Incus Films – By Tony Nicholas

Incus Films is a new production group founded by Tracey Savage in consultation with my good self.

We have created a survey, which can be found at https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/QRDRYLZ

There is a multitude of content out there that has never been captioned and missed out on a big portion of audience and content that is captioned but is not easily accessible. Incus Films goal is to investigate and bridge this gap.

We are investigating building a fully accessible online portal where all films and videos are captioned. The aim is to have a website where Deaf and Hearing Impaired people, as well as those of us who need or enjoy captions for one reason or another can, access all the films and videos on the site knowing every one of them is captioned.

Our first foray into accessible media was the Read My Shorts, short film festival, staged in Sydney, Australia, and ran for six weeks in 2010. Every film shown at the festival was captioned. For Deaf and Hearing Impaired people, they had a choice of screenings, and for the film makers, it opened up a potential new audience. This project is a follow on from that.

To help us create the best site possible, we need your help.

It is a series of qestions about how you watch content and how you use captions (whether you do or not your input is still valid). We would appreciate it if you would take the time to complete this survey. If you would also forward this to family, friends and networks, that would be good.The data we receive, will be used to help inform the potential for this online portal. We want to create a product with high quality, accessible captioned film and video, with the best possible user interface.

We also plan to raise funds to get this project off the ground, pending the outcome of this and other market research. It will be a great way to access content never captioned before and another portal for filmmakers to get their work to a larger audience.

That’s why your input is really important.

If you have any questions you can write to: incusfilms@gmail.com

Tracey Savage or I, will be happy to answer.

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The Perils of Language

If the English language made any sense, lackadaisical would have something to do with a shortage of flowers.   – Doug Larson

1380578_10153377401325311_779322537_nThe only thing about language that one can say with any certainty is that it will eventually trip you up, particularly the English language. I have long said that English is the most nonsensical language of all. It is so complicated that the mere misplacement of a comma can change the meaning of a sentence completely.

A great example of this is the sentence – Woman without her man is nothing. This sentence was part of a famous research project. Men and women were asked to add commas to the sentence. Inevitably men would punctuate the sentence thus – Woman, without her man, is nothing. Women on the other hand would punctuate the sentence thus – Woman: Without her, man is nothing. This is a great example of the complexities of the English language. The mere placement of the comma can change the meaning of a sentence entirely.

English is full of synonyms and words that break rules . They look the same but sound different. Such words are forever tripping deaf people up, much to the mirth of others. Often reading a word is the first time a deaf person may have have encountered a word. This is because many deaf people miss out on the crucial vocabulary tool of overhearing.

When encountering a word in print for the first time people will typically try to pronounce it phonetically. This happens a lot for deaf people and often they get it horribly wrong. Who the hell thought up silent letters anyway. Without silent letters psychology would be spelt sychology. Even if it was, because we are taught to say things phonetically, many deaf people wouldn’t know if it was pronounced sickology or siekology. It is just cruel. If you want to really grasp the complexities of English consider the following poem:

When the English tongue we speak.
Why is break not rhymed with freak?
Will you tell me why it’s true
We say sew but likewise few?
And the maker of the verse,
Cannot rhyme his horse with worse?
Beard is not the same as heard
Cord is different from word.
Cow is cow but low is low
Shoe is never rhymed with foe.
Think of hose, dose, and lose

In recent days I have been thinking about language and how it embarrasses us constantly. This all came about because during recent and tragic NSW bushfires a sign language interpreter was photographed signing available. This was the source of much merriment to many.

For readers who do not know Australian Sign Language (AUSLAN) the sign for available is two middle fingers pointed upwards, a bit apart. It looks as if the signer is flipping the bird. But what one must also do is move the portruding fingers. One finger goes clockwise and the other goes anti-clockwise. To the untrained eye this actually makes the sign look worse because it gives the impression of flipping the bird repeatedly and to numerous people.

Of course, social-media being what it is, the photograph of the unfortunate interpreter became a national phenomenon. Said one wag, “ All this time I thought I was telling people to f#%k off and I was actually telling them that I was available.” I mean no disrespect to the interpreter in question, and particularly the victims of the bushfires, but this made me laugh. It made me laugh because translating one language to another is fraught with danger. Particularly when one is not proficient in a particular language.

Truth be known, the example of the interpreter signing available and having it misconstrued as a rude sign is not strictly translating. Really it is just people responding to their perceptions. Of course most people do not know sign language so the only perspective they have is what they know. Hence they laugh and mock the available sign because from their field of experience it is a rude gesture. Some hardliners in the Deaf community were actually upset that the general public were making fun of their language. Other nut-jobs have actually called for the sign in question to be banned.

It probably has been a good thing for the Deaf community because it has people talking about sign language. I am pretty sure that because of the photograph more than a few people will start to make some enquiries about sign language. Some of these people will end up learning sign language. Some may actually, over time, become proficient enough to become sign language interpreters. Who knows?

That said, the misunderstanding or misinterpreting of language can have tragic consequences. Consider the case where a very sick patient was being treated at a Florida hospital. The patient and his family only spoke Spanish. They were assisted by a bilingual staff member. The family members were gesticulating and saying intoxicado which the staff member translated as intoxicated. Doctors began to treat the patient as if he was drunk or had a drug overdose. The proper translation of intoxicado is poisoned. The consequence was that the mistreatment led to the patient becoming permanently paralysed. The hospital in question ended up having to payout $71 million to the unfortunate patient. Moral of the story? Always use a professional interpreter.

In today’s world we have infinite opportunities to make a mess of language. We are constantly communicating through any number of electronic devices, virtually 24 hours a day. Sometimes the autocorrect on these devices causes untold embarrassment. I am hopeless with the small keyboard of a smartphone. I am forever making mistakes. It has become so bad that I have apparently invented a new language called GARYSPEAK.

stain-remover

When using mobile devices like smartphones autocorrect mistakes can be hilarious. The web is fully of side splitting examples. Imagine the message to the left appearing on your phone as a text message.

Then of course we have live captioning on TV. Live captioners have the most difficult of jobs. They sometimes make mistakes. Usually this is because they sometimes phonetically present words that they hear. Once they appear on the screen there is no going back.  Live television has been host to some hilarious live captioning errors. Below is an example. This error ironically occurring during bushfires in America: (Evacuating is the correct word)

peopleejaculating

As William James once said  – Language is the most imperfect and expensive means yet discovered for communicating thought.  ~ We can do well to heed these words, because the mistakes we make with language are often unforgiving.


 

Whistle Pops and Me!

popsRecently Ramp Up editor Stella young wrote an evocative and moving article on ramp up. Ms Young has what she calls dodgy bones and is a wheelchair user. In the article she wrote a letter to her 16 year old self. Said Young to her self. “ .. The truth is, there will be people who will overlook you, who will pass you over and ignore you. There’ll be people who are really attracted to you, but whose feelings are squashed by the social pressures of what the media and society tells them is acceptable attraction. That’s ok. It’s just the way it goes. The good news is, it’s nowhere near as bad as you think it’s going to be. Not even close.”

In the passage Young is talking about sex and relationships. The reality is that the passage could be about almost anything. It could be about joining a sporting club. It could be about going to work. It could be about attending university for the first time. Ms Young highlights fears and concerns that nearly all people with a disability can relate to.

The paradox of disability is that the physical or medical component of our disability is not really the crux of our worries. The crux of our worries is fitting in. It’s a psychological thing. As a child or a teenager the worst thing ever is to feel different and be left out. In the back of ones mind is always the possibility of rejection. Often rather than be rejected the person with a disability will just withdraw all together. It becomes all too hard.

As a kid and teenager I did not cope with my deafness at all. The focus was always on making me hear better. Doctors, audiologist or special education teachers were all the focus was on. No one helped me to deal with my demons. No one told me how it would be or helped me to understand how I would feel. Make me hear better and ensure that I got educated properly then all would be well. It doesn’t work that way.

Primary school was perhaps not so bad. I lost my hearing at the age of 8. I already had a core group of friends. I was good at sport so acceptance was always there. But deafness does funny things to how others perceive you and it dents your confidence. For example when captains pick the sporting teams, before deafness I was always one of the first picked. After deafness I was the last.

And then their is the subtle bullying. Not the physical, just the psychological. I was a pretty proficient lip-reader but like most lip-readers I would sometimes get it wrong. This caused much mirth among my peers. They would come up to me at the school crossing and mouth, “ ..are you a poof?” I knew what they were asking but I would say yes”. The reactions from all around was mortifying. I learnt very quickly who my friends were. I could not believe that they could be that mean. Even so called best friends would try. In retrospect the damage to my self esteem started very soon after I lost my hearing.

Inevitably your school marks suffer too. I went from a student near the top of my class to an also ran. I was in a mainstream setting with no support. No visiting teacher and no integration aid. I had to fend for myself. Failing a test was something foreign to me and I began to fail a few. When this happens you feel stupid and worthless.

To compensate I tried to become more popular. I became the class clown. Rather than complete work I would shove it under the table. Inevitably this would get me in trouble. When confronted by the teacher I would make flippant remarks that would make the class laugh. I got in lots of trouble but the negative attention was better than no attention at all.

And then high school came. Oh to be different and not fit in at high school is the worst thing ever. Wearing hearing aids was not cool. Losing them was. Allowing the dog to chew the mould up was a strategy. Forgetting hearing aid batteries was common place.

And high school is so much harder. You are going from one class to another. There are different teachers. There are different teaching styles. Some are easy to lip-read and some are not. The first two years at high school, before I attended a unit for the hearing impaired, were a nightmare. These years were so bad that I once wagged school for two weeks straight. Eventually they rang my mum and I was caught. I would just go to shopping centres and read the paper. There is no way I could do that today. If your kid is so much as an hour late they text you to ask where they are.

High school is about maturing too. From running around in the playground and burning energy at primary school your peers suddenly become boring. They want to talk all the time. The want to sit in circles on the oval and discuss who has got the hots for who. If you are deaf, and the only deaf in the village so to speak, interacting in these groups is well nigh impossible.

And how do you learn from your peers so that you can mature. Overhearing and discussing issues like sex and relationships is just so important to a kids development. Discussing what one heard on the radio or over hearing conversations on the bus all contribute so much to social learning. For the deaf kid who is mainstreamed into a hearing school  – It’s a lonely place.

And getting a girlfriend, Oh dear! Oh my god how cringe-worthy that was. I mean I knew girls were interested in me. I would get secret valentines every year, sometimes two even three. But I just had this great fear of approaching girls. There was one girl; Robyn was her name.  I was absolutely besotted with her. I used to walk my dog past her house every day in hope that she would notice me.

After a couple of weeks it was clear that the strategy was not working. Even sitting against the fence at the display homes across the road from her house didn’t seem to work. What I did was buy a whistle pop. You know those lollies that are actually a whistle.  I would walk past her house and blow it as loud as I could. To my horror this strategy actually worked. One day she came out and invited me in.

And I sat at her kitchen table and said absolutely nothing. I grinned stupidly and drank my lemonade. I thanked her and as quickly as possible and got out of there. We never spoke again. Even now at 49 years old I go crimson red just thinking about it.

To me this is what disability is more often about. Sure the physical part of disability causes its issues but the psychological impact of disability and how it affects young kids with a disability gets lip service. It is hard, hard work. It is often emotionally very painful. The scars often carry through to adulthood.

But it gets better. Eventually you do grow up. You get that first kiss. You get that first job. Some of us graduate and have families. Most of us, not all of us unfortunately, do end up having happy, eventful and fulfilling lives. But it takes time. As Stella Young says, ” Go ahead. Lead a rich and messy life. It will get better and better, and just
when you think it can’t get any better than that, it will.”

But it takes time. I just wish we could find a way to make it a wee bit less painful in those early years!

In Defence of Dimity

CanelDimity has upset Deaf people again. She seems to have this unfailing ability to say things that will send the Deaf community into fits of indignation. There is an article on Yahoo News about baby Worrell. Baby Worrell is deaf and has received two cochlear implants. Said Dimity, “It’ll be as if his whole life has changed from black and white into rainbow,”[1]  This is Dimity at her best; aiming for the heartstrings. It is no surprise that she follows this up by explaining that increasing demand for the services of the Hear and Say Centre’s means they are $2 million short.  “I don’t want to have to turn parents away,” bemoans Dimity.

In October 2011 I wrote an article about Dimity.[2] In this article I made an amateur attempt to understand how her mind works. People may recall that Dimity upset the Deaf community then by calling deafness a scourge. I suggested at the time that Dimity was quite calculated in the things that she says. She is a master business woman and manipulator.  She plays on the message that people who are deaf are broken and need to be fixed. She knows that most of the public agree with her and she aims for their heart. She is not so worried about upsetting the Deaf community because she knows that when the Deaf community cry foul and try to promote Deafness in a positive way, most of the public simply cannot relate. I said at the time, and it still rings true today, People know hearing but they don’t know deaf and indeed they don’t want to. To them hearing is normality; deafness deficit. When we all scream GENOCIDE it plays right into Dimity’s hands. To most Australians deafness is something that needs to be fixed like cancer.”

As much as many in the Deaf community despise her, Dimity is not a bad person. She believes in what she does. She believes that all children should be able to hear and she wants to provide the very best service. She doesn’t fear upsetting the Deaf community because she knows that the negative response that she will get will generally just garner her more support in the wider community. She simply wants to draw attention to the things that the Hear and Say Centre do. She wants the very best for the people that she serves. We cannot blame her for that.

I, like many people, get frustrated at the way deafness is constantly misrepresented. I hate it that sign language is still classified as an inferior language. I hate it that people cannot or will not understand that sign language will enhance language acquisition for deaf kids; even those with cochlear implants. But I don’t hate Dimity, even though I once callously christened her Dimwitty. She is simply working hard for something that she strongly believes in. I wish she would do it differently, but one has to admire her passion and drive.

One has to accept that cochlear implants have benefitted many kids who are deaf. Cochlear implants have provided a generation of deaf kids with access to sound and spoken language. At their best they work brilliantly. That said, cochlear implants do have limitations. It’s still hard to hear with noisy backgrounds. Hearing in large groups is still difficult. Enjoyment of music is variable. Despite all these limitations one has to accept that Cochlear Implants have provided immense benefit to many deaf kids.

Recently I have been exploring having a cochlear implant. My cochlear implant journey is actually quite well advanced.  I have had the interview. I have had the hearing test. I have seen the specialist. Next in line are the balance test and the MRI. I have been very impressed with the professionalism of the Cochlear Implant clinic in Melbourne. I can tell you that when you are assessed for an implant they are totally honest with you. They provide you with information about the benefits and limitations of the Implant. They tell you it enhances lip-reading ability. They let you know of possible side effects. They point out certain situations where the Implant will not be beneficial. They explain that enjoyment of music varies from person to person. They even provide information about the benefits of learning Auslan.

Unlike the media, who hype the cochlear implant to the hilt, the Cochlear Implant Clinic does not. Sure they believe in it but they also do not want to give false hope. They let you know that the benefits from the implant come with many hours of hard work and training and that it will not be easy.

This is where Dimity comes in. She knows as well as most people that for the implant to benefit the child the training and support has to be the very best. There are no cutting corners. To provide this high quality service costs money. Dimity needs this money and she will work her butt off to get it. Yeah I wish she would be more positive about deafness generally and be more of an advocate for the use of Auslan. Even so, Dimity thorough her hard work is ensuring a generation of deaf kids with implants get the best possible support that money can buy. Whole heartedly or grudgingly, you have to admire her for that.

As a matter of interest, a friend returning from the recent Deaflympics in Bulgaria commented on how many participants had cochlear implants. I can’t recall exactly, but I think he may have suggested around 50% of participants had cochlear implants. That has not stopped them becoming part of the Deaf community has it? Amusingly my friend suggested that many were keen to improve their sign language skills before the next Deaflympics so that they could better interact with the opposite sex.

It just goes to show that wherever there are deaf people they will find each other. Deafness, even with a cochlear implant, can be isolating and lonely. It is for this reason that deaf people will nearly always seek each other out. Perhaps we fear Dimity a wee bit too much. Perhaps in the future we need to react smarter to her obvious marketing ploys.

Unsung Heroes

heroI think I have reached an age that I can be called a gnarly old advocate. I’m an old dog that chews at the bone constantly. I put myself out there. I challenge people and am not afraid of conflict. Some people love it, some people hate it and others despair. It’s funny because the public persona of me is one of some kind of rabid dog. My public persona and my professional one are poles apart. In fact when I left my last job, I was described as a fine diplomat and not sarcastically either. Usually there is a method to my madness. I do not always get it right but more often than not, I do. I would not have lasted 25 years in the disability sector without just a little nous.  Often people contact me for advice. They ask how to approach things or deal with certain people. I feel quite honoured when they do. It makes me feel rather like an elder.

An elder is what I am. Because I write the Rebuttal, which is very popular, I am very much a public face. But let me tell you, out there are some unsung heroes. These are the people who simply hammer away at an issue that is important to them. These people are making important inroads, particularly in the area of cinema access.

Now cinema access and that dreaded CaptiView device have been very much in the forefront of deaf advocacy in recent years. The CaptiView saga is a really sorry tale that has oft been told on these pages. But the positive of CaptiView is that it has inspired some people to do something. Some people simply were not content to put up with sub-standard access and decided to do something about it.

Of course as the Big 4 hastily rolled out the CaptiView dud two things became clear. Firstly, it was clear that the device was loathed by many. Secondly, it was clear that there was a lot of technical information that was not understood. For a long time, for example, we were told that open captions were not possible with the new digital technology. It is here where one of our first unsung heroes came into play.

The first of our unsung heroes is the delightful Joanne Beckwith. Ms Beckwith is the mother of a deaf child, the equally delightful Monique. Joanne was a proud mother when Monique recently represented Australia at the Deaflympics in swimming. Ms Beckwith is a photographer of the filming kind. She has some awesome contacts in the film and cinema industry. She was perhaps the first person who told us that it was rubbish that open captions were not possible with digital technology. She worked tirelessly to provide Action on Cinema Access with technical information about captioning and how it worked with digital technology. Without her I very much suspect we all would still be in the dark. Take a bow Ms Beckwith.

The second of our unsung heroes are the owners of Twilight Cinemas.  The Twilight Cinema business provides a mobile cinema. They travel and provide films in open settings or in venues like town halls where there is no permanent cinema. Twilight Cinemas demonstrated that captioning on screen was possible. I use the term captioning on screen here because technically they did not use open captioning files. What they did was get hold of the caption file that is usually used for CaptiView and switch it on so that the captions appeared on screen. They were actually quite brave in doing this. I am pretty sure that in doing so they put a few noses out of joint in the industry.

Who can forget that balmy evening at Hays Paddock?  In partnership with Vicdeaf and Arts Access Victoria, Twilight Cinemas screened the awesome movie Life of Pi. Some 600 people attended the open cinema event. They even demonstrated to me how they switched on the captions. It was not rocket science. As I said, Twilight Cinemas pushed the boat to make it happen. In doing so they inspired many of us to find ways to watch movies with captions on the screen so that we could be rid of the horrible CaptiView device.

Then of course we have the quite brilliant Anton Sammons, co founder of the Deaf Cinema Club. Anton was responsible for organising the screening of the Oz the Great and Powerful with captions. Anton took the initiative to contact an independent cinema. He asked whether they would show captions on screen if he booked a private screening. He worked tirelessly to publicise his initiative and filled up a 34 seat cinema. I believe the file for CaptiView captions was again used to show captions on the screen.

Anton remains an active advocate to get captions on the screen for deaf cinema goers. But the great thing about Anton’s work is that he has inspired others. Up in Queensland, in sunny Ballina, Michael Lockrey was inspired to set up his own Deaf Cinema Club. He also has negotiated with his local independent cinema and has been responsible for getting regular captioned sessions for deaf cinema goers in his region. Michael has been an active captioning advocate for a long time. He was one of the first to suggest that we should target independent cinemas. Anton and Michael – two more unsung heroes!

Last but not least we have Buffy Harrison and Jane Dunn out in Horsham, just over 300 kms from Melbourne. Buffy is herself deaf. Jane is a mother of a deaf daughter; the very cheeky but fabulous Cate. These two people approached their local cinema in Horsham and asked if the owner would show captioned sessions for people who are deaf. The owner did a bit of homework and managed to find out that there were actually open caption files designed for showing on screen with digital technology.

The first captioned session was shown three weeks ago and was attended by 45 people. Sleepy little Horsham is leading the way for cinema access for people who are deaf. All because of the initiative of these two people, Buffy and Jane. So successful have these two been that the cinema owner has started to advertise regular captioning sessions. This coming weekend there are not 1 but 2 movies with captions – and at decent times too. How cool is that? It is worth noting that both Buffy and Jane attended the screening of Oz the Great and Powerful that was organised by Anton – It’s not hard to see how these things take off is it?

As a gnarly old advocate I take my hat off to these people. They wanted something and they went out and got it. Rather than watch the “elders” like me quibbling and ranting they simply went out and showed us all how it was done. It is a lesson for us all. Take a bow!

Not Very Bright !

government is stupidAnd after two weeks of staunch Laborites like me whinging and moaning about the Abbott Government Deaf Australia has done what we all needed. It has laid down the challenge. How the Liberal’s will respond is any one’s guess. But now’s the time to cease the whinging, get our hands dirty and work with what we have. If this media release is anything to go by it shows that Deaf Australia are up for the fight. Let’s get in behind them.

So ended the last Rebuttal. I fancied myself as a sort of latter day Neville Chamberlain. Of course Chamberlain was the Prime Minister of Britain prior to WWII. He famously came back from a meeting with Hitler declaring, “…peace in our time” A few months later WWII was in full swing making a mockery of his statement. In the deaf sector it looks like history is about to repeat itself.

I was quite sincere in my sentiments. I really felt the post election period had been relentlessly negative. Prime Minister Abbott did not help himself with his one-woman cabinet, electing himself as Minister for Women and seemingly demoting disability Ministers to bit part players.

But what was happening was that the criticism coming through really was not about these issues. The criticism just relentlessly targeted Prime Minister Abbott. It became quite demeaning. Sure I laughed at some of the memes going around on Facebook and even shared some. In retrospect I wish I hadn’t. In doing so I simply contributed to the relentless negativity. My apologies to everyone that was forced to read them. Sharing those memes was not very bright.

Of course I am still whining, particularly about the demise of the NBN. I did so yesterday and came in for some ribbing from my mates. “Try living in South Korea…” said Stewart, or words to that effect. Apparently South Korea has the fastest broadband in the world but their lifestyle is no better that Australia’s said Stewart.  Wouldn’t our lifestyle be even better with their broadband?, was my retort. He told me to go back to England if I was that pissed off. (Wounds are still raw since the Aussies were drubbed in the Ashes 😀 )

But anyway my point is that there are some important issues to focus on and we, as communities that have concerns, need to be working together. Equity policy is a point in case. Equitable representation of women in government and equitable opportunities for people of disadvantage would seem to be pressing concerns. For example Education Minister, Christopher Pyne, has flagged the cutting back of targets for disadvantaged groups in higher education. This is something we all need to monitor and work together closely on.[1]

As I said in the last Rebuttal, we need to now to forget the negativity and have a focus on working with the Government. We need to continue the smart fight for the things that we hold dear. I encourage people to work with Deaf Australia and other disability peaks and continue to let them know of the issues that are of concern to them. Hopefully Deaf Australia etal can continue to raise these issues at high levels for us all.

What I do not encourage is blatant point scoring that Deafness Forum demonstrated today. Last week Deaf Australia released a punchy media release. It was a call to arms if you like. They criticized the non-appointment of a Disability Minister to the cabinet. They raised concerns about plans that “appeared” to indicate the slashing of the employment Assistance Fund. This fund included Auslan for employment and captioning in employment. Rumours were that Auslan and captioning funding was to be halved.

Good on Deaf Australia for raising these issues. Deafness Forum decided to investigate with the Government to see if the alleged cutting of the EAF was true. The Government has indicated that there are no “Anticipated”[2] cuts to the EAF. This was good news for all of us. However a word of caution in the use of the word “anticipated” This leaves the door ajar for cuts in the future. I would much rather see them say THERE WILL BE NO CUTS!

Congratulations to Deafness Forum for clarifying the issue and concerns surrounding the EAF. But it is here that my congratulations end. For reasons known only to them, in clarifying concerns about the cutting of the EAF, Deafness Forum took the opportunity to literally SLAM Deaf Australia. Below is the full text of their statement on their Facebook page.

Allegation of cuts to Employment Access Fund

A claim was made recently by an organisation with the deafness sector that the federal government would cut the Employment Assistance Fund.

Deafness Forum does not endorse the claim.

The Employment Assistance Fund helps people with disability by providing financial assistance to purchase a range of work related modifications and services.

Deafness Forum contacted the Department of Social Services and was advised the allegation was baseless.

Deafness Forum contacted the office of the Assistant Minister for Disability & Ageing and was informed the allegation was wrong.

Clearly in this statement Deafness Forum are having a go at Deaf Australia. there are several components of the Deafness Forum statement that are inaccurate. Deaf Australia said there “appear” to be plans to cut the fund which is entirely different from saying the fund WILL be cut. Further they said it was to be cut by 50%, not that it was being completely cut. It is worth noting also that, to my mind, Deaf Australia’s focus was only on the Auslan and captioning component of the EAF. All these things Deafness Forum have conveniently overlooked in their efforts to belittle Deaf Australia.

Australian’s who are Deaf, Hard of Hearing and Hearing Impaired have grown tired of the constant bickering between our two major peaks. At a time when negotiations with a new Government require our peaks to show a united front, publicly demeaning Deaf Australia in this way is the last thing that we need. Sure they did not mention them by name but it is pretty obvious isn’t it?

All Deafness Forum needed to have done was to contact Deaf Australia and say they have contacted the Minister and this is the response. The two orgs could then have put out a joint statement saying that they were pleased that the EAF was not to be cut. Deaf Australia could have had the opportunity to retract their statement or at least explain where they had received their information.

Thank you for the clarification Deafness Forum but the public demeaning of Deaf Australia in this delicate political climate is, to put it mildly, NOT VERY BRIGHT! Let’s get smarter people, all of us, particularly me.

Merit, Deaf Australia and All That!

womenI hate the word merit. Merit is one of the most abused words in the human language. By definition merit according to Google means – The quality of being particularly good or worthy, esp. so as to deserve praise or reward. The word merit is getting a lot of airplay at the moment. Prime Minister Abbott has elected his frontbench and within it there is just one woman.  Prime Minister Abbott says there are plenty of skilled and talented Liberal women just knocking on the door but that they are not quite there. He chose his Front-Bench on merit he said.

Of course this is totally insulting to all women everywhere. Why? Because Prime Minister Abbott is saying that only one of the Liberal women is good enough and that the rest simply cant hack it. And if you go by the definition he also means these women are not deserving. To add insult to injury Prime Minister Abbott also suggested that the women who were part of the Labor Party ministries were mere tokens.  What an insult to such brilliant women such as Macklin, Ellis, Wong, Rishworth et al. It is not that the women in the Liberal Party cant do the job rather it is, as Jenna Price notes in the Canberra Times, “There are talented women in the Liberal Party who have been marginalised.”[1] And Tony Abbott is responsible for that.

Merit is a horrible way to select people. Why? Because it does not take into consideration a raft of social reasons as to why a person might not have the same experience as another. In the example of women they may have been guided in a way that was ‘traditional” and in the early stages of their career chose “female” specific occupations. Often it may not have been until much later that they realised this was an error and redirected their career. This may put them five to ten years behind their male contemporaries in terms of experience. Then of course there is childbirth and being a mother which can take years out off a woman’s career. It is not for nothing that women are paid less than men and have fewer opportunities to climb the corporate ladder.

People with a disability are in the same boat. They have a whole host of challenges to confront. Just getting educated is one of them. It might just be being able to access a lecture theatre so thatone can get a degree. It might be the language issues confronted by many deaf people. Deafness means that access to information through overhearing, media and social avenues is often hindered. For many young people who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing what this means is that when they leave school they don’t quite have the experiences and maturity of their hearing peers. This often means it takes longer for them to complete their studies. For a whole range of reasons people with a disability are constantly playing catch up.

It’s not for nothing that unemployment and underemployment is rife among people with a disability. When they do finally get employment they are confronted with attitudes and barriers that often keep them in base grade work for many years. Of course when they apply for higher management jobs they are over looked because of that nasty word, MERIT. “You are highly skilled” say the bosses, “ …but you don’t quite have the experience and we chose the position on merit.”

Well good for the bosses. It didn’t take them double the time a non-disabled person did to get through University did it? They didn’t lack support at school did they thus making University an even greater challenge? And of course they didn’t have to confront Australia’s inherent prejudice and discrimination towards disability did they? It’s not for nothing 45% of Australia’s disability population live below the poverty line.

What this means is that people with a disability, like women, are constantly playing catch up. No matter what the skills and the experience they have they are simply hindered when it comes to competing on merit. This is why so many advocates, including myself, are now pushing for quotas and affirmative action when it comes to employing people from disadvantaged backgrounds. Let’s not call them minorities shall we because women can hardly be called a minority. Paradoxically, combined it is women, disability, Aboriginal and other groups that are actually the majority.

So what Mr Abbott has done by citing merit as his argument for appointing only one woman to his cabinet is put Australia back 40 to 50 years in terms of social gains. It is a never ending battle to try and overcome the meritocracy. Without proactive policies and policies that recognise ABILITY as integral and the disadvantage that many face, the lot of women, people with a disability, the Aboriginal community and other groups is unlikely to improve. We advocates are rightly frustrated that the minimal gains we have made in recent years appear to have been almost lost under the new Abbott regime.

Deaf Australia has recognised this with there recent and quite brilliant media release that questions the Liberals new front bench.[2]  Deaf Australia made their view clear, Tony Abbott shocked the nation on Monday when he announced his new cabinet; eliminating key ministerial portfolios, including Disability, Women, and Mental Health. Deaf Australia has condemned the move, saying it will take Australia backwards.”

This is what Deaf and Hard of hearing Australians want from their advocates. They don’t want pussy footing diplomacy they want things to be said as they really are. The media release makes riveting reading, “With this decision, Tony has already broken his promise made in his victory speech, saying there would be “no surprises, no excuses’,” said Deaf Australia Acting President Todd Wright today. “He has shown his true colours by further marginalising one of the most vulnerable minority groups in Australian society.”

Mr Wright outlined Deaf Australia’s concern at the alleged cutting of Auslan and caption funding for employment for Australians who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing. Already the amount given is pitiful. My own funding lasted barely 2 months this year. Mr Wright warns of the ramifications of cutting the funding when he forcefully points out, “If the EAF is cut, many Deaf people will be at risk of losing their jobs, as their employers will not be able to afford to pay for interpreters and other requirements. Forcing Deaf people back onto the dole is irresponsible and old-fashioned and will cost the government much more in the long run.”

This is simple and brilliant advocacy. I was inspired when I read it. After years of soft approach advocacy someone was finally telling it as it is. I know there are times for diplomacy but this is not one of them. People are worried and concerned, it is a time when we need forceful and brave advocacy.

Deaf Australia has made it very clear their concerns. Mr Wright, in what can only be described as laying down the gauntlet, let rip – “Abbott is washing his hands from disability issues by removing critical ministry and parliamentary secretary roles in his cabinet. He is out of touch with what the disability sector needs and will drag down long-term productivity gains in the workforce contradicting key Liberal policy.”

And after two weeks of staunch Laborites like me whinging and moaning about the Abbott Government Deaf Australia has done what we all needed. It has laid down the challenge. How the Liberal’s will respond is any one’s guess but now’s the time to cease the whinging, get our hands dirty and work with what we have. If this media release is anything to go by it shows that Deaf Australia are up for the fight. Let’s get in behind them!