Hello. It’s late at night. I am writing this on my iPad. It will be short. Likely, errors will be many. Doesn’t matter cos I am sure, you the reader, will understand everything.
It is International Week of Deaf People. Today my Facebook feed has constantly reminded me that it is International Sign Language Day. I have watched countless videos of Deaf people signing. Some beautifully. Some with minor errors. Some in what can only be described as Signs in English order. It did not matter. Message was received and understood. Success!
A few days ago my nose went out of joint. Someone was complaining that people were not pronouncing Covid properly. Apparently, some were not saying COHVID … they were saying COVID as it is pronounced in Coffin or Coffee. Shocking and wrong. Talk properly people.
This pissed me off no end. I just saw this as the most revolting piece of ableism. You see, I knew that the world over deaf people were pronouncing it wrongly. Apparently, it is correct to pronounce it Covid as in OH … COHVID. Some Scallywags have been pronouncing it Coffid, as it sounds in coffee. Probably, somewhere, people were also pronouncing it Cowvid, like as in cow.
I know deaf people will be pronouncing it one of the three. Not having heard it pronounced properly they will have taken a punt and picked one of the three options. Likely, a fair few picked the wrong option. Hear the snorts and chuckles as they do so.
This is common amongst deaf people. I have a Friend who I tease mercilessly because she pronounced Karaoke as Kakarowkey … I also constantly mispronounce words. English is a bastard of a language. … Often words are not pronounced how they look. This is because of the weird rules of English and the bizarre use of silent letters.
Psychology, as an example, is a word with silent letters … we say Sighkology … but if you have never heard the word, phonetically you might say – Pisskology. Or as a deaf friend constantly said to me, despite constant corrections .. fissakology.
This is the lot of Deaf people who have read widely but not heard words, they mispronounce words regularly. I do a fair bit of public speaking. I warn my audience that they will hear me mispronounce words that I have read but never heard. I encourage them to stop me if a word s so badly mispronounced that they do not understand me. It has not happened yet. I know from the odd looks of the audience when I have got it wrong. Occasionally Some kind Auslan interpreters will take me aside after my talks and give me impromptu speech therapy sessions.
I get signs wrong too. My Auslan is ok, but I regularly butcher Auslan, unintentionally mind you. Nevertheless, people forgive me. Why? Simply because I have communicated a message to them and they have understood.
This is the key. Communication is about being understood. If this happens with a few wrongly formed signs or mispronounced words, so be it. As long as the message was understood.
Yet, far too many throw scorn upon those that mis-form a sign or mispronounce a word, even though they have fully understood the message. For some unknown reason people feel that it is ok to humiliate people who form signs or speak words incorrectly. Even though the message that they have been trying to convey has been understood in all its entirety.
Bottom line is, if you understood the message communication happened successfully and that is all that matters. By all means ask the Deaf person if they would like some feedback about their speech or signing and assist if it is requested. However, let’s never ridicule people for pronouncing words wrongly or forming signs wrongly. Especially if the message was communicated clearly and understood.
Get off your ableist high horse people and read this below… it explains it better than I ever could.
Last year when I lost Joy, I wrote about it. Where’s Joy? The article was written when I was at my lowest. My wife was in America and my boys were out working. It was my birthday and I was all alone. I needed to make sense of this enormous black cloud that was hanging over me so I wrote. It was an awful time.
Where’s Joy? – It is about my journey with depression. My psychologist called it reactive depression triggered by a workplace incident. Indeed it was. I had a horrific boss. She was a bully. She was a gaslighter. Subtly and cruelly she would dig the knife in.
It was an awful time at work. I left on a secondment for six months. It was a successful time too. I was offered an 18 month contract. When I had left my previous workplace my manager had just started. I had my doubts about her then. Especially when she asked me if I would rather go back to my desk and work rather than work with her and a colleague on reports.
You see, she didn’t like to have to adapt her communication. It stifled her style. When she asked me this I must have given her daggers because she physically jumped backwards. In answer to her suggestion I rather coldly replied – “No, I would rather be here, thank you.”
The warning bells should have been acknowledged when she asked a colleague who was unsteady on their feet to move desks. Supposedly because they were an occupational health and safety hazard to others. But I left soon after. When I left, I left a happy workplace. I left a great group of colleagues who I enjoyed working with. Laughs were never far away. I was determined to come back after my six month secondment. Indeed, I even promised a few people that I would. The boss had only been there a few months at that time.
When I left I had my doubts. I didn’t think the manager had the disability smarts. But I try to see the good side of people. Perhaps over time she would learn. I should have known better.
I returned after six months to what I can only describe as a tense and unhappy workplace. I was horrified. At management meetings they spoke about my colleagues with disdain. They called them liars, lazy, unprofessional, trouble makers, not good enough and so on. I will never forget my senior colleague standing in front of me and proclaiming of one young colleague – ” … They hate me, they hate but I don’t care. They re not good enough, they are lazy.” It was not a pleasant place to be.
And that manager. She would talk about people who had moved on to other roles. She would talk about them like they were dirt. She would claim they were never good enough and that they would never be welcome back. It was really horrific and negative. On Mondays, when we had these meetings, I would break into a cold sweat. I hated those meetings.
We were performance managing a couple of people. I had them in the meeting room crying. Crying because the manager had phoned them and abused them. Crying because they feared for their futures and their families. Pleading with me to help. I helped as much as I could. I gave them tips on how to manage the situation. Advised them to record every conversation, get in touch with the union, never to go into meetings alone and so on. That is how bad it was.
With performance management, it is the manger that manages it. I would implement strategies. record outcomes, have follow up meetings and measure improvements. I was so concerned about how the manager was handling things that I contacted Human Resources expressing my concerns and sought guidance. I spoke to a colleague about how distressed one of the people who was being performance managed was. They responded – “…They had it coming ..” This person was just about to lose his job, their future and perhaps even their house. No compassion – Just – THEY HAD IT COMING.
Finally I cracked with the manager, I got angry. I told her she wasn’t being fair and I had something to say. She tugged her ear lobe – at me, a deaf guy – and said – “Listen to me!” That was the last straw. I looked her straight in the eye, while pointedly tapping the table with my middle finger, and said, apparently very loudly – “No – I have listened to you for a long time, now you are going to listen to me.”
A little after that, after some horrendous gaslighting I broke down. I will never forget our last meeting when she mad me sit next to a window, and sat herself next to the door. She was implying I was a threat and would hurt her. I remember telling her she might want to leave the door open, just in case. She was subtle and cruel. I don’t hate many people, but by golly I hate her.
This all happened precisely a year ago last week. The trauma of the time came back to me. I was angry and teary and I was having flashbacks. You know, even when I left she did not let up. She would tell colleagues to unfriend me on Facebook. Warn them to be careful because management would not view them associating with me in good light. One former colleague contacted me recently apologising for not getting in touch. She said she had felt compromised, even a little brainwashed. It is not a time of my life that I look back on with any fondness.
And I hit rockbottom. At first I just wanted to give up and forget. I didn’t want the stress of a Workcover claim. I just wanted to move on. But I found a great counsellor. The counsellor reminded me of my value and what I had to offer. She helped me with my Workcover claim and it was approved. This was vindication to me that what I had experienced was real.
I remember saying to my counsellor that I had let everyone down. By quitting I had put my family at risk. We stood to lose everything. She was having none of it. She said that quitting, knowing the risks, was the bravest thing that I could do. “Gary.” she said, ” … you were bullied, the woman abused you, no-one has to put up with that.”
That was the start of my recovery. The counsellor gave me strategies to stop me ruminating. She said to find something to focus on. Just focus on it and think about it. Think about its shape and colour and where it came from. She told me to allow my mind just to get absorbed with the object. So I started macro-photography. Close ups of flowers, insects and objects. Every day I would take photos and post them on Facebook under the title of POSITIVITY.
Slowly and surely, with the help of Marnie, my boys, my friends and my counsellor I hauled myself out of the hole and began to look for Joy. Slowly and surely I began to feel her presence. She was there, I could feel it but I just could not allow myself to fully accept that she was back.
One day I was waiting to hear if I had been successful with a job that I had applied for. I was convinced that I had missed out. I could feel myself falling back into the hole. I grabbed my camera and I went for a walk. I walked some 200 metres from home and saw a a mother and father with their young child. They were looking up a tree and were very excited. I walked up to them and looked up, this is what I saw ….
There she was. This was Joy. I called her Froggy instead because it is a Tawny Frogmouth. But at that moment, that very moment, I knew I had found Joy again. I didn’t care if I didn’t get the job or not. I looked at Froggy and I sort of knew that this was a message, that everything was going to be OK. And it was, because when I got home my phone confirmed that I had got the job. I have not looked back since.
The pandemic is with us. It is horrible but I know one day it will pass. I am currently separated from my family. They in Victoria, me in South Australia. Borders are closed and we cannot see each other. But it will pass, we will once again be united. Whenever I doubt this I look at Joy in the guise of Froggy. She is now a poster that hangs over my bed.
Life is truly good, testing but good. I was reminded of this by new boss. My new boss is the epitome of compassion and someone that values others. I knew I was finally back when she said this to me …. And I will end this here … It’s a year on and Joy has been with me for a while … All I can say is – WELCOME BACK, JOY and stay!
Gary you have achieved much since taking up the position. Your own lived experience of being Deaf has raised the consciousness of the staff to what it means to live with a disability. Your advocacy provides a role model for all staff. Our organisation is fortunate that your skill and expertise, both as a disability advocate and skilled practitioner, adds a depth to its profile that has not been there previously.
It’s been an interesting year to say the least. Covid-19 has impacted on us all at so many levels. We have all had to modify our behaviour. Social distancing and hygiene have been paramount. Many of us have been forced to work and study from home. This has brought with it many changes and challenges.
People in general have struggled. They have found the relentless succession of online meetings, training and other learning difficult. They have found connectivity an issue. They have found it hard to gauge emotions and vibes of communication because of the 2D nature and unfamiliarity of constant online communication. Distractions from children, family members and pets, at first an amusement, have become irritating and frustrating. It didn’t take long for the cracks to show.
But what if you have a disability. What if you are deaf and need captioning or interpreting? What if you are blind and cannot see what’s on screen? What if you are autistic and your carefully crafted routine and sensory management is disrupted? If the non-disabled found it hard – Spare a thought for people with a disability, the challenges have been immense.
I am deaf, I can only speak from my own experience. I am some kind of glutton for punishment. I have actually enjoyed the challenge. I have particularly enjoyed the challenge of using Live Transcribe for nearly all my meetings. Live Transcribe, for those that do not know, is an android based app that provides automatic voice recognition captioning. I basically just place my Samsung tablet on a stand beside my computer and it picks up what people are talking about.
This has been my choice. It has saved heaps of money in captioning and interpreting. However, it is not for everyone. The captioning is surprisingly accurate but gets tripped up by phonetics. Hence, my friend Theresa becomes “the razor” – Razor is her name of choice now. Survey Monkey somehow came out as “Simply Mickey” – It is often hilarious, and I share the errors with my colleagues to their ongoing amusement.
But there is a thing with these online gatherings. I call them gatherings because this encompasses many things – Education, work meetings, Webinairs etc. The thing is, even when access is provided, inclusion is extremely hard. What this means is that the deaf person, and probably others with a disability too, always have the last word.
Having the last word is often seen as a sign of a narcist. For a narcist winning an argument is everything. They are not known to listen, rather they want only to be heard. I often wonder in this new online normal, if this is how non-disabled colleagues view us Deaf or disabled people when we pipe up at the last moment.
As a deaf person who must engage in online discussions several times a day, I have found that the only way to be heard sometimes is to wait for everyone to finish talking. You sometimes see the hint of frustration on colleagues faces at me repeating things that they thought had been resolved. On days when my energy is low, I just cannot be bothered and stay silent.
My responses in meetings can go something along these lines …
“ … I am sorry to come in late. I haven’t been able to get a word in because everyone is speaking so fast … ? “ (This is usually followed by lots of sorry Gary, Sorry Gary, Sorry Gary).”
(Waving frantically at screen.). “ …. Stop, stop, stop – I need to challenge Bob’s assumption that interpreters slow down discussions … “ – No one has ever actually said this, but the reader should get the gist of my frustrations.
( Taking a note on my pad) …. “ …. I’m really sorry, Sue said something about 25 minutes ago that was really not correct, I need to take you back and discuss that again … “
Press raise the hand in Teams – Wait fifteen minutes before someone sees it – Forget what I wanted to say.
Chair asks if I have anything to add at the end of the meet because I have been very quiet .. “ … Several things actually, do we have an extra half an hour.” (Yes, the sarcasm is dripping -but the frustration is real.)
Couple this with the fact that we sometimes have connectivity issues, audio drop outs and the variable quality of both live and automatic captioning, it’s not always plain sailing. If you thought Zoom fatigue was a thing, be thankful you are not dealing with all of these other variables. I can tell you that at the end of a long day of Zoom meetings I am shot!
Of course, there are strategies that can help:
Everyone must speak one at a time.
Use the hand raising tool in the platform and police it strictly.
Use things like polls so that all can have a say.
Be aware that interpreters are pinned. When you share documents, the interpreters sometimes get unpinned. Provide deaf participant with some time to readjust (Just use chat feature and make sure everything is ok before proceeding.)
If captions drop out, connectivity interferes with access to interpreters or captioners etc – Stop the meeting. This may sound harsh but to continue is to undervalue the input of the deaf person.
Be a strict chair. Consider turn taking. For example, ask a question and provide people with a chance to respond equally, one at a time. Close gates on people that talk over others, stop the meeting when people are all talking at once. Open the gate for people that may struggle to get involved. All these things can help make a meeting more inclusive
I and other deaf people really don’t want to have the last word. We really want to contribute to the whole process. Often, I and other participants like me, have valuable ideas to contribute that can make processes and projects better and more efficient. For this to happen we all need to be fully involved so we and everyone can benefit. Inclusion should be the buzz word and it is very different from access!