The Invisible People

Graphic shows a yellow Teddy Bear sitting with building blocks in front of it. It has no eyes and no ears.

“I found myself staring at a bear. He had been posted on Facebook. He was a kind of sorry looking bear. He had no eyes and no ears and he had stubby little legs. He looked almost like a double amputee. The bear was sitting sorrowfully on a wooden floor, surrounded by wooden blocks and wooden toys. He is a bright yellow bear. He stands out from the toys that are reds, blues and greens. He looks so lonely and so sad. In the background on a blue wall were the words, “WE NEED YOUR HELP.”

Taken from I Saw a Bear, The Rebuttal, June 29th, 2013

One day back in 2013 I saw the eyeless and earless bear on Facebook as described above. I was taken aback. It was grotesque. Worse, not only was it on Facebook, it had been placed in the form of a billboard at my bus-stop. It was an awareness and fundraising campaign conducted by one of Australia’s oldest and long-standing charities, The Royal Institute of Deaf Blind Children, (RIDBC) The basic idea was that here was a deaf and blind bear. It was a very sad thing representing children who might be Deaf, hard of hearing, Blind, vision impaired or deafblind.  It’s tragic and we should give our money to save them. The reader will see the original advertisement in the graphic to their right.

I was outraged because the advertisement focused entirely on deficit and portrayed people who are Deaf, hard of hearing, Blind and vision impaired as sad sorry creatures that required saving. I was outraged because it did not even accurately portray what RIDBC do, mainly that they support children who are Deaf, hard of hearing, Blind, vision impaired or deafblind. Not just deafblind which is what the bear portrays. I was outraged because the whole premise of the advertisement was revolting. It was a cynical attempt to garner pity from an unsuspecting public.

I wrote the article on Friday, posted it on the Saturday morning. It created a bit of an outrage and by Sunday evening we had a response from RIDBC CEO – I have pasted it in full below …

Dear All,

As the Chief Executive of RIDBC the approval of the noted campaign rested with me. The ad has been concluded and all “Yellow Bears” will be removed today / tonight.

By way of explanation the ad was not designed to reflect a person who is deaf or blind but to associate “eyes and ears” with RIDBC a task that often proves difficult from a general community perspective. The fact that the comparison has been made, and, has caused distress is enough for immediate cessation of the probono campaign.

RIDBC is committed to giving children the best start in life through its high quality educational programs and services. I will ensure that same high quality approach is applied to our general community awareness campaigns and media activities.

Yours sincerely,

Chris Rehn

Mind you his promise that all “Yellow Bears will be removed today/tonight” did not quite occur. It took a couple of weeks for the offending bear to be removed from my bus route, which was in Melbourne by the way, such was the reach of the campaign. But credit where it was due, he did what he promised.

One would think that an organisation such as RIDBC would have learnt from this mistake. One would think that, moving forward, they would consult with their stakeholders and the Deaf community. One would think that if they were to embark on huge changes, having learnt from the Yellow Bear debacle, that they would push all stops out to make sure that they did it right into the future.

But this is hearing people and professionals we are talking about. It is hearing business people with dollar signs in front of their eye. Hearing professionals that lack knowledge of the issues and needs of the people that they are serving. This is people with hearing privilege who see themselves as saviours of us poor disabled creatures. Mind you, not all hearing people and professionals are like this, there are many champions out there. However, there are far too many who are stuck in their privilege and power.

So it came as no shock to me that RIDBC is no more. Perhaps I am being a little dramatic, in truth it has been rebranded. It’s now called NextSense. The problem is that it appears that very few of the people that are associated with or have been associated with RIDBC in the past appear to have known what was happening. They were aware that a rebranding was happening, but it seems, allegedly, very few of them – and this includes parents, ex students, current students and the Deaf community – were consulted in the process.

Let’s look at the name NextSense. As is typical of these organisations, they have rid their brand of any mention of disability. Like Expression Australia before them, I bet this decision was purely around money. You see, any reference to disability is seen as a negative thing. The view of marketers and business people, most who have no lived experience of disability, is that any reference to disability will turn people away. Such is the way of this money obsessed NDIS influenced world.

You see, they say that if they use the word Deaf, people with a lesser hearing loss will avoid them. If they use Blind people classified as “partially sighted” or vision impaired will not come to them. If they do not come to them they miss out on potentially millions of dollars. So what they do is avoid the terms deaf and blind, or in fact any term related to disability.

In doing so they only further marginalise disability. They reinforce the idea that disability is a bad and negative thing. They reinforce the idea that disability needs to be avoided at all costs and has no place in our society. Hide them, don’t mention them, avoid them and come up with cute branding like NextSense to attract them all and their NDIS dollars. Cynical am I? I suspect that what I have just said is very close to the truth.

What is worse is that in one stroke of a computer keyboard they have obliterated over a hundred years of history. The famous Thomas Pattison School, founded in 1860 by the Deaf man of the same name, has been rebranded. It’s now called, revoltingly, NextSense School Sign Bilingual program. It’s purpose, and I quote directly from the NextSense website:

“… is for children who use both Australian Sign Language (Auslan)and English in its written and spoken form.” 

Put aside the fact that Auslan does not stand for Australian Sign Language. Auslan is the name of the sign language that the Australian Deaf community own and is an integral part of their cultural identity. IT IS NOT AN ACRONYM!  Put aside the fact that there is no mention of Thomas Pattison and his legacy anywhere in the blurb, as far as I can see anyway. Put aside the fact that all this clearly shows that NextSense didn’t bother to consult nor include the Deaf community in any of these new branding developments. If they had, none of these school children errors would have been made. They didn’t consult, but they did insult the Deaf community in a very bad way. It seems that the yellow bear incident taught RIDBC nothing.

Apparently, in all of the media releases there are also no alternate formats, no Auslan versions for the Deaf community. Not on their website and not on their promotional Youtube video which was at least captioned, thankfully. Sadly there are actual videos on their website that are not captioned, poor form for an organisation that professes to be all inclusive.  I apologise if there are Auslan versions out there but for the life of me I could not find them.

It’s just another addition to the cock ups made by hearing privileged  professionals. This is just another insult to the Deaf community and all associated stakeholders including parents and past students be they Deaf, hard of hearing, Blind, vision impaired or deafblind.

Will they ever learn or will we forever be the Invisible People???



Below please find an Auslan translation brilliantly provided by Gavin Rose-Mundy – With sincere thanks!


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