The World of the Deaf Professional

smashI work in an office where targets are the number one game. We have to achieve these targets or there is hell to pay. As a deaf professional they cut me no slack. Not only am I a manager but I have a caseload which is about 60% of the people that I supervise. So on top of my management duties and supervising staff I have to churn out the outcomes as well. It is a high pressure environment where you either work hard or get out. There is no respite.

I console myself by telling myself that the job that I do and the hard yards that I put in benefits thousands of people with a disability. Of late I have reflected a lot on just how different it is to be a deaf professional. The deaf professional has to be supremely organised. They have to be innovative. They have to be patient. They often must make sense of their environment with less than 100% information. The deaf professional is constantly playing catch up. Always filling in the missing gaps. It is not an easy gig

My workmates have to meet hundreds of people a month. In a short time they have met and satisfied the needs of nearly 1500 people with a disability. Turn-over in dollars to support these people is in the many millions of dollars. We change lives. We don’t satisfy everyone but we satisfy a damn lot of people.

My work mates can simply get on the phone. Book appointments and meet clients. Come back, make a few phone calls and finalise support. The whole process can take a few days. It seems pretty straight forward but let’s look at what it entails for a deaf professional

Each day we have to check our inbox. In that inbox will be our allocation of clients. These clients have to be contacted. Work flow comes in spurts. Any given week we can find an extra 10, maybe 15 clients that we need to support. Hearing workers simply call and make times to meet. Not I.

Firstly I need to call these clients through the National Relay Service.(NRS) The NRS is a brilliant service but it is painful and slow. When you call it takes a couple of minutes to connect. You log in to the website, you enter your phone number, you enter the captcha code (that often takes two or three efforts before it is accepted). You are then welcomed to the relay service. You are told to standby until a relay officer is available. This takes time. The number is dialled and the client answers. There is a long silence as the relay officer explains the service. Just to connect might take five minutes.  When this happens for every client and in a time hungry environment, it is valuable time wasted.

But it doesn’t stop there. Sometimes the client hangs up thinking you are a telemarketer. Sometimes they just struggle with the system. Sometimes they are from CALD backgrounds and the relay officer struggles to understand them. It’s slow, cumbersome and frustrating. But it is all we have and I am thankful for that.

As you can imagine, making time to see the clients takes up a lot of time. No matter, appointments are made and we are on our way. But it doesn’t stop there. You see the Deaf professional has to be supremely organised. They need to book appointments far enough ahead to ensure that they can get interpreters and / or captioning for their meetings.

This is done online. Each online booking takes about five minutes. Then there is the wait to see if captioning or interpreting is available. Sometimes it isn’t and meetings have to be rescheduled necessitating another adventure with the relay service. The smart deaf professional endeavours to get clients mobile numbers to text them. Or they email and communicate that way rather than the NRS. Sometimes our clients are illiterate or have print media disabilities. It is not always straight forward.

Then of course you actually have to meet clients. At the moment my big thing is to use live remote captioning (LRC) through my mobile phone. I do this because it is less intrusive. If I use an interpreter this is another person in the room. This can make it uncomfortable for the client, especially when they are divulging extremely personal information. So to avoid this I use LRC, it is much more discrete.

But even this takes organising. I usually meet clients in their homes. About five minutes away from my destination I login to the captioning on my iPhone. I speak to the captioner. “Hi Lee. I am five minutes away from the participants home, participants name is John.” Lee will thank me for the information and begin programming names in so that I know who will be talking. I am always checking the phone to make sure the power is enough to get through the meetings.

As I park the car I let Lee know that I am walking to the participants house. I knock on the door. The participant answers. I then have to explain how the system works. Sometimes the data connection isn’t great and the captioner can’t hear well. I then have to ask if I can borrow the participants internet so that I can get a better reception. Sometimes they do not have internet so I have to make do. I am lucky that the captioners are brilliant.

As brilliant as they are there is still missing information. Again I have to fill the gaps. It’s vital that I miss nothing. We are dealing with people’s lives here. A mistake can be crucial. Sometimes I must email and clarify. Sometimes I have to use the dreaded relay service again. Sometimes I have to ring organisations for more information, again through the relay service. These are things that a hearing professional just cannot comprehend. The time that this adds to the process is enormous.

It takes time. It takes organisation and very different skillset, let alone mindset. That is just the participants. Then you have the day to day operations. The people that come in the front door. The staff that need support. The impromptu meetings where captioning nor interpreting cannot be arranged. It’s not for nothing that the Deaf professional is often completely smashed when they get home.

But I wouldn’t change it for the world. Because my job matters. It makes a difference to peoples lives and that is my reward. I am lucky. I am lucky because I have such a rewarding job. I am lucky because I have such a supportive employer. I am lucky that I have team mates willing to adjust and support. Mostly I am lucky to have clients who are willing to meet me half way. This is despite the many challenges they themselves often face.

So hats off to all those deaf professionals out there. Congratulations to all those deaf professionals who are making waves and creating opportunities. It is simply because they are doing this that opportunities are being created for others to follow in their footsteps.

Merry Xmas everyone – keep up the good fight.

Postscript: As an aside I would like to add that captioning and interpreting are equally as effective. It is all down to choice and what works for the individual. I use both … interpreting is provided by the ever brilliant Auslan Services who have no peer in terms of supporting deaf professionals. Captioning by the equally brilliant Bradley Reporting.

Advertisements

Enabling the Deaf

enablerIn our world we often spend a lot of our time complaining about whats wrong. I am no exception to this. In Australia  we have a system for people with a disability that does not kick in until someone complains. So we complain, and often. But as we complain we often forget there are solutions. In the Rebuttal’s last post I outlined how  society so often and unnecessarily Disables the Deaf. Well how can we enable the deaf?

There are solutions, and they abound everywhere. Enabling is often simple. It is often common sense. It is often cheap and sometimes not so. But there is no doubt in my mind that our society has the ability to enable the deaf in a big way. Certainly much better than it does now. Especially in this high tech world.

Last week I attended a big function at my work. I am fortunate that my work has a can do attitude. For this particular function they contacted me for advice to set up access for the deaf. They were keen. At one point they were considering four interpreters based at vantage points around the room so no deaf person would miss out.

I advised that this wouldn’t be necessary. This was because the venue was high tech. It had big screens at vantage places in the room. I advised them to book the usual two interpreters  and beam them to the screen. A simple solution.

I also pointed out that there would be people in the audience with a hearing loss who do not sign and would require captioning. I pointed out that there were others that might benefit from a loop systems to hear better. Nothing was too hard or too much for the organisers. They organised everything. They liaised with the tech experts at  the venue so that interpreters and captioning appeared on the screen with the speaker.

In this way they enabled the deaf. But there was an additional benefit. You see, within the audience were a few people from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) backgrounds. Two of these were sitting at my table. I noticed that they were watching the captions.  The captions actually enhanced their understanding of spoken word. As is so often the case, not only does access enable the deaf, it enables others as well.

One of the great advances in recent years has been the improvements in voice recognition technology. It still isn’t great but I discovered recently that I could use simple voice recognition technology to communicate with some hearing people that were difficult to lipread.

Of course I cannot have an interpreter with me 24/7. There are times when I meet people that are just very difficult to understand. What I can do is I log into Notes on my iPhone, press the little microphone on the keyboard and then I get them to speak into the phone. In this way I can have a short and sharp conversation with them. In fact this whole paragraph was generated using voice recognition technology. (I emailed it to myself and copied and pasted it here.)

In time voice recognition technology might get to be so good that you can go to the doctor, bank or lawyer and use it for meetings. It is not there yet but I expect it will get better and better. Just another way to enable the deaf.

Enabling the deaf is often just about attitude. People with the right attitude make the world a better place. People at my work are a prime example. Sometimes we must have impromptu meetings. Without being asked someone will sit next to me and start typing out the conversations.

During the day there is a lot of information that is talked about around the room. Often my colleagues will email me to make sure I am in loop with these conversations. The best one was when someone emailed me about Maree discussing having showers with her dog (it saves water). I feel valued and included because of their attitude. This is a practical way to enable the deaf.

Potentially, used properly, the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) can also enable the deaf. If it could fund interpreters or captioning for me so that I can be involved with my local soccer clubs committee. I can coach the team and an interpreter can facilitate my communication and inclusion. I’ve yet to hear of this happening but given that one of the key objectives of the NDIS is community participation, why not? Such an approach would enhance inclusion for the deaf in a big way. The funding of technology and other devices to enhance communication and safety is also another way to enable the deaf.

I often wonder how I survived being deaf in years gone by. There were no interpreters at work. There certainly was no captioning. There was no email. No SMS. There was no means to access the phone. There was no Skype and no real time text chat. My mother had to phone my friends. I had to find someone to call me  a cab or a pizza.

I remember years ago standing in a wine bar in London. I was giving a pretty girl the eye. At the end of the night she came up to me, whispered something in my ear and placed a piece of paper in my back pocket. It was her phone number. Fat lot of good it was to me. But with today’s technology and services I would have been able to call her. (I still wonder, to this day,what it was she whispered in my ear.)

Perhaps it will never be perfect but we have at our fingertips so many solutions to enable the deaf. There is no excuse to not use them. I mean why can’t cinemas simply put open captions on every movie. It just means everyone gets access. If someone has a shitty attitude and wont go to the movies because of open captions, well let them rot at home. (And please do not waste my time calling Craptiview access.)

Who remembers the crap access the deaf used to have to captions on television? I just did  a check of the channels on TV, in the middle of the afternoon on a Sunday. Eight out of nine channels I tried had captions including the golf., the cricket, the soccer, the Gruen Transfer, Southpark and motor racing. Even the Ads were captioned. A far cry from yesteryear when the only captions we had were Home and Away, Neighbours and a few choice ABC shows.

It really is not hard to enable the deaf. All it takes is a Can Do attitude and commitment. We have the potential to make inclusion possible for the deaf in every aspect of our society 24/7. There is no excuse for any exclusion in this day and age.

And so it is for other disability groups too. Make those buses accessible, provide audio and Braille options for the blind, make buildings accessible or design jobs in such a way that people with intellectual disabilities can participate. All it takes is the will and an attitude and we can enable just about everybody!

 

 

 

 

 

Disabling the Deaf

dismantling_adotBefore I became an active member of the Deaf community I had known some deaf people
from school. I was supported in a Centre for Hearing Impaired from the age of 14. Before that my only memory of a deaf person was seeing two school boys at the movies with those old fashioned hearing aids. You know the ones with a wire that led to the aid that rested inside a specially sewn on pocket.

My first ‘real’ encounters with deaf people at the Centre left me puzzled. You see nearly all of them had poor English. I had lost my hearing around the age of 8 and had no clue of the struggles that deaf people had to acquire English or any spoken language. I had no clue as to what Auslan was. (This was in 1978).

The deaf kids at the Centre could not spell properly. They wrote in a way that was, at best, disjointed. It often made no sense. This triggered something in me. I wanted to know why. I wanted to prevent this happening. A person that was deaf did not have a disability that impacted on their ability to learn, surely?? Why were these young people illiterate??? I wanted to know. I wanted to know because the lack of literacy in these young people left them profoundly disabled. That was the view of my young self.

After I left school I became involved in the Deaf community. Firstly through the Deaf Youth group run by the Deaf Society and then through the Deaf cricket club.  From there I regularly attended the Deaf club every Friday night.

At the Deaf club I began to see the diversity in the language skills of its members. There were some who were extremely literate. God forbid, they even laughed at my jokes. But still there were some who were clearly illiterate. I began to see that many actually had poor language overall. Not just in English but with signing too. It puzzled me.

As my own signing improved and I began to converse with more deaf people I would note that many struggled with basic concepts and ideas. I would note that they lacked some maturity. Hell, I remember thinking at the time they were almost infantile in their development. Sadly, many actually were. It egged me. What was it about deafness that was causing these people to be so DISABLED?

Now I know many people with a disability and members of the Deaf community who are reading this will have almost fury on their breath. I can hear them now. “You’re making disability and deafness out to be deficit, Gary.” I say to them, hold your fury, for this was my thinking at that time. I was profoundly ignorant.

There is no doubt that my early experience of deaf people motivated me in my career. Originally I aimed to be a teacher of the deaf. I tried this via England and then Queensland. Three broken legs later I gave up the ghost and returned to Adelaide to study Social Work.

It was during this period that I learnt the most about Deaf people (note the capital D).  In Queensland, I struck up a friendship with a Deaf man. He was a native signer from a vast Deaf family. We had endless debates. Back then I thought everyone should learn Signed English. I argued that one uniform language was surely the way to go.

My friend became my mentor. He taught me so many things about the Deaf community, about its history and the richness of its language. I remember being amazed that his sister and brother in-law, both deaf, actually ran a cafe. He taught me about Gallaudet and the oppression of Deaf people. Through him I began to finally see how the system was ruining the lives of so many deaf people.

He didn’t just open my mind; he opened my anger. I could not believe what this hearing society was doing to young deaf people (Note there is no capital here.) It was depriving them of language. It was denying them their right to sign language. It was making them illiterate. Indeed, it was hindering the development of their life in almost every aspect. Be it language, education, maturity and the ability to form healthy relationships. No wonder that deaf people experience mental health issues at more than twice the “normal” population.

The one thing my friend always insisted on was that he was not disabled, he was Deaf. I didn’t get this back then. He couldn’t “speak”. He had minor problems with his English literacy. He needed interpreters. He needed lots of help. He had to be disabled. I told him he was in denial. I cringe at the attitude of my young self.

I began to see that my friend had two lives. He had his life in the Deaf community where he lacked for nothing. He had his language, family, friends and even his sport. His life was rich and full.

But he couldn’t live in the Deaf community full-time. He eventually had to interact with the wider hearing community. It was in the wider community that he was disabled. It was the hearing community that was disabling him. And this is the crux. Deafness is not a disability. It is a predominantly hearing society that disables the deaf.

I was to read later about the legendary Martha’s Vineyard in America. Martha’s Vineyard was unique in that it once had a large population of people who were genetically Deaf. At one time the majority of the people that lived there were either Deaf or related to people who were Deaf. Consequently it is apparent that most members of this community signed. In this community there was no disadvantage for the Deaf. It was a kind of Deaf Utopia.

But society is not like that. Society is hearing. Society does not like to adapt for minorities. Society expects minorities to adapt to them. So if someone is born deaf, the only answer is to make them hearing or as close to hearing as possible.

If you are born deaf no one asks the question; how can our society meet your needs? This question is not asked because we expect that people who are deaf to fit the NORM.

Perhaps we can ensure that a young baby has access to sound and sign. Perhaps we can adequately fund programmes so that they can support the deaf child to be part of the family through sound and sign. Perhaps we could insist that every child, in every school learn Auslan so that if they encounter a person that uses Auslan they can communicate. There are solutions.

Perhaps we could ensure that every video that is placed online has captions. Perhaps every educational resource must, by mandate, be accessible. Perhaps every hospital should have a link up to a service that can assist them to communicate with people who are deaf by sign or by captions. This would be a society taking the disability out of deafness.

Perhaps we can insist that every teacher of the deaf have the skills to be able to communicate with every deaf child in whatever mode. Perhaps we can insist that every deaf child have access to a program that will provide them with knowledge and skills to live life as a deaf person. In short, we adjust the society so that the disability does not exist.

But no! There is only one answer that the majority of people will buy into. And that is that we all must hear. There is no other condition that is acceptable. If by chance the attempt to make people hear fails …. well we will throw a few tidbits their way. Just to make it a little more easy. Those tidbits will be the absolute bare minimum.

The result? Well, we still have deaf kids struggling with the English language. We still have deaf kids and adults socially isolated. We still have services totally inaccessible so that deaf people are at risk. We still have a society that expects everyone to fit the norm and bugger the consequences. This is society disabling the deaf.

It is not just the deaf that society disables. It is every person that has a “disability”. Where I used to work there is a long section of tram stops that have all been raised so that wheelchairs can get onto the trams. There are crossing lights so that people can safely cross to the tram stops in the middle of the road. There are ramps so that wheelchairs can access the stops. There are sound alerts at the crossing lights for vision impaired. YES – people are finally thinking access, except – all the trams that service these accessible stops are the old type that have steps. And then when you arrive at my old work, you access it through a subway which is accessed … by steps. It is not the “disability” that is the disabling; it is the profound lack of foresight that exists in our society.

People don’t have disabilities. They really do not. We, the society, disable them. We, with our obsession with normalcy, expect everyone to fit in with the norm. And that’s how we are Disabling the Deaf .

(And just about every other person that has a physical condition not considered the norm.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Orange Man

WHEN READING THIS ARTICLE PLEASE CLICK ON THE HYPER LINKS TO UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT OF THE QUOTES.

orangeIn a land far away live a benevolent people. They are free and fair. They embrace every person. They embrace any idea, be it good or bad. They embrace any view, however contrary. Eight years ago they gave a black man a go as the leader of their LAND. Can you imagine that? A BLACK MAN!!!! Just recently, to show how very fair they are, they gave people a choice to elect their leader. The choice was between a woman and, get this, an ORANGE MAN! – A WOMAN and an ORANGE MAN!!! How awesome is that??? Spoilt for choice to show how free and fair that they were they chose the ORANGE MAN! The woman would have to wait. But hopefully not for too long for they are a fair and free people. That is OK, they had shown then world that a person of any colour could be their leader.

As it was announced that the ORANGE MAN was to be their leader the people of this Land rejoiced. Men across the Land were particularly happy. You see the ORANGE MAN had professed his love of the ladies. He had professed that he loved them a lot. He professed that he liked to touch and squeeze them everywhere, all the time and any time. And men around the Land were happy because they were free to love and touch women as they pleased. What a Land they lived in. It is so free and fair. ( When you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything. Whatever you want. Grab them by the pussy.)

And the people of the Land were safe. They were safe from the nasties on the outside. Those pesky outsiders. The people of the Land were free you see. Free to hate everyone and everything that did not exist within their Land. “Ill Keep em out” said the ORANGE MAN. And he was clever, oh the ORANGE MAN was clever. Never had someone so clever been their leader before. The people were in awe of his wisdom.  “I’ll build a great wall.”  said the ORANGE MAN. “And nobody builds walls better than me, believe me” And the people cheered at his humility. But the ORANGE MAN was not just humble, he was a financial genius, “And I’ll build the wall very inexpensively.” So inexpensive, in fact, that the Land was not even going to pay a cent for this great wall that would protect them because,  “I will make Dajano pay for that wall. Mark my words.”   The people wept. How had they got so lucky.

But the ORANGE MAN was not finished. You see he had ideas never thought of before to protect the people of the Land. They were sophisticated ideas. These ideas would protect the people of the Land from them bad men that were terrorists that lived in the middle lands of the world. The level of sophistication was simply astounding. The ORANGE MAN lifted his arms to the heavens as he screamed to his people the solution to their world safety. “Bomb the shit out off them!!” is what he said! The people of the land cheered and hugged each other. They would be safe forever!

The women folk were in raptures. They smiled at the thought of being loved up by their men folk. They smiled at the thought that this might happen at any time and at any place. Just as long as it was by the men of their Land. God forbid if those pesky IMMERGRENTS should try to love them up. That would not be OK! But they need not have feared any such thing happening to them. You see the ORANGE MAN had the answers to that too. The Orange man was furious. You see Dajano was sending all their bad people across the border. The ORANGE MAN screamed his rage at the fact that Dajano were, “ …sending people that have lots of problems” to the Land including rapists, drug runners, and other criminals.” But the women folk need not have worried because that great wall was gonna save them. Failing that the ORANGE MAN would bomb the shit out of em anyway. They had nothing to fear.

Goodness the ORANGE MAN was good. You see the ORANGE MAN, despite having zillions of dollars, had only ever paid a little bit of tax. When asked if it was bad that he had hardly paid any tax the ORANGE MAN laughed. “Hell no!”, he said, “That makes me smart.  And anyway even if I did pay taxes the money would have been squandered.” The people of the Land laughed at his wisdom and wit. Perhaps they too would not have to pay taxes, cos it would be wasted anyway. They marvelled at the fact that even though they would not be paying taxes the Great Wall would still be built. Cos the ORANGE MAN was gonna make Dajano pay for it anyway. Life is good. OH yes, LIFE IS GOOD!

The ORANGE MAN was funny too. He even made fun of the disabled. He called the most famous Deaf woman of the Land retarded. He even called her mentally handicapped and mocked her deaf speech. And the people of the Land laughed and laughed. Not only was the ORANGE MAN smart, he was so, so very funny!  So all over the Land people copied him. After all if he could do it, so could they. All over the Land the people began walking up to people with Cerebral Palsy and doing the spastic dance just like the ORANGE MAN. They had never had so much fun, EVER!

And most of all the people of the Land were thrilled that they could hate! They were allowed to hate and deride. Because they were free. The ORANGE MAN was leading the way in showing how they could hate. So Whites were telling people they thought were not white enough TO GO BACK TO THE FIELDS.  Deaf people signing in Cafes were told to get their retarded selves out and go elsewhere by other customers. Everybody nodded sagely at the righteousness of this. After all the ORANGE MAN did it and so could they!

what a LAND. How lucky are they??? Land of the free. God bless them all!

A Dose of Perspective

couplebubbleI commenced work with the NDIS in July. In this very short time, my eyes have been opened in a way that I would never have imagined. I am an experienced disability advocate and thought that I knew a lot. To be fair, I am very experienced but the NDIS allows you to see, first hand, the real lives of people with a disability and their carers. To be frank it puts a lot of things into perspective.

I am Deaf and I have fought for a lot of things over the years. Interpreting at university, the National Relay Service, cinema captioning, mental health, education, employment and basic human rights are  just a few of the things that I have campaigned for over the years. Often I do it through my work. I just constantly raise the issues and create awareness. I think in deafness we have made enormous inroads compared to 20 years ago. Technology has helped immensely to even out the playing field. Indeed I owe most of my current success and my current job to the fact that this technology exists. I, and many other people who are deaf, have been extremely fortunate.

Of course we are never happy. We always want more. We compare ourselves to countries like the USA and we want comparable access. And we should never stop striving for this comparable access. Australia is a rich country and can afford it; it is our right. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, “..He who has fought a good fight has had to face every difficulty except popularity.”

I used to be angry about many things but since starting work at the NDIS I find myself less angry. Many friends of mine who have a disability won’t like me saying this but of late, I have begun to realise just how lucky I am. I will explain this a bit more later. I find that I  just cannot get angry about some of the things I was previously angry about. The sale of Townsend House in South Australia is an example.

Townsend House is an iconic, somewhat creepy building, that is steeped in history for the Deaf community in South Australia. It stands on land that is a real estate goldmine. It is in the much sought after suburb of Brighton in South Australia, just minutes from the beach.  It once hosted a school for the deaf and many Deaf people in South Australia have fond memories of going to school there. I dare say  that for many the memories might not be so fond, but nevertheless Townsend House is an important part of the history of the South Australian Deaf community.

The response to the sale of Townsend House has been particularly muted. It was nothing like the response to the sale of the Deaf Community Centre at 262 South Terrace in Adelaide. The sale of 262 caused great hurt and anger in the South Australian Deaf community, and rightly so. It is a little different from Townsend House. The Can Do Group that resides within Townsend House acquired 262 by default. They saved the Deaf Society at a time that it was about to go under. The CEO of the time and the president of the Deaf society promised 262 would never be sold. But of course it was. In the process the heart of the Deaf community was ripped out and very little of the profits of 262 were returned to the Deaf community. It was, to put it mildly, disgusting.

The land where Townsend House is built has been sold. Unsurprisingly, the Deaf community were not consulted. Indeed you would be hard pressed to find any Deaf people that ever go there now. To be frank it is now just a building that has history and the Deaf community have little and next to nothing to do with it. So it was sold. Not many were angry, not many protested. There were pockets of dissent that had the impact of a pea-shooter. For myself, I just saw it as perfectly sensible business decision that Townsend House have made to ensure their continued survival.

The sale of 262 was also a business decision but it was a little different. It was different because the Deaf community had a real stake in 262. The Deaf community were heavily involved in the establishment of 262. I have seen beautifully handwritten records, written by deaf people, of the fundraising that they did to build 262. In short, 262 was built by and for the Deaf community. They valued 262 in a way that they just don’t in regard to Townsend House. I believed then, as I do now, that it wasn’t necessarily wrong to sell 262, but it was wrong to do it without the full and proper consultation with the Deaf community. I believed then, as I do now, that the Deaf community deserved a fair share of the profits of the sale of 262. They got nothing except a Deaf club in Modbury, with no assets for its upkeep and at a place that is almost inaccessible to the majority of the Deaf community. How the Deaf community was treated in that instance was a disgrace. They were ripped off.

Not so Townsend House. Even though it has history, it is just bricks and mortar. It is no longer a Deaf organisation. It is an organisation that supports children who are Deaf, hard of hearing, Blind, vision impaired, deafblind and other disabilities. The sale of Townsend House was simply a decision that will allow these individuals to still receive support. It also allows Townsend House to position itself as an NDIS provider. It was a business decision, pure and simple.

Until this year I might have been angry about the sale of Townsend House. But I am not. You see working within the NDIS, you see things with a different perspective. You see people with a disability barely surviving. They have minimal support. They are living below the poverty line. You see carers who are looking after kids with very profound disabilities, often more than one child with a disability. You meet them and you begin to discuss the support that they require. You know what? Many of them ask for the bare minimum. It does not matter that you outline to them what might be reasonable and necessary. They still only want the bare minimum.

As an advocate who has spent his working life demanding more and never being satisfied, this is profoundly humbling. Do you know what some of these carers say when you point out that they might be able to get more support? They say,  “No, it’s my child, that’s my job.”  Even when that “child” happens to be in their 30s or 40s. These parents are waking every morning to dress, shower and feed their “children”. They are often also dealing with severe behavioural  issues that require them to be on alert at all times. Yet still they ask for the bare minimum.

That’s the definition of unconditional love! That was my dose of perspective!

 

Resilience is, of course, necessary for a warrior. But a lack of empathy isn’t.

Phil Klay

Australia and Disability Rights ?????

alIt struck me recently that I have been fighting for my human rights for over 30 years. It probably started back in 1984 when I flew to England in an ill-fated attempt to enter Durham University. I wanted to enter Durham because it had support for deaf students, something that was non-existent in Australia at that time. Ultimately this fell through because I could not afford the fees. Nevertheless, it is an early example of the extremes that I, and others with a disability, had to endure just to access the every day right of education.

Thankfully things in Australia have improved a lot since then. We get interpreter access to University and TAFE. If we so desire we can get captioning too. Captioning on TV is now close to 100% on free to air, although the new digital channels have some catching up to do. As do the pathetic Foxtel and Australian media streaming companies.

For other disabilities there have been improvements too. There is accessible transport and building codes that ensure building access. At least to new Government buildings anyway. But still there is much to do.

For example I heard recently that because the only place that people with wheelchairs in Melbourne can board a train is at the front only two can be on the train at anyone time.  This despite the fact that other carriages are accessible too. I am not sure if this is true but given Australian airlines wont take more than two wheelchair users at anyone time it would not surprise me.

The great Mark Bagshaw, at a talk I arranged with him recently, bemoaned the fact that if he wants to take a train to the Blue Mountains there is only one place where his wheelchair fits. It is in a carriage right up the front. He can’t enter the main areas because his chair is too big.

Because of this he must enter at a particular spot. He has no access to air-conditioning. If it is hot he sweats like a pig. If it is cold he freezes and has to wrap himself in assorted blankets and scarfs.

He is rightly  angry that this is still happening in Australia in the 21st century. It happens simply because people do not plan in advance for the needs of people with a disability and tend to deal with issues when raised, which is often too late.

And so it was with me last week. I attended training. Of course the trainers had not thought to book interpreters. When asked to provide they fobbed me off and said it was my employer’s responsibility.

My employer was happy to provide. But it should not be my employers responsibility it should be the training provider. If they provide training they must ensure that the training is accessible for people with a disability.

As I do, I argued the point right up until the last moment. At the end of the training I confronted the organiser again, in full view of all. I pointed out that my employer already provided for my access needs at great expense and that my paltry $6000 Auslan for employment grant was spent within my first two weeks of employment, ironically on training. The organiser insisted that it was still my employer’s responsibility to pay if they wanted me to attend training.

I sighed loudly in frustration. So loudly that the organiser seemingly stepped back in alarm. I asked her a simple question:

“ When you booked the venue for training did you ensure it was equipped with ramps and accessible toilets or did you insist that people requiring them bring these things themselves?”

 The organizer clearly did not have a sarcasm meter. She puffed out her chest and said,

“Of course, we ensured that these facilities were all part of the venue so people in wheelchairs would not be disadvantaged.”

 I smiled at her and said; “That’s terrific, perhaps next time you might ensure also that the venue comes equipped with Auslan interpreters too so I am also not disadvantaged.”

 There was a moment of silence as the woman digested this point. She asked me to email her my arguments so that she could present them to her superiors. Nevertheless, it is an example of how, over 30 years later, I still must fight for my most very basic of human rights.

I write this in the wake of the recent court case of Deaf woman, Gaye Lyons. Gaye took the Queensland justice system to court over their refusal to allow her to sit on a jury. The justice system insisted that if they allowed Gaye to sit on a jury with an interpreter present the interpreter became a 13th jury person. This is not allowed.

What they argued was that the interpreter would interpret things from their own bias and perceptions. They believe that this means Gaye would not make an independent judgment based on her own understanding of the evidence.

This argument is not supported by research. Research has shown that Deaf people who are presented facts through an interpreter understand them the same way as people who are presented the facts without an interpreter. In a nutshell the interpreter does not influence the deaf persons judgment.

Gaye took her case all the way to Australia’s High Court but still lost. Even though Deaf jurors are permitted in the USA and in the backwaters of New Zealand, Australia continues to thumb its nose at providing a very simple human right.

There are people that say that Gaye’s case is a very minor one and that we have bigger fish to fry. Well I digress. If a Deaf person is denied a very basic right to take part in Australia’s justice system what does that mean legally for other areas of life?

Do we refuse Deaf people the right for a trial in court? Because after all the interpreter might put their own interpretation on a question. Would this not also mean that the Deaf defendant does not get unbiased access to questions.Does this mean that all Deaf criminals go free because they cannot get access to a fair trial?

Of course it does not. Interpreters are provided to Deaf people all over the country so that they can stand trial. Despite this interpreters are seen differently if a Deaf person is a juror. The justice system cannot have it both ways.

And this is Australia in 2016. In this rich and prosperous country people with a disability are still struggling for their most basic of human rights. We have a disability discrimination law that has no teeth and as a consequence people with a disability are still being treated as sub-standard citizens.

BUT – There is light at the end of the tunnel. Super Al McEwin, deaf himself, has recently become Australia’s Disability Commissioner – Can Al change the landscape and bring Australia into the 21st century in regard to disability rights? There lies his challenge and I wish him well.

In the meantime we Disableds have to keep up the good fight because Al, as good as he is, cannot do it alone.

  • With thanks to Gaye Lyons for taking her case to the High Court. Although you did not win, the exposure and awareness that you have created will benefit us all into the future. Your case was just the begining!

The Paralympics – Should Deaf Athletes Take Part?

paraDid you know that a blind athlete at the Paralympics ran the 1500m event faster than the winner of the so called REAL Olympics. It is a true story and Abdellatif Baka actually ran his 1500m event at the Paralympics 1.7 seconds faster than the REAL Olympic champion, Matthew Centrowitz. It was one of the great achievements of the Paralympics.

I was enthralled with the Paralympics. I know we all scorn inspiration porn but I was truly inspired. Not because the athletes were disabled but because the skill of these elite athletes was phenomenal. The athletes at the Paralympics are not people that have overcome “obstacles” they are people that have pushed their bodies to the absolute limit. They are people that have developed world class coordination, strength and skill to be the very best at what they are.

By chance one night I switched the Paralympics on. I have just started a new job and am working very long hours. When I get home I tend to just flop in the recliner. I am usually joined by my dogs. The big one, Simba, jumps up and snuggles up to my left side. The little one Rocky, who I call Gaffer, tends to sit on my lap in between fetching me a ball to throw or his tug rope to pull on.

As Gaffer tugs on his rope, which I hold with my left hand, I channel hop with my right hand. Simba tends to just watch the spectacle with his head on my lap. As I channel hopped the blind 5000 metre event came on. I was immediately enthralled and dropped the rope. Gaffer was not too pleased.

It was fascinating. You see the blind athletes have a guide. The runner and the guide were linked together by a piece of rope attached to their wrists, not unlike handcuffs. As they lined up at the starting point I wondered how this was going to work. The starter pistol went off and I was immediately struck by the skill and coordination involved.

They ran at a frantic pace. The guide just a step behind the runner. I imagine the blind athlete counts his stride so that he knows when he is near the bend and the guide talks to him, letting him know when the bend is coming. Then of course the guide has to let the runner know when a gap opens, where that gap is, whether it’s straight on, to the left or to the right. And all of this is coordinated at great speed. It was truly elite sport at its best.

Then there was the swimming. I found the double arm amputees the most thrilling to watch. As the athletes walked into the event the first thing that comes to your mind is a question. The question is quite natural. “What happened to them?” You wondered if it was a car crash. Perhaps it was cancer or perhaps it happened at birth. It is impossible not to ask these questions because when you see something that you do not see every day the mind gets curious and you wonder. Nevertheless, you feel pangs of guilt because we are taught to focus on the person not the disability. And we should but we are only human and it is natural to be curious.

But when the athletes begin the race all these questions fade to grey. Watching them at the starters block is the most brilliant thing ever. For example they grab hold of a kind of tube in their mouth that is held by one of the officials. They pull their legs up to the wall of the pool and crouch ready for off. The starter gun goes and they leap into the pool.

What unfolds is an absolute world class display of coordination and strength. The athletes use every sinew and muscle in their body to propel themselves through the water at break neck speed. And when they reach the end they have to touch with their head … That’s gotta hurt.  It is simply a brilliant display of human endeavour, strength, coordination and skill.

Honestly the real Olympics were a bore in comparison. The Paralympics are what sport is all about. It’s not about money, these athletes get virtually none. It is not really about recognition because the Paralympics, although exposure is much better now, is still a very poor cousin to the REAL Olympics. It really is just pure passion, skill and grunt. The arrogance, the personalities and the egos of the REAL Olympics do not exist. It is all about the sport and the people. I loved it.

It’s interesting because Deaf athletes do not compete at the Paralympics. This is a source of much conjuncture. Many people in Deaf sport believe that Deaf people should be at the Paralympics. They believe there is more money and more exposure and that this can only be a good thing for Deaf sport.

Craig Crowley, a prior President of the International Committee of Sport for the Deaf (ICSD), is one of the strongest advocates to have Deaf sport as part of the Paralympics. Said Crowley in 2013, “I think the Deaflympics is sustainable long term as an isolated event, but at the moment we are going through rough waters.” He added: “Right now we are not getting the exposure we need and, therefore, we are not getting the sponsors we need. That is crucial because we want it to be a top event for our athletes.”  http://limpingchicken.com/2012/05/29/deaf-news-craig-crowley-says-inclusion-in-the-paralympics-vital-for-future-of-deaf-sport/

For people like Crowley it is all about the future of Deaf sport. Sponsorship and exposure will mean that Deaf sport can be sustainable. The exposure on a world scale at an event like the Paralympics would bring unprecedented attention to Deaf sport. It would also create fantastic awareness. The funding would enable Deaf athletes to compete and train at the highest level possible. It makes sense.

Even though Crowley’s arguments are strong there is still strong resistance to Deaf sport being part of the Paralympics. There are people who argue that Deaf sport does not belong in the Paralympics. They say that Deaf sport has nothing in common. The skillset to compete is not the same. Deaf athletes have competed at the REAL Olympics and there are only minor adjustments needed for them to do so like visual starter systems.

Mostly the argument is that the Deaflympics is one of the oldest sporting events in the world. It is a cultural institution of the World Deaf community and should not be tampered with. People fear that should Deaf sport be absorbed into the Paralympics then the Deaflympics will be lost. This is a very real concern.

Then of course there is another faction that say we could run the Paralympics and Deaflympics concurrently allowing the Deaflympics to survive. Whatever the answer the Deaflympics are struggling for sponsorship. Deaf athletes struggle for funding to be able to dedicate themselves to their sport to the level that is required. Something drastic needs to occur to ensure the long term sustainability of world deaf sports competitions like the Deaflympics.

Whatever the answer this should not detract from the fact that the Paralympics are a fantastic spectacle that showcase elite athletes at their very best. Long may it continue.

For Deaf sport I hope a solution is found. Deaf athletes are certainly as deserving as the Paralympians of the exposure and extra funding. Here is to a bright future for Paralympians and Deaf sport one way or the other.