Desensitisation

Picture is of two women. They are looking to the air in desperation. One is holding a gun to her head while holding the other woman close to seemingly to shoot themselves together.

I was at training yesterday. The training focused on disability complaints. How to make them and how to deal with them. This is for when people with a disability are discriminated against, neglected or abused. Of course the training had the mandatory videos. There were two. The first was captioned which was great but the second wasn’t. The interpreter looked at me and rolled her eyes. It was a classic FFS moment. A key disability organisation that focuses on disability discrimination not providing access. I gave the interpreter a wry grin and shrugged my shoulders.

As I did so a colleague tapped me on the shoulder. Another colleague was trying to get my attention. The other colleague pointed at her phone, gesturing to me to check my own. She had sent me a message – It read as follows, all in capitals, “NO FUCKING CAPTIONING. ARE YOU KIDDING  ME – SHOULD I COMPLAIN?!!” My Colleague is hearing and she was livid. I just smiled at her and shrugged my shoulders. Just another day, another incident of indirect discrimination in my life. Years ago I might have been really angry, but today I wasn’t. I wonder where all my anger went.

As the training continued the trainer pointed out that people don’t like complaining.  She pointed out some of the reasons that people do not complain:

  • Fear of retribution
  • Not aware of rights
  • Don’t want to be seen as a whinger
  • Don’t know how

And the list went on.

The trainer continued and she pointed out that apparently less than 1 % of people with a disability complain. I put my hand up about here. I said to the trainer, – ” How ironic that so few people with a disability complain. How ironic is it that Australia’s disability law is built on a platform of complaining. How ironic is it that the only way that people with a disability can get assistance from the law is to complain. If less than 1% are complaining, how effective is that law? It’s totally ineffective and people with a disability get no protection whatsoever.”

The trainer admitted that this was the case. She went as far as saying that the strategies that are used to resolve complaints  have been largely ineffective and needed to be strengthened. She pointed out that Victorian laws had been strengthened recently so that more could be done to address abuse and neglect. That’s great, I am glad abuse and neglect is being addressed. The point still remains that Australia’s disability law does not work. It is toothless. It is cack. It’s so pathetic that the platform of conciliation that it is built does not even mandate that the people discriminating have to come to the table and negotiate. If they choose to not come to the table the only avenue is court and at great expense.  Is it any wonder that less than 1% of people with a disability complain? It was kind of depressing to hear her, a representative that handles disability complaints, tell everyone that complaining was largely a waste of time. But there you have it.

So a little later I went to a meeting that was a consultation about the needs of people who are Deaf and mental health. Basically the Mental Health Commission wanted to know how deaf people were engaging with the mental health support system, what was wrong with the current system and what could be done to improve it. It was a bit of a case of  – Where do we start?

Of course there were not a lot of positives to say.  My colleague, Melissa, pointed out that the way the system is structured and the constant barriers that we must confront every day was actually impacting on the mental health of deaf people. I put my hand up here to tell my tale of woe. Tales of woe are my specialty. This was my tale –

“Yesterday I was talking to an official at my work. I was text chatting by Skype trying to resolve an issue for a participant. Suddenly the official typed out – call me on 09816709. I typed back that I was deaf and that it was easier to continue the discussions via Skype text chat. The official did not respond. I prompted her several times. Are you still there I typed, hello – But to no avail, she was gone. I got one of my colleagues to call her. Apparently the official had rung my participant and resolved the matter with her. This was great except that she left me hanging and not knowing what was going on. I told my colleagues what had happened and they all encouraged me to complain. And I just said no – After 30 years I’m done complaining, I’m tired. I don’t expect this from a service that is Australia’s premier disability support system.

And you see a couple of weeks back I was going through depression and the psychologist who got my mental health plan rang me on my phone to set up an appointment.  I just get this number showing on my mobile so I rang it through the relay service and it turned out to be the psychologist wanting to make an appointment. I pointed out to the psychologist that my file said text or email. He acknowledged that it did. He asked me to send him a text  to which he would respond with a time to meet. So I hung up and sent him a text. I never heard from him again. I mean I was depressed and I could have killed myself – What would he care? My point is that these constant negative interactions with a world that won’t adjust make deaf people sick and depressed to a point that it is easier to actually not seek help and remain ill.”

All the consultant could do was shake his head ruefully. A little later he confessed to us all that deaf people have it worse than any one else. He confessed that the barriers that we face to access a system that should be helping us  are the worst of everyone. Well, gee, thanks. If this wasn’t depressing enough my colleague, Melissa, asked him what the Commission would do with the information we had just provided. His answer, in a nutshell, was that he didn’t know.

And this is why I am tired of complaining. I have become so desensitised to this hearing world that constantly shuts me out that I have almost reached a point where I do not care anymore. I have reached a point where I am letting discrimination happen simply because responding to it all the time is making me ill. It’s not just me, it is nearly every deaf and marginalised person in Australia today that faces this. A friend said to me on the weekend that his father had said that the challenges that people with a disability face are good for them. It makes us a resilient mob apparently. Well I tell you what mate, I must be so resilient now that I am almost fucking bullet proof. Of course I am not, it takes its toll.

 

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The Art of Being Hearing

Hearing people can be dense. They really can. Not all mind you, but so many of them are it is not funny. This hit home to me today, again, when a deaf friend sent me a text bemoaning the fact that a hearing person had once again tried to call him on his phone. This in itself is not unusual except that that the person that made the call heads a department of disability and inclusion at one of Australia’s most prominent universities. One would think such a person would be a bit savvy about how to communicate with people who are deaf. Apparently not.

Deaf people reading this will be face palming themselves. These voice calls are an all too common occurrence. It is a hangover from a world solely designed for people who are hearing and who think that the world is only for hearing people. Anyone not hearing is expected to somehow fit in with the norms of hearing folk. New fangled things like text, email or even live text chat are beyond many of these hearing people.

I mean how many times have we heard that Australian Hearing, of all organisations, have rung deaf clients to remind them of  upcoming appointments. How many times have we heard of deaf people at hospitals who have missed their appointments because they did not hear their name called out. This despite telling the receptionist not to call out their name but to give a wave. Or how many times have we told trades people to text and not call when they are coming only to have them call your phone and not turn up because no one answered. Yup!

And at work you tell people you can’t talk on the phone so they insist on having teleconferences.  You get left out of high level discussions because these hearing people can’t think of a better way to meet. You get left out of delegations because you were unable to participate and demonstrate your knowledge and expertise to the powers that be during these teleconferences. “Oh but Gary you were not part of our discussions.” – “Oh but Bosso how was I to be involved.” – ” Couldn’t you have booked that captioning thingy.” – “Oh but Bosso, we met every night for four weeks it would have cost 10 grand.” – “Oh but perhaps you could have just attended one or two?” – “Oh but Bosso how am I supposed to contribute, I don’t even know who is talking and by the time the captioner captions what has been said you are three sentences into the next topic.”  And this is why so many deaf employees miss out on promotions and are not considered for high level tasks. Simply because hearing folk can’t step out of their hearing ways and design a process that is accessible to all.

And of course when you go to the doctor, the doctor is God and you must fit in with whatever means they choose to communicate to you with. You have rang the National Auslan Booking Service (NABS) to get an interpreter because you got sick today, and you cannot predict sickness. And NABS have not got back to you or their are no interpreters available at such short notice. So you rock up at the doctor with no interpreter. The doctor rolls their eyes as if to say, “You have come to me without an interpreter, how could you??”  You tell the doctor, who is from Pakistan and impossible to lipread, that you cannot understand them and will that they will need to write. They, of course, refuse to do so and continue to talk. Five, six, seven, eight, nine tries later they eventually give up the ghost and write something – One word – FLU – then scribble you a script and send you on your way, but not before writing on piece of paper – BOOK AN INTERPRETER NEXT TIME.

Then of course the same doctor surgery, despite it being listed on your files that you are deaf, call you to tell you your test results have arrived and to come in for an appointment. You get a number listed on your mobile which you call back through the relay service. You point out to them during this call that the file says text or email only. They apologise and ask you to send a text to their mobile and they will text you back. You do so and never hear from them again. You could be about to die for all you know. But, hey you are deaf, no great loss. I still don’t know if anything is wrong with me. No news is good news I guess.

Then there is the prominent disability program providing support for people with a disability everywhere. For whatever reason they ring virtually every single person to let them know that they qualify for the program, even if they are deaf. You see they cannot be bothered with checking the records. So after calling a number several times to know avail they will send a letter asking the person to contact them. The consequence is that on the system the record reads – Could not contact – for virtually every deaf person that applies. Embarrassing!

But thankfully there are good news stories. Like St Kilda Football club who provide captions for deaf spectators on the screen. Like the Melbourne Theatre company that  provide captioning. Like several Blockbuster Theatre shows that work with Auslan Stage Left to provide access to Auslan users who are theatre goers. Then there are my work mates who will sit down at the computer  and transcribe for me when there are impromptu meetings, without being asked. There are good people, yes good people. But the dense ones are all too common – These are the people have mastered the art of being hearing – Audist to their boot straps!