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.

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