Be the Change

Back in 95 I was offered a new job. I was on a bus coming back from Deaf soccer in Melbourne. I had been representing Queensland because they were short. We were a bit of a Dad’s army, nevertheless we were runners up. We beat Victoria on the way, always very satisfying. This was a time before cheap flights so I caught a bus over.

After the three day tournament, I arrived back at the Adelaide depot at some god awful hour of 6am. I had been on the bus for 12 hours. (God was I sore, having played three games in three days and then catching the bus back the very next day.)

But I am digressing. I was offered a job. When I arrived at the depot I was met by my girlfriend. Somehow, someone had got a message to her that Options Coordination had been trying to contact me. I cant recall exactly how, but likely they rang my mums home, who then let my girlfriend know. My girlfriend had the number to call. She called and they let her know I had been offered the job and when I was to start.

This was before email. It was a few weeks before the National Relay Service started too. In 1995, this was how the Deaf professionals survived. We relied on others. It was often very much hit miss. I remember just before starting the new job I went on a road trip in my Suzuki Sierra. I went via the Great Ocean Road, to Melbourne, up to Canberra then home through Wagga Wagga and Robin Vale.

I left Canberra on Sunday at 2pm to drive back to Adelaide. Crazy really because I was starting the new job the next day. About 30km outside Pinaroo, at 11.30 pm, the ole Zuki shuddered to a halt. I’d run out of petrol. I was shitting bricks. I had to start my new job. I had no way to call my boss. I was in the middle of nowhere. It was freezing cold and I had run out of petrol. I was in the RAA, but had no way to call them.

Luckily for me, about two minutes after I came to a halt, a car came over the hill and stopped to help me. Blow me down, it was a Jaguar. It had four people in it. They told me to hop in and they would take me to Pinaroo to get some petrol. Not only that, they dropped me back. It was a round trip of 90kms. So I put five bucks of petrol in a can, quite a lot back then, got petrol in the Zuki, thanked them profusely and took off for Pinaroo to fill up proper.

When I arrived at Pinaroo, and this is true, the Jaguar was at the petrol station. It’s bonnet was open and steam was coming out of it. In the Zuki I had some fine Canberra Wine, I gave them a bottle and asked if I could help. They said not to worry because they had called the RAA. Hearing privilege I guess. If that had been me, I would have been asking the guy in the service station to make the call.

This is what it was like for deaf people in 1995. Not that long ago really. I look back and wonder how we all coped. Now I have so many options it’s not funny. Back then we really had it quite hard. Anyway, if you are wondering, I arrived home at 3am in the morning. I was up at 7.30 am and at work for 8.30am. I recounted the nights adventure to my new boss and he shook his head. He took one look at me about 11.30am and sent me home. Nice of him. (He was probably wondering what he had got himself into with this nutter that leaves Canberra for Adelaide at 2pm, knowing he started his new job the next day.)

Paradoxically, the second day of new job was the start of the new National Relay Service. In my interview it had been a big selling point. They asked about phone work and I was able to tell them about the NRS and how it was going to make my life so much better. I explained that I could work on the same level as hearing peers and so on. Deaf people all over Australia were really excited about the Relay Service and I was looking forward to making my first independent call in my new job. But, that very first day was a disaster. The system crashed and no one could make any calls.

Not to worry, they got it fixed the next day. My very first call was to Jean, who owned a nursing home. She also offered home care that was funded through my work. I called her about a client. We arranged to meet. We met and went to the pub after. She was an ex Olympic swimmer. I confessed to her that the name Jean had given me visions of this grey haired 60 year old nurse. She was anything but and we actually went on a few dates. All arranged through the NRS of course. Those were the days!

Isn’t it funny that I now don’t have to use the NRS, ever! The need for the NRS gradually dwindled over time. What with SMS, email, Skype, messenger platforms, online booking and communication etc, I don’t need the NRS. I mean, I order in food via Uber. If I had broken down outside Pinaroo now, I could have got hold of RAA through a simple text.

All of this text based communication has been a godsend for us deaf people. It has made life so much more easy. But the biggest change, in my mind, has been voice to text technology. Voice to text technology used to be a bit hit and miss. It struggled with phonetics and accents. It was also very expensive. That was until Live Transcribe!

I was first alerted to Live Transcribe when I was working with the NDIA. A Deaf colleague sent around an email saying she was using this free app, only available on android phones. She said that when she was in smaller meetings that it worked quite well for her. So I tried it. It was a game changer!

In 2019 it was fairly accurate. At an estimate, I would say 80 percent accurate. It allowed me to have impromptu meetings without the need to rely solely on lipreading or a last minute dash to secure communication support through either Auslan interpreters or Live Captioning.

In 2019 Live Transcribe was good. It is a heap better now. I’m not a tech whiz but it just improved over time, don’t ask me how they tweaked it. When the pandemic hit, we all went online. Zoom and Teams were it. I would place my Samsung Tablet on a stand next to the computer and Live Transcribe allowed me to be part of meetings.

It made mistakes, of course, and still does, but the accuracy was outstanding. At the top of this article you will see a meme. It is poking fun at the old Youtube automated captioning. Really, it used to be like that but not any more. I swear Youtube automated captioning is now more accurate than Live Captioning of the news.

Today we have a plethora of options. You can pay for it if you want, but the free apps are just as good. I currently prefer Microsoft Group Transcribe. It is more accurate than Live Transcribe. It works for phone calls and even providing captions for TV shows that don’t have them.

But it doesn’t stop there, Zoom and Teams also now have very accurate automated captioning. So good are the automated captioning features that this year I have only had to book Auslan interpreters and Live Captioning ONCE! A far cry from the $84 000 my former employer forked out in a year for communication access for me and one other deaf staffer. (Actually, the $84 000 was only 8 months into the year. )

The greatest development in recent times has been the live captioning feature of Android 12. I was first alerted to it by my friend, Richard Pearce. Why Android don’t promote it more, I have no idea. It is an amazing feature that detects speech on your phone and automatically captions it. This can be a phone call, a video call or simply watching a Facebook video. It is insanely accurate, watch the video below.

The video shows a phone call to the RAA. It is an answering machine and the Google Pixel Phone Automated captioning feature is
captioning it to almost 100% accuracy

And this is my life now. I make and receive calls. I don’t need an NRS. I don’t need to send a text or an email. I don’t have to wait for a response. I now make and receive calls live. I call my mother, she calls me. I deal with problems with my bank. I arrange a change of my insurance. My accountant calls to discuss Superannuation options. I do all this, independently for the first time, at the age of 57! Mate, its a game changer.

I am well aware that I am privileged to have speech that is understood reasonably easily. I am well aware that many are not in the same boat. But I have been surprised that many people actually avoid, even fear, this new technology. There is a hesitancy but I believe, wherever possible, we need to embrace this new technology. Whether it’s the phone or the automated captioning, we need to embrace it!

Not to save money. Not to put interpreters and captioners out of a job. Not to defund the NRS. But to make sure that the limited resource of Auslan interpreters, captioners and the relay service is available for those that really need them. Now, more than ever, with NDIS demand, educational demand and even Convo Australia, Auslan interpreting resources are stretched. Those that really require them are missing out.

People in hospital. People in Courts. People who have been victims of crime and abuse. Deaf people with English language challenges and so on. All these people are struggling to access the limited resource. People like me, who can utilise this new and brilliant technology, need to do so. It lessens demand and ensures limited support dollars are directed where they are most needed.

Be the change. Not just for ourselves, but for the others that will benefit if we do so! Take my word for it, this technology is the game changer.

(Here is hoping Apple catch up soon – Cos some people that can benefit wont give up their beloved Apple 😀 )

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