United States of Australia

usaThis year hospitals have become my second home. In a period of 14 months I have had five lots of surgery. I first had a knee clean out. I then had my gall bladder removed, something I wrote about in Gary and Mellisa’s Excellent Adventure. Unfortunately when the gall bladder was removed two gallstones were stuck in the duct and I had to go back to surgery two days later. Then in May this year I had a spider bite and had to have surgery to cut away the infected skin. Finally, last month I had surgery on my elbow. In between all of this surgery I suffered from depression, which also necessitated a visit to hospital.

So fed up has my wife become about my love affair with hospitals that she has threatened to divorce me if I go under the knife again. It’s not looking good cos I have now injured my foot and am hobbling about. Single women out there looking for a partner that can cook, I may be on the market shortly.

But hospital visits for the deaf are no laughing matter. Three of my experiences with hospital required me to go through emergency. Now being deaf and going to hospital brings with it the inevitable communication issues. Diagnosis is critical. Diagnosis requires the patient to answer any number of questions. Get it wrong and, well the consequences are not worth thinking about.

Each time I attended emergency, even though I requested it, an interpreter was not provided. When I had my mental health episode I was treated at home. Again I requested interpreters and these were not provided. My poor deaf wife had to do the interpreting for me. It’s not a great situation.

The other times I went to hospital I did so under private health. For the first knee surgery I had an interpreter there from start to finish. This was funded under the National Auslan Booking Service (NABS). When I awoke the interpreter was smiling down at me from the bedside. It was perhaps the only time I felt truly relaxed about a hospital visit.

For my elbow surgery NABS would not provide an interpreter even though it was under private health. Why? Because I was staying overnight and they don’t fund interpreters if you stay overnight. I asked if they could just be there pre-surgery. Nope, didn’t fit the guidelines. Luckily Epworth Hospital saw fit to book an interpreter any way. But as you can see, even with private health, access to an interpreter can be a bit of a lottery.

It worries me. It worries me because not all deaf people have my language competency. Some do not speak well. Some may have literacy issues. For them an emergency visit to hospital can be fraught with danger. Misdiagnosis is a real possibility. Hospitals expect families to interpret but when you have an emotional attachment to the patient this can be highly inappropriate. Imagine having to tell your deaf dad he is going to die – it has happened. Pen and paper don’t hack it either.

Luckily for me I live in Victoria. Representing me I have Deaf Victoria. Deaf Victoria are on the ball and are currently in negotiations with the State government to trying and improve access to interpreters at hospitals throughout Victoria. This is advocacy at its best.

Deaf Victoria knew that talk is cheap. Writing endless letters to hospitals and Government Ministers often ineffective. They realised that to really make the Government and hospitals take note they needed evidence. So evidence is what they got. They consulted with the Deaf community and produced a thorough report on the issues. The report did not make for pretty reading. This report, with its recent and detailed evidence, is what they are using to negotiate improved access to interpreters at hospitals in Victoria.

Appallingly, the research found that:

“ In 62.5% of respondents, no Auslan interpreter was provided at all. In most of these cases, an adhoc way of communication was found, mainly pen and paper, guesswork, gesture, the use of family or friends and reliance on lip-reading.”

Scarily the report also found,

“One third of the sample was forced to rely on family and friends to interpret, and a large number of these family and friends were often Deaf themselves.”

Clearly the lack of access to interpreters and clear communication at hospitals is rife. Reliance on family and friends for communication support is common, even if they are deaf. It is a recipe for disaster. We can only hope that someone does not die or get severely injured before our Government and hospitals see the light.

I am so glad that Deaf Victoria are working on this one. It made me realise that a lot of issues that impact on Deaf people and people with a disability are really State based. Access to education, counselling, recreation, hospitals, mental health services and the like are all controlled by the States. We in Victoria are lucky to have Deaf Victoria funded and working for us. Not so many other States where State based advocacy remains unfunded and reliant on volunteers.

The more I think about it the more I think we should be pushing for stronger State based advocacy. A national body sounds great but the reality is that the real work needs to be done at State level. National bodies have, arguably, next to no influence on State issues. Maybe, given that Deaf Australia and Deafness Forum might be unfunded next month, we won’t have the benefit of a national body any way. Perhaps funded State advocacy groups could form an alliance to present a united front on issues that have a Federal focus?

Even with the NDIS the focus is on providing at State level. Clients accessing the NDIS need strong State and local advocacy so that the States and Local Governments make the necessary improvements to local services and infrastructure. There is no point having a well-funded package from the NDIS if none of the services and facilities are accessible. Who is doing this advocacy?

It may well be time for the States to step up. For me I am lucky to have Deaf Victoria, long may it continue.

LAST CALLS!

drainCommunications Minister, Malcolm Turnbull has announced a quarter of a billion dollars in cuts to the ABC and a further $56 billion to SBS. Of course we all know that these cuts occurred despite promises from the PM to the contrary. The cuts add to the many others that we were told would not happen. They are part of the lie that Australia is in economic meltdown. We now know that the LNP lied about this so called economic crisis leading up to the election. What we also know is that many of the cuts that the LNP want to make are not necessary. Sure, there probably was a need to tighten the belt a bit but not on the scale the LNP want to. The problem is that these unneeded cuts are impacting everywhere and we are all living in a pool of uncertainty.

The cuts are impacting on services and support for people who are Deaf and hard of hearing. Indeed Karen Lloyd, writing in her Blog this morning, has put out an impassioned plea to the Deaf community to save Deaf Australia. As The Rebuttal has suggested twice this year, both Deaf Australia and Deafness Forum are under threat. The Government has seen fit to restructure our disability Advocacy funding and it is a very real possibility that both will lose their funding. The Rebuttal alluded to this on June 9th and again on September 9th.

In her article Ms Lloyd eloquently explains why. I will list some of the key points that she has made below:[1]

  • Many national organisations representing people with disabilities are about to lose their funding, including Deaf Australia ….
  • If this happens, Deaf Australia could be forced to return to what it was in the 1980s, a small volunteer-run organisation with no funds.
  • The gains we have made will be eroded. The onslaught has already begun: just a couple of weeks ago the government introduced a bill into Parliament seeking to wind back compulsory reporting and other protections of TV captioning.
  • In a nutshell, instead of funding 13 national disability representative organisations as they do now, government wants to fund seven.
  • Five organisations currently funded will likely continue to be funded. Eight will be out in the cold.
  • Each of the seven organisations/consortiums will get $300,000 per year.
  • So if there are, say, 15 organisations in a cross-disability consortium, then each will perhaps get $20,000. If the consortium’s application is successful; it might not be, in which case they will get nothing.

Ms Lloyd confirms in more detail what The Rebuttal has been suggesting, mainly that there has been a competitive tender and “Consortiums” of organisations have applied for the new funding. If an organisation has tagged itsself to a “consortium” that is not successful with its funding application then they will get NOTHING.

And this is what the LNP cuts have done. They have put many valuable organisations like Deaf Australia and Deafness Forum at risk. According to Lloyd, the Government has done this as a way of. ‘encouraging’ the disability sector to ‘organise itself’. As Lloyd notes, this is rubbish. The Government has done this, they say, simply because they think the need for advocacy will be made redundant by the NDIS.

Of course this is rubbish too because not all disability issues come under the NDIS. Infrastructure, employment, education, captioning and the like are all issues that the NDIS will not influence. There will always be a need for strong advocacy. I am not confident that a “consortium” will necessarily have the resources or the know how to represent each of the diverse and unique disability groups that exist. For all its posturing the Government is simply – CUTTING COSTS!

It is possible that both Deaf Australia and Deafness Forum will survive. We will know in December. I am not hopeful and I think the future is very bleak. It is unfortunate that Ms Lloyd’s piece has come so late. There was not a lot that could have been done beforehand by Deaf Australia and Deafness Forum without the fear of upsetting the decision makers. Deaf Australia and Deafness Forum have truly had their hands tied. They were relying on independent bodies and individuals to advocate for them.

To be honest with you, the response of the community to the two previous Rebuttal articles about the future of our Deaf peaks was poor. There were no more than 50 or 60 hits per article. In contrast the article on deaf parenting had 3500 hits. Apathy towards our Deaf peaks would seem rife.

BUT where there is life there is hope. Now may well be the last roll of the dice. If the community cares about the future of our  Deaf peaks and want to keep the Deaf and hard of hearing voice strong, they must do something. I urge the community to do as Ms Lloyd suggests below. If they do not, they may well regret it.

Says Ms Lloyd:

Everyone can help, whether you are disabled or not.

Send an email to Kevin Andrews, Minister for Social Services kevin.andrews.mp@aph.gov.au  and to Mitch Fifield, Assistant Minister for Social Services senator.fifield@aph.gov.au

Tell them:

The new Sector Development for Disability Representative Organisations funding model will be disastrous for millions of disabled people and is the wrong thing to do. The government needs to throw it out and develop a new model that looks after everyone fairly, not just a few selected ‘population’ groups and service providers.  Until government has done this, the current National Secretariat Funding model needs to be retained.

Remember to include your name in the email, and something in the subject field, e.g.: Funding for disability representative organisations.

And send a copy of your emails to your local Member of Parliament. Don’t know who your local member is or their email address? Find out here: http://www.australia.gov.au/faq/which-federal-electorate-do-i-live-in

To find your local MP’s email address go to: http://www.aph.gov.au/~/media/03%20Senators%20and%20Members/32%20Members/Lists/MemList.pdf

Please do it NOW! Before it’s too late!

Sadly, I fear it may already be too late.
[1] http://lifeanddeaf.net/2014/11/19/wrong-way-go-back/

Inclusion, Inclusion, Inclusion

inclusionImagine that you are an event organiser. You are arranging a special event for people with a disability. The event is to be a celebration of all things that are good about disability. Awards will be given to inspiring, innovative and passionate people with a disability. These people have taken on the world and achieved great things. This is despite living in a world that is largely not accessible or inviting to people with a disability. The big moment comes to announce the award for Disability Employee of the Year.

The winner is Joe Wheelie, a wheelchair user. Mr Wheelie has risen to be the boss of one of Australia’s premier IT companies. He take’s every opportunity to promote people with a disability as a marketable pool of employment with skills of value to employers. Mr Wheelie is known all over Australia for his passionate advocacy. A flamboyant Mr Wheelie lets out a whoop as his name is read out as the winner. He wheels himself excitedly up to the stage. The problem is that he cannot get up on the stage because event organisers have neglected to consider access to the stage for wheelchair users. Oh the embarrassment!

And although the scenario that has just been described is entirely fictional, a similar scenario actually happened a few years back at an event organised by one of Australia’s premier disability groups. One can almost forgive an organisation that has no experience in disability for this type of faux pas; but when it happens at events that are organised by so called disability experts, there can be few things more humiliating and embarrassing.

Sadly it happens all too often. We people with a disability are constantly required to check whether an event is accessible. As a deaf person I have to constantly ask whether captioning or Auslan interpreters will be provided. More often than not, even at events that are targeted towards disability audiences, they are not.

What is worse is that I am often asked to pay my own way. Disability event organisers will say – “Oh but Gary, surely that is the responsibility of your employer, can you not ask your manager to cover the cost.” Or they will say – “I am sorry but we cannot possibly cover the cost, it will affect our profitability and we cannot run a business like that.” They will then proceed to offer me free registration. The free registration is on the proviso that my employer pays the cost of interpreting. The cost of the registration is sometimes actually more than what the interpreters might cost, it’s crazy.

What really pisses me off is that people seem to think providing access to people with a disability is some kind of charity. Let’s not forget that when people with a disability attend events that they bring with them considerable knowledge and skills. They have something to contribute that is of value to all participants at the event. Be it professional or personal experience, people with a disability have walked the talk. There is much that can be learnt from participants who have a disability. It’s a reciprocal relationship and the cost of access is an investment to tap into the knowledge and skills of people with a disability.

Organisations and programs that have the objective of promoting and supporting people with a disability need to walk the talk. When they organise events they need to ensure that these events are accessible. They need to be demonstrating what disability access is all about. It is not always a cost, sometimes it is simply about good planning. Like ensuring there is a ramp to the stage!! How many of these organisations will budget each year for catering at events but not for access? Far too many that is for sure.

The mind boggles really. Food is always seen as a way to attract people to events. Every budget will always have X amount of dollars for food. Often the catering for events is actually quite extravagant. There will be finger food, salmon wraps, wine, beer and an assortment of enticing cakes. Make no mistake the first thing that most people look for when they are attending an event is whether it is catered. The smart event organisers build the catering into the cost of an event so that registrations cover the cost. Why not build the cost for disability access into the budget of events? I can tell you, it rarely happens. Access is an afterthought.

And why should we limit access just to events that are arranged for people with a disability? Why do we not push hard to ensure mainstream events have access too. Many events receive funding from Governments – Federal, State and Local. A pre-requisite to receive funding for these events should be to demonstrate a disability access plan. Can’t demonstrate it – No funding – Simple as. This would mean events like film events, arts events, festivals and the like are all providing access.

It’s simple really. You plan a head. If a fee is going to be charged, add a levy to that fee so that disability access costs can be covered. If you have an event where 5 thousand people may attend then $2 a head will generate $10 000. If it is a smaller event just for an hour or two, perhaps a levy of $5 will help to meet access requirements. This levy will not always be used, bank it and invest it for the next event. It can be used for accessible toilet hire, accessible transport where required, interpreters, captioning and so on. We really have to think smarter.

But accessible events are not just about money. Sometimes it is just about thinking laterally. For example one parent asked me to ensure there was a quiet area where they could take their autistic child should distress occur. Issues like accessible parking, accessible toilets, ensuring access to rooms, buildings, doors and so on do not require money – they just require good planning and foresight.

So next time you are planning an event think access – Most of all plan ahead! If you know that you will hold events, budget for access requirements as early as possible. If there is going to be a charge, consider adding a few dollars to each registration to cover the cost of access. If need be start applying for grants and sponsorship to cover disability access and do it early. Think forward, think smart!

It is simple really. Let’s make our world more inclusive. It really is not that hard!

For more information on planning accessible events go to:

http://www.idpwd.com.au/3-december/planning-your-event/eventactivity-checklist/

http://www.meetingsevents.com.au/downloads/Accessible_Events_Guide.pdf

Hello! – I’m Over Here

ignoreI am a cranky disability advocate today. It’s good that I am cranky. Crap happens to people with a disability in Australia every day. I often say to myself that when I stop being angry about this crap then it’s time for me to give it away. Well I am still angry so I guess retirement will have to wait. God damn it!

This morning I woke up to discover that Jetstar had, again, treated someone with a disability with disdain. It seems that there was a woman who has cerebral palsy who couldn’t get access to a standard aisle wheelchair. So to get off the plane the woman’s sister had to carry her some considerable distance. It seems no one from Jetstar offered to help as the woman lumped 40 kgs of dead weight human over her shoulder and set of for the terminal. Of course this is my rough interpretation of what happened because I had to access a Channel 9 Youtube video without captions and the voice generated ones are near impossible to decipher. Nice one Channel 9!

So that started my morning. I was calmed somewhat with some funny Facebook memes about every ones favourite object of abuse, Tony Abbott. Tony, if you recall, threatened to shirtfront Russia’s President Putin. In response Putin has sent his navy full bore towards Australia. Talk about boys toys. The memes came thick and fast. The gist of them was “Well you did say you were gonna stop the boats!” hahahahha … My humour was short lived.

My wife dropped me off at my destination. I was to have training about disability strategies for employment. It included digital access which is one of my key areas of expertise. I arrived at the venue which is disability friendly, or so they say. I am guided to the training room, which is upstairs, and has no lift. Kind of odd for disability training, but that’s the world we live in. I am early by thirty minutes, a rarity. I help myself to the instant coffee and settle down to catch up on emails while I wait.

Training starts at 9 am. I get out my phone. There is a message for me sent at 8.30. The message is to let me know that my interpreters for the day have been cancelled because one was sick. EEEEEEEEK … its now 8.50. And I am just about to commence training and my interpreters are not coming. I send a message to the booking agency and ask why they didn’t contact me before cancelling.  As a deaf professional I have a wealth of contacts, and I pointed this out to them.  I told them that I would have liked the opportunity to work with them to at least try to find a replacement interpreter.

They simply replied that OHS meant that they could not let the other interpreter work alone. I am, of course, sympathetic to their predicament but I am furious that my needs as a professional have been disregarded. What if this was a job interview? What if I was the person providing the training? What if I was advocating for someone? There are a whole host of scenarios that come into play. None of them seem to have been considered.

Ok I get it that we have to protect interpreters. I have seen the damage that RSI has done to many. BUT what about protecting me and other deaf professionals? What about working with me to resolve the problem? I imagine that they were told early in the morning that the interpreter was sick and could not make it. Why not contact me there and then to let me know so that I can begin to see what options that I have? None of this happened and I was left in the lurch. Deaf people need protecting too! But that’s seemingly how things work in this country – The person with a disability is thought of LAST! This is wrong!

I have to point out here that the booking agency was not Auslan Services. In fact I contacted Auslan Services once told of the cancellation. They went into overdrive to help me. Alas it was too late. What really bugs me is that, just with my own contacts, I found someone to replace the sick interpreter. BUT the stupid agency had cancelled everything! If only they had contacted me earlier. Yes I’m pissed and calling the agency stupid is probably harsh, but that’s how I feel!

And it wasn’t the first time that something like this had happened this week. In my work I get invited to a whole host of disability things. I try to attend as many as I can that are relevant to my work. One such function was organised by a professional body that works extensively with people with a disability. Oh I wish I could name them, but alas lawyers are rich enough already.

Anyway, this body was putting on a wonderful seminar that focused on organising specific support for disability. There were wonderful topics within it and I simply had to attend. There was an online registration form which I dutifully filled in. It asked if I had any access needs. Cool! I stated the need for Auslan interpreters. I was looking forward to this seminar.

No less than ten minutes later I received an email thanking me for my registration. By golly this mob were efficient I thought. And that is where my joy ended! Just after thanking me for my registration there was this ….

“… We note that you have requested Auslan interpreters. As we are an unfunded professional body can you please ask your manager to cover the cost of interpreting?”

They are certainly unfunded but the professionals that they represent come from some of the wealthiest organisations you can imagine. $50 from each of them would have covered the cost with enough for a bottle of expensive whiskey after. I pointed this out to them, rather more diplomatically. I pointed out that I requsted Auslan interpreters in good faith because the registration form asked me what access needs I had. I suggested that if they all pooled funds that the cost could be met easily. I also pointed out that my $6 000 Auslan for Employment grant didn’t go very far. I pointed out that my employer already supported me above the call of duty. “Let’s discuss a pooling arrangement” I said. The reply that I got … What reply? I am still waiting.

Let me just remind all these organisations and professionals that work in the disability field that they are there for people with a disability. We are not there for them! They get paid a healthy salary and while I understand shit happens and things go wrong, at least show us the courtesy of early and proper communication. As a professional who happens be to deaf I worked bloody hard to get the access that I have today! There is a simple dictum that business live by – It is simply that the customer is always right – the customer comes first. While I and other professionals who have a disability are happy to compromise, and always do, there is a limit. Don’t treat me and others like a nothing – We are the very reason that you exist. GET IT TOGETHER!

RANT OVER!!

With apologies to the many wonderful disability professional, both disabled and non-disabled, you know who you are and you certainly do not deserve to be the subject of this rant!

The Curse!

bookApple computer founder, Steve Jobs, wouldn’t let his kids have access to an iPad, iPod or iPhone. The guy responsible for some of the most innovative technology ever limited his kid’s access to technology. Said Jobs, when asked about his kids using an iPad, They haven’t used it. We limit how much technology our kids use at home.”

In the Silicon Valley it seems that this is a trend. So much that executives that work within the famous tech hub actually send their kids to a school where they have no access to computers and technology. Said one executive, “…we have seen the dangers of technology firsthand. I’ve seen it in myself, I don’t want to see that happen to my kids.” The author of the article from which this quote was taken from pointedly suggests, “We were the last generation to play outside precisely because we didn’t have smartphones and laptops. We learned from movement, hands-on interaction, and we absorbed information through books and socialization with other humans as opposed to a Google search. “[1]

Technology can be a curse! My kids and technology drive me insane. They are forever on my phone, my iPad or the family computer. They are forever distracted. They steal my work equipment like my iPad and phone and download programs like Snapchat to them. It is not uncommon for my phone to buzz at 11pm and there is a Snapchat pic of some female teenager in an alluring pose being sent to my elder son.

Have you ever been looking everywhere for your iPad so you can check Outlook and plan your day for the next day, only to find it missing? You then discover one of your kids has taken it to the toilet and has been doing their business while Snapchatting for the last 30 minutes. This happens to me all the time. The last straw came for me when the iPad went missing and I discovered my eldest had taken it to the bathroom with him and was actually having a shower. In desperation I passworded all my equipment and warned my kids not to touch!

Oh God! What happened next …??? “But Dad I need a phoooonnnne.” or “But Daaaddddd I need my own computer!!! The eldest, having lost his phone for the umpteenth time, has stolen one of my old prepaid phones. He puts it on wireless and then spends all night and half the morning on the internet chatting with his friends…99% girls. It got to the point where to stop him I have had to take the phone connection away and hide it.

Now if kids don’t have a Smartphone it is like … “Oh my god but what about strangers????” “What if they are in danger????” … “What if they need me???” Last I looked the world is pretty heavily populated. Most of my friends from school are still alive despite the absence of technology in their generation. Did you know that for the average person to get harmed walking down the street they would have to wait 750 000 hours.

I am well aware that technology has been a godsend for the deaf. When I started work I had no email, no phone access, no text, no Skype and as a consequence very few career opportunities. The deaf of my generation had to work bloody hard to get where we are today. Yes, technology has helped and I am thankful for it.

But it is not all good. Arguably technology has meant that we have all become less sociable. Rather than meet face to face we seem to spend all our time sending texts and chatting through any number of program of like Facebook, Snapchat, Skype, Viber and Instagram. Conversation is often just habitual rather than needed. It is largely meaningless conversation 24/7 and right at our fingertips.

Arguably some aspects of technology have had an adverse effect on the Deaf community. Not too long ago the only way that Deaf community members could meet was face to face. Friday night club nights were a must. They were something everyone looked forward too. For a time in the late 90s and 2000s one could argue that Deaf community members got so wrapped up in technology that they forgot the joys of real human contact. The spirit of the Deaf community got lost in cyberspace.

In a round about way it reminds me of research done with baby monkeys. Two baby monkeys were part of a project. One was raised with its mother, another by a furry mannequin. They were both brought up with the same food and warmth. However, the baby monkey with the mannequin lacked interaction that the baby monkey with the real mother did not. Not surprisingly the baby monkey reared by the mannequin died.

To me that is bit like what happened with the Deaf community when technology exploded. People were able to get in touch with each other at will and they did. However, because they were communicating readily, members of the Deaf community were meeting face to face less. That human contact and warmth went missing and the Deaf community became increasingly fragmented.

While technology is still an important part of a Deaf persons armour, thankfully the Deaf community has recognised that nothing beats meeting in person. After a period where it seemed that the Deaf community was dying, in recent years the Deaf community has grown more vibrant.

The Deaf community has recognised that nothing beats real face to face communication. The community has recognised that its strengths are in its institutions like the Australian Deaf Games, Deaf clubs and its history. Deaf sporting events, once poorly attended, are thriving again. The curse of technology, in my view, very nearly contributed to the demise of these wonderful Deaf community institutions.

In my mind and in my car,

we can’t rewind we’ve gone to far.

Pictures came and broke your heart

Put down the blame on VCR!!!

These immortal lines are taken from the hit song Video Killed the Radio Star. The song touches on the impact of technology. In this instance the song hankers for the days when music was music and didn’t rely on video. Well I want the days back where human interaction was just that and was not superseded by our unquenchable thirst for communication through technology.

Arguably communications technology, for all its benefits, has had an adverse effect on the whole of society and contributed to increasing fragmentation. This is particularly so with our kids. As the author of the article quoted at the start of this piece asks – So, should we be more worried that we are robbing our children of the ability to Snapchat and play “Candy Crush” all day if we don’t hand them a smartphone, or should we be more worried that we would be robbing them of a healthier, less dependent development if we do hand them a smartphone?

I say put that phone away and regenerate the human touch, get outside and play!

[1] http://theunboundedspirit.com/why-steve-jobs-didnt-let-his-kids-use-ipads/

Going Backwards

imagesThe 1980s and 1990s were a heady time if you were a disability advocate. Particularly in the early 1990s when the Disability Discrimination Act was introduced. Although the DDA is in drastic need of upheaval now, at the time it sparked many changes and campaigns. If you were deaf you would have seen the introduction of programs like Telstra TTY rental scheme, the National Relay Service, rapid increases in television captioning and the provision of support such Auslan interpreters for university and TAFE. Young people who are deaf take these things for granted now but the pioneers of the 80s and 90s can well remember what it was like to have very little access of any kind.

We should remember that these programs did not come about on their own. They came about because people who are Deaf lobbied their arses off. They wrote papers, campaigned and even took big multinationals to court and won. Yet despite these gains Australia still lags behind many comparable countries in terms of disability access. There is still much that needs to be achieved and we should never rest on our laurels. Particularly so with the current Liberal Governments across Australia who are hell bent on cutting anything that hints of welfare.

Indirectly Christopher Pyne is doing his best to make higher education inaccessible to people who are Deaf and people who have a disability. Mr Pyne, in his quest to Americanise our uiversity system, is trying to introduce a system that will lead to university degrees costing in excess of $100 000. Indeed, if Labor are to be believed, people who aspire to become a Vet will have to cough up in excess of $470 000. They will be paying this off well into their retirement.

This effects people who are Deaf and other disadvantaged groups because these people already are among Australia’s lowest earners. How many of them are going to want to go to university knowing that they will have to spend the rest of their lives paying off their degree? Once they graduate they still face an uphill battle to get employment. It is not for nothing that 45% of people with a disability live at or below the poverty line in Australia. Pyne’s proposals are going to make this worse.

In my early years as an advocate I spent a lot of time working towards making higher education accessible for people who are deaf. I sat on committees, I fought with my own university, I wrote to MPs and argued with the Vice Chancellor. I was on the Premiers Disability Advisory Committee and used every opportunity that I could to put the issue of access to higher education on the table. There were many other deaf students of the time that fought for university access just as hard.

And now with the short sightedness of a Minister who thinks most women only study cheaper degrees like nursing or teaching, we are about to see university education again become inaccessible to many people who are deaf or have disabilities. Not because universities won’t provide support, they will, but simply because many of these students will not be able to afford the university fees.

Without access to higher education how will people who are deaf and other disadvantaged groups be able to compete? How are they expected to get the qualifications that they need to compete for higher paying and secure jobs? It just seems that all that work over decades is going to be laid to waste. All that fighting for access to interpreters and captioning could well come to nothing. And all because we have a Government hell bent of destroying the welfare state. A state that really barely exists in Australia anyway when we compare our expenditure on welfare to other wealthy countries.

But the Minister that really has us all stirred up at the moment is Malcolm Turnbull. Turnbull is the Minister of Communication. He wants to put a stop the mandatory reporting of captioning quotas for free to air TV stations. Mr Turnbull simply is trying to cut the amount of paper work that he has to deal with and clearly does not understand the ramifications of what he is proposing to do.

In legislation introduced to parliament Turnbull is proposing:

  1. Removing compliance reporting for free-to-air television so they no longer have to publically report that they are meeting the captioning regulations.
  2. More complex calculations for determining how much captioning sports channels should provide.
  3. Watering down measurement and regulation of caption quality.[1]

Since July this year free to air television stations have been required to caption every show from 6pm to midnight. Currently they are mandated to report all their captioning outcomes and if they do not meet the amount of captioning set out in the regulations without good reason I believe they are held accountable.

Access to television captioning is something our advocates have fought hard for over many decades. One does not want to go back to the 80s when, as a friend suggested, the only thing captioned was The Bill and rather rude shows on SBS. I am not suggesting that cutting the red tape will send us back to these dark ages but the fact that television stations must comply and demonstrate they have met quotas ensures that they at least must come close to meeting the quotas that are mandated.

It is worrying indeed that government wants to water down the legislation, particularly in regard to quality. What is more worrying is, as Brett Casey suggested on ABC radio, that the government wants captions monitored through a complaints based mechanism rather than rigid compliance. What this means is that if we, the consumer, notice that TV stations are not meeting quotas the onus will be on us to complain to hold them to account.

We already know that the biggest weakness in the current DDA legislation is that it is complaints based. There is very little rigid compliance and self-reporting. The DDA is nothing unless we complain. Self-reporting and rigid compliance to quotas ensures that TV stations provide what they are required to. As Mr Casey said, In one way, I believe it shows that we’re going backwards. The onus is on the deaf or hard-of-hearing person to make the complaint when something occurs, and in this day and age, with the technology available to record and capture data and be able to provide that data annually to the compliance body, I don’t think it’s a very onerous task to have to do that.”

Yup we are seemingly going backwards. The Deaf sector and the disability sector have fought hard for many years to achieve the access that they have now. Even though we all have achieved much, this current Government and other state Liberal Governments seem to be doing all that they can to rip the façade from under all of the gains that we have achieved. So we must remain diligent and keep up the good fight because as Ghandi once said,”… the true measure of any Society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members” Unfortunately for us our current Governments need to be constantly reminded of this.

[1] http://www.mediaaccess.org.au/latest_news/tv-video/consumers-condemn-proposed-changes-to-captioning-regulations