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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