Blowing My Own Trumpet

Image is of a man with his legs crossed. He is holding A trumpet. caption read – Blowing My Own Trumpet.

Over the next couple of months I went to tell some stories about some of the unsung heroes of the Deaf and hard of hearing sector. Not the Deaf community, but the sector at large. You know there are people out there that slog everyday. They open doors for people with a disability and deaf people simply by taking on the world and winning. It is often not a great world. It is often not designed for people who are Deaf or hard of hearing – But everyday people take this world on and win. They do far more for Deaf and hard of hearing people than many others that actually work in the Deaf and hard of hearing sector – Simply by living and showing the way.

I thought today I would start with me. And why not? Im coming to retirement in a few years and looking back over some of the things that I have done, well it is a way of celebrating. You can all stop reading now if you don’t want to read what is essentially me blowing my own trumpet. I’ll enjoy it even if you won’t. ;-D

Back in 85, I was among the first intake of deaf students at Mt Gravett College of Advanced Education which is now part of Griffith University. The late and great Dr Des Power recruited us. Dr Power was a great believer in giving deaf people an opportunity to become Teachers of the Deaf. He did so despite many in the establishment not thinking it was viable. Indeed, some Teachers of the Deaf protested. They said it was not possible because deaf students would not be able to teach speech. Dr Power ignored them all. There are many Teachers of the Deaf who are deaf who owe their careers to him.

Sadly, I am not one of them. You see, apart from being a rabid party animal with poor study habits, I broke my leg three times along the way. Although I completed two years of practical work and 18 months of academic work I kind of knew teaching was not what I wanted to do. Perhaps breaking my leg three times was the way of the teaching gods telling me that it was not meant to be. Suffice to say that one day the realisation hit me that I would go mad in school full of children everyday of the year except holidays.

So I quit. Sharon Hyde, our tutor at the time, did her best to convince me to stay, Gary” she said, with more than a hint of exasperation, “…you should be doing this with your eyes closed. Why do you make it so hard for yourself” I can see my mother reading this and nodding her head vigorously in agreement. But no, I knew that teaching was not for me and headed back to Adelaide to study social work.

It was here the making of Gary the advocate began. I enrolled in Social work at the then South Australian Institute of Technology, now known as the University of South Australia. I met with the Disability Liaison Officer, Dick was his name. I wanted interpreters like I had in Queensland but Dick said there was no money for this. He said he could organise me a buddy note-taker.

Dick, bless him (not), promised me he would arrange this for me before my first lecture. He didn’t. Nor did he arrange it by my second lecture, or the third, or fourth … I was getting desperate. I did what I had to do. One day after the lecture I went up to the lectern. I grabbed the microphone and implored all my fellow students to sit back down as they rushed for the door. Thankfully, most of them did. I asked for some volunteers to be my notetakers. It was perhaps the first time I had publicly disclosed I was deaf. A big thing for me. I was 22.

Anyway, I got some volunteers. I was forever chasing them for their notes. I had to grab their notes and take them to Dick who would photocopy them (When the photocopier was working.) It was a hard slog. I have to tell you I hated study, and still do. The scars remain.

Social workers are bleeding hearts you know. I’d often be sitting in group work with no clue as to what was going on. Some bleeding heart, wanting to show the lecturer that they understood the concept of opening the gate, would inevitably beam in on me and ask – “What do you feel about this Gary?” I would go bright red and have to admit I didn’t feel anything about it because I had no idea what they were talking about. True story.

So anyway, buddy note takers didn’t work. Recording lectures didn’t work because Dick failed to realise that his overworked secretary could not transcribe the recordings fast enough on top of her work load. SO, I began my career as an advocate and began to lobby for interpreters.

I was lucky because I began working at the Deaf Society and my work colleague, Vanessa, assisted me to to set up a Deaf Tertiary Education Support Network. We had several members that helped us to lobby for interpreters at University and TAFE. I met with my MP, the head of school, attended disability network meetings, got nominated to the Premiers Disability Advisory Committee, had meetings with the Eduction Minister Mike Rhann and so on and so on. I wrote letters to the Dean, the head of school. asking for interpreters. Finally after six years we won! I and my student colleagues did countless hours of unpaid work to make this happen. Countless deaf students have benefitted since. We should all be proud for what we achieved! Unsung heroes, all of us.

Very early in my career I made a calculated decision. I knew that If I worked only within the Deaf Sector my opportunities and influence would be limited. I decided that for my own opportunities and to have maximum influence I needed to work the mainstream.

I am proud to say today that I have worked with all disability types, including mental health and the NDIS. Most important, by working the mainstream I have made the mainstream more aware of what deaf people require to be included in society. I take my hat off to the many deaf people who have done the same. Simply by being out there and doing this they create far more opportunities for deaf people than people working in the Deaf sector alone. (My opinion anyway)

It is hard for me to know where to start but I would like to talk about the work I have done over 15 years or so in the National Disability Coordination Officers Program. It is a body off work of which I am immensely proud.

The inspiration for this body of work was my time as manager of the Successful Adults in Life Program (SAIL). This is a time before the internet had the powers that it does today. This is a time when a video conference required copper phone lines. It was very expensive. Put simply you needed a lot of phone lines for a good picture and to get good bandwidth. To make it simple, one phone line would get you an almost static picture where movement was just one big jerky thing. Two phone lines could get you a reasonable picture but it was still jerky. Three phone lines could get you a reasonably fluid picture, but at $600 an hour it wasn’t cheap.

The SAIL project focused on developing positive mental health in young deaf people. It also helped young people who were Blind or had a vision impairment. It is a program I designed and established. A big part of the program was the use of deaf mentors to impart “Deaf Life Skills” to young deaf people. I am pretty sure it was Australia’s first formal Deaf mentor program and had the first Deaf mentor training package. It was good too. Dr Catherine Wilshire quoted the model as best practice at the World Deaf Mental Health Conference in Denmark. She even quoted me, a very proud moment.

Back in 2000 we recognised that deaf kids in the country were extremely isolated. I worked with Melissa Phillips (Grivell) who was a visiting teacher for the deaf and deaf herself. We identified a number of deaf youth in the South Australian Riverlands. We wanted to connect them in someway to deaf youth in Adelaide. ( I am a bit of a sook, I get sniffly when I recall this.)

What I did, and this is true, I said to Adelaide TAFE that I would buy them a BIG TV for their video conferencing if they could promise me a year of free video conferencing to the Riverland and Port Pirie. To my shock they agreed, but a maximum two lines only. Not perfect, but with a little innovation – workable. From this two things happened.

Firstly, we connected four or five deaf youth in the Riverlands with deaf youth in Adelaide. We used innovation, lipreading, interpreting, text, whatever we needed, to communicate. The deaf Youth of Adelaide and the deaf youth of the Riverlands met monthly and planned an end of the year formal at the the famous 262 on South Terrace.

They planned everything from the format, the food, the music , the accommodation and the travel for the Riverland deaf youth. The Riverland deaf youth stayed the Appartments next door to 262. If I remember, the Apartments donated the room for the night. It was an enormous achievement. I laugh at people who complain now that their internet is too slow.

The second project was a wonderful deaf girl and her family in the Port Pirie. She was very socially isolated. Her mother wanted her to have access to Auslan and the Deaf community. We set up a program for the girl and her mother. They attended Port Pirie TAFE and learnt Auslan through Videoconferencing. My wife, Marnie, taught it.

We also set up a Deaf Mentor program where she met three deaf female role models regularly just to talk about life in general and practice her Auslan. It was heady stuff and required a lot of patience because the picture was slower which meant the people involved had to sign slower. The young girl is now a wonderful and valuable member of the Deaf community. Those in the know will often see her beautiful signing on Facebook where she works tirelessly to make videos focusing on creating awareness about mental health.

It was 2001. It was heady stuff and awakened in me an awareness of the power of online delivery to provide support to people living in remote areas. It is all a bit ho hum now. Now we have Telehealth, video relay interpreting and a soon to be CONVO service that deaf people can access at anytime on their phones, iPad or computers. Back then, in 2001, people told me I was dreaming. They said the speed was too slow. Tellingly, they told me it was not possible to use nor teach Auslan in 2D. Boy, were they wrong.

I commenced the NDCO role at the University of Ballarat in 2003. I had spent a year in Alice Springs as a teacher aid for three deaf Aboriginal students while my wife progressed her career as a visiting teacher. I knew first hand how difficult it was to access supports in a remote area. Indeed, I was interviewed for the job by teleconference because every video conferencing facility in Alices Springs, including the hospital, was broken. I booked the one Auslan interpreter in Alice Springs who arrived late and had to leave early. Somehow I got the job.

So, I commenced the NDCO role in July 2003. I had a wonderful boss, Barbara Webb, who made sure I wanted for nothing. I was acutely aware that me wanting for nothing was extremely expensive. For example, a one hour meeting in Warnambool, an area I covered, cost almost $1000 in interpreting fees. This included the minimum two hour fee plus the time the interpreter was on the road which was charged at full cost.

I wanted to prove a few things in this role. This included:

  1. That Interpreting cold be delivered through the internet using a dongle (3G at that time.)
  2. That education could be delivered online through an interpreter and captioning.
  3. That Information could be delivered online and in accessible formats.

My goal was to demonstrate how much cheaper that It could be if you could cut out travel costs. I also felt that less travel would help to free up supply for a service that was already outstripped by demand.

In 2006 I worked with the great Alastair McEwin who was heading the Redfern Disability Legal Services. Alastair put a couple of his lawyers at my disposal to prepare a plain English version of the DDA Education Standards. I worked with Todd Wright and Marcel Lenehan, who was then at the Macquarie University, to prepare an Auslan version of the Standards. I worked with the University of Ballarat to prepare an audio version of the Standards as well. From all of this information we created one of the first examples of an accessible website – https://ddaedustandards.info/

This was updated in 2014 and signed by the wonderful Stephen Nicholson. Originally Todd Wright was the signer. I still think it is one of the best examples around of an accessible website. The original version of the website allowed the user to download the Vodcasts and Podcasts of the information.

in 2008 we produced an example of an accessible online learning platform. We produced an example of a hospitality course where information for the course was available in text, audio or Auslan. We produced a CD (remember those) that you could load up and a graphic of a mobile phone would come up. You pressed the various icons on the mobile phone to see how Auslan, audio or text could be provided for online learning. I still have not seen anything as good since even if I am biased.

And finally from 2009 to 2011 I worked with Auslan Services to trial providing interpreting through the Internet and using a 3G dongle. We trialled it with a deaf student it Ballarat where we used the dongle and a laptop so that she could access interpreting in class. It was far from perfect but we showed that it could be done.

We also trialled online interpreting on the big screen through the internet at TAFE in the Goulburn Valley. I produce an instructional booklet on how to do this by Skype including setting up optional audio for the interpreter. At the time you would be amazed at how many nae sayers there were.

We were pioneers in every sense of the word showing Australia what could be done. Two of my favourite things were a funny training video I did using green screen. I used a green blanket for the green screen and superimposed myself interpreting myself on a video of me cooking cheese on toast. My sons filmed me and everyone tells me they could hear them giggling in the background as my dog, Hermione, stole my cheese on toast that I deliberately dropped on the floor.

The second was a training video I produced with Len Bytheway. This provided a desktop example of a video that had captions, interpreting and audio description. In a world first, the audio description was captioned so that deaf watchers could understand how audio description worked.

These were heady days. I like to think that I had more than a little influence on how things are today, particularly as my work was promoted widely hrough universities and TAFE through the NDCO network and ADCET website. Take a look at the new ADCET website here – It is an awesome thing. (Nothing to do with me mind you, although you will find some of my work there including one of the first examples of an accessible Webinar. ) ADCET

So there you have it, 101 things you didn’t know about me. Im not just The Rebuttal man you know. Not just the man who is known for rocking a boat or two. These days, apart from continuing my work as an NDCO, I do a lot of voluntary work helping parents and deaf people challenge NDIS decisions.

I also help one or two people with workcover applications and negotiating better access in their workplace. This year I have estimated that I have done around $12 000 in voluntary work for these people. Money is not important, it gives me a great deal of pleasure to stick it up the establishment with them.

The Gary you never knew. Who woulda thunk? Stay tuned for the next unsung hero. Only here at The Rebuttal!

Guru Gary’s Guide to a Sustainable NDIS!

Image is of a bearded man representing and dressed like a guru. He is giving a thumbs up signal.

HAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHA…. Independent Assessments proposed by the NDIS, and the love child of former Minister Stuart Robert are dead. I would love to have been a fly on the wall when he received the news. 

On Facebook there is an oft shared video of Hitler losing the plot when he hears news that he doesn’t want to hear. People edit it to have captions that fit in with events of the day. Let’s replace Hitler with Minister Robert. He hears the news, grabs the side of the table, breathes heavily, shakes violently and utters these immortal words:

“ Independent Assessments – DEAD???? AGGGGHHHHHHHHH, who will stop these debased disableds spending our money on PROSTITUTES …… “

It is probably closer to the truth than we are all prepared to imagine. But getting back to point, Independent Assessments were yet another idea from someone that doesn’t get disability yet is in a position of power to make decisions about disability. 

The Government is trying to have us believe that the NDIS is over budget. This is part of their strategy to scare the populace into believing that the NDIS costs too much and is not sustainable. Indeed, they have form for this.

Charlton, writing in the Sydney Morning Herald on July 9th, lists a number of occasions when the Government has tried scare mongering about NDIS blowouts. Here are some:

  1. The now dead debate for independent Assessments claims a $10 billion blowout. The reality is that data shows that the NDIS is meeting all expectations and is not above what was predicted.
  2. Trying to make people believe that the scheme was servicing more people than expected when in reality it is actually serving less.
  3. In 2017 they tried to have us believe that there was a $55 billion shortfall in funding. At budget time the scheme had underspent by over $3 billion. The Government took that money to add to drought relief.

One could be harsh and say the Government outright lies about the real cost of the NDIS. Charlton is kinder and says they are not very good at forecasting. Charlton also suggested that the schemes Governance should be given to the Minister to control. Apparently, at the moment the Minister has virtually no power. Most power is centred on the Board of Governance and the States. It is very difficult for the Minister to override them. Given the Governments track record all I can say is, thank God for that.

However, the Government remains hellbent on reducing NDIS expenditure. We pesky disableds are expensive folk they think. This push to cut costs is not going to go away. I have, therefore, appointed myself as NDIS Guru advising the Government. Here is what I advise.

  1. Employ People that actually understand disability, have lived experience and have worked in the Disability Sector.

Just today a participant told a story on NDIS Grassroots about a conversation she had with a customer support person at the NDIS. He said he was very new. He previously was a bus driver. He had received one week’s training. There he was on the phones fielding questions about the NDIS. The person claimed he was hopeless. Had no idea what he was doing and that she had wasted her time. She was frustrated that the NDIS was employing people with so little knowledge.

Some time ago I wrote about La Trobe Community Health Services who are a LAC partner organisation. A friend of mine with lived experience, and imminently knowledgeable of disability issues, was declined a LAC role. In the rejection letter La Trobe stated that my friend was very qualified but got no cookie this time because, “… we are diversifying our workforce and targeting banking and finance.” (Yes, I saw the email with mine very own eyes.)

I worked at the Brotherhood of St Laurence and they also had a philosophy of employing people from diverse backgrounds. In my time I supervised people from marketing backgrounds, banking and finance backgrounds, a policeman and even teachers. Some of these people turned out really well but many, and I mean many, just never got it. Some of the plans they put out and some of the things they wrote were horrific.  No amount of training could bring them up to speed.

In the upper echelons of the NDIA the NDIS is led by an assortment of bankers and accountants, many who have no clue about disability. To be fair, the NDIA do target people with a disability for management roles. I know a few of these people who have left in disgust because they are not treated the same and their input was not given the same value.

I am a strong believer that a great way to save money is by employing people who understand disability and having them in places of power and decision making. This must include people with a disability. If you understand, you are more likely to make relevant decisions. As I have said often, you wouldn’t employ a nurse to be a teacher or visa versa. Yet for some bizarre reason a banker is employed in a specialist disability program.

On the ground, for developing and approving plans, you need people that get it. You need people that ask the right questions. You need people who have passion to develop a quality and worthwhile plan. Because when you support people with a disability you cannot cut corners in the name of cost. You cannot make it up on the run. 

Quality plans are a must!! Quality plans will save on reviews, save on time, save on legal fees and make sure more money is targeted where it should be – at people with a disability.

That workforce must be improved and one of the priorities should be targeting people with lived experience and who have a deep understanding and passion for disability. 

  • Raise the caps on employing people, employ more (Qualified and understanding of disability of course.)

Last week I met with a senior person in the NDIA. They were telling me that currently there are plans sitting in the system for months and not getting approved because there are not enough staff to meet the demand. 

My friend was telling me that there is a practice among some delegates of just clicking approval for plans that meet the typical support package (TSP). They enter the data in the system and the system generates a support package. This practice occurs because the delegates are either:

  • Stressed trying to keep up.
  • Don’t care.
  • Don’t get it.

When they approve plans that meet the TSP they often do this without really checking whether the plans are actually sufficient and meeting the participants goals. The end result? Shit plans that come back for review, further stressing the system and costing a shit load of money to fix-up

But wait it gets worse! Apparently, there are pockets around the country that are not so busy. So, the NDIA, in their infinite wisdom, decided they to have this sort of National Day. What happens, because there is such a backlog, they send plans to delegates all over Australia who are deemed, “less busy”

What this means is that delegates in Tasmania might receive a plan for someone in Cairns. The delegate in Tasmania might have no idea what is going on in Cairns or even whether the plan they are about to approve is actually viable given remoteness and different State setups. Likewise, someone in Alice Springs, not too busy, might get a shit load of plans from Broome. You get the gist.  It is an absolute recipe for disaster and often is.

The answer? Employ more people and people that actually know what they are doing! You will more likely get a good plan and a good decision that meets the participants needs. An absolute money saver in preventing reviews, complaints and legal challenges.  Try it!

  • Let need and quality not quantity and cheapness be your mantra!

One of the most frustrating things about the NDIS is its obsession with standard. They want standard wheelchairs, standard hearing aids, standard prosthetics and so on. They even have a sort of standard plan that they judge everything under. This is known as the typical support package (TSP). This is generated by the computer logarithm.  The TSP is very often inadequate.

The problem is that standard doesn’t meet everyone’s needs. If someone is an amputee and enjoys swimming and bike riding or perhaps hiking there are any number of clever prosthetics that will allow this to happen. They can be pricey but if it is what the person needs to meet the NDIS mantra of an “Ordinary Life” then it can only be a good thing. Not to mention the economic and community participation it promotes and the ongoing mental health and general health benefits.

But you see many delegates don’t think like that.  They see a price and a standard and they are often hellbent on sticking to it. (Probably because their director is insisting on it.) In the example above the person had an aging prosthetic that often fell off. The person could not leave their home. They had lost confidence and were depressed. When I left the NDIS area they had been trying for two years get what they wanted. I am unsure if they were successful in the end. All I can say is that the NDIS were hellbent on standard, cheaper and less efficient prosthetic that would not have allowed the person to do the things that they wanted to do.

In my time I saw people who had outgrown their wheelchairs. Or they had conditions that had deteriorated. They had specific wheelchairs that were recommended but were above the standard cost. They were often refused necessitating endless reviews. Sanity often prevailed and they got what they wanted in the end but not without a fight. 

I know one parent who tried for three years to get an adapted bike for her child. They were ultimately successful but it took three reviews and endless reports from physiotherapists and OTs to outline the developmental benefits of the bike. These reports actually cost tenfold more than the actual bike itself.

The reason that they gave for refusing. A bike was parental responsibility! I pointed out that most parents don’t have to pay $2500 to adapt a bike so that their child can ride with them and have an “ordinary life”. So, after endless reports, reviews and person hours at great cost, the NDIS agreed. But only if the parents would contribute the standard cost of a bike which was agreed to be around $250. 

The stubbornness to not give or see any type of logic of need in the quest for standard is costing the NDIS millions of dollars in report fees, legal costs and person hours. What is worse is that this stubbornness to stick with standard instead of necessary and quality is causing harm to many people with a disability, physically and mentally. It has to stop.

  • It’s an investment – SAVVY!!!!??

Minister Linda Reynolds, on announcing the demise of Independent Assessments made it very clear that the battle to reduce expenditure is not over. She claims there are people on the NDIS who should not be there and that they are increasing the costs. Probably, but there are an equal number who should have access to the NDIS but are denied. It works both ways. I will say this. If the NDIA continue to employ people that do not know what they are doing and do not understand disability this issue will not go away.

But you know, the claim that the NDIS is too expensive is bollocks. All I hear from our politicians is outgoings. We never hear how the NDIS also benefits the economy. I don’t know how many, but literally hundreds of thousands, possibly millions of people owe their livelihoods to the very existence of people with a disability. Paradoxically, Minister Reynolds is one of them at the moment.

Let’s believe for a moment that the Deafness Forum claim that 1 in 6 have a hearing loss.  That’s 4.2 million people in Australia. Buying hearing aids, being supported by audiologist, buying technology like audio streamers, Roger Pens, flashing alarms and so on.  Have you seen Cochlear’s share price, woooo hooo! A proportion of deaf people keep Auslan interpreters and captioners in a job. Throw in speech therapist and teachers of the deaf and you have a booming market that exists just because of people who are deaf.

Other claims are that there are 1 in 5 people with a disability in Australia. That’s less than the number of deaf people. I don’t know if the 1 in 5 accounted for deaf people or not but I do know 1 in 5 is a lot of people. Wheelchairs, prosthetics, allied health professionals, technology, home modifications, support workers and so on and so on. Again, a whole thriving economy.

Take disability out of the picture or reduce expenditure on the NDIS then a whole host of people are going to lose their jobs. A whole heap of business are going to lose their income, What’s worse, if we lose these people to the disability sector, support and services that are already stretched are going to become even more stretched. People with a disability will be in the poo, even more than they are now.

So, to you politicians out there and to you decision makers out there; investing more and not less in people with a disability is helping Australia thrive.  Disability is not a cost, it’s a huge and thriving economy. Our politicians and decision makers need to shift their thinking.

There you have it. Guru Gary’s four step process to making the NDIS sustainable. Summarised:

  1. Employ people that know what they are doing. Do good plans using people that understand disability. There will be more satisfied participants, less backlog in plans and reviews and less, absolutely less, legal fees. ( I would love the NDIA to be accountable and tell us how much they spent on legal fees last year.)
  2. Going cheap is making people with a disability suffer and it’s adding to costs through reviews and legal services. Try spending an amount that will really help and see how it cuts cost in people hours, legal costs and, more importantly, the human cost.
  3. FFS The NDIS is drowning and cant keep up with the work on its plate. EMPLOY MORE PEOPLE and EXPAND THE WORKFORCE. The lack of people power is costing money. (And for god sake, no more bus drivers, please!)
  4. And finally, you need us people with a disability. Without us a whole heap of people all over Australia are out of a job. Spend more and spend wisely and it’s not just people with a disability who benefit, but the whole of Australia!

That is all.

It’s Time !! The DDA is Dead!

Graphic is a cartoon of a man with a microphone screaming It’s Time!

Finally, it has been said publicly by lawyers that Australia’s Disability Discrimination ACT (DDA) is next to useless. I have long moaned, and I know I moan a lot, that the DDA is not worth the paper it is written on, let alone the data drive that it is stored. 

It seems an Alliance of Lawyers have agreed to this and are campaigning to have the law changed. A Twitter post from People with Disability revealed this:

An alliance of lawyers and community organisations has lobbied the Attorney-General to rewrite Australia’s disability discrimination laws after a court case made discrimination claims “near on impossible to prove.”

You can see the full media release at the following link – https://pwd.org.au/media-release-disability-community-calls-for-reform-after-discrimination-claims-become-impossible-to-prove/

It has to be said that parts of the DDA are actually quite strong, in my view anyway. I am sure many will disagree. For example, Premises Standards regulate how new public buildings are designed so that they have ramps, doors are wide enough, they have accessible toilets and so on. 

But even that is hard to fight if an organisation doesn’t meet the regulations. Why? Because the DDA is based on complaints and conciliation principles, but more on that later.

My biggest beef about the DDA is that it talks so much about Reasonable Adjustments. It’s a fine principle that advocates that people with a disability have the right to adjustments that can help them in a variety of situations such as work, education being involved in community activities and so on. But where it falls down is on that word “Reasonable”

This is my personal blog so sometimes I swear. If you are offended by swear words look away now or don’t read any further …. What the fuck is reasonable anyway? The idea of reasonable is totally subjective.  My idea of reasonable, for example, is nothing less than 100% access, unless it is physically impossible to do that or if the system is unable to supply. (Like we have run out of Auslan interpreters because the demand is so high.) 100% should be the absolute aim.

Now if you are an organisation, even filthy rich like many private Registered Training Organisations or Universities, you might say that you cannot afford to provide 100% adjustments and even none at all. This does happen, often. So, in the case of people who are Deaf and hard of hearing an org will flatly refuse to provide access on the basis of cost or will offer something else, like a volunteer notetaker. (Yes, this still happens.)

So, Gazzataz enrols in the Masters Institute of Business (MIB) to do his MBA. The ole MIB is big, it makes hundreds of millions of dollars a year. Ole Gazza asks for 100% interpreting. MIB raise their hands up in horror – “We cannot possibly afford that! We get no Government subsidies.”  They then ask if Gazza has the NDIS, so he can use his NDIS money instead to pay for the interpreting.

This is actually an adaption of a true story. So anyway Gazza has his NDIS review. He asks for interpreting so that he can partake in the course. The NDIS refuse!  They say education is a State Government responsibility under the NDIA agreement with the States.

Let’s take a breather here. I am sure the reader is horrified to know that all of this is happening. But it is a fight that people with a disability have every day. There are few things that we should note in this case:

  1. MIB are filthy rich and should absolutely cough up. I dare say they can write off the cost at tax time and reclaim most of it anyway.
  2. They are within their rights to say no. They can claim Unjustifiable Hardship under the law. They can be challenged, but more on that later.
  3. The NDIS is also wrong. The agreement to provide access to education covers only state funded organisations. Not private, who get no Government subsidies. The NDIS will also advise Gazza to go do a State funded course. This is unfair as it limits his choice and control and may actually disadvantage him if he lives in an area where the state funded course is impossible to attend. I raise these issues because there are some smaller providers who genuinely cannot provide and the NDIS, in my view, absolutely has a role to fill this gap.

And here is the big one – If Gazza believes that MIB have broken Australia’s “Disability Law” He has to complain. (Note the quotations, yes I am mocking.)

So, Gazza complains.he The next step is conciliation which is organised by the Australian Human Rights Commission.  Here is the catch, MIB can choose not to attend conciliation if they don’t want to. They can say,  “Sorry, there is nothing more we can do” Or they can say, “Sorry, we offered a volunteer note taker, and we think that’s totally a Reasonable Adjustment.”

They can attend the conciliation if they choose. They can make a counter-offer, like note takers, reduced fees, extra tuition, access to lecture transcripts – Any number of things that they might consider a Reasonable Adjustment. Gazza may or may not agree. So, If:

  1. MIB refuse to come to the table?  or
  2. Gaza and MIB cannot agree?

What next?

Well Gazza can choose to take MIB to court and at great expense. If we are to believe the Alliance of Lawyers quoted at the start of this article, then discrimination will be almost impossible to prove!

In the meantime, MIB have continued to make millions of dollars of profit. Gazza is stressed out and over a year later no resolution has been found and he cannot start his course. Employment opportunities have passed him by. If Gazza decided to go to court the whole saga will probably still be dragging on into 2025. Gazza will be out of pocket unless the court rules in his favour. In which case MIB probably will appeal and it goes on and on ….

This is what people with a disability in Australia must confront everyday as they try to make use of Australia’s almost worthless and useless DDA.

I for one am right behind the Alliance of Lawyers and every one of us should be. It’s something every single disability advocacy organisation should be behind and working on together … Be it AFDO, NEDA, Deafness Forum, Deaf Australia, PWD, PWDA … All of them need to get together and fight with this Alliance of Lawyers (Perhaps throw a reform suggestion about the NDIA in there too and their half-baked interpretations of their own legislation that many of them don’t even understand.)

It’s time for change. Disabled people have suffered enough!

A Saturday Sermon for NDIS LACs and Delegates!

Listen up, NDIA people and LACs. This is your Saturday morning sermon. There are some within who are embarrassing the good LAC and delegates who work in the NDIS space. This article is targeted at you! There are many people, planners and LACs who are excellent at their jobs. They understand disability. They understand the legislation and they assist participants to develop excellent plans.  This article is not about them and I thank those good ones for the effort they make every day, there are many.

Sadly, there is a lot of dross within as well and they undermine the efforts of these skilled and dedicated workers. So, in support of those skilled and dedicated professionals I present you this week’s Rebuttal. This Rebuttal is designed to educate the ones that consistently make the NDIS look pathetic, which it largely is not.

It started with a friend. A friend has a review coming up. She has a new LAC, which is not uncommon as staff turnover is high. She politely requested that the new LAC outline their experience of Deaf people and the Deaf community so that she could provide some constructive feedback to the LAC.  The LAC in question had sent her an email that I can only describe as condescending.

This seems to have offended the LAC somewhat. It seems that the LAC in question emailed their colleagues expressing umbrage at having to outline their experience. There seems to have been a round of emails amongst those colleagues. Unbeknown to the LAC in question these emails were also sent to my friend in error – There is one line that stood out – “My qualifications? Should I send her a freaking list”

So, my friend shared this response on Facebook and asked how she should respond. My suggestion to her was to respond using the word “freaking” intermittently throughout the response.  But I jest, this sort of attitude towards people with a disability by NDIS planners and LACs needs to be called and weeded out.

Suffice to say the LAC did indeed send a list of their qualifications to my friend. Extensive as they were, none of them suggested that the LAC understood anything about Deaf people or the Deaf community. This is what my friend had queried in the first place. 

I will say this, if you go to the doctor, you look on their wall to see what their qualifications are. These are usually proudly displayed on the wall along with any other specialties that the Doctor may have. This inspires some confidence from the patient to the doctor. It is, therefore, entirely understandable that a person with a disability wants to know if the planner or LAC understands their disability and needs.

This is part of why the disability community is so against the independent assessments. Mainly that the assessor chosen may not understand their disability. The assessor chosen may not understand their needs and as is possibly unable to carry out a proper assessment.

It is something that the Government is failing understand. The Government is falsely trying to convince us that independent assessments will lead to a fairer system. We all know that independent assessments are the Government strategy to wrest control from people with a disability. We all know the major aim of the assessments is to make drastic and unnecessary financial cuts to the NDIS.

But I digress.  If you thought that what happened to my friend above was bad, read this response to a Deaf person. The response below was an explanation for drastically cutting their Auslan interpreter budget. This was also posted on a Facebook discussion page.

NDIS funding of an Auslan interpreter / Video Remote Interpreting (VRI) is for where formal language is required, such as legal, financial or medical appointments. For adult participants, it is the responsibility of family to acquire appropriate language skills to facilitate communication with the family member. Community organisations have a legal responsibility to provide accessible activities, and may be supported by local councils, state government, or other community sources, to provide inclusive activities.”

I profess, it is a well written and officious explanation. At first glance it looks like it was taken straight from the NDIS handbook. It is not something That I ever saw when I worked there but the NDIS is a rapidly evolving beast. It would not have surprised me if this suddenly became law.

The problem is that it is all bullshit. I took the liberty to check with former NDIS colleagues, some who are directors in the NDIA to see if this was, in fact, new policy. It isn’t. It is just waffle that the delegate or LAC has made up to justify their decision. And here begins the sermon to the ignorant LAC and delegates within the NDIS who come up with this sort of crap.

  • Auslan is a language. A rich and diverse language. It is not something you learn quickly at the corner shop. It is an expensive language to learn and rightly so. One of the more isolating things about being Deaf is that people close to you who are hearing cannot communicate well with you. 

A valid and extremely powerful way to tackle the isolation experienced by people who are Deaf, who have hearing partners and friends that they have met in life, is to facilitate the learning of Auslan among them. It is a cost of disability. By facilitating the communication among family and peers it potentially reduces isolation, loneliness and subsequent mental health issues that can arise from such. Potentially it can increase independence and participation.  As such it fits well within the NDIS remit.

However, even though assisting close friends and family members to develop some proficiency in Auslan will help to tackle some of the social isolation issues, it does not make them interpreters. Nor should they be unless they’re qualified. 

Having them develop proficiency in Auslan does not negate the need to provide Auslan interpreters for social events like parties, funerals, weddings and the like. Auslan interpreting for Deaf participants are NOT just for the formal and legal needs of the participant – It is to address the social and economic participation needs of the Deaf participant. 

  • It is true that community organisations have a responsibility to provide access. However, there are many that lack the financial means to do so. They receive no funds from Councils or State governments to make their events/programs accessible. So, the local community hall putting on an art course, hosted by a volunteer, has no funds for interpreting. The local volunteer organisation that provides meals for the homeless has no funds for an interpreter, They are, therefore, unable to provide access to training for the Deaf volunteer and so on.  Deaf people have a right to participate in these things with full access. (After all, the NDIS is based on human rights principles, isn’t it???)

Provision of interpreting funds is to increase and broaden the types of community events the Deaf person can partake in. In this way it assists them to be active in the community both socially and economically. Check your section 34 of the NDIS ACT and you will see these are prominent aims of the ACT.

State and Council Governments provide access for events that they fund and organise, it is true. However, they don’t fund any of the examples I have given above.

I repeat to all LACs and delegates who do not do so, please read, digest and understand section 34 of the NDIS Act. It is your bible. Furthermore, there are operational guidelines that focus on what the NDIS will provide for participants who have communication needs. Read them, you will find them enlightening.

And finally, within the NDIA there are some wonderful Subject Matter Experts who you can consult who have an in-depth knowledge of Deaf people and the Deaf community. Please make the effort to consult them so that you get it right. And no, I don’t care if taking the time to do your job properly impacts on your KPIs.  A quality plan will save time and money in the long run – Try it!

That is all!