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 –

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!


2 thoughts on “Blowing My Own Trumpet

  1. Participating in your SAIL program was one of the highlights in my life. The programs including you has paved my advocacy skills.

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