Gary and Melissa’s Excellent Adventure.

imageI awoke at 5am. I was feeling queasy and a little bloated. I had a big day ahead of me at work and I was also flying out to Sydney to attend the Deaf Sports Australia AGM. I went to the couch to watch some cooking shows on Foxtel. I thought this preferable to tossing and turning and keeping my wife awake. None of them were captioned so I gave up and went back to bed. I slept fitfully.

By 7.30am I knew this was not some small tummy bug. The pain was worsening. I emailed work to let them know that I would not be in. I decided to rest in the hope that things would settle in time for my 4.30pm flight. By 2pm they had not settled but they were no worse. I decided to chance it in the hope that it was a 24 hour bug. I packed my bag and went to the airport.

At the airport I was meeting Melissa, the Prez of Deaf Sport Recreation Victoria. (DSRV) We were both representing DSRV at the AGM. The flight was delayed an hour because there had been storms in Sydney. Not that we actually knew this for sure. It is something I deduced having seen the weather on Sunrise that morning. There was nothing on the airport screens to let us know. If there were any PA announcements we had no access to these either for obvious reasons.

The flight was uneventful. Apart from the fact I was in a bit of pain. Even though my tummy ached my bowel movements had been fairly normal. It was uncomfortable but I endured the journey. Chatting to Melissa helped and then a bit of deep breathing got me over the line.

We landed uneventfully. In fact it was a beautiful landing. Melissa and I agreed that it was one of the softest landings we had ever experienced. It is ironic that from that moment onwards everything became a nightmare.

We were to be trapped in that plane for almost three hours.  Problems caused by the storms earlier had seen an enormous amount of cancelled or delayed flights. Planes were banked up for miles awaiting an opening at the arrivals gate so that passengers could get off. Initially Melissa and I just shrugged and attributed things to the storm.

After an hour we both became a little anxious. We were tired and hungry and I was in a lot of pain. Obviously we had no access to the PA announcements so had no clue as to what was happening and when we might be able to escape the plane. I tried to grab the attention of a flight attendant with no success. I tried lip-reading them as they were talking to passengers in the aisle. In the end I just asked the guy next to me, which I should have done in the first place.

I told him that we were deaf and asked if he could fill us in. He was not an easy guy to lip-read either but he did his best. I managed to get a little of the story. Long queues of planes  that were all waiting for a berth at arrivals and that it was not known how long things would be. The guy was great from then on. If he heard something he would tell us how much time it was going to be before the plane moved on.

Of course, my pain just got steadily worse. I was cramped up in a small seat, never a nice thing for a big guy. I was steadily getting dehydrated too. In short I felt crap. I tried sleeping, deep breathing and rocking. Melissa thought the rocking made me look like a praying Jewish guy.

Eventually, after about two hours, I got a flight attendants attention. As luck would have it he was very camp and spoke at 100 miles per hour. Even though I told him I was deaf he must have thought that I was the worlds greatest lip-reader because he yammered on, fluttered his eye lids and gesticulated excessively. About the only thing I understood was that there were lots of planes, we just had to be patient and he had no idea for how long. Come to think of it that’s probably all he did say but in 10 000 words.

So we were stuck in the plane for almost three long, tedious and painful hours. Even when we berthed we had to wait half an hour until they managed to get the plane doors open. But eventually we did get off and I was in a bad way.

Melissa and I decided to catch a train to our destination. We purchased our tickets and headed to the platform. The screens said the train was to arrive in 3 minutes. Half an hour or so later no trains had been sighted. In fact, in that time at least four should have arrived but they did not. I asked a guy what was going on. He had no idea. We checked the screens but there was no information there either. It is apparent that no PA announcements had been made so we were all in the dark. So much for Disability Commissioner, Graeme Innes, suing Rail Corp for the lack of audio announcements for the blind at train stations. Mr Innes was awarded $10 000 and donated this to charity. It seems that the charity is the only entity that benefitted from the whole saga.

I was feeling so bad that I told Melissa we had no option but to catch a taxi. This was going to be expensive because Parramatta is a long way from the airport. Of course there was a long line up for the taxi. Eventually, almost an hour later we got into a taxi. As I do, I told the taxi driver I was deaf and needed to lip read him. He was of Indian or Pakistani origin and impossible to lip-read.

Melissa and I were dog tired. It was past midnight by this time. To our horror the driver was in no hurry to leave. He wanted more people in the cab … Shared cabs are all the rage. He spent ten minutes seeking another passenger. Eventually we took off. The driver then proceeded to talk to Melissa and I from the front seat.  I was dozing in the back and was rudely awoken by Melissa because she could not understand the driver. No matter that we had told him we were deaf, he just spoke to us as per normal.

By this time I was at the end of my tether. I rather tersely told him again that we were deaf, could not understand him, reminded him of the address and told him not to bother talking because we could not understand him. Eventually we arrived at the hotel $122 poorer. Probably more expensive than the actual flight.

By this time I was a wreck. Melissa was also shattered. But the sorry saga was far from over. The guy at reception was of what seemed Filipino origin. And also impossible to lip-read. What is more, he steadfastly refused to write for me to make communicating easier. So after another half hour haggling with him because the room had apparently not been paid for, we eventually got to our room. In a great deal of pain I crashed immediately onto the bed.

After a few hours of trying to get to sleep the pain became unbearable. I got dressed grabbed my wallet and began to look for a taxi out the front of the hotel. Luckily for me there was a nightclub across the road. At they front of of the nightclub was a line up of taxis waiting to ferry drunk patrons home. I approached a taxi and the driver was of Sikh origin, replete with head gear.

Luckily he was not difficult to lip-read. I was in obvious pain and asked the driver to take me to the nearest hospital emergency department. He claimed he did not know where it was, closed the door in my face and drove off. My face, grimacing in severe pain, must have scared him off. I tend to think the driver was just an arsehole.

Eventually and after a bit more messing about I got to the hospital. This was the Westmead Hospital in Parramatta. And I have only the highest praise for them. Of course the nurses and doctors there were not without there comical moments When it came to communicating with me.

To witness Dr Henry throw everything he had into communicating with me was a thing of joy. His miming of diarrhea and projectile vomit were things of absolute comic relief. Henry was probably of Chinese origin and dressed immaculately with a collared shirt and tie. So his pantomime to communicate with me was all the more funny to watch. I made a joke with the other doctors that I preferred Dr Henry because he was walking theatre.

And there was the red head nurse who upon realising I was deaf, shoved his face inches from mine any proceeded to shout at me. I pushed him away and told him that his behaviour did not help the situation. He then proceeded to use passable sign language. He had some deaf friends he said. With over the top behaviour like that I am not sure for how much longer he will have any deaf friends.

Three days on it’s been an adventure, but perhaps not an excellent one. Tomorrow I head to surgery to have my gall bladder removed. An interpreter will be present so hopefully it will all be plain sailing from here on. As for Melissa the rest of her weekend was uneventful. As for me the adventure continues. 😀



The Fish Rots From the Head

fishSometimes when I feel really strongly about someone or an organisation I have to temper what I really want to say. Strong words usually come to the fore. Words like idiot, stupid, moron, pathetic and so on. In the end, depending on the context, I usually settle for three. These three words are … NOT VERY BRIGHT. When I use this term it is no slur on intelligence or the lack of … It is just my way of saying, in the kindest way possible way, someone is being extremely stupid.

So I will say it. Paul McClintock, Chairman of Myer, is NOT VERY BRIGHT. McClintock was interviewed by Damon Kitney of the Australian. The interview was printed on Saturday, 16th November. To recap; in May Myer CEO, Bernie Brookes, made the astounding statement that the NDIS would mean that Myer would suffer. According to Brookes the levy that was legislated to pay for the NDIS though Medicare would mean that less people would spend money at Myer. Brookes thought that this was unfair.

Disability advocates around Australia were rightfully outraged. They were outraged because Brookes clearly showed that he had no understanding whatsoever of the potential that is the NDIS. This is particularly baffling because Brookes is a business man. The NDIS, potentially, is going to create employment. It’s going to mean people with a disability all over Australia can get out and spend their money where as before many were confined largely to their own homes. It possibly will give greater capacity to many to obtain employment. Carers, who previously spent a large chunk of their time looking after their disabled children (many now adults), could be supported better. These carers would have more time and more money to spend.  So the loss created by the levy potentially was offset by the gains. These are the economic arguments.

Brookes was having none of this.  In his simplistic and black and white world the NDIS levy is a bad thing. Myer and other traders will be the losers. What is more Brookes failed to even acknowledge the enormous social reform that the NDIS would bring with it. Instead he chose to paint the disabled as burdens that were going to cost Myer and Australia money.

The disability sector got angry, and rightly so. For years people with a disability have been, and continue to be, undervalued.  Brookes’ comments were not just narrow-minded but they were a slur on every single person with a disability in Australia. It is well documented that Disability Commissioner, Graeme Innes, made a public call for Myer to right the wrong by increasing the number of people with a disability in their workforce.

It’s an old story and the controversy has long since died down. But Mr McClintock, for reasons known only to himself, decided to resurrect it. Not only did Mr McClintock resurrect the story and the controversy but he defended Mr Brookes. What is worse he all but retracted the apology that Myer made for the offence that Mr Brookes caused. I am sorry Mr McClintock but that was NOT VERY BRIGHT.

Said McClintock, ” …in retrospect I regret the second statement. Because it implied that we were in the wrong, and we weren’t. There was absolutely no reason for us to apologise,” I am sorry Mr. McClintock, but there was. Your CEO labeled people with a disability as a drain on Australia. Your CEO labeled people with a disability as a burden. Your CEO basically told Australia that people with a disability had no value. Understandably, this caused anger and distress.

For his ill informed comments Mr. Brookes got immense backlash. I am sure he got a lot of personal attacks which would have been very distressing. But at the end of the day his comments were ill thought out and in many ways even callous. People with a disability are knocked down and discriminated against everyday. For the CEO of such a large and iconic company like Myer to publically imply that the NDIS and people with a disability were not worth the money was just, well, NOT VERY BRIGHT.

Instead of leaving an issue that had long since petered out it well alone McClintock decided to boast. He boasted that he took the people on who had attacked Myer and won. He then went on to say the attacks on Myer and its CEO were unjustified. Well the Australians with a disability, their families and their supporters would beg to differ.

Apparently the attack on Myer, largely through the social media, damaged the Myer brand. Said McClintock, “Yes, lots of people pressed the button, signed up the petition, but was there any real evidence people had thought through and understood the issues?”  So now we are all sheep. We are simply followers that press a button cos its fun to do so. We don’t understand the issues. We don’t understand what the NDIS can potentially bring nor do we understand what people with a disability need. Is Mr McClintock for real?

Let’s be clear Mr. McClintock, the damage to the Myer brand was not done by people with a disability, their associates or supporters. It was done solely by the leaders of Myer. Firstly by CEO Mr. Brookes with his ill thought out comments and secondly by the subsequent response of the Myer Board that first apologised half heartedly then apologised fully. This damage has been further compounded by the NOT VERY BRIGHT Mr. McClintock who resurrected the issue and claimed the apology was an error.

The apology was the only thing that Myer did right in the whole fiasco. The fish rots from the head Mr. McClintock. It is time for the leaders of Myer to accept responsibility for the damage that they have done. Not so much to Myer, but to all people with a disability.

Off With Their Heads

chopIn 2005 retired doctor, Owen Lister, suggested that disabled children would be better off guillotined. Lister was the Deputy Mayor of the Swindon Municipality at the time. Lister’s reasoning was that money spent on the care of children with disabilities would be better of spent elsewhere. Unsurprisingly the controversy that ensued from Lister’s comments led to him resigning. Even though he resigned he was unrepentant. Said Lister, “It shows how peculiar we are as a society on this matter that we spend this vast amount of money caring for disabled youngsters to very little purpose at all. It would be better spent on those who might actually benefit, such as cancer sufferers.” Off with their heads! A totally reasonable response to the issue – What the …?

This story, even though it was printed in 2005, is still doing the rounds on Facebook. What the story highlights is that many people in our society, more than we care to acknowledge, think that the value of the lives of people with a disability is somehow of less value than for people who do not have a disability. No wonder so many people with a disability have such low self-esteem!

I recall a horrific story that occurred soon after current Prime Minister of Britain, David Cameron, was elected. Cameron’s Government has embarked on a tough policy of reassessing people with a disability who receive welfare payments. Soon after Cameron’s election there was a horrific story of a wheelchair using man being tipped out of his wheelchair and abused. As the story goes the man was accosted by a group of thugs and hauled out of his wheelchair. The thugs stood around him and hurled abuse. They are alleged to have shouted at the man, “Get up and walk you bludger.”

A succession of Australian Labor and Liberal Governments have also targeted people with a disability who receive the Disability Support Pension (DSP). The argument is that it is better for these people to work rather than be receiving the pension. There are also many thousands of people with a disability, according to the Government, who can work and are abusing the system by receiving the DSP. Rather than have these people be a burden on the public purse the Government wants them all to go to work. However, if it was that easy for people with a disability to get work then the employment rate for people with a disability would have increased. It has not; in fact it has remained stagnant for over 40 years. This really shows just how our society values people with a disability.

I read once of an experiment that was conducted by a man who was blind. This man sent out two separate blocks of 100 job applications. In one set of applications he indicated that he is blind. For these applications he received not one offer of an interview. In other set of applications he did not disclose the fact that he is blind. For these applications he received 73 offers for an interview. That’s pretty damning evidence on just how society views people with a disability isn’t it? By and large society seems to view people with a disability as incapable and too much of a problem to consider seriously. Prejudice is rampant.

Not only is the wider community guilty of undervaluing people with a disability in employment but the Government is too. Why else would the representation of people with a disability employed by the Australian Public Service have decreased by more than half since the 1980s? At one stage people with a disability made up more than 6% of people working in the public service. This figure is now under 3%. This is the Government that claims that people with a disability are a drain on the economy and need to work. Perhaps it should help the cause a little more.

The case of Kyla Puhle is a sad and glaring example of how the wider society values the lives people with a disability. Kyla’s disabilities required constant care. Caring for Kyla would have been very stressful. Kyla received respite support to address some of her needs. For some unknown reason her mother, Angela Puhle, and her father decided to remove Kyla from the care that had helped to provide for some of her needs.

Instead Kyla was left at home in a bean-bag and severely neglected. She died at the age of 27. When she was found dead she weighed just 12 kilograms. She had been neglected to the point that she had starved to death. She had been neglected by both of her parents.The father was later to commit suicide in shame. Angela Puhle received a suspended sentence for manslaughter. She was required to pay a $1000 bond.

It is true that Angela Puhle’s life was tragic, even hard. A host of excuses were put forward in her defence. Central to these excuses was that Angela Puhle’s treatment of her daughter was a coping strategy. As Stella Young pointed out in her hard hitting article, Disability is no Justification for Murder, “ …the offense of ill treatment of an animal – whether or not that ill treatment results in death – carries a maximum penalty of $50,000 or four years in prison.” What is the price for the life of a person with a disability? A $1000 suspended sentence. Regardless of the circumstances of Angela Puhle’s life, the punishment handed down by the court says a lot about how society values the lives of people with a disability doesn’t it?

In Australia this year the country laughed when a footballer set a dwarf alight. To add insult to injury, when told of this story on national television, one of the highest ranked sports administrators in the land slapped the desk and guffawed out loud. The footballer in question tried to excuse his behaviour as just having a laugh. In this country last week carers of children with a disability, tired of waiting in despair as their children suffer in pain in wheelchairs that they have grown out of, have had to embark on de-humanising fundraising campaigns to replace their child’s wheelchair. Would any of this happen if society really valued people with a disability? I think not.

I, for one, know who I would like to use the guillotine on – and it is not people with a disability.