An Opportunity Missed.

AuslanHearing people love Auslan don’t they? I mean whenever I am on a gig at work and using interpreters, without fail some well meaning hearing person will approach the interpreters. Usually to tell the interpreters how wonderful they were. The hearing person will wax lyrical about how fascinated they were, of the beauty of the signs, of the speed of the translation and usually will ask if Auslan takes long to learn.

These people are sometimes over the top. Sometimes even emotional. Sometimes even religious, offering their prayers and blessings. To me it doesn’t really matter what their intentions are, their interest is a great way to raise awareness and educate the wider community. Thankfully most interpreters that I know are polite and obliging in answering these peoples questions. Mind you, I sometimes understand why people who are blind despise guide dogs. One blind friend once told me that they despised guide dogs because all people ever do is talk about the bloody dog. It’s a bit like that with interpreters.

As an advocate one of the things that I am consciously aware of is that bridges need to be built between the Deaf community and hearing people. One must realise that hearing people usually have the best of intentions. Often they can be over enthusiastic.  Sometimes they can be unwittingly patronising. Some are even clingy and earn themselves the rather disparaging label of “Deaf Wannabes.”  Who among us has not wanted to slap certain hearing people who tell us, hand on heart, that they really wish they were Deaf?

I don’t always succeed in building bridges. Sometimes I react in anger and burn them. How we react is often dependent on our mood. Sometimes I react in anger and wish I had followed the 24 hour rule before mouthing off. Usually my anger is directed at Deaf people or professionals that should know better. I am human and this sort of reaction is natural. However, for the most part I try to be patient, especially when I can see someone is genuinely interested and simply wants to be educated.

And so this happened recently. On the Auslaners Facebook page a well meaning teacher sought guidance as to how she should teach Auslan.  Her enthusiasm and excitement at the prospect was obvious. This is what she asked:

” Hi everyone. Thank you for including me in this group. I am not a deaf person. I am a teacher who is about to start teaching AUSLAN as a primary school subject. I’m very excited as I’ve always wanted to learn and this a perfect opportunity for me. I really want to do this right. Are there any tips that people could give me so that I am respectful and meaningful in my teaching? Any teachers on here? Are there any stupid questions because I have a lot of questions? Thanks for your time.”

It is very clear from her query that she knows very little about Auslan.  It seems that she wanted to develop a program where she was learning along with her class while at the same time teaching them. Clearly she wanted to lead the process. What is also very clear is that she was as keen as mustard.

For me this is a wonderful opportunity to educate someone about Auslan. It is a wonderful opportunity to create awareness and interest among a group of young kids. Some who may become so interested that they end up becoming interpreters later. I really cannot count the number of interpreters who have told me that they became interpreters because of some chance exposure to Auslan when they were at school. Sometimes its just learning finger spelling. Sometimes it is just having a Deaf classmate and wanting to learn how to communicate with them. Completely random exposure to Auslan has led to many wanting to learn Auslan properly. As a result they go all the way and become qualified interpreters.

Now in a world where interpreters are in such short supply we must take every opportunity to encourage the learning of and exposure to Auslan. The post of this teacher SHOULD have been seen as an opportunity to inform, guide and educate her about how Auslan should be taught. What a fantastic way to build bridges and promote Auslan to potential interpreters of the future. Not to mention the deaf awareness that it could create.

It seems that many on the Auslaners Page felt this way too. Some were very encouraging.  An early response made it very clear that it is better that Auslan is taught by a suitably qualified Deaf person BUT that the teacher could learn along with her students and support them:

“…. your question is a good one. To be respectful and meaningful, I strongly recommend that you learn alongside your students, with an open mind, demonstrating your genuine interest, and encourage your school to hire a qualified person to do the teaching. You haven’t said where you are, but contacting the local Deaf services (or maybe even by enquiring here?) should land you with an awesome teacher!  Welcome to the world of AUSLAN (sic), I hope you understand the response – AUSLAN (sic) should absolutely be taught in schools as a subject!”   

This is good solid advice and offers wonderful encouragement. It may have disappointed the teacher a little because it made it very clear that she really should not be the person teaching it. I am OK with that because the response was positive and encouraging. Most of all it was welcoming.

But then sterner comments began to creep in … Here is a selection of some of them:

” You can’t be learning Auslan while teaching it.”

” I don’t know how to put this correctly. So I’m just going to say it. You would never have someone who hasn’t learned (and is proficient in) French, teaching French. You wouldn’t have a non-English speaker teaching English the subject.  You can’t teach a language that you don’t know. And language and culture are inextricably interwoven. I am a qualified teacher (History and ESL) and I’m a qualified professional Auslan interpreter as well. I would never step into a Japanese class and think I would do the language any justice.”

“My perspective as a hearing person, who is a competent but not fluent Auslan user, who also works in education and early childhood intervention, is that there are serious questions that the school and department need to answer. You have been caught in the crossfire. But as others have said, one would not expect other languages to be taught by non-users. Additionally, maybe this is a terminology issue – are you teaching the children or developing their awareness/increasing their exposure to Auslan? Finally – at a macro level, why are we not expecting primary school children to become fluent in another language? Their critical learning period for language ends at 7yo, so starting younger than school age, with an expectation of fluency is exactly what we should be aiming for.” 

“…You might think we are angry. I can’t say for others but I am insulted that we are not ‘good enough’ to be asked to teach let alone find the funding…. Sorry, it’s my language and it belongs to the Deaf Community.”

All of the above comments were well meaning. In many ways the above comments are absolutely correct. Unfortunately what these comments did was intimidate this well meaning teacher to the point that she left the group. The chance to influence her, guide her and educate her was lost. In turn the chance to create awareness among young kids, potential interpreters of the future, was lost too.

In between these comments I am pleased that people tried to rescue the situation. They suggested learning Auslan as a cultural program rather than a language one. They suggested a cultural program could be a means to create interest in the kids and educate them about the Deaf community. They suggested contacting the local Deaf society too to get guest speakers who were Deaf and so on. But unfortunately the more militant IT MUST BE DEAF voice drowned them out. Intimidated, the teacher left the group. The chance to assist the teacher and create awareness  in the wider community was lost with it. To be fair the militants were not wrong but perhaps it could have been said in a more gentle way.

Indeed many in the group turned on themselves. Some actually left the group in anger and frustration.  It was a sad outcome to what was a positive and enthusiastic query from someone that could have helped build bridges and create awareness about Deaf people and their language. It was an opportunity lost.

May we all learn from it and find a better and kinder way to respond in the future.

Under Threat – The NRS????

reallyWhat’s happening?  Life as we deafies know it is under threat. First it was the threat to NABS that prompted the save NABS petition from Deaf Australia which was discussed in the last Rebuttal published just two days ago. Now an email has hit my desktop screaming UNCERTAINTY FOR THE NATIONAL RELAY SERVICE!!! (NRS)

Does the government have it in for us deafies or something????  The National Relay Service, for those that do not know, is the service that people who are deaf utilise when they need to make calls to hearing people and organisations but cannot do so through the usual voice channels.

The email from the Conexu Foundation appears to have been distributed to relevant stakeholders and consumers that are part of their data base. It basically outlines the discussions that the Government is having about the future of the NRS. The Government is embarking on a consultation process to review the operation of the NRS. The aim, say the Government, is to ensure a sustainable future for the NRS.

The heading of the email screaming UNCERTAINTY is probably a ploy by Conexu to grab the readers attention. On closer inspection there does not appear any uncertainty. Rather there are a number of suggestions from the Government that will raise alarm bells in some people. It is important to remember that the Government is only consulting at this point and has put forward some options for people to consider.

Personally I find some of these suggestions a bit unpalatable, even scary. That said, kudos to the Government for preparing a consultation process that appears to be very transparent and allows people to comment and even suggest alternatives. The discussion paper is quite well researched and provides some interesting data and suggestions. It is well worth a read. You can take a look at the discussion and consultation papers by clicking HERE.  My one criticism is that there is so little time to respond. Less than a month now.

Conexu have kindly summarised a few of the points that arose in the Governments discussion paper. The Government raised 8 options with different questions like:

Should any services be capped? (The paper states that the video relay service, used by people who are Deaf, is capped now.)

I can imagine that this will scare the Bejayzus out of some people, and it should. Simple answer, from my point of view, is that nothing should be capped. We deafies have a right to access the phone whenever and in the same way as hearing people. Even if the Video Relay Is capped now, it should not be. For me this is the strong message that deafies need to convey to this question.

Should TTY access be phased out?

This will be controversial. The young ones among us, and even older ones like me, never use a TTY. I don’t have one at work or at home. Mobile technology and internet access has made the TTY nearly obsolete. Even so there may be some older deafies among us that still utilise the TTY. Should they be denied access? Of course not, especially when this may be one of the few avenues they have to communicate to the outside world. My view is that TTY relay should remain. However, I can see that this is going to be challenged.

Are apps and smartphones or tablets now preferred, or are there situations when the NRS is a better option?

I think we all love the independence that apps and smartphones have brought to us. However, there are situations where even the latest technology will not give us access to telecommunications. Indeed within the paper the Government has probably answered this question itself. Data shows that the use of the NRS has continued to increase to this very day.

Should regulations that are in place for disability equipment programs be removed?

Who remembers the joy we all experienced when Scott (or was it Stott) won his case against Telstra so that they had to provide a TTY as part of phone rental in same way as hearing people rented handsets? Prior to that we were forking out $6-800 to buy a TTY. A small fortune back in the early nineties. Come to think of it, it still is for many people.

The discussion paper describes the equipment subsidy schemes that are being offered by Telstra and Optus. It raises the question whether these can be phased out or reduced given that many deafies may be able to purchase this equipment through the NDIS. This may well be so, but what of those that do not qualify for the NDIS. Do we need a safety net for them? A few things to consider here.

The discussion paper also raises questions about how the NRS will be funded and how much should be funded by the Telcos. A large proportion, if not all, of the NRS is funded by a levy that Telcos pay to the Government for the provision of the NRS. I did not make a lot of sense of what the paper was suggesting but I urge people to read this part of the discussion carefully and ensure they understand the options that the Government is proposing.

So is the NRS under threat? I don’t think so, not yet anyway. I actually think the review of the NRS is a good thing. Changes in the delivery of telecommunications and advances in technology has meant that the playing field has changed. The Government acknowledges this in its paper.

However, its important that as many people respond to the consultation as possible. Contact Conexu, Deaf Australia or Deafness Forum Australia to ask how you can have your views heard. But you only have less than a month, so be quick!

Deaf Australia –

Deafness Forum Australia –

Conexu –


NOTE – The Governments discussion paper does not appear to have an Auslan version. It would appear vital that one be developed quickly for the Deaf community.

The NDIS, Deaf People and the Doctor – Lets Think About It?

doctorDeaf Australia  released a petition today. They are concerned that the Government is considering incorporating the National Auslan Booking Service (NABS) under the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). For those that do not know, NABS is the Government funded interpreting service that Deaf people who use Auslan can access when they visit a private doctor or medical professional like their local GP.  The NDIS is the much vaunted disability scheme that is to revolutionise disability support in Australia. Where previously funding was controlled by agencies funding will now be controlled by people with a disability who will then purchase the supports that they require from the “market.”

There has been discussion that NABS funding will be put into the pool of NDIS funds. Deaf Australia are rightly concerned that this will disadvantage many Deaf People. They have put together an Auslan video outlining the reasons for their concerns. You can watch this video here.

If you are hearing or a deaf person who does not understand Auslan, click on the CC icon for the captions.

I share Deaf Australia’s concerns. Certainly under the current NDIS you would have to worry that many, many Deaf people might be left without support. As Deaf Australia point out some Deaf people may not even be eligible. Deaf people over 65 who have never had an NDIS plan will also have no access to interpreting. There are also concerns that Deaf people will have to “predict” how many times they will go to the Doctor. As we all know, illness cannot be predicted. Trying to look into a crystal ball and estimate how many times you will require an interpreter at the doctor is fraught with danger.

However, Deaf Australia object to any consideration of NABS funding being part of the NDIS. I personally do not feel that this is reasonable. Rather I believe that we should have an ongoing dialogue with the Government and the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA)  to fully explore the issues and develop a model that MIGHT consider medical interpreting under the NDIS. (NDIA are the agency that administers the NDIS)

I want to point out that I share all the concerns that Deaf Australia have raised. However, I feel there may actually be some positives for bringing medical interpreting under the NDIS umbrella. I feel it is wise that we consider all these issues and others before we reject the idea altogether. So in the interest of informed debate I have outlined some of these arguments.

Currently NABS serves only private hospitals and there are limits, particularly for hospital stays and surgery. It is not an all-encompassing program. Potentially if interpreting under the NDIS was set up to address concerns of DA it could open up the use of NDIS funds for public hospitals. We know that public hospitals SHOULD provide interpreting but often they do not. Access to interpreting in the public hospital system is inconsistent.

It is difficult, particularly for emergency situations, to be able to get interpreters. Dealing with hospital administrative processes and booking systems can be a nightmare. It is possible that this could be improved with a more flexible NDIS funding approach which is controlled by the Deaf patient. I think it is vitally important that we explore the possible benefits of the NDIS in a variety of medical scenarios before rejecting it outright.

When you wake up sick and need to see your GP it is difficult to get a NABS interpreter at short notice. Potentially with control of the funding and the booking, the Deaf patient could book in advance. More than once last year I needed to go to my local GP. Planning ahead I made the appointment as far into the afternoon as I could. I then put in a request for an interpreter that was unsuccessful.

I fully understand that supply and demand is an issue. Getting interpreters at short notice is a problem. This is an ongoing problem for all agencies that provide Auslan interpreters. However,  on one occasion I arrived at the Doctors surgery and as I walked in the door received a text from NABS informing me that there were no interpreters available. Frustrated I vented on Facebook, as I often do. I moaned about the shortness of notice. Ten minutes after my appointment I received a text from an interpreter who is registered under NABS. She let me know that she had only been ten minutes away, was available but had received no communication from NABS. Given that she lived in the region this is puzzling.

I believe that under the NDIS, where the Deaf person is in control, there is scope to develop a system where the Deaf person can go online, look at availability and try to match an interpreter with the time they have secured with the doctor. Indeed you could possibly have interpreters in virtual booths set up specifically for this purpose. The Deaf person, if they can get access to good broadband, could then access interpreters on their mobile devices. There are many possible scenarios that could be explored.

I think this is particularly relevant in emergency situations. Let us imagine someone has had a mental health episode. They are self admitting. At the triage they are going to be asked a lot of questions about their condition. Potentially, if the Deaf patient had control, they could go online and book an interpreter in advance. A family member or friend could even do it for them. They could rock up at the hospital and the interpreter might already be there or be on their way. If there were virtual booths these online interpreters could facilitate communication until a face to face interpreter can be arranged.

Sure there will still be issues of supply and demand. Certainly it wont address all situations but by having control it saves the Deaf patient the need to request that the hospital do the booking and then navigate the minefield of the various hospital booking and administrative processes. We could even set up a trial system before hand to see how it might work.

For me the NDIS potentially provides access for people who are deaf who do not use AUSLAN. Captioning companies might have captioners on call so that people who can’t access interpreters for communication can access captioning on their mobile devices. If there is one thing that NABS does not do at present, that is provide access for non-Auslan users. These people get sick too AND many require communication support.

It is about control and flexibility, all the things the current system is not. You are putting the control in the hands of the Deaf person. It could be as simple as going online making the booking, entering the NDIS account number and payment would be deducted at a later date once the interpreter had made a claim. I, for one, would value having control in this manner.

Now I agree there are concerns but it would be dangerous to throw the baby out with the bath water. I would suggest a think tank to explore various scenarios and concerns and bring these to the attention of the appropriate decision makers. Eligibility, over 65s etc etc should figure prominently in these discussions. I also think it is a very valid argument that it is difficult to predict in advance just how much interpreting might be needed for the doctor in a 12 month period. However, a safety net could be designed for those who get an illness that requires interpreting above and beyond what they have predicted.

I also understand the concerns about the NDIS leading to booking of interpreters who are not qualified. I think this is easily resolved using a simple system that is used by JobAccess where any interpreter must cite their NATTI qualifications and number before being paid. There may also be requirements that interpreters have to show they have met a required number of professional development milestones in a given period. If they do not they can be removed by agencies from any booking system that is developed.

That these concerns exist does not necessarily mean they cannot be dealt with. It does not mean that solutions cannot be found. It seems to me that people may be approaching this in a way that they prefer the devil that they know rather than the devil that they don’t. Even so that does not mean that one should dismiss the NDIS a viable alternative IF the decision makers are prepared to consider and address concerns that are raised.

I have only outlined a few arguments here but my point is we may be rushing headlong into dismissing an idea that may ultimately provide better and more flexible access. It is a debate that we have to have. I can see many benefits for using the NDIS and I think we need to explore them fully.

With respect.

Moving Right Along ….

sameIt happened again today. A University from somewhere in Australia contacted me to ask me whether they should use the term hard of hearing or hearing impaired.  I get asked this question six or seven times a year. I always bang my head in frustration. It reminds me of the Monty Python Dead Parrot Sketch. In this sketch John Cleese uses  a myriad of terms to describe a dead parrot. The shop keeper, played by Michael Palin, tries to dispute this and comes up with several words and phrases to argue that the parrot is resting. Watch it with subtitles below.

Now the point I am trying to make with this video is that no matter what term you use, dead is dead. Now a person with a hearing loss has, well, a hearing loss. Of course we have variations. We have Deaf — Deaf community members that the capital D clearly distinguishes. Then you have the rest –  they are deaf, hearing impaired, hard of hearing, people with a hearing loss, people with a hearing challenge, the volume challenged, people who are sound deficit, people who are lacking in hearing .. whatever. You can try forever. There is no gentle way of putting it.

And thus this was the bases of my reply to the academic. We have more pressing challenges people. Moving right along now.

Oh you poor thing  … you’ve been bitten by the terminology police 😀

In all seriousness you are not going to please everyone, whatever terminology you use.

But anyway this is the issue:

World Federation of the Deaf got together in partnership with the International Federation of the Hard of Hearing – these two groups in, their respective wisdom, decided that the official terminology should be Deaf and hard of hearing. They basically agreed that three terms were acceptable – Deaf for the Deaf community, hard of hearing for people with a hearing loss of any kind and deaf as a medical definition to describe all with a hearing loss. They, as you know, reject the term hearing impairment because it has a deficit focus.

Now it gets complicated because in Australia we have traditionally had two advocacy groups – Deaf Australia and Deafness Forum – Deaf Australia will insist, rather militantly, that it’s Deaf and hard of hearing or the highway. Deafness Forum are more gentle and tend to follow a path that it’s up to the individual to choose the terminology that they want and if that is hearing impaired, then that’s fine. Deafness Forum will use hearing impairment rather than hard of hearing. So we have a stand-off of sorts.

I have often spoken with older people with an acquired hearing loss and asked their preference. This is purely anecdotal, but the majority prefer hearing impaired. The younger group of people with an acquired hearing loss will vary in their preference as some of these find the Deaf community and Auslan quite late in life and  some do not.

It is a moot point really that both hard of hearing and hearing impaired are both deficit terms. “hard of” simply means lacking in so … The two groups are really agreeing on the same thing but one term is apparently more deficit than the other. You will never win this argument.

Of course our Government and educators tend to use hearing impaired and don’t really care what Deaf Australia and WFD think because to them it sounds more official 😀

As for myself I tend to say Deaf or hard of hearing rather than Deaf and hard of hearing. It is purely semantics because Deaf or hard of hearing assumes a person is one or the other. Deaf and hard of hearing can be interpreted as meaning that a person is both … I tend to steer clear of both hard of hearing and hearing impaired and say .. Deaf people or other groups with a hearing loss. But, of course, the word “loss” upsets some too … As I said you are not going to win.

I would suggest that professionals and others just ask the terminology that a person prefers and take it from there. It really is political correctness gone mad.