Last 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.