All I want for Xmas!!

It’s one week til Xmas. Most of us are all in a frantic rush to pull stuff together. Presents, food, Xmas day arrangements, organising holidays and the like. Many of us at work are in a frantic rush to beat our deadlines and get all our work finished so we can relax over the break. Some of us, sadly, are going through hard times and Xmas just magnifies these problems threefold. It’s not all fun and games for everyone.

Me? I’ve long done getting excited about presents. I much rather see things happening for the good of all. Real change to a world that excludes. I just want a world that everyone can fit into seamlessly. Farfetched? Probably, but one can only wish. So here it is, what I want for Xmas!

First of all can we fix the trains, trams and buses and make them all accessible. Can we make it so that people in wheelchairs, with dicky knees, with mobility needs, who have prams or are simply recovering from injury can get on them? It’s not a big ask. It’s 2018 and you can charge your phone wirelessly but can’t do something as simple as get on a bus.

Or can we make it so that deaf people can get on a train and end up where they want to go. This morning, again, my train got re-routed. I have no idea why. Visual display said that the next stop was Parliament as it should have been. It went to Flinders instead. Panic and mayhem ensued cos I was gonna be late for my bacon and egg sanger. But it could have been a job interview or an important work meet and I would not have known. In this day and age where Netflix can caption everything we can’t even make train announcements accessible. Weird hey?

And over in Queensland they built these flash new trains for the Commonwealth Games. Eight out of nine of them were not accessible for people with a disability. Not sure how that happened. Probably because in their excitement to build trains for the Commonwealth Games they forgot. At the last minute they realised their whoopsie and applied to the Australian Human Rights Commission for an exemption to disability dicrimination laws. They were denied and rightly so.

How can this happen in 2018. How can it happen in the middle of an NDIS roll out where accessible infrastructure is so important to the success of the scheme. Governments, surely, must lead the way. And it happened because a Newman Liberal Government apparently ordered the trains on the cheap.

So to save money people with a disability had to miss out. People with a disability had just one train out of nine of which they could get on to go to the Commonwealth Games. And you know the Queensland Government were at risk of lawsuits from people with a disability. But you know the Disability Discrimination Act is so crap I daresay no one bothered.

It’s not a big ask. My biggest wish for Xmas is that Australia gets it right. All the time and every time. That it designs things with disability inclusion at the forefront of design. Not as an afterthought when they realise that those steps that they built to get on the train might be a problem.

Oh and be my Xmas angel and fix the bloody DDA … Useless piece of paper that it is.

Here in Australia The Rebuttal mostly focuses on Deaf, deaf, hearing impaired, hard of hearing, implantees, the hearing challenged, those with lesser hearing, the partially deafened, the later hearing lossed, the cloth eared the deaf as a posts and those that can hear Eff all.

And you know we are still debating about which label is most appropriate. Of all the terms that I have just listed the only one that is really different from the others is Deaf, with a capital D. This is the term that signifies that a person is a member of the Deaf community. These people use Auslan and are part of the rich fabric that is the Deaf community. Deaf is their identity and who they are. That I respect.

The other terms simply refer to people that cannot hear, or can hear just a bit, or can hear quite a lot with aids or implants. It’s all about the hearing and the lack of it. Here we are today in 2018 still debating about which term to use. In fact for the trillionth time a survey has gone out asking people with a hearing loss what term they want to be known by.

The Government has asked Deafness Forum to conduct a survey to find out what people with a hearing loss want to be known by. The survey starts by asking you to choose one of the following:

  • You don’t have a hearing aid device. Do you rely on information being provided in writing such as hand writing, captions, transcripts, software that converts speech to text, lip-reading, avoiding noisy surroundings, or a combination of some or all of these communication techniques?
  • Do you use assistive technology (hearing aid or implant)?
  • Do you use assistive technology, and also use lip-reading
  • Do you communicate using assistive technology, and also using sign language?
  • Do you communicate in Australian sign language, supported by assistive technology?
  • Do you communicate in Auslan only?

I had a giggle over the questions. I just kind of figured that they were written in a rush, or by someone with no clue and with absolutely no quality checking. But anyway, if you know how Australian Sign Language is different from Auslan let me know. I know Auslan doesn’t mean Australian Sign Language, it is the name of the language but I am at loss as to what Australian Sign Language is or what sign language is again. Nowhere do I see the term Auslan interpreter either … Let’s just leave that there. But if you want to do the survey the link is below.

I want for Xmas is that we stop this stupid debate. Its been going on for ever.  Just let people choose whatever they want to be called. I want for Xmas for our Deaf sector to bind together and focus on issues that matter.

You know like solving the interpreter crisis, training more captioners, improving education, supporting families of deaf kids, open captioning at cinemas, theatre to be accessible to Auslan users and those that don’t use Auslan equally. These are really, really important things. Solve these things and all my Xmases will have come at once and you can call me whatever you like.

Put simply I have just one Xmas wish and that is that all people with a disability anywhere are included and get equal access everywhere.!!

Merry Xmas everyone.

The State of Inclusion (Not)

Congratulations Dan Andrews on your Danslide. As you said it was a victory for fair minded people. A rejection of fear, a rejection of misogyny and a rejection of a heap of isms including those starting with race and sex. It’s goodbye to right wing extremism. I for one am rapt.

Dan was a happy man. He told the world that Victoria was a progressive state. The best in the nation he said. Indeed under his stewardship things have happened. Metro Tunnel, airport trains, getting rid of train crossings, free TAFE and an apology to the LGBTI community for the years of discrimination and abuse. Dan and his team make things happen and that’s why they were voted back in power.

But – As progressive as Dan and his team have been they seem to have forgotten disability in all of their policy. There seems to be a train of thought that the NDIS will fix it. No longer do Governments need to think deeply about disability. This hugely expensive and evolving NDIS will fix it. I am sorry it won’t. Not on its own anyway.

Did you know that around Victoria the very slow progress to make public transport accessible is continuing at snail pace? In no time at all we can build a tunnel to the airport and fix the railways crossing issue. Meanwhile most people with a physical disability, and after many years of campaigning, struggle to use public transport.

Wheelchair users still have to wait for someone to let down a ramp so that they can get on a train. Most tram stops are inaccessible. Accessible trams are no good if you can’t get on them. Where stops are accessible they are sometimes still served by inaccessible trams. Public announcements at train stations still happen and deaf people are left in limbo. Come on Dan you want to be progressive? Then fix this mess. Successive governments have failed to do so. Be the one that does.

Tonight my wife is going to an awards night for my son’s school. My son is a bit of a clever chap. He won an award or six, including the prestigious Caltex Award. He goes up tonight to receive his medal. My wife, who is deaf, has to follow the night by using transcripts of speeches because there are no funds for interpreters.

A week ago we both attended his Valedictory. As school captain he was giving a speech. He was also being acknowledged as the schools top student. At this evening the school, from its own budget, paid for one interpreter. My wife and I coughed up some money to cover the travel costs of the interpreter. It was a four hour night and only one interpreter could be afforded.

Of course we looked after him. We gave him breaks and had him only interpret essential parts of the awards. Because he was only interpreter we had to allow him time to recover and social chitchat with others was kept to a minimum. In short we both got only the essentials of the night and were unable to be fully enjoy it.

Why? Well because the Education Department has outsourced all funds for interpreting to Language Loop. The conditions of the contract appear to be very strict and there are only limited circumstances where Auslan interpreters, (or any language interpreters), can be used such as parent teacher nights. Meanwhile deaf parents are unable to be fully involved in the celebration of their child’s schooling. All because the schools do not have enough funding for interpreters and the Education Department refuses to cough up.

This is not an NDIS responsibility. Education, and all to do with it, is the responsibility of the Education Department, including access to such important events as Valedictories and awards nights. At any rate many deaf people do not have an NDIS plan. Even if they did NDIS is not supposed to be used for Education Department endorsed events.

In short the Government, yes the one that Dan leads, needs to fund the access. Especially if it wants to be known, as Dan proudly proclaims, the most progressive Government in the nation. It’s a disgrace that deaf parents are missing out or being made, as we did, to contribute towards some of the cost. Oh, and while Dan and his team are fixing that, don’t forget the shocking state of TAFE where deaf students are going with only partial access to their TAFE education.

Moving away from Dan for a moment, let’s focus a bit on Bill. Well Bill is going to be Prime Minister very soon. I would much rather Tanya but it is what it is. When he does come on board, as one of the architect of the NDIS, he needs get his Government to fund infrastructure so that all buildings, transport and services are fully accessible? Not the current mishmash of hit and miss.

And please fix the National Relay Service. Does anyone honestly think that Deaf Professionals can be productive while waiting 20 minutes or more for a relay officer to answer? It is not good enough and it is a real kick in the guts for those that fought so hard for telecommunications access for the deaf. In this day and age of technology there is no excuse for this type of access to go backwards.

Dan, congratulations. I think you and your team are doing a great job. Get to work Dan. Make Victoria the State of Inclusion. There is much to be done. Are you up to the challenge?

Shirking Responsibilities

One of the joys, or curses, of being the prime author of The Rebuttal is that people often contact me with their stories. Sadly the stories are often not positive and centre on discrimination and prejudice. Sometimes the stories are about discrimination at work. Sometimes they are about bullying. More recently they have centred on TAFE and TAFE shirking their responsibilities to provide access. For overseas readers who are not familiar, TAFE is the Australian equivalent to a technical college. It largely provides skills based training. In England I believe they are popularly called Polytechnics. Indeed some of our TAFEs are beginning to call themselves Polytechnics. For example, Melbourne Polytechnic.

Access to education is something very close to my heart. As a deaf student I fought long and hard for access to university education. I fought for interpreters and note takers with a group of dedicated deaf students. This was back in the late 80s and early 90s. I was lucky enough to get full access to interpreters in my final year of university. Interestingly enough that was just the beginning of the fight, but that is another story.

Skills based training in Australia is provided by TAFE and private registered training providers. Private providers often will refuse to provide access. They say that to do so will hit their profit margins and make their business unviable. Indeed this is often true. There are no Government funds to support private providers to provide access. They could, if they had enough vision, build access needs into course fees. For example they could make all courses $100 more expensive for all students and this extra funding could be set aside to build an access fund for those times when it is required. Not every course will require funds for access so this extra money could be invested and used to grow a pool of funds to pay for access. It could be done but no private providers, as yet, seem to have taken the initiative. At least as far as I know.

TAFE, on the other hand, are largely funded from state funds with some support from federal governments. While TAFE charge course fees Governments offer funding for a variety of reasons. Usually they target funds to areas that Australia has a skills shortage and these courses become subsidised and cheaper for students.

From whatever funding and income TAFE receives they are expected to fund support for people with a disability. However, this funding is woefully inadequate. University is generally better supported and provide full access. This is funded through the Higher Education Disability Support Funding provided by the Federal Government. While this pool of funds is helpful I believe that most universities still have to pay from their own funds as the funding does not fully meet their disability support costs. Despite this, universities generally provide full support but there are some incidences when they do not.

I am often contacted by students, TAFE teachers, interpreters and the like who ask for advice as to how to make TAFE accept its responsibilities to provide full support to deaf students. I hear some awful stories. Often students ask me if they can use their NDIS funding to fund interpreters for TAFE. This was the case recently where a large Victorian TAFE refused to provide interpreting for a field placement.

I am not sure of the logic behind this. One would think that a field placement is an integral part of the learning process and that full communication support would be provided for deaf students. I mean this is where they learn to put skills and knowledge into practice. This is where they learn to be part of a team. This is where there are real safety risks and they must receive accurate instruction and understand it so they do not put themselves and others at risk. Yet for whatever reason TAFE will decline interpreting support for students on placement. It is really dangerous and one day a deaf student is going to do him/herself or others harm because they simply did not fully understand safe procedures. Who is going to be liable then.

So this is what happened last week, The student in desperation was wanting to use their NDIS funding for the placement. They asked me if they could. I could only tell them no. This is because education instruction and learning is generally not covered by the NDIS. It is TAFE responsibility. I dug a little deeper and I found some really awful stories where TAFE are allegedly putting students and interpreters at risk in a desperate attempt to meet budget restrictions. Here are some examples.

  1. Interpreters  being asked to interpret alone for long periods rather than in tandem as conditions dictate. Apparently interpreters are advised to observe regular breaks and ensure they do not put their health and safety at risk. I am not sure what the interpreters are supposed to do. Just stop the training regularly so that they can have a rest. Of course this is not viable and expecting interpreters to interpret for long periods alone is going to lead to burn-out and injuries. ( I am well aware that some of the reason for this might be due to the high demand and lack of supply in regards to interpreters.)
  2. Stories of interpreters  being pulled from one campus and moved to another leaving students who require interpreting at the home campus without any support.
  3. Stories of interpreting only being provided for parts of the course and students being expected to make do for the parts of the course where interpreters are not funded.

Deaf students are clearly being disadvantaged. I can understand that TAFEs are underfunded and struggling to meet the full cost but this is really no excuse. Deaf students have the right to full access and not just partial access. They have the right to have access to every part of their course including field placements. Equally important interpreters need to be looked after. They should not be made to interpret alone when two interpreters are required. Lack of funding cannot be used as an excuse. TAFE and the governments as a collective need to do something to ensure deaf students receive full access.

So what other advice did I give the student who had no access to interpreting for their field placement? Well I told them they should not use their NDIS funds as I know the NDIS would frown upon this. I told them, and this is laughable, that their only option if TAFE refused to come to the party was to make a disability discrimination complaint under State or Federal Disability Discrimination law. By this I mean Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission or the Australian Human Rights Commission.

Laughable? Why? Well because our Disability discrimination law is cack. I mean the student  can make a complaint and it might take a few months for the respective Commission to do anything about it. By this time their placement would be over or their course will be finished. Even after a few months all the respective Commission can do is try to arrange conciliation. Even then TAFE can, if they so desire, simply refuse to attend the conciliation. Then what? Well the student can chose to go to court and at great expense if they lose the case.

I believe if it was to go to court that TAFE would lose. That Governments would be embarrassed and forced to provide the funding that is needed. BUT it takes a brave person to risk their hard earned money at court level. It is when things progress to court that people with a disability largely give up.

So what next? I really do not know. TAFE must provide. Governments must provide. Perhaps this being a Victorian election year one could try to get a commitment from the Government to ensure full access.

It might be a bit late now given the election is just a weeks away. In the meantime deaf students at TAFE are being disadvantaged. Interpreters at TAFE seem to be having their health and safety compromised. It sucks and it’s time that this blatant discrimination ended.


The Art of Inclusion

In 2016 I got a new job. It was scary for me. It was scary because for the best part of 12 years I had worked very much alone. I was part of a national network of disability workers. The basic aim of these workers was to make employment and education more accessible for people with a disability. I covered vast regions. At one time, my region covered almost half of Victoria. Although I was part of a big network, I was the one worker in my region. I had complete control of the budget. Being deaf, I needed access like interpreters or captioning and I could just organise these as required. I had free reign. My manager trusted me and I just got on with it.

Naturally I had to have meetings and the like with the community and stakeholders such as with Government groups and steering groups. No drama because what I needed I got. Each morning when I came into work there was just me in the office. I had no team to worry about. I didn’t need to lip read anyone. The network communicated with me by email and no one phoned. Every couple of months I caught up with my manager and we would review where I was at. I loved it.

But after 12 years it was time to challenge myself. For many years I had been a strong supporter of the NDIS. I decided it was time to put my money where my mouth was and I applied for a position as a senior with Local Area Coordination Services at the Brotherhood of St Laurence. After a long drawn out recruitment process, I was successful. I very nearly did not take the offer. I loved what I was doing and I had freedom to be innovative and creative. I had complete control of the direction of the program in my region. Why would I want to give that up?

In the end, I decided it was time to challenge myself. I accepted the offer and headed off to this brave new world of LAC services. It was going to be different. For a start, instead of having my own office, I was going to be in an open plan office. I was going to lead a team of Local Area Coordinators. I was going to have to be up and ready for communication at any time of the day. Many years ago my hearing flatlined so when I lipread I do just that. I have no access to sound to help me fill in the gaps. I was under no illusion it was going to be tough.

The first two weeks were fully in training with interpreters present the whole time. Interpreters or captioning. Then the third week came where I had to go into the office and start the job proper. I can tell you I was shitting myself. I had no idea what to expect.

Of course there was no way I could have an interpreter with me all day. I was going to have to communicate. I met the team and as is always the case there were those easy to lipread and those who were not. I sat at my desk and started the mandatory online training. After ten minutes, there was an impromptu meeting called. This was common in these early days. You see at that time the NDIS were experiencing a severe computer glitch. We needed to be updated regularly. There were policy directions and advice coming. So at anytime the manager would gather us around to update us. SHIT!

At this first impromptu meeting I understood nothing. This was not going to work. Especially if I was to manage a team. I needed access to information. I went straight to the manager’s office and told her these impromptu meetings were not inclusive and asked if there was a better way to do it, like updating people by email. She said no; this was how it was going to be.

Bloody hell. A second impromptu meeting was called. At the end of this meeting I had a Skype chat with a colleague and asked her what the meeting had been all about. She was happy to fill me in. But for me this was just a stop gap. I needed a better way. I needed ready access. I knew I could not have an interpreter with me all the time. To be frank, I was scared shitless because after 12 years of being in complete control I now had none. I thought momentarily of calling my old boss and asking if I could come back. But no; I am no quitter.

Then something wonderful happened. A third impromptu meeting was called, Silently, my colleague Nip sat next to me and opened up Word. Completely unasked, she started to type out what everyone was saying. I can tell you I wanted to pick her up and hug her. Instead I just said thank you. It was very much appreciated.

But it didn’t end there; the team were switched on. Every time an impromptu meeting was called someone would volunteer to be be my captioner. All of this happened without me asking. I can tell you that I went home that day and sat silently in my room. I had a little cry. It’s hard to explain how stressful it was but it really was. I gave thanks to my workmates who were so willing. I guess working in a disability organisation one would think it would be second nature, but really it isn’t. I was very lucky indeed.

I know this because once when working at a Deaf Society, of all places, I asked the CEO for interpreting. She didn’t refuse but she said she was disappointed because in the interview I said I was a good lipreader and could cope in most situations. No, I am not kidding. Knowing this, I knew how rare the response of my work mates was.

On the second day I spoke to the team. I thanked them for their assistance. I gave them a bit of background of how a deaf person processes information. I spoke about how important overhearing was. Overhearing is where colleagues are talking about an issue and just because you are there, you hear what is being said and learn from it. Oftentimes you can get involved in the discussion and add your views or ask questions for clarification. The Deaf professional in a hearing environment has no access to this valuable information and much learning is lost. I asked for my team to help. I said that if someone was talking about something that would be important for me to know, could they please update me?

Something wonderful happened from that little chat. Not only would the team update me on important info but they would involve me in the social chatter. Some one would text chat me through Skype to let me know what people were chatting about. It might be about someone’s wedding. It might be about someone’s weekend. Whatever it was they would often Skype me so that I was included in the chatter. Maree asking if anyone ever showers with their dog and Nip Skyping it to me will always be my favourite.

Just imagine yourself focused on writing a report and someone Skypes you a message like that. I was really blessed.

And you know, even when we had one on ones, the team did all they could to communicate with me. Sometimes this could be hilarious. Like Leila signing “Humping” when she was actually trying to tell me and another Deaf colleague she was going to the gym. Or the legendary Maree trying to tell me there was a group and accidentally was signing vagina instead. Mind you I had my own embarrassing moments. Like when Janna was trying to talk to me with a mouth full of food and I uttered the immortal, “Swallow lady, swallow”. The look on her face was absolutely comical.

This was my workplace for the last two and a half years, It was a place I truly looked forward going to nearly every single day. Recently I accepted a position for six months to further my knowledge and it was with great regret I had to leave my work mates. Right until the end, they made sure I was part of the team and included. They put up with me and my bad jokes. They put up with me and my noise. There were so many times that I would not realise someone was on the phone and everyone would be waving to me to be quiet because I was too loud.

But I was lucky. A hearing workplace for a deaf person can be a soul destroying place. It can be incredibly lonely. So to the Brotherhood of St Laurence who made sure I wanted for nothing and my awesome Whittlesea teammates, I say thank you. Words are really not enough. See you in six months.

My Nightmare

I once was the victim of subtle bullying at work. It is hard to describe how it happens. There were two of them. My department manager and my direct supervisor. Together the two of them conspired to make my life hell. My line manager was incredibly patronising, Each morning she would come to my desk, veer through the glass partition, grin widely and wave to me as if I was a child. It was infuriating. I ticked it off to just her being uncomfortable with my deafness. I now think it was just part of a tactic to systematically devalue me.

The bullying was not obvious. It was sly and cruel. For example the department manager would deliberately place roadblocks to prevent me completing my work. She refused to approve surveys for distribution. She would promise to do so but not do it. This would prevent me from completing my research. She did this for a year. My direct line manager would then pressure me to beat deadlines that I could not because the department manager refused to release the surveys. My line manager would claim that I was lying and making excuses. No matter that I provided her with copies of 51 separate emails requesting approvals from the department manager. I provided nearly as many from the department manager stating that she would do so within a week.

One day my line manager asked me to provide her with details of the social, medical and economic models of disability. This I did. She would ask me what I felt were key components of a disability action plan and how I would set the objectives. She would ask me for contacts for consultants for whom she could use to run workshops  and consultations. I dutifully obliged. Come the day of the release of the disability action plan she had used virtually everything that I had provided her, word for word. I asked if she was going to acknowledge my input. She laughed sardonically and said … ” No…its all mine.”

One day I won an award as part of a working group. I received a certificate for this. I took a photo of it and posted it on Facebook with the line – “I wonder if my boss will offer any praise for this,” A few days later my line manager  approached my desk and handed me a letter. I was to be disciplined for not completing the research and undermining the management. They had been monitoring my Facebook and they provided me with a copy of the offending post.

At this point I lost it. I ran down to Human Resources and stated that I wanted to make a complaint. I broke down and sobbed. I continued to sob for many hours. I phoned an interpreter friend to come and help me. HR were organising for me to see a counsellor through EAP. They managed to get an appointment.  I texted my wife and told her I had broken down. She came immediately. The interpreter worked pro-bono for me at that first counselling session. I went home and told my wife there was no way I was going back to work there. She said that I didn’t have to. I sobbed all night. I was a mess.

I sobbed all weekend. It was so bad that my family took turns to hug me. My wife would hug me and need a toilet break and Tyler would take over. I would go sobbing out to the deck and Aden would follow and give me bear hugs. It was hell for me but it must have been worse for them.

The breakdown happened on Friday and by Sunday I was still a sobbing mess. I told my wife I needed help and she drove me to the GP. Because everything happened so quickly we could not get interpreters. My wife, who is deaf, had to interpret. The Doctor was from Middle East Asia and had a thick accent. My wife struggled to understand him and ensure I understood his questions. This is what it is like if you are deaf and have mental health issues that need support urgently. Family members have to take on the load because the system just cannot provide the interpreting support that is needed at short notice.

The Doctor gave me a month off work. He gave me some valium to calm me down. He offered me anti-depressents which I refused at the time. In time I calmed down. In moments alone I would cry. I would take my middle son, Finlay, to hospital for his treatment and I would basically sit in a corner crying every hour. It was an awful time.

About four weeks into this I was contacted by the police. I had apparently, while helping a friend move house, sideswiped someones car mirror. This was with a rental truck. I was unaware that I had hit the car. But getting the news was the straw that broke the camels back.

If I was bad before I was completely gone now. I howled and screamed, I wanted to punch walls. I would raise my fist to smash a hole in the wall and restrain myself. I wanted to just get in a car and drive away, as far away as possible. In the middle of all this were my family watching in horror. My wife phoned Lifeline for me through the National Relay Service. She watched as I told them I was planning to abscond. She dashed around the house and took all the car keys.

In the end I ended up at hospital. Again my poor wife was the interpreter. Interpreting the nurses. Interpreting the doctors. We requested an interpreter but nothing was arranged. My wife was by my side all through the night. She would have been worried and stressed while at the same time, under great duress, trying to be my interpreter.

Early in the morning she returned home for a time. She needed to change and get the boys off to school. They actually didn’t go, after seeing their father like that they were in no fit state to do so. While she was gone the social worker visited me. She was great except she had cerebral palsy and severe speech impediment. I could not understand a word she said. Eight or nine hours in I was still without an interpreter. I understood only four words the social worker said – “You need a rest.”

My wife returned. The initial plan was for me to be admitted  to hospital. Eventually they sent me home and said the mental health team would visit my home the next day. We asked them to book an interpreter for this. They promised to do so but never did. Again Marnie, my poor wife, had to interpret.

This session went on for a couple of hours. At the end of it all I was given drugs and the mental health nurse was to visit me twice a week for the next two weeks. We asked that they book interpreters for this but they never did. Fortunately the mental health nurse was easy to lipread.

This is what it is like today in Australia for people who are experiencing mental health crisis. When it happens there is no response strategy to get interpreting support or any communication support in place. Families are expected to fill the gap. Often these family members are also deaf. Those without support just have to communicate themselves by hook or by crook while under great strain. It is awful.

I thank fuck for my family in this time. Without them I may well be dead today. I thank fuck for interpreter friends who helped me out. Most of all I thank fuck I have the language skills to at least understand what is happening because for many deaf people experiencing mental health crisis this is not the case.

I got lucky. I am sure others have died because they were not as lucky as I. This is happening in Australia today. It is not good enough. It has to change and now.




Good Health

Few years back I had a friend who self admitted for mental health issues. She attended the emergency department of a hospital and requested an Auslan interpreter to speak with the Dr and mental health people. The hospital staff had no idea what to do. My friend was at her wits end.

She began to text my wife and I. Rapid fire texts every two minutes or so. She expressed her frustrations to us. She just wanted treatment so that she could get better. The hospital staff had an emergency number for booking interpreters and tried their best to contact that number to no avail. I have many contacts in the interpreting fraternity. I contacted one interpreter I knew who had experience in mental health. She said she could be available in an hour or so. I used my contacts with an interpreter booking agency and booked my interpreter friend. I sent a text to my friend to show the nurse. The text explained to the nurse how to call to confirm booking for the interpreter. Although this was against hospital protocol they booked anyway. At least in the short term this meant that my friend got interpreting and peace of mind. Kudos to the nurse because she continued to communicate with me via text to get advice as to how she could communicate with my friend in the interim. This was just the beginning of a long drawn out saga. At one stage my wife spent four hours translating a mental health questionnaire into Auslan for my friend. Interpreter bookings promised did not happen.  It was not for want of trying. It was just that the hospital processes were so unclear no one knew what to do. Suffice to say my wife and I traveled some 160 kms a day to the hospital for seven days to ensure my friend got the support that she needed. We worked with the doctors to ensure that they understood the communication issues and to ensure our friend was disadvantaged as little as possible. Of course somewhere in Australia what happened to my friend will be happening to some other Deaf person. It might not be for mental health reasons. It might be because they have had an accident. It might be because they have had a heart attack. It might be because they or some loved one has been diagnosed with cancer. Whatever it is I guarantee you most of the time that whether they are the patient or the carer that the Deaf person will be stressed. They will request interpreters and mostly be denied. They will request interpreters and doctors or nurses will insist that they try and lipread or will write brief and entirely unsatisfactory notes. At worst they are completely ignored while medical professionals just converse around them. Scared and worried about what is happening they will be denied access to essential information. Children, young children, will be asked to convey complex medical information that they are not equipped to convey. It is hell and this will be happening multiple times in Australia today. It is unfair and scary and Deaf people deserve better. The system is broken on so many levels. Emergency booking processes are inadequate. Hospital staff lack awareness. Supply of qualified interpreters for complex medical scenarios cannot meet demand. Yet it seems to me that just one person in Australia is making a noise about it and copping abuse for her trouble. So much that she fears speaking out now for the abuse she has received. The system needs fixing and we need to talk about it. Because if we don’t, to misquote Einstein,

We who remain silent are guilty of complicity …..



Disability and deafness is such a combative sector. We are constantly on alert. We spend all our lives fighting for access. We tend to come out fighting at the slightest hint that this hard earned access might be taken away.

Sometimes the things we have to deal with daily are just bizarre. So bizarre that they make you want to throw in the towel. But somehow we just keep fighting. I do not know how.

A friend contacted me last week. She wanted to debrief.  She works in a disability organisation. They have regular meetings for which they book her interpreters.

One of the great things about interpreters is greeting them before the job, sharing a bit of gossip and having a laugh. Of course we also bring them up to speed with the job they are about to do.

It is almost like the water cooler for hearing people. In offices they say that people gather around the water cooler. At the water cooler they gossip, debrief, arrange dates, invite people to parties and generally just talk about the world.

For the deaf person this essential socialisation that is part of a normal and healthy workplace does not happen in the same way. Especially if they are the one deaf person in the team.

So what they often do, and I am no exception, is spend time chatting with interpreters. It’s their time when they are not struggling to lipread. It’s a time where they can just converse easily and naturally.

It is limited compared to what hearing colleagues can do. Hearing colleagues chat across the floor. They chat at smokos, in the lunch room and of course at the fabled water cooler. All day long.

There is much you learn from these chats. It contributes to team morale. You learn what other people are doing. More efficient ways to work. Changes in process. All sorts of things that are relevant and valuable to work. For the deaf worker, isolated in this hearing environment, it can be a hard slog.

So back to my friend. She does what we all do. She chats to the interpreters, She shares some of her frustrations at work. Laughs at bad jokes. Catches up with Deaf community gossip and so on. It is a fun relaxing part of the work day that generally only comes around when interpreters are present.

Imagine her shock when her boss approached her to tell her someone had complained. Apparently someone in the office complained that when she was chatting to interpreters in reception that she was a distraction. A distraction to the office and customers.

Apparently this one time when she can talk freely she is wasting time. She spends too long chatting and not working.  Bugger the fact that hearing colleagues chat all day long and waste countless hours. This one time she can converse freely she is a time waster.

To add insult to injury the boss agreed. Told her that if she must chat to the interpreters to find a private booth so that she didn’t distract others.

This, my friends, is a true story. It happened this week in Australia. We have such a long way to go. Which leads me to my final words.

OMFG .. .

Deaf in Control

The NDIS has changed the landscape for ever. Especially for our deaf services organisations. In the past these organisations were the centre of the earth for the Deaf community. They controlled the money and where it went. They controlled who got it and who did not. At a whim they could take away what they had once given. The power was firmly with them. That power, largely, was with hearing people. Hearing people who often had a welfare and controlling mentality. They were the HELP and SAVERS we were the HELPEES and people that required SAVING.

And suddenly it changed. The millions of dollars that these organisations had controlled in block funding was suddenly taken away. Bit by bit as the NDIS rolls out they lose chunks of their funding. Some could lose up 75 %, perhaps even more, of the funding that previously governments provided them. BUT it is not all bad – They can get some of this back through the NDIS – But only if WE, the Deaf, decide that they are the best organisations for us. The power has firmly shifted.

But for deaf services organisations WE are not enough. Indeed the big money is probably not with the Deaf community but with the hearing impaired/hard of hearing community. These people, as do the Deaf community, require technology. hearing aids, smoke alarms, listening devices, hearing aid batteries, flashing doorbells and even Apps so that they know their mobile is ringing. Some require advice, assessments  and even counselling. If Deafness Forum are to be believed 3.5 million Australians out there have a hearing loss. Not all will come under the NDIS, mind you, but a lot will. So to survive our Deaf organisations have to appeal to broad market and not just the Deaf community.

Deaf services organisations are in a mad scramble to diversify. They have to market themselves as the best. They have to meet the demands of the people that have the money. This is us, the Deaf and others with a hearing loss. They have to attract us and convince us to spend our NDIS money on their services.  The days where the Deaf Society was the community centre of the Deaf community are probably over. It is now free enterprise and capitalism.

This has meant Deaf organisations have begun to look at their branding and how they can be seen as a service of choice. In Victoria Vicdeaf have changed their name to Expression Australia. Gone are the words Deaf and Victoria . Why have they done this? Well as I heard, and I cannot verify this, one day a representative of Vicdeaf was working with a sporting organisation on Auslan translating or something. This was in Sydney. They were asked if they only serviced Victoria because that is what the name Vicdeaf implied.

In this market oriented NDIS world the NDIS might not be enough for Deaf services organisations to survive. There is a need to attract other avenues of business. Why limit this to Victoria? Captioning videos, interpreting emergency announcements, translating information to Auslan and so on. So if the name Victoria was removed Vicdeaf could be seen as a national organisation. Thats what I heard and it does make complete sense. So Kudos to Vicdeaf for having the business sense to see the need for rebranding and to move on it.

Now the name Expression I am not to keen on. Sure I get the need for rebranding but I am not so sure about this name. I mean I was driving through Lilydale the other day and their is a furniture shop called Expression. My first thought was, “Wow, VicDeaf are really diversifying”. Point being that Expression is used so often for a business name it is a little hard to relate it to deaf and hearing impaired/hard of hearing needs. It could be anything. There is even a business using the name Expression who sell tea towels.

My pet peeve is that they have gotten rid of any reference to Deaf or deaf. This is apparently because people who are hearing impaired or hard of hearing are a bit adverse to the term deaf. So the business decision was to bow to their sensibilities. In this way it was hoped that they could attract these “deaf sensitive” consumers to use the services of the organisation.

That to me is sad. For years people have tiptoed around disability terms. They have tried to come up with “more sensitive” labeling. This is part of the reason people avoid using terms like deaf or blind. Instead they use vision impaired, sight challenged, hearing challenged, the differently abled and have patronising twaddle such as “What’s the hell is normal anyway?” I hate it and I wish the old Vicdeaf had retained deaf in the new name somewhere. It is what it is. I get why they did it but I think it is really sad that they did.

I am sure Deaf will re-surface in the name as the various branches of services are established. They will have various branches of Expression Australia. Expression Australia, Audiology. Expression Australia, Interpreting and Translating Services, Expression Australia Deaf Community Services and so on. But still I cannot help feeling that Deaf pride lost a little in the quest for the almighty dollar. I’ll get over it, I am sure.

A long time ago Damian Lacey, ex CEO of Deaf Children Australia, tried to take over the Deaf sector in Australia and brand Deafness services as one nationwide service. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He may have had more success pushing his vision in today’s climate.

Now, rather than coming together as was Lacey’s vision, our Deaf services organisations are positioning themselves to compete against each other. I mean in Queensland Deaf Services Queensland have dropped Queensland from their brand so that they are now known as Deaf Services. I dare say that this is part of their own push to branch out all over Australia. I am not sure the market is big enough for them all.

Perhaps now is the time for Deaf services all over Australia to come together as one. Pool their resources, have one CEO and one marketing branch. Maximise profits to give back to the Deaf community. Give back what they have taken away like Deaf clubs and so on. I would love to see the end of revoltingly patronisng brands like Deaf Can Do. Remember them? It is a truism that many in the South Australian Deaf community label Deaf Can Do as Deaf Cant Do.

Then and again a market works better when there is competition rather than a monopoly. Who knows what the future holds. One thing I do know, we the deaf who now control where our NDIS dollar goes have an enormous amount of power, We are yet to fully realise just how much power it is that we now have.

One thing is for sure – Deaf services organisations will never be the same again. We, the deaf people, now control where we want our money to go. We may not be the only funding source but mark my word we are the major one. We, the deaf, are firmly in control. Let’s use this power wisely.




The Inaccessible Accessible

It is a wonderful world we live. No really it is. Yes, there is a hint of cynicism in what i say but really the world is a wonderful place. I compare it with the world that I lived in when I started my career and I can only wonder as to how far that we have come. In 1989, when I started my career, i could not make phone calls independently. A letter took two days to arrive. Texts and email did not exist. Jobs and opportunities were few and far between because that dreaded phone was inaccessible. That has all changed now. The world is much easier for me to access. Couple that with the the growth of social media and free communication tools like Messenger and Skype I really should not have much to complain about. Or should I?

I am moving house. Don’t worry Dear, I am not about to announce the address to the world on this Blog. I already made that in error on Facebook. But anyway, moving involves a lot of logistics, You have to book removalist. You have to finalise leases. You have to connect utilities. You have to notify of changing addresses (Preferably not in error on FB for the world to know.) In short there is a lot to do. Our world today is so much easier for a deaf person to navigate. In years gone by I would have struggled to get it all done on time but not in today’s world.

I mean I don’t even have to wait the mandatory eight minutes  now for a relay officer to actually answer when I use the National Relay Service. Take for example booking a removalist. I go on the internet and I can book online. I can ask for quotes from multiple people through a “removalist broker”. This is like a central point where removalist register their services. You post your needs and those that service your area will contact you with a quote. You can add a little note, “Please text or email because I am deaf.”  The daft ones still call and you ignore them. You just deal with the ones that follow instructions properly. Shows an eye for detail I reckon. But it’s easy, It is such an advance on the inaccessible world of yesteryear.

Then with utilities they also have a text chat feature. If your hearing use it. Why? Because there is no being put on hold and they respond almost in an instance. I am with Optus and I changed the address, got a different package and saved myself $30 a month.  All in 15 minutes. Wonderful.

Well what is there for me to complain about?  Nothing you would think. Yes, John I can hear you from here saying, “HERE IT COMES.”  Well I called DoDo you see, via text chat, and this wonderful new world of mine all came crashing down.

DoDo, if you do not know, provides internet, Gas and Electricity to Australians. I signed up for their gas and electricity because at the time it was the cheapest provider in my region by a very long way. I had had their internet previously. It was OK. I only changed because Optus signed up the English Premier League and if I did not sign up with them I would not be able to watch my beloved West Ham. I remember when I ended it with DoDo for Internet they tried to tell me i owed them the rest of my contract. I reminded them I signed up as it was a no obligation contract that could be ended anytime. The grugingly admitted that I was right. I did this all by text chat. no problem.

So I thought it would be just as easy to transfer my account to a new address. Was I in for a shock. Everything was going swimmingly. We ascertained who I was, where I lived and where I was going. All was beautiful and then the operator asked if he could call me.  Obviously I said no. Told him I was deaf and that it would be pointless.

He insisted that he had to call. He said I had to read out my credit card number to him over the phone. I thought this rather bizarre and wondered how many Deaf people with unclear speech or anyone with a speech impairment would cope with that. I lied a little and said he wouldn’t have been able to understand my speech and that it was pointless,

The operator was having none of this. I reminded him I already had a direct debit account and that they did not need my credit card. He insisted he had to read out the terms and conditions to me. I reaffirmed to him that he needed to type them I would not be able to hear him. He told me not to worry and that I just needed to answer my phone while he read out the terms and conditions for me. I didn’t need to hear them he insisted but he had to read them. “Please just answer the phone. I will be patience.” Yes, this is what he said, grammar error and all. I realised about this time that I probably was dealing with an offshore call centre.

I typed out to him that what he was suggesting was actually illegal. He said he had to go talk to his boss. I waited 15 minute but he did not come back.  I ended the call in disgust.

It left a sour taste. I could have just focused on the positives. In an hour I had arranged a move, almost. It just left me frustrated that with all this wonderful technology to make my life easier the only barrier that I had was – AN IGNORANT HUMAN BEING.

And it is always the case. Solutions abound but the barrier is nearly always an unaccommodating and ignorant human being, Attitude is everything. ignorance is not bliss it is a pain in the arse, It is seemingly only humans that can make the accessible inaccessible. If you do not believe me click on the photo below.

Throwing the Baby Out

There is a saying that goes – Don’t throw the baby out with the bath  water.  Many people believe that this is a British saying.  It is actually German. It is attributed to Thomas Murner, a German satirist and poet born in 1475. It is a simple saying that implies that we should be careful to retain good things rather than giving up on everything because parts of the whole are not working or are not workable. Often the fruits of a great idea take time to evolve. It is important that we keep the good things whilst we are seeking solutions. And so it is with the NDIS.

Despite the many perceived benefits of the NDIS the response from Deaf people towards it has been varied. Much of this is because decisions are often inconsistent. There is concern because the criteria  for access seems unduly harsh. Support provided is inconsistent and what one person gets another may not. The processes are also not always straight forward either. Plans are difficult to understand. The Portal is often down. Getting a hearing aid or a new speech processor for ones cochlear implant can seemingly take forever. It has not been plain sailing for many and this has caused much anger and frustration.

Yet amongst all this anger are lots of success stories that very few people talk about. For example there was this 60 year old Deaf woman who had been attending a local arts course. For many years she simply attended, did her thing and went home. The NDIS rolled out in her area and she received interpreting to partake in her arts course. For the first time she had a proper conversation with other participants in the course. She discovered that a person who attended the course with her had an autistic brother, just like her. It might seem such a small thing but one of the major reasons for depression among deaf people is the isolation that deafness causes in big hearing groups. It is no small thing what the NDIS has achieved for this woman.

One of my favourite stories is the Deaf couple who installed the Bellman system in their home. I arrived at their home and the wife excitedly told me to sit and watch. She had the pager and she pressed it. In two minutes her deaf husband came running in to see what she wanted. She cracked up in hysterics. “For the first time..” she said, “I don’t have to run all over the house looking for him.”

She wasn’t finished there. She regaled me of a tale where her grandchildren had visited. Deaf grandpa was asleep. She used the pager to set off his new vibrating alarm clock. Grandpa woke up with a start. Grandchild found this immensely amusing. “Do it again nanny!!!” he implored. Grandpa was also the proud owner of a new hearing aid obtained through the subsidised hearing aids from the Office of Hearing Services. Sure it was not a top of the range model but it was his first new hearing aid in 20 years and he didn’t really care. And all of this because of the NDIS.

I also attended a farewell for a work colleague who was hearing. A Deaf colleague booked interpreters for the event with his NDIS funds. We have all experienced these hearing and Deaf gatherings. Usually the Deafies are in one corner and the Hearies in another. There is usually sporadic interactions between the two. I have to be honest there was still a bit of a divide but the two groups actually did interact and had meaningful conversations. Access was had to speeches as well. The same colleague booked interpreters for his mothers birthday party. He told me he was really thankful because he could actually have a conversation with his bearded brother who was a bugger to lip-read.

And even though there are families that are missing out on Auslan packages, usually because of the lack of knowledge of planners, there are families that are actually getting access to learning Auslan.  This is for children and adults too. They are being encouraged to include extended family into these sessions so that inclusion within hearing families can improve. Sure, the provision of Auslan support is inconsistent and some are missing out but it is happening. While the inconsistency is frustrating we need to remember that as precedents are set awareness is created and such packages are likely to become more common.

Counselling is also being provided. Where it can be shown that Deafness is isolating and causing depression and withdrawal counselling is seen as a way to build capacity and develop strategies to overcome these issues. Again the frustration is that it is not being provided consistently and again much of this is due to a lack of knowledge of many planners. It is frustrating but hopefully in time, as the system evolves and develops, we will see resources developed to assist planners understand deafness issues. We may also see a pool of subject matter experts who planners can consult for expert advice.

Believe me there are many Deaf people working within the NDIA who are working hard to create awareness and make the system stronger. As they say, Rome was not built in a day. It will take time. In fact it is predicted that it will take ten years before the NDIS is working close to optimally. It is a huge social reform that is a long way from being perfect,

One of the biggest issues of the NDIS is the pressure it is putting on the interpreting market. Unfortunately at this time the market cannot meet demand. It is likely to be this way for many years. This is cause for much concern. There is a big push at the moment to get programs going to train more interpreters. This is great and needed but is a long term solution. In the short term maybe there are things that we can all do.

Utilising VRI might help as it will save many hours of travel time for interpreters thus freeing up time for them to actually work. Some of us can actually utilise captioning in some instances and where we can do this it will free up interpreters for those that really need them. At work I actually access an Auslan interpreter through VRI who is based in Japan when no one local is available. Interpreting is a limited resource and building talent is a long term solution. Perhaps we need more discussions about practical solutions as to how we can make the limited interpreting resource go further.

It is true that we must continue to flag issues and problems. We must do this because if we do not improvements will never be made. Unfortunately there are many that seem to want to bring the system crashing down before it has had a proper opportunity to develop optimally. I understand the frustrations and even the anger because many people simply do not have the time for the NDIA to get its act together.

Even so I firmly believe that the NDIS can and will be the best thing that could happen for people who are Deaf, HOH and who have disabilities. While we strive to make it a better system we need to be careful not. “To throw the baby out with the bath water.” All I ask is that we balance up the negatives with a good dose of positives.

Sadly I think these positive stories are too few and far between. The stories are out there – Let us talk more about them.