(For readers that prefer Auslan, please scroll down for the brilliant Auslan translation provided by Gavin Rose-Mundy as a service to the Deaf community.)
The time has come
A fact’s a fact
It belongs to us
Please give it back
How can we dance
When our heads are turning
How do we sleep
While our hands are burning ….
(Adapted from Beds are Burning, Midnight Oil – Perhaps a new anthem for the Deaf community)
Peter Garrett from Midnight Oil is said to have written Beds Are Burning after touring the outback and seeing the appalling health and living conditions of the First Nations people. The line, “Let’s Give It Back”, says it all – It’s time to give back what was taken away. Sadly, since Garrett wrote the song, not a lot has changed. Arguably, as Australians’ continue to prosper, the rights and conditions of First Nation people have continued to decline.
In fact First Nation people make up the bulk of prison populations. They experience debilitating health conditions at a 2.3 % higher rate than other people that live in Australia. Let’s not forget the continued erosion of their human rights through appalling Government policy, like the cashless welfare card that initially was directly targeted at them.
What is not often spoken about in all of this tragedy, is the erosion of First Nation peoples’ languages. In fact it was not until 2008, that the Australian Government did anything to attempt to preserve these rich languages. Consider this:
None of this was on my mind yesterday. I was spending some quality time with Marnie. We were in a food hall at Colonnades Shopping Centre. I couldn’t decide what I wanted to eat so I told Marnie to just get something and I would share hers. “What if I don’t want to share?” she jokingly asked. My reply was, “Then I will starve …”
Colonnades is the new home for Can Do for Kids. It’s a huge and brilliant complex that Can Do have set up. A lot of their therapy for kids happens there as well. They have multi-sensory rooms and a whole assortment of state of the art therapy facilities. So huge is the centre that it is hosted where the old Myer shopping complex used to be. Clearly the Can Do Group are not short of a dollar.
As we waited for our food Marnie pointed out to me that Can Do were advertising on the many television screens throughout the Centre. I watched as a mother explained that she was accessing Auslan. I paraphrase here what the mother said, ” .. We are using sign language because little Johnny can’t talk yet …”
I can see every Deaf person in Australia screaming WTF as they read this. Or as my friend Becky exclaimed just the other day, “I’m Auslanless …” A clever take on the hearing phrase, “I am speechless ..”
I confess that the true impact of the mother’s words did not hit me straight away. Marnie pointed them out to me. For readers who have not yet grasped the implications of what the mother said, I will explain. Basically the mother is implying that Auslan is just a stop gap until their child can learn to speak. After that this hand flapping stuff wont be needed. Cos little Johnny will be able to speak, just like everyone.
I apologise to the mother if this is not what she meant, but it is certainly how it came across. What is more, organisations like the Can Do Group have form for this sort of stuff. One must not forget that Can Do also are now the host of the old Cora Barclay Centre who also have form. Cora Barclay did put out that awful advertisement some years ago of the young man proclaiming in speech, after butchering sign language, “Now there is a better way …. “
Perhaps I am being harsh, but I don’t think so. As I sat down to eat there was a flyer on the table. It seems that it was part of the Can Do Group’s blanket saturation of Colonnades that day. You can see the flyer below …
Can Do Group also host Deaf Can Do. This service is what remains of the old and vibrant Royal South Australian Deaf Society. Part of the remit of the Can Do Group is to provide support to Deaf and hard of hearing kids and their families. This includes audiology, speech, language support and Auslan. Yes, Auslan.
If you look closely at the flyer there is no mention of disability at all. There is no mention of Deaf, hard of hearing, blind, vision impaired, autism etc. All of these groups are among the people who the Can Do Group supports. They will deny it until they are blue in the face but I am of the strong belief that this is a deliberate marketing ploy.
Disability and all of the various terms associated with it are seen as negative and to be avoided. They have a picture of a beautiful smiling kid. As “Normal” as normal can be. They do this because they think if they mention such terms associated with disability too often, it will scare parents away. Not only would this mean that the Can Do Group would not be able to support these children but the Can Do would also miss out on the lucrative money to be earned through these children’s NDIS packages.
Debatable, I know. I encourage the reader to look even more closely at the flyer. Not only is there no reference to disability, there is no reference to Auslan which is, supposedly, a core service of the Can Do Group …… BUT, loudly and clearly the flyer proclaims that Can Do for Kids offers Listening and Spoken Language support and a little bit further down – Audiology. No Auslan though. An oversight? Possibly, but I don’t think so.
My view is that they have deliberately excluded Auslan because, consciously or unconsciously, they believe that Auslan is inferior and not worthy of promoting with such important services as listening, spoken language and audiology.
To me this is the final insult. It seems at this present time that these hearing professionals are on a path to eliminate Auslan. In fact, it seems that they are hellbent on demoting the Deaf community to the bottom of the rung. It follows on from the appalling treatment of the Deaf community by NextSense, the old Royal Institute of Deaf Blind Children (RIDBC) They, of course, promoted their new brand without a single reference to the history of the Deaf community in establishing the organisation and without a single Auslan version of their promotional material. They did not correct this until they realised the palpable anger of the Deaf community. As an afterthought they apologised and started preparing some Auslan versions. It was disgusting.
I have had enough. The Deaf community have had enough. We should all be fed up of being neglected and forgotten by the very organisations that are supposed to serve us. In many cases, in fact most cases, the Deaf community were primarily responsible for the establishment of these organisations. Despite this, many of these hearing professionals continue to treat the Deaf community and Auslan like dirt. It must stop!
The Deaf community is a rich and vibrant community with a wonderful history. Auslan is one of the sign languages of the world. It needs to be preserved and respected. Deaf people need to be at the forefront of the services that these organisations provide to Deaf and hard of hearing people. We need to be included and consulted every step of the way.
It is my belief that the exclusion and continued non-reference to the Deaf community and Auslan by these organisations is a deliberate ploy. They see us as inferior and not worthy of a place at the table . The Chair of Can Do is hearing with a history of finance and services. The Vice Chair is is hearing and an academic in psychology and social work and Flinders University. The directors are all hearing and include an accountant, someone from the Arts, a lawyer, and HR person from an Australian Disability Enterprise (Sheltered workshop). All of the paid leadership team are hearing. There are no Deaf community representatives. There is no-one that represents Auslan. What does that tell you???
It is time for the Deaf community to rise. No longer can we accept this disgusting treatment of the community and its language. It is time for the community and the language to be represented in the upper echelons of the Board and the leadership teams. It is time that the community were heard, properly represented and respected!
Rise now, be heard and be loud. For if we do not, the Deaf community is at risk of losing its identity and its language!
ENOUGH! Our Hands are Burning!
FOOTNOTE: I wish to be clear that the ongoing treatment of First Nations people is horrendous. The racism, marginalisation, destruction of lands and erosion of First Nations peoples’ autonomy and culture is among the worst human tragedies imaginable. In making the comparison between loss of language and identity of the Deaf community, I, in no way, wish detract from the terrible treatment of First Nations people – I apologise if any offence is taken.
I wish to also acknowledge the brilliant Auslan translation that Gavin Rode-Mundy has provided of this written Blog. What Gavin has done is an example of the wonderful work that Deaf interpreters can provide. This translation is a professional translation and without Gavin’s kind donation of his services to provide an Auslan translation of the article, many Deaf people that read this article would not get access to this information in their language.
Such translations should be provided for all information that is provided by Organisations that support Deaf and hard of hearing people. They should be provided by all Government agencies for all information. Preferably this information should be translated by professionals like Gavin and with the remuneration that it deserves. The Rebuttal receives no income and in recognition of the importance of the information within this Blog Gavin has donated his services.
In solidarity I thank Gavin for this vital service to the community. I hope that the article and this translation will encourage the Deaf community to fight and protest against the continued disrespect that they are being subject to.