Karen 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 firstname.lastname@example.org