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.