For many years this famous quote from Karl Marx was used to rally the workers of the world. In Marx’s time, and even today, workers were horrendously abused. Marx is commonly thought to be the father of communism but this is far from the truth. Marx, essentially, saw that rich industrialists abused the worker. He sought to level the playing field so that wealth was more evenly distributed.
I have no wish to go into a boring diatribe of the imbalance of wealth. In a nutshell Marx sought argue that the worker and the owners of industry needed each other. Without one, the other could not exist. In the 18th and 19th century factories were nothing more than sweat houses. While the industrialists got richer the workers got poorer and sicker. Hence that famous quote about workers – “….you have nothing to lose but your chains.”
I raise the spectre of Marxism because the rights of people who are Deaf and hard of hearing are under threat. Right now the Liberal Government is trying to consolidate disability under one roof. To be fair this is not something that is uniquely Liberal. The Labor Government, I believe, had a similar philosophy.
Governments, both Liberal and Labor, believe that disability is too fragmented. They do not get why there are so many different groups fighting for the rights of people with a disability. Indeed Bill Shorten often warned that too many disability groups sending the Government conflicting messages was a recipe for disaster.
Last week I heard a rumour that disability advocacy organisations are to be streamlined. The current Government believes that there are too many of them. While they have not really cut funding to disability advocacy groups, it would seem that the Government wants less disability advocacy groups doing more for the same money. It seems that the Government is particularly confused as to why the deafness area has two peaks. The cultural and medical perspectives of deafness are too much for the Governments befuddled minds to comprehend.
The simple answer for the Government is not for our two Deafness peaks to merge as one, rather it seems that they want to dissolve both of them. This current Government wants to see deafness issues absorbed into a larger disability peak, a consortium so to speak.
What this means is that the Government does not want a Deafness Forum and it does not want a Deaf Australia. It wants all issues of Deaf and hard of hearing absorbed into one larger disability peak. The reality is that both Deafness Forum and Deaf Australia only have funding until December and the Government wants them absorbed into this larger disability consortium. Both organisations have the fight of their life on their hands. It is one that I fear that they cannot win this time.
Cast your mind back to the 80’s and 90’s. Through the actions of our deafness peaks so many things were won. Free TTYs, the National Relay Service, Auslan for Employment later to be expanded to captioning, greater TV captioning and the National Auslan Booking Service to name a few. You will note that I do not list captioning at the cinema here because I believe that was a loss rather than a gain.
It is true that it was not the deafness peaks that were solely responsible for the gains that were listed above. However they helped by constantly keeping the issues under the Governments nose. I have been critical of our deafness peaks often but they served an important role. I strongly believe that we are about to see the demise of both of them.
I have no faith that a “Disability Consortium” will provide the deafness sector with the strong voice that they need. I would be far more comfortable having one Deafness Peak that could work out a process to represent the needs of both the Deaf and Hard of Hearing communities. It would seem that it might be too late even for that.
But that is the situation right now. Deaf and hard of hearing Australians stand to lose their voice in the muddle of a mainstream disability consortium. It scares me. People who are Deaf and hard of hearing need to take up the fight to the Government urgently.
Both Deaf Australia and Deafness Forum are probably restrained in what they can say against the Government because they are probably in the midst of a futile fight for their life. It would not surprise me if the Government has actually placed an embargo on them making any public comment on the issue.
What this means is that people who are Deaf and hard of hearing need to take the fight to the Government themselves. They need to let the Government know that the needs of people who are Deaf and hard of hearing need to be represented strongly and independently. Even if it is just one major Deaf and hard of hearing peak rather than two.
If people who are Deaf and hard of hearing remain silent they run the risk of being swallowed up into an enormous disability consortium where there needs will get scant attention in an organization that will have a largely medical and care focus.
Deaf and hard of hearing people of Australia unite, you have nothing to lose but your rights!
Remain silent at your peril – Fight for your rights now!!!