The Power of Opposites

Many years ago, I had a coping mechanism for being deaf. The coping mechanism for being deaf was the power of opposites. This is basically a philosophy that dictates that for everything to exist it needs an opposite. Without an opposite there is almost no way of comprehending anything in life.

Let’s say that if we only had one colour in the world everything would just be a blur. We have different and opposite colours so that we can see properly, see the difference and in this way we are able to make sense of our vision. This is virtually for all our senses and understanding of the world. For large there is small. For fat there is thin. For loud there is quiet. For love there is hate and so on. All these opposites allow us to understand and appreciate meaning and life forces. They assist us to make sense of the world.

Deep, I know. But that was my coping mechanism. You see when you lose your hearing, and I did as a lad, it is devastating. You suddenly must adapt and adjust. Everyone suddenly treats you differently. As a kid friends began to tease me and even avoid me once that I became deaf. Your parents are stressed and worried. You become, suddenly, almost every topic of their conversation. You visit specialists and get hearing aids. Everyone points at your ear and says, “What’s that? You are made to feel different. It’s shit! That’s the best way I can describe it.

So, opposites? Well the opposite of hearing is not hearing. To understand hearing one needs to know what it’s like to not hear. So deaf is the opposite of hearing. All the shades of deafness and all the shades of hearing are necessary for us to be able to understand what hearing is and to comprehend what sound is. There is high and low pitched. There is sweet sound and grating sound. Fundamentally being deaf allows us to know that we actually can hear. My defence mechanism was simply that without me and people like me, hearing people would have no comprehension of hearing. It would just be a cacophony of senseless white noise is what I reckoned. My place in the universe was so that others could hear. I was, therefore, an essential part of existence.

Of course I didn’t think this deeply when I was 8. I was no super genius or anything. But when I entered adolescence, as we do, I began to think more deeply and try to make sense of what had happened to me. A lot of this was because of my dad who was an immensely spiritual and deep-thinking person.

My dad believed in god you see. I don’t. Not as he did anyway. I tend to think there is something out there, something awesome and mysterious. A power, a force – just a something – that led us to what we have today. I don’t know what it is. I don’t think anyone does or will ever know. Something was just there to start with, whatever it was. We humans cannot comprehend this because the opposite of something is nothing. The problem is if we had something there was never nothing. Paradoxically if there was nothing there was never something because something never comes from nothing. This makes no sense, whatsoever, to the human mind.

For my dad there was a god. Not a Christian, an Islamic one or anything really in the traditional sense of man’s concept of gods. For my dad there was far too much order in the world. Way too much order for anything to have just happened randomly.

My father explained his view to me many times. A minute has sixty seconds. Sixty minutes makes an hour. 24 hours makes a day. The earth revolves around the sun in that amount of time. To my dad this was well planned order. He knew that if the earth got slower there would be catastrophe.

Did you know, for example, a slowing down in the earth’s rotation could lead to average temperatures of 35degrees, oceans would expand, land would be lost, crops would be lost and there would be mega storms. Our very survival would be compromised. Indeed we would be in danger of being wiped out.

My dad he was fascinated as to how animals were all so similar. That they had a heart to pump blood, lungs to breathe, organs to break down food and so on. He was fascinated that there was oxygen and that without it or less of it we would die. He was fascinated that there was the right amount of oxygen in the air and that if this changes our very survival is challenged. This, according to my dad, could not just happen randomly. It was something that was designed.

To him there was no doubt that there was an intelligent being or force that created all of this. It could not have just happened, there was too much to chance.

And from my father’s teachings I developed my own philosophy of opposites. This ultimately allowed me as a teenager to come to terms with my deafness. You see these opposites were part of the scheme of things, they were there for a reason. They were not there by chance. They were there so that we could exist and be aware of our very being.

BUT – were these opposites created or were they just a lucky fate of chance? To me that was not the question. Opposites are there so that we know the difference and without them our existence would make no sense. In fact our senses would be in absolute chaos. As a young man that gave me a small reason to understand why it was me that was made deaf. Many times I have cursed the gods for my deafness, and still do, but my little opposites philosophy gave me solace in those moments of anger.

And you know it shaped my philosophy in life. It convinced me that I matter. It convinced me that my purpose in life was more than just being poor little deaf boy. My existence and my deafness was and is vital to our existence.

Look, people with a disability don’t just help people know that they can walk, hear, learn and see – they provide jobs and security to millions. Whether it’s through support or technology, if you take people like myself out of the equation the world will collapse – And not just because nothing will make sense but because millions will be without a job and an income. Believe me you need us in so many ways. We aint no burden buster, we are NEEDED.

And there ends your philosophy lesson for today. I thank my dad for my resilience and my approach to life. I suggest we all take a little page out of his book – Just remember, everything exists for a reason – and yes THAT MEANS YOU!!


The Almost Demise

Last week the Australian Government announced that there would be a new provider for the National Relay Service (NRS). For those not in the know the NRS is the service that allows  people with hearing and speech issues to access the phone through a third person who assists by voicing typed messages and typing voiced messages. There are other nuances of the service too such as assisting people who have speech difficulties be understood over the phone. There is also the Video Relay Service for Auslan users. Let’s not forget SMS relay and the emergency relay service too. No question it is supposed to be a fantastic service. Here is hoping that Concentrix , the new provider, can maintain the lofty standards of old.

I say standards of old because the current NRS is no where near the standard of old. It had become so bad in recent times that one would only ever use it if forced too by absolute need. Wait times were appalling, drop outs occurred and I found myself, more than once, being asked bizarre questions, “Give me an idea of what you will be talking about?” I was once asked. I answered this by saying I am just calling to say I love you. They must have got a shock when I was actually calling on NDIS business. I was once told I could only wait three minutes on hold. I tell you this was rubbish and is apparently not even policy. Imagine phoning Telstra and only being able to be on hold for three minutes? FFS, nothing would ever get fixed.

But yes that is what the NRS had become. A bit of a shambles actually. How sad it is that this is what it has become. I have fond memories of when the NRS started under the old provider, the Australian Communication Exchange, (ACE). ACE set the standard and unfortunately those lofty standards of old were not maintained by the ACE of today. It came as no surprise to me that they did not win the new tender.

But still it is sad … ACE were an institution. They were trend setters. They delivered the initial NRS and they were established and run, at least initially, by Deaf people. They lobbied for, eventually tendered for and won the original NRS tender. They delivered a top quality service where consumers were at the forefront. More importantly, from my point of view, as an employer they employed people with disabilities. True, most of them were deaf but they did not just employ them they provided them with opportunities in management. These people with disabilities led the organisation and because they had walked the talk they ensured that the services that were delivered responded to the needs of the consumers. We are never likely to ever see the likes of it again.

Something unravelled after 2005. I do not know what. I suspect that there was pressure from the Government for change and the leaders at the time stood up to the Government and said NO! They tried to maintain a model that was working well. Why fix what is not broken? In fact, I am told, they had case reserves of some $14 million dollars.

Then change came. The deaf and disabled staff were systematically laid off and replaced, no doubt, by accountants that had no feel for the community. From that point onwards ACE and the NRS, in my view, went down hill to the present shambles that it currently is. I am told that the $14 million cash reserves have been virtually whittled away to nothing.

In 1999 I became manager of an innovative new program. It was Australia’s first ever mentor program for young deaf people. I was charged with developing the service model, setting up the office and recruiting the staff. Unashamedly I wanted it to be like ACE. I wanted people with a disability to be at the forefront. At one stage the program had four full time staff. All who had a disability, including me its manager.

We also had a pool of trained and paid mentors. These were casual staff, 30 of them who were all either deaf or blind. Yes blind, because so successful was the initial program that  the Government expanded it to include young people who were blind as well. ( I am deliberately leaving out terms like hearing impaired, vision impaired etc – just for the narrative. So any sensitive petals out there that like PC terms, do calm down.)

I was proud of the program. It was the first of its kind. Its aims were to provide young people who were deaf or blind with tools for life, We called these Deaf Life Skills or Blind Life Skills. The program was mentioned as best practice at the World Mental Health Conferences for the Deaf in 2000 in Denmark. Like ACE the program was systematically dismantled by Ablebods that thought that they knew better but in reality knew next to nothing.

But still I am proud. It was a program for people with a disability, developed by people with a disability and administered by people with a disability. Not unlike ACE. They were heady days. Like ACE the program is no more. The services we developed are still around but delivered sporadically and with little purpose. A little bit like the original NRS. A world class program destroyed by people who thought that they knew better but ultimately knew very little.

We still have the NRS. We have a new provider. Let’s give them a chance. I am told they have a smaller budget to deliver. I am told there is no consultative committee to hold them to account. I am told that budget cuts will mean the 24/7 service is under threat. With a smaller budget the new provider have to provide, supposedly, what is being provided now. Voice to text, text to voice, Video relay, SMS relay, Voice to Voice relay, captioned relay calls, IP relay calls and the like. No doubt they will have to employ new managers, new relay officers, develop promotions and accessible information. Basically they are starting from scratch with less. And worse, with seemingly no consumer voice or input.

Yup, I am worried. Proof will be in the pudding. Who knows? They may surprise us all. Here is hoping it’s not an Almost Demise