Accessibility Through the Ages – A Technological Journey!

Image is a cartoon graphic showing two hands typing on a keyboard and how technology has developed so this keyboard can connect to a variety of online platforms … Like shopping, banking, entertainment and so on. The keyboard is connected to all these things through lines like a flowchart.

Not so long ago I worked in the NDIS sector. I really loved my team there, pity about the manager. It only takes one to spoil the apple cart. I had to do many NDIS plans. I liked doing them. I liked meeting the clients. I like to think I was pretty good at them too. Of course, being deaf, communication could be problematic. For these meetings I always booked Live Remote Captioning. I could have chosen Auslan interpreters, but my reasoning for captioning was that the clients were already in a vulnerable position. They were disclosing personal information.  The person doing the captioning was invisible, because they delivered it remotely and online. Having one less person in the room was my way of making it more comfortable for the client.

I am well aware that I am privileged here. I have good speech (for a DEAF GUY ANY WAY :-D) That meant that I could speak, use the captioning and carry out the meeting. The added benefit was that I would get a full transcript of the meeting. This helped me in the final writing of the plan and ensured I had no excuse for missing anything.

It is interesting because when I began my career, captioning was not available. Interpreters were barely available. I remember Barb, the accountant, was a CODA. She interpreted for me. We made hundreds of cold canvassing calls to get Deaf people into work. John was a CODA too. He managed the fledging interpreter service. I would grab him when I could. Vanessa shared an office with me, sometimes she would interpret too. The year was 1989.

Interpreting grew over time. I was one of the first in South Australia to receive interpreting paid for by the University. I had Barb, Heather and Karin. All wonderful interpreters. I remember having to fight my social work lecturer to keep them in the class. He reckoned they had no place in his class cos in real life, I wouldn’t be able to work with interpreters. How wrong he was. I wish I could see him now and give him the bird. It would be so satisfying.

So, I graduated and started work. In truth, I worked and studied. In those early days the phone was always a problem. I would apply for jobs; they would ask me about the phone. I would have to confess that I couldn’t. Try to sell the idea of job trading. You know, I’d do extra paperwork, someone would do my calls. Often, I lost out on jobs because I couldn’t take incoming calls. It was a hard slog.

Then in 1994 the National Relay Service came. Finally, I could use the phone, albeit through a third person. They could call me too. I had to train them how, but most were accommodating. I had a TTY (before the times of Jobaccess. The employer had to buy it) I had a flashing light too so that I knew when my phone was ringing. These were heady days. Ordering pizza, making dates with girls I had met in the pub and actually using the phone at work. WOOOOAHHHH!

Then it was the mobile phone. By golly wasn’t that brilliant. I remember at the start you could only send an SMS to people who had the same carrier, Telstra to Telstra, Optus to Optus etc. If memory serves me right, Robert Adam started a campaign to get carriers to allow text to different carriers.

Before that I had a Hutchinsons pager. I could receive messages but not send any. Now I could actually communicate with someone direct, no third person. OOOOH!! It was addictive. We sent thousands of texts. Blimey, it was expensive at 25cents a text. I know many a deaf person that got in heaps of financial strife cos they went batty with texts. But that changed over time to unlimited texts. And rightly so, given that a text at the time cost something like .00000000000017 cents.

Independence grew every year as technology improved. Opportunities for deaf people improved with it. Email was the next big step. You could cut out the phone altogether and just email. I say could, but hearing professionals love talking on the phone. When they could email, they would call. When they could text, they would call. Getting them to change a habit of a lifetime is harder than taking a bone from a determined dog, and almost as dangerous.

In 2006 we had another breakthrough. The Howard Government introduced Auslan for Employment. It was a shabby policy at the time.  Just $5000, once off. Then the employer was expected to pay. So we campaigned hard to change this. Luckily for us, Howard got kicked out on his sorry arse (I’ve never forgiven him for Tampa.) Rudd came in and Shorten was his Parliamentary Secretary for Disability. Soon enough Auslan for Employment was an annual $6000 for everyone.

It has not increased since. It’s still shabby policy because it doesn’t consider different needs, demands, regions, duties etc – BUT – it opened doors and opportunities for many Deaf professionals in that it allowed them to participate more in the workplace, be involved actively with meetings, training and so on. For all of its faults, Auslan for Employment has been a life saver for many Deaf people.

Then there was real time captioning. Then Live Remote Captioning. I remember attending the University of Melbourne where Matthew Brett demonstrated how it could work for students. I was on the Deafness Forum Board and we had a conference. AI media demonstrated how it worked. Way back in 2004 or 2005 The University of Sunshine Coast were flogging an IBM system where lectures were all recorded and converted to text by voice recognition. An admin person would correct any errors and within 24 hours they would place the recordings of lectures, with the corrected captioning, online.

It was a great time to be hard of hearing because suddenly the access needs of this group were being considered. Whether we like it or not, nearly all people with any kind of deafness do not sign. Only a very small percentage of the vast population of people who have a “hearing loss’ actually use Auslan. But somehow, until that time, Auslan had been the primary focus of access. Not that this is wrong, rather there were many people who were missing out and very little was being spoken about their needs.

So, we went from a time when the Australian Caption Centre were really the only people focusing on captioning to a time when there were multiple providers of real-time captioning both live and remote. We have Bradley Reporting, Captioning Studio, Red bee Media and AI Media. In time Auslan for Employment changed to allow payment of captioning too. The playing field began to even out.

As Australia’s internet improved these services began to go online. Video Relay Interpreting started. Captioning was delivered through different platforms – Gotomeeting, Skype and so on. You could basically get access anywhere and anytime. Deaf and hard of hearing people live in Utopia compared with when I began my career.

For many of us it’s always been a farfetched dream for there to be voice recognition technology available whenever it was needed. You could meet friends in the pub, turn it on and it would allow you to follow conversations. You could receive a phone call, turn it on and know what the person was saying at the other end. This was the dream of voice to text technology.

I used to scoff at this. I used to think that there was no way it would become common. I mean how was it going to distinguish accents, synonyms and so on. I was a sceptic and felt that it was always going to be limited. Indeed, this was always a weakness of such technology. If you had a cold, for example, the technology would struggle to understand you.

Then one day in 2018, while working for the NDIA, Sarah sent an email. Deaf people in the NDIA had a sort of information sharing thing going on. Sarah encouraged people to try Live Transcribe, an Android based voice to text app. She said it was surprisingly accurate and she was able to partake reasonably well in a meeting when she was unable to book interpreters. So, try it I did, and I was gobsmacked. Sure, it made errors, but it could pick up everyone and it was surprisingly accurate. I began to use it regularly for impromptu meetings that were called, one on ones and so on. I have not stopped since.

The rapid development of this sort of technology has been outstanding. It has allowed me to communicate more independently, without the need of a third person. It makes errors that are really quite funny. Calling a USEP Partner a New Sex Partner for example.  When the pandemic started, I would set the technology up on a tablet near the computer and it would transcribe Zoom meetings really accurately.  My colleagues and I began to develop protocols so that I could participate better. No one talking over each other for example. Using the hand raising feature and so on. Teams and Google Meet have really accurate auto captioning built into their systems too.

To give the reader an idea of the change this has made on my work life, consider this. In 2017, while working as a Senior Local Area Coordinator, the bill for two deaf people to use interpreters and captioning, just for nine months, was $84000. Last year I didn’t even finish my $6000 Auslan for Employment money, so good is this technology now. I am well aware I am privileged because I speak well, but the change and the independence it has provided me has been life changing.

Live Transcribe is a free app on Android. Currently, my technology of choice is Microsoft Group Transcribe. This is an Apple based app, and its free too. It’s even better than Live Transcribe. I used to try Live Transcribe to see if it would transcribe the TV or someone talking on my phone. It didn’t work well. But Microsoft Group Transcribe does. I use it when a TV show doesn’t have captions, which is rare now. I also use it to make voice phone calls. I put my phone on speaker, I turn on the App on my iPad and away I go. Just today I arranged my home insurance and booked a restaurant doing just that.

And now we have Convo Australia. Interpreters at the ready anywhere and anytime. You pay a monthly subscription and if you need an interpreter Covo Australia are there at the ready on your phone. What that will do in terms of supply of interpreters for those that need it face to face I do not know. I do wonder if it will place stress on system that already cannot meet demand. Who knows? Time will tell.

It’s incredible, isn’t it?  From those days when I had to hope that Barb was available to make a call, I can now make calls independently. From those days where only the lucky could get interpreters for their work, they are now commonplace. From the days when we could communicate independently through the NRS, we can now do away with the third person. From the days when we had to book interpreters well in advance, they are now available at the ready on our mobiles.

Life’s good! – Enjoy it until the next amazing development in technology comes along.

The Mask, by Dr Linet Amelie Hilsberg

Image shows four people in squares. Two males and two females. They are wearing facemasks. The squares are different colours, blue, orange, red and green.

I ruminate on the week’s events, trying to enjoy that Friday feeling as I attempt to shake off the office filth that has covered my skin in an invisible layer.  Politics abound in a small setting with individuals involved in hot gossip, changing circumstances, parties vying for support in order to impress the boss.  A clear case of brown nosing.

I’m fortunate this doesn’t affect me; I am the lucky one. No one involves me, my opinion is not sought. I’m not invited to comment, I am defunct, overlooked, considered part of the furniture, so much so, that all private conversations are spoken around me without concern of being repeated because I am trustworthy, hardworking, diligent,. They know I need to keep my job which I fought so hard to get through the specialist employment service.

To begin with, everyone was so polite, engaging, trying to involve me in the team.  Slowly, things deteriorated as my desk was pushed into the corner, my back to everyone, the team would meet without my knowledge. To get my attention they would throw stuffed toys at me, when I turned around, I found them laughing with each other thinking this was funny.  Of course, they apologized. They were just so, so sorry.  It wasn’t until I turned up this morning to find myself alone in the office, the boss walked through, looked me in the eyes and in surprise said. “Oh, you’re here!” Little did she know that I was aware what was going on.

During the week, I could see people signalling to each other and when I looked at them, they stopped.  Huddling around the meeting table, hands over their mouths apparently in conversation.  I managed to peek into one of their diaries to notice that everyone (minus me of course) was headed to Tasmania for a ‘team building workshop weekend. This would account for the boss’s surprise to find me in the office.  So I thought, stuff it! I’ll have an early lunch with some quality me time that the company always talks about.

So here I am in the park having a breather, reflecting, rather than ruminating. I am distracted by a dad happily chasing his two laughing children around an old large spotted gum, the kids are maybe four and six, mouths open, cheeks puffed out drawing in breath, sucking it in like there’s no tomorrow.  I can see dad’s mouth moving, talking to them. I watch for their responses, they both vie for his attention,.  Laughing, innocent, blissfully unaware of anything else in the world, happy spending time with their dad.

My thoughts turn to the office team, laughing at the expense of others then saying sorry to those they tease. Naively believing the person will accept their apologies at face value. I’m just part of the furniture, overlooked. I silently observe this behaviour recognising the incongruence.  Don’t they realise that most people are not stupid?  That non-verbal communication, especially body language and facial expressions are keys to reading between the lines!  Even small movements on the face can prove when someone is lying, the nervous twitching smile, the flick of the hair, the touch of the nose, the licking of lips, the rapid blinking and eye movement, ever so quickly away and back again.  If you know the signs you can read someone like a book, character judgment is not about what is said, it’s about the unsaid.

Checking the time again, from habit, I remember no one is expecting me back in a hurry.  I left a note on my desk explaining where I was. If anyone came looking, they would know where to find me, and as someone who’s described as being as steadfast as the Flinders Street clocks, I could take my time. My thoughts go back to the team whooping it up on their weekend of wine, cheese and chocolate tasting in Tassie.  I’m sure they’re totally oblivious to anything that impacts on others.

As I head back to the office I stop in at the Supermarket. Dawdling around the aisles, picking up colourful and unusual packets, looking at ingredients, smelling different yet familiar flavours with my innate sense of smell. The check-out chick knows me as I’m a regular. She pulls down her mask, smiles and says hello.  I pull out my credit card, the usual routine, place it on the terminal and wait for the ‘all clear’ nod from the lady. 

Multitasking, she’s busy on the phone and looks at me, I tell her I don’t need the receipt, still occupied, she smiles back and nods in acknowledgement, I pick up the groceries turn with my bags and head for the door thinking how lucky I am to escape as the queue has suddenly lengthened, I presume she was calling for backup while I was paying.

I’m almost at the exit when I feel two large hands on my shoulders pulling me back.  I’m stopped by a masked man who was behind me in the line.  I see his face move, apparently talking to me, I nod politely but have absolutely no idea what he’s saying.  I take out my phone to offer the message I show everyone when I first meet them.


I never get tired of seeing the response to this information, it doesn’t change. I wait to see the penny drop.  That look on his face.  I see the cogs turn, his recognition of my Deafness.  The embarrassment because he’s just accosted a Deaf person.  Not knowing how to proceed or what to say to me.   An entire gamut of emotions running over his face like a lightning strike which heads down his body also changing his physical demeanour into someone who is about to address a child.

I see his mouth move under the mask to talk as he finally realises, I can’t hear him!  His next move is to point back at the checkout chick who is smiling and waving at me holding up the eftpos machine, I presume my card didn’t work and need to go back to pay.  He indicates more slowly this time for me to follow him back to the registers, thinking I didn’t understand him, treating me like I’m a halfwit.  The Deaf community identify this behaviour as Audism (a form of discrimination). 

I follow him only to find the queue even longer than before with everyone staring at me.  I now see the backup lady walking towards the tills, while she’s putting on her mask, I lipread her, she’s telling everyone in the queue who will listen with an exaggerated hamburger mouth movement, IT’S OK, SHE’S DEAF YOU KNOW!

Like water off a ducks back, I smile, laugh, pull out my card, say loudly “Sorry, how silly,” pay for the items and look into the queue ready to apologise again for the hold-up then spot one person purposely mouthing, saying, “She’s not Deaf. She’s Faking it. She can talk!”

Now I have lived all my life being different, I have patience and resilience, but tolerance to ignorance and stupidity is something I lack.  I stand my ground, turn, look squarely at the person so they know I am going to address them; in response, they stand up tall, clench their face and body in anticipation, waiting expectantly for the verbal onslaught.  The people in the queue discreetly separate, shuffling carefully away on each side leaving the spotlighted person isolated, not wanting to experience the wrath that is about to spew forth.

I take a deep breath, with a darting look I stare at this person straight on, scoring a bullseye, I hold their eye contact for a good five-seconds searing deep into their thoughts, they go pale, beads of sweat form, I see the physical effect happen, they respond with a slight tremor, pensively awaiting.  I slowly exhale, shake my head at them in disgust and taking my dignity, walk away, they’re just not worth it.  In that five-seconds, I manage to convey for all to see, my feelings of contempt, pity, shame, disappointment, regret and sadness all without saying a word.

Feeling deflated I head back to work appreciating the silence of the office knowing that this experience is a daily occurrence for a lot of people like me, my mood then lifts as I find a message on my desk. Smiling, I read a note from my boss telling me that the transfer to another department has finally been approved and I start on Monday.  My weekend just got a whole lot better!

Our Nancy

Image is a photo of Nancy. She has just completed a parachute jump. The parachute is pink, still attached to her person and laid before her. She is in a paddock and there are cattle in the background.

The plane rose gently into the sky. It was a beautiful day. This was the day that Nancy had been waiting for. She was both excited and apprehensive at the same time. She remembers a condition of her adventure was that she tell her parents. She remembered the endless preparation for this trip. She had to prove that she was medically fit for it. Communication had to be fine-tuned, there was no margin for error. 

There had been hours of preparation and training for this flight. Communication had to be worked out. Manoeuvres  had to be practiced. The Civil Aviation Authority had to be convinced that Nancy was safe and not a threat to others. She would not be able to hear instructions from the ground to prepare for landing you see.

As she looked down everything looked so tiny. Houses were little building blocks. She could see farmlands, ant sized livestock and dams twinkling in the sunshine. The lush green mountains in the distance were magnificent. It was time, the little Cessna was high enough.

She sat at the door in her bulky gear, goggles and helmet wondering what on earth she was about to do. She awaited the first signal, a simple tap on the shoulder. The long-practiced procedures were rushing through her head. The wind was strong in her face as climbed out and balanced on the wheel strut.– TAP.

And she jumped. In her own words: “Wheeeeeeeee, no hesitationThere goes the plane, now where is the landing spot?  Then the incredible realisation – “I’m all alone, and I’m floating!!” And I did a sort of happy dance in the air.” This was 1963 and in those days there was no tandem jump for beginners. The parachute was released by a static line attached to the plane. Landings were practiced by jumping off a six-foot embankment. One had to jump backwards from the plane and after counting to three, pull the ripcord.

In 1963 Nancy was possibly the first deaf woman in Australia to do a parachute jump. Possibly the first deaf person in Australia, ever. She was to achieve many firsts. This was to be a common theme throughout her life.

Born in April 1940, Nancy Johnston became deaf after a bout of meningitis, at age 6. She was raised in a comfortable home in eastern Sydney, not far from Coogee beach. Her grandfather was a journalist and her mother, in the words of Nancy, “.. was a woman of many talents. She was indefatigable in ensuring I participated in LIFE in general through a good education, sporting groups, independent travelling around town, getting a driving licence etc.“ In short, her mother made sure Nancy’s deafness would never be used as an excuse or a barrier.

Of her upbringing Nancy recalls that, “When I became deaf, no hearing aid could help. I was brought up to think I was a hearing person with a hearing problem. My mother wanted me to continue communicating by speech and lipreading. She encouraged me to be independent from a young age. I was keen on all sports, joined a local swimming club and so on.”

She had been at the local public school for over a year and had developed strong language skills before she became deaf. In a sign of the times, the school refused to take Nancy back after she became deaf. She was then enrolled at the NSW Institute for Deaf and Dumb Children. Nancy remembers that her classmates were 2 or 3 years older than her. She was not taught sign language or finger spelling and was extremely isolated. Nancy has vague recollections of other students finger spelling and signing. She was at the school for only one term before her parents enrolled her in a private girls school that was closer to home. She was to remain at this school for 9 years and loved it.

Nancy explains that while she was at this school, “I was the only deaf girl. I was never bullied or teased. I didn’t receive special treatment from teachers (as far as I was aware). I was Dux of Junior School and represented my school in all available sports.”

For her final two years of schooling Nancy attended a larger private girls school. At this school she had to work much, much harder. It was to be a valuable lesson for her and prepared her well for her university education that was to follow. Despite her desire to go to university it appears that the school was extremely sceptical that she would be able to do so.

Nancy was the first deaf woman to enrol at any university in Australia. She enrolled in, and graduated from, the University of NSW with a science degree. She was only the second deaf person to obtain a degree after Dr Pierre Gorman. It is interesting to note that Nancy’s Great Aunt was the first woman to graduate in Science from an Australian university. Being the first must be a genetic trait of her family.

She received no special assistance from the university. She copied notes from the students next to her. Indeed, Nancy recalls that some of her lecturers did not even know that she was deaf. Despite these obvious challenges, Nancy graduated with a distinction in Zoology. The year was 1962. Nancy later went on to achieve a Master of Rural Science in Genetics from the University of New England.

It is worth remembering that Nancy achieved all of this at a time when there was no access to Auslan interpreters or captioning. Her academic achievements occurred through sheer hard work, grit, and commitment. She relied on notes from her fellow peers and her own reading to reach the enormously high standards that she did. The author of this piece can only imagine the other communication challenges that she must have faced when interacting with her peers and fellow academics.

It is a far cry from today where, if our politicians forget to book interpreters for media conferences, protests ensue. That is not to say that these protests are wrong or petty, rather it puts into perspective the magnitude of Nancy’s achievements. It is truly awe inspiring.

Nancy’s academic achievements were followed by a glittering career. Below is just a small selection from her resume:

  • CSIRO Animal Genetics for 4 years as Laboratory Assistant while part time Uni student.
  • NSW Dept Agriculture Tick Research Station 1 year Post graduate Scientist.
  • St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, London about 4 months. Medical Research Scientist
  • St. Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney Clinical Biochemistry Dept –Scientist
  • A short stint as a gold assayer in Townsville
  • Royal Brisbane Hospital Clinical Biochemistry – Scientist
  • UQ Faculty of Medicine – Cardiovascular lab at Prince Charles hospital – Research Scientist
  • UQ Faculty of Pharmacy – Research Scientist
  • UQ Faculty of Biochemistry – Senior Research Scientist
  • Casual work at Qld Archives, and private historical research for a client which involved visiting archives across three states

All of this without access to communication support of any kind. No JobAccess, no NDIS, no captioning, no interpreting – just sheer talent, determination and hard work. From her quiet determination and incredible achievements, Nancy demonstrated to Australia what people who are deaf, or who have disabilities, could achieve. In doing so she raised expectations and lay a path that other deaf people and people with disabilities could follow in the years to come.

Nancy, together with her first husband Geoff Hoffmann, bought an old pearler, The Cornelius, in 1973. Recalling the purchasing of this boat Nancy tells the story:

“In 1973 the Englishman who I had met in London finally proposed, on condition I sold my sports car and helped him buy a large old sailing boat! I took 6 months leave to help sail the boat from Broome to Sydney. We lived on board for some time but eventually moved into a small flat while continuing to work on the boat almost every evening.”

The two of them moved to Bowen, Queensland, where their daughter Nicole was born in 1977. The three of them circumnavigated Australia from 1980-1981 with a small crew of friends. It was a real adventure. Nicole was to fall overboard three times and needed to be rescued, once from a crocodile and snake infested river. More about this adventure has been revealed in “The Cruise of the Cornelius” which was published in 2021. Sadly, Geoff died from melanoma in 1983, leaving Nancy to raise their daughter on her own.

Nancy found the Deaf community very late in life. She recalls that at the age of 48 she could only remember meeting one other deaf person through her mother when she was much younger. She recalls that she was shocked because the deaf girl would openly reveal to others that she was deaf. Nancy had always been taught that she was basically a hearing person with a hearing problem. To meet someone who would openly declare that they were deaf was a bit of a shock to her.  

Nancy discovered the Deaf community while she was living in Townsville. She had been looking for something to do and was told about a teacher of the deaf at the local primary school. She met Ray Hildson who told her that she could only help with the Deaf community if she learnt sign language. At the time Nancy had recently had her first cochlear implant. So, at the age of 48, Nancy began to learn sign language for the first time with Doris Boyle.

Nancy learnt of the Deaf community’s rich history, its culture and its language. She was amazed to learn about Deaf sport and the Deaf Olympics. She had always been a keen sports person but was only involved with hearing sport. For her to learn of this rich and vibrant community that had its own language was a real eye opener.

In 1989 Nancy moved from Townsville to Brisbane with her daughter. Nancy saw a newspaper article on the works of Professor Heather Mohay whose published works focused on deaf children and their development. Through Professor Mohay she met Deaf community member, Leonie Milton, who was working for the Professor at the time. Leonie and her husband Ian invited Nancy to a BBQ where she began to meet other deaf people and professionals in the deafness field including Breda Carty, Bobbie Blackson and her hearing husband, Len Bytheway. Through these early friendships she began her extensive lobbying and advocacy for captioning and the National Relay Service.

Bobbie Blackson recalls:

” When I first met Nancy, I could see her fierce intelligence. She was very unassuming, not given to talking about herself because she is a very private person. Over a period, I learnt of her incredible achievements. Her academic achievements, her career, her parachuting, her sailing … I was in awe!! “

While Nancy was living in Townsville, captioned TV was starting to roll out in Australia. Nancy purchased a TV that would allow her to view captions. She was very frustrated as there were very few shows with captions. At the time, very few TV shows outside of Brisbane broadcast captions. One of the only TV shows captioned was the British TV show, Eastenders. Her daughter, Nicole, explained that there was some moderate teasing around having to watch such a trashy show. However, because it was one of the only shows with captions, it was a high priority. 

Cyclone season in Townsville could be a time of danger. The lack of captions meant that Nancy had no access to emergency announcements. The TV only showed two words in huge block capitals, ‘Cyclone Warning!’, and the rest of the announcements were only spoken. Daughter, Nicole, remembers: “I did a lot of interpreting adult things and I got quite grumpy about it”.

These were the early inspirations that motivated Nancy to want to lobby for improved captioning access. She became heavily involved in the NWPC (National Working Party on Captioning) which was supported by the Australian Caption Centre. She was to be the first Chairperson of NWPC for two years. Nancy was the Queensland representative. She was to spend many years lobbying for improved access to captioning. She gave much of her time to raise awareness and run workshops all over eastern Queensland about captioning, including Communication Access Realtime Captioning. (CART). Much of this was done as a volunteer and she often took leave from her day job as a research scientist at the University of Queensland.

Old timers, like this author, who are Deaf or hard of hearing, will remember a time when there were virtually no captions on television shows. They will recall a time when things improved so that free to air TV stations had to show captions from 6pm to 10 pm. Today we have captioned TV for almost every show, 24/7.

University students who are hard of hearing, who do not sign and could not access Auslan interpreting, had no access to captioning. Through Nancy’s early lobbying efforts, awareness of CART and its applications began to increase. Now university students get access to Live Remote Captioning through a variety of providers such as Bradley Reporting, Red Bee Media and Ai-Media. It’s now provided through the internet and has been a life saver for many people working and studying through the pandemic. We have a lot to thank Nancy and those early captioning pioneers for. They put an enormous amount of work and dedication into improving captioning access.

Nancy’s voluntary work and lobbying were not limited to captioning. She was involved with Deaflink and was heavily involved with setting up the National Relay Service, including the establishment of the initial offices. She was secretary of Deaflink in its final years before it evolved into Australian Communication Exchange (ACE) and the National Relay Service (NRS). She was to remain on the ACE Board until 1999.

In 1988 Nancy received her first Cochlear Implant. In her own words:

I had, after all, been totally deaf for 42 years. I was warned not to expect too much – probably just environmental sounds – and encouraged to meet and/or correspond with a couple of other people with whom I would be similar. Actually, due to my ears being stuffed up with bony growth I ended up being one of only 8 people in the world at the time with an extra-cochlear cochlear implant, thanks to an innovative surgeon willing to give me a go. It took a long time and lots of hearing practice but eventually I could distinguish some sounds – but understanding speech has always eluded me. The implant did help with lipreading and a great improvement in my voice, giving me the courage to speak to a roomful of people.”

Of course, Nancy being Nancy, having a cochlear implant was not enough. She had to use her experience to help other people who had an implant. She was involved with the cochlear implant advocacy group Cochlear Implant Club and Advisory Association (CICADA) She established the first CICADA branch outside of NSW. In 1997 she was awarded The Quota South Pacific Scholarship to present at an international conference on cochlear implants in the USA and also at a US state conference. Part of the scholarship also involved attending an international conference for HOH people and investigating real-time captioning methods. (A history of CICADA can be viewed here – )

OH! – and did I tell you she was also a Board member of the Queensland Deaf Society where she was instrumental in introducing CART for all Board meetings. She assisted at Deaf Deaf World workshops too, training the early relay service TTY operators. All of this, and she started when she was 48!!

In 2000 Nancy resigned from all her commitments – ACE, QDS, NWPC and CICADA and moved to New Zealand. She moved to be with Dave Gibb, whom she was to marry in 2004. Dave has two cochlear implants. Nancy explains her motivation for travelling across the ditch:

“… the reason I came to NZ initially was to have a ride on Dave’s huge Italian MotoGuzzi motorbike after daring someone else to do so – and she did, to my utter surprise – so I had to do the same! A planned short 5 day visit morphed into 3 weeks motorbiking from one end of NZ to the other. My posterior has never been the same. About a year later I moved over for good.”

In New Zealand she has had little involvement in the Deaf community. She lives a relatively quiet life when not touring the country with Dave, a caravan and a dog. Nancy is currently researching and writing about her family trees and is on track to publish her second and third family history books, having already published 15 photography/travel books privately for family and friends.

Nancy might be across the ditch but we here in Australia have not forgotten her. We all owe her a depth of gratitude for her work and commitment to people who are Deaf and hard of hearing. Thank you, Nancy. You are one of the unsung heroes of the Australian Deaf and hard of hearing communities,

We will never forget you, OUR NANCY

With thanks to Bobbie Blackson and Nicole Dunbar (Daughter) for their assistance in writing this piece. Thank you, Dave and Nicole, for keeping it a secret when we reached out to them. Thank you, Nancy for giving your time in being interviewed. It was an honour.