Whinging by Law

It is no use to grumble and complain;image

It’s just as cheap and easy to rejoice;

When God sorts out the weather and sends rain

Why, rain’s my choice.

James Whitcomb Riley

That’s a lovely poem innit. Thanks Jim. I was looking for inspiration of some sort. You certainly didn’t give it to me. You see Jim you’re not deaf, or at least I don’t think you were. Your not disabled either, not as far as I can see. I even Googled you to make sure. And blow me down, it’s possible that you were. You struggled at school apparently. You were always in trouble. Frequently absent. Maybe you had ADHD before it was known or some other kind of learning disability. But I tell you what! Apparently, despite telling us not to whinge and complain, you complained a lot about your teachers. Wikki says you had nothing kind to say about your teachers. That’s what happens when you perceive you are not treated fairly. You tend to complain and whinge. No one, absolutely no one, should just put up and shut up and accept their lot if they are treated unfairly.[1]

“Just as cheap and easy to rejoice” says Jim. Sure count your chickens. You should; it could be worse couldn’t it? It could also be better and no one should be critisised for striving for something better. But Jim’s poem is how society perceives whinging. They don’t like it. They love to see the positives of everything. Good news stories and romance are the order of the day. Cool, but if you are downtrodden and beaten all the time, well I tell ya this, you gotta whinge. Otherwise just accept your lot and suffer. You can do that but I certainly won’t!

So this is what I am gonna do. I’m gonna whinge. Here in Australia it is legislated that I have to whinge. You see if I am treated unfairly society don’t protect me. Nope! It protects me only if I have a whinge. Australia’s Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) is built upon the concept of having a whinge. If you are discriminated against you have to whinge to the Australian Human Rights Commission, who supposedly will then bring down the full force of the law upon whoever it is that discriminated against you. Right?  Ok join me in having a giggle at that one.

Ok I accept the DDA actually says you should complain but as far as I can see the definition of whinging is to complain. Ok complaining suggests something a little more formal. Whinging has a deeper meaning. Wikitionary says whinging is,  “To complain, especially in an annoying or persistent manner”  To get fairness for people with a disability through this  sorry excuse of a law that is the DDA, that is exactly what I/we have to do – Complain, badger and annoy the powers that be persistently and consistently so that positive change happens. Whinging is the only way to make the DDA work!

Yes, today I am cranky. I am cranky because people won’t return emails. I do my work by emails, its kinda like my phone. If it is not by email it’s by text chat. It’s how a deaf professional works. We can go through the NRS if we like, but that third person is a hassle, even though I accept it is a valuable service. I used the NRS today. It dropped out. I finally got through and I got an answering machine –  “We are open from 9 to 5. Please call back then.” is what the message said. Ok sure, but it was 10.15 am. Pick up the bloody phone! Well I am sorry but its annoying when five emails go unanswered, the NRS drops out and then you get an answering machine!

But this week I am mostly cranky cos of what is happening to the South Australian Deaf Community. Failed fundraising, crappy government funding, poor returns for business ventures and good old fashioned mismanagement has seen the famous old Deaf Society on the brink of collapse. Because of all this the South Australian Deaf Community are on the brink of losing its community and spiritual hub at where they have existed for nearly a century.  “Its no use to grumble and complain.”,  says Jim, “It’s just as cheap and easy to rejoice” Sure, sure … There has to be something worth rejoicing first!

Of course we have to whinge. But we don’t just whinge, we have to also offer alternatives. It just seems that when we offer alternatives the powers that be ignore those too. I am trying to be a wee bit humorous here but I can tell you there is nothing humorous about what is happening to the South Australian Deaf community. It is a human tragedy unravelling like a speeding freight train without brakes and just as unstoppable.

I try looking for positives. It’s hard to be positive when you read about some girl with cerebral palsy who also is deaf. The girl is refused a seat on a plane by Jetstar. WHAT THE HELL!  “It’s no use to grumble and complain” You try not to but what choice do you have. Jestar said it was cos the girl would not have been able to understand instructions. This is despite the fact the girl had apparently flown before without issue. It is hard to take Jetstar seriously. This is the same airline that was so inflexible that Kurt Fearnley had to crawl on his hands and non functional knees to get on a plane. It is the same airline that rigidly refuses more than two passengers in wheelchairs per flight! Disability Commissioner Graeme Innes was asked what he thought about Jetstars refusal to let the girl on the plane. He said something along the lines of.“It’s terrible, but I am not surprised.” This is our most senior disability representative! How inspiring is that – NOT!

Today I was just looking for a phone contact at the Deaf Children Australia website and I saw their latest fundraising campaign. It’s the Autumn Campaign. Now I am going to be controversial here … But I absolutely hated the campaign – The campaign implores us to, Help Keep Deaf Children Safe From Harm

Now this is the headline that is on the home page. You click on the headline and it takes you to their fundraising campaigns page where it states, “Sadly, deaf children are more vulnerable to abuse than most children. You Can Help Us Protect Them.” Just below that it says make a donation. You click on that and it takes you to the donations page where the headline isI am Deaf Not Defeated. I despaired.

Now let me first congratulate Deaf Children Australia on the program that they were promoting. The program is aiming to make the world a safer place for deaf children. It is true that children with a disability, deaf included are vulnerable. It is true that they can be at greater risk of abuse. Any program that can prevent this happening is a good thing. BUT that’s where my praise stops. I will try my best to explain.

There is an interesting website called Socyberty.[2] At this website there is a powerful article about societies attitudes towards people with a disability. Frederick Zammit has written this article. Zammit claims,  A person with disability is presented to us as a personal tragedy or impaired body. In general terms, disability is constructed as an individual misfortune.” Now I will be the first to tell you that disability is not always a barrel of fun, it can be tragic. But the problem is that the way the media and fundraising campaigns paint people with a disability is as Zammit explains, “Tragic and impaired”.  Zammit’s view is that this leads to the continued oppression of people with a disability.

Zammit’s argues that these negative stereotypes that are constantly promoted contribute to an extreme power imbalance. These images of tragedy and despair are used by organisations that have a great deal of power and control over how people with a disability are promoted.. Says Zammit, “An attitude is a positive or negative emotional reaction to a person or object accompanied by specific beliefs that tend to cause its holder to behave in specific ways towards its object” The implication is that by constantly promoting the negative stereotype it contributes greatly to the general negative attitude of society towards people with a disability.

Now let’s return to Deaf Children Australia and their fundraising page. On this page you can, Become a Barrier Breaker.  If you become a Barrier Breaker you can become:

  • automatically part of something bigger,
  • part of a growing community of monthly givers helping to break down social barriers

This all sounds lovely doesn’t it? BUT the language that is used promotes the idea that the giver has POWER. It promotes a helpers mentality. The helpers are helping the helpless. Even if the GIVERS make something positive happen for the helpless the power is still with the givers. In this indirect way people with a disability are oppressed and indeed controlled.

Now let us go back to the South Australian Deaf Society and the 262 saga. One of the arguments that Townsend House uses to justify the sale of 262 is that they have to continue to support those Deaf in NEED. The concept of need suggests support to those less fortunate. This is the welfare mentality. The website DisabilityPlanet explains that the welfare mentality  as used by, Charities through advertising and sponsorship campaigns reinforce stereotypes of disabled people that being, dependant, poor, needy, requiring non-disabled people to drag them out of their pit of despair through making minimal donations.”[3]

Now in the case of the 262 building the Deaf community want to retain it. They want to run it and they want to control it for themselves. It was, after all, set up for them. But Townsend House supports those in NEED. The very thought that the Deaf don’t NEED them is too much for them to stomach.  It’s not all about the money that 262 will raise if it is sold,  it is also about the CONTROL of the Deaf community and the continued oppression of them.

Neither Deaf Children Australia nor Townsend House will agree with these arguments.  They will claim they are providing positive programs with positive outcomes. This may well be but they continue to promote the negative stereotype. It is interesting that some of the most positive fundraising campaigns do not use negative stereotypes even though they deal with issues of death and tragedy. Red Nose Day,  Shave for a Cure and Australia’s Biggest Morning Tea are great examples of positive campaigns that are also fun. It seems that among our Deaf charities there is too little of this. The Deaf Children Australia campaigns, in my view anyway, are examples of how not to do it.

So that’s my whinge for today. For as long as the disabled are denied everyday rights such as getting on planes and controlling their own destiny we all must all continue to whinge. As I said earlier, Australian discrimination law dictates that we have to whinge to get change so whinge we must. As Martin Luther King said, In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”  Sorry Jim – Just as rain was your choice – not accepting second best is mine.

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