EYE ON THE SPARROW

sparrow

Sometime ago a friend paid me an enormous compliment. My friend had been going through a rough spot. I would look out for his posts on Facebook. There were often signs through these posts that my friend was agitated or not happy. I would send him messages through his inbox. Just to check up on him and make sure all was ok. It was not always easy to work out that my friend was not happy. He would put up cryptic messages that would suggest something was bothering him. Sometimes I would misinterpret these messages and my friend would, in fact, be completely happy. More often than not I would get it right. One day to thank me for my concern my friend said, “You know Gary, your eye is always on the sparrow.”

At the time I had no idea what it meant. Truth be known I had to Google it. As it turned out, although my friend is not religious –far from it, the saying has its origins in the bible. It basically infers that you care. As god cares for mankind he also cares for the sparrow. It doesn’t matter who you are, god is watching over you. Now I am not religious either, I am a confirmed agnostic. But I was touched to know that my friend appreciated that I cared enough to look out for him.

Last week I was particularly active on Facebook. So active was I that a friend posted, “My News Feed looks like this Gary Inohoo comment, Gary Inohoo, Gary Inohoo, someone else Gary Inohoo, Gary Inohoo, Gary Inohoo….so much to say Gary Inohoo.” Inohoo is my Facebook name which is a dig at my friend who is a Donohoo. As much as she Dont Know Who (Donohoo), I Know Who. (Inonhoo) Don’t worry, she didn’t find it amusing either.

But I digress. Last week I was particularly frustrated at the actions of certain people. My status read, “Never ceases to amaze me that the politics that people play assumes the punter is ignorant… Well I am here to tell you that the punter knows.” This was, in part, due to the fact that the Labor party, having self-destructed, decided that the party line would be “It’s now back to business.” And they repeated this line ad nauseam. Equally the Liberal Party, trying to convince us that Labor was unfit to Govern, kept repeating that it was, “Civil War in the Labor party and only the Liberals are fit to govern.” The lack of respect for the intelligence of the average punter was infuriating!

There was also a lot of crap happening in Deaf politics. I hate it when people use double speak. They use this double speak assuming that the Deaf community won’t know the true motives of their actions. These people in the Deaf community, like the Labor and Liberal parties, seemed to assume that the punter did not really know that their actions were purely ones of self-preservation. This underestimating of the punters intelligence pisses me off no end. The punter knows what is going on, a bit of honesty would not go astray.

So anyway I posted the status. My friend shared the same status with this lead, “His Eye is on the Sparrow.” I was touched because my friend was saying that I was going into bat for the punter. I think and hope that he also meant that I don’t put my own interest ahead of the punter. I may be foolhardy, but if the headstone on my grave is inscribed with “His Eye was on the Sparrow” it would be something that I would be very, very proud of. (And yes I am hoping people take the hint. Not that I plan to die anytime soon – sorry ;-D )

I write this for two reasons. I want to thank my friend for his kind words and I also want to highlight that for the most part people are good. They have their Eye on the Sparrow too. I was fortunate to witness this on the weekend.

It is just simple little things really. On the weekend I played Cricket for the first time for ten years and had a wonderful time. The event was organised by the Melbourne Deaf Cricket Club. The Melbourne Deaf Cricket Club is one of, if not the oldest, sporting clubs in Australia. It is 132 years old. It has had its fair share of challenges over the years but it has continued thrive. It has thrived on the back of volunteers for 132 years. Through the sheer hard work of people whose “Eyes are on the Sparrow” this wonderful sporting institution has continued.

At the cricket there was also a Deaf Market. Again this was organised by a hardy set of volunteers. It has to be remembered that the Deaf community is constantly under threat. It is under threat through well meaning medical people who see deafness as a tragedy and want to eradicate it. It is under threat from our Deaf organisations that make poor business decisions and unwittingly close down the spiritual and cultural centres of the Deaf community. It is under threat through Urban sprawl and distance.

But on Saturday the Deaf community was brought to life. Hundreds of Deaf people visited the stalls at the Deaf Market. They stayed to watch the cricket. Food and drinks were sold and prepared by a dedicated bunch of volunteers. The Deaf community is alive and well thank you very much – Not because of support from well funded and asset rich organisations but simply because a dedicated bunch of people have their “Eyes on the Sparrow”

It didn’t end there. On Sunday I went to the movies with my family for the first time in ten years. People who read The Rebuttal will be well aware of the CaptiView saga. While our Government, mega rich cinemas and representatives slogged it out and wasted thousands of dollars two well-meaning people took things into their own hands. They approached a small independent cinema and asked if they could book a theatre and have captions shown on screen so that people who are deaf would not have to use the dreaded CaptiView device.

Mothers attended with their deaf children. Deaf people and their partners attended together. Deaf parents with their hearing children shared a movie. Deaf parents with Deaf children shared a movie. In fact two families made a 600 km round trip from Horsham. It was just a wonderful social gathering. All this was made possible because of the actions of two well-meaning people. While we have all been flaffing about and scratching out each other’s eyes two people with their “Eyes on the Sparrow” made it happen.

It’s a lesson for me and for everyone. Keep your “Eyes on the Sparrow” and not a lot can go wrong. Thank you to all those people that made my weekend such a great one!

Taken for Mugs

fooledYesterday was an exciting day. The Government announced the business name of the National Disability Insurance Scheme. The NDIS issue has been at the forefront of disability politics for the last few years and rightly so. It is Australia’s first real attempt to tackle the issue of disability support so that people with disabilities all over Australia can participate as fully as possible in our society. Such a positive program that will change the lives of people with a disability like never before was deserving of an inspiring and positive name. With great fanfare it was announced that the new name would be ……. ‘DisabilityCare Australia’ … I was so inspired by the name I nearly wet myself.

Ok! The sarcasm is probably not called for but If I wasn’t inspired well neither was any one else. Consider these comments that were posted at the Facebook announcement. , “How did a scheme based on rights, entitlement, empowerment and inclusion acquire a name that screams charity model? This decision isn’t going down well with people with disability” said one. Another posed the question, “When did we get consulted on the name? Not in love with it either.” Others were even more blunt, “…  I believe it was Spin Doctors that were consulted, rather than the intended users of the NDIS.” – “I hate this name it harks back to a charity model. Why are we not continuing to call it the NDIS it seems to capture the essence of the plan.” – “I would love to know what the ‘range of names’ was if this ranked highest!” – “Blech! I dont care for that new name…” and so on and so on – Clearly people with a disability felt that the new name sucked in a big way.

The Governments response was typically saccharine. In an attempt to calm us all down Senator Jan McLucas felt the need to offer comment. Said the good Senator, “We have undertaken an extensive consultation process …..”  Apparently with a wide range of stakeholders that included people with a disability, carers, agencies and peak bodies. Apparently there was comprehensive market research undertaken too. One on one consultation with representative individuals and groups also played a key role in the name choice. Importantly, points out Senator McLucas, this included, “ … people with disabilities and their carers.”  Yet despite this wide reaching consultation everyone that commented, bar none, hated the name. It makes one wonder if the Government is taking us all for mugs.

Said one well respected disability advocate, “.. it worries the crap out of me that people said we hate it but we did it anyway …”  which led me to coin the term CaptiView Politics. This is in reference to the roll-out of the CaptiView device that the Government insisted had been well received by people who are Deaf and hard of hearing. This is despite the fact that nearly everyone on the Action on Cinema Access page, where everyone who is anyone comments, vehemently hated CaptiView. So to paraphrase the respected advocate, “… It worries the crap out of me that people said we hate Captiview but we will endorse it as wonderful anyway.”  I am really beginning to think that they all take us for mugs.

Which brings me to Deaf politics in Adelaide. The Deaf community in Adelaide is currently in turmoil. Their spiritual home and social centre at 262 South Terrace is about to be sold from under them. They are angry and rightly so.

This whole sorry saga goes back to 2007 when the Deaf Society, then known as Deaf SA, cried out for help. A knight in shining armour in the guise of Townsend House, who are said to be worth $70 million, came to the rescue. At the time The Rebuttal warned the Deaf Community to be wary because, by all accounts, it looked like Townsend House had just acquired Deaf SA and its assets for nothing. In essence we thought it was a bloodless coup.

Of course at the time Deaf SA had no choice. They either accepted the helping hand of Townsend House or they went under. The Rebuttal warned the Community to be careful because it had given an enormous amount of power to Townsend House. We felt that in time, if things could not be fixed, it would give Townsend House the power to force the sale of 262.

We were widely derided by the powers that be at the time. We were accused of scare mongering. We were told that the relationship between Townsend House and Deaf SA was a partnership, not a takeover.  Townsend House set up what they called an Advisory Group to advise them of the needs of the Deaf community. The Rebuttal pointed out the Advisory Groups had no power to do anything but advise and that the power was almost solely with Townsend House. We were widely accused of being troublemakers.

Townsend House pointed out that Deaf SA still had its Board. We pointed out that even so that the power was all with Townsend House. We argued that Townsend House only needed to withdraw support and then Deaf SA would be up the creek without the proverbial paddle.  It was clear the power resided with Townsend House. Again we were widely accused of scare mongering.

Overtime, in our view, it became very clear that Townsend House were quietly taking over Deaf SA. They changed the organisations name and brand to Deaf Can Do to align it with their own brand of Can Do 4 Kids. The butterfly that played a prominent part of the Can Do 4 Kids brand became a prominent part of the Deaf Can Do logo. Still Townsend House insisted that it was a partnership and not a takeover. They claimed that the brand change was just a strategy to align fundraising initiatives.

Alarm bells really rang when Townsend House suggested that the Deaf Can Do Board be disbanded and that there be only one Board administered by Townsend House with representatives from Deaf Can Do on it. It became very apparent that the control of Deaf Can Do (formerly Deaf SA) was slipping from the Deaf communities grasp.

The crunch came late last year when Townsend House began to systemically relocate services previously located at 262 to offices at Welland. It was clear that they felt the 262 building was not needed. One cannot blame them really because the upkeep of 262 runs into hundreds and thousands of dollars.

Once services had been pillared and taken under their own brand and to their own premises they had no need for 262. Knowing the uproar that might occur if they sold 262 they played their benefactor card. They gifted the building to the Deaf community, with conditions of course. One being that the Deaf Community demonstrated that they had the business nous to keep 262 open. Another condition, allegedly, being that they not use the building to set up services that would be in competition with Townsend House.

Now Townsend House will claim that they have supported the Deaf community to explore options to keep the building open. And this is true, they have. But come on! If an organisation like Townsend House, reportedly worth $70 million, cannot afford the upkeep of 262, how realistic was it to expect the asset poor Deaf community to do so. As it turned out the Deaf community need $335 000 up front just to keep 262 open. It was never a realistic option. Who were they kidding?

And so like with the NDIS and the choice of name Townsend House will claim that they consulted and worked closely with the relevant stakeholders to try and keep 262 open. Hell they even gifted the building to the Deaf community. They will claim that they “SAVED” Deaf SA when it was breathing its last breath. They will use this as evidence of their commitment. The reality is that Townsend House now controls all of Deaf Can Do services. It is possible that these services, particularly the Auslan interpreting services, could have been valid sources of income to buy time to explore options to save 262. But now what does the Deaf community have? All it seemingly has left is a pseudo gift of a building that they have no means to keep open.

As it stands the Deaf community looks set to lose its one and only asset. If 262 cannot be saved it looks like it will be sold off.  How the proceeds of such a sale will be used to benefit the Deaf community in South Australia is not known. However it is alleged Deaf Can Do owes $1 million to Townsend House. A large proportion of any sale funds will end up with Townsend House.

Meanwhile the Deaf community in South Australia have been taken for mugs. They stand to lose everything. Lets hope that the Deaf communities around Australia can rally round and help the Deaf Community in South Australia. If support for the Deaf community in SA cannot be found, and quickly, the future is bleak.

Smart Business

benThe obligations of businesses and other organisations are no longer seen in isolation from the communities in which they operate, the employees they depend upon, the environment from which they draw their resources and the marketplace in which they participate.

Rosemary Sainty

Head, Responsible Business Practice Project

St James Ethics Centre

Professor Rosemary Sainty is one of Australia’s leading advocates and academics in the field of ethics. She is commenting here on the ethics that should drive corporate Australia.

A major component of socially responsible corporate practice is community and social responsibility. A great example of a community and socially responsible business is Twilight Cinemas. Twilight Cinemas are a small business that provides screenings of late release movies in outdoor and indoor settings. They recently put on an accessible cinema event in Melbourne. They have a mobile van with a modern digital projector. They have a huge blow up screen on which they show movies outdoors. I am led to believe that they are able to set up indoors as well and put on screenings in places like town halls that do not have a local cinema.

They recently worked in partnership with Vicdeaf, Arts Access Victoria and the Action on Cinema Access Group to put an outdoor screening of the fantastic Life of Pi. This small business did what the major cinemas said was not possible. They did for nothing what others had advised would cost $3000 per movie. They did what any standard DVD player can do. They simply turned on the captions so that they appeared on screen. They used a CaptiView caption file. We had been led to believe that such files could only be seen on a CaptiView device.

In doing so they provided access to hundreds of happy people who are Deaf and hard of hearing. In fact around 600 people attended. Many of these people were hearing too. One would think that because the captions were on screen the hearing people would have left. After all this is what the Big 4 Cinemas told us would happen. But no, these hearing folk all sat happily through the entire movie.

Twilight Cinemas have made all of this happen although they are just a small business. Of course what they have also done is demonstrate that by providing access they have a broader market base. By investing in socially responsible accessible cinema they know that they have created a larger market for their product. Everyone wins.

In contrast the mega rich Big 4 Cinemas, rather than be socially responsible, had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the table. For years the Big 4 Cinemas have provided the most absolute minimal access that they could provide. Rather than be socially responsible they even tried to lock in minimal cinema access increases by applying for a five year exemption to DDA complaints.

Their application for exemption was thrown out. As a result they introduced CaptiView, and what a dud that was. They did so largely on the back of a Federal Government subsidy. This is despite the fact that Australian Cinemas are among the most profitable in the world. Back in 2010 The Rebuttal presented an article where it provided data on cinema profits. In 2009, for example, A total of 80 million tickets were sold in Australia. That ranked Australia 13th in the world in terms of attendance. Per capita Australia fared even better. They ranked fifth in the world.”[1]

Cinema turn-over in Australia last year was $2 billion. This being the case why on earth is the Government helping the major cinemas to purchase CaptiView? They are clearly making enough profits to do it themselves. That is what a socially responsible business does. (Notwithstanding the fact that CaptiView is a waste of money whoever purchases it.) Perhaps it’s something to do with the substantial donations that are made to the political parties from the cinema industry and the need for Labor to curry favour.

Mark my word the cinemas are not poor. Just last year Amalgamated Holdings, who own Event Cinemas, reported a profit of $79 million. The cinema component of that profit comprised of $53 million which was an increase of over $7 million or 15.8%. Indeed attendance at the box office increased by 2.5%. [2]

You bet your bottom dollar that cinemas are not worried about reduced profits. Village Roadshow, for example, continue to make enormous profits so much that their CEO had this to say, ““The world is in the mood to go out, to indulge themselves in a little pleasure and escape from worries. The theme parks have once again demonstrated they are a winning formula, and the appetite for filmed entertainment appears unquenchable.”

Ok so we have established that the cinemas are rich and getting richer. If this is so why are we relying on a small company like Twilight Cinemas to do the socially responsible thing and provide comfortable cinema access for patrons who are Deaf or hard of hearing? Why can’t these mega rich cinema companies demonstrate some kind of corporate social responsibility by providing access to the cinema and pay for it themselves? Why is the Government subsidising it? And worse why are people who are Deaf or hard of hearing being foisted with a totally ineffective technology? What is more why are the tax payer paying for ineffective CaptiView technology when it costs absolutely nothing to put captions on the screen?

Ok, so what about the blind? What about the Audio description technology that is providing them with access to the cinema for the first time? Yeah so what about it? I have it on good authority that the blind are experiencing all the problems the deaf are experiencing. Advertising is inaccurate. They attend sessions that are advertised with audio description only to find that they are not. Cinema staff are often clueless. Dropouts are apparently frequent. Cinema websites are apparently not accessible to them  so it is difficult for them to find out the session times. So frustrated have they become about the failures of the technology and the roll-out of accessible cinema that they are seeking alternatives in the form of audio description via their smart phones. It is only now that this information is coming to the fore.

The bone of contention here is that for people who are Deaf or hard of hearing the cinemas can provide access at absolutely no cost at all. You see the CaptiView caption file can be beamed on to the screen; which is what the majority want. There is absolutely no need for the CaptiView device. Obtaining the CaptiView caption file costs nothing.  It is part of the rental fee from the movie distributor. Here you have a potential market of 3 to 4 million people, plus their families and their friends. It is a market that potentially will make the already mega rich cinemas even richer. Yet they cannot see this! One wonders how they got rich in the first place.

And all the cinemas need to do to tap into this potential profit is to show socially responsible business practices. And get this -what the patron who is Deaf or hard of hearing want will cost them absolutely nothing. Instead the tax payer is subsidising them to purchase a dud technology. Is that a scandal or what? Put the captions on the screen – It’s as easy as that!

Happy Birthday!!!

A_Bunch_Of_Brightly_Colored_Balloons_With_Streamers_Royalty_Free_Clipart_Picture_090627-135688-664042Happy 20th birthday Disability Discrimination Act (DDA). I mean this with some sincerity too. The dear old DDA old has come in for some enormous flack this year. Unfortunately the once untouchable Graeme Innes, the Disability Commissioner, has also come in for much criticism. I say unfortunately because for many years Mr Innes has worked tirelessly for people with a disability in Australia.

It is true, the DDA had it coming. Yesterday Rick Randall wrote a brilliant and scathing piece about the DDA in Ramp Up[1]. This follows up on an earlier article from Craig Wallace[2] who was similarly critical of the DDA, albeit more diplomatically. Of course yours truly has been critical too in various pieces in The Rebuttal and another in the Adelaide Review.

BUT in all of the criticism of the DDA we sometimes forget to discuss the positive impact that it has had. Although it is essentially a flawed law it has served a good purpose. One of the major purposes was primarily to bring attention to and educate Australia about disability discrimination. With this education has come some positive change.

I remember in 1992 when the law was first introduced. At the time I had been struggling to get the University of South Australia, where I was studying at the time, to accept its obligations to provide interpreters. Suddenly in 1993, the year after the introduction of the law, the University agreed to fund the provision of interpreters. There was a wonderful disability support person, Lucy, who was taking no shit from anyone and went ahead and booked interpreters. I don’t know if Lucy used the introduction of the DDA as a point of argument but it is probably no coincidence that the University, and many others, started to accept their obligation of providing interpreters not long after the introduction of the DDA.

Then of course there were the early successes of the DDA like the Stott (or was it Scott) case against Telstra. In this case it was argued that if Telstra was going to provide phone lines to the homes of deaf people then they had to provide with it the technology to access it. This technology was a TTY. It is history now that Telstra lost and were forced to have to provide TTY rental at the same rate as handset rental to people who were deaf. Given that a TTY at the time cost over $600 it was a huge win. Indirectly it would also have influenced the introduction of the National Relay Service too. Why? Because suddenly the millions of Deaf and hard of hearing were going to get TTYs and they needed access to mainstream services.

Even today the DDA has some influence. In my work, for example, when they are planning buildings and community infrastructure the DDA is one of the first things they consult to make sure they meet compliance requirements. Although this means that often only the minimum requirements are considered it shows that the DDA is clearly having some impact.

Mr Innes, who is copping much flack at present, was one of the chief authors of the DDA. Quite rightly he is very protective of his work. He would be well aware of the positive impact that the DDA has had and should be rightly proud of that.  It is entirely right that people with a disability and their associates should voice their concerns about the DDA. It is also justified that they are critical of Mr Innes stubborn refusal to see the real flaws in the DDA. Despite this we should not forget his enormous contribution to our lives.

The DDA was ground breaking work and has led to much positive change. In years to come Mr Innes will be remembered as one of our most influential pioneers. We will look back and see that he has been largely responsible for triggering one of the biggest attitude and legislative changes ever seen towards people with a disability in Australia. Let us all not forget this. Take a bow Mr Innes.

However, in remembering the positive impact of the DDA and of  Mr Innes we must keep hammering home that the DDA is essentially flawed. Rick Randall, in his Ramp Up article, pointed out many of these flaws. The DDA is clearly a law that has loopholes a plenty. Tellingly Randall points out that the law actually supports perpetuators of discrimination by granting them exemptions to having to comply with the law. These exemptions last for many years and keep Australia in the dark ages.

Randall also points out, as The Rebuttal has constantly stated, that more than half the complaints made to the Australian Human Rights Commission are not resolved. The only place these complaints can go when they fail is to the courts. Unless you have the resources behind you to risk this then everything stops their. Randall claims that the cost of failed litigation is borne by the person that made the complaint. For example the poor soul that decided to take Jetstar to court over their two wheelchair policy ended up $35 000 out of pocket. If litigation is the only way most cases are to be resolved then the person with a disability has to be provided with adequate financial protection.

It is a law that we have to police ourselves by complaining. Many times I have written in The Rebuttal about the weakness in the complaints process. I have advocated that we need an Authority to police and force compliance of disability discrimination law. Randall uses the workplace safety legislation as an example of a law that is properly policed. With workplace safety legislation random spot checks occur and very severe penalties are dished out to bosses that do not meet safety requirements. There is a very strong push within the disability sector for the DDA to go down this path. Many are advocating for punitive measures in the form of fines.

So the DDA is 20 today! In our race to be critical we have perhaps forgotten its positive impact. Let’s put aside our grievances about the DDA for a short time and remember the impact that the DDA and Mr Innes have had on our lives. Indeed without the DDA we wouldn’t even be in a position to advocate reform and strengthening of the Disability Discrimination Law, we would have nothing!  Yes, the DDA is weak and often ineffective but let’s reflect on the good today. Hostilities can resume tomorrow.