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.