Auslan Interpreting and the NDIS (…and Captioning too)

Graphic of silhouetted people jumping for joy. The background is multi-coloured.

I have a great job. One of my many responsibilities is to work with young teenagers who have disabilities. Part of my job is to provide training and information that will help them move on to further study and employment. Yesterday I had a great workshop with a group of young people who have vision impairments.  We had set up demonstrations of assistive technology for them. We were  providing information about how this technology can be used in work or in further study. Technology ranged from the humble magnifying glass through to the high tech. They have this awesome machine that can scan any document, even hand written documents, beam in on the text and then read it out – in 25 different types of voice including Indian English.  I don’t know who was more fascinated, them or me.

We touched on how this equipment could be funded. I provided the usual explanation about workplace modifications funding under the Employment Assistance Fund. Someone asked about funding to get the technology at home, because the technology is not cheap. I explained  that in the future this might be possible through the National Disability Insurance Scheme. (NDIS) I asked the kids and their support people if they knew about the NDIS and was shocked to discover that only one person was aware of how the NDIS might help them.

Here we have the largest disability reform that this country has ever seen and no one knew about it.  Not the young people with a vision impairment nor their education support people. There were a couple of parents too and they did not know either. I was dumbstruck. The most important reform for people with a disability in Australia, EVER, and these people had no clue about it.

We know that the Abbott Government, like it has done with the National Broadband Network (NBN), is dragging its feet on the NDIS. One can only hope that it does not destroy the NDIS like it has the NBN. The NDIS, if it is rolled out properly, is going to provide access to people with a disability in Australia in a way that they have only ever dreamed of. I am sure those people with physical disabilities who only get two showers a week are rejoicing and chomping at the bit for the NDIS to be fully rolled out. Likewise carers, who just stay home and care for their kids with disability because they can not afford alternate care and respite, will be hanging out for the day when they might be able to go back to work.

But Deaf people, people who are hard of hearing or parents of kids who are deaf, what do they know about the benefits of the NDIS? I am pretty sure that the majority, like with those students who are vision impaired, don’t know a lot. I wonder how many just think its for THOSE OTHER people with disabilities?

Here’s the thing, if the NDIS is rolled out properly it will be a godsend for people who are deaf. Already at the NDIS trial sites around Australia people who are deaf are benefiting. I know of one guy who upgraded his cochlear implant through NDIS funds because he argued he needed it to communicate effectively with hearing friends, family and at work. I know of a mother that has managed to get interpreting written into her NDIS plan so that her daughter can access swimming lessons. I know of people who are deaf who have had their homes installed with flashing doorbells and alarms through NDIS funds. This is just in the trial sites. Imagine what it will be like if  the Government manages to not cock it up and the NDIS gets rolled out properly?

For me the biggest area that the NDIS will impact for people who are deaf, apart from purchasing of technology, will be through the provision of communication support such as interpreting and captioning. As it stands access to interpreting for people who are deaf is generally provided mostly for things like work, health, court and educational purposes. Interpreting for things like funerals, small community events, weddings, parties and the like is not really covered in any shape or form. There are situations where people who are deaf might want to access a local cooking course or a first aid course. Currently getting interpreters or captioning for these types of courses is hit and miss. More often than not it’s a miss.

But from what I am hearing the barriers to access for these social and community type events, if the NDIS is rolled out properly, could be a thing of the past. In the best case scenario I will be able to enroll in my local Kung Fu Academy and use my NDIS money to provide interpreting. I might even want to learn Yoga, even though my lack of flexibility means the only move I can currently do is The Warrior. That’s not the point – If I want to in the future, the NDIS might mean that I can. This is why I am so excited about the NDIS.

BUT …. It’s not going to be all plain sailing. What I want and the reality are likely to be very different. All these people wanting interpreting or captioning for parties, cooking courses, weddings and the like – What sort of demand will this place on an already under-supplied market?  The NDIS payment rate is generally around $55.50 per hour or thereabouts. Interpreters can apparently claim up to $115 an hour.  How will agencies cope? They charge almost double this now to cover their costs. For $115 an hour and interpreters might just all register themselves as NDIS providers and be booked individually. How will we monitor the quality of the interpreters who do this.

I am sure that the NDIS will require people to provide evidence of their qualifications before funds can be used to pay  them. The problem is that the market will change and interpreters or groups of interpreters might just set themselves up as a separate business and it will be hard to monitor and control the quality. Then and again it is the deaf person in control of the funding. If an interpreter or captioning business is poor they will just take their money elsewhere.

What about training of interpreters.  Governments across Australia have seen fit to cut Auslan training budgets drastically. The NDIS may raise demand so high that the output of trained interpreters probably will lag even further behind demand than it already does. How will we ensure individual interpreters who set themselves up as individual suppliers follow OHS requirements and don’t just hog all the hours for themselves. Possibly we are going to see a rise in repetitive strain injuries. Captioners will be in greater demand too – Who is looking at training for them? So many questions – So few answers.

These are some of the challenges that the NDIS may bring. These are the things that we all need to be considering once (or if) the NDIS is rolled out fully. I am not hearing much discussion about these issues. Hell, I don’t think many people who are deaf have actually considered or understand how the NDIS might benefit them. Challenges, certainly, but I am sure we can address most of them if the Government does not muck up the NDIS. Potentially the NDIS will be the greatest thing ever for people who are deaf, but it will change things. Now is the time to start planning for these changes.


2 thoughts on “Auslan Interpreting and the NDIS (…and Captioning too)

  1. I am disappointed when I go to the quarterly public information sessions about the NDIS in SA that there is often only about 20 people there and they are way more than 50% service providers. Even the service providers have no idea about the NDIS. Despite promo materials about the information sessions being published on the NDIS website, in local media and forwarded to every funded agency in SA, I fear most people hear nothing about it. I know the NDIA staff here are working hard to work out how to get the information to the general public. In SA the statewide trial site is only for children, but the NDIA staff want to be engaging with adults now ahead of full rollout so that they are prepared with their ‘wishlist’ and evidence for reasonable and necessary supports. Reasonable and necessary being the operative words, since I suspect the current government will make an attempt to roll back entitlements and at the other end of the scale, families in SA have requested house extensions and new cars.

    I understand that parents of children with disabilities are under even more pressure and are more time poor than parents of kids who don’t have a disability, but there could be such a more streamlined process and less need for modifications to Plans if they were more informed going in…

    If anyone has any ideas about how to better get the information out there I’m all ears…

    On the issue of Auslan interpreters – and a few other issues – I know the Agency has been discussing what it might mean in the future. I know they are aware of it. That being said, they do operate as an insurance agency and so it’s their job to fund the supports, not supply them etc. So the more the community can push this issue the better. With the future of the National Disability Advocacy Program currently ‘under review’, I’m not sure how much traction could be achieved on that front as a funded Systemic Advocacy campaign, but I’m prepared to put it forward.

    You’re absolutely right about the need for more Auslan interpreters. I would dearly love to upgrade my Auslan from my collection of ways to swear, ask for another beer, get directions to the nearest loo (or announce my ablutions!) and general basic words like ‘excuse me’. Right now though, the payback period on my investment in course fees is too much. Gotta be funded by the government as an investment, even on a scholarship basis.

    What to do…what to do…

  2. We got a letter about the NDIS recently (my daughter is hard of hearing), saying about how she may be eligible and to keep an eye out for it coming to our area. So they are trying to get the info out.

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