No Hearing Person Was Harmed in the Creation of this Blog Post

Graphic has text – LETS BE HONEST

One of the reasons that I write The Rebuttal is that many people often disagree with me. I would hate it if everyone agreed. It would make writing this blog pointless. A major goal of this blog is to create controversy. Not in a bad way mind you, not that I have not crossed that line in the past. Rather I aim to make people talk, discuss, ask questions and see things differently. And so it was yesterday with the article The Even Playing Field.

One of the criticisms that I received yesterday was that I was critical of Vicdeaf and General Manager, Brent Phillips, in particular. Let me be clear this was not my intention.

In the CEO, the hearing Christine Mathieson,  they have a gem. She is a great CEO who shows immense respect for the Deaf community. She is consultative and approachable. She is steering the ship beautifully and Vicdeaf have a bright future. In Deaf Brent Phillips they have a bright and innovative general manager who is passionate for the Deaf community. He shows this in his work every day.

Now in the Deaf community Brent is often discussed as being groomed as the next CEO of Vicdeaf. Let me be clear. I don’t think he needs grooming. He is a talent. Should Christine retire tomorrow, Brent could fit in seamlessly and carry out the role. We have a small community and everyone will have a view but make no mistake, Brent is one of many talented deaf people throughout Australia who has the skills and ability to be a CEO – anywhere, not just at a Deaf Society. If either Brent or Christine misconstrued my message I apologise. I just wanted to put the record straight.

However, one of the criticisms that I made yesterday was that Vicdeaf, and a few other Deaf societies,  have been slow to promote Deaf people to senior management. We can and should be doing better. I know Vicdeaf are assisting deaf staff to get better qualifications in management with this aim in mind. This is a great start, other deaf organisations should take note. We need to get more Deaf staff into senior management roles.

The gist of my article yesterday was that we needed to systemically target Deaf people for the role of CEO within Deaf organisations. Now some people have interpreted this as meaning we can get any old Joe and Dot from the street and just give them the job as CEO. Nowhere did I say that. I said that we should target talented Deaf people who we know are capable of the role, head hunt them, so to speak, to the exclusion of hearing candidates. A prerequisite is that they must have the skills and ability to carry out the role.

As such they would need to demonstrate that they understand the role. They need to show how they will work with the Board and understand the function of the Board. They will need to show that they understand finance and how to work with the finance professionals in their team, at staff and Board level, to ensure that organisation is financially sustainable. They would need to demonstrate an ability to manage staff and understand human resource law requirements. They will need to show they know the process of developing the organisations vision and mission statement. They will need to know they understand government policy and direction. AND they should, as a prerequisite, know deafness inside out. After all it is Deaf people that they are representing. They need to show all of this and more. It is not for the faint hearted.

And yes, absolutely, there are many people who are deaf who can carry out this role with aplomb. And yes I think its great when a Deaf org has a Deaf person in that role. It showcases what deaf people can do. It shows that the organisation practices what they preach. As many have said, a Deaf CEO is a role model for other deaf people to aspire too. I believe it is a strength having a Deaf person selling the message. As I have often been told by my hearing colleagues when I advocate on deaf issues – “.. God Gary, its hard to say no to you and challenge you knowing your lived experience of deafness at so many levels.”  (And no I did not make that up.)

The other argument that I want to address is that by targeting Deaf people for CEO and other senior management roles that we are in some way discriminating against hearing people. Let me be blunt here. Bully for them!

This may sound harsh but let me reiterate. In this world there is no such thing as equality. It is a harsh reality of life that for many deaf people, and people with a disability, there are barriers and lots of them. These barriers limit opportunities and prevent the development of experience. It will always be an uphill battle for many deaf and disabled people to progress and compete with hearing and non disabled peers who have been able to progress unhindered. Somehow we have to even the playing field.

For so long now I have seen the careers of deaf and disabled people limited by attitudes and prejudice. People say to me, that’s just the way it is. Perhaps, but if we don’t challenge the way it is and do something to address the inequity nothing will change. It has been suggested that on average it takes a person with a disability more than four times longer to complete a University degree. While they’re are still studying what do you think is happening to students without disabilities?  Well they are working and gaining experience. How, then, are people who are deaf or who have disabilities expected to compete? Something has to change.

Part of the solution, I believe, is that our deaf and disability organisations can and must be proactive in seeking out people who are deaf and who have disabilities into leadership roles such as the CEO role. In short, they have the power to show the way. And believe me the talent exists among deaf people. All we have to do is seek it and give it  go.

And what harm will it do to the hearing person that might inevitably miss out? Well, none really. A whole host of other opportunities, unhindered by prejudice and discrimination, will be available to them.

No hearing person was harmed in the creation of this blog! And no hearing person will be harmed in creating higher opportunities for our deaf professionals!



The Even Playing Field

Graphic shows two pictures of three children, tall medium and short. In the graphic to the left they are all standing on a box of the same size watching baseball. The small child can not see over the fence, In the graphic to the right the tall child has given his box to the small child – he can still see over the fence and now the small child can too. This demonstrates equity.

It’s started already and they have not even read the job applications yet. What?  Well people have contacted The Rebuttal to ask us to stir the pot a little. This time it is in regard to the selection of the CEO at Deaf Children Australia (DCA). Naturally the pro-Deaf CEO brigade  are maneuvering to put pressure on DCA to pick a Deaf CEO. Even before the final selection committee has been agreed, accusations are going out that the panel is biased. It’s culturally insensitive, there needs to be more input from the Deaf community and so on and so on.

I know not if any of this is true. I suspect that whatever DCA do that they will not please everyone. They will be criticised for picking a Deaf CEO. People will say that the Deaf CEO is a token and they are pandering to the community. If they pick a hearing person, particularly one with no background in deafness, the critics will scream blue murder and bemoan the fact that many imminently qualified Deaf professionals are being denied an opportunity. I do not envy DCA the task in front of them.

In recent years Deaf Societies around Australia have started to employ people who are Deaf as their CEO or leaders. Queensland have Brett Casey who is Deaf. New South Wales have Leonie Jackson who is Deaf. Deaf Can Do in South Australia have Debbie Kennewell, not CEO but high up in the leadership team. It is said that Vicdeaf are grooming Brent Phillips for the CEO role. I find the concept of grooming faintly patronising because Brent, and many other people who are Deaf, is already imminently qualified for the role.

All of this is music to my eyes. Why? Because the very first Rebuttal ever, back in 2006,  raised the idea that people who are Deaf should be CEOs of our deaf organisations. It is terrific to see that the trend now is exactly that and long may it continue.

That said I still think we can go one step further. I reckon we should actually only target deaf people for the CEO roles and then only open it up to hearing people if these people targeted prove not to be  suitable. WHAT??? I hear the nay sayer’s protesting. That’s discrimination! That’s tokenism!!!! What about merit??? As I often say to my good friend James — Calm down Fluffy. There is a strong argument to do this.

In recent years organisations have tended to use consultants to recruit. I am very skeptical of consultants. I have heard stories that some consultants actually screen people with a disability out of jobs. If you do not believe me, watch this video. I have written about this in an earlier Rebuttal but what transpires in this video is compelling. Watch it until you get to the part where the human resources and recruitment experts offer advice. It is not pretty.

I have worked in employment and education for nearly 30 years now. I can tell you that these sorts of prejudices exist. In human resources, where finding the right candidate earns the dollar, disability raises uncertainty. People with no experience of disability often have prejudices about people  with a disability and exclude them from selection processes. In professional life people who are Deaf, or who have disabilities, face this discrimination everyday. It is a tough battle. (Not all Recruitment consultants are like this, some promote and practice diversity.)

What is the end result of this? It means that people who are Deaf, or who have disabilities, are denied opportunities. While they fight this prejudice hearing and non disabled peers are working their way up the career ladder. The end result  is that they are denied opportunities. This makes it difficult to compete with hearing and non disabled competitors.

This does not mean that they do not have the skills or ability to do the jobs, particularly high management jobs. It just means that their CV and their range of experience might not be as broad. It is a constant and uphill battle. This is why many in the disability sector call for quotas where employers must demonstrate and reach targets for employing people with disabilities, including in management roles.

So what is the answer?  I believe that organisations must be proactive. They must practice what they preach. Vicdeaf have a goal, clearly stated in their annual report – Access and equity for Deaf and hard of hearing people – Yet for all the deaf people they employ only one is in senior management.  The Deaf Children Australia annual report screams Empowering Potential, A future without barriers, yet they have just one Deaf person on their senior management team. Deaf Can Do, for all the Deaf people it employs including Debbie Kennewell as leader, is part of the Can Do Group of Townsend House, which has not one Deaf person on its senior management team. For all the advances that we have made, we clearly still have a long way to go,

But! We should celebrate progress and progress has been made. That said we have to keep hammering home the message – organisations that promote equity and opportunities for Deaf people, and people with disabilities, must lead the way in creating those opportunities. This means employing people who are Deaf, and with disabilities, as leaders and CEOs. I hope in the next decade all our deaf organisations will have a Deaf CEO.

The balls in your hand Deaf Children Australia – Go on, you wont regret it.


Graphic shows Mickey Mouse signing I love you

Sometimes it takes a superstar for people to take note. When the superstar is Stevie Wonder, blind and commenting on disability access, people listen. Even more so when the said persona chose to make a statement on disability access at the 2016 Grammy Awards. Wonder started off with a joke about his seeing colleagues not being able to read the card that had the name of the winner of song of the year on it because it was written in Braille. It was a nice moment but probably didn’t deserve the overreaction of the woman to his right who giggled like a school girl and looked like she was about to wet herself. She was probably betraying her discomfort with disability, and in particular, disability jokes. That said, Wonder’s message was clear and powerful, “We need to make every single thing accessible to every single person with a disability.”

In Australia the powers that be probably thought Wonder’s message was lovely and that will be the sum of their reaction. You see, disability access in Australia is appalling and seemingly getting worse. In the last two weeks there have been several disability access incidents that have left me scratching my head. How can these things happen in a rich country like Australia? It is shameful.

It started with a mobility scooter using guy who has Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Apparently on three separate occasions the guy wanted to get on a tram in Melbourne and asked for the ramp to be deployed. He was refused. It seems that some well meaning passengers then got off the tram to lift him and his scooter on.

Yarra Trams were apologetic. You see the ramps are only for emergency situations and the MS guy has to board at a stop that has accessibility features. But these are very rare in Melbourne even though they are slowly being built. In the meantime the MS guy has to either find an accessible stop or again rely on kind hearted fellow passengers to lift him on the tram. All he wants to do is get to hospital for his treatment. It is shameful that this is still happening here in Australia.

For the last few weeks I have been assisting a deaf friend to try and get access to workshops and assessments to allow him to progress as a referee. I won’t say what sport because that would reveal the organisation in question. To cut a long story short my friend wants to progress as a referee. To do that he has to attend workshops, training and sit through a number of assessments. He is a very good and very passionate referee.

The problem is that my friend has no access to the workshops and assessments. Why? Because the association in question claims that they have no money to pay for interpreters. It is probably one of the biggest sporting associations in Australia. Yet they are crying poor. They seem to think that interpreting is some sort of charity and have this idea that spending a few hundred dollars to provide access is going to send them broke. It’s nonsense of course but that’s Australia for you.

And then there is Fucking Telstra, beautifully articulated by  deaf Melissa Coe at the Blog, I Sign I Wander. Ms Coe has had an ongoing saga with Telstra to get them to stop phoning her. She and her fiance built a new house. For a myriad of reasons her new house had no phone lines  or internet. For six months or so now she has been trying to get Telstra to organise a temporary solution so that she can access data. Us deafies largely access telecommunications through the internet now. The NRS, email, Facebook, chat features, Skype … it gives us access to many things.

Ms Coe has asked, and continues to ask, that Telstra communicate with her through text or email while they are trying to find a solution. It is a moot point that Telstra should have resolved this issue by now. The issue is that after three million or so reminders they still continue, virtually every day, to call deaf Melissa’s phone via voice. Despite repeated requests to not call they do.

Telstra, a communications giant, don’t email,they don’t text and they don’t use one of the many simple solutions available at their disposal to communicate with a person who is deaf. Instead they demonstrate Audism at its worst and expect Melissa and her fiance to adjust to their limited systems and capacity to problem solve.

After a sustained and clever social media campaign to embarrass Telstra the CEO is now involved. Will he make it better? Time will tell. The whole sorry saga is another example of lack of access in Australia for people with a disability. It is just appalling.

I wish I could end it here, but no there is more. It seems that mega rich Disney, known for their wonderful access provision in the United States, don’t follow what they practice there here in Australia. If you don’t believe me click HERE to see what Disney in the US provide people who are deaf.

But here in Australia Disney on Ice will not provide an Auslan interpreter for their performances. This means kids who are Auslan users, people who are Auslan users and  parents who are Auslan users cannot go and enjoy the show. I guess if they are not providing interpreters they probably would poo themselves if someone should call and ask for captioning too.

Yet all of this is provided in the US. Why not here? All I can say is  – That’s Australia for you. Suffice to say there is currently a sustained media campaign to get Disney on Ice to provide access. Look out for the story in the newspapers of Melbourne in the next day or so.

But that’s not all. There is the student that cannot be “assessed appropriately” because the lecturer has issues working with Auslan interpreters. There is the ongoing cinema access saga too. Reading Cinemas recently asked for my email contact so that they can “discuss options” with me. I dutifully provided it to them. Four weeks later they still have not even bothered to contact me.

And that sums up disability access in Australia. It is simply appalling and the apathy shown by so many people towards the provision of access is disheartening. There is a push to reinstate the Disability Commissioner at the Human Rights Commission. Will it help? I don’t think it will help one bit. What Australia needs is a disability discrimination legislation with teeth. Invest money in completely revamping the DDA. Make it compel people to comply.

Until we get that law with teeth Australia will continue to treat people with a disability with contempt.  Advance Australia Fair???? No way, it should be Access Australia (not).

Sung to the tune of Advanced Australia Fair!

Australians all let us rejoice,
We’ve crap access despite our toil,
Our homes a tragerdeeee;
Our land abounds in barriers
Oh hell theyre everywhere
In history’s page, let us say
Access Australia – NOT!
In painful strains then let us sing,
“Access Australia – NOT!”

Beneath our unfair Southern Cross
We’ll toil with hearts and hands
Thooough this Commonwealth of ours
Will rip us off again
For those with no dis ‘bilities
You’ve boundless stuff to share
Level the playing field to
Access Australia yeah!
Make us equal, let us sing
Access Australia yeah!