Australians all let us rejoice,
For DIS A BIL IT EEEE
We’ve crap access despite our toil,
Our homes a tragerdeeee;
Our land abounds in barriers
Oh hell they’re everywhere
In history’s page, let us say
Access Australia – NOT!
In painful strains then let us sing,
“Access Australia – NOT!”
This satirical adaption of the Australian Anthem was posted in the article Access Australia Not. In this article The Rebuttal took aim at Australia’s shoddy provision of access for people with a disability. Mostly the article touched on deaf issues but also mentioned lack of access to public transport for people with a disability. With nearly 1000 hits it was a very popular article that hit a chord with many readers.
Not so Deaf reader, Paul Bartlett. Paul lived in the United Kingdom for 19 years. He has recently returned to Australia with his partner, Stuart. He begs to differ that Australia offers poor access, particularly to people who are deaf. He thinks that access for Australians who are deaf is on par with access for people who are deaf in the United Kingdom and in many cases even better. This is Paul’s Point of View.
I have just returned to live in Australia after 19 years away in the UK. After being back for 3 months I think I can confidently say that in Australia, access for deaf people is excellent!
Yes, I believe I am qualified to say this. 19 years away is a long time and in this time, I worked for organisations specialising in services and access for deaf people so am very familiar with accessibility issues. I get annoyed when others go on about how Australia’s deaf access is very bad, we are behind the rest of the world etc. This is just not true and Australia is way ahead of the UK with many things.
I cannot speak for other disabilities nor can I comment on how Australia rates against places like Canada or the USA. But the UK is generally rated as the most deaf-friendly country in Europe. Here’ I will qualify my statement providing a range of scenarios where deaf access is impacted and how each country fares.
In Oz, just about everything on the traditional 5 terrestrial channels is subtitled, though the additional digital versions of these channels can be variable in this aspect. This is similarly the case in the UK. In the UK, broadcasters are obliged to provide a specific amount of signed TV, so the UK has the edge. I cannot comment on Pay TV as I do not subscribe to Foxtel or similar. As for Internet TV, I only subscribe to Netflix and Ororo.tv which are excellent with regard to the provision of subtitles and cannot comment on other internet TV providers. Score. Oz 0 – UK 1
In the UK they have Text Relay which is accessible in 2 ways, through the use of TTYs, and through the Internet. However the Internet version still requires you to call the relay service through the landline or the mobile line in addition to the internet connection, which is a pretty cumbersome way of doing things.
And there is no public funded signed relay (VRS). In Oz, the NRS has a superior internet relay service and a video relay service which I’ve used many times, and love it. Score Oz 1 – UK 0
I had never used Captiview until I arrived back in Oz and now often go to the cinema to use it. I have never had a problem with it and quite like it. Captiview is very empowering because it is available every day at any time you want with very few restrictions. Open captions for specific movies are regularly available as well.
In the UK, subtitles are open and available at practically all cinemas but screening times are limited and the cinemas do not always publicise them, you have to go to a specific website to find out where and when your favourite movie is showing with subtitles hence there are a lot of restrictions on the availability of subtitled movies. Score Oz 1 – UK 0
Private Health Interpreting
In Australia we have NABS which is a fantastic service and places the deaf person in control over booking interpreters. In the UK, you have to ask the receptionist to book interpreters for you and they do not always know how to do it or know where to go, and things do not always turn out the way you want them to. Score Oz 1 – UK 0
Public Health Interpreting
I have not yet used the public health system so cannot comment. In the UK, it can be difficult booking interpreters in public hospitals for two reasons, you are asked to turn up at a certain time along with 20 other people so do not know exactly what time your appointment is, and this impacts on the interpreter as well, as they are usually booked for limited times, and the receptionists there often do not know how to go about booking interpreters. Score Oz 0 – UK 0
The banking system here in Australia is fantastic and so accessible. You do not really need to communicate with anyone once you have set up your account as everything you need to do and know is available on an app or on a website, and if you have a problem, you just go into your branch and have a word with a teller.
Furthermore, in Oz, you do not need to wait weeks and weeks before you are given internet access to your bank after opening your account, this is arranged on the spot. In the UK, bank branches do not like making calls on behalf of deaf customers such as calling their bank to cancel a card, report a lost card etc, and you need to phone them through the text relay service and you are always forced to wait a long time before speaking to someone.
Data Protection legislation in the UK is a nightmare for deaf people to get around. Score Oz 1 – UK 0
In London, there is a culture of theatre interpreting and several businesses specialising in this have been running for many years. And outside of London there is also a thriving theatre interpreting culture.
In Oz, theatre interpreting is mostly provided by Auslan Stage Left and their website shows a long list of shows, but theatre interpreting does not seem to be as widely promoted and culturally engrained here as it is in the UK. Score Oz 0 – UK 1
Government Services In the UK
If you want to talk to someone in any department in the Government such as tax, drivers licence etc, you call them and are placed on a long queue. This is the only way you can contact them apart from writing a letter or filling in form. In Oz, you just drive up to your local government service office and deal with them there and then.
If the person behind the counter can’t sign, that’s OK, at least you can see them and they are not hidden behind a phone line. Score Oz 1 – UK 0
Interpreting at Universities is fantastic, at least at the one my partner has enrolled at. They provide interpreters and ask few questions, and they don’t ask you to provide funding. In the UK, limited funding for university access is provided via a range of different channels and you have to apply for it yourselves which can be a bit tricky. Score Oz 1 – UK 0
In the UK, TAFEs are called Colleges and support for deaf people there is very good. I cannot comment here as I don’t know what it is like in Australia in this regard. Score Oz 0 – UK 0 Workplace
Rebuttal Note: TAFE interpreting in Australia is not very good. In recent years TAFE funding has been cut savagely. Many TAFE institutes receive little State Government support for disability support and struggle to meet the costs of interpreting. It is not uncommon for TAFEs to expect the deaf student to make compromises and not provide interpreters for the full duration of a course. It varies from TAFE to TAFE, particularly for dual sector TAFEs that are also attached to a University. If The Rebuttal was asked, based on Paul’s assessment we would give this one to the UK
In Australia, EAF funding is capped at $6,000 per individual. In the UK, a cap of $82,000 was introduced in October 2015. This is called Access to Work and was previously uncapped. Score Oz 0 – UK 1
Video Remote Interpreting
This is internet interpreting used in lieu of booking on-site interpreters. In both Oz and the UK, this is a growing industry and neither has the edge in this regard. It needs to be remembered that the UK has no public funded VRS so several companies have been set up offering both VRS and VRI whereas in Australia just about all the interpreting agencies offer VRI. Score Oz 0 – UK 0 Rebuttal Note: It would be interesting here to compare internet speeds and how this impacts on delivery of VRI services.
In Australia there is gap with regard to free hearing aid provision between the ages of 25 and the day you go on a form of Government pension. In the UK hearing aids are provided to deaf people of all ages. Score Oz 0 – UK 1
Deaf Access Equipment in the Home
This refers to things such as TTYs, flashing door bells, baby cry alarms, pagers, alarm clocks, smoke alarms etc. In the UK all these are free and in Oz, only TTYs and smoke alarms are free. Score Oz 0 – UK 1 Winner – Oz!
The final score is Australia 6, the UK 5, with 4 draws. It is therefore unsurprising that I get annoyed when people go on about how lousy Australia’s access is when compared to other places in the world etc.
As far as I am concerned, things are very good over here, dare I say fantastic. It is just that Australians do not seem to appreciate what they have over here, cultural cringe continues to raise its ugly head.
There are other things which the UK is excellent at but these are specific to the UK with no equivalent in Australia due to the differing socio-political systems, and this paper is specifically about deaf related access.
Many social workers in the UK sign or are deaf themselves, and in Australia these would be case workers etc at the Deaf Societies, as Australia does not have a Social Worker culture. Another is the free public transport passes in London for deaf people but this is Londonspecific. In Oz, there are concessions on public transport for disabled people here as long as they are on some form of Government payment.
And there is DLA, a non means-tested government payment which is being superseded by another one called PIP. There is no equivalent in Oz. And there is the fantastic Deaf media and film industry in the UK, which just does not exist in Australia due to the different funding system.
Kudos are due to those who made all this happen. Deaf Australia and their state associations, the Deafness Forum, and all the other people who lobbied and otherwise worked hard.
To summarise, we do have things damned good over here in Australia, we are just as good as or even superior to the UK in regard to access for deaf people. Of course there are other things to consider such as various funding cuts and the roll-out of the NDIS but the UK has been cutting back on spending on access for disabled people the past few years. My advice is, get to appreciate more what we Deaf Australians have here at home!
The Rebuttal say – By all means appreciate the access you have but never accept it as enough. We need to aim for as close to full access as we possibly can. We are a long way from that. … WE CAN AND SHOULD DO BETTER.
What’s your view?