Deaf Can Do have written a second letter to the Deaf Community. This was in response to their apology that was issued just before Invasion Day, January 26th. In this letter the boss, Heidi Limareff, offered a little more explanation and provided a little more history. Like the first letter, I have no doubt that Ms Limareff is sincere. Perhaps there is a bit of guilt associated with this as she was part of the organisation that made these earlier decisions. The more cynical among us believe that this series of apologies is related to the fact that Deaf Can Do, having lost the trust of the Deaf Community, have lost much of the business associated with Deaf community. If you missed The Rebuttal’s first response to the apology you can read it HERE
Ms Limareff reiterates in the second letter that the old Townsend House “Saved” the Deaf Society when it came calling for help back in 2007. She reinforces the fact that had Townsend House not provided support then, the Deaf Society would likely have closed. Ms Limareff highlights that since that time the introduction of the NDIS has meant that organisations like Deaf Can Do receive little to no Government funding. Instead, they are expected to be part of the “Market”. In short they “Sell” their services.
We deaf people are the primary purchasers. Mostly through the NDIS. We can purchase interpreting, technology, counselling, Auslan lessons for our families and friends so we can communicate better and so on. Some of us have Auslan for Employment money from Jobaccess. We buy interpreting and some of us use it to buy the technology that helps us to do our job.
This market is fairly lucrative. It is also competitive. Auslan interpreting is particularly competitive. There are a number of companies that offer Auslan interpreters throughout Australia. Deaf Can Do has to compete with these companies. Some of these companies try to shore up the market by insisting that interpreters work only for them and sign contracts as such. There are rumours that some service agreements that these companies have with consumers insist that Deaf people book only with them. Suffice to say, such practices go against the principles of the NDIS, particularly the principle of Choice and Control.
But I digress. Deaf Can do have to compete. They also now have to compete with Deaf run businesses that offer many NDIS services including interpreters, support coordination, counselling, technology and the like. All these things are part of Deaf Can Do’s core services. If they do not have the trust of the Deaf Community they cannot make money and sustain Deaf Can Do. Perhaps there is some truth in the cynics view that these apologies are a way of restoring trust and getting more Deaf people to use Deaf Can Do’s services.
I notice an interesting thing in the second letter from Ms Limareff. It does not, anywhere, suggest that the Can Do Group actually inherited the property at 262 for next to nothing. Sure, they committed some capital to saving the Deaf Society but they essentially inherited this prime real estate on South Terrace for nothing. Ms Limareff states that they have invested $500 000 in the Deaf Can Do services. Thanks, but considering that when the Can Do Group sold 262 they made over $3 million, thats a pretty good profit. I have heard that 262 sold for $3.7 million, others have said it was $3.1 million. Either way, we would all be rubbing our hands in glee if a $3 million plus asset landed plum in our lap. As I see it, the Can Do Group have done pretty well out of it.
Ms Limareff tells us that the old 262 building, now known as 261, is on the market for $4 million. Astounding considering that the building and all the land around it sold for under $4 million initially. Many members of the Deaf community have been imploring the Can Do group to buy it back for them. Ms Limareff correctly points out that this would not be a viable financial investment because there is much work that needs doing on the building to make it safe for people to inhabit.
But let’s be honest. The Deaf Community lost an asset that today, with the land, would be worth many millions of dollars. They lost it because an organisation saw the Deaf community as something that needed saving with services and support, rather than as thriving community that requires autonomy. In short, they had a welfare mentality. This mentality made them think that they were there FOR the Deaf community and that without them the Deaf Community would collapse. It is this welfare mentality that I wish to challenge. Particularly given that these people employed by the Can Do Group owe their jobs, food on their table, ability to pay their mortgage etc – to the very community and consumers that they have serve.
Numerous times Ms Limareff has described the need for a Community Centre for the Deaf community as a “Place to meet”. Yes, that would be lovely, but the Community Centre is more than that. Handled properly it can become a Hub. It could be come a business centre where Deaf people, and I dare say Deaf business, could thrive. What we need is a vision of a Deaf community in this century. What does it need? It is more than just a place to meet.
Imagine having a Centre where Deaf Community members could go to access interpreters. Perhaps freelance interpreters could book booths where deaf people could come in and access them. The interpreter would hire the booths for the day and Deaf community members and Deaf business could come in and purchase the services of these interpreters via their NDIS funds or Auslan for Employment funds. Deaf business could have meetings with hearing clients through these interpreters. They could also book a room and access interpreters from anywhere in Australia through state of the art video conferencing facilities.
Perhaps within that Hub there are other Deaf businesses as well. A Deaf Cafe. A Deaf personal trainer. Perhaps a Deaf psychologists here, or even interstate, can offer services to South Australian Deaf clients. Interstate business could do this through the state of the art video conferencing. Qualified Deaf people could offer Auslan classes to the public at this Hub. Maybe we have a Deaf yoga instructor that hires an area for regular yoga groups that Deaf community members pay for through the NDIS because it provides Auslan access. Perhaps Deaf masseurs can set up there or even Deaf Physiotherapist could consult. Why not aim high and make this centre not just a meeting place, but a thriving business Hub that the Deaf community can be proud of. Believe me, right here and now, these Deaf professionals exist and more.
The Can Do Group are not poor, they are quite wealthy. I dare say if they saw fit to give back to the Deaf community what they took away, minus $500 000 they say they invested, that the Deaf community could aim for full autonomy. With support, innovation and perhaps some seeding grants from the Government, maybe this is feasible.
Let’s move away from this tired old meeting place and welfare model. Let’s aim high. An apology is great but think of all the things that are possible. The Deaf community is full of brilliant people. It’s time to let them regain their power and autonomy by giving back what was taken away.