graduated and passed all the criteria for being a teacher she quite naturally answered no.

It seems on her application she made a small error. This led to the Teacher Registration Board in South Australia phoning her. The young woman called the Teacher Registration Board through the National Relay Service to clear up the matter. From that point onwards the Teacher Registration Board began to question her fitness to be a teacher.

At first they said that they would only accept her teacher registration IF there was a hearing teacher working with her at all times. Further she was not ever allowed to do yard duty. In essence they virtually were trying to impose conditions that would make her unemployable.

You see they saw her deafness as being a safety risk to the children. This is despite the fact that teachers who are deaf have been employed as teachers all over Australia, including South Australia, without issue for many years. Indeed all over the world since time began Deaf people have been raising children quite safely. But no matter. You see the hearing administrators are allowed to PRESUME and make decisions about issues that they know nothing about.

Later the Teachers Registration Board had a change of heart. They decided that the young woman could register as a teacher but there had to be a note on her teacher registration stating that she was deaf. A further condition was that whoever employed the young woman needed to notify the Teacher Registration Board of all accommodations that they made to support her.

Quite rightly the young woman was affronted by this. She pointed out that there were lots of teachers who are deaf working all over Australia that do not have this condition placed upon them so why should she.  The Teacher Registration Board refused to budge and insisted that the special conditions must apply. The case is ongoing because the young woman refuses to accept this ridiculous affront to her dignity.

Then of course we had the awful situation with CaptiView that we have written about enough on here. It is mind boggling that Disability Commissioner, Graeme Innes, and Parliamentary Secretary for Disability, Senator Jan McLucas, continue to promote CaptiView as THE SOLUTION. This is despite continued negative feedback from people who are deaf. It brings to question as to whether our decison makers actually take the views of people with a disability seriously or whether they are just blindly promoting their own agendas. Let’s not get started on the Human Rights Award that the cinemas won for introducing CaptiView. The whole sorry mess is disgusting.

Yes, 2012 was a shocking year to be a disability advocate. Things did not get better they got worse. People with a disability are constantly being made to feel that they are a burden as with the Jetstar case and the Coalition attitude to the NDIS. People with a disability are being made to feel inferior and lesser beings as with the case of the young teacher of the deaf graduate in South Australia. Worse people with a disability, as can be seen by the CaptiView situation, are often ignored and their views disregarded.

Australia should be ashamed! Let 2013 be the year of the advocate!

A Plethora of Choice and Access- Not!!!!

thBoxing Day is a movie extravaganza in Australia. Cinemas release all of the new blockbuster movies hoping to entice people to the post Xmas showings. Boxing Day 2012 was no exception with Les Miserables and The Hobbit being promoted to the hilt.  With the much vaunted Accessible Cinema Roll-Out it should have been a virtual smorgasbord of choice for deaf and vision impaired cinema goers. You see since 2009, with the support of the Australian Government, Australia’s Big 4 cinemas – Hoyts, Village, Reading and Event – have apparently been rolling out accessible cinema like there is no tomorrow. Closed Captions for the deaf through a device known as CaptiView and Audio Description for the vision impaired are now, supposedly, available for a plethora of movies. Deaf and vision impaired cinema goers could now enjoy the Boxing Day Movie Blockbusters. Or could they?

Parliamentary Secretary for Disability, Senator Jan McLucas, would have us believe that the Accessible Cinema Roll Out is the bee’s knees. In a media release Senator McLucas has been expounding the benefits of the Roll Out. Said Senator McLucas in the release, “Catching a movie is something that many of us don’t think twice about but the fact is there are many Australians who haven’t been able to enjoy this popular past time,” Shamelessly she gives the Government the mandatory plug, “The Australian Government has invested $470,000 to help cinema chains with the rollout of accessible closed caption and audio description screens, improving cinema access for people who are visually or hearing impaired.”  Leaving us with no doubt that the Accessible Cinema Roll Out is a wonderful thing Senator McLucas continues to wax lyrical, “It is fantastic to see local deaf people here today enjoying the movies for the first time and able to get involved in the Aussie tradition for many of seeing a movie on Boxing Day.” (Of course before the Accessible Cinema Roll-Out we never ever went to the movies did we?)

Now I cannot speak for my vision impaired colleagues but I certainly can for my deaf colleagues. The Accessible Cinema Roll Out has been anything but the bee’s knees. This is a fact that Senator McLucas is well aware of. She has received numerous complaints from individuals and groups of people who are deaf about the difficulties and limitations of the CaptiView closed captioning technology. The problem is, publicly at least, Senator McLucas stubbornly refuses to acknowledge that this closed captions technology is, to put it mildly, a dud!

For those that do not know, the CaptiView device is placed in the seat cup-holder. On a small screen the captions appear in front of the deaf viewers eyes. The problem is that the deaf viewer must constantly refocus from the big screen to the device. This requires intense concentration and multitasking. Deaf viewers complain that that this multitasking is exhausting and for many results in severe headaches and eyestrain. Senator McLucas is well aware of this but nowhere in her media release does she acknowledge this.

There are complaints that the device is inaccessible for many. People who are deaf that wear glasses have complained that adjusting focus to coordinate reading the captions and watch the movie requires that they constantly remove and replace their glasses. There have been complaints that children who are deaf lack the concentration to be able to use the device effectively. People who are tall have complained that the device means that to watch the captions that they must slump in their seat to get the device at eye level thus causing them great discomfort. Senator McLucas is well aware of these stories but refuses to acknowledge this publicly in her media release.

In fact CaptiView has been nothing but a nightmare for cinema goers who are deaf. Very few, although there are some, have anything positive to say about it. There are stories of it not working. There are stories of captions dropping out and of cinemas staff not knowing what CaptiView is. There are stories of patrons being refused the device because they lacked the proper ID. There are many documented incidences of sessions being advertised as captioned but then no captions were available. These stories are not exceptions but they are close to the norm. Did Senator McLucas acknowledge any of this in her media release? No; of course not.

So Boxing Day was supposed to have been Utopia for cinema goers who are deaf. Supposedly there were choices of movies galore. Feedback at The Action on Cinema Access Facebook page demonstrates the actual reality. Said Becky of her child who was attempting to use CaptiView, “ He was leaning so close to it to read and said it’s too small… ended up asking me so many questions…” Said Gemma on taking her family to the movies, ” … We had to give our ID’s and they made us carry three devices while we were juggling a toddler, popcorn, drinks bags, doll and blankie Then the three devices DIDN’T work!!”  Said Dean on trying to find a movie on Boxing Day that was accessible, “They told us that our preferred movie starts at 9.10pm had Closed Captions and the other film with Closed Captions was Wreckit Ralph starting at 9.30pm.” Spoilt for choice? Who is kidding who? An accessible kid’s movie at 9.30pm? Are they for real????  Said Trudi who had called in advance to see what sessions were captioned, “Movie n dinner date with my hubby is ruined. Can’t believe we came up all the way to Maroochydore  Event Cinemas to watch closed captions movie. Bought tickets and the usher orangised it but just the before the movie started, we were told there were no closed captions for this movie!”  Finally Nerissa had this to say,I just can’t understand how anyone could call two lines of text on a small screen ‘access’. “  And this was just the Xmas Feedback. It makes a mockery of Senator McLucas’s claims.

The Accessible Cinema Roll Out has failed the deaf. Arguably it has actually made access worse. Movies are still shown primarily at off peak times. Choices are still limited. What is more there are only six devices per screen meaning people who are deaf cannot go to the movies as a group of more than six people.  It is a well documented fact that the CaptiView device is inaccessible for many and that the advertising of caption sessions is either wrong or non existent. There is no doubt that the Accessible Cinema Roll Out has failed the deaf.

Yet Senator McLucas, in what can only be described as a political stunt, claims that collectively the Government, cinemas and our representatives, “…. have worked together to find a way to better meet consumer demand for access to cinemas.” This is misleading because Senator McLucas and her cronies are well aware and continue to ignore the constant and negative view of people who are deaf towards CaptiView. The Senator and her partners in crime are well aware that many, many people who are deaf regard CaptiView as a backward step but she still refuses to acknowledge this. Her media release is an insult to all people who are deaf who have taken the time to provide her and our representatives with honest feedback. A bit of honesty on her part would go a long way!  At least publicise the good along with the bad.

Not good enough Senator McLucas!  Access must meet our needs, not your political gain!