Thats When Good Neighbours ….

Everybody needs good neighbours
Just a friendly wave each morning
Helps to make a better day

Need to get to know each other
Next door is only a footstep away

Everybody needs good neighbours
With a little understanding
You can find the perfect blend

Nathan Borg is our newest Deaf celebrity. He has a character on the long running Australian TV series, Neighbours.   His character is Curtis Perkins. The Now website proclaims him as Australia’s first actor with a cochlear implant. I am not sure that is true but it makes good copy I guess. Congratulations to Nathan, getting on Neighbours is an awesome achievement. You can read more about Nathan HERE 

Nathan has had quite a journey by his own admission. He has been told by many professionals that he should hide his disability. He was even kicked out of an acting course and told to find another career. What Nathan is experiencing is typical audism and hearing privilege. Lucky for him, and us, he persevered.

Nathan actually called Neighbours and suggested that they have a deaf character. To the credit of the producers they brought into the idea and cast Nathan as the character, Curtis Perkins. This all occurred on International Day of Disability. Ironic one might think.

It is very clear to me that Nathan is a doer. Whats more he is the type of person that wants to use his profile to create awareness and opportunities for other people who are deaf. Indeed, all people with a disability.

So, for the first time the Neighbours theme song was signed in Auslan. Of course, it was signed by Nathan. Nathan is not a natural signer and he sought support to do it properly and accurately. You can be picky and say it needed more use of space, needed to be more visual, needed more expression. You might even say some of the signs were not right. All would be true. But I am not a pedant, I think he did a great job.

However, much to Nathan’s surprise, many in the Deaf community were not happy. In fact they’re quite angry. Why? Because they believed that Nathan used two hearing people to assist him to translate and learn the signs for the song. This has since been disputed by the hearing people concerned. They claim that they only encouraged Nathan to sign the song and engaged a Deaf person to help him.

The furore, I am told, has taken Nathan by surprise and he is quite upset about the response. I can fully understand that because all Nathan wanted to do was create awareness and opportunities. He has done that, but he has also unkowingly created a shit storm. He must be so confused.

Now, there have been people who have said that these members of the Deaf community have overreacted. There is a train of thought that says they should shut up and just celebrate this positive exposure. I don’t agree and I am glad that these people spoke up, even if it appears that their initial concerns might have been unfounded.

Let’s consider what has happened to Nathan. By his own admission he has been discriminated against. He has been made to feel ashamed of being deaf and told to cover it up. He has been denied opportunities in a world dominated by hearing people. He has had to put himself out there and create his own opportunities.

This is what Deaf people and people with disabilities confront each and everyday. To get ahead they must fight and fight hard. It is not easy. So when members of the Deaf community heard that two hearing people were allegedly consulted to translate the Neighbours theme into Auslan they were rightly angry. These Deaf people spoke out and they were attacked for doing so. They were told to calm down, not be negative and so on.

The reality is that the reaction of these member of the Deaf community is wholly understandable. An opportunity to work with the Neighbours team to translate the theme song to Auslan is heaven sent. It should have been done entirely by Deaf people. People that use and own the language everyday, many who have spent years learning the intricacies of the language, including at university.

It was an opportunity for Deaf people to own this space. Even if the initial information they received concerning the hearing consultants was allegedly wrong, they were rightly angry. Angry because, like Nathan, they have had to fight tooth and nail for these opportunities. To seemingly lose those opportunities to two hearing people would have hurt immensely.

I am told that the two hearing people only encouraged Nathan to sign the song.  They then introduced Nathan to a Deaf person to assist in the translation of the theme. Allegedly, this person has chosen not to be named. I am sure the two hearing people involved meant nothing but good. Perhaps they could have told the Deaf community of Nathan and encouraged the community to contact him. In this way the Deaf community and Deaf people would have been fully in control.

What this whole episode has shown is that Deaf people are frustrated at being constantly denied opportunities. They’re angry and rightly so. Their response to this debacle is a reaction to our audist world of hearing privilege. It is something that many hearing people have yet to grasp. So whether these Deaf people were right or wrong about who assisted Nathan is not the issue. Their reaction is a symptom of everything that is wrong in the world today.

But let me say this, Nathan is the innocent party in all of this. To Nathan I say sorry. Keep doing your thing because what you are doing is awesome.

As a footnote it is possible for Deaf and hearing to work well together but still put Deaf people in control – Watch this video – Kudos to James and Ryan for one of the best awareness videos that I have seen. Deaf person in control and made using a Deaf Consultant ….

Thats when good neighbours become good friends ….

How Deaf Interpreters do their job from Ryan Gook on Vimeo.

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