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.

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!