Sorry -Now What? Part 2

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.


Sorry – Now What?

“The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia’s history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future.

We apologise for the laws and policies of successive Parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians.

We apologise especially for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country.

For the pain, suffering and hurt of these Stolen Generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry.

To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry.

And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry.”

Kevin Rudd Sorry Speech, 2007

The apology to Australia’s First Nations People from then Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, was met with much fanfare. Particularly so because the previous Prime Minister, John Howard, had refused to offer one. Howard feared that if he were to offer an apology to the owners of the land, the First Nations People, that it would open up the floodgates to litigation.

It didn’t do that. But neither did it change things much. Our First Nation People are still among the most poor in the nation, if not the world. A large number are still the victims of any number of health, social, educational and financial issues. In short, although Rudd’s apology was sincere, it led to little change. In fact, with the introduction of the Cashless Welfare Card and the disbanding of the Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC), it could be argued that First Nations People are as powerless as ever.

It is a stark reminder that actions speak louder than words and that the rhetoric has not been matched by effective action.

Interestingly, the day before Invasion Day, I read an apology from the Can Do Group to the South Australian Deaf community. The Can Do Group manage Deaf Can Do.  For those that do not know, Deaf Can Do are the services that were previously provided by the Royal South Australian Deaf Society. The Society were previously based at the hallowed grounds of 262 South Terrace, Adelaide, affectionately known to the Deaf Community as 262. Anyway, the apology was offered by Heidi Limareff, Group Chief Executive, Can Do Group. You can see an Auslan version of the apology by clicking here – AUSLAN APOLOGY

” I have spent a lot of time listening and have heard the pain and sadness caused by many South Australian institutions in the past, including experiences with the Royal South Australian Deaf Society.

While some people took me through the history of the Deaf Society from the very early days, most people’s focus was on three of more recent events:

  • –  First, the merge between Townsend House and The Royal South Australian Deaf Society in early 2007.
  • –  Second, the loss of membership.
  • –  And, third, the sale of 262 South Terrace in 2014.  

I have worked for the Deaf Society for nearly 16 years now so I experienced these events first hand. I know the communication to the community was poor and I also understand that the community consultation about these changes was not very effective or collaborative. I am very sorry for this. Our Board and leadership are very sorry. We are sorry for the impact on individuals and the community of these events. 

We are sorry there was poor communication before and during the sale, and we are sorry that we did not consult properly with the community. We are sorry for the hurt, the sadness, and the fracturing of the community. And we are sorry for the feeling of loss so many of you have experienced through losing your cultural home and sense of place.” 

Heidi Limareff, Group Chief Executive

I have no doubt that the apology from Ms Limareff is authentic and sincere. I have no doubt that she empathises and feels the pain of the Community. Like with the Rudd apology, I hope that the actions that follow from the Can Do Group meet the rhetoric. I hope that these sincere words from Ms Limareff do just not end up in cyber space, well meaning words that are not matched by the actions.

Many people reading this will not know much of the history of 262. The building at 262 South Terrace was purchased way back in the 1920’s. I understand that the Deaf community were active in its purchase. They held raffles, visited pubs  and raised the capital that led to the purchase of 262. The purchase occurred because the original premises of the Deaf Society became too small. As the Community grew so did its need for a larger base and cultural home. The building at 262 was purchased largely through the hard work and dedication of the Deaf Community. In short it largely belonged to the Deaf community.

Over the years the Royal South Australian Deaf Society was mostly controlled by hearing people. There were Deaf people on the Board of course, but they were always in the minority. It is a truism to say that hearing people controlled the Deaf society and its finances. In the late 1990’s the South Australian Government changed how it funded Disability Groups. This meant that a large proportion of the funding it provided to the Deaf Society was cut. The Deaf Society struggled and in an effort to survive sold off most of its assets until, it seems, the only asset left was 262!

In 2007 the Deaf Society was close to broke and asked the Can Do Group, (then known as Townsend House), to help them out. Townsend House came to the rescue and took over the administration of the Deaf Society. I remember seeing the agreement that was written at the time and writing here at the Rebuttal that effectively Townsend House now controlled the Deaf Society and 262. If they saw fit, I argued, they could sell 262 and probably would.

The CEO and President of the Deaf Society of the day attacked me relentlessly. They accused me of fear mongering and letting fiction get in the way of the truth. They even promised, if memory serves me correctly, to never sell the building. We all know now where the fiction was.

In 2014 the building, 262, was sold. Before that the Deaf community of South Australia protested loudly and held rallies to save the building, all to no avail. I wrote an article about this at the time suggesting that the Deaf community had been Cast Out Like Squatters – Click on the title to read.

Inevitably the building was sold. Can Do offered the Deaf community a home in Modbury. The details of the agreement I do not know. I understand that despite the efforts of many dedicated volunteers the headquarters in Modbury have not brought the community together. The Deaf community in South Australia has become, like other states that lost their community centres, increasingly fragmented and divided. The community still grieves for its soul and centre that existed at 262. It is not an exaggeration to suggest that the sale of 262 ripped the heart out of the South Australian Deaf community. Not unlike the sale of Jolimont in Victoria or Stanmore in NSW, lessons that hearing administrators of Deaf societies continue to not heed.

So here we are now. The Can Do Group has offered an apology for selling the building that was the Heart of the Deaf community. A building that, in my view, it had no right to sell. It inherited the building for nothing and it seems it wished to recoup the money it had invested in saving the Deaf Society, whatever the social and emotional cost this would cause the South Australian Deaf Community.

I welcome the apology from Ms Limareff. I have no doubt that she and the Can Do group are sincere. She has promised to continue to consult and involve the Deaf community in decisions moving forward. I welcome this also. However, like with the Rudd apology, I hope that this sincere apology does not end up in the annals of Deaf history as mere words – Let the actions that follow meet the rhetoric.