Everyday People – By Gary Kerridge – Auslan translation, Marnie Kerridge

It is a paradox that in my work the people that are hardest to work with are often those that have experience, and lots of it, working within the disability sector. I have lost count of the many times that I have registered to attend a conference or event about disability only to be told that no interpreters were available and have even been asked to cover the cost myself.

In my last job I was invited to a network meeting for one of Victoria’s largest Government funded disability programs only to be told that they thought it was up to me to book interpreters. Or there are disability employment agencies that ring the voice line of your phone knowing full well you can’t hear them and after telling them three million times to please SMS.

I’m sure other people with a disability can tell you stories of bookings made for disability functions upstairs with no lift or no accessible toilets. It is mind boggling sometimes and one wonders how some people have worked within the disability sector for so long. The real paradox is that it is often people with absolutely no experience in disability that are most responsive to the access needs of people with a disability. I was refreshingly reminded of this last week.

I was asked by a journalist from the ABC if I would be happy to be interviewed for a story on disability employment. The journalist, Norman Hermant, wanted to promote the concept of equity through the form of employment quotas. This is where employers must commit to employing a certain percentage of people with a disability. This is because the employment rate for people with a disability continues to lag and it is obvious that current measures to increase disability employment are not working.

I spoke with Mr Hermant before the interview. I asked him to strongly consider using a sign language interpreter for the television segment. At first Mr Hermant was confused. He thought that captions would be suffice. I explained to Mr Hermant that Auslan was a language in its own right. I explained that many in the Deaf community were more comfortable when information was presented in Auslan and indeed it often provided them with more clarity and meaning.

That was all that was needed. Mr Hermant asked how it could be done. I explained that you could film an interpreter on green screen and then impose the interpreter into the screen so that it actually looked as if the interpreter was there. I provided Mr Hermant with contact details of the business that could help him and he did the rest. Although Mr Hermant could not arrange the interpreter for the actual television screening he was able to get it organised within two days and available online. This was on top of his already busy schedule. His attitude was refreshing and I wish it was that easy within the disability sector. Click on the link to watch the story. ABC DISABILITY EMPLOYMENT STORY

It was a good week for me in terms of advocating for access for the Deaf community. In the same week I managed to get an Auslan translation for a student induction video at my work. My wife was filmed on green screen and placed on screen with an animated film that explained how to get started when you enrol in university. This all started from a presentation that I gave in July last year.

I presented to a forum of information technology experts. My presentation focused on accessible media. The gist of it was that any media placed online should be accessible for people with a disability. If there is audio there needs to be a text transcript for people with a hearing loss. Text should be in plain English so it is as accessible to as many people as possible. Videos should be captioned, have Auslan translations and also audio description for people who are vision impaired.

I provided several examples of how this could be done. After the presentation a creative media expert, who is contracted by my employer, approached me and asked if I would work with him to develop an accessible media sample that would have descriptive captioning, Auslan and audio description all in one. He wanted to learn the process and also to ensure material he produced was accessible.

He has been a joy to work with. He is alike a sponge and absorbs all advice and suggestions that are given. Again this a person with absolutely no background in disability but who just gets it. I just wish that more people who work within the disability sector that use excuses such as cost and time could have the same attitude.

It strikes me that a lot of success that I have is as an advocate is through my work. Through my work I am able to educate people and demonstrate how access can benefit not only people with a disability, but everyone. And there are many out there just like me. People who just through their everyday life show what is required to provide access to people with a disability and create awareness. This can be done through work or simply through involvement with the community through sport or community groups.

The impact of these people is immense. Yet they are very rarely recognised for what they achieve. Arguably these people achieve more for people with a disability than the actual disability sector itself. They achieve change simply through living and making people aware of just how they can make society more accessible and inclusive for people with a disability.

Before Christmas many disability groups, including Deaf Australia and Deafness Forum, had their funding cut. Arguably now, more than ever, the responsibility has fallen on individuals to continue to fight for access and inclusion for people with a disability. They can do this simply by living their lives and demanding access. In this way they create access and a more inclusive society.

Perhaps it is time to review what creates the most powerful and effective change. Certainly the efforts of individual people with a disability just living their lives largely is unrecognised. Perhaps it is the missing piece in the puzzle that the newly funded Cross Disability peak needs to explore.

What Would I Know?

Two pictures of three boys watching baseball … tall, medium and small .. trying to watch a game. One shows them all standing on the same size box so the smallest cant see. The next shows them standing on boxes that are different sizes so that the smallest can see .. This is a concept of equity.

Last week I was interviewed by ABC TV. The subject was disability employment. The interviewer asked me whether I thought employment for people with a disability needed to move more to an equity model. Equity is not to be confused with equality because in our society equality does not exist. Because equality does not exist we really need to be thinking about how we can level the playing field.

For people with a disability the disadvantages that they face often means that it takes a little longer for them to get their first job. Moving up the management ladder then becomes another challenge as they face prejudice from employers who often think that just by employing a person with a disability that they have done enough. Consequently not only is unemployment among people with a disability high, but underemployment is chronic. Equity in the form of strong Affirmative Action needs to be implemented to level the playing field for people with a disability.

Skilled and experienced people with a disability are often overlooked for jobs. Particularly the management roles with the higher pay. In the disability sector we all have our stories of the person that applied for 100 or so disability management positions only to be overlooked for the role and a non-disabled person be appointed. If it is a disability job, usually this non-disabled person has no experience in disability but might have had ten years in management, have a PHD and several hundred other letters after their name.

It sounds logical that such a highly qualified person should win the role. BUT it really isn’t . Chances are that this person didn’t struggle through school with little support. Chances are that because this person had little disadvantage they were able to get in the university course of their choice. Chances are that once in university they did not have fight for support to be included and access information. Chances are that when they applied for their first job they did not have to face prejudice and stereotypical employers. Chances are are that they finished their course in the required time frame and did not have to study part-time because support for them at university was not adequate.

This accumulated disadvantage is why disability employment needs an equity focus. Expecting people with a disadvantage, such as people with a disability, to be able to compete equally in the employment market with people who have not faced disadvantage is unfair. To assist people with a disability to be able to compete we need to have a structure that supports equity. It is not just about  a job, it is about allowing people to reach their full potential, valuing this potential and providing people with a disability with an opportunity to compete fairly. Merit and equal opportunity principles just do not hack it.

In my last job I promoted a philosophy that disability was a vibrant market that requires investment. . As the community becomes more accessible more people with a disability begin to spend their money. They spend it at the shops, the restaurants, movies, tourist attractions and the like. It’s simple really, the more access that people with a disability have the more they contribute to the economy. The economic contribution from people with a disability is then multiplied by the contribution of their family and friends who take part in the activities with them. This combined contribution more than covers any investment towards disability access.

I pushed this idea very hard for 18 months and got nowhere. Then one day, on Facebook, I noticed a consultant that was pushing the very same idea. I contacted the consultant and asked him if he would come and talk to my manager about possibilities. I arranged the meeting and my manager reluctantly agreed to it.

Now the consultant was not visibly disabled. Knowledgeable in disability, yes, but not visibly disabled. He met my manager and ran off the very same philosophy that I had been pushing for 18 months without luck. My managers eyes lit up. After the meeting she spoke to me. She spoke as if the information that she had just heard was ground breaking. She suggested that she had never thought of it like that (YEAH RIGHT LIKE I NEVER MENTIONED IT!). She waxed lyrical about the opportunities that might happen if the organisation “Invested” more in disability access. She had become a convert!

What she did not know is that the consultant and I basically were an item. What she did not know was that the consultant and I had developed a strategy to sell the idea of “Accessible Markets” We were virtually in cohorts. Not to worry, she bought it, whatever works I guess.

And the consultant did very well out of it all. He was contracted to assist in the organisations disability action plan. He ran training workshops for staff. Planning sessions and the like. He was even contracted to help develop a report on developing an accessible festival event. In a few short months he got things on the agenda that I had not been able to in 18 months prior. It would have cost the organisation a pretty packet too.

Why did it take this consultant to get the organisation to buy into this philosophy? Sure his knowledge and resources were outstanding, but his message was not really any different to what I had been pushing for 18 months. And all through it he I worked together. He would email me when he was getting frustrated with a certain person and I would then go sort it out. I would email him and ask him to push a certain message and together we would push the strategy. That’s not to say that he and I agreed with everything, we didn’t, but with this guy I achieved more in 6 months than I had 18 months previously.

What is it about my nearly 30 years of knowledge that my manager did not value? What was it about the consultants knowledge and message that convinced her? Well my theory is that she simply did not see a person with a disability as her equal. She saw the not visibly disabled consultant as someone with expertise on par with her own. I was just a mere pleb.

All over Australia I am betting that prejudices such as those I experienced with my manager exist. All over Australia I am betting that there are people and managers that simply can not consolidate the idea that a person with a disability might be their equal or superior.

And that is large part of the reason why people with a disability are among the lowest paid in Australia. That is a large part of the reason why 45% of people with a disability live in poverty in Australia. These attitudes and prejudices have to be addressed. Its not going to happen through our current equal opportunity approach. It certainly isn’t going to happen with Australia’s weak disability discrimination laws. It is time to look seriously at a model of equity to support disability employment in Australia. If we do not, the serious disadvantage that people with a disability face to obtain employment in this country is unlikely to change.

But then and again – What would I know?

2015 …. A Deaf Community

welcomeIt was a sweltering night last night. Outside the rain poured down as thunder boomed and lightening flashed. Only in Australia can the weather be so contrasting. One tends not to sleep when the house is hot. Last night was no different and I tossed and turned as sweat poured off me with abandon. Sleeplessness has a funny way of making your mind go into overdrive.

No matter how hard I tried to distract myself, my mind kept coming back to the Deaf community. The Deaf community has been good to me. Indeed I owe my career to the Deaf community. I owe my marriage to the Deaf community. I have countless wonderful memories that are all down to the Deaf community. I have life long friends that originated from my involvement in the Deaf community. Most things positive in my life come back to my involvement with the Deaf community.

My mind went back to my first visit to the South Australian Deaf Club back in 1983. I walked in quite apprehensively, not knowing what to expect. The previous week I had gone on a deaf youth trip to the Monash playground and I had been encouraged to come to the Deaf club. I had enjoyed the youth trip so I thought I would give it a go.

As I walked into the Deaf club at the now defunct 262 building I was immediately surrounded by people. Some of these people were fellow students at the school that I attended that were part of the Centre for Hearing Impaired. Some of them were just complete strangers. My signing then was very rudimentary and consisted almost entirely of Signed English. Communication was somewhat stilted.

What hit me were the questions. Who are you?  Where are you from? What School do you go to? Do you sign? Are you oral? How did you go deaf? Are your mum and dad deaf? Do you have a brother and sister who are deaf? Do you play cricket? The questions seemed never ending. I had not experienced anything like it in my short life to then.

What surprised me at the time was the diversity of communication. A couple of people twigged on that I was very oral.  Wanting to show me that they were very oral too they began to converse in speech. With hearing aids I heard quite a bit back then. I was struck by the sheer loudness and tone of the Deaf accent. It was either extremely high pitched or very low, almost guttural.

Then of course there was the contrast in the proficiency of the signing group. Many people in my age group had just discovered the Deaf community. Many of them also had very rudimentary signing. Many had been part of the failed Signed English experiment. For many their language was delayed and their literacy poor. For many, like me, the Deaf club was their first introduction to sign language.

It was also for many, as I was, the first time that they had felt truly comfortable in a big crowd. It was the first time that everyone almost seemed equal. It was the first time everyone went out of their way to communicate. No matter the various skill levels, we were all in this together. We were going to make it work.

And of course there were the native signers. These were the people who had Deaf parents,siblings and extended family. Naturally their signing was fast and fluent. And to me almost incomprehensible – But even these people also went out of their way to communicate with me and welcome me. It was a wonderful feeling.

This was 1983 and it was my first introduction to the Deaf community. From this first visit to the Deaf club I became involved in the cricket club. I was later roped into being part of the committee. This was the start of countless involvements with various committees and volunteer roles within the Deaf community. From sport, Boards of management, lobbying groups and advisory groups my involvement has been widespread. There are very few communities that love their committees like the Deaf community.

But always there was this diversity. You see many, many – some would say most – people in the Deaf community do not discover it really until their teens. As they discover it they begin to learn Auslan. Some become very proficient. Indeed many for whom Auslan is their second language actually are now at the forefront of teaching and promoting Auslan. Others, like me, become proficient but rather sloppy. Others struggle forever to learn Auslan but still remain active within the Deaf community. In my time the Deaf community has embraced them all.

This is even more so today. As the cochlear implant became more widespread it became the norm. People that attended the 2012 Australian Deaf Games commented that most participants had cochlear implants. Indeed cochlear implants are even the norm at the Victorian College of the Deaf which is a bastion of the Deaf community.

Yet despite the cochlear implant becoming the norm young implantees still seek out the Deaf community. They get involved in social groups and sport. Like me their introduction to Auslan is very much in their teens. Some embrace and learn Auslan at ease. Others, like me become proficient but sloppy. Others struggle to learn Auslan forever. But still they are welcomed into the Deaf community.

And the Deaf community must embrace them. For without these people the Deaf community would struggle to survive. These people with cochlear implants become active members of the community. They are involved in sport, the arts, the politics – in fact they are involved at every level of the Deaf community.

As they have become involved in the Deaf community the values of the Deaf community have also changed.  One could argue that music is now a much more valued commodity of members of the Deaf community than it has been in the past. One could argue that needs and priorities of these new members of the Deaf community have also changed. For example technology has become a necessity and English is more widely used. Consequently how the Deaf community represents and supports its members has needed to change also.

With this in mind I was greatly concerned with the new membership structure that that is being proposed for Deaf Australia. As I understand it Deaf Australia wants to test its members proficiency in Auslan. I am not sure how it will be done but it is a complicated structure where Deaf Australia aim to test members proficiency of Auslan. A members proficiency in Auslan then impacts on their voting rights and ability to be a member of the Board. No one is excluded outright but indirectly, a members ability to influence Deaf Australia’s decision making will depend on their proficiency in Auslan.

Personally this type of membership structure alarms me. I can understand that there is a push to preserve Auslan as a language, hence the idea of encouraging proficiency.  At the same time it smacks of elitism. It is at odds with the Deaf community that I know that is welcoming and encouraging of everyone. Worse, at a time when Deaf community institutions like Deaf Australia are under threat, it could well scare off potential new members of the Deaf community.

I have a great friend who signs very well. However, he has a cochlear implant and his signing has a very strong English influence. For example he will sign “as well”  as in “peter plays cricket and golf as well” as – “as health” In Auslan the correct sign for “as well” is “too” as opposed to “well” which is aligned to the concept of health. My friend will also sign “affairs” as in “public affairs” using the sign that is more aligned to marital affairs. Simple mistakes, but where would he stand in terms of an Auslan proficiency test?

He probably would be fine. My greater concern is that such a membership structure ostracises those members of the Deaf community that are not proficient in Auslan, particularly for those for whom learning Auslan is always a struggle. Ok, I understand with the new membership structure these people can still be involved in committees and so on if they have the right skills but the degree of their influence will depend on their Auslan proficiency. This just seems so unfair.

To me this new structure is at odds with the welcoming and very fair Deaf community that I joined all those years ago. Are we going to extend this structure to other groups like sporting groups where if you are good at sport you can play but have limited voting or decision making rights? It just seems so wrong and very out of place in a Deaf community that needs all the support that it can get.

* I welcome clarification of the Deaf Australia membership structure and apologise if I have inadvertently got it wrong. I am hoping it is not as drastic as I have described it.

* * In the last edition of The Rebuttal we had a poll that asked readers to state whether they thought that Deaf Australia and Deafness Forum should have their funding restored. As of Thursday 8th January statistics indicate that 222 people have read the article The New Frontier. Of these 17%, or 38 readers, responded to the poll – results were:

No – Advocacy for Deaf and HoH has changed forever. 65.79%  (25 votes) 

Yes – They must be saved. 18.42%  (7 votes) 
I am not sure. 15.79%  (6 votes) 
 Total Votes: 38



The New Frontier

changeAs someone who has worked in disability employment for a long time, it is the providers that lobby the Government and drive change for deaf people. DA and DF are totally out of touch and have done sweet FA to improve access, services or outcomes for deaf job seekers. They never speak to us, work with us or leverage our knowledge. Wasted opportunities.

Get rid of them I say. Deaf people need to stand up for themselves.

Posted by – RealityBites at The Rebuttal on January 4, 2015 in response to Merry F#*king Xmas

Readers of The Rebuttal will now be aware that both Deafness Forum and Deaf Australia have been defunded by the Government.The above comment was in response to the article that was posted at The Rebuttal just after Xmas. The article had described the circumstances of a mother who has a child who is both deaf and autistic. Recent clampdowns on welfare by the Government have seen this mother, and many in similar circumstances, become severely disadvantaged. The article suggested that never before has there been such a strong need for disability advocacy such as that which is offered by Deafness Forum and Deaf Australia. It seems that there are some out there that disagree.

I still struggle to understand the purpose and role of both Deaf Australia and Deafness Forum, other than to employ a small handful of deaf people within the organisation. The aims of both organisations are not clear, and the outcomes they intend to achieve (or have achieved) are not visible nor measurable, which is likely to be a factor in why they are given the chop. To the Government and Pollies, DA and DF appears to suck in a lot of money, but provide little output to Australian society as a whole.

Posted by Clare at The Rebuttal – January 4th, 2015.

It is interesting because the people that took the time to post at The Rebuttal page did not endorse either Deafness Forum or Deaf Australia. While I would not say that the responses were overwhelmingly anti DF or DA there was a common theme. This theme suggests that both DF and DA are and were out of touch with its constituents. The article in question was well read, with over 600 hits, yet the only people moved to comment had nothing positive to say about either DF and DA. No one offered any support. It begs the question as to whether DF and DA have actually run their course in terms of their effectiveness. (Pleasingly comments made at the Facebook postings of the article overwhelmingly supported the mother – but none offered support to DA or DF.)

To balance up this view one perhaps should consider comments made at the Auslaners Facebook group. This is a large group with over 3000 members. Comments from members of this group were overwhelmingly supportive of Deaf Australia. However, even here there were some dissenters who supported the Governments decision and others, including this writer, who were urging Deaf Australia  to work closely with Deafness Forum to consider pooling resources in the form of a merger.

This all raises the question as to whether DA and DF have reached their use by date. It raises the question as to whether the models of advocacy that they employed have become outdated. There are those that want to blame the current Government for DF and DA losing their funding. But I believe that the previous Labor Government set the train in motion and the current Government just finished the job.

Bill Shorten, when he was Parliamentary Secretary for Disability, often expressed his frustrations with Disability Peaks. His view was that the respective Peaks often gave the Government conflicting messages. Shorten is known to have asked how the Government was expected to formulate Disability policy when the Peaks were all pulling in different directions.

I believe it was Shorten that set the train in motion to investigate a more effective way to fund disability Peaks. The current Government has simply enacted the recommendations that came from these investigations. As a consequence the new model of cross disability representation that has been funded, in my view, has the bipartisan support of both the major political parties. The Greens appear to be offering a lone dissenting voice.

On the Auslaners Facebook page there was a strong push to protest the decision and try to get the Governemnt to reinstate Deaf Australia’s funding. In the short- term I feel such a protest will be futile. In the short-term both DF and DA a need to seek alternate funding from other sources. These might be grants or they maybe business initiatives that tap into the NDIS.  The reality is that future is not bright. It would seem that both organisations would need to cut their losses, shore up their assets and return very much to their voluntary roots. Jobs will go unfortunately.

It may well be that advocacy for Deaf and hard of hearing will now become more State based. Let us consider the NDIS. As the NDIS is rolled out people with a disability, and this includes Deaf and hard of hearing, will be accessing the community more and more. This means locally based facilities will need to become more accessible so that people with a disability can get the full benefit of their NDIS packages. Most of this advocacy, arguably, will be done at State level rather than a Federal one.

Consider DeafVictoria with their campaign for communication access for hospitals. Health is controlled by the States so it makes sense that this lobby be done at a State level. People trying to access the NDIS will need support  at State level too to ensure they get the right information to be able to develop the strongest possible package that they can. Improvements in Education access is also a State issue. Perhaps rather than focusing on a strong Federal Deaf peak we should be strengthening advocacy at a State level.

It could well be in the future that State Deaf peaks have the control and agree on what are the issues that need to be lobbied Federally such as employment, captioning as well as Deaf community language and cultural needs. It could well be that the State Deaf peaks identify and agree on  these key issues and then work closely  with the new Cross Disability Peak that the Government is funding to ensure these issues are represented properly at Federal level.

Certainly with the introduction of the NDIS disability advocacy will need to change. Lobbying for funding of Deaf Peaks might need to occur at State level rather than a Federal one. This will mean competing with established organisations such as Deaf Societies or working closely in partnership with them.

Either way the Deaf and hard of hearing communities need to get smart. They have to realise that the model of old  presented by DF and DA may well be outdated. The crux of the matter is that both DF and DA have known for some considerable time that they would not be funded individually and that to survive they had to be part of a cross disability consortium. Unfortunately the one that they chose was not successful.

If we were going to rally to save DF and DA it needed to have happened long ago. Now it is just too late. It’s time to take stock, analyse the system and work out how Deaf and hard of hearing issues can continue to be strongly represented. Unfortunately I feel it is not under the old model. That ship has sailed and its time to work out how we can all fit in with the new structure.

As Einstein once said – “The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”  In terms of advocacy for Deaf and hard of hearing that’s where we are at. The solutions, unfortunately, are likely to be painful for many.