I am a Deaf Person (My Way)

barrierThere is a lovely article going around on Facebook at the moment called I Am a Deaf Person. I first read it and thought my friend had written it. It was a pretty neat piece. My friend is an Aussie Ocker. You know the football, cricket, meat pies and thongs sort of guy. I thought that was pretty random for him and liked the post. It soon became apparent that this was a sort of chain post and Deaf people the world over began to post it so that it was almost every second post on my newsfeed.

It’s a great piece really. It kind of makes people aware of the life that many Deaf people live. But it is probably over romantic and the reality, like everything, is really different. So here is my adaption of “I am a Deaf Person.” I am on a hiding to nothing here. (In bold is the original text of the spiel.)

I’m a Deaf person.

 I wake up every day, with a vibrating alarm or a bright light, which sometimes becomes unbearable. Yeah, and my alarm is a vibrating one on my mobile phone. It is under the pillow every night. On a restless night it falls out of bed and makes me late for work. Or my Deaf wife sets hers an hour earlier than mine and I am woken with a start an hour before I am supposed to be awake. And then I am late for work anyway because as I turn off the alarm on my phone I start looking at Facebook posts and lose track of time. Yes, I’m a Deaf person.

I watch TV, not with the sound but use closed captions. Yeah, and then Netflix came along and everything was captioned. I binge watched shows that I had never had access to. I kept forgetting to exercise and I have become a blob. My wife, my kids and I never talk any more because we are totally absorbed. You start to think how you survived all those years with no access to anything. The Deaf today have it sooooo easy. Yes, I’m a Deaf person.

In Transport or lunch break, alone with my friends, on Facebook, by phone, Facetime… my mobile is my salvation. Yet, still the bloody train station cannot find a way to tell me my train has changed platforms. While my head is absorbed in my phone I hop on the wrong train and end up going 30 kms North instead of 30 kms South. Yes, I’m a Deaf person.

I don’t hear the sound of wind, birds, rain, or melody, but what my ears can’t appreciate, my eyes see it. They are my most valuable asset. They are the window of my soul. And my hands are the bridge that connects me to the world, I use them to speak, to write, to understand me and express my thoughts, which are not so different from yours. We are the same, I just don’t regret that I could not hear and speak like you… Except my folks never let me sign until I was 18 and beyond their influence. It took me years to become fluent so that for a while I was just as isolated among Deaf people as I was hearing. But I got there in the end. Yes, I’m a Deaf person.

I don’t talk like you, but I’m not a stupid person. I can be wrong, a mistake is human, but if I’m wrong because I didn’t get it, and if I didn’t get it because we didn’t make any effort to explain to me or because I was badly explained, it doesn’t make me a fool. At work when you left me out of all those meetings. At soccer when the game was over, I just went home. At the family Xmas dinner when I sat in a corner alone. That was not because I was a snob it was because you forgot me and excluded me. Yes, I’m a Deaf person.

I can talk. Some can understand. Others… no. So, sometimes it’s hard to understand me, the same way the Chinese will realize it’s hard to understand. When it is noisy I cannot monitor my voice and you cannot hear me. When it is quiet I am not sure how loud I am and I am shouting. You tell me to speak up, you tell me to be quiet. No wonder I just shut up and avoid interaction all together. Yes, I’m a Deaf person.

I mean, my way, I mean, my way. But I do the same things you do: Study, work, travel, drive, drive, drive, play sports, get married, have children and be a parent… actually, I have a life, and I run it like you! Except you put up thousands of barriers and I have to work ten times as hard. I cannot go to the cinema because there a re no captions and Captiview is crap. I cannot just go to work and start work and make friends like you. I have to negotiate my needs. And then you complain about the cost and make me feel shit. And you call impromptu meetings and forget about me. You think I am ignoring you as I type away at my computer, blissfully ignorant. My way is an easy way but you refuse to acknowledge it and send me to the Highway. No wonder I am thankful to be sick sometimes and not have to go to work. Yes, I’m a Deaf person.

It does not need to be this way. But I am thankful that the world is becoming more accessible everyday. Slowly but surely!

I’m as Deaf as you can imagine.

You Gotta Get Out Of This Place!

getListen up you hearing people. I am deaf. I know what I as a deaf person need. I know fully my needs. In fact, I can properly advise what other people who are deaf might need. BUT, I would always advise you to ask them. My needs and theirs can be totally opposites. But either way I am telling you – YOU HEARING PEOPLE – I know best, we know best, they know best – the deaf of the world know what they need.– SO LISTEN UP

No! Voice recognition technology won’t be enough. So don’t ask me if it will. What you can ask me is – “What will help us to communicate? ” Note the use of the word “US” – because it is about you and me. It is not just my responsibility but yours as well. It’s a two way thing.

In fact the communication support, it’s mostly for you. You see I can communicate with you. I speak, you hear me and you receive my message. The difficulty is you communicating with me. You are so FRUSTRATING. You cannot make yourself understood. You, the hearing person, need the interpreter. You are so expensive, such a bloody burden.

Yeah, and you there. The guy with the BMW SUV. You there who is head of the organisation that supports me. I am your boss. Other people who are deaf are your boss. You see the organisation you work for exists only because of and for people who are like me. That car, that house and the fine SavPlonk you are drinking tonight, it is because of us! Remember that.

You know if you are working for an organisation that supports deaf people, or if you are part of an admin team at an organisation that supports people who are deaf – Then yes, I expect you to have at least the right attitude and skills to work with people who are deaf.

This means you include them. You don’t form this pool of hearos in the lunch room and leave the person who is deaf alone at the end of the table. You don’t ask Bertha to ask Debbie to ask me if I would like some more work. You find a way to ask me directly. If you are working with an organisation that has been set up for people who use Auslan – Adults or children – I expect you to learn to use Auslan – Yes you – The office person, the principal, the CEO who has been there for 20 years – YES I expect every single one of you to learn.

No, it isn’t a choice for you. It’s a must. No, I don’t choose not to hear. No, I can’t learn to hear better. No, I can’t learn to speak more clearly. No, I can’t learn to lip read better – BUT you, the hearing person, can certainly learn Auslan. Sure some of you will learn better than others, but all I ask is that you try to learn and then use what you know. If you don’t want to or believe you should not have to – Well find a new job – Yeah, fuck off basically.

You see I have a simple philosophy. I expect people that work in deafness to at least know something about the job they are doing. I don’t expect the accountant to know everything, but I expect the accountant to want to learn about the reasons a deaf organisation exists and know what the money is meant to acheive. I expect a person that works with people who are deaf to know how to work with them. I expect them to be fully savvy of the issues, the barriers the needs, the programs and so on. I expect them to be able to hit the ground running.

Would you employ someone in a bank that could not count? Or someone as a physiotherapist who did not know anatomy. Or a hairdresser with no experience or training in cutting hair? I don’t think so. Yet in the deaf sector it seems the norm that we can pluck someone out of nowhere, someone who might have been an accountant, fireman or farmer and let them work in this highly specialised area.

It is not uncommon to employ someone simply because they have a university degree and overlook a deaf person for a job in the sector. Hell, Josie completed her Bachelor of Arts and finished top of her class. She will do. Deaf Dave? Nah! 35 years living the life doesn’t count.

Don’t get me started on all the people who are deaf who have been cleaners for 20 years, who work at the very bottom of the pecking order, who are constantly overlooked for promotions. These people do the same baseline, bottom feeding jobs for many years – Because that’s called providing opportunities isn’t it? Hear me roar – And it is not with laughter.

Yes it is 2019 and this is still happening. If you are one of those responsible for maintaining this status quo – Heed the modified words of The Angels –

You gotta get out of this place
If it’s the last thing you ever do
You gotta get out of this place, you’re destroying our life
Don’t you know, don’t you know
Man, don’t you know, don’t you know, don’t you know (Expletives deleted.)

The Fall and Fall of the National Relay Service.

On my second day of my new job in 1995 the National Relay Service (NRS) commenced operations. I remember it well. I had been to Canberra for a holiday and as you do, you leave at 4pm in the afternoon for Adelaide when your job starts the next day in your little Suzuki Sierra. Cos every one travels 1000 odd kms in a ramshackle car, late in the afternoon and the day before they start a new job don’t they? At 1 am in the morning the little car shuddered to a halt. I had run out of petrol. Luckily for me someone drove over the horizon and stopped straight away. They drove me 30 kms to Pinaroo and back so I could fill up. Suffice to say I arrived back in Adelaide at 4.30 am, ready to commence my new job at 8.30 am the same day.

As one could imagine that first day at my new job was a bit of a blurr. At 3pm my boss kindly told me to go home and rest. I was happy to do so. I knew that the next day, with the commencement of the NRS, that the real work would begin. Indeed in hindsight it was only the NRS that had made this new job possible for me.

For those that are unaware the NRS commenced in 1995. It was an exciting time. Exciting because for the first time deaf people in Australia would be able to make phone calls on their TTY to anyone through a relay officer. Pizzas, taxis, friends, work and a host of other things were suddenly accessible to deaf people via the phone. EVERYDAY, 24 hours a day.

So I arrived at work that second day, very excited. I was going to be able to make a work call everyday and at anytime. No longer did I have to wait for the trial NRS to open. No longer did I have to ask a colleague to call. No longer did I have to book a time with the accountant slash interpreter to make a call. I now had unparalleled access 24/7.

That day I sat excitedly at my desk. I placed the handset on the TTY and dialled the NRS. I was making a call to a client to book a meeting at their home.

I waited for the NRS to answer but all I got was an engaged signal. I tried all day and I could not get through. It seems on this much vaunted first day of the NRS something failed. I know not what but the system crashed and noone could get through. The launch of the NRS was an absolute failure.

But it was just that first day. After that I made thousands of calls. I called clients, service providers, taxis, girlfriends, family, arranged travel – whatever!. It was bliss and so very exciting.

The NRS was a godsend for deaf people and we loved it. The great thing about the early NRS was that it was so community focused. It employed Deaf people, hard of hearing people and people with disabilities. It provided opportunities for people with a disability that no organisation had ever before, or possibly since, provided.

And the NRS was innovative. As technology improved it moved from the humble TTY to internet based services so that Auslan users could access the phone in their own language. It provided people with a hearing loss who could speak an opportunity to use their voice while a relay officer typed out what was being said at the other end. People with speech impairments could listen while a relay officer spoke what they typed. Overtime access was given to emergency services, SMS relay and eventually the NRS could be accessed via the internet. It was brilliant.

Over the years our need for the NRS has dimnishedd. Technology through mobile phones and the internet has provided people who are deaf with opportunities to arrange their life without the need for a third person.We can now buy cars without even speaking to anyone. Seek a car online, organise a loan online, couple of emails and presto, new car

We can arrange holidays via online platforms like Wotif. Chat to friends via Skype. Have realtime text chats through free messenger software. Facebook, Twitter and a host of other platforms provide us with communication access 24/7. Uber eats and Menulog allow us to order home delivery meals without speaking to anyone. As these innovations expand our need for the NRS lessens.

BUT – The NRS is still vital. We still need to make calls to people. Online innovations have their limits. For example a deaf person with depression and who is suicidal may still need to call Lifeline for help. Or text messages and emails may go unanswered and as deaf professionals we still need to make calls to clientele to arrange appointments or exchange information. We still have family who are not tech savvy and we need to call them to get in touch. Not every mechanic has an online booking service so we have to call to book in our car. We still need to call to book things for events like weddings or make a restaurant reservation.  Our cars still break down and we need to call roadside services.There are still Deaf people who struggle to express through English language and prefer to make calls through Auslan and the Video Relay Service (VRS). In short the humble NRS, even if we use it less, is still a vital cog in our lives.

Yet the Government seemingly wants to cut it back to a point where it is a part time service. They want to cut it back and encourage us to utilise all the wonderful innovations that I have just described. This is fine but it is not enough. We can, at anytime, require the NRS because all these wonderful innovations I have described are not foolproof. At work without the NRS many deaf professionals will not be able to function.

A sad development of the NRS in recent times is the wait. In years gone by the answer to calls was instantaneous. There were no long waits. Now it is common that we wait. We get the dreaded message – Waiting for a relay officer. This is the equivalent of being on hold at Telstra while waiting for a customer service officer. This wait can be a long time.

So many times in recent months I have needed information from a client for my work. I cannot wait for a response to an email I need it there and then. I need it to achieve my KPIs and to ensure there is no backlog in my enormous workload. Efficiency is everything. Waiting 20 minutes and sometimes more for a relay officer is not efficient. I dare say this current trend of waiting is placing the jobs of deaf people who must provide fast and efficient services at risk.

Then there are the calls that we make where we are placed on hold by a service. Hearing people have a choice. They can either hangup or wait. A few years ago I had a relay officer on hold for over two hours as I made an urgent call to the Department of Immigration. Today that would not be possible. Apparently deaf callers to the relay service are being told that they can only wait three minutes. Don’t believe me? See the picture below.



This is the trend of the current NRS. There is no focus on the deaf person. There is only focus on the bottom line, cutting corners and saving time. God knows the Government wants to limit the service so that it is no longer available 24/7. They say other options abound so use them.

This is naive. The car that breaks down, the sick deaf person or the deaf person with a mental health issue cant wait for a service to open. What are you expected to do if your car breaks down at 1am in the morning in the middle of nowhere? Wait for the NRS to open at 8am? What do you do if you are home alone and the NRS is shut, deaf and feeling suicidal? Go to bed and call lifeline at 8 am? Life does not wait. For these reasons and many others the NRS cannot be a service that is only available to us at the Governments whim simply because they want to save money.

Sadly the cutting back of services and complete lack of focus on the customer is the trend of the current NRS. Its founder fathers and mothers must look on and weep as they see what this magnificent service is now becoming.

This is the fall and fall of the NRS! Please stop it before someone loses their job or dies – It is a very real possibility!