Resisting Adapting

resistOne thing that really gets my goat about being deaf is that it limits what employment that I can do. Not so much that there isn’t much that I can’t do but more the fact that society, through its attitudes and prejudices, prevents me from doing it. I mean I could work easily in customer services in Myer or at Bunnings and probably there would be some places like this that would more than likely give me a go. But by and large people will find reasons not to rather than want to really find solutions.

This particularly hit home today. I sent out an email to work colleagues who have requested some disability awareness training. One of my work colleagues is a perceptive guy. In my email I asked my colleagues if there was anything “off the wall” that they would like to learn. His response was revealing. Said my colleague, “. We often have an academic understanding of the circumstances of people with disabilities but when you are in that circumstance it can lend a certain potency”

By way of explaining himself he offered the following example, “…the meeting I had with you and Michelle where I, as the one afflicted with ability, had to adjust to a circumstance underpinned by deafness rather than hearing. So I was given the assistive tech (iPad), and l found myself floundering and resisting adapting and falling back to my hearing approach to being in a meeting.”

So here we have a role reversal. I was in a meeting with a deaf person. We both signed. The whiteboard was in action. Communication was fluid and effective. In comes my ‘afflicted with ability’ colleague. Now rather than us adapting to his needs, as is usually the case, he had to adapt to ours.

To “help” the poor afflicted soul we gave him an iPad. Basically we used our voices to communicate because he can’t sign. If we had trouble understanding him he could simply type out on the iPad or try the speech to text function. At first he was all for it but as the meeting progressed you could see him visibly pushing the iPad away. He would speak slower, exaggerate his lip movements, even gesture but not once did he utlise the iPad. In some cases this would have been easier for him and for us.

My colleague’s response to his experience at this meeting was interesting for me to hear. Why? Because my colleague is one of the people I would consider a good guy. He is a good guy because he really believes in inclusion, promotes it and largely practices it. Yet here he was in situation where he was out of his comfort zone. In his own words he found himself, “resisting adapting”.

Resisting Adapting – Remember this phrase because I am betting it is going to become one of those new buzz phrases in the disability sector. But my colleague resisted. He indirectly wanted us to fit in with his requirements. We were a burden to his usual smooth communication and even though we were the majority, 2:1, he didn’t want to adapt. That’s not quite true. His good-self wanted to adapt as required but his bad-self – resisted.

If someone who I consider one of the good guys has this “resisting adapting” dilemma then what is it like for people who lack his knowledge and have their own prejudices? I can tell you now that my current employers are the absolute bee’s knees when it comes to adjusting and ensuring that I am included. They take responsibility for booking interpreters. They will suggest meetings by Lync. They will ask me if there is anything I require. It is brilliant.

This is in stark contrast with my last employer. In my last job colleagues were serial non-repliers to emails. They would organise meetings and expect me to organise all the communication requirements. It was not an equal relationship. My colleagues in my last employment largely left all communication access requirements for me to organise. I was not an equal contributor. The knowledge that I had to offer was not seen as of equal value. If I wanted to be part of the, ”inner circle”, I had to bust a gut to be part of it.

No, they could not so something as easy as to reply to an email. No, if they didn’t reply to an email I had to go all over the building to seek them out for a face to face meeting and lip read them. When communication could be smooth and easy by email and text they simply refused to cooperate. When I asked the superiors to do something about it would they? No, because that is too hard. It’s easier for me to waste hours of my time to seek colleagues out because they refused to adapt their work practices. Now that is what I call, “resisting adapting”[1]

This is the world that we are living in. We are in a world that is “resisting adapting” It is because of this that it is so hard for people with a disability to get work. It is because of this that the employment rate for people with a disability in Australia is among the worst in the world for comparable countries. In most cases it is not that people with a disability cannot do a job it is simply because our society is “resisting adapting”

Can I work in a job that requires front counter communication? Sure I can. I have all the tools at my disposal to do that. I can write, I can type and if I could not speak I could pre-programme responses through text to speech software. Would it take a little longer? Yeah, sure, but not that much. All it takes is for everyone to adapt a little. A little bit of give and take. But sadly, save for a few, everyone seems to be “resisting adapting” It’s my problem, I’ve gotta fix it.

This tells us that our society simply does not value people with a disability in the same way that they do others. For most people it seems that people with a disability are that hump in the road that they would rather avoid. Rather than navigate the “hump” people prefer to avoid it altogether. People with a disability are road humps, despised and rather done away with.

I agree I am being very unkind here in my assessment of people who do not have a disability. That said the more I think about societies penchant for “resisting adapting” the more I see how it shows how much society really values people with a disability. I mean a person with an intellectual disability might work a bit slower, need a bit more support and require many different adjustment to the workplace but does this warrant them being paid $1 an hour in a Disability Employment Enterprise? That $1 an hour isn’t just mean, it shows how our society really views people with a disability. That is they see them as next to worthless – It really is as simple as that.

And what’s the excuse that these Disability Employment Enterprises put forward. They say they are doing these people with a disability a ‘service’. They say that without them these people with a disability would be at home doing nothing. They are offering respite and an activity for them. You see the Disability Employment Enterprise does not see people with a disability as adding value because they are ‘helping’ them.

That the work of people with a disability employed by Disability Employment Enterprises is keeping people in jobs, paying for their houses and the food that they have on their table doesn’t come into consideration. No, because they are being ‘helped’ this means that they have no value. And the Government wants it this way because it’s much easier than offering real respite and support to families isn’t it? A Disability Employment Enterprise – respite with marginal benefits – that is what they are.

What it all comes down to is that society has yet to value people with a disability in the same way as they do non-disabled. Adapting is seen as help so people with a disability are expected to be grateful. Funnily enough, when people with a disability adapt it is seen as necessary. What it all comes down to is simply a question of respect and equality.

That even the good guys such as my colleague are “resisting adapting” shows that our society has a long way to go before they truly see people with a disability as their equal.

[1] It is worth noting that one or two colleagues in my old workplace were actually very good and shared responsibility but the majority were not.


Bureaucracy Gone Mad

sillyRamp2-459535Early in the year I read an astonishing story about an access solution. This solution was implemented in Britain. A young girl with a mobility disability lived in a council flat. The mother of the daughter had been pleading for two years with her local council to install a ramp for her daughter to make it easier to access the home. After two years the council decided to act and installed a ramp. The solution, as the picture shows, was quite bizarre.

In their wisdom the council basically dug up the front lawn of the house and installed a 10 level ramp at the cost of around $73 000 AU. Said the mother, “There must have been a better solution. The council could have gone about the whole project in a more sensible way” In their defense the council brought up the age old furphy of ‘building regulations’. A more likely explanation is that it is bureaucracy gone mad. Meanwhile the local skateboarders are apparently putting the ramp to good use.

I don’t know what it is, but it is often that disability befuddles the bureaucrat’s brain. Access provision for them often has no rhyme or reason. I once attended a major disability conference. The conference provided Auslan interpreters. Apparently someone had requested access to captioning also but was told no because access was being provided through Auslan interpreters.

Now I am all for access through Auslan interpreters and use them regularly myself. What I do not understand is why Auslan interpreting is seen as the solution for every person with a hearing loss. Now Deafness Forum will tell you that 1 in 6 people have a hearing loss. Australia’s current population is around 23 million. At 1 in 6 that would mean around 3,830,000 have a hearing loss. Degree of loss will vary but a significant number will need support for communication through Auslan interpreters or captioning.

Now people that use Auslan as their primary mode of communication in Australia, according to the 2006 census, number 7,150. My trusty online percentage calculator tells me that 7150 makes up POINT 186, that’s .186, of all people with a hearing loss. One would have thought that greater access to the greater number of people with a hearing loss could be provided through captioning. But no, Auslan interpreters are somehow seen as the solution for all. Of course one would hope that both interpreters and captioning would be provided and not just one or the other. But if one were to have to choose between one or the other one would think that captioning might offer the more flexible access. Logical? Yes it is, but disability access is rarely logical. But a conference for disability? A major one at that – You expect them to know these things.

Just yesterday I asked disability colleagues, specifically deaf, to email my previous place of work. My previous place of work run a number of regional cinemas. When I worked there I convinced my work to offer captioning and Audio-description to provide access for people who are deaf and also vision impaired.

Now I am quite knowledgeable of access to the cinema, having been involved at one level or other with the Action on Cinema Access campaign. I fully understand the limitations of the various technology and also the preference for open captions by the majority of people who are deaf. Naturally, I strongly advised my place of work that they should focus on open captions. For the vision impaired I suggested that they install the technology that is required for Audio-description because the reality is that there are not really any other options for people who have a vision impairment.

Unsurprisingly, despite possessing knowledge that few others have, my place of work tried to tell me I was wrong. They first told me that Open Captions were no longer possible. I provided them with examples to show that it actually was. I referred them to the Action on Cinema Access Facebook page so that they could see the numerous examples and arguments that state that OC was indeed possible. I showed them a video shot on my phone of the open captions being shown for recent movie release that had occurred the previous weekend. Despite the overwhelming evidence my place of work still insisted that it was not possible. Apparently that’s what their film distributor had told them.

Later they accepted that Open Captions were indeed possible but they insisted that captioning had to be offered through closed caption devices, in this case caption glasses. They reasoned that open captions spoilt the viewing pleasure of the hearing audience. I urged caution and suggested that they organise trials and get feedback from both hearing and deaf viewers. Firstly I said ascertain that hearing viewers actually find Open captions off putting. Secondly I suggested they get feedback from deaf patrons as to the effectiveness of the devices.

The first meeting about captioning access occurred in October of 2012. Eventually they organised trials of technology in August 2013 and promptly cancelled. They later organised another trial of the technology in November 2013. Bewilderingly they tested the technology on staff people who were not deaf or vision impaired. On the basis of feedback from these non-disabled staff they decided that the technology was not very good.

Through all of this I had advised of the general loathing of the closed caption devices by people who are deaf and even of the problems with audio-description but they chose to ignore my advice. Their priority, they said, was the viewing pleasure of the greater audience. On this basis they decided to purchase the closed caption technology. They purchased the technology from my budget, which was state government money and not their own. The reality is that there was no financial outlay on their part.

And so …. Just before I was about to sign off on the purchase of the equipment they contacted me and said they wanted to organise a trial with some people who were deaf and vision impaired. They wanted this organised in three days because the equipment they had on loan needed to be returned. They had only had the equipment for nearly 12 months or so and had not thought to organise a proper trial with ’consumers’ in this time. This is despite several emails from me urging them to do so.

Dutifully I organised the trial with five people who all reported problems with the technology. Caption drop out, sound drop out of the audio description and even captions showing up from the wrong movie. But … they purchased the equipment anyway. I approved it because it was either some access or none. They did acknowledge that there may be a place for some open caption showings. However, by this time I trusted them not at all.

SOOOOO … Soon after I left. Regularly I have been checking their website to see when the caption movies would be offered. The equipment order had gone in at the start of February 2014. By Mid-August 2014 there was no sign that any captions were being offered. In despair I put a post on the Action on Cinema Access Facebook Page urging friends to contact them to find out when caption screenings would be offered.

The next day my previous place of work actually responded to my post. (A staff member had noted my post, they had joined the page previously on my recommendation.) They proudly stated that in September several screenings of a movie with Open Captions were to be offered. The screenings would offer Open Captions, I kid you not! Intrigued I made some enquiries to find out what had happened with the closed caption devices. This is the reply that I got.

“We have the first open caption screenings happening with xxxx in Sept and plan to offer a closed caption film in Oct. We are seeking audience feedback at the screenings so in turn are offering them as free sessions.” They want to trial the closed captioning technology because …. We wish to ensure the experience is best for all and not to promise something that we can’t deliver.

So having spent some considerable amount of money on equipment that I had already advised them was not popular they, “…wish to ensure the experience is best for all and not to promise something that we can’t deliver.” In the meantime they are offering Open Captions as advised back in October 2012 and after having insisted that open captions were not possible. Meanwhile the expensive technology is gathering dust somewhere. And still there is no word as to what is happening with Audio-description!!!!

Then there was the story of the $15 000 or so an organisation paid to a consultant to tell them the same things they had been told by a staff member but chose to ignore. Or the organisation willing to offer a $2 200 registration fee free to avoid paying $800 in interpreting! The mind boggles!!!!!

Yup – bureaucracy gone mad. Who would want to have a disability!

Why We Should Care


Having advised people for years to not feel shame in mental illness, when I had a break down it was time for me to take my own advice. Part of my self-treatment was to announce my breakdown on Facebook to my friends. I did this because I knew I needed my friends to be able to get myself through it. There was a certain amount of risk in doing so. My friends might not have known what to do and remained silent. This might have devastated me even more.

Luckily for me they didn’t remain silent. They offered support and kind words in droves. There was no judgement. There was just a groundswell of support and caring. I have no doubt that the support and caring of my friends drove me on. I believe it was more than 50% of the reason I was able to pick myself up and drive myself to get better. This care factor cannot be underestimated. Knowing that people care is vital. This might seem obvious, but caring about someone or something is a powerful motivator.

Caring is not just about caring for the frail, the disadvantaged and the sick. Caring comes in many forms. We can care for the environment. We can care for equal opportunity and a fair go. We can care about politics and abuse of power. Lots of things motivate us to care. But more importantly when we see that people care about something it motivates change.

I care about lots of things. I am vocal about these things. I often make reference to these things on Facebook. I care that Melbourne has such shitty traffic but don’t do much about it except moan. I care that we have a Government that is so bad it cannot even explain its own policies properly, I moan about that too and share endless memes about it. In fact I am constantly voicing a view or sharing memes on social media that denounce our Government. I think it drives some people batty because my long time mate Peter, after a few bevies with his mates, commented, “Every F#$%ing thing you put up here is a moan.”

That I moan all the time is strictly not true. I also share bad jokes, bad puns and other asinine things. This is like light relief from all the heavy issues that I do share and comment about. I moan not to be negative, but to generate discussion and energy so that the crass unfairness and inequality of our society can be challenged. I do not believe remaining silent does anyone any favours. As Albert Einstein once said – “If I were to remain silent, I’d be guilty of complicity.”

Consider what has happened recently. Our rather un-esteemed Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, decided to back down in repealing section 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act. This section of the Racial Discrimination Act legally prevents a person from insulting, humiliating, offending or intimidating another person or group on the basis of their race.

For some very strange reason, that most of Australia has not understood, the Government wanted to repeal this part of the Act. This would have made it ok to publicly intimidate and insult people on the basis of race. Why? Because it’s our right to express what we feel even if it ostracises an entire race of people. That was the Governments reasoning anyway.

This week Mr Abbott said that the repealing of Section 18c was off the table. Mr Abbott said he was taking 18c off the table because it was clearly unpopular with the Muslim community and that he needed their cooperation for anti-terrorist legislation. Free speech was less important than terrorism and had to go. In one fleeting moment Mr Abbott not only blamed the Muslim community for the demise of free speech but he also labelled them as terrorists as well.

That the repeal of section 18c was taken off the table really had nothing to do with the Muslim community. Mr Abbott took it off the table because he knew that the majority of Australian’s cared enough to want Section 18c retained.  To repeal it would have been political suicide.

Waleed Ali, writing in The Age, explains that section 18c didn’t even protect Muslims. Said Ali, “The law doesn’t regard Muslims as a racial group. So, whatever it is section 18C prevents you from saying about Aborigines or Asians or Jews, you can go right ahead and say it about Muslims.” This is apparently because Muslims are seen as a religious group and not a racial group. You can say Muslims are violent and horrible. But you can’t say Muslims are violent and horrible because they are black. Confused? Don’t worry, me too!

The truth of the matter is that Mr Abbott backed down because he could see the majority of Australians cared about having a law that made it very clear that racial vilification should not exist in any form. Especially not in the guise of free speech. Rather than be strong and admit this Mr Abbott has used the Muslim community as an excuse for the ditching of a bad policy. In doing so he has insulted the entire Muslim community.

Ali makes this clear when he states, “We’re being held to ransom again. Muslims are the Grinch who stole freedom.”  He is a coward our Prime Minister, he has used the Muslim community as his crutch. He simply could not admit the reality that is most Australians do not support what the Liberal Party wanted to do.

The truth is 18c remains because enough people cared enough about it and protested loudly for it to be retained and they won. We must continue to care and be vocal about a myriad of things. Remain silent and Pyne will get his way in education. This will mean that the more disadvantaged you are the more you will pay. But that doesn’t matter cos only poor people and women study teaching and nursing so universities will make these courses cheaper – (yes he said that)   .

Or we will make women who have abortions be labelled a health risk because abortion causes breast cancer – (Abetz, Minister for Employment made this outlandish claim this week.) – Or we will have the unemployed receiving no income whatsoever for six months and forced to work for the dole. Even though work for the dole has been an abject failure everywhere. If we don’t care and remain silent this is potentially what we will be lumped with.

So care and care a lot. Be vocal and let the Government know what you feel through whatever means you can. Because if you don’t then, Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”    Martin Luther King, Jr.