Before I commence with this article I must go on record to say that I have nothing but respect for the organisation that is Deaf Australia. I think it is a valuable organisation that has served the Deaf community tremendously. I have many dear friends who have served with Deaf Australia on the Board. It has achieved much and is a true cultural institution of the Deaf community.
As the primary author of The Rebuttal I have sometimes been critical of Deaf Australia and Deafness Forum. This is not because I have any ill feeling towards either organisation. It is because I feel strongly about issues and I believe it is important to discuss alternate views. Be it captions at the cinema or the lack of consultation with members, I have spoken up often. I have been critical and I have been criticised back. That is ok. People in glass houses should not throw stones as they say. I have to be prepared to accept criticism if I dish it out.
Recently Deaf Australia and Deafness Forum were defunded. They were defunded along with a host of other disability advocacy organisations. The Government, in its wisdom, has decided decided to fund a Cross Disability Peak. The new Cross Disability Peak comprises of five organisations:
- People with Disability Australia
- Children with Disability Australia
- First Peoples Disability Network Australia
- National Ethnic Disability Alliance
- Women with Disabilities Australia
This new Cross Disability Peak will receive up to $300 000 per organisation. They will be expected to represent all disabilities across the various portfolios. For more information click HERE.
Predictably the organisations that have been defunded have had an almighty dummy spit. They claim that Cross Disability will not work. They claim it is unrealistic to expect this organisation to represent all disabilities. They claim that the new system has effectively silenced the voice of people with a disability. I share these concerns.
However, I believe that to show that Cross Disability can not work you first must work with the new system. Protesting now, before any evidence has been gathered of the effectiveness or otherwise of the new system, is counter productive. If one is to say the new Cross Disability focus will not work they have to show that it is not working. This can only be done by making an honest and professional attempt to work with the new system.
If at the end of the day the new system is effective, then wonderful. If it is not, then at least one can say that they made a real attempt to make it work. They can present data and evidence as to why the system did not work. One cannot dismiss this new system without at first giving it a fair go. That is my view.
I have publicly stated this view on many social media discussion sites. In doing so I have come in for some abuse. I have been accused of having it in for Deaf Australia. I have almost been accused of celebrating the demise of Deaf Australia. Let me go on record, here and now. I take no pleasure in the threat to the future of Deaf Australia or any other defunded Disability Peak.
Today Deaf Australia put out a media release. Predictably it was an angry media release. It denounced the Abbott Government. It claimed that the Government had deliberately silenced the voice of Deaf Australians. They claimed that the new Cross Disability Peak simply could not hope to represent the complexity of issues associated with the Deaf community. I agree to a point – But at this early stage, and before the new Cross Disability peak has properly commenced business, they have no evidence to back their claims.
Bizarrely, the President of Deaf Australia had this to say of the new Cross Disability Peak, “…it seems to indicate that the government thinks that the primary disability someone can have is being labeled as a woman or a child. For a deaf person, gender, race, cultural background or population group is not the issue.” This statement, to put it mildly, is ignorant to the extreme.
The new Cross Disability peak represents five groups:
- People across disabilities.
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people withe a disability.
- People with disabilities from ethnic backgrounds.
Now the Government has in no way implied that being a woman is a disability. It has in no way implied that being a person who is of Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander descent is a disability. It has not implied that being a child is a disability. Yet Mr Wright has made this totally bizarre statement that, “The Government thinks that the primary disability someone can have is to be labelled as a women or a child.”
It did nothing of the sort. What it did say is that within these various target groups, disability exists. There are woman who have physical disabilities, there are women who are deaf, women who are blind and women who have multiple disabilities. Likewise for children. Likewise for ethnic backgrounds. What it implies is that within these groups there are specific disability issues.
This might be one of the strengths of Cross Disability. If you are woman with a disability and a victim of domestic violence there might be specific issues that impede your access to support. For example there are houses where women who are victims of domestic violence can reside and be safe. Now it is well known that women with disabilities can be vulnerable to abuse. Are these houses accessible. Do they have ramps, accessible toilets and the like. In the case of deafness when counselling is provided is interpreting funded or provided? If you have an intellectual disability and have been abused, is information available in Plain English or in formats that people with an intellectual disability can understand?
Potentially the new Cross Disability organisation can now lobby for all of these issues to the Government as one. Rather than have several organisations approaching the Government from different angles, and with different messages, there is one coherent message being provided to the Government. It can be a message that has been developed through extensive consultation across disabilities.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders people with a disability also have specific issues that need to be targeted. Displacement, ear health, isolation, remoteness, access to equipment and technology. There are women of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent who have disabilities and who have been victims of domestic abuse. There are children that can benefit fro the expertise of the Association of Children with a Disability. All these issues are Cross Disability. Potentially there are many benefits for people of Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander descent who have a disability.
Across disabilities, and across specific target groups, there are many overlaps in relation to disability. A Cross Disability Group can, potentially, present a stronger and more coherent message to the Government. Rather than weakening the disability advocacy message it may, in fact, strengthen it.
That said I am skeptical that the Cross Disability Group will have the expertise to understand all the issues across the various disabilities. I am skeptical that it will be properly resourced to be able to consult across such a diverse platform that is disability. I am old school, I prefer specialisation.
But being skeptical does not allow me to be outright dismissive. I believe strongly that the new Cross Disability organisation must be given every opportunity to succeed. If it does not, and we have given it a fair crack of the whip, we will at least have the evidence to show that it is not effective.
I realise this is cold comfort for organisations like Deaf Australia who are struggling to survive. I have no idea how long Deaf Australia can survive. I have no idea how long Deafness Forum can survive. What I do know is that the anger and the dummy spits that are currently occurring among the Disability peaks that have been defunded will achieve nothing. Abusing the Abbott Government, as useless as it is, will achieve nothing. Making sensationalist claims that, ” .. the Abbott Government does not want deaf people to have a voice… “ will only alienate the deafness sector even further from the Government.
By all means document concerns. By all means articulate the skepticism of the new system. But do not dismiss it outright. The new system may surprise us all yet. I have my doubts but I am prepared to give it a go.
I hope Deaf Australia survive, they are very much needed. But if they are to survive they have to work a hell of a lot smarter than they are now.