Captioning – A History

netWhen I was a lad, and at 50 that was some time ago, my mother was my ears. I lost my hearing around the age of 8 or so and with it my access to many things. I used to love listening to the radio in the mornings and can still recall the Beatles singing Let It Be. I can still recall the narky radio ads which often seemed to be simply the audio of the television ads.  “I’m Louie the fly, Louie the fly, straight from rubbish straight to you …. “ To this day these tunes still reverberate in my head. I sometimes spontaneously begin to sing them, my kids hate it!

When I turned 8 my access to overhearing these things went with it. My mother became my ears. She would make phone calls to my mates to get them to meet me over the oval for a game of cricket or a kick around. A lot of the time I would pester her to let me know what is happening on television. There were no captions back then. So I was forever asking mum to tell me what so and so said, why the blonde lady was sick, why the bald guy was angry, why the house was on fire …  they were always blonde, bald, fat or whatever because I didn’t hear their names.

And most times she would let me know. Occasionally she would squirm if the characters were discussing sex. She is British you see. “You know, down there …” she would say and expect me to realise this referred to two people who were about to get into the act of copulation. My mum, like most mums of kids who are deaf, was my key conveyour of information.

In the late 80’s people who were deaf rejoiced as they began to get access to television captioning. Prior to that we would get access to movies with captioning on SBS. For a young lad with raging hormones, SBS was not always the most appropriate place to access entertainment. In the 80’s we began to get access through the Teletext Decoder. This was basically a set top box that you attached to the television set.

At first there wasn’t a lot of choice. Home and Away, Neighbours and the a few British shows on the ABC. For a time we had subtitles on 60 Minutes but they stopped because the Deaf community complained. They complained because some stories on 60 minutes were shown before they could be captioned. Consequently the odd story did not have captioning. Rather than hurry up with the captioning, Channel  9 considered us deafies ungrateful bastards and just stopped the captions altogether. That shut us all up quick sharp.

I purchased my first teletext decoder  in the early 90’s from the now defunct Adelaide store called Brash’s. It cost me nearly $500. I had it for less than a year before it was stolen when my parent’s house was broken into. They left the remote behind so I am not sure what use it was to the people who stole it. All the device did was show subtitles. No doubt they thought it was a video recorder or something.

Over the years televisions began to have teletext built into them. So we deafies began to buy these TV’s. The set top boxes were no longer needed.  Teletext TV’s were considerably more expensive than normal TV’s. I seem to recall  that you could actually get a form from the Deaf Society in Adelaide, fill it in, and get some kind of discount on a teletext televisions. Nowadays digital televisions all come with captioning capability. No longer do deafies have to pay extra for access.

Naturally, as people who were deaf began to invest in captioning technology they began to demand more access to television captioning. Deaf Australia and Deafness Forum worked very hard in this area. Today we virtually have full time captioning on television. Although pay TV and the new free to air digital channels still have some catching up to do.

From these early days of television captioning people who were deaf got a thirst for access. Campaigns began to have captioning introduced to cinemas. Interestingly cinemas were and remain very slow to catch on. I remember seeing my very first caption movie at the Cinema around the year 2000 –  This was the first Harry Potter movie.

Cinema captioning has been slow to improve and is still crap. People who are deaf initially would get access to only one film per month and this movie was often shown at inaccessible times when people were at work or in bed. Frustratingly, sometimes captions would be advertised but not shown. Although today some privately owned cinemas have begun to introduce open caption screenings for people who are deaf, access to the cinema for people who are deaf has been very slow to progress.

In the 80’s we also saw the rapid introduction of videos.  A few of these videos were open captioned, but not many. Video stores began to crop up everywhere. But very few videos from video stores were captioned. Then in  the 90’s some videos, nearly all American ones, were produced with closed captions. To access the closed captions you needed a special Video player. This, of course, was far more expensive than a normal video player. No matter, it was access. I think the first video my family saw with closed captions was Monsters Inc. Unfortunately closed captioned videos were few and far between.

No sooner had we invested in a video recorder that could play closed captions than the DVD became common place. Over the years the DVD has meant that virtually all movies have captions. It has been a godsend for people who are deaf. There are still some DVD’s that are not captioned but these are very much the minority. The introduction of DVD’s, perhaps for the first time since silent movies, has provided people who are deaf with virtually full access to all mainstream movies.

AND NOW – we have the internet TV services that have cropped up everywhere. There is Fetch, there is Stan and there is Foxplay to name a few. Unfortunately none of these appear to offer captions. And then came Netflix this week. Netflix are an American company that were sued under the American Disabilities Act for not providing captioning to their internet content and lost. As a result all their shows must now be captioned. The great thing is that Netflix Australia seems to be captioning all of its content too. With virtually 100’s, possibly 1000’s, of movies and TV series to watch, all captioned, Netflix is a deaf person’s Utopia.

A little over 30 years ago Australians who are deaf had virtually no access to television or movies through captioning. As Video was introduced it took more than a decade before these videos were actually captioned.  Fast forward to now  and nearly all our television is captioned, all our DVD’s are captioned and with Netflix we can watch 100’s and possibly 1000’s of movies and TV series, all with captions. We have certainly come a long way from those dark days of the 70’s and 80’s – Not quite Utopia but we are getting there! All we need is for those dastardly cinemas to catch up!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Cos We Can!

untitledLast night I was watching Australia, the Untold Story. The show had a fascinating story about the Television coverage of the Melbourne Olympics. At the time Television had only recently been introduced to Australia. The 1956 Melbourne Olympics was the first time that the Olympic Games had been held in the Southern Hemisphere, let alone Australia. Broadcasting the Games was a mammoth task.  The ever so new television industry of Australia had the  ginormous responsibility of bringing the Games live to the TV sets of Australians and the world.

I cannot remember the name of the guy who was in charge in 1956, but apparently he had no idea about how live television worked. He did not even know how the equipment worked let alone how to control the cameras. Things like placement, close ups, switching cameras and the like; all these things were foreign to him. Indeed when the technology for the live television broadcast arrived in Australia no one knew how to use it or how it worked. It is fair to say everyone, including the guy in charge, was winging it.

Despite having to navigate this enormous learning curve the live television broadcast of the 1956 Olympics was a brilliant success. Indeed the guy in charge introduced many new live television strategies and techniques. He apparently was told such techniques were not allowed. He didn’t care, he tried them anyway. He was a true risk taker and set the standard for sports broadcasting for many years to come. It was said that before the Games commenced he was sitting down by himself at the MCG and he broke down and wept. The enormity of the responsibility he had taken on hit him. But he did it!  It is probably one of the greatest achievements ever by an Australian.

For some strange reason this story took me back to the very first Rebuttal. There were five of us and we were about to release a publication that aimed to challenge conceptions of the deafness sector to the very core. The five of us felt that the deafness debate was very much controlled by a few and that decisions and ideas were very rarely challenged. In setting up The Rebuttal we had long discussions about legal ramifications and the like. It was not quite on the scale of the Melbourne Olympics TV broadcast but like the guy who was in charge of the broadcasting, we were putting our heads on the block. We were on a hiding to nothing.

That very first Rebuttal in 2006 challenged the deafness sector to consider employing people who are Deaf  as the bosses of deafness organisations. The message was simple, that we have a wealth of Deaf people out there who have the skills to take charge. The challenge for the deafness sector was to identify these people and begin to systematically employ them in the major leadership roles. Despite having a wealth of talent and skills among people who were Deaf the deafness sector primarily chose hearing people for leadership roles. Rather than look at the talent that was available among professionals who are deaf, it seemed to us that the deafness sector chose to find reasons to ignore this talent.

The excuse that most deafness sector organisations used for not employing people who were deaf in leadership roles was the MERIT principle. They would claim that they didn’t give the Deaf person the job because the hearing person they picked had much more experience and won the role on merit. Well of course they had more experience. Most likely they hadn’t faced enormous barriers to getting work and retaining it.  I mean people who are Deaf didn’t even have full access to the telephone up until the mid 90’s. Interpreters were in short supply, captioning for work didn’t exist and government programs that were to be introduced later, like the EAF, were a distant Utopia.

What this meant is that for most people who are deaf or have disabilities, the opportunities to take on leadership roles and to obtain the experience that would enable them to compete with hearing  and non disabled people simply didn’t exist. In the new millennium technology and improved Government programs meant that some of these barriers were removed. This was fabulous, but it also meant that people who I went to University with and people who started University after me, and who had faced little disadvantage, had long since passed me by. While I was struggling for something as simple as telecommunications access these people had moved up the management rung at a rapid pace. How am I, and people who are deaf of my ilk, supposed to compete with them on merit?

The other thing that really gets me is that there were people in the deafness sector who would tell me that people who are Deaf are not ready to take on the leadership roles. I kid you not!  I have lost count of the number of times where I have heard people tell me that so and so was aiming too high and should set their sights a little lower. So and so might have two degrees and an MBA but, apparently, they still  needed more time. Just recently I heard that there was a line manager within the deafness sector who was “being groomed” for the CEO role.  How insulting is that?

Out there we have a wealth of talent. We have any number of people who are deaf who could step in and carry out a deafness sector CEO role with aplomb. In fact, if they so chose, a deafness sector organisation could advertise its CEO role and state that only Deaf people could apply. I am 100% certain they would find a wealth of deaf talent out there ready to take on the CEO role – AND I MEAN READY. Don’t give me this “grooming” crap. Don’t tell me that so and so will be ready – IN A FEW YEARS. I am telling you – here and NOW – Deaf people are ready and they don’t need no grooming . (And that goes for the disability sector too, thank you very much.)

The Deaf community is full of talented, innovative and experienced people who are ripe for the picking. I am 100% certain that you could take any of our Deaf Societies and fill every role from top to bottom with professionals who are deaf. Except, perhaps, interpreting roes where hearing is required. We could have a CEO who is deaf. We could have a Business Manager who is deaf. We could have Human Resource manager who is deaf. We could have a Fundraising Manager who is deaf.  We could have a Services Manager who is deaf. We could have a Senior Projects Officer who is deaf.  All of these roles could be filled by people who are deaf and who are imminently qualified for these roles. Yet in the last few years several of these positions have been advertised. I am aware that several imminently qualified people who are deaf that have applied for these positions and missed out. They missed out to people who are hearing because, supposedly, they didn’t quite have the same experience. They lost out on merit. Funny that, hey?

I challenge anyone of our deafness sector organisations to open up its CEO role and allow only people who are deaf to apply for it! I challenge them to replace every senior manager that they have with a person who is deaf. I challenge them to proactively seek out people who are deaf and use affirmative action to fill these roles only with people who are deaf.  And why? because people who are deaf  already have the skills that they require. If the deafness sector wants the wider world to employ more people who are deaf, they have to practice what they preach.

If some guy that knew nothing about television can come on board and successfully organise the live broadcasting of the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, surely this is possible? And what’s more, unlike the guy that successfully organised the broadcasts, these professionals have the experience already.  Which organisation will take up the challenge?????? If the 1956 Olympics could take the risk of employing a complete novice to run its live broadcasting, targeting imminently qualified people who are deaf for leadership roles in the deafness sector should be easy!

 

*** I am aware that in recent years several people who are deaf have risen to management roles in deafness sector organisations, including the role of CEO. However, progress is still far to slow.

 

 

 

At the Cross Roads

crossIf you ever wanted proof that the Deaf community consists of talented, committed and passionate people you only had to be at the forum that was organised by Deaf Victoria last week. Deaf Victoria organised this forum so that its members could begin to understand the new membership structure that was being proposed by Deaf Australia, as well as the Deaf Friendly Scheme.

The great thing about this forum was that it was live streamed. the live streaming technology was provided by Vicdeaf. The technical expertise was provided by staff who were Deaf and employed by Vicdeaf.  Of course the live stream was all set up and run entirely by technical people who were Deaf. They had the live stream programmed to receive captioning, ably provided by Bradley Reporting. And of course there was also Auslan interpreting. Here we had live streaming, interpreting and captioning – all organised By Deaf Victoria, a very small and not very rich organisation. It was world class best practice in accessibility and all organised by Deaf people. Deaf Victoria put some of our bigger and far better resourced agencies to shame.

Looking at what Deaf Victoria achieved you would not think that one of the Deaf Communities most cherished institutions, Deaf Australia, was at the cross roads. Sadly that is exactly where Deaf Australia are. The organisation that fought so hard to bring us equal access in telecommunications, captioning, recognition of Auslan and improved access to education and employment is in danger of folding. This is because the Australian Government has deemed Deaf Australia surplus to requirements and has cut their funding. The funding was recently reinstated until the end of June to help Deaf Australia to transition to the new order. Even so, make no mistake that the future of Deaf Australia is in grave danger.

Deaf Australia has known this for quite some time. In an effort to try and expand its membership and increase its income it has worked hard to design a new membership structure and the Deaf Friendly Scheme. At the forum Kyle Miers and Todd Wright sought to explain and get support for what Deaf Australia has recently implemented through its constitution.

Unfortunately what Mr Wright and Mr Miers were proposing was not well received, particularly the new membership structure. The purpose of the new membership structure is to ensure that Auslan remains strong and that the integrity of Auslan sustained. The gist of the new membership structure is that people who are deaf, who join Deaf Australia, be assessed in terms of their Auslan proficiency.

If prospective members who are deaf pass the assessment they only have to pay a once off $100 for life membership to Deaf Australia. They also get the privilege of being able to sit on Deaf Australia’s Board. If they fail they can become members and vote at the AGM, but they cannot sit on the Board. The members that fail will be supported and encouraged to continue to develop their Auslan skills and can resit the assessment at a later date, but with an additional cost.

The aim of the new membership structure is to expand Deaf Australia’s membership base to include people who are hard of hearing. Deaf Australia want to embrace diversity and include members who are hard of hearing, even those who may not be proficient in Auslan.

It was a fairly complicated membership structure that included proviso for casual Board membership if people had particular skills that could benefit Deaf Australia. It also had membership for organisations and people who are hearing, but these members have no voting rights. Clearly much thought and debate had gone into the development of this new membership structure. Unfortunately it was not well received by people that attended the forum in person or virtually.

It is fair to say that the whole membership structure was pretty much loathed by the majority. People who had been signing all their life didn’t respond well to the idea that they needed to be assessed to become members. People questioned the fairness of embracing people who are hard of hearing but not allowing them to be full members of the Board unless they passed the Auslan assessment. Questions were asked about the fairness to hearing parents of kids who are deaf who had to pay ongoing membership. In fact no one came out and said that the new membership structure was a terrific idea.

People seemed to think that people who are hard of hearing  were being used simply to expand Deaf Australia’s membership base without really considering their needs for representation. It seemed that people were questioning the motive of embracing people who are hard of hearing  but not allowing them on the Board unless they were deemed to be proficient signers. The consensus seemed to be that if you have them as members you at least had to give them a voice on the Board. If Deaf Australia were worried about the integrity of Auslan, and about Auslan users being swamped by the potential influx of members who are hard of hearing, they could simply introduce rules to ensure the Board is always an Auslan majority.

The biggest bone of contention was that Deaf Australia failed to consult properly before introducing the structure. Mr Miers stated that they had consulted with 36 members out of 150 and the 90% of those 36 were in favour. That would mean that 32 out of 150 members were in favour. Most likely some of them that actually voted were current Board members too. Out of a potential membership base of a possible 9000 this was considered a proper consultation. It did not go down very well. In short those at the forum, in person and virtually, rejected the new membership structure outright.

It wasn’t the result that Deaf Australia wanted. The Deaf Friendly Scheme also received a lukewarm reception.Claims that the Deaf Friendly Scheme had the potential to generate $2 to $3 million,  for Deaf Australia were met with great skepticism.(or was it $1 to $2 million?)

Still you cant blame Deaf Australia for trying. As Mr Wright said, if members didn’t like what was being proposed they were welcome to propose an alternative. While the criticism of Deaf Australia was heavy there was very little in regard to alternative ideas. Alternative ideas are desperately needed.

At the other end of the spectrum Deafness Forum are also at the cross roads. Rather than worry about membership and income streams such as a Deaf Friendly Scheme, Deafness Forum are trying to realign Deafness with the health agenda rather than the disability one. Deafness Forum is aiming to have Deafness recognised as the tenth National Health Priority. In this way they hope to be able to tap into different sources of funding.

Already the skeptics in the Deaf community are taking aim at the Deafness Forum proposal. Mostly because they do not want people to get obsessed with “fixing” deafness. Personally I think Deafness Forum are on the money.

Why? Because health is far reaching. You can argue that participation in recreational and sport activities is essential for positive mental and physical well being. In this way funding for things such as interpreting and captioning for recreational and sports activities can be secured. You can argue that the health of people who are deaf is at risk because they cannot properly access the health system. You can argue that crisis mental health support for people who are deaf is lacking, thus putting them at greater risk of mental illness and suicide. You could argue that access to language, including Auslan, is essential for the ongoing mental health and well being of young people who are deaf and their families. There are many possibilities. At the moment it is all hypothetical. The only thing that is clear is that both Deaf Australia and Deafness Forum are seriously at the cross roads.

It is not all doom and gloom though. If the recent Deaf Victoria forum is anything to go by it is clear that the Deaf community is alive and thriving. It’s members care. Not only that, these members are savvy, talented and passionate. That alone will maintain the Deaf community for many years to come – with or without Deaf Australia or Deafness Forum.

That said, I hope that both Deaf Australia and Deafness Forum do survive – Let’s get in behind them. The constructive criticism received by Deaf Australia at the forum last week proved that the community is strong, do care and have much to contribute – Long may it continue.

* Since originally posting this article I have edited it to acknowledge the contribution of Vicdeaf who provided the live streaming assistance and also the Deaf staff that provided the technical assistance. This needs to be acknowledged. Viccdeaf are a wonderful supporter of communication access to the Deaf community. They are certainly not an organisation that neglects their responsibility in this regard.

Such is Life

capSuch is life – But it don’t need to be so! Life’s a bitch sometimes. Some weeks are just bastards. There are weeks that you wish just did not happen but they do. Perhaps at work you missed that deadline and you are at loggerheads with the boss. Perhaps  one of your teenage kids has gone off the rails and is stealing money so that you are missing $500 or so from your account. Perhaps you have lost your job, you separated or your dog died. Yup, life’s a bitch!

Now these little examples that I have provide did not all happen to me. One did and the rest are simply things that happened to friends last week. Yup, last week was a horror for many. Work and personal issues sometimes combine just to make periods of your life living hell. That’s life, there is good and there is bad. Usually the good and the bad even out in the end. We simply have to navigate our way through the minefield.

Part of what we do to deal with the negative things is to try and balance them with positive things. Some of us struggle to deal with the negatives and require medication. I’ve been there and for a time Diazapam was my friend. Mostly we just try to balance the negatives by doing positive things. We meet friends, play sport, paint, go out for a meal or simply take in a movie.

For my deaf friend seeking to wind down after a tough week, a simple trip to the movies became a nightmare. Going to the movies is never a simple thing if you are deaf. You have to scour the newspaper ads to see if a movie is captioned. More often than not the ads never indicate whether a movie is captioned or not. Sometimes even when they are advertised as captioned they are in fact not. To be safe a phone call to the cinema is advised to check. The whole process can sometimes be more trouble than it is worth.

This is what happened toy my friend last night. He had just experienced a week from hell. It happens. If you have a family and have a week from hell your family, simply by association, experiences that week too. As much as we try to cocoon them from the hurt it impacts on them. So my friend and his family, having had a crap week, decided a trip to the movies was what was required.

Being an experienced movie goer the said friend phoned in advance to see if the movie he wanted to see was captioned. It was, wisely he asked the cinema to reserve him the captioning device that is known as Captiview. The Deaf community have affectionately dubbed the device Craptiview.

For those not in the know, Craptiview is a device that essentially looks like an alien on a bendy arm. You attach the said device to the drink holder and adjust it so that you can see it and the screen. The captions then appear on this device for people who are deaf. If you have decided to have a drink the said drink then sits in your lap for the duration of the movie because there is nowhere else to put it. No matter, at least you get access to captions.

So anyway, my friend had rung ahead and booked his device. This is wise because there are only a limited number of devices. If you do not book ahead it is entirely possible that the devices may all be taken and you end up with nothing. Not to worry, my friend has thought ahead. All he needs to do is rock up with his family pick up the Craptiview device and Bob’s your uncle or Deb’s your aunt.

So he arrived with his family. Its a late show – 9.40 because the cinemas think deaf people and their families are all night owls and schedule the bulk of the captioned movies at these ungodly hours. As they arrived my friend’s wife noted that there were a group of six deaf people there and they each had a Craptiview device. This didn’t worry my friend too much. After all he had called forward and booked his device.

He arrived at the counter and asked for his device. Oh dear – There were none left. The ticket seller then went off to the manager to get advice. Luckily there was one more device in the back room somewhere and they sought this out. Now these devices are a bit like Playstation controllers. They have to be charged so that they do not conk out in the middle of the movie.

Oh dear – This spare device was flat. They needed to recharge it. This would take about 30 minutes. No good at all when the movie is starting in five. Particularly annoying for my friend who had booked ahead and arrived 30 minutes early to get his device set it up. I guess when you have had a crap week and then you go to enjoy something as simple as a movie, if something like this happens it might be the last straw.

This was the case with my friend and he was naturally furious. Not wanting to spoil the night for his family he told them to continue on with the movie. His son offered to wait for the DVD. His wife, having also been part of the week from hell, burst into tears. His daughter, in sympathy for father and mother, burst into tears too. What was supposed to be a relaxing night with the family turned into hell.

And I am furious too. I am furious because these mega rich cinemas don’t give a shit. They were told Craptiview was crap as soon as it came out. They were told that it spoilt the enjoyment of the movie. They were told that the device was unreliable and the captions frequently dropped out. They were told that the device was, in fact, a health hazard. Said one friend,“Going to a cinema is now a health risk….for myself like many it’s stressful for one, the eyes sight and brain power is two, and the seating is another…especially if one is 6ft plus…slouching in the seat to lower yourself to view Captiview leaves one with back pain post event.”

They ignored all of this advice and went ahead with rolling out Craptiview anyway. And as they rolled it out  the universal loathing of the device became obvious. Its failings became crystal clear. No  one in the cinema industry that represented the Big 4 cinemas cared. We, the deaf people of Australia, had to suck it up and go without.

And the cinemas lied. As the Deaf community began to implore for a return to open captioned movies they said it wasn’t possible, that open caption files were no longer available. And then a private cinema provider worked out how to put files designed for Craptiview on screen. “Look!” we said, “It can be done.” 

And then the cinemas tried to prevent this happening because they had concerns about quality control. And then the Deaf community began to take things into their own hands. they would book out cinema rooms and sell tickets so that they could get access to open captions. There was even a DDA complaint that meant distributors had to supply open captioned movies, something that they had denied could happen.

And in Horsham the local cinema regularly provides open caption sessions. Simply because a deaf woman and a mother of a deaf child asked them too. They provide open captioning in Ballarat and Ararat too. Small cinemas willing to do the right thing. These are not mega rich cinemas either.

But the Big 4? Hoyts, Village, Reading and Greater Union refuse to join the party. For them the pathetic excuse for access that is Craptiview is enough. Despite its failings and despite the complaints they continue to provide a device that often is flat, often doesn’t work properly and to top this off is a health hazard for many.

But worse is that they don’t care about people. They fail to see the impact that not having proper and quality access to the simple joy of a movie can have. Last night Craptiview failed again and the pain this caused to my friend was immense. All he wanted to do was wind down after a crap week, instead his crap week became crappier. Thanks Craptiview.

This has to stop. It is time for all of us to take up arms again. It’s time to start making DDA complaints en-masse. It is time to Boycott the Big 4 in every shape and form.

As for the Big 4 shame on you – You heartless bastards! But yeah – Such is life!

(Last nights fiasco happened at the Knox Cinema complex which is part of the Village franchise. I encourage you all to post on the Village Facebook site them and let them know how appalled you are –  https://www.facebook.com/villagecinemas

A Time for Change

sticksKaren Lloyd, former manager of Deaf Australia, wrote a pointed article on her Blog … Sticks in the Forest  In this article Ms Lloyd makes an impassioned plea for us to all get together to save Deaf Australia. Deaf Australia were recently defunded by the Australian Government. Ms Lloyd calls for unity using a well known metaphor, “A teacher takes some students to the forest and asks them to each bring her a stick. When they return, the teacher takes each student’s stick in turn and breaks it. She sends them back into the forest to collect more sticks. Again she takes each stick and breaks it and sends them back to the forest. The third time the students return, they confer and when the teacher asks for their sticks they give them to her together in one bundle. The teacher cannot break the sticks, the bundle is too thick and strong.”

The moral of this little anecdote is that together we are strong. As individuals we are weak. As a collective we are hard to break and can present a united front. Ms Lloyd is pleading with the Deaf community to bind together as one to save Deaf Australia.  Ms Lloyd admonishes the reader , “Now is not the time to be dragging out personal dislikes, ancient grudges, criticisms and personal agendas.”  

And she is right to a point. But the problem is, as I see it, the Deaf community has changed dramatically over the years. Arguably for Deaf Australia to survive and represent the Deaf community of the 21st century it has to represent this change. It is all very well to plead with us to save Deaf Australia, but what is it that Deaf Australia should represent in the 21st century?

To return to Ms Lloyd’s metaphor of the sticks, what really is this bunch of sticks representing? Now we could argue that this bunch of sticks is uniform and the same. That together they are stronger and hard to break. They are united in their approach and presenting a strong platform. All of this is valid.

But we can also argue that this bunch of sticks lumped together is rigid and inflexible. We can argue that it is representing a uniform and unbendable view. We could argue that each stick is a different colour, from a different tree with varying and diverse needs. Some of the sticks are green and bendy. Some are dry and easily broken. Some are long and some are short. All are different. The survival of the sticks requires a flexible, diverse and considered strategy.

As we move forward to consider the survival of Deaf Australia we need to consider this diversity. The make up of the Deaf community today is very different than what it was in the past. A lot of this has occurred because kids who are deaf are receiving cochlear implants at a very early age. My observation is that the majority of young people who enter the Deaf community now have cochlear implants.

The consequence of this is that the values and needs of the Deaf community have shifted. The issues that these young people see as important are also changing. They want access to maintenance of their implants. They want access to sound. They value sound perhaps more than Deaf community members of the past. While they embrace the Deaf community and Auslan they bring with them a different set of values and needs.

Over the years I have observed closely young people who have been implanted . Of course most of these young deaf people are from hearing families. I have no research to back this but anecdotally I have noticed that their speech quality is better. Their language development is better and we have less language deprived deaf kids. Academically they appear to be performing better. The consequence is that they are more articulate and savvy.

That is not to say they do not have their problems. They still have delays in conceptual development and language. They still struggle socially. They still miss out on many things that can benefit their development such as overhearing. We cannot ignore this but I have noticed that the conceptual and language delays are more frequently not as severe as was the case in the past.

As the community evolves, how we represent these new community members must evolve with it. Organisations like Deaf Australia are funded to represent their community. The challenge for the future is to change how it represents this community so that its policies and issues represent the diversity of its members.

The political landscape has also changed. We have the NDIS coming in. Most issues impacting on the Deaf community are decided by State Governments. Important issues like access to education, health, local services, local communities etc are all decided at State and Local government level. Arguably we need to focus more on strengthening local and State representation. How do we do this?

There is no question that the Deaf community needs Deaf Australia. The recent defunding of Deaf Australia may, in fact, be a godsend. It might be the trigger it needs to reset its agenda and consider the changing demographic and political landscape of the Deaf community.

As Ms Lloyd has suggested, it is important that the community become stronger and move forward together. It is also important that new and evolving issues are debated widely. It is important that Deaf Australia consult broadly with its members. Indeed it is already doing this now. On March 13th Deaf Australia, in partnership with Deaf Victoria, are holding a forum to discuss its new membership structure and the Deaf Friendly Scheme.

To the credit of both Deaf Australia and Deaf Victoria they are trying to make this forum as accessible as possible. The forum will be media streamed meaning that members of the Deaf community from all over Australia can participate. The media stream will be captioned as well.

This Forum will strictly focus on Deaf Australia’s new membership structure and the Deaf Friendly Scheme. It will touch on what Deaf Australia is doing to make Deaf Australia a stronger and more inclusive organisation. Let this forum be the start of a stronger and more intelligent community involvement with Deaf Australia. Let’s help Deaf Australia navigate the tough road it has ahead of it.

Deaf Australia Membership Structure Forum

When:             13th March.  

Where:           JML Centre Vicdeaf, Level 3, 340 Albert Street East Melbourne

Time:              7pm – 9pm

Media Streaming Link – http://new.livestream.com/vicdeaf 

If attending the forum, please RSVP to info@deafvictoria.org.au