It was a glorious spring day in Adelaide around 2001. The tennis was on. Deaf tennis, that is. Glen Flindell thrashed all and sundry that weekend. He went on to dominate Deaf tennis in Australia and the world for many years to come. I think he is over 40 now and still can’t be beaten. At this tennis tournament I met a balding and jolly man called Michael. He signed haltingly and with some difficulty. He struck me as a jovial, gentle and genuine human being. Over the years, he would seek me out at various sports events or Deaf conferences. He was always pleased to see me and always friendly. We were not close friends but we had a mutual respect for each other based on our love for sport and equal rights for Deaf, hard of hearing and all people with disabilities.
Michael was born at Crown Street Hospital on the 28th of December, 1968. He grew up in Blaxland in the Blue Mountains. His father, Lyn, recalls fondly that even at an early age, Michael loved sport. “He was a bonny young lad who loved kicking his rubber ball up the hallway, yelling DOAL DOAL DOAL.”
Around the age of two and a half, his parents noticed signs of hearing loss in Michael. His hearing deteriorated very quickly. Initially it appears Michael had a moderate hearing loss, possibly from mumps. As he grew older and entered primary school, his hearing loss reached a point where Michael was profoundly Deaf.
Michael was a resolute human being. Recalls Lyn, “He was determined to succeed. He would often come home exhausted from his effort to keep up with his peers.” Lyn’s pride in his son is on show for all to see. “…Michael did extraordinarily well, despite hearing almost nothing.” With support from his itinerant teacher for the deaf, he gained his high school certificate in 1986.
Michael enrolled in business studies at Southern Cross University. He graduated with a number of high distinctions. It appears that Michael had some support from the university. His father, Lyn, thinks he learned mostly from what he read and what he saw. Lyn tells the story of a vision impaired man who Michael befriended and who was studying the same course. What Michael saw on screen or in lecture, he would note. What his vision impaired friend heard, he would note. At the end of the lecture, they would exchange notes. In this way, they supported each other throughout their studies.
Michael graduated and started work as an accountant. He was successful at work but he had his struggles. Those struggles really opened his eyes and inspired him to lobby and fight for equal rights around accessibility for people with a disability.
Along the way, Michael found the Deaf community. This really changed his life and perceptions. Writing in The Rebuttal in 2010 he had this to say:
“ I was schooled in the lipreading /auditory approach from a very young age. It was certainly effective – as I can still recall meeting my first Deaf (signing Deaf) person in my teens and I really thought that I was nothing like him and that I was really a “hearing” person! Obviously, this was a fallacy (and a half)!
My biggest personal regret of my life to date is that I didn’t learn Auslan until I was 30! Looking back over my life I can see countless missed opportunities – both professionally and personally – as I simply couldn’t measure up as a “hearing” person. 30 years of butting my head against a brick wall in the mistaken belief that I could be a “hearing” person (when I was profoundly Deaf)!“
Michael, like many Deaf and Hard of Hearing people, entered the Deaf community well into adulthood. It was not until he was 30 years old that he started to learn Auslan. Lyn recalls that there was one Christmas that Michael was hit by the stark realisation that his hearing loss had deteriorated to the point that he could not hear nor lip read his mother effectively. From there, he researched deafness and solutions and came across the Deaf community.
Of this journey, Lyn had this to say:
“This became a turning point for him. He resolutely faced the challenges and sought solutions to the many issues concerning inclusion, fairness, accessibility and justice for people with disabilities and in particular for the Deaf and hard of hearing. He became a fierce advocate for them on a number of fronts. He developed the ability to view life, it’s challenges and solutions from two worlds, the hearing and the deaf. Hence, I think that’s why he used the term, “The Palindrome Man”. Fairness, justice, inclusion, accessibility, equity, being seen and experienced, “the same”, from both ends of the spectrum.“
My own recall of Michael is as a supremely intelligent, compassionate and empathetic human being. His friend Barney Lund agrees:
“I remember my Mum, Hillary Mcpherson, saying to me that I should meet this guy Mike who owns a 10 seater bicycle and who is also Deaf. I never did get to see the bike but I did get to meet a really down to earth guy with a great sense of humour.
I didn’t really get to know him well until after we connected at the World Congress on Mental Health and Deafness in Brisbane in October 2009. . I had never really had much contact with other deaf people growing up, so it was really nice to meet someone with some common interests and experiences. That chat with Mike and attending the Mental Health and Deafness Congress were two really pivotal moments for me. A lot of the issues I experienced as a kid and young adult started to make sense, and also helped me to connect with more of the Deaf community in Brisbane and on the Northern Rivers. I will be forever grateful to Mike for taking the time to sit and chat that day.“
Michael did many great things for Deaf and hard of hearing people. Perhaps he is best known as the chairperson for the Australian Communication Exchange, a position he held for 6 years. He campaigned tirelessly for the introduction of new technologies such as Captel. Barney recalls that Captel was a life changer.
At the time Barney was working for the State Government and struggling with the phone work. Captel enabled him to speak on the phone and he no longer had to struggle with accents and bad phone connections.
Barney credits Michael with having opened his eyes to the benefits of captioning. Through Michael Barney began to explore the use of live captions in work meetings. Says Barney:
“Mike and I thought live captioning had masses of potential for people like us who didn’t have enough sign language proficiency to benefit from Auslan interpreting alone. Live captioning has had a huge impact on my life ever since.“
So much, in fact, that Barney works within the captioning industry. I can vouch for his knowledge, because he is my go-to person whenever I need advice or support around live captioning.
What is not so well known about Michael is his ongoing campaigning for captioning in all of its various guises. Barney explains that Michael had an end-to-end strategy around captioning. For example, Michael worked with young film makers to increase their knowledge of captioning and its benefits. Those filmmakers are the future and by making them aware of the benefits and how to caption, Michael knew greater accessibility would happen into the future.
Michael also worked with an American friend, Mike Ridgeway. Together they developed a platform called, NOMORECRAPTIONS. To explain, sometime ago Youtube introduced auto-captioning. Basically, this was technology that used voice recognition to caption videos. Voice recognition technology has come a long way since but back then it was terrible, and I mean terrible. If you want a trip down memory lane, watch this video.
Through the platform, Nomorecraptions, the user could take the Youtube auto-generated captions and correct them so that they made sense. Michael and his friend made this platform freely available so that people could improve the accessibility of their online content.
Barney recalls how Michael and his father, Lyn, lodged countless complaints to the DDA about the lack of captioning, particularly around online content. They took on the likes of Apple and Barney believes that because of their determination, all of us Deaf and hard of hearing folk are benefitting today:
“I am not sure how many complaints they filed, but I am pretty certain their work has helped pave the way for far better online access today.”
Lyn proudly tells the story of how Michael took on Malcolm Turnbull, the then Communications Minister, and won.
“ He lodged a Disability Discrimination complaint with the Australian Human Rights Commission against the former Communications Minister, and later Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull. It concerned the use of auto-captions on government YouTube videos and the need to comply in having correct, closed captions on all government videos. It was resolved in 2017 with the Office of the Prime Minister committing to ensure all its future videos would now be accurately captioned prior to posting to the web. “
In 2010 Michael won the prestiges Roma Wood OAM Community Award, for his advocacy and innovative work with captioning.
I had many a debate with Michael about the benefits of Captiview. For those that do not know, Captiview is a device that you can get at the cinema that you place in your drink holder to view movie captions. The only problem is that it was and is, rubbish. So much that the Deaf community dubbed it, and continue to call it, Craptiview.
I was a staunch critic. Michael was more middle of the road and wanted to give the technology some time to settle in and develop. He was far more level-headed than I. I wrote countless articles against Craptiview, voicing the views of many in the Deaf community.
One thing that Michael and I both agreed on was that Open captions were the best. Michael campaigned relentlessly for Open captions in cinemas and was instrumental for open caption sessions being introduced in Ballina. He regularly posted on Facebook to advertise these sessions.
In later years I enjoyed following Michael on Facebook. I smiled at his surfing videos. I smiled at his videos going fishing with deaf mates on the boat (I swear he looked seasick). I loved his tireless promotion of deaf poker. He was into everything and supported so many people and causes.
Proud father, Lyn, talks about these causes. There was online captioning for which he is generally known. What is not as well known is that Michael campaigned to have Deaf and hard of hearing people be allowed to do jury duty as is commonplace in the USA. Michael staunchly insisted that jury duty was possible using either interpreters or captions that are generated by the court stenographer. He and Gemma Beasley took their case all the way to United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. This was the outcome:
“CRPD Committee held that the refusal to provide steno-captioning in court and in the jury-room violated the access to justice requirement of article 13 of the CRPD. The CRPD Committee further held that the failure to accommodate violated articles, 5(1) and (3) which prohibit discrimination, and also article 9 which ensures access to communication.“
Sadly, State Governments around Australia still refuse to comply. The governments argue that the captioner or Auslan interpreters bring their own interpretation to the proceedings and thus constitute a 13th member of the Jury. It’s bollocks, we all know, and it is a fight that we must all continue.
This is Michael Lockrey. He was one of Australia’s great and unsung Deaf advocates. His achievements are enormous. Believe me, I have only touched the surface of what he achieved in his short time on this earth.
Michael contacted me in September of 2020. He wanted me to work with him on training paramedics around communication with Deaf and hard of hearing patients. Sadly, Michael passed away suddenly on the 24th of November 2020 and we were unable to work on this project.
I wish I had known him better but I was honoured to have known him. Like many, I miss him. We all should, because he was a real fighter and credit to all people who are Deaf and hard of hearing, and indeed all people with disabilities.
But mostly he was a credit to himself and his family. As his children said to their Nanna and Pop:
“Our Dad was the best dad you could have asked for”.
Ill leave you all with these beautiful words from his father, Lyn:
” The other day I looked at his trophies that have been stored away in a box and thought about Mike and I penned this line,
“Life’s greatest trophies are the friendships you’ve made and the way you’ve played”. On Ned Trickett, his great grandfather’s grave appear the words,
“A man justly honoured by all who knew him,
a noble type of sportsman,
an equally noble type of citizen”,
Michael, you’ve taken after your great great grandfather,
God bless you and rest you in peace, dear Palindrome Man.“
With thanks to Michael’s father, Lyn Lockrey, and his friend , Barney Lund for generously sharing their cherished anecdotes of Michael the person and Michael the advocate. Mostly, thank you for trusting me with his story.