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.

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