Incoherent Mutterings Made Clear

tongueLast Monday I was honored to be part of Vicdeaf’s 130 year celebrations. I was part of a panel that was asked questions as to where Vicdeaf would be in the next 20 years. The panel were given questions prior and had the opportunity to prepare. We were only given five minutes to respond, something I found very difficult. Consequently I stuttered my way through my responses as I tried to cover all the areas I needed to. I was far from satisfied and got myself into a verbose mess. Other panel members were by far more eloquent than I as they touched on issues of communication, technology, overseas models that can be introduced into Australia and of course the need for a stronger Deaf Community.

Being frustrated with my responses I thought it might be a good idea to elaborate further in a Rebuttal article. Before I do that I must publicly apologise to Deaf Children Australia having inadvertently suggested that their property had been sold when it had not. Selling is still very much on their agenda but a sale has not been achieved. To Damien Lacey and all people at DCA I sincerely apologise.

Brent Phillips chaired the panel brilliantly he asked me two questions. I will respond to these questions in this article. As a writer I am far more eloquent than I am as a speaker. The first question was this – Gary you are a well-known advocate in the disability and deafness sectors. People have commented that there are far too many groups and organisations in our sector. How do you think our sector will look like in 20 years’ time?

This was a tough question to answer. Tough because in the audience were people who were representatives of organisations that I was about to say might be redundant in twenty years’ time. Redundant, not because they are ineffective, but redundant because of the changes that are currently occurring. These changes have been mainly brought about because of the introduction the NDIS.

What the NDIS means is that our Deaf organisations will now be competitors fighting for the dollar that is on offer from the clients. These service providers can no longer dictate what services they will provide. Instead the market will dictate the services that are to be provided.

There is no question that our large Deaf organisations need to make changes to survive. There will be a period of transition where funding will be tight. They will need to promote themselves as the go to people, the people with expertise, the people with the skills and so on. The problem is that in this transition period, when they lose a large bulk of their funding, what will they do to survive?

It is also true that many new players will come on to the market offering services as they seek to profit from the NDIS. If our Deaf organisations are smart they will try to negate this new competition. The best way to do that, in my view, is to merge. They need to combine their respective resources and create a compact and efficient organization that can offer the best possible service to the market. No longer can they afford the up keep of several CEOs, several layers of administration, the upkeep of old and rundown properties. In short in 20 years we are going to see a smaller, more compact, more professional and efficient Deaf service provider, probably with less focus on the community than ever before. I expect there to be just one organization, possibly a national one, that works together to corner the market. Consolidation of resources and expertise will be the key.

Moving away from the Deaf services organisations we also have our advocacy organistions like Deaf Australia and Deafness Forum. As readers of the Rebuttal will know, the current government has moved to drastically cut the number of disability advocacy organisations in Australia. My information is that the Government wants to fund around 8 key Disability Peaks. Those that miss out on funding will have the opportunity to apply for funding under consortiums. What this consortium will look like is any ones guess.

I understand that current funding of our two Deaf Peaks only runs until December this year. How they will be funded after this is unknown. Certainly our Deaf Peaks are very quiet about what might happen. Will they still be able to go it alone? Will they be part of a so called consortium? I suspect that both will survive but no one knows exactly in what form.

Twenty years from now will they still be here? Will the NDIS impact on their existence? Will they develop a business plan to tap into the NDIS market? Who knows? All we know is that both are currently in for the fight of their life. All of these questions are likely to be answered in December.

I tried to say all this when I was on the panel. Sadly what came out was a lot of stuttering mumbo jumbo. Writing is so much easier 😀

I had a second question which was – Gary – the NDIS is here, it is real, and is set to roll out statewide by 2019. What challenges and opportunities do you see for Vicdeaf post 2019?

In my response to the first question I had already answered much of this. To understand just how the NDIS will impact on Vicdeaf and other Deaf service provider’s one must consider how they are currently funded. Currently they receive X amount of dollars each year to service clients. This might be around 50 to 60% of their budget. This is called block funding. This is used for things like independent living training, case management and the like. Separate to this they receive other funding. This might be to provide information or it might be for specific projects like researching mental health needs and so on.

What we do know is that organisations like Vicdeaf will lose the block funding component of their income. What will happen to the other funding is an unknown. The loss of this block funding will have a significant impact on the income of Vicdeaf.

The block funding will go to the NDIS. This will be what is used to fund the packages that are planned with NDIS clients. The NDIS clients will then decide which service providers can best meet their needs. Vicdeaf will be one of many organisations that will be competing in the NDIS market.

This means that the challenge for Vicdeaf is that they have to monitor that market closely. They will need to work out the types of services that are being demanded and then develop their business model to meet that market. They will need to be at the forefront and seen as offering the absolute best service to attract clients to purchase their services. This is a big challenge and as it stands it is very much an unknown.

However, in the trial sites around Australia evidence is coming in as to what deaf clients of the NDIS are demanding. Most of the information I have relates to parents. They are asking for things like interpreting for activities like swimming lesson. They are asking for funding to purchase technology such as flashing lights for safety equipment. Some parents are requesting support to participate in Auslan courses. One even argued for the provision of a deaf mentor. The challenge for Vicdeaf to monitor this market and develop its services accordingly is immense.

It also means that Vicdeaf as it is currently structure is likely to change. Some positions will become redundant. Because services are dictated by the market it may well be that Vicdeaf has less full-time and part-time workers and relies more on contractors. The premises they operate from are likely to be smaller. It will be a full on business with probably a much less community focus.

But with these challenges come opportunities. Vicdeaf as an industry leader can begin to offer support for clients at the start of the NDIS planning process so that they receive expert advice and support. As the market becomes clear there will be opportunities to improve and expand services such as Auslan courses, mentoring and interpreting services. It is certainly very challenging but it is not all bleak. Vicdeaf are going to have to be smart, efficient and innovative. It can be done, hopefully in partnership with someone like Deaf Children Australia and operating from one premises with less layers of administration so that more focus can be o the development of services and support.

The other crucial and essential challenge is to sustain the Deaf community in the wake of changes that are being force by the NDIS. I strongly believe as Vicdeaf and Deaf Children Australia sell their buildings and assets to move into more efficient and cost effective premises they should be providing the Deaf community with some of the profits to develop a strong Deaf community hub. The goal should be that the hub be fully independent of the business arm of Vicdeaf, self-sustaining and controlled fully by the Deaf community. That would be a wonderful legacy. Particularly because Vicdeaf was established originally to be mostly a meeting point for the Deaf community.

So there you have it. What I really meant to say, without my incoherent mutterings and mumblings. I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate all that were on the panel for their eloquence and vision. I particularly would like to congratulate Vicdeaf on their 130th anniversary. Although the challenges for the future are great, I believe Vicdeaf are well placed to meet this challenge. Congratulations and here is to another brilliant 130 years.

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Just Shut Up!

blitzIt is dark and there is a distant orange glow on the horizon. Rain patters on the footpath as a young man hurries past the terrace housing. He is rugged up, coat collar pulled high to beat out the chill. He is on his way to the Fish and Chip shop to purchase supplies for his family and friends. As he walks planes roar overhead. He flinches, wondering if he will have a home to go to in the morning. He puts this thought to the back of his mind. His immediate task is to get the Fish and Chips safely delivered to his friends and family down in the London Tube that doubles as a bomb shelter.

During World War II (WWII) England was subject to sustained bombing from Germany. This bombing became known as the Blitz. Incredibly, Fish and Chip shops remained open as the bombs exploded nearby. In the bomb shelters, runners would take lists of what people wanted from the Fish and Chip shop. They would then head off to the shop to collect supplies. Bombs were exploding no more than 5 kilometers away. My mother and father grew up in these times; it was a hard introduction to life. They and others who have endured the horrific times of war deserve immense respect.

My father is an Eastender. During the war he lived not far from the Docklands of London. He would sometimes tell me stories of his experience of the war. One that particularly sticks in my mind is that he witnessed a German pilotless V 2 rocket bomb fly overhead. Minutes later these bombs would have exploded. My father endured this as did millions of people. Living in these times took immense courage. Yet despite the dangers people remained positive and philosophical. “One evening a friend and I were in my garden when I remarked on the really beautiful sunset. The bright red sky was due to the fires in Docklands. It was a spectacular and memorable sight. That night was one of the worst of the Blitz”[1]

Yet we should not romanticize war. We certainly should not encourage it. It is said that 85 million people died during WWII alone. During the Blitz 1200 people died and more than 250 000 were made homeless. We certainly need to respect and consider the people that suffer most from war, the civilians. During WWII it is estimated that 38 to 55 million civilians were killed. A further 22 to 25 million soldiers were killed. Clearly it is the civilians who cop the brunt of war simply by virtue of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.[2]  Apart from the bombings of Darwin most of the Australian continent has been spared these horrors.

Last week our Prime Minster flexed his muscles. He wanted Australian’s to know that he had their back. He was responding to questions about the impending visit of Russia’s President Putin. Australia’s Prime Minister holds Russia responsible for the deaths of the 38 Australians who were on board MA17 that was shot down by Rebels while flying over Russia. It is our Prime Minster’s view that Russia provided the weapons to the Rebels, therefore they are responsible.

When asked how he would respond to Mr Putin’s impending visit to attend the G20 Australia’s Prime Minister responded with these very words. “Look, I’m going to … ahh … ‘shirt front’ Mr Putin. You bet you are… ahh … you bet I am. Ahh…”

At the very least one expects the Prime Minister of any country to at least be articulate. Unfortunately for Australia we have a Prime Minister who is not only inarticulate but also an alpha male. Our Prime Minister seems to think that being a leader of a country amounts to showing the world how tough you are. Even to the point where he talks like a street fighter that mumbles and slurs his words like Rocky Balboa.

We expect our Prime Minister to do everything within his power to keep us safe. And this includes choosing his words. We expect him to make decisions and act in a way that will keep Australian’s out of harm’s way. Threatening to ‘shirtfront’ the President of one of the most powerful countries in the world falls well short of these expectations.

All it takes are a few ill-chosen words to spark the war machine. Indeed wars have been known to start as the result of something as simple as shooting a pig and even a football match. It is reasonable to expect the Prime Minister of the land to act in a way that will not provoke other countries and put Australian’s in danger. But no, Australia’s Prime Minister is gonna shirtfront Mr Putin, you bet he is.

It would be funny if it were not so serious. Our Prime Minister needs to pull his head in. Power is not a plaything of our leaders to show the world how tough they are. We need a Prime Minister that can think through what he/she is doing and saying. We need a Prime Minister that can represent Australia with intellect, dignity and integrity. Mr Abbott clearly cannot! Mr Abbott, just SHUT UP. I beg of you!

[1]http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/this-britain/the-blitz-survivors-stories-2070845.html

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_War_II_casualties

For Aden

drinkLast week was depressing. It seemed that religious hatred was everywhere. I am not a religious man but I respect people of faith immensely. The media has been full of it of late. I even found the need to defriend three “Friends” on Facebook for spewing religious hatred. It took the actions of my 17 year old son to remind me that there is much more to life than letting bigots bring us down.

It’s been tough with my son this year. Aden will hate me for saying this, but at seventeen he hit the terrible teens. It is not unique. Teenagers seek their own identity, they seek independence, they rebel, they experiment and most of all they challenge the boundaries as much as they can. Staying out late, drinking, sexual encounters and drugs are all part of their world. It is a world that our teenagers must navigate. Most do successfully, some do not.

As Erikson points out, the stage of adolescence is characterised by conflict. And boy has Aden had a year of conflict. He has been in conflict with everyone. He has been in Conflict with his family, especially me and his mother. Not a week went by when we did not argue about something. Nothing unique – tidiness, time management, priorities, attitude, twisting the truth, staying out late, not coming home, not doing homework, wagging school – You name it we argued about it!

He has been in conflict with his school. Not doing homework will do that. Not attending will do that. Not wearing uniform will do that. Missing tests will do that. Quite rightly the school had expectations that Aden in year 12 would focus. He did anything but. He fought with everyone right up to the principal. Of course they were all wrong and he was right. It’s like that when you are a teenager. You become the eternal victim.

He fought with friends, came home with a black eye one day. He fought with referees on the soccer field, getting booked regularly. He even had a run in with his soccer mates. If there was someone or something to be challenged then Aden would be up for it. But most of all Aden fought with himself.

You see all teenagers have a conscience. They rebel against this conscience. On the left shoulder there is the good guy reminding you of what’s proper. On the right is the bad guy reminding you as to what is fun, rebellious and independent. All of us have a conscience but as adolescence nears adulthood the guy on the right seems to hold enormous power. Parties and vices are the thing and they become the priority over everything else. It has happened to many teenagers, and it happened to Aden.

Aden became difficult to live with. His attitude sucked. He was unpleasant, moody and even a bit aggressive. His school work suffered. He fell behind. He knew what he needed to do but that little guy on the right held enormous sway. In short he got himself in a mess. Come exam time, which is now, it was always going to be an uphill battle.

His mother and I despaired. We tried everything. We cajoled him. We tried motivating him. We tried reverse psychology. We tried getting angry. We had screaming matches. We tried grounding him. We tried to work with the school to get him motivated. We failed miserably. It was tough all round. Of course all over Australia thousands upon thousands of parents are going through the same experience and probably worse. Knowing this did not make it any easier.

And then the tide turned. The little guy on the left began to beat down the little guy on the right. As exams dawned Aden began to realise just how much behind the eight ball he had placed himself with his lack of commitment. Having rebelled all year against sound advice, his mother is a teacher for god sake, he suddenly realised just why we had worked so hard to try and keep him on track.

He did something that surprised us. He did something that reminded us just why we became parents. He did something to remind us just what a wonderful young man he has become and always was. He did something that made us more proud of him than anything he had ever done. More proud than any goal scored at soccer or award won at school. It was the simple action of an apology that told us he had become a man.

He didn’t just apologise to us, he apologised in public. He didn’t just apologise to us but he apologised to his friends and his school. Some may say that he should have done it face to face but sometimes in the heat of the moment words fail us and come out the wrong way. He chose to carefully craft his apology in writing and post this in the very public forum of Facebook – And this is what he said –

“I would like to formally apologise for anyone that has had to put up with my shit this year. Having an awkward conversation, me ignoring you, abusing you or mistreating you. Year 12 is the devil and i didn’t treat it with enough respect. I have been able to for the last 5 years to coast through with no real problem. This year my attitude to school and the people around me (notably my family) has been appalling. I would like to assure you i am alright and trying to fix my own shit I love you all.”

Just gonna leave this here cause I feel like people don’t understand the kind of headspace I am in at the moment. As people from Yarra Hills know this year from an educational point of view has been a write off. I have put in less then the bare minimum amount of effort, in what should really be the most important year of my schooling. I have been distracted, sport, social, fitness, my ego (which isn’t as big as people think) and trying to find who I want to be have all been more important to me than study and due to this I am currently in a very shit place. Because of this I believe I have mistreated the people around me and the people who I trust the most, my family, have been constantly pushed aside because I had too much pride to take their advice. Now I try to hide my worries as much as possible as I have never been good at taking advice. However, this I can take an exception to because I am not a huge fan of the reputation I have obtained.

All in all I want to apologise properly and let you know the situation clearly. I don’t want people thinking I honestly don’t care about school cause I do.

Soz for being a douchebag! “

It seems such a small thing but with this that wee baby I held 17 years ago became a man. Your mum and I love you very much Aden. Although you hate advice, just remember the wise words of Richard who left a comment on your status –

“Aden, I wish I had your self-awareness, courage, and humility when I was your age. You may feel that time is slipping away from you, but just work your socks off in the time you have remaining and do the best you can. The rest will take care of itself and you are doing very well in ways you might not yet realise. Be gentle to yourself”

And to all of you I say, as Richard said to Aden – be gentle to yourself.