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.



The Sad, Weird and Wonderful World of disability

I have been around the disability world for a very long time. I have seen some weird stuff. I have seen some sad stuff. I like to think that over the years the world has come a long way for disability inclusion. I like to think that attitudes have changed. I tell myself every day that things are better now and I should be thankful. Yup, thankful!

A few years ago I was asked if I needed a lift home. This was because the person that offered thought that people who were deaf could not drive. I find this mildly amusing at best. Except that the person offering had worked in the disability employment sector for a decade. Then there was the hearing woman that asked me, hand on heart, how my deaf mate could laugh if he could not talk. Or the instructor of a professional development course who told me I was responsible for bringing my own interpreter because people in wheelchairs bring their own wheelchairs. Not forgetting the professional disability event organisation who offered me a free $2000 registration on the proviso I provided my own interpreter for a day long conference. They reckoned this was smart because paying $900 or so for interpreters would mean that their business would not be viable.  You do the maths.

But it’s better now isn’t it?

Then I read online last week that prisoners who were sex offenders were being used to care for other prisoners who had disabilities. Perhaps we should consider the fact that sex offenders can become better people. You can do that if you like. Me? Well I like to think that people have more common sense than to put people who are already vulnerable and less likely to be able to defend themselves in situations where they can potentially be abused. Maybe it is just me overreacting. Read the article at the link below and be the judge. If true; what were they thinking??

Calls to scrap scheme that paid sex offenders to care for prisoners with disabilities  

This week I was asked to interview for a job interstate that I currently do. I really could not have relocated at this time. I have kid doing year 12, a house to fix, a house to sell and the like. I thought why not do the interview, just to put my face out there if a similar job comes up later when I am in a better position to move.  You know I have been in this role as a senior supervising numerous staff for nearly two years. I’ve been told I am a bit of a gun with the planning process. Without reservations I am happy to say that I am pretty good at what I do.

I just would have thought an organisation involved in the biggest disability program in Australia would have known better. Making an ASS out of U and ME as they say.

Anyway 12 emails later I had managed to educate this new organisation as to how to book interpreters. This was after I requested captioning for the online interview. They preferred interpreters and notified me that that was what they were booking. I wasn’t too fussed but did wonder if they understood the principles of choice. I just would have thought an organisation involved in the biggest disability program in Australia would have known better. Making an ASS out of U and ME as they say.

So anyway they sent me a link for a Skype hook up. The link was on Skype for Business. I was a bit worried as I was linking up on my general Skype account. I sent them an email about 45 mins prior to the interview and said I might have trouble linking up. They replied almost instantly saying that they would get their IT guy onto it.

They had no idea I had connected. So said as gently as I could, “HELLO”

Anyway in the meantime I worked out what to do. Sent them an email and said I had fixed it. I don’t think they read the email because I dialed in and connected. There was no video but the interpreter could hear them on the other end chatting. Apparently they were saying that the fact that I had not connected showed that I lacked problem solving skills. Apparently I needed to have been more prepared and should have identified potential problems beforehand. I watched the interpreter translate what they were saying with amusement for about 45 seconds. They had no idea I had connected. So I said as gently as I could, “HELLO”

The silence was golden. After a good 15 seconds someone piped up. “Who am I talking to.”  I confirmed that it was I. We linked up by video. Throughout the interview I demonstrated to them what thirty years of experience means. And then they asked me if there was any special funding to cover my reasonable adjustments.

I was very honest. I said there is JobAccess  but it doesn’t go far and that if I were to work for them there would be additional expenses to cover my interpreting and that it was not cheap. It wasn’t a very good link but the facial expression on the interviewer when I said this was priceless.

So anyway the interview came to an end. They sent me a link where I had to show my mastery of Office programs and my typing speed. There were lots of questions relating to Excel. I’m not good at Excel. So anyway I did the test as well as I could. Sent it off and waited. A day or so later I received an email that they wouldn’t be processing me further.

I emailed them and confessed surprise. I said you wont find many who have 30 years of experience and who have been successful in the role for two years. I pointed out I was proficient in all the systems of the job too. Apparently I wasn’t progressing because I am not good at Excel, and being good at Excel is mandatory in this organisation. They asked me to consider other positions as they arise. I promised I would and that I would do a crash course in Excel in the meantime.

They professed that they were mightily impressed with my knowledge and abilities but being good at the job is not as important as knowing Excel apparently.  I will leave the reader to be the judge of that one.

And then there was the person that seriously asked if Post It notes as a communication tool could be considered as an alternative to interpreting. And then suggested that perhaps a voice recorder might help. Skillfully the situation in this case was used in a positive way to educate the person concerned. But Post It notes? Just way to weird for me to process.

So that was my week in disability. Just way way to weird! And there was me thinking we had progressed.



The Lads

I became a groupie. And it was for theatre. Me, a self professed loather of theatre. People prancing about on stage and overacting has never been my thing, I often say, only half joking, that if it doesn’t have a ball it is not worth watching. But Jodee Mundy changed that. Her show, Personal, about her life as the one hearing person in a Deaf family, enthralled me so much that I even flew to Sydney with my wife to watch it again at the Sydney Opera House. It enthralled me because it was brilliant and clever. I think it also had such a huge impact on me because it hit very close to home.

For those that do not know me, I and my wife are both deaf. We have three strapping lads aged 21, 18 and 17 who are all hearing. Jodee’s theatre performance got me thinking about their life. It got me thinking about the challenges that they have had to face growing up with deaf parents. The challenge, as I see it, is not so much the deaf parents but the attitude of others.

You see my kids are easygoing. They believe people are people and that we are, or at least should be, all equal. I mean my middle child rushed to enrol to vote so that he could vote yes to same sex marriage. My eldest wouldn’t shut up about it on Facebook insisting that he could not understand objections to it. I am very proud of them for the young men that they have become.

One of the things that Jodee’s play highlighted to me was that she became a bit of a sideshow freak to others. At six years old she was interviewed by her teacher in front of her class about how her deaf mum and dad adapted to life in a hearing world. She was asked how they used the phone, how they watched TV, how they heard people at the door and so on.  She then had to explain this to everyone. She was just 6 and did a very passable job.

It made me wonder how their teachers, their peers, their soccer coaches and the like all reacted when they had to, and still have to, disclose that their parents are deaf.

The point is; how many other kids are asked questions like that about their mum and dad? It made me wonder how my kids coped having to disclose that their mum and dad were deaf. It made me wonder how their teachers, their peers, their soccer coaches and the like all reacted when they had to, and still have to, disclose that their parents are deaf. I mean, even now, when there are parent teacher interviews they will ask the school to book interpreters on our behalf. It is a lot for a kid to have to deal with.

It must be painful for them to sometimes watch us struggle in a hearing world. I mean I am a shocker. I have spent my entire life bluffing as have many of us. I’ve seen them cringe when I have misunderstood a shop assistants question or not heard it at all.

I’ll be fiddling around in my wallet and Jo Checkoutperson is asking me if I want a receipt or not. Of course I don’t answer. Tyler will be with me and probably as embarrassed as hell has said “He is Deaf”.  That explains a lot of the wide eyed and weird looks I get  when I finally make eye contact with Jo Checkoutperson. It must be mortifying for my kids sometimes.

It must have been hard for him to have to stand back and often watch us muck up.

The eldest, Aden, is a bit of a control freak. When he was younger he would try to save us all the time. Many a time we had to tell him not to interfere. We didn’t want him taking on responsibilities that a little kid should not have. Sometimes he would jump in and try to communicate for us. It must have hurt that instead of thanking him we would tell him to back off. That it wasn’t his responsibility. We would emphasise to him that as adults we needed to deal with things. If we made a mistake it was our problem not his. It must have been hard for him to have to stand back and often watch us muck up.

As parents Marnie and I wanted our kids to be kids. We never wanted them to interpret for us unless it was absolutely needed. This was especially so when they were young, As they got older we asked them to help a little for some things. Like those voice calls to our mobile or a call to someone just quickly to let them know we are on our way.

For example the phone rings – “Fin can you take that?”  Fin does and chats away to whomever it is. Walks around the room not telling us anything while he chats away.  Meanwhile Marnie and I are looking frantically on wondering what’s happening. He hangs up and we enquire what it’s about. ” Just some telemarketer.” will be his answer. It is often anti-climax and hugely disempowering if you are deaf. We try to ask for this assistance as little as we can but the lads are always willing to help if we do. (Mind you we sometimes get teenage attitude when we do ask 😀 )

And I wonder if they hear hurtful things said about us by others. You know comments like, “Deaf, parents, how sad.”  I know my kids have got angry more than once playing soccer with me because someone will have said something nasty behind my back knowing I cannot hear them. I have had to admonish people for trying to pass personal messages to me through my kids rather than communicating to me themselves. I wonder how many kids have teased them about having deaf parents and they have just had to turn the other cheek. That is the kind of world that we live in. It is not always pretty and people, especially other kids, can be cruel,

Possibly I will never know. My kids are not Jodee Mundy. They don’t have the capacity, nor the desire, to lay their souls bare like she did. What my kids are is top blokes. They all men now. They have a great sense of social justice. They accept people for who they are. They abhor discrimination. They despise racism. They believe in equal rights. They take everything in their stride. In short they are well adapted and brilliant young men.

I and Marnie are immensely proud of what they have become. We are especially pround of their ability to see the funny side of life. A sense of humour is a must, especially living with me. This sense of humour is best demonstrated by this video made by Aden about dumb things people ask him about having Deaf parents .. Enjoy, especially the last part.

To Aden, Finlay and Tyler, even though the first two are unbearable slobs, thank you for who a you are. Don’t change!

Personal – Just Wow

Deaf on TV, theatre or film has never translated well for me. Usually it is some rubbish romance story about deaf meets hearing and love conquers all  like Children of a Lesser God. I hated this movie and made myself unpopular by insisting that Marlee Matlin was irritating and overacts.

Sometimes deaf portrayals are just absurd. Like VJ of Home and Away having a cochlear implant and  flying to America. There he was mysteriously cured and did not need it anymore. Or there is Tribes on stage where the hero is a super lipreader. He bluffs his way into the policeforce to solve crimes. Shamefully I cried watching Mr Hollands Opus, and look at what melodramatic tosh that was. I have no desire to see any of the latest deafness offerings either. This is despite the Deaf community being in raptures about them. ( I mean Aliens apparently communicating through cochlear implants, who woulda thunk.)

So it was with some trepidation that I attended Jodee Mundy’s stage performance of Personal. This stage performance explores her life as a hearing person in a Deaf family. I expected more of the same.  I could not have been more wrong.

I was not sure how this story would unfold on stage. I was even more perplexed when I saw the stage. There were about six large boxes set strategically around the room. On the stage you could see coloured tape. Presumably the tape was placed so that actors would know where to stand. But this was a one person performance. The complexity of the stage set up intrigued me.

Jodee enters the stage wearing an inconspicuous blue outfit with simple white sneakers. She looks around at the audience to acknowledge all who are present. Most she would have known as members of the Deaf community or the theatre fraternity. She smiles broadly and begins her tale.

She uses Auslan to sign a part of the story and then voices for the hearing people in the audience who cannot sign. She reverses the order, voices then signs. In this way she introduces her story and her family. As I watched I thought to myself that we were in for a long night if this was how the whole performance was to be conducted. And then the lights dimmed.

In the background Jodee can be seen frantically/gracefully rearranging those mysterious boxes. These boxes, as it was soon to become apparent, were to be the prime means to convey her tale. Onto these boxes were beamed old films of Jodee’s family, Jodee as a young girl, trips to the beach, family dinners and so on.

Through rearranging the boxes pictures would change. They would change from small, expand to large or shrink to single shots. It was fantastically choreographed. The boxes were a fascinating sequence of film, light and sound that were all used to convey Jodee’s story.

Sometimes Jodee would hold the boxes aloft so as to capture parts of the film. I am told that each box weighed 13 kgs. Jodee herself is just a wee waif. I am amazed at her strength. I am told that to get the films, light and sound all working in proper sequence there were more than 700 moves programmed into the computer.

In one sequence Gavin, her brother, is being beamed to one of the boxes. Through clever use of timing and questions Jodee and Gavin discuss her life growing up as the only hearing person in a Deaf family. Jodee would come  home from school and her parents would have a list of phone calls that she had to make for them. At first it was just a few. As Jodee became older the list grew and grew.

It became clear that as a child Jodee had to take on an enormous amount of responsibility. She would be talking to adults and conveying adult concepts to her parents. Sometimes her parents would be anxious and want to know what the hearing person was saying. They would be demanding and for Jodee this was likely frightening.

One can only imagine how traumatic this could have been for a young child. This young child having to deal with adult concepts, adult language and then having to ensure her deaf parents and the hearing person understood each other.

She asked her brother through the medium of the box whether he thought this premature responsibility harmed her development and impacted her as an adult. Gavin thought about this for a while and said with a wide grin – “Well it made you a better interpreter.” And we laughed. Jodee didn’t want sympathy. Her subtle humour throughout the performance was a joy.

For me the best parts were the stories of how growing up in a deaf family that led to behaviours and gains. In her first share house she was known for being noisy. Growing up in a deaf household she was used to being as noisy as she liked. She told the story of how she, as a 15 year old, sneaked her boyfriend into the house while her parents sat unknowing and unhearing in the front room. It reminded me of my own kids who would often tell the McDonalds checkout person to get a large coke when I was asked what size I wanted. They did this knowing that I had not heard the checkout person.

The clever thing for me was the use of  the light show to represent how Jodee was torn between the Deaf and hearing worlds. On the boxes were beamed a series of lines and squiggles. Jodee would contort and align her body to fit in with the rapidly changing shapes of the lines. When they curved she curved and when they straightened she straightened. Her face would contort into concern or seeming internal pain as she tried to fit into all the different shapes that the light formed. It was both graceful and haunting at the same time.

Bravo Jodee, not only did you make me enjoy theatre but you also profoundly moved me. It is simply compelling theatre and not to be missed!

Jodee will be performing Personal around country Victoria and in Sydney at the Sydney Opera House. I believe there are performances in Paramatta too. If you can, I urge you to go and see it – You will not be disappointed!

Click on the link below to find out where she will be performing.







Save the NRS

My first ever phone call on the National Relay Service (NRS) was at work. At the time I was working with Disability South Australia, then known as Options Coordination. I worked in the physical and neurological area. My job was to basically assess and then broker care plans for people with a disability, including technology. There were a lot of private service providers of care. My first call was to Jeanne. She ran a nursing home and also provided care in peoples homes. So through the NRS we negotiated a package for a client and arranged for a meeting. After the meeting we went to the pub and had a chat. This was the start of a very brief romantic interlude. That was the power of the NRS. For the first time I could call hearing people on the phone.  I could use the phone to call hearing people who did not have a TTY. This created enormous opportunities for me, both professionally and socially.

For people not in the know the NRS is a service that allows deaf people to contact hearing people via the phone. When it first started deaf people who had a TTY could call hearing people through the NRS. Basically a third person based at the NRS would receive the typed message from the deaf caller and voice it to the hearing person. What the hearing person said they would then type it to the deaf person. In this way a conversation occurred.

Before the NRS the only option a deaf person had was to either have a friend or family member relay messages or to call other people who also had a TTY. With the advent of the NRS deaf people could now work in jobs that required the phone. They could call for a pizza. They could call for a taxi and so on. It was a life changer that opened up a multitude of doors for deaf people.

This was in 1995 and the world has since changed greatly. Now deaf people have enormous telecommunications choices. They can text people. They can text chat with people in real time. They can video chat too. Many services now have a text chat feature where people can contact them and chat about the services and products that they provide. You can send online queries. You can order pizza online. You can book plane tickets, cars and holidays  online through any number of apps. And of course we have trusty email. Many of the things we used the NRS for in yesteryear we deaf people can now do independently.

In fact there is a level of loathing for the NRS. Not because it is a bad thing. More because deaf people now cherish the independence that they have. The NRS, for many, is now a service of last resort. When all the options we have at our finger tips fail the NRS is there.

It might be that your car  has broken down and you need assistance. It is true that RACV have an SMS service for this  but not all drivers are members. Many people have 24 hour roadside assistance with their car purchase. This means these deaf people have to call through the NRS. Tradies generally have to be contacted by the NRS when a pipe blows or a window breaks. Most goods and services, including hospitals, still require you to call. Mind you some GPs actually have online bookings now. The NRS still has a place and a very important one at that. That said one would imagine that the demand for it has reduced over the years owing to the wealth of technological options at the disposal of deaf people.

The Government has recognised this. They think that because deaf people now have this greater telecommunications independence that the NRS is less important. The Government wants the NRS to be scaled back and for deaf people to use the other solutions as much as they can. I do not think this is a bad thing.  Savvy Deaf people who are able to use technology to their advantage are the ones most likely to be successful. However, the Government is considering making the NRS a part time service.  They are considering scrapping the 24 hour service. This is where my support ends.

It is really simple. Deaf people do not live part-time lives. They are busy and productive people. Like everyone, especially in today’s world, they need ready and easy access to communication. When your car breaks down this can be at any time. When a pipe bursts this can be at any time. People cannot predict when communication will be needed. For this very simple reason deaf people need a 24 hour NRS.

God forbid if  your car breaks down at 4am in the morning. Oh bugger, just sleep in the car  until the NRS opens at 9 am. Be late for work, lose your job and inconvenience everyone. That is OK because, you see, the NRS is shut. Having the NRS available for anything less than 24 hours is a ridiculous idea. It is not rocket science. Let’s hope the Government wakes up on this one.

The Government has also completely cut Outreach services. Outreach for the NRS basically provided information to the wider public about how the NRS works. It was certainly greatly needed in the early stages of the NRS. We deaf people will all have experienced people hanging up on us  when we were using the NRS. Often it is  because the person we called thought it was telemarketers or something. People hanging up on NRS calls is still common but much less now. That is a testament to the success of the Outreach program.

One could argue that the need for Outreach is much less now. Certainly the Government think so because they have scrapped it altogether.  Arguably Outreach is needed now as much as ever. Especially so if the Government wants more people utilising the technology that they have rather than the NRS.

Outreach could serve a purpose to educate deaf people of the options. It could serve a purpose of educating the wider business community as to how they can adapt their business and services so that communication with deaf people is more accessible. It is very short sighted to do away with Outreach altogether. Rather we should be looking at how Outreach can be targeted better.

I can understand why our Government is looking to scale back the NRS because there are so many innovative telecommunications options available to deaf people now. That said, the NRS is still a critical service. People need it for work, emergencies, arranging services and a whole host of things. Sure we need it less but we are a long way from needing it less than 24 hours a day. Maybe the aim is to make the NRS redundant in 20 years but we are a long way from that now.

Here is hoping that the Government wakes up to this one.