One 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”
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.
 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.