Well the election has been and gone. All of us, even the most ardent Coalition voters, were shocked at the result. I mean even the smarmy Sco Mo, who is our new Prime Minister, called it a miracle. The scary thing was the shift to the far right with a 3% swing towards One Nation. An increase in the vote for a racist and Xenophobic party even though its members were caught dealing with the gun lobby in America to get donations. That’s scary indeed. The result is what it is, but what did Deaf and hard of hearing people get out of it.
Well nothing really. Apart from what they are already getting from the NDIS. Depending on who you are the NDIS is either a godsend or the worst since, well ever. But there is no doubt that many Deaf and hard of hearing people are benefitting from the NDIS. It is just not plain sailing for some. And if you are Deaf or hard of hearing and aged over 65 well your net gain from the last election or even the NDIS was zilch.
In Australia Deaf and hard of hearing people are represented by horrendously underfunded advocacy groups. Our national advocacy groups are Deaf Australia and Deafness Forum. Both organisations, never that well funded, had their funding cut by the current Coalition Government. It is not likely that this will change anytime soon.
Given the circumstances these two organisations are doing a very fine job. You may not agree with their approach but with the limited resources that they have they have continued to hammer away.
In recent years, apart from the NDIS, there has been very little net gain for people who are Deaf and hard of hearing. Whether it is access to health, education, theatre, cinemas or general services.
Auslan Stage Left and Sweeney interpreting are giving Auslan users some great access to blockbuster theatre and even some smaller productions. But this is from the efforts of individuals and not the Government. Perhaps the Universal Hearing Screening for babies was a win, but even that was some time ago.
Leaving out the NDIS, the last big-ticket items for Deaf and hard of hearing were probably the National Auslan Booking Service and improvements to JobAccess funding via work place modifications and the Auslan for Employment Scheme.
The latter was initially a bit of a joke as it was a once off $5 000 a year. It is now $6 000 every year. This is still inadequate especially if you are working as a Deaf professional where you must have regular meetings. It is worse if you are in a regional area as it is a flat rate of $6 000 and does not incorporate extra costs for travel.
The National Auslan Booking Service (NABS) has served Deaf Australians well. If you are on the NDIS this will now pay for your private medical appointments where NABS used to.
NABS was a great initiative of the Howard government. The Howard Government should also take great credit for kick starting improvements to JobAccess too. I reckon elements of the old Howard Government were more socialist than even todays Labor Party is supposed to be.
But anyway, these two initiatives seem to have been the last great achievements, barring the NDIS. In the election just gone neither party seemed to be offering anything for disability apart from the NDIS. They both seem to think that the NDIS is enough on its own.
Of course, it is not. There is much that needs to happen including improvements to infrastructure, health, education, services and the like. Neither the Coalition nor the Labor party presented anything much in regards to Deaf, hard of hearing or disability. At least as far as I could see anyway. This is a worry.
This is not helped by our underfunded advocacy groups that are limited in what they can do. Deaf Australia appears to have been most active in the National Relay Service (NRS) space. The NRS continues to disintegrate in both quality and responsiveness. It is not uncommon to be waiting for 10 to 15 minutes for a relay officer and then the whole system just drops out and you must call again. Deaf Australia have also been active in raising issues of problems with the NDIS. We should be thankful for that.
Deafness Forum’s big ticket item has been to promote Hearing Health as one of Australia’s national health priorities. President, David Brady, often appears to be a one-man band. He is on Facebook and social media promoting the hearing health campaign to the hilt. The great thing is that he makes most of his material accessible with both Auslan and captioning. I am not sure what the Deafness Forum CEO does because we only ever hear from Mr Brady.
My praise of Deafness Forum ends there. Sadly, I think their 22 point hearing health campaign is horribly biased. It has a good focus on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander needs in terms of prevention and health. It has a very heavy focus on hearing, audiology and prevention. Auslan gets a mention,almost as an afterthought, in two points. One to address interpreter shortages and two to address a provision of interpreting for professional services.
I believe the scope of the 22 principles are far too narrow. Issues with health and communication do not end with Auslan. Indeed, most people with a hearing loss do not use Auslan and little focus is given to their communication support needs. It is a truism that at entry point for emergency and mental health that the system lets Deaf and hard of hearing people down badly. No thought is given to communication needs, whether it be through captioning, Auslan interpreting or other technological means.
The danger here is that misdiagnosis will happen. Stress for Deaf and hard of hearing people in hospitals and mental health response areas is enormously high because they do not know what is happening or what is being discussed. Worse, doctors may not get important information for diagnosis. For this reason the area of communication support, in whatever form it may take, is crucial. Deafness Forum have missed the boat on that one.
Further, the heavy focus on hearing has meant many areas that impact on the health of people who are Deaf and hard of hearing have been missed. Communication, language development, family support, access to services, social isolation, employment and so on. These all contribute to the health/wellbeing, or lack of, for people who are Deaf or hard of hearing. None of these areas are addressed in any detail. Hearing health cannot just be about hearing and prevention of hearing loss.
I think Deafness Forum need go back to the drawing board on this one. The focus of their 22 points has missed too much and seems to be largely hoping for a quick fix. I know that it is hard with limited resources but the 22 points presented miss the mark by a long way.
My other big beef with Deafness Forum is that their website screams that hearing loss costs Australia $15 billion a year. Let me say this, without reservation, painting hearing loss as a cost and a burden to Australia does all Deaf and hard of hearing people a grave disservice. Apart from that it is absolute poppycock.
Hearing loss is a thriving industry. It provides employment through technology and services for thousands of people. We have the mighty Cochlear company, wealthy and prosperous. It is one of Australia’s great pride and joys. We have audiologist, speech therapist, teachers of the deaf, technicians, captioners and interpreters who all owe their living to people with a hearing loss. These people provide a return for that $15 billion that is never calculated. They buy houses, cars, food, goods and services that would not be possible if people with a hearing loss did not exist.
More importantly the $15 billion is an investment in Deaf and hard of hearing Australians. It allows them to work, be educated, play and, in short, add value to Australia. The days that we call people with a disability a COST are long gone unless you work for a Murdoch rag.
I implore Deafness Forum to take that rubbish statement down – It is offensive to each and every Deaf and hard of hearing person in Australia. Some may see my criticism as harsh but that’s as I see it. I hope that by raising these points Deafness Forum can rethink how to present our issues so that it is relavent to us and consider the inherent dignity of people who are Deaf and hard of hearing.
So, there we have it. Election 2019 offered nothing for Deaf and hard of hearing Australians. Whatever side of politics you go for this was the case. Our Advocacy groups have worked and campaigned hard with limited resources and for minimal gain. We deserve better. We have three years before the next election, let’s hope it gets better and we can have more wins like NABS and the National Relay Service moving forward.
Don’t hold your breath because if Labor are to be believed the Coalition are the party of CUTS CUTS CUTS – But they all lie don’t they?