Where’s the CEO (And her friends)?


Please note that there is a factual error in this article. It was mistakenly stated that Ms Curran was an apology for the AFDS meeting. This may not in fact be the case as the meeting is on 16th August. Apologies to Ms Curran for this error.

Last week on Facebook there was an old photo from a school for the deaf  in England. It was an old, haunting black and white photo. In the photo there were a group of deaf children in a huge communal bath. The bath was apparently full of freezing water. Even though it was a still photo, the children’s discomfort was obvious. All of them were hugging their shoulders to generate what little warmth they could. Apparently back in the old days the practice was to make deaf kids speak orally at all cost. The kids had to remain in the freezing water until they spoke in a way that the teachers deemed was correct. If they did not, they had to remain in the water. If they spoke well, they could get out.

It reminded me again of how Deaf people and the Deaf communities have been oppressed over the years. Systematically Deaf people and the Deaf community have been forced to endure a host of injustices. Deaf kids at school have been rapped over the knuckles for signing. In class they have been made to sit on their hands so that they would not be tempted to sign.  Even though learning speech was hindering the overall language development of young deaf kids, they were forced to spend hours while teachers covered their mouths and tried to make them comprehend just one word.

If they have not been abused at school, the Deaf community have had their language, sign language, oppressed. Either they have been forced to speak even though sign language was far more natural to learn, or they have had their beautiful sign language bastardised. First it was cued speech and then it was Signed English. Through all of this oppression the Deaf community have endured and thrived.

To this day the oppression of Deaf people continues. It is happening right before our very eyes in South Australia. The spiritual and cultural home of the South Australian Deaf Community has been stolen from them. I don’t use the word – stolen- lightly. But how else can an organization like Townsend House stand to profit $3 to $4 million dollars from a building that they paid not a cent for? Pure and simple, it is daylight robbery.

The heart of the South Australian Deaf Community is breaking as the day comes closer for 262 to be sold. They are fighting to the bitter end to save the building that was built with the blood, sweat and tears of many of their Deaf forbearers. Every day, around the clock, members of the Deaf community are holding a candlelight vigil to show just what 262 means to them. They are crying out to politicians for help but all to no avail. “It’s a commercial decision”, say the politicians,   “There is nothing that we can do.”

And while the South Australian Deaf community is frantically trying to save their home, where are the senior management of Townsend House? Are they talking with the Deaf Community? Are they trying to find a way to save 262 in the face of a very clear message from the South Australian Deaf Community? Are they visiting the dedicated members who are taking part in the vigil to talk with them and understand their viewpoint? Are they showing respect or even remorse for the obvious pain and heartache that they are causing this proud community?

NO! Do you want to know where the senior management of Townsend House are? Do you want to know what the senior management are doing? The very same senior management that will have us believe that the financial situation of Townsend House is so dour that the 262 building must be sold are doing what? Well I can confirm that most of them are in Sydney on a very, very expensive junket. How? There is no money. Or at least this is what they want us to believe.

I was told that Judy Curran has informed the Australian Federation of Deaf Societies that she will be an apology for their meeting this week. It is in Perth I believe. Why? She cannot attend because she is attending a business conference in Sydney. Not only that but several of her senior management colleagues are attending with her.

I can confirm that Ms. Curran and six members of the senior management team have flown to Sydney. I can confirm that at least four have been registered to attend the Challenge Business Thought Conference organized by the Australian Business Congress. Another two are in Sydney but it cannot be confirmed that they are attending the conference too.

It is not a cheap conference either. I am assuming that Townsend House is a paying member of the Australian Business Congress and purchased the early bird registration. I am assuming that they purchased the group package to save money. I am assuming they are a member of the Australian Business Congress. If this is indeed the case,  they would be paying $1233 per person to attend the conference. If they did not purchase the group package they would be paying $1850 per person.

At a minimum Townsend House are paying $4932 for four people to attend the conference. One assumes that if all six have gone to Sydney, then all are there to attend the conference. If this is the case, Townsend House has coughed up $7398 for their senior management team to attend the conference.

Of course they would also have had to pay airfares. Lets assume it is $350 return for a plane ticket.  That is a further $2100.  The conference has accommodation providers that are offering discounts for paying attendees. The most expensive is $360 a night whilst the cheapest is $165. Lets assume Townsend House have been prudent and have chosen the cheapest accommodation. This is $165 a person for one night. We will assume it is only one night because the conference is for two days. That’s a further  $990. Then there are meals, probably $50 a day. That’s a further $300.  Taxi fares to and from the airport? This is probably another $300 to ferry all six there and back.

So all up to send senior management to this conference Townsend House has probably coughed up, for a two day conference, $11 088 – give or take a few dollars. This is from an organization that is in so much financial strife that they have to sell a building that they paid not a cent for. Meanwhile on a cold Wednesday night a community is holding a candlelight vigil to save their home, sipping bad coffee and snuggling up together for warmth.

The Townsend House senior management, what are they doing? Most likely sipping fine red wine and eating at a nice restaurant. Not bad when one considers that they are managing an organization in such financial strife is it?

Quite simply it is a disgrace. They should all hang their heads in shame! Oppression of the Deaf community is alive and well thank you very much!

What is Going On at Townsend House?????

handTownsend Park is a retirement village that consists of 49 units, 12 cottages and 47 apartments. It is a social enterprise that was established by Townsend House. It won their then CEO, Paul Flynn, a Social Entrepreneur of the year award in 2005. In a 2006 media release proudly displaying the Townsend Park Logo, Townsend Park marketing representative, Robert Milton, explained that Townsend Park was developed for a worthy cause. Because of the Townsend Park development, said Milton, Townsend House has, ““quadrupled Cando4Kids ability to serve clients…”[i]

Milton went on to explain that Townsend Park was in stage 3 of its development. An important part of the Townsend House Development was the open spaces and gardens that residents were able to access. Milton publicly stated in the media release that, ““Stage Three is our Final Stage – Residents can be assured their open space and garden views will remain.”

This promise that there would be no further developments at Townsend Park has been broken. The Rebuttal has received an email from a family member of a resident of Townsend Park. The email claims that residents were promised a beautiful living arrangement with manicured gardens and parks. “Little by little…” said the family member who did not want to be named, “…this is disappearing.”

The email from the family member explains that residents were promised that Townsend Park would be free of any further developments and the chaos, dust, noise and traffic such developments bring with them. Despite these promises, development of Townsend Park has continued unabated.

The email alleges that at a meeting with residents, Townsend House CEO Judy Curran, argued that this promise came from a sales representative and not them. If this is so, why then did they allow the article to be printed with the business logo that Townsend House own? Indeed why did they endorse the release at all. One assumes that any marketing rep worth his salary would first get approval from the people they are representing for any publicity of the product that they are marketing.

Residents of Townsend Park have, apparently, officially opposed any further developments to the site.  They lodged this opposition to further developments with the local council. In lodging this opposition they also had the support of other citizens that reside in the area. The opposition to the development by these people has been ignored.

It seems that it is not just the South Australian Deaf community that is being treated with disdain. Residents of Townsend Park are also being treated appallingly. Their wishes are being completely ignored as Townsend House and its CanDo brand search for dollars to cut their losses. It begs the question though, why is Townsend House and the CanDo group in such a financial mess? Is it just the Deaf Can Do part of the services or is it the whole of the company? Whatever happened to the revenue stream that had apparently allowed for CanDo4Kids services to be “quadrupled”?

The family member also provided The Rebuttal with copies of letters from Townsend House to Townsend Park residents. The letters refer to further development of the site. It is alleged that the Townsend House CEO let it be known in 2012 that further developments of Townsend Park would occur because, “We have lost a lot of money, a substantial amount.”

Ms Curran is alleged to have announced at this time that Cando4Kids would move to Welland so that developments could occur in the area that Cando4Kids was based. This is the Harold Raymond Close. Ms Curran is alleged to have indicated that the development of the Harold Raymond Close area would, “… satisfy our financial requirements for the foreseeable future.” An excerpt from a letter, printed on CanDO Group letterhead, dated 8th May 2012 and signed by Ms Curran, states that the Harold Raymond Close developments would, “provide financial security for Townsend House …”

Interestingly in the same letter Ms Curran indicates that Townsend House receive $800 000 in government grants. Service and overhead costs amount to $2.5 million per year. Ms Curran indicates that Townsend Park is a major contributor to making up the loss that the services make. Ms Curran cites, “… challenging economic times” as necessitating further development of Townsend Park.

Ms Curran states in the letter that there were other developments on the cards that included, “Developments of our South Terrace Adelaide property” (262). This is interesting because even though Ms Curran indicates that 262 is owned by the Royal South Australian Deaf Society it is clear that Townsend House has full control of the future of 262. Ms Curran stated at this time, May 8th 2012, “…unfavourable market conditions mean that project is some years away.”

What is very clear is that moving services to Welland was a strategic move so that Townsend House could develop the Harold Raymond Close area and make money to cover their substantial losses. Indeed Ms Curran admits as much when she states that moving services to Welland allowed Townsend House to, “Expand Townsend Park and improve its viability.” Likewise moving Deaf Can Do services to Welland was probably also done to free up 262 for sale.

Townsend House clearly do not recognize the validity of the statement made by Robert Milton in 2006 that there would be no further developments at the Townsend park site.  This is clear because in the email to residents Ms Curran is adamant that, “.. no guarantees that Townsend House land would not be redeveloped any time is contained in resident contracts.”  This may be so but the media release issued by Robert Milton on behalf of Townsend Park must have been endorsed for release by the management of Townsend House. Residents have every right to be miffed that they have been misled.

BUT what is really interesting is that the date of the letter to residents, 8th May 2012, is just one week after the Deaf Community Forum where Townsend House ‘Gifted’ the 262 building to the Deaf community with conditions. There is no mention of this in the letter. Indeed it confirms what we already know, that the ‘Gift’ was nothing but a PR stunt. It was never a serious offer.

What becomes really clear from the letter is that ALL of Townsend House’s services, including Deaf Can Do, are making a loss. It may well be that money made from the Townsend Park development is being channeled into children’s services so that it looks like they are actually breaking even. The reality is that these services are also making a loss and it is only the redevelopments of Townsend Park that are making them viable

It is alleged that Townsend House services lose upwards $60,000 a month and possibly more. It may well be that Townsend House are trying to lay the blame for these losses solely on the Deaf Can Do services so as to justify the sale of 262. In my view the reality is that all of their services are making a loss. If CanDo4Kids is looking healthy it is only because income generated from Townsend Park is propping them up.

In my view Townsend House do not want to sell 262 to save Deaf Can Do services. They want to sell it to cover their overall losses. Did you know, and this is confirmed in the letter, that maintenance of the Townsend House gardens alone is costing $300 000 a year? The losses of Deaf Can Do and the maintenance of 262 make up only a small part of Townsend House’s overall financial woes.

Ms Curran, in her letter to residents, called 262 , “…our South Terrace Adelaide property”  In making this statement she confirms that Townsend House have full control of the future of 262.  It seems that they have gained control of 262 and any profits that are made from it without paying a cent.[ii]They stand to make $3 to $4 million from an asset that cost them NOTHING. To me that is the definition of daylight robbery.

The problem that Townsend House has is that they are running a business and a service model that is not sustainable. They can sell 262 against the wishes of the Deaf community to make money. They can tread roughshod over the rights of the residents of Townsend Park to make money. However, if they do this simply to prop up services that are not sustainable they are throwing good money after bad. It makes no sense. What is worse is that the Deaf community and residents of Townsend Park are being made to pay for their incompetence.

[i] CanDo4Kids is the name of Townsend House children services that support children who have a sensory disability. It is part of the CanDo group of companies.

[ii] Townsend House may claim that they are channelling money into Deaf Can Do Services and therefore have a stake in 262. This is a valid argument that needs to be challenged.

SALUT! – The NRS!!!

imageI had an email today. A person from a Government body wanted some information about the National Relay Service and how it has changed my life. For those that do not know, the National Relay Service is a telephone service for the deaf[1]. The service allows people who are deaf to call an NRS operator who then calls whomever the deaf person is seeking and relays the conversation via text. In the old days we all had a Telephone Type Writer (TTY) and we would call the operator and bobs your uncle we had a telephone conversation with whomever. The service started in 1995 after an intense campaign to have it established.  It was a godsend because, for the first time ever, the deaf could call family, friends, order pizza, get a taxi, book a flight or make phone calls at work without having to look for someone to help them.

I well remember the launch of the NRS. We deafies all waited in anticipation. It was a bit of a let down because the system crashed and didn’t really get working until the next day. At the time I was working as a case manager for an organisation that organised care, in-home support and equipment for people with a disability. My first call was to an agency that provided in-home care. I remember it well because I ended up taking the boss of the agency for dinner for what was a short – thankfully very short – fling.

Prior to the NRS us deafies would get a TTY and all we could do was call other deafies or family members who also had a TTY. The service very much opened the world to us. It truly was a godsend.  We are for ever indebted to those early pioneers who fought so hard to set up the service.

Despite the immense value of the service many of us grew to hate it. We knew it was necessary, but we hated it just the same. We hated having to go through a third person. We hated the stilted nature of the conversations. We hated the GA (Go Ahead) and SK (Stop Keying) aspect of it too that made it like a two way radio conversation. But at the same time we could not live without it.

But then in the late 90’s the playing field changed. Mobile phones began to be common place. SMS became the rage. Deafies could now contact anyone at will. At first you could only contact people who were with the same carrier (eg Telstra to Telstra) but thanks to a clever advocacy campaign by the Australian Association of the Deaf (Now Deaf Australia) SMS was made accessible across carriers. This meant you could send  an SMS to any phone regardless of the carrier.

Of course SMS is best for short and sharp messages. But we could now contact a friend and say meet us at the bar. Or we could remind the missus to bring home some bread. Often we would text a hearing friend to call us a taxi because we were not near a TTY that would enable us to use the NRS.

What SMS did was give us all a measure of independence where we did not rely on a third person to get our message across. Since then plenty of services have cropped up. For example you can SMS RACV when you break down. We now have an SMS emergency service. Some people have an SMS a courier or SMS flowers type service. While SMS did not alleviate the need for the NRS it certainly made us less dependent on it.

After mobile phones came the internet. The internet has been around for a very long time. Its value to the deaf was not really fully tapped into until the 21st century. With the internet came a host of other services. MSN instant messenger was the first popular one. Then there was Yahoo Instant messenger – (I am not sure which came first.) Now we could just sit at our computers and chat away to everyone. We didn’t need a third person and we didn’t need the NRS … We could just chat away to our hearts content. And it was free. We could talk to multiple people at the same time and we could have group chats and the like.

At the bottom of our computer screens the little boxes would flash meaning someone had sent a message and we needed to respond. Often we would accidently type in the wrong box and this could be embarrassing. Especially if you had been talking sweet nothings with your girlfriend and you inadvertently asked Dean to put on some sexy lingerie tonight. But the deaf loved it. We still needed the NRS but we didn’t need it for or social calls, it was all done at the desktop.

Some of us set up Instant messenger at work. We would have a direct line to our boss and our colleagues. I, for example, would convince other stakeholders and service provider that I worked with to set up an account. This meant that I could now negotiate and make enquiries at will with others in the field without a third person. I sometimes just SMS ahead and say I need to chat about something and the person will get on line or arrange a time to get on line. The consequence is that my reliance on the NRS has reduced dramatically and I can do much of my work completely independently.

It has got to a point where I actually no longer have a TTY. My mobile, my iPad and my computer are all I need to access the phone. Facebook has added another complete dimension to things. Facebook has instant messenger too, to the point that I no longer use MSN or Yahoo. But Facebook also has groups relevant to my work where all number of discussions occur. It is almost like talkback radio. Whatever happens in the big wide world I am fully informed. If I need to ask someone a question about the NDIS I simply put a query on the NDIS group or AFDO page and I will get a response , often within seconds.

All this has happened within the last decade. It is unbelievable what is now possible for the Deaf professional. Sure, it’s not always completely straightforward. Ignorant organisations have any number of firewalls that prevent access to Skype and Instant messenger. Even so I have found that most are willing to provide access once they realise the benefits. With the introduction of the NBN, it is only going to get better.

The NRS, for me, has been relegated to the classification of, “when all else fails”, which is very rarely these days. Through SMS, Email, Instant Messenger and Facebook nearly all my tele-communication needs are met. Using a variety of tools such as my mobile, my iPad and the trusty computer I have can contact almost anyone and anywhere. There is still a need for the NRS to cancel that flight or get that taxi but its a need that, for me at least, is becoming less frequent. The NRS is almost, but not quite, a dinosaur. It will be needed for a while yet but I foresee a day when the need for an NRS will be no more.

BUT the NRS has served a purpose and continues to do so. It opened up doors for us all. We must never forget that. So I say to you all, at the end of July when I have completed my commitments to Dry July, raise a glass to the NRS – SALUT!

[1] I am well aware the term *the deaf* is considered not PC… It’s just easier to type than “People who are Deaf and hard of hearing” – So if you see “the deaf” take it to mean that.

Cast Out Like Squatters

fontThis photo was taken at the beautiful chapel that is part of the 262 building that the South Australian Deaf Community are fighting so hard to save. What you see is a Baptismal font. This was donated to the South Australian Deaf community by Deaf pioneers, Christopher Hawkins and his wife, Marion Hawkins.  Hawkins, it seems, introduced the famous Samuel Johnson to Irish Sign Language. Johnson is a famous supporter of Deaf people in South Australia. He came over from Ireland and worked under FJ Rose at what is now the Victorian College for the Deaf. Johnson moved to Adelaide and became principle at the School for the Deaf that is now Townsend House.

Johnson worked hard to set up the first kind of Deaf mission in South Australia. His aim was to get Deaf people off the street and into church. He apparently asked his old sign language mentor, Hawkins, to run the mission. Hawkins is said to have declined and recommended Eugene Salas.  Salas was a very driven person and was responsible for collecting huge amounts of money to build the first Deaf Society on Wright Street in 1895. He drove a further fundraising campaign to build an extension to this building in 1898.

All of the work of these early pioneers set in train the momentum that led to further fundraising and the eventual building of the current home of the Deaf community, 262 South Terrace.  The Baptismal font is irreplaceable history and it is right there in the chapel at 262 South Terrace.

I was given a tour of the chapel by a wonderful stalwart of the Deaf community, who shall remain unnamed to protect her privacy. My friend told me, with tears of frustration, how her own children had been Baptised using this very same Baptismal font. She rolled off the names of many older members of the Deaf community who were also Baptised using this font. I was awe struck because I knew nearly all of them. When I worked at the Deaf society in the early 90’s I delighted in joining the senior citizens group. They would tell me the most wonderful tales. One fellow, who now uses a walking frame, would tell me the most corny but hilarious dad jokes. It was truly a privilege to be seeing the history and hearing it first hand from my friend who is such a wonderful stalwart off the South Australian Deaf community.

HawkinsI looked around the chapel and there are these wonderful, beautiful and eerie lead windows. The windows pay homage to those early pioneers of the South Australian Deaf community, both deaf and hearing. On the wall is a brass plague that honours Eugene Salas. The chapel, and indeed the whole 262 building, is steeped in history.

My friend took me downstairs to show me photos and the most beautiful tapestry. The tapestry had the entire finger spelling symbols of the alphabet. It is a huge and beautiful thing and was made by members of the Deaf Women’s Friendly Society. It hangs proudly in the entrance hall. My friend bridled with emotion as she told me of the rumour suggesting that the Townsend House CEO wished to take the tapestry and hang it in her office.  “If we have to move out of here.” she declared, “ that’s coming with us.tapestry

And it seems Townsend House are forcing the Deaf community to move out of their home now. Until the 31st December the only rooms that the Deaf community can use are the very small Women’s Guild room in the upstairs attic and the Chapel. In the building is some of the most beautiful antique furniture. Some of it has actually been made by Deaf tradesmen and lovingly looked after over the years. All of this must be removed.

The Deaf community has been told to remove everything. At the back of the Adelaide Deaf Centre there is a metal shipping container. Deaf community stalwarts are hastily removing everything that they can that is associated with their history and storing it in this container. What they can’t store in the container, they are storing in the little Women’s Guild Room in the attic and the chapel.  Records dating back to 1891, which include sporting records and meticulous handwritten records of the fundraising initiatives of those famous early pioneers, are being hastily boxed.

Without ceremony and very little respect the Deaf community are being evicted from their home. It is a home that is a fundamental part of South Australian history. The Deaf community is being thrown out and the building is being sold purely for monetary value. No thought and no care is being given for the efforts of those wonderful pioneers Johnson, Hawkins and Salas. The South Australian Deaf community is being treated like a squatter and being thrown out onto the street.

The Deaf community can continue to access their chapel until the 31st of December and then they must be out.  Without respect and without regard everything is being pulled from under them.

What we see unfolding is a very real human tragedy.  And Townsend House is doing it without the consent of the Deaf community. All the history, all the plagues, all photographs – Unless they are removed – will be unceremoniously ripped down.  Townsend House is about to be responsible for making a community homeless. They are about to be responsible for destroying a community. They are about to be responsible for destroying a history that is almost as old as the State of South Australia itself. South Australia was founded in 1836.

And they are going to buy them a new building they say. Well I am sorry it doesn’t hack it. And what will that building do? Will it have the connection of 262? Will it have the rich history of 262?  Outside of 262 there are Deaf people that have passed over who have had their ashes scattered in the flowerbeds.  What is to become of them? What respect is there for the dead?

To Judy Curran and the Board of Townsend House, I say this!  You are an absolute disgrace. You have spat in the face of the Deaf community. You have trampled their dignity. And all for a buck and to save what are absolutely irrelevant services that are duplicated elsewhere.  You have ripped away the heart of a community. That is your legacy; I hope that you are proud!

To anyone out there that can help the South Australian Deaf community save their home, history and community – Please, Please act now.

The opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of the Author, Gary Kerridge. Mr Kerridge takes full responsibility for what has been printed.

Acknowledgements to the late Rhonda Loades, Angela Dillon and Kats Parker whose work has been used here to document the history of the South Australian Deaf Pioneers

An Open Letter to Townsend House CEO Judy Curran and the Townsend House Board


Yesterday I attended the Save 262 Rally at the famous old Royal South Australian Deaf Society building. You would know by now from various TV reports that the Deaf community were out in force. I am not sure how many there were but it was standing room only. The crowd spilled from the veranda, onto the footpath and right up to the kerb. The crowd stretched pretty much from one ending of the building to the other. There were probably in excess of 400 people there, far more than the 300 you claim that Deaf Can Do support. In the building and into the clubhouse it was absolute chokkas. The beautiful and vibrant South Australian Deaf community were out in force.

They all had one thing in common. They wanted to keep 262 for the future of the Deaf community. There were speakers, both young and old, who told passionately of their attachment to the building. They told of the history of 262 from its beginnings through to today. The young spoke of their memories of attending the building with their parents. They spoke of running around in the halls. The older ones spoke of marriages and social events. They spoke of worshiping and baptisms. I learnt that when 262 was opened that it was claimed to be the first ever Deaf owned Deaf organisation anywhere in the world. This history alone, surely, is reason enough to find a way to save this wonderful building. It goes well beyond simple economics.

Did you know, for example, when opening the building the Lord Mayor, Sir Wallace Bruce, said that 262 should, “ … serve for all time as a beacon light to remind others that within these walls a duty was performed to provide for the future betterment of the deaf …” At that time there were no debts. The building was built through staunch fundraising efforts of Deaf people and supportive hearing associates. More tellingly when the building was opened the hearing President, Mr A E Clarkson, in recognition that the building was built for Deaf people by Deaf people, stood down in favour of Mr C H Martin who was a member of a Deaf family.

What these anecdotes tell you is the enormous and deep-rooted attachment that the Deaf community of South Australia have for this building. You may think it is sentiment but for this wonderful community it goes beyond sentiment. This building goes to the very heart of the Deaf community’s identity. Without it, they have nothing. It is not being dramatic to state that if you take away this spiritual home you take away the foundations of this wonderful community. You will be responsible for fragmenting a community in a way that it may well never recover.

At the rally members of the SA Deaf community let it be known that they do not want the services of Deaf Can Do. They clearly stated that they felt that the services of Deaf Can Do had no relevance to them. I have read that Ms Curran claims that Deaf Can Do are providing support for 300 Deaf people. These services allegedly help Deaf people to pay their bills. These services provide interpreting for doctors’ appointments and the like. I am sorry but what Deaf Can Do appears to be doing is duplicating already well-established services that are provided elsewhere. I am well aware that these services used to be the sole domain of the old Deaf Society. Since 1993 this has not been the case and it is time that people realised this.

Let us look at the need to assist Deaf people to pay their bills. There are very few Deaf that need assistance to pay bills anyway. Indeed, Sensory Directions and the specialist case managers that they employ can cater for the ones that do need to be assisted. There is no need for Deaf Can Do to continue to provide this service.

In regards to interpreting this landscape has changed too. We now have NABS that provide free interpreting to private medical appointments. Public providers have an obligation to provide interpreting and pay for it. In employment we now have the Auslan for Employment Scheme. This covers interpreting for work and job interviews. The need for Deaf Can Do to continue to provide community interpreting is minimal. What is needed is that the interpreting service be set up so that it is professional and competitive to compete with any number of private suppliers currently on the market. Any profits can then be channelled towards community interpreting when and if it is needed.

Let us look at the audiologist service that you have, Can Do Hearing. That this service was set up at all is mind-boggling. There was already Hearing Solutions that provided advice on any number of issues for the hard of hearing. There certainly was not a need for another hearing aid provider in Adelaide for what is already a very competitive market. One just needs to look at the yellow pages to see how many there are. Clearly the business returns are not particularly good if they cannot help keep 262 afloat. I am of the understanding that Can Do Hearing was established to create a revenue stream to keep Deaf Can Do going. It is clearly not working. Why should the Deaf community be made to pay for this failed business initiative?

The problem is that Deaf Can Do is providing services that are duplicated elsewhere. It appears to be that much of the financial losses are from the unnecessary duplication of services and not entirely from the maintenance issues of 262. Why are you throwing good money after bad?

What Deaf Can Do does not provide is a spiritual home and identity that 262 is providing. This home provides the South Australian Deaf community with a base and structure that makes them strong. More importantly it provides a social outlet and a gathering place that Deaf Can Do cannot. It is a place that most hearing facilities such as sporting clubs cannot emulate.

To take away 262 is to destroy a community. What is to become of its members when they have nowhere to go? It is not for nothing that there are statistics that suggest that the incidence of mental health issues such as depression and anxiety for people with a hearing loss is twice the rate of hearing people. Once you take away the spiritual and social home of the Deaf community you are casting its members to a hearing community that does not provide for their needs. The 262 hub isn’t just a building; it’s a place that keeps Deaf people vibrant and healthy. Again I say, the issues associated with the sale of 262 go beyond simple economics.

I urge you to get back to the negotiating table. I urge you to do all you can to  save 262. Most importantly I urge you to seek a solution that will allow the Deaf community to establish themselves as a strong and separate entity. An entity that is no longer reliant on the management of people that do not understand their needs and rich history.

Let’s ensure that the Deaf community of South Australia is saved and allowed to exist free of any interference. Simply buying another property that is still controlled by Townsend House will not achieve this. The Deaf Community no longer need a paternalistic organisation to look after their needs. They are quite capable of looking after themselves.

The history of 262 will tell you that it was established by Deaf people for Deaf people with assistance, not control, from empathetic hearing people. Let’s return control of the Deaf community assets to the Deaf community. It is time to cut them free.

If you do not, the death of a beautiful and important community will be your legacy.

If I can be off assistance in anyway please feel free to contact me on adefinty2@gmail.com

Kind regards


Introducing Tom Softly

If you have not noticed, Julia Gillard got cast on the scrapheap. Julia Gillard was, of course, the Prime Minister of Australia. I think she was a great Prime Minister who achieved much in difficult political circumstances. History will be kind to her, particularly her efforts to push through the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

The last weeks of Julia Gillard’s reign were marked by a frantic push to get the NDIS legislation through parliament. During this time Julia Gillard met with many people with a disability. She gave her time to answer questions from people with a disability, their family members and service providers. During one of these many meetings Julia Gillard was to meet Tom Softly. A beautiful and impromptu photo was taken. In this photo was a clearly joyous and excited Tom Softly. The then Prime Minister shook Tom’s hand and beamed the most warm and genuine smile. Both Tom and Julia Gillard were clearly enjoying the moment equally.


Well we all know who Julia Gillard is. She will soon be lost to politics forever. But who is Tom Softly?

Tom has Down syndrome and was born almost 29 years ago. He lives at home with his Mum and Dad, and his Boxer dog, Bella. He has two younger sisters and a 4-year-old niece – he loves being Uncle Tom.  He works in a recycling factory three days a week, and enjoys the social scene at work and the canteen where they make great chips. Tom wants a more challenging job, one that will get him out into the community and meeting people.

Tom lives in Western Australia. Because of this his future is particularly uncertain. It is uncertain because Western Australia has yet to sign up for the NDIS. The Western Australian Premier, Colin Barnet, insists that WA has a great disability support system. Tom’s mother Jackie disputes this, “The actual figures are that only 20% of people with a disability who apply for funding in Western Australia get it. Many families like ours are told not to bother applying because we will only get funding when we are dead or bloody close to it.“
 Not surprisingly Jackie is a strong advocate for the NDIS. She wants Premier Barnet to stop playing political games and sign up immediately.

But back to Tom. Tom has some great skills. His great love is riding motorbikes which he has done since he was 15 years old. Tom rides in Observed Trials. Observed Trials is a motor cycle sport that involves standing on the foot pegs and balancing while undertaking ridiculously impossible jumps and manoeuvres. These rides are routed over rock formations and through creeks. Tom has shelves of trophies and medals and is a respected rider among his peers. Tom is known for his courage. If he takes a tumble he gets back on again and has another go. Tom doesn’t use much speech. Despite this he is an active member of two clubs. He is well liked among his friends and goes by the nickname of “The Shark”.

Tom’s is a go-getter and also enjoys kayaking in summer. He recently has taken up golf. His other passions include Doctor Who, Guns n Roses, Michael Jackson and Queen. His favourite meal is bangers and mash. He loves Rottnest Island, particularly its bakery that sells huge Hedgehog Slices. He’s never happier than when he’s enjoying a drink with family and friends at the Quokka Arms. Most of all Tom is Tom and people love him for that. Says Jackie, “He knows more neighbours than we do. He mows our lawns and we have the best lawn in the street because of his careful work and ‘no rush, do it properly’ attitude to life.”

Tom gets frustrated when people underestimate him. Jackie explains, “Every single day people underestimate him, stare at him and often talk about him in front of him. He endures their low expectations at work, and in other settings. Often it’s people who should know better but don’t see Tom, they just see the stereotype.”  Jackie is a typically proud mother and the lack of support in the system frustrates her no end,  “He has so much potential, but the system – education, employment, lack of adequate support and people’s attitudes make it incredibly hard to even be in places and positions where he can learn and grow.”

And that moment with Julia Gillard, how did that come about?

As Jackie recalls the day her pride for Tom and respect for Julia Gillard is apparent. Jackie and Tom had rocked up early for an event organised by Every Australian Counts that the former PM was attending. They assisted to prepare nametags and the like. Jackie explained to one of the organisers that Tom had a gift for the Prime Minister in the form of a Down Syndrome Western Australia Calendar. Tom was Mr January and he had signed it especially for the PM. Tom had always been interested in Prime Ministers. When he was younger he once had pointed to the TV and said, “Bob Awk”

The organizer arranged so that Tom could sit next to the PM and give her the Calendar. Jackie recalls that when Tom gave the PM the Calendar and offered her his hand to shake, the PM’s reaction was genuine and warm.  The photo took every one by surprise and the pose that Tom struck is reserved only for people that he genuinely likes and respects. “The respect” says Jackie, “Was mutual and was reciprocated by the PM.”

Through out the event Julia Gillard made sure she listened to everyone’s stories carefully. When asked, she was only to happy to provide Tom with an autograph. A very small gesture that highlighted the former PMs genuine respect is fondly remembered by Jackie, The Pm had told Tom that she was pleased to have met him. As she was doing this another person asked her for an autograph. Tom’s pen, that she had used to sign the autograph, was on the desk in front of Tom. The PM smiled at him and asked if she might borrow his pen.”

This small gesture was, for Jackie, the ultimate mark of respect. Another person might have just taken the pen or asked if the pen could be borrowed through Jackie rather than asking Tom directly. It was just a small token act but one that spoke volumes for PM’s attitude towards people with disabilities.

As for Tom, he took meeting the PM in his stride. But whenever he sees that photo his eyes light up and he breaks into a broad smile. It is just another highlight of a life that has been well lived.

Deaflympics – Is it Time?

imageIrena Farinacci has been involved with Deaf sport for nearly two decades. She has represented Australia with distinction in Deaf Basketball at the Deaflympics 1997 Denmark and 2005 Melbourne. Since 2008 she has worked with Deaf Sports Australia as Sports Development Officer. She is one of Australia’s most experienced advocates in the area of deaf sport. In her time she has seen many changes. She has real concerns for the future of deaf sport and asks the question – Is it time for change?

The first Deaflympic Games were held in Paris in 1924. They are recognised as the second oldest multi sports event in the world. Yet despite this long and proud history, in recent times the Deaflympics have struggled. Much of this comes back to the exposure that is being received and the funding such exposure generates. As Irena explains the history her eyes light up with passion. Her concern for the future is apparent.

To understand the challenges of the Deaflympics Irena compares it with the Paralympics. The first Paralympics were held in 1948. This was the Stoke Mandeville Games and consisted of a small gathering of returned British service men who had been injured during the war. Ironically these Games coincided with the London Olympics. Since that time the Paralympics have grown and in the current day and age they receive enormous exposure and coverage. Not only that they have received funding to match. Many of the Paralympic athletes have become household names. Not so the Deaflympians.

Irena wants a world where Deaf and Hard of Hearing-athletes are treated equally. She imagines a world where Deaf and Hard of Hearing athletes have the opportunity to showcase their abilities on the world stage. On this world stage there is wide reaching media exposure and more importantly, adequate funding.

For Irena, athletes who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing should aspire to a world where Deaf sport is televised to millions. She can imagine Deaf and Hard of Hearing athletes from Australia receiving their medals to stadiums full of cheering people. She can imagine Deaf athletes as the darlings of the media much like Louise Sauvage and Kurt Fearnley. She wants to see deaf athletes elevated to role models to the millions of aspiring athletes who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing around the world

But she wonders – Can this happen for real in a Deaflympic Games?

“If the Deaflympics are to prosper”, muses Irena, “Perhaps they need to really examine exactly why the Paralympics are so successful.”

One of the reasons for the success, believes Irena, is the strong collaboration between various sporting bodies for people with a disability. She points out that the Paralympics organising body consists of a number of strong peak sporting groups. These include:

•International Wheelchair and Amputee Sports Federation (IWAS)

•The International Blind Sports Association (IBSA)

•The Cerebral Palsy International Sports and Recreation Association (CP-ISRA)

•The International Sports Federation for People with Intellectual Disability (INAS-FID)

Irena explained that, “Each of these organisations is responsible for the hosting and running of regional games and these are overseen by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC). This provides athletes the opportunity to embark on pathways that are available to them. This is especially so in the lead up to the Paralympic Games. “

The IPC performs the same task for the Paralympic Games that the Olympic committee does for the Olympic Games. They organise the winter and summer events and select the cities where the events are held. The Games are always held immediately after the Olympic games. The IPC governs the rules under which the athletes compete. It resolves any disputes within the Committee. They not only organise the events but they also determine the categories of the competing athletes.

The IPC and the Paralympics are clearly a strong, influential and powerful entities. Irena notes that the ISCD (International Sports Committee for the Deaf) do not take part at the Paralympic Games, and the reason for this is because they believe that the requirements of participating in the Paralympics are not really relevant to athletes who are Deaf or hard of hearing.

Irena has marvelled how over the past 10 years that both the Olympic and Paralympic movement have grown from strength to strength. This is the complete opposite of the Deaflympic movement where we have seen constant scandals; the most recent being the cancellation of the Slovakian Winter Deaflympic Games and the Athens Summer Deaflympic Games.

There has also been declining government and corporation support due to preference given to the Olympic and Paralympic events. At the same time the enormous costs of hosting the Deaflympics has meant many countries have baulked at wanting to host and take responsibility for the Deaflympics. Even though the next Deaflympic Games are being held in Turkey in 2017, there is constant uncertainty as to where future Deaflympics Games will be held.

Irena worries that while there are growing numbers of Deaf and Hard of Hearing athletes competing at each Deaflympic Games, they face constant struggles to raise funds, and at the same time they are confronted with uncertainty as to whether the Deaflympics will actually go ahead or not. Perhaps it would be beneficial if there were opportunities for the ICSD to showcase these athletes in a major event like the Paralympic Games. The exposure would be immense.

The Deaflympic Games is the second oldest International multi-sporting event in the world and it is struggling to retain its relevance. Irena asks – What is happening here?

In Irena’s view the Olympic and Paralympic movement have been open to change. They have been willing to take risks to work together to create a powerful movement to inspire people around the world through sports. Perhaps this is something that International Sports Committee for the Deaf and other Deaf sporting groups need to emulate.

Irena argues that it is time for the Deaflympic Games to join the Paralympic movement. This, Irena believes, will mean that Deaf athletes will be part of a larger global sporting force. It is this force that will bring athletes from all walks of lives and abilities together in the spirit of great sportsmanship. More importantly it will provide the exposure and funding to Deaf and Hard of Hearing athletes that is currently sadly lacking.

For Irena, the greatest benefit of joining the Paralympic movement is that athletes who are Deaf and hard of hearing would be guaranteed inclusion in a massive and prestigious 4 yearly event. The worry of where the next Deaflympics will be held and indeed whether they will actually happen would be a thing of the past. It will mean that the selection process would be tougher but there will be greater support to identify and prepare athletes who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing so that they are at optimal level come the Games.

But the biggest benefit is the profile and exposure that the Paralympics provide. A deaf athlete with the profile of Kurt Fearnley is not beyond the realms of possibility.

Is it time? Irena believes that it is.

This article expresses the personal views of IrenaFarinacci, and it is in no way a reflection of the views of Deaf Sports Australia.



imageAs of today the bear is gone. The Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children (RIDBC) have promised to remove the bear today in response to community feedback. Yesterday RIDBC CEO, Chris Rehn contacted the Rebuttal. This is what he had to say.

As the Chief Executive of RIDBC the approval of the noted campaign rested with me. The ad has been concluded and all “Yellow Bears” will be removed today / tonight.

By way of explanation the ad was not designed to reflect a person who is deaf or blind but to associate “eyes and ears” with RIDBC a task that often proves difficult from a general community perspective. The fact that the comparison has been made, and, has caused distress is enough for immediate cessation of the probono campaign.

RIDBC is committed to giving children the best start in life through its high quality educational programs and services. I will ensure that same high quality approach is applied to our general community awareness campaigns and media activities.

Now I am pleased that Mr Rehn has accepted responsibility. I am pleased that he has agreed to remove all advertising. I imagine he had been in contact with the RIDBC board over the weekend and that it was a joint decision. Now while I am pleased that RIDBC have listened to the feedback I have to say this small victory is bittersweet.

I know several people that work in the deafness area at RIDBC. They are committed and dedicated professionals.  Some of them are among Australia’s most prominent academics and professionals in the field of deafness. I am conscious that when I wrote the article “I Saw A Bear” it may have caused them some distress. I find it hard to believe that any of these academics, based on my knowledge of them, would have supported this campaign. Perhaps it was a case of management not consulting closely enough with them. Nevertheless they, and the whole RIDBC organisations would, have all been impacted by the criticism of the Bear campaign. This reflects negatively on them. They certainly did not deserve that.

I am conscious too that RIDBC offer some really good and innovative services. These services deserve praise. The criticism of the bear campaign also reflects on these services. For example, I know that RIDBC have been offering support to children who are deaf in remote areas by video conferencing for a number of years. It has taken other organisations a long time to understand the potential of using video conferencing to offer support. RIDBC were at the forefront of this type of service delivery. It saddens me that the campaign to remove the bear advertising, necessary as it was, has detracted from a lot of the good work that RIDBC do.

Many of us have been quick to praise RIDBC for their prompt response. There are others who are a little less forgiving. These people make some valid points. As the writer of the Bear article I want to celebrate the small victory of having the bear advertisements removed. But to do so would be remiss. It would be remiss to celebrate as it would be disrespectful to the many fine people that work at RIDBC. It is remiss mostly because there are many questions that remain unanswered.

For example on Facebook one person commented on Mr Rehn’s response, I’m not so sure this is a positive. This was a pro bono outdoor campaign worth $400,000 and this has probably been used up already, so I can’t really see where RIDBC’s CEO has done much at all…..”  This is a valid point because this campaign has been around since late May. For some reason the disability sector and deaf sector missed it. It was only the sharp eyes of one advocate, who noticed the poster on a bus shelter, that brought the issue of the bear campaign to our attention. Thank you Ricky.

The bottom line is that the bear had been around for some considerable time. I don’t know if it was successful in generating funds for RIDBC but I do know it would have been seen by many hundreds and thousands of commuters. It would have influenced or reinforced many of their negative perceptions in regard to disability. And $400 000? It could have been spent on something much more positive and valid than this.

It begs the question as to how this campaign was allowed to proceed without the relevant risk and impact assessment. There were many, myself included, who were willing to forgive and move on. But one frustrated commentator raised some  relevant points, “Oh I don’t believe this. What about responsibility? It was a horror ad. A bear with its ears cut off and it’s eyes cut out …. If you want change you need to be tougher about respect from people with a job to deliver that respect … I am not cynical or angry just shocked by incompetence , thoughtlessness. Some people are in the wrong job, the wrong area ..”  These may seem harsh words but they are valid. Simply put; how could the people responsible for this advertisement not see how it might be viewed given the core business of RIDBC? Surely their risk assessment of the advertisement should have identified all possible responses. Was the need to raise money more important than the image of people with disabilities? Did they not ask themselves these questions? If they did not, they should have.

Then there is the simple question of respect. Said another commentator of the CEO’s response, All he had to do was consult the Deaf community. Arrogance at it best. It sounds like he needs awareness training…. Someone who is representing one of the oldest charities in this country should be able to understand our culture.  I hope I’m wrong, but I’m sure he wouldn’t even know how to greet someone in Auslan or say good morning. All I want is respect for the culture I grew up with and know inside out…..  I hope the organisation will learn from this.”

It really is as simple as that. When you are dealing with the lives of people with a disability you have a responsibility to ask them how they would like to be portrayed. I understand they asked parents but how many people who are deaf, or blind for that matter, were asked what they thought of this bear? It’s such a simple thing to do. It is a simple common courtesy. If they had asked a good cross section of people with a disability what they thought of the campaign I am pretty sure the response would have been “NO WAY”

But it is wrong to put the blame solely on the shoulders of the CEO. I suspect Mr Rehn’s response was aimed at protecting his staff, Board and the advertising agency. In the end there are a host of people who are responsible for this Ad going out. Any review of the Ad and its failings needs to include all of them so that it never happens again. The fact that this Ad was allowed to happen at all indicates they are all in need of an urgent Awareness Boot Camp.

The time has come where we need to regulate disability advertising so that people with a disability are no longer portrayed in this negative fashion. There has been a suggestion that this advertisement, regardless of RIDBC apology, should be reported to the Advertising Standards Board. I absolutely think it should. It’s time for us all to get serious about the portrayal of people with a disability in the media. These negative stereotypes MUST be challenged.

For a really great example of positive advertising watch this video. A transcript of the video for people who are Deaf and hard of hearing has been posted below as it does not have captions

Background noise of busy office, phones ringing, cart wheels squeaking:

Man with Downs Syndrome: For you

Woman at computer: This is exactly what happened last time.

Man at the computer: I cant believe they are not running NT

Woman at tha Computer: I’m trying

Man with Downs Syndrome: Good morning

Woman at computer: Thank you

Man with Downs Syndrome: Ok

:Cart Wheels Squeak:

Woman at computer whispers: Can you believe he works here?

Blonde on Phone: Did you hear what he did last week OH MY GOD! Oh hang on he is coming

Man with Downs Syndrome: Hi

Blonde: Hi

Man with Downs Syndrome: You’ve got 2

Blonde: Thank you

Man with Downs Syndrome: Ok

: Men at water cooler laughs:

Man 1 : Hey look at him (laughs) that guys a freak

Man 2: Can you believe it he won a gold in the 100

Man1: legend


Man clapping: Good Man!