Raw Prawns

My wife hates prawns.  She hates the look of them. Apparently this all started as the result of a cruel prank by her sisters. When she was a little girl her family apparently had prawns in all their glory for dinner. My wife made some sort of remark that they looked creepy. At this point one of her sisters picked up a prawn and waved it in her face. My wife let out a shriek and ran away. However, her sister was not done and began to chase her around the room with prawn in hand. To this day the sight of a prawn makes my wife squeamish. Her sister no longer teases her about it but our three lads do. Come Christmas and the inevitable prawns they will pick one up and say …“OOOH, Look mum!”

I was shocked yesterday to find my wife in fetal position cowering in the corner in our bedroom.  Concerned I went over to her to comfort her. She was averting her eyes from the dresser. She pointed at the dresser and in a shaky voice asked me to take them away. I could see nothing that warranted this sort of reaction from her. “Take what away?” I asked. “THEM THEM THEM” she screamed.

I scanned the dresser and the only thing of note were her hearing aids. I picked them up and showed them to her. She let out a blood curdling scream. My god, what was this? And then I saw her phone beside her. I gently picked up her phone, she pushed me violently away and ran from the room.  I looked at the phone, the penny dropped. The cause of her mania was this –

Attractive lady with prawn over her ear as a mock hearing aid.

Of course I jest. This advertisement is being used by Victorian Hearing to promote hearing aids. What they are promoting is tiny hearing aids that no one can see. The premise is that hearing aids are ugly. Something to be hidden and ashamed of. Deafness is a bad thing isn’t it? We should never let anyone know we are deaf. Certainly not by wearing this revolting prawn like creature on our ears! It is another example of out society shaming and making people with a disability outcasts.

This particular advertisement ranks among the worst that I have ever seen. But sadly it is not the worst. Who can ever forget that bear. One day I logged into Facebook and I found myself staring at a bear. He was a kind of sorry looking bear. He had no eyes and no ears and he had stubby little legs. He looked almost like a double amputee. The bear was sitting sorrowfully on a wooden floor surrounded by wooden blocks and wooden toys. He is a bright yellow bear. He stands out from the toys that are reds, blues and greens. He looks so lonely and so sad. In the background on a blue wall were the words, “WE NEED YOUR HELP.”

Teddy bear sitting on floor surrounded by toys. The bear has no eyes and no ears.

This revolting and very, very creepy bear was part of an advertising campaign for a Sydney school that supports young people that might be deaf, blind or deafblind. The strategy of the campaign was clear. Give us money to assist us educate these poor deficit children. Can’t see, can’t hear – Oh how incredibly tragic. It reinforces the deficit mentality with a bang. I wrote a scathing article about this bear that elicited a response from the CEO. The CEO apologised profusely for offence caused and promised that removal of all advertising that had the bear would commence the next day.  Click on the link to revisit this article – I SAW A BEAR

But by far the worst advertisement was the television advertisement made for the Cora Barclay Centre in South Australia. This was some years ago but this advertisement was incredibly offensive. In the advertisement there is an angelic boy. He has a mop of brown curly hair, he might have been about 12 years old. The boy looks sadly into the camera and in halting sign language explains that many years ago people who were deaf communicated in sign language JUST LIKE THIS – He stops momentarily – then in a sing song voice, with just a trace of a deaf accent he proclaims – “But NOW THERE IS A BETTER WAY.”    

He then begins to exalt the virtues of the Cora Barclay Centre. Donate and more kids will speak just like him. None of this nasty sign language rubbish, thank you very much. I really do not need to repeat what the Deaf community thought of this one. Suffice to say several staff of the Cora Barclay Centre – past and present – contacted me at that time to express their sorrow and embarrassment in relation to this advertisement.

It never ceases to amaze me how marketing people consistently get the marketing of disability wrong. This is particularly so in the deafness sector. The image is always one of deficit.  It is one of suffering. it is one of the victim. For whatever reason marketing people promote this idea of normalisation of disability as one where disability must never be acknowledged or seen … We have to be like them you see.

In the three examples above only the Sydney school apologised sincerely and removed the offending material.  The Cora Barclay Centre did not even respond to criticism of the advertisement.  As for Victorian Hearing who put out the prawn advertisement, well they apologised for any offence but refused to withdraw the advertisement. They said the campaign was completed on the weekend so the advertisement would not be seen any more anyway. They said it was part of a WAR to get people to acknowledge their hearing loss and get assessed for a hearing aid.

They are fooling no one. For them it was all about the money. It always is. Don’t worry about the consequences, if the profit margin goes upwards nothing else matters. All Victorian Hearing has done is to reinforce the stereotype that disability is a bad thing. It needs to be hidden and it is an embarrassment. But SHHHHHHHH, lets be sneaky, buy one of our tiny weeny hearing aids.  No one needs to know you’re wearing them, snigger snigger.

Sorry, Victorian Hearing your campaign was offensive and insensitive. It was all about the profit and nothing you can say will convince me otherwise. For a business that is supposed to understand deafness you have been NOT VERY BRIGHT.

On a positive note if you want to promote hearing aids this is how it is done:


two hearing aids witrh colourful pictures of roses on them.
two hearing aids with colourful pictures of roses on them.

Or this:

Radical fantasy hearing aid with a mechanical cooling fan built in.
Radical fantasy hearing aid with a mechanical cooling fan built in.

According to Isaac

download (1)I want to say something. My name is Isaac and I’m 13. I’m profoundly deaf and have a cochlear implant and a hearing aid.

Isaac happens to be deaf and have a cochlear implant. He posted recently to the Facebook discussion group called Aussie Deaf Kids.

Reading Isaac’s post took me back to my teenage years.  I was not strong nor assured as a teenager. I was struggling to come to terms with my deafness having become profoundly deaf a few years before. I was refusing to wear hearing aids. I was wagging school. I suffered anxiety.

I recall getting on the school bus and sitting right at the back everyday. I did this because one day I broke into a cold sweat. I was standing because the bus was full. I found myself anxiously looking over my shoulder and all around me. I feared that people were talking to me or about me and this led to a mini panic attack. The back of the bus allowed me to see everyone. It was my safe haven.

Isaac is just 13 years old. He is proudly proclaiming to the world that he is deaf and has a cochlear implant. I am in awe. It may seem just a small thing but such confidence and frankness is a rare thing. Kudos!

Over the dinner table last night my family were discussing a message my mum got from a lady who signs ( on FB) it made me sad.

Those wonderful dinner time conversations! For many deaf people from hearing families dinner time conversations can be isolating and lonely times. Over dinner family members share stories. They share what they see, what they hear, what they have discussed with peers and what they think. They share what others think and what what others have done. Through dinner time discussions so much is learnt. People’s minds are broadened and relationships are strengthened. Very often the deaf family member sits largely in silence, not involved and not considered.

Quite often it is the mother that acts as the interpreter for the deaf kid. I can well recall badgering my mother to tell me what my dad had said because he is a bugger to lipread and this still happens even today. Often the TV would be on as we ate our dinner in the lounge. I would be asking mum what was being said and what happened on the news. Mum was ever obliging.  On some days when she was tired or overwhelmed she would utter the dreaded words, “I’ll tell you later” There was nothing more dis-empowering nor frustrating than to hear those four words.

Never underestimate the power of family inclusion on the deaf child’s development. Isaac has it and its impact on his maturity and knowledge is there for everyone to see. He is very, very lucky.

I talk, I do not sign or wish to sign. I’m very happy and don’t feel lost in any world. I’m in the hearing world. I hear in class well. I do all the things my friends do and I can do that alone. I hear my mum call me from outside, I love music and singing and being with my friends, mostly all hearing.

Oh I remember the first time someone asked me if I knew sign language, I was mortified. I was with three friends and we were chatting at lunch.  One of the three friends asked me if I signed. I shook my head hurriedly and tried to change the subject. My friend was having none of it and began to try and teach me to finger spell. I got up and left.

Looking back the psychology of it all was simple. By acknowledging sign language I had to acknowledge my deafness. I had to acknowledge that I was different. As anyone will tell you, not fitting in during adolescence is the worst thing that can happen. Quite simply I was in denial.

Accepting my deafness took a long time. I was angry about being deaf for most of my adolescent years. I saw myself as a victim. Why me? I tried to avoid all things deaf. Wearing hearing aids was one. I would leave the batteries at home. They got over this by having batteries at school. So I would leave my aids at home. I would sabotage the ear molds by giving them to the dog to chew up. In the end my attempts to deny my deafness got so bad that I just stopped going to school. I would rather face the risk of getting in trouble for wagging than have to confront the issues of my deafness. Adolescence was not a happy time for me.

I wonder if for Isaac not wanting to sign is because he sees sign language as a weakness. Perhaps by giving in and learning sign language Issac must acknowledge his difference. By signing he is acknowledging that his deafness makes him different. Perhaps he is just proud of how well he copes in the ‘hearing world” and simply does not see signing as necessary. I think that, just maybe, there is a deeper reason that Isaac does not want to sign.

Only Isaac can answer that one.

“I’m not brainwashed, I’m living in my community.”

Very clearly Isaac has grown up with hearing values. Very clearly he is comfortable with these values. Brainwashed? What is Isaac referring to? I am not entirely sure but sometimes there are more militant Deaf people who believe that HEARING people are brainwashing deaf kids into thinking they are hearing. Sometimes these militant deaf people are there own worst enemy. They need to back off.

I hope that one day Isaac explores becoming involved with the Deaf community. The Deaf community can be a great place. Perhaps as Isaac gets older he will find it harder and harder to fully fit in with the hearing community. As deaf kids get older and mature they often find communication and fitting in with hearing people just a little bit more problematic. Big groups chatting. Lots of background noise. Dark bars and night clubs. Things change and often young deaf people like Isaac find that they become increasingly isolated. Trying to fit in and adapt can be soul destroying.

I don’t know Isaac personally. Every deaf person experiences life differently. He may grow up and blend in with the hearing world without a hitch. He may not. But after being involved with the Deaf community for nearly four decades and having seen how many young deaf people with cochlear implants seek out and become members of the Deaf community; I am pretty sure there are a few confronting social challenges and decisions that Isaac will face in the next few years.

Isaac, all I can say is keep your mind open to the possibility of learning sign language and being a part of the Deaf community – it has much to offer. There is no reason why you cannot be part of both Deaf and hearing worlds.

My mum and dad made the best ever choice for me having me implanted. I wish everyone can see how happy I am. I do really well at school and even do public speaking. I love telling people that deaf kids can speak, because some don’t get the chance to.

You are right Isaac. Your mum and dad made a brilliant decision. It has clearly benefited you and will continue to do so. You are bright, confident, intelligent and articulate. It is terrific to see. I can tell you that when the cochlear implant works well for young deaf kids, which is sadly not always the case, they develop great speech and great language.

I was 14 when I changed schools to attend a school with a deaf unit. I was shocked at the educational level of many of the deaf kids at my school. Many were virtually illiterate. Their behaviour was not age appropriate. They often did not understand even basic concepts. This was in the 70’s, before cochlear implants became wide spread.

I was puzzled as to why this was so. As I got older I set out to understand why so many deaf kids were like this. The tragedy for deaf kids in the past, and sometimes still today,  was not so much that they could not hear, it was the fact that not hearing and not having access to good sign language acquisition impacted so heavily on their language development. This impacted on their whole life. It impacted on their education. It consequently impacted on their ability to gain meaningful employment. It impacted on their ability to mature and deal with adult life. It was not pretty.

Since the cochlear implant has become more widespread I see less of these language deprived deaf kids. I see deaf kids with great language development. They are literate. They are achieving more at school. But, sadly, this is not the case for all of them and we need to acknowledge this.

Many of these kids with cochlear implants learn to sign at a very early age. Interestingly a friend of mine did some research on this. I believe she found that deaf kids with cochlear implants and who signed actually had better language development. Deaf kids with cochlear implants who had no access to sign language apparently spoke better, but their language development was not as good.

It is true that cochlear implants come with risks. Isaac’s parents and other parents of deaf kids know this. It must be gut wrenching to have to make a decision knowing these risks. But more often than not the risk pays off and Isaac is living proof of this. No parent should ever be made to feel guilty for deciding to implant their child. Sadly, there are still many Deaf militants that try to make parents feel guilty for implanting their children. Equally, there are Oral militants that try to make parents feel guilty for not having an implant and for choosing sign language for their child. It needs to stop!

Please listen to us kids too. I belong in my family and community.
Why don’t you ask me rather than assume you know how I feel.
I’m proud of who I am.

And that Isaac is so true. You have every right to make decisions as to what is best for you without pressure and emotional blackmail from militants.

We adults often assume that we know best. We all need to listen better and consider the views of young deaf people. I can tell you that people in the disability sector get fed up of non-disabled people making decisions about people with a disability over their heads. Nothing about us without us is the catch cry. I see no reason why this should not also be the case for young people who are deaf.

Isaac, I wish you all the very best for the journey you have ahead of you. Thank you for allowing me to share your post and respond to it.

Isaac’s post in full –

I want to say something. My name is Isaac and I’m 13. I’m profoundly deaf and have a cochlear implant and a hearing aid.

Over the dinner table last night my family were discussing a message my mum got from a lady who signs ( on FB) it made me sad.

I talk, I do not sign or wish to sign. I’m very happy and don’t feel lost in any world,I’m in the hearing world. I hear in class well, I do all the things my friends do and I can do that alone. I hear my mum call me from outside, I love music and singing and being with my friends, mostly all hearing. I’m not brainwashed, I’m living in my community.

My mum and dad made the best ever choice for me having me implanted. I wish everyone can see how happy I am. I do really well at school and even do public speaking. I love telling people that deaf kids can speak, because some don’t get the chance to.

Please listen to us kids too. I belong in my family and community.
Why don’t you ask me rather than assume you know how I feel.
I’m proud of who I am.







Ability Abled

downloadThose ability people .. you know them, the ones with no legs and stuff … they people wif abilities ain’t they .. poor abilitied people … sad ain’t it … glad I ain’t a person with ability … that would be feckin orrible .. see .. right .. yeah!!

Bizarre huh? Cynical certainly, but oh my God political correctness surrounding disability is driving me and many others in the disability sector absolutely batty. You see organisations are beginning to position themselves to make money out of the NDIS. They are trying to come up with slick advertising and nice positive images. All they are succeeding in doing is the complete opposite.

For some reason using the term disability has become taboo. Stating the type of disability that a person has is also taboo. This is not new. For years our prim and proper non-disabled people have struggled with disability imagery. So instead of calling some one deaf it becomes someone with lesser hearing. Blind people become vision challenged. Anyone with a disability becomes differently abled. The word ability has now become the buzz word for people with a disability. Hence the cynical and nonsense opening to this article.

You think that I am overreacting? Well The former The Centre for Cerebral Palsy has suddenly seen fit to change its name to the Ability Centre. It’s where you go, you see, to miraculously become a person with ability. Take your choice – Go there and you get the ability to do … well whatever. Become a lawyer, professional soccer player – something like that I guess. But no – The former The Centre for Cerebral Palsy does nothing like that. It offers therapy, respite, recreation, employment support and so on. (Check out the new site – http://abilitycentre.com.au/ )

Now that’s just misleading advertising. Someone should challenge that under the Trades Practices Act or something. What is worse is that it promotes this idea that people with a disability are these hopeless no ability creatures who can only be saved – perhaps with a trip to the local ten pin bowling alley.

I for one have had a gut-full of the Abilityist people. Why can we not just look at a person with a disability and say- “That’s deaf Gary – he is a bloody good writer.” Look over there, “..that’s Blindy Pete – go see him and he will do you a great accounting program for your computer.” Or “…have you seen Tom, me mate with Down Syndrome, champion trick motorcyclist mate.” 

Ok – I would rather get to the point where people just say – “It’s Tom – Champion trick motorcyclist.” My point is that by avoiding the term disability and anything related to it you do no one any favours. You just further stigmatise disability and make it seem like it is a bad thing. Disability can be tragic, I know, but being a non-disabled person can be tragic too. It is not the sole domain of disability.

At the turn of the century I was the manager of a program that aimed to promote positive mental health for young people who are deaf or blind or deafblind. Central to this program was that they could go up to someone and just say things like- “Hi, I am deaf, you need to look at me when we communicate.” It’s a simple enough concept isn’t it? you are deaf, by nature you do things a bit differently. Let’s not hide this fact, lets get out there and tell people. Hell, if the person who is deaf is at ease about it you can bet others will be too. None of this hide your hearing aids under your hair nonsense, wear pink and orange ones. Make it obvious! What is there to be ashamed of?

That program was run entirely by people who had a disability. We even employed a young woman whose arms had not developed properly because of the drug Thalidomide. I do not know how many fingers she had, but there were a few missing. When I told her she had the job she showed me her hands and said, “How will I use sign language?” I looked her in the eye  and said we would find a way and we did. We taught our blind coordinator of blind services to sign a bit too. It wasn’t rocket science and we didn’t make these two any more able than they already were – they were just brilliant individuals with talent!

We had 30 mentors who were either deaf or blind. We had an administration officer who we plucked out of some obscure base grade clerks job at TAFE.  We gave her an opportunity to be the youth group leader and later a case manager. Last I heard she was studying for her masters in social work.  I take no credit for making her more ABLED,  she already had the talent, she just needed the opportunity. She got it, and she took it!

My favourite memory is taking the blind group rock climbing at an indoor rock climbing centre. They all walked to the centre, blind leading the blind so to speak. The blind acted as belayers for the blind climbers. No one died – No one fell on their head. Inspiring? Hell no, just a group of people going out and having fun developing a new skill and learning how other blind people get on with their life.

So enough with the ability crap. Yes, I know that personal services are important. Yes, I know without these services it would mean that many people with a disability would struggle just to get out of bed. The services are needed, no question. What is not needed is this half baked idea that these services somehow make people more ABLED – They do not! Ability is the talent that lies with in all of us. Enough with the twaddle!

Deaf Parenting Laid Bare – Part 2

imagesLike most parents I take my parenting role very, very seriously. I love my kids and I want them to turn out as fine and upstanding citizens. I basically do not care what they do just as long as they treat others and themselves with respect. I try as much as I can to be a good role model. That is not to say that I succeed every time. There are times when I fall flat on my face. For example when I play sport my adrenaline can sometimes get the better of me. I might yell at the umpire and utter the odd expletive. Sometimes my frustrations show. Sport can bring out the worst in me. My kids have witnessed it and unfortunately I see much of myself in their behaviour on the sports field.

Even so I try my best to tell them what is right and what is wrong when they are playing sport. For example I blasted my eldest recently. He seemed to think it was ok to do professional fouls. He once even said to me when we were playing together, “Barge him over, don’t let him through.” I told him that I wasn’t going to cheat. Last year his mother was watching him play an indoor soccer tournament. She had to leave, she was so embarrassed with the level of aggression and cheating. I spoke with my son about it after. He said that professional fouls were  just part of the game, everyone does it. I told him he should be different and play in the right spirit. “But dad … “, he implored, “.. the coach has said he will take anyone off who doesn’t do a professional foul if the other team is in danger of scoring.” I was appalled. I told him to never do a professional foul while I am watching and if the coach pulled him off for it that I would give the coach a piece of my mind too. My son was appalled, ” You cannot be serious????” Sadly this is the nature of sport today, even at amateur and junior level.

Parenting is so much more complex today, especially with social media. So much information and communication is happening. It never stops. Around the clock our kids are communicating and sharing information. A lot of this information is quite explicit. Some of it is derogatory.  It is disrespectful of women. It is disrespectful of people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transsexual. It is often racist. Kids share explicit photos of themselves in states of undress. They share photos of parties where binge drinking and drugs are the norm. The language that they use can be disgraceful. More than once I have caught my kids sharing explicit and disrespectful information. My wife and I are firm and let our kids know what we think is acceptable and what is not. It is a 24/7 job policing your kids on social media. You can try banning them, they will just set up a secret account. So my wife and I take the view that we need to guide them through the minefield. I am not sure how well we are succeeding.

Recently I read an article about teenage sex. Basically the article implied that because kids are so sexualised through the various forms of media today that they have rather disturbing views about what is acceptable sexual behaviour. The article explained how many young girls are consenting to anal sex. They do so because they think it is normal. Young men are apparently watching all sorts of porn on the internet.  Apparently anal sex is prominent. What happens is that young men think that anal sex is just a normal sexual behaviour and pressure their partners to allow them to do it. The young women feel that it is the only way to be attractive to the young men. Suffice to say that young women are more frequently having to receive medical attention because of injuries sustained through this sexual activity. The young women also require counselling and support because of the self loathing that occurs as a result. It is horrific.

As a deaf parent how do you monitor your kids access to music? Music today is very explicit. For a hearing parent they at least can hear music and censor what they feel is inappropriate. However, because music is largely downloaded from the internet, many parents simply will not know what their kids are accessing. As a deaf parent it is virtually impossible to know what your kids are listening to. I found out yesterday just how much is slipping under my radar.

I was in the car with my kids driving to indoor soccer. We play in a team together in a fortnightly competition organised by Melbourne Deaf Football and Futsal Club. My kids are hearing but this comp encourages CODAs (Children of Deaf Adults) to participate. My kids love their music. When they get in the car the first thing they do is tune in their phones to the car radios Bluetooth. The names of the particular songs they are listening to appear on the radios digital display. Usually I do not take much notice. But this day I glanced at the display to see what they were listening to. A song came up called Anal Beads. I was horrified. My son, realising that I had seen the title, hastily changed the song.

The songs title troubled me. I began to wonder what on earth my kids might be listening to. I know songs are very explicit today. But a song called Anal Beads? How revolting. How could anyone possibly write about something so horrible. On the way home we stopped at McDonalds. I sent my kids in to get our order and stayed in the car. The song title troubled me and I decided to Google it.

The lyrics of the song were simply sick. For the meek minded I suggest you read no further. Below are some lines contained within the song:

Anal Beads ….. It goes POP POP POP when coming out my a@######

And it feels good!

Shove it up real good (please.)

I was simply revolted. I was revolted that anyone could write something so vile. I was revolted that any music company would allow it to be recorded. But mostly I was revolted to think that our kids were listening to this! Your kids are listening to this! Did you know? I naturally was furious. I held my tongue until I got home. I then confronted my kids and asked them to delete the song which I hope they have done.

It is quite sickening to have to write this. I write it not to shock people but to raise some awareness about what our kids might be listening too. As a deaf parent I want other deaf parents to know what their kids might be listening to. Hell, even hearing parents should be concerned. I am pretty sure that the smart kids only listen to this sort of crap when their parents are not around. But kids of deaf parents have no such constraints. It is just awful to think what these innocent minds might be listening to. All of it freely available on the internet. I can only suggest parents, whether they are deaf or hearing, carefully vet what their kids are listening to. If you have any concerns Google the lyrics.

Please be diligent. The last thing we want is for our kids to normalise this sort of crap. The research is clear -kids are becoming sexualised far to early and its damaging. If you are a parent, especially if you are a deaf parent, make sure you know what your kids are listening to – It aint pretty!