Going Going …Goooonnneeeee?……

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Over in South Australia the Deaf community is battling to save the iconic 262 building that has been their home since the 1920s. Regular readers of The Rebuttal will know that the South Australian Deaf community has been fighting hard to save their spiritual and community home. As it was pointed out in the Rebuttal’s last article the Deaf community received an offer to take over the building and the cost of its maintenance. The offer essentially meant that the Deaf community could remain at the building and retain its long association and history with it. However, the powers that be have rejected the offer.

The reasons for the rejection are not entirely clear.  They have e-mailed Deaf Sport recreation South Australia to explain their decision. Typically the powers that be have hidden behind legal jargon to explain the rejection of the offer. They have used terms like “Not viable” – “Not in line with the constitution” – “Needing to follow the Corporations Act to protect the interest of the Deaf Society.” – “Needing to ensure support is available to those deaf in need.” Despite the use of fancy legal terms the Deaf community are really none the wiser as to the reason behind the rejection. One suspects that the offer was rejected simply because it was not going to provide immediate access to liquid capital. In other words CASH! Or perhaps my cynicism knows no bounds.

I received the most extraordinary email out of the blue on Monday. The email was from a person who wished to remain anonymous. With the email were a number of attachments, 12 attachments in fact. The attachments provided a poignant insight into the history of the 262 saga. I have sought in this article to summarise some of the information that has been divulged. It does not make for pretty reading.

The documents received suggest that a combination of ill thought out business ventures, falling Government funding and falling fundraising revenue led to cash flow difficulties. Because the kitty was bare the Royal South Australian Deaf Society was in grave danger of keeling over. To prevent this from happening the Royal South Australian Deaf Society approached Townsend House for assistance. This was in 2007. (The Royal South Australian Deaf Society is now known as Deaf Can Do. For the purpose of continuity we have used the name Royal south Australian Deaf Society throughout this article.)

It is important to realise that organisations like the Royal South Australian Deaf Society do not always have a lot of cash assets. Often assets are tied up in investments like shares or property. When such organisations make substantial losses they often liquidate their assets to pay off the losses.

This might involve the selling of shares or of property. In this way cash is raised and losses are covered. The problem is that when assets are constantly liquidated eventually there are no assets left. The farm gets sold off, so to speak. It is clear from the documents that were emailed to me that this is gradually what happened to the Royal South Australian Deaf Society.

Fundraising is not always about asking for money through telemarketing, bequests, rattling tin cans or through raffles, although these are important strategies. Fundraising also can involve embarking on business initiatives.

This might be the renting out of office space. It may involve setting up a business arm to make profits. Such profits can then be channelled back into the organisation. This is where we get the term “Not for Profit” organisation. Not for Profit Organisations can make a profit but this profit must be used by the organisation for its services and running costs. Many organisations, including The Royal South Australian Deaf Society, have a combination of fundraising that involves the traditional and business approaches. (They also often receive Government funding for services.)

Traditional fundraising is always a bit of a hit and miss. The author of the documents that were emailed believes that fundraising for the Royal South Australian Deaf Society was and is not particularly effective. The documents suggest that fundraising income for the Royal South Australian Deaf Society between 2009 and 2012 increased by 37.5%. One might see that as a success but it seems that the cost to implement this fundraising increased by a whopping 170% in the same period.

What this means is that money raised from this fundraising has been minimal. Certainly any minimal gains that were obtained went straight to paying the bills. Very little of this money would have gone directly to the Deaf community.

In an attempt to address the shortfall in fundraising dollars the Royal South Australian Deaf Society embarked on an aggressive “diversification” strategy. This involved the establishment of what would hopefully become income-generating businesses. There was an attempt to run a second-hand clothing business. This was abandoned after a period of time, presumably because it was not profitable. By far the biggest outlay was on the audiology business that is now known as Can Do Hearing.

The documents received indicate that expenses at the Royal South Australian Deaf Society increased almost 45% between 2004 and 2006. The increase in expenditure was in the vicinity of $1m. The documents received allude that much of this increased expenditure can be attributed to the establishment of the audiology business. Returns from the business were not immediate. This is not unusual because often a new business needs time before it becomes profitable. The lack of immediate return for the investment meant that the Royal South Australian Deaf Society had significant cash flow problems. As the result of these cash flow problems the Royal South Australian Deaf Society turned to Townsend House for assistance.

We are now at 2007. Around mid 2007 the Royal South Australian Deaf Society held a community forum. The community forum had the purpose of informing the Deaf community of the financial situation and also outlined how Townsend House would assist. It seems that the severe shortage of cash, rapidly decreasing traditional fundraising returns and the rapid erosion of investments left the Royal South Australian Deaf Society with little option but to cry for help. Townsend House responded to the cry for help.

The ‘help’ was described at the time as a ‘PARTNERSHIP’.  Many were skeptical and saw it as an outright takeover that gave Townsend House virtually full control of the Royal South Australian Deaf Society.

Over the years the management of the Royal South Australian Deaf Society have tried to justify the decisions that they have made. However some of the arguments that they have used over the years do not stand up to scrutiny.

The Partnership

Consistently the relationship between Townsend House and the Royal South Australian Deaf Society was described as a partnership. This ‘PARTNERSHIP’ was to protect the financial viability of the Royal South Australian Deaf Society and secure the future of 262.

The author of the documents that were received believes that any suggestion that Townsend House and the Royal South Australian Deaf Society had entered into a ‘PARTNERSHIP’ is misleading. A number of reasons for this were outlined by the author. I have paraphrased these arguments below:

•         The ‘Partnership’ between Royal South Australian Deaf Society and Townsend House meant that the Royal South Australian Deaf Society became a “controlled entity” of Townsend House. In other words the power to decide the future of the Royal South Australian Deaf society was solely with the management of Townsend House. Townsend House can and do control the financial and operating policies of The Royal South Australian Deaf Society and get benefits for Townsend House from the things the Royal South Australian Deaf Society does.

•         It also means that Townsend House essentially owns and controls all Royal Soth Australian Deaf Society services and assets, including 262 South Terrace, Adelaide.

•         Though Royal South Australian Deaf Society financial performance did improve just after the 2007 takeover, big operating losses over the past two years have again put them in a perilous and declining financial position.

•        In 2012, 5 years after promising to “save” 262, the ‘PARTNERSHIP’ announced that they could no longer afford to keep the 262 property and needed to put it up for sale.

•        Today, just 6 years after the 2007 takeover, the Royal South Australian Deaf Society is again on the brink of financial collapse – and the 262 heritage property is to be sold!

The Gift

In 2012 the Royal South Australian Deaf Society offered the 262 building to the Deaf community, through Deaf Sport and Recreation South Australia. The condition of the gift was that they had to prove that they had the ability to look after and maintain the building.

The author of the documents that were emailed believes that the GIFT was never a serious offer. There are a number of reasons or this:

•         If the Royal South Australian Deaf Society with all the money it receives from Government funding grants, the money it makes from services and the profits it makes from the audiology business could not afford the up keep of 262. HOW then could Deaf Sport Recreation South Australia, who have virtually no assets, do so? For this reason alone the conditions of the GIFT were never viable. The management of the Royal South Australian Deaf Society would have known this from the onset.

•         One of the conditions of the GIFT was that the Deaf community were not allowed to set up services at 262 that might be seen as competition for the Royal South Australian Deaf Society. This effectively cut off many viable alternatives to raise money for the up-keep of 262. The management of the Royal South Australian Deaf Society would have been well aware of this.

•         The Royal South Australian Deaf Society is effectively broke and has had to borrow a large amount of money from Townsend House. The sale of 262 would inevitably be seen as the easy and obvious way to pay back these loans to Townsend House.

•         It seems is highly unlikely that the management of the Royal South Australian Deaf Society could ever have truly believed the 262 property would be gifted to the Deaf community.  Selling 262 is clearly the easy solution that will allow Townsend House to recoup the money that they have loaned.

SURVIVAL

The management of the Royal South Australian Deaf Society will have us believe that to continue to provide services to the Deaf community it is important that the Royal South Australian Deaf Society survives.

The author of the documents believes that this line of argument is being used to scare the Deaf community and make them toe the line. The reality is:

•         The Management of the Royal South Australian Deaf Society is using “the best interests of The Royal South Australian Deaf Society” argument as an excuse for selling 262.

•         Townsend House has full control of the Royal South Australian Deaf Society. Any decisions that they make are therefore more likely to be made because they are seen as beneficial to Townsend House. The needs of the Deaf community are not the priority.

•         The management of the Royal South Australian Deaf Society argue that if 262 is not sold services will be lost. This is misleading because even if the Royal South Australian Deaf Society closes Townsend House still has full control over the services funding and the audiology business. Services will continue regardless as to whether 262 is old or not.

•        The reality is that the sale of 262 is more about recouping money loaned than it is about the future of the Royal South Australian Deaf Society and its services.

As it stands the Deaf community home at 262 is on the cusp of being sold. The sale will mean that the Deaf community will have lost its last ongoing and enduring asset. Let’s be clear 262 was established for the Deaf community and therefore any profits that are made from it, including its potential sale, should be channeled back to and controlled by the Deaf community.

This is unlikely to happen because the Deaf community has been totally disenfranchised from the running and control of assets that were established for their benefit. The author of the documents is at pains to point this out. The author has highlighted the fact that the Deaf community has no membership whatsoever to the Royal South Australian Deaf Society. In fact the Royal South Australian Deaf Society has a “closed” membership and is controlled by 8 hearing people who are its sole members. These 8 people have total control of the Royal South Australian Deaf Society and the future of 262.

What is worse is that the constitution that has been adopted for the Royal South Australian Deaf Society effectively prevents Deaf people from becoming members. In fact the whole constitution can be changed at the whim of the 8 people who are deemed as members and without consultation. It is a terrible situation. Essentially it means the Deaf community and Deaf people have no control at all over the future of the institutions and assets that were originally established for their benefit.

THIS IS THE REALITY. The Deaf community is about to lose its last and only asset. It is an asset that was established for THEIR BENEFIT. Not only that, any control that they had over this asset has been totally wrested from them.

As it stands there are currently two options. The first option is an offer from a not for profit housing group known as Development Partnership Proposal. This group have, according to the author of the documents received, “ ..provided the requisite financial support for Deaf Sport Recreation South Australia to operate, maintain and sustain the building both in the short-medium term and the longer-term. The Development Partnership Proposal also delivered a viable and sustainable solution that from Day one released the ‘PARTNERSHIP’ from any future property cost responsibilities, provided a $1M windfall profit after five or so years and preserved the 262 heritage building for the Deaf Community into perpetuity.”  Presumably some of this profit could have been channeled towards paying off money that Townsend House has put into the running of the Royal South Australian Deaf Society in the last few years.

It is alleged that Townsend House has received an offer to buy 262. It is believed that this offer is in the vicinity of $3-4 million. I stress that this is the allegation and that no evidence of the allegation has been provided. It is believed that the Townsend House are committed to the sale. This is despite the viable business proposition of the Development Partnership Proposal that is preferred by the Deaf community. Exactly what Townsend House will do with the money raised from any sale to ensure the long term future of the South Australian Deaf community remains unknown at this stage. (Townsend House will argue that it is Deaf Can Do that is making the decisions. The reality is that it is Townsend house in control.)

It seems inevitable that 262 is going to be sold. This will be a sad day for the Deaf community. The decision is particularly hard to stomach in light of the offer from the Development Partnership Proposal that is the Deaf communities preferred option.

All we can do is wait and hope that Townsend House does the right thing. We can but hope that any profits that are made from a sale are channeled back to the long term benefit of the Deaf community and CONTROLLED by the Deaf community.

Given developments that have occurred to date – That does not seem likely – Does it?

Power to The People

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Have you ever stopped to think where the real power in life lies. Recently MYER copped some of the worst publicity they could imagine. They did so because their CEO, Bernie we disparagingly call him, remarked that the NDIS Levy was going to stop people spending money at MYER and it was therefore a bad thing. The outrage and ensuing publicity saw the MYER Facebook page swamped with angry protesters. The basic message was that Bernie and MYER were out of touch and mean.

Very soon after Bernie made his statement MYER apologised. It wasn’t much of an apology because it simply said, “Sorry we hurt your feelings but WE are still standing by what we said.” This just made people angrier. As a result MYER issued a better apology and did not try to qualify Bernie’s ill thought out statement.

Disability Commissioner, Graham Innes, called on MYER to say sorry through action. The Commissioner urged MYER to set a target to increase employment of people with a disability within MYER. At first MYER didn’t respond but then realising just how angry they had made millions of  potential customers and realising how bad it was for business they agreed to meet the Commissioner to talk about improving their disability employment outcomes. The power clearly lies with the people! Without the people MYER are screwed.

I have always known this. In my work in the disability sector I have always been aware that I owe the food on my table, the TV on my wall and the car that I drive to people with a disability. Without them I would have no work and no income. I am acutely aware that the service I provide for them is of great value but it is a two way street. I support them and through them I support myself and my family. That said the power is entirely with people who have a disability. If they chose or decide that I am not good at what I do or don’t like what I do, they can simply choose not to use my service. Without them I am up the creek without the proverbial paddle. There is no job for me.

And so it is with any service. But over in Adelaide the honchos at Townsend House have forgotten why they exist. Townsend House is quite a wealthy organisation. Hundreds of years ago services like Townsend House were established to support people who are deaf often through the efforts of deaf people themselves. The efforts of these deaf pioneers and some visionary hearing people saw the establishment of community services and centres. Townsend House was originally established way back in 1874 for the Blind and the Deaf and Dumb. Interestingly current Townsend House service, Deaf Can DO, was the old Royal South Australian Deaf Society. It was established in 1891 and is apparently Australia’s oldest registered charity.

Of course the services have changed and evolved over the years but essentially they were established to meet a need. This need has been either support, social, educational or religious and has been provided for over 100 years. Over the course of that time it has provided employment to hundreds, probably thousands of people, including myself. These people worked and were paid all because of Deaf people. (In the Townsend House case, the blind as well.)

Today Townsend House is known as the Can Do Group. It includes Can Do 4 Kids and Deaf Can Do. It also includes the Audiology, hearing aids and equipment business Can Do Hearing. It has an Internet company Can Do NET and a very profitable retirement village business in Brighton and Strathalblyn. It provides employment for a wide range of people including a CEO who is earning a handsome salary, car and I suspect some other lovely perks. It provides employment for numerous managers, audiologist, therapist, social workers, youth workers, receptionist and interpreters; largely because of deaf people. (and blind people in some instances.)

According to their last annual report The Can Do Group of Townsend House has total assets of $77,844,893.  Of course some of these assets are tied up in buildings and investments and are not all in cash. Some of the buildings probably have loans that need to be serviced and the like but even so after they have worked out what they owe  they have total equity of $33 200 161. They are not a poor organisation by any means. All of this is because of deaf and blind people.

It is well known that the old The Royal South Australian Deaf Society nearly went bust in 2007. Townsend House, asset rich if not cash rich, rode to the rescue and saved them from oblivion. Then CEO, Paul Flynn, promised that the Deaf community hub at 262 South Terrace would not be sold. In fact any suggestions that Townsend House would sell 262 from under the Deaf community were met with vehement denials. People that suggested as much were labelled as shit stirring trouble makers.

Now I hate to say I told you so, but I did. I said that once Townsend House was allowed to get their claws in they would have all the power. I suggested that they had quietly and bloodlessly just taken over the building. If they decided that the building needed to be sold there was not a lot anyone could do about it.

And so as it happens today, 2013, this is exactly what is happening. Townsend House, with their Can Do Group, have bloodlessly taken all the funding that went with The Royal South Australian Deaf Society, they have taken all the staff and the infrastructure, the audiology business and the interpreting business and relocated them to Welland. Essentially they now control all of this funding. The old 262 building is seen as a drain on assets and they want to be rid of it.

An asset drain it may well be but for the Deaf community it is their last asset. It is an asset that goes beyond just money. For many 262 has been their home. It is where they met their partners. It is where they met and continue to meet for a beer. It is where they were married or where their children were christened. It has a value beyond money. It is also a place that lots of us owe our careers, including me.

Now Townsend House has told the Deaf community that unless they can find a way to make 262 viable it will be sold. What this means is that the Deaf community are in danger of losing their spiritual home. Of course the Deaf community do not have the financial clout to maintain the building. They need help.

Apparently out of the blue this help arrived. It arrived in the guise of a Not For Profit Organisation that offered to take on the upkeep of 262 and allow the Deaf community to stay and use the building as they always have. Quite rightly the Deaf community were excited about this development and announced it publicly on Facebook through an Auslan video.

The Deaf community pleaded with Townsend House to accept the offer. From what I can ascertain the Not for Profit Organisation offered to renovate and maintain the building at their expense. This would mean that the Deaf community can stay ..YAY … But Nay.

You see over the years Townsend House have lent money to the old Royal South Australian Deaf Society so that it could survive. The Deaf community pleaded with Townsend House to be given time to pay that money back. They pleaded with Townsend House to accept the offer of the Not for Profit Organisation that made the offer to save 262. But Townsend House apparently have rejected the proposal of the Not for Profit Organisation.

At this stage no one knows why. An announcement is forthcoming and soon all will become clear. But this NO from Townsend House must be seen as an almighty slap in the face by the Deaf community. Perhaps Townsend House has a good reason and we should reserve judgement. All will be clear soon.

BUT – If Townsend House has turned down the offer because they want the money back that they are owed sooner rather than later – let us be clear on some things. The reality is that Townsend House is owed NOTHING. They are owed nothing because they owe their very existence in a large part to the Deaf community. The jobs and the assets are there because of DEAF PEOPLE! The reason they have such a profitable retirement village business that generates income was started all those hundreds of years ago is largely because of DEAF PEOPLE.

Let’s be clear – the services that were once based at the old Royal South Australian Deaf Society and are now based at Welland have come under the control of Townsend House. Townsend House have essentially stripped these services and now control the funding for these services and the management fees that go with them. Because of this, in my view, the Deaf community owe them NOTHING.

At this stage we do not know why Townsend House has said no. But it had better be a good reason. It had better not be about the money that Townsend House say they are owed  because the reality is, in my view, that they are OWED NOTHING! What is more if they insist on getting that money back they clearly have the assets to be able to allow the Deaf community to pay it back over time. If it’s not paid back soon with equity of over $33 000 000 Townsend House are hardly going to fall over are they?

Perhaps the decent thing for them to do is to heed Midnight Oil’s advice who famously sang:

The time has come
A fact’s a fact
It belongs to them
Let’s give it back!

Think about it. In the mean time let’s all wait and hear their reasons. But as I said these reasons had better be good!

It’s Happening – My Cochlear Implant Journey!

imageOk it is done. I have finally managed to get someone from the Cochlear Implant Clinic on the line. It was a case of fifth time lucky. I called, got the answering machine and as I was leaving my details someone picked up. One can imagine some poor overworked receptionist just working away as the phone rang.  The receptionist was probably just hoping that I would leave a message so that she could finish her wedding invitations. Guilt seems to have gotten the better of her and she decided to pick up. The rest, as they say, is history. I really should not be such a cynic.

In the end getting a referral was easy. I made a doctors appointment about something completely unrelated. As it turned out the unrelated issue was not an issue of any kind, but it was a relief to know that. Unrelated issue dealt with I popped the question about a written referral to the Cochlear Implant clinic. “Sure”, said the Doc, who had just met me for the first time. She got on the computer and started writing. She asked me to confirm when I had lost my hearing and that was it. Referral was printed and I was out the door. Unrelated issue dealt with and referral received, all in under ten minutes. The Doctor did not even look at my ears. Cost – $71.00. I sure wish I could earn that much for ten minutes work.

Assessment turn around at the clinic is apparently 4 to 6 weeks. I scanned the Doctors letter and I emailed it to the clinic. They have acknowledged that it had been received. They asked me to send them an audiogram. They did not seem to fussed that I did not have one. After all I was calling through the National Relay Service. That was probably evidence enough that I was very deaf.

I mean what crackpot would want to have a cochlear implant even though they are not deaf. I guess there might be some devious and not well people who have a fetish about having surgery, even when it is not needed. Years ago there were some students of sign language who used to tell us, “I wish I was Deaf”. Wannabes we called them. Even they would not go as far as impersonating a deaf person so that they could have a cochlear implant. And anyway they would need to have a bilateral implant to become deaf.  Nah it wouldn’t happen, they would get found out eventually. That said, there are some strange people out there so I would not discount the possibility entirely.

In the mean time I wait and continue to gather as much information as possible. I read an interesting account from a parent whose 18 month old baby had just received the implant. Apparently when the implant was switched on it scared the Bejaysus out of the poor kid. The kids discomfort with the cochlear implant is such that the parents cannot get the kid to wear it. When they try to put the implant on the kid throws an almighty tantrum and pulls the implant off. In desperation they sought advice from other parents whose children have had the implant.

The responses were interesting. It is clear that there are other kids who refuse to wear the implant when switched on. A lot of parents encouraged the use of bribery. Give lollies for prolonged wearing of the implant they would say. One can imagine parents with a bag of lollies in one hand implant in the other, a bit like Pavlov’s dog and the bell. After five minutes they throw a lolly. After ten minutes throw two and so on until the kid associates the implant with nice things and wears it without issue.

Some parents were horrified at this approach. The baby is not a dog they would say. Some thought it was better to just take a slow approach. When the child wears the implant or allows it to be put on just encourage them with affection and praise. Let the child get used to the implant at their own pace they encouraged. Eventually, they advised, the child will accept and learn to love the implant.

I found this interesting because these are the stories you very rarely hear in the public domain. Instead you see parents crying with joy and little kids eyes lighting up as they are switched on. Clearly this is only part of the story and one wishes that the media could provide a more balanced coverage of what happens when a child is switched on. The media should be highlighting the benefits and also the challenges.

This is also true of some of the other issues in relation to having an implant. There are clearly pros, cons and the possible risks. All of this information is important so that people can make informed choices. It is certainly true that media coverage and promotion of the implant glosses over these issues. The media do not really gloss over these issues; they do not discuss them at all.

Two weeks ago a friend visited our home. He had been implanted six years ago. He decided to get implanted because he felt that it would increase his job prospects as a teacher. He was explaining that six years on he still had vertigo and that for a while he had lost his sense of taste. He said that while he did not regret having the implant some of the side affects he was experiencing actually made him feel more disabled than before.

My friend is from Britain. I asked him whether the Doctors gave him detailed information about possible side affects of the implant. He thought about this for a while. He concluded that they had not given him a lot of information about possible side affects. His view was that they focused more on the benefits. They told him that he would get great benefit from the implant many times. He wishes that he had received more balanced information.

I guess I am in a fortunate position of having worked in the disability sector for 25 years. I am quite cluey about a lot of issues and know the questions to ask. Not everyone is in the same boat. Interestingly another friend with the implant suggested that my focus on the cons to date suggests that at this point I am not ready for the implant. This is probably true. Time will tell. Stay tuned for the next update when I have my initial assessment interview in the coming weeks.

NDIS – Now for the Hard Work!

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Rebuttal readers generally hate politics, particularly national politics. I know this because readership generally drops at the mere mention of both Abbott and Gillard. An exception was the article about Bernie Brookes which broke all records – But that was more, I suspect, because it was the flavour of the moment. Yesterday was Budget Day so in this version of The Rebuttal I thought I would make comment on the funding of the NDIS….. ZZZZZZZZZZZZ Do try to concentrate because,  nevertheless,  what follows is an important observation.

The NDIS will be funded in full by 2019. Measures have been put in place to ensure that the scheme will continue. In doing so Labor have ensured that the roll-out of the NDIS will not be hampered even if the Government changes. According to Labor figures the NDIS will provide care and support for 410 000 people with a disability.

We should not be celebrating just yet. Even though the NDIS is now part of legislation and even though it has the support of both sides of politics, there is much work to do. Now is the time that people with a disability must remain diligent and vocal or they may well find themselves with a program that is developed that is not quite what they envisioned.

Of late I have had a few discussions about the Governments view of “Self Directed Funding”. I strongly believe that the Governments vision for this and the vision of people with a disability and their carers is poles apart. I believe the Governments vision is that funding will be allocated to the individual. These individuals will then use this money to purchase supports from an approved list of suppliers. In this sense they can only choose what the Government views as appropriate. A better way of seeing this is self directed entitlement.

Now the vision of people with a disability, I believe, is very different. I believe they feel that self directed funding is just that. The only criteria they believe should be there is that this funding be used for their supports and services. In this sense if a person with a disability chooses to use a friend or family member to carry out their care they should be able to do that and pay them. After all isn’t this what choice is all about? They might choose to go on holiday overseas and choose to pay a colleague to go with them so that they are cared for on holiday. That colleague can be a friend or a family member and be paid for.

As far as the way people with a disability are thinking I do not believe the Government, or any of the politicians for that matter, are on the same page. The proof, as they say, will be in the detail. Me thinks we all need to be watching carefully as the trial NDIS regions begin to commence in June or July. This will give an indication of just how autonomous the Government believes self directed funding should be. There may be some rude shocks.

The second issue we need to be looking at is just how far reaching the NDIS will be. Officially the Government is using a figure of 410 000 people. Now in 2004 the Centre for Population Studies in Epidemiology in South Australia suggested that there were 3.25 million people or 16.6% of the population with a hearing loss.[1] Now not all of these will require support but many will and that figure does not include people under 15 years of age. Suffice to say 3.25 million is 7 times more than the numbers that  the Government are claiming will benefit from the NDIS. So are the deaf being considered as part of the NDIS? The short answer is no! Hearing Rehabilitation, assistive technology, hearing aid replacement and maintenance, interpreters, captioning and so on, all things that are vital, none are really being considered as part of the NDIS.

I mean the number of people with Autism in Australia is said to be 1 out of every 166 people or approximately 136 213 people.  In Australia over 700 000 people are said to have an intellectual or developmental disability. There are said to be 292 700 people who are Blind or vision impaired and there are a whopping 3.4 million who have some form of physical disability[2] .

Now if we add up the numbers for autism, vision impairment, intellectual/developmental and physical disability this comes to 4 528 913. The Government figure of 410 000 people being supported by the NDIS only equates to 9% of that figure. It is worth noting that I have not included the statistics for hearing loss in this figure and we have not even touched on mental health yet.

I accept not all the people who have a disability will require support under the NDIS but 9% of the population of people with a disability, and that is excluding hearing loss, seems proportionally low. The figures are not adding up. It’s clear to me that there is much work to be done. The Governments thinking and the thinking of people with a disability are poles apart. The NDIS is here YAY!  BUT the hard work has really only just begun.

Land of the Fair Go!

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This is Australia!  Australia is a land of plenty. Australia is a land of the fair go. Australia is sunny beaches and open spaces. Australia is sunshine and Koalas. It’s not all good though. Watch out for those spiders and the snakes because they cop a bit of a nasty bite. Apart from that Australia is a land of plenty and opportunity. Most of all it is the land of a fair go. Or is it?

In this rich land of opportunity did you know that, “Aboriginal infant mortality is one of the highest in the world. Forty percent of Aboriginal children end up in hospital with acute respiratory illness with admissions for pneumonia 80 times higher than for non-aboriginal children.” Or that, “The life expectancy for Aborigines is 15 years less than for the rest of the Australian community with Aborigines in their 30s and 40s dying at a rate 12 times higher than other Australians of the same age.” Or that, “In places like Redfern and La Perouse in Sydney, Inala in Brisbane and many other city areas, unemployment has forced Aborigines into overcrowded and substandard housing which breeds serious health problems.” Or that, “…  the jobless rate is as much as 90 percent in some areas. In country towns of NSW and throughout Australia the social conditions which flow from this can only be described as a disaster.” The catalogue of social inequality and unfairness confronted by Aboriginal people goes on and and on. It makes a mockery of any claim that Australia is the land of a fair go.[1]

I was horrified recently that a visitor to this country had been told that Aboriginal people needed to get over it. He was told that what happened years ago was not good but that Aboriginal people are holding a grudge and that they needed to move on. Basically he was saying that he had been told that the social woes of Aboriginal people are their own fault and are related to the fact that they are still living in the past. I was gobsmacked.

This is the country that stole children from Aboriginal parents. They did so under the misguided and elitist apprehension that White and European culture was superior. Stealing children from Aboriginal parents happened because White Australia wanted Aboriginals to be like them. It was done because White Elitist thought Aboriginal children would be better off in ”civilised” society. More than 100 000 Aboriginal children were forcibly removed from their parents and this was still occurring as recently as the 1970’s, less than 50 years ago.

The horror of this period in Australia’s history is unimaginable. Suffice to say the damage done to the stolen generations is being felt savagely even today. Individually it is well documented that Aboriginal children who were stolen suffered from low self-esteem and mistrust of people. They often felt guilt and shame because they were told stories that they were taken from their parents because the parents did not love or care for them. They suffered anguish because they were often told that their parents were dead only to discover later that this was a lie. Mostly they lost their identity and culture as their communities were torn apart. They were forced to grow up WHITE and later when they discovered their true culture and identity the anger and grief was immense. The consequence of all of this and more is still being felt today. It beggars belief that White Australians of today could believe and state openly that Aboriginal people need to “move on.”[2]

In 2002 I moved to Alice Springs for a year. My wife had been struggling to establish her teaching career in Adelaide and an opportunity arose to become a Visiting Teacher for the Deaf in Alice Springs. We sold our house and took off to Alice Springs. It was a real eye opener. The first thing that strikes you is not the heat but the dogs.

The dogs are everywhere running around the streets. In the major cities it is a rarity to see dogs running about. But it was common to see two or three dogs trotting along the footpath. Often one would be a female that had recently given birth. You knew this because the teats of the dog were enlarged and swayed under her as she ran. The dogs are your first indicator that the social structure of Alice Springs is very different.

At first glance Alice Springs, apart from the beautiful Macdonell Ranges, is nothing but a nondescript suburb. When you live in Alice Springs you very soon realise there is White Alice Springs and there is Black Alice Springs. The Whites typically live in modern well kept houses. This is particularly apparent around the Alice Springs Golf Club which is surrounded by what are best described as POSH houses.

If you walk a little down the road from the Golf Club you will find some Aboriginal houses. After the pristine houses surrounding the Golf Club  the Aboriginal houses are a reminder of the social inequality that exists in Alice Springs. The Aboriginal houses will have rubbish and debris scattered in the front yard. Many of them have grating covering the windows to prevent them being broken. There is the almost mandatory broken down Holden or Ford in the drive way or yard. Graffiti covering the houses is common. Over-crowding in the houses is apparent.

I really hated it. I could not rid myself of the feeling that I was an intruder on their land. I felt a deep sense of shame that my race could live and exploit a land and reduce the real owners of the land to poverty. During the day many would gather to drink their flagon of wine in the middle of the dry Todd River. At night the paddy wagons would drive down the river to pick up those Aboriginal men who were so drunk that they were a danger to themselves and others. It was just an awful thing to witness.

I was fortunate in some ways to have been able to work with three Aboriginals who were deaf in my short time in Alice Springs. One of them was a beautiful, tall and regal young Aboriginal woman. Whenever I walked in she would beam me the most brilliant smile. She often would bring me food that her family had cooked the night before. Goanna is very tasty and kangaroo tail very tough.

Another was a young boy from a distant community. He was flown in from his community for school where he was a boarder. At 14 he could neither read nor write. My job was to help him with his homework. It was an impossible task because he had sat through class the whole day and not understood a word that had been said. The homework to him was just squiggles on a piece of paper. Both of us just ignored the homework and concentrated on developing our own communication. He would tell me tales of his home. He delighted in showing me the home signs for various animals. He would tell me excitedly how he drove a car and would mime how fast he went and how he would drag the back wheels into a skid. His would show me through mime and gesture the plumes of dust that the skid created behind the car.

There was another young woman from a remote mining town, a few hundred km South East of Darwin. They discovered that she was deaf very late in life. She had been befriended by one of the senior mining managers who paid for her to be flown to Alice Springs for her schooling. She hated it there and just wanted to return to her community. Her literacy was rudimentary. It was the same for all the Aboriginals in Alice Springs who were deaf that I worked with. She was a volatile but intelligent young woman and she knew where she wanted to be.

She wanted to go home and she made that clear for everyone. “School Finish” she would sign, “home home home” This was in 2003. Unrelated to the woman’s wish to return home my wife applied for a grant for her and another Aboriginal student who was deaf to attend the 2003 Sydney Australian Deaf Games. I was employed with another white woman to support them at the Games.

When we arrived in Sydney the young woman delighted in telling me that she was finished in Alice Springs. She would tell me that when the Deaf Games were over she was going back home for good. The problem was that she wasn’t. You see the authorities and her mining benefactor did not respect her wishes. She believed that she was going home but they had booked her to go back to school in Alice Springs. I suspect that they could not communicate with her and could not fully comprehend how much she wanted to return home to her community. She was 18 years of age by this time and although she was illiterate she was intelligent and knew her own mind.

One day during the Deaf Games we were talking about what was to happen at the end of the Games. She insisted that she was going home to her community. It was my unfortunate task to explain to her that this was not the case and that her ticket had her to return to Alice Springs. She tried to slap me. She let out a blood curdling scream. “NO NO NO!” she signed. She ran around the room gesticulating and verbalising loudly. Eventually I managed to calm her down. She sat in the corner of the room and sobbed for a very long time.

It was my job to get her on the plane back to Alice Springs. At the airport she continued to plead with me to let her go home to her community. I only managed to get her on the plane by promising to help her go home when I arrived back in Alice Springs. I was going back  to Alice Springs the next day. For a while she stayed with us at our home in Alice Springs. She carried around with her some scissors for protection. Her mistrust of people by this time was immense.

As I had promised her in Sydney, I set about helping her to return to her community. A meeting was organised by my wife. At this meeting both my wife and I argued strongly for her to be allowed to return home. The lead visiting teacher insisted that the girl should stay. After a long and tense meeting the young woman got her wish. The whole situation demonstrated  that, even to this day, that many White Professionals still have a superior and paternalistic attitude towards Aboriginal people. The situation remains one of the most harrowing that I have ever experienced.

This is the Australia that we live. What White Australia have contributed to the appalling situation experienced by the First Australians is something to be truly ashamed of. My admiration and respect goes out to all those Aboriginal people out there fighting the good fight for their people – I end this with a poem from an Aboriginal person from The Stolen Generation.

They had taken away my family!

The child within me cried,

The stolen life, the agony

Of many a year gone by.

 

The cover up; the pretence.

The falsehood: All those lies.

Didn’t they know I’d find out the truth one day,

And now I just ask WHY?

 

All their words and all their kindness

Can never fill the pain.

Can I ever trust the people,

That I believed in, once again?

 

The stole me from a lifetime,

My heritage. My home.

My family. My identity.

My spirit all alone.

 

But to let them win, would be a sin.

To give up would be a crime.

I must search on. I must fight on.

To find what is rightfully mine.

 

To find my heritage; my family.

My home and identity.

To find the person who was lost to me.

Me… the Aborigine!

Poem by Pauline McLeod [30].

This article is dedicated to my friend Jody – Keep up the good fight!

Clueless

cluelessI witnessed the most marvellous rant this morning. A friend had attended a fundraising function in Wales. The fundraiser was to raise money for the National Deaf Children’s Society in Britain and also for a cancer charity. It was a simple function, bingo. Yet despite it having a focus on deaf people the organisers had failed to consider the communication needs of people who are deaf. Said my friend, “I told the organisers (I was cross at this point), there is no point in raising money for deaf people if you are going to exclude them. So they told the bingo caller to slow down.” Even though the organisers apparently told the caller to slow down he/she didn’t. My friends elderly mother tried too help but it was all too fast. My friend, well known for her assertiveness, let fly, “Let me say this: there is NO point at all raising money for charities if you cannot change your attitude. That money is going to go straight to London, meanwhile deaf people locally are still excluded. What exactly are you raising the money for (apart from organisation overheads)? To ensure deaf people are included? It is the ultimate oxymoron.”

One can imagine that seeing an event about raising money for deaf people that a deaf person would want to attend. The deaf person would assume, rightfully so, that all bases would be covered. After all it’s for deaf people so one would be quite within their rights to expect that the organisers would know what deaf people need … But no! As they say about the word assume … It makes an ASS out of U and Me. You see in the disability sector there is an infuriating habit for organisations to employ or contract people who know absolutely nothing about disability. These people have a frustrating ability to cock things up. Like the diversity for disabled organisation who were giving an award to a person in a wheelchair but neglected to provide a ramp for the person to get up on stage. CLUELESS

Too often people employed in positions of power in the disability sector have this awful welfarish mentality. They think that all people with a disability require help, the poor souls. It’s lovely to help isn’t it? See those lovely, poor and disadvantaged deaf people over there … Their life is shit! But buy a raffle ticket and we will make it all better. Be good, look into your soul and help those less fortunate. Theres a dear.

I copped abuse a few years ago for writing an article about a deafblind man in Adelaide who does fundraising for the deaf there. He sits in shopping malls and waves a can about. Passers by, taking pity, drop money in his can. I had known the fellow for some years but I was appalled at what he had been reduced too. People would actually avoid him and give him pitying looks. You could see them as they passed him by whispering to each other. No doubt they were saying what a poor fellow he was.

My argument was that such fundraising initiatives paint a truly negative picture of people with a disability. It paints a picture of beggars in need. Poor people on the corner, like the homeless – helpless and in need of your spare change. Of course we don’t want the homeless being painted like this either. But this is what these types of fundraising initiatives do. They paint a “woe is me” picture where the power is purely with those that part with their money. This type of mentality is something that people with a disability abhor. I will tell you this for nothing, these types of fundraising initiatives are organised by people who have absolutely no experience in disability whatsoever. They might have a marketing background but they are absolutely clueless as to what people with a disability need or want. Consequently the message of most fundraising is inherently negative.

In the situation with the deafblind fellow I even offered, free of charge, to help them to design a more positive campaign. Don’t get me wrong, I understand there is a need for fundraising, I am not that naive. However, I strongly believe that this fundraising can be done in a positive way. After being abused by the organisations CEO for writing what I did I offered to help. I suggested that you could set up a table where the fellow demonstrates how he uses assistive technology and computers to be more independent. I suggested that these demonstrations could highlight the positive programs that the organisation provides. The message could be to donate to contribute so that these programs can continue. My belief is that this type of positive promotion is a far better fundraising tool. The CEO ignored my offer of help. Sadly the deafblind fellow continues to wave his can in shopping centres. He does so simply because the organisation refuses to consider alternatives.

Some years ago I applied for a managers role in a key organisation for deaf people. I got to the final round. Part of the final round was to have an interview with a psychologist. The psychologist would then assess your suitability for the job. The CEO arranged for this to happen. For whatever reason he suggested it should happen via Skype. The psychologist contacted me to set up the interview. I assumed that because they had suggested Skype that the psychologist knew how to sign. It’s a nasty word that word, assume, and it bit me again. Of course she did not sign. Quite how we were expected to communicate I do not know.

But anyway a few emails later the psychologist and I worked out a system. I, having passable speech, would talk. She  would type her questions. So we connected. It was very clear when we connected that the internet connection was not very good. She could not hear me very well and what she typed did not immediately come through. I found myself answering a question in detail only to find she was typing something to try and clarify  a point I had made. What she typed didn’t show. All I could see was her head and shoulders. Suddenly I looked up and she was frantically pointing downwards with two fingers towards what seemed to be her neither end. Eventually we managed to get a brief conversation going for five minutes and she suddenly said she had enough information, she had another appointment, she wished me luck and logged off. Suffice to say I didn’t get the job.

Later on a worker from the same organisation contacted me for assistance. This was in the early stages of the NDIS. This was when the Government was consulting about the NDIS to assess whether it was needed and wanted. The person that got the job that I had applied for was writing a submission for the consultation. I did not know this at the time. The worker visited me to ask me questions about the NDIS and self directed funding. I was more than happy to oblige and provided her with a heap of information and internet leads.

A few months later the findings of the consultation were released. I was reading through them and found the submission from the organisation that had turned me down for the role. Blow me down – I kid you not – virtually word for word they had quoted the information that I had provided to their worker in good faith. They had clearly used the internet leads that I had provided them too because there were passages that could be attributed to these articles. I was more than a bit taken aback, after all I had applied for the role that the author of the submission had won and had been turned down. It was a bit like a punch in the face to see them using my knowledge with absolutely no reference to the help that I had provided. Ok the author of the submission might have known a bit about disability, but she knew EFF all about deafness. But she got the job – Go figure.

You see this all the time. CEOs are employed for their business acumen but have no idea how to relate it to disability or deafness. They portray all the wrong messages and keep promoting the woe is me mentality. You see fundraisers who have a million degrees in marketing but no idea what the deaf or people with a disability need. Hence they continue to target the heart strings.

Even with the NDIS politicians are clearly being guided by the clueless. Nearly every time you see Tony Abbott or Julia Gillard promoting the scheme they are sitting next to some fellow or woman who is in a wheelchair and they smile up to the camera paternalistically. You hardly ever hear them talking of the economic benefits of the scheme or of how the scheme will allow people with disabilities to  contribute more to society. Or of how many jobs will be created by it. Instead you hear about how it will HELP.. How much CARE it will provide and worse, how much it will cost! And of course this cost is being met by the generous dollar allocation of the Pollies. What about the message that its an investment and that the return will be huge. Who is advising the Pollies …. More clueless people no doubt.

There I have said it – rant over!

When Bernie got Burnt!

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Hands up if you didn’t know who Bernie Brookes was before Wednesday the 1st May? I certainly didn’t.  In one ill thought out moment our Bernie, the CEO of the Myer Group,  has become perhaps the most reviled man in Australia amongst people with a disability and their advocates. As we all know Prime Minister Gillard has proposed an NDIS Levy to help fund the NDIS. This will be an extra .5% on top of the current Medicare Levy. This will take the levy from 1.5% to 2%.

While the disability sector rejoiced Bernie had a brain fade. Bernie suggested that because Australians had been asked to pay a little extra tax that they would spend less at Myer. Consequently Myer would suffer, sales would, fall and jobs would go. What is more Bernie said it was the wealthier Australians that would suffer the most because they actually had to pay more of the Levy. This is what Bernie said, “The financial impost would be greater for wage earners in higher salary brackets, which could affect sales at department stores in particular since their customers typically have higher incomes.” The poor rich dears, my heart bleeds!

The disability community who had been largely celebrating the Levy announcement were shocked. How dare any one suggest that people with a disability would be responsible for Myer’s problems. Collectively disability divas all over Australia rose as one. Social media went into overdrive. Bernie’s comments were plastered all over Facebook and Twitter. In no time at all a Boycott Myer campaign was established. Myer’s Facebook page and website was inundated with comments from irate people and supporters of the NDIS. So great was the wave of protest that Myer were eventually forced to temporarily shut down their website.

The Myer PR team went into overdrive. By Thursday morning they had released an apology of sorts. But it was a begrudging apology. They pointed out that they supported the NDIS, they were sorry for any offence taken but they still thought the Levy was a bad idea. I can only describe this move by them as being. – Not very bright. This just made people even angrier.

Later in the morning, seeing the error of their ways, Myer  issued another apology. This time the apology was a lot softer. The second apology made no mention of the Levy. They simply said, We certainly did not intend to offend anyone, and again, we are very sorry.” Myer made it very, very clear that they fully supported the NDIS.

All seemed dandy but then Bernie came back to issue another apology. Bernie wanted to reinforce that he was really sorry for the hurt that his comments caused BUT reiterated that he thought the Levy was bad for business. In a sense he almost said, “Sorry your upset but I still think you lot are a burden.”

Being the CEO of Myer one would assume that Bernie has a fair knowledge of finance and economics. If he does he certainly has not demonstrated this with his comments about the NDIS. If Bernie had done just a wee bit of homework he would have discovered that the Productivity Commission Report into the NDIS predicted that the NDIS, when operating properly, had the potential to contribute $9.2 billion to Australia’s gross domestic product. And that is on top of what is to be invested in it. One would have thought that a smart CEO would have done his homework before making comment. Bernie is clearly not a smart CEO!

Indeed Peter Martin writing in The Age has argued that the NDIS Levy will, “Boost the nation’s economic performance.”[1] Martin’s argument is quite simple. The NDIS would create opportunities. He brings to our attention that the NDIS has the potential to create employment for 220000 people with a disability, many who were previously unemployable. These people, of course, will then become active economic contributors whereas before many were largely confined to their homes. They will spend their income on entertainment, on goods and on services. No doubt some would have gone to Myer. They might not now after Bernie’s comments.

Apart from creating opportunities for work the NDIS will mean that money previously spent by people with a disability on their care would now be spent elsewhere. Carers, previously time poor because they were caring for their disabled children, will have more time to participate in the community. Jobs are likely to be created in the disability sector for people to carry out the care that is needed. Equipment such as wheelchairs will now be fully funded and be more readily available. A spin off from this is that the NDIS is likely to create greater opportunities for innovation and manufacturing of aids and equipment. It’s almost like the NDIS will generate a whole new economy. Myer might have benefited from that. But then along came Bernie – OOOPS!

Meanwhile it was announced today that Myer shareholdings dropped 3.4%. Perhaps this is not related to Bernie’s comments, but still Karma is a bitch isn’t it? All over Australia people with a disability, their families and their friends are cutting up their Myer cards. All over Australia these same people are going to take their business elsewhere. And believe me that is a lot of people. One can imagine other fair minded people, not related to people with a disability but wanting to support an NDIS, will have taken offence and will also be taking their business elsewhere. Oh Bernie!!!! What have you done?

It’s not the NDIS Levy that will kill Myer – I think Bernie may have done that all by himself.