DeJa Vu

Graphic is a cartoon. It has two stick figures in caps. One asks the other, “He bro, have you ever felt deja vu?” The other answers, “I don’t think so, haven’t you asked me that before?”

I have come full circle from where I began my career. In 1989 I was still at University. I was 24, I did not yet have my drivers license. Partly because over a period of time I had broken my leg three times and shattered my elbow as well. My friends will tell you how fed up they were of driving me everywhere. In 1989 I was offered two jobs. One as a porter at the Royal Adelaide Hospital and the other as the Employment Project Officer at the Royal South Australian Deaf Society. I accepted the latter.





I well recall the CEO of the Deaf Society looking at me with distain at the interview for the role. “How do you expect to do this role without a license?”, he asked. It was a fair question, but his facial expression clearly showed he was unimpressed. I promised that I would get my license in haste and I did. I got the job and that was the start of my career. I spent the first six years of my career in employment. Now in the twilight of my career, I am back.

Oh, how it has changed. Back when I started, disability service providers received block funding. As an employment professional I was able to assist whoever came through the door. I, naturally, expected a certain level of commitment from the client to find work. There was the odd difficult client who missed appointments or didn’t show up for interviews. However, by and large, people were motivated to get work.

It was not always plain sailing. I remember finding a bloke a job as a welder. The first week of his job he was late every day. Come the Friday his boss called me in. It turned out that the blokes car had broken down and he was catching three buses to get to work. The bloke said his car would be fixed next week, and he would be there on time.

Come the second week I got called in by the boss on the Friday again. The bloke had been refusing to wear toe capped boots. They were not comfortable he said and he didn’t like them. So the boss, through me, explained it was a rule for safety and that they had to be worn or he could not work. The bloke reluctantly agreed.

Come the third week, I was called in again. This time the bloke was refusing to wear protective gloves. He complained it made it hard for him to weld and his hands got all sweaty. The boss was exasperated by this time. He really wanted to give the bloke a fair go. I asked the boss, “If he wasn’t deaf, what would you do?” The boss said he would have sacked him in the first week when he was late every day. I said, “There is your answer.” And that was the end of that.

I am not sure that I could do that today. You see, we don’t receive block funding. We are paid per the person, based on the jobs we find, the support we give and how long that they remain in the job. Survival of the service depends on jobs and those jobs being retained to generate income. I would definitely have to approach it in a different way.

But that is how it is now, especially with the NDIS. Service providers have to offer a service that the disabled person wants. To retain the client and generate income to keep services going, clients must be satisfied. A lot of the power now resides with the client. We serve them and have to provide a quality service. Just like any business, we have to ensure that we have satisfied customers. If that doesn’t happen, the chances of survival are bleak.

A lot of old school service providers do not like this new world. Understandably, many service providers don’t like the uncertainty of income. They liked the old days when they had some control and knew how much money that they would receive. Many people despise the fact that people with a disability have become a commodity for profit. They find this de-humanising. The NDIS does not suit all people with a disability either. There are many that were better served with the old block funding model where there was certainty of service.

It is what it is. Service providers either adapt or they perish. It is up to them. Many people with a disability also love the NDIS for the control it gives them over the funding and services that they receive. The NDIS is not going anywhere soon, so its either structure the service to fit within the frame work or go out of business. The choice is stark.

However, some things never change. One of the things that never changes is how many hearing people assume what Deaf and HoH people can and cannot do. I think I have told the story of the plumbing apprentice a few times before. Suffice to say, back in 1990 a hearing boss tried to tell me that Deaf people couldn’t work as plumbers.

Apparently, and this is what the boss told me, when digging holes plumbers often dig in different areas. They communicate with each other by yelling across from their holes. It would waste too much time getting out of their holes just to communicate with the Deaf person so that the Deaf person could could lipread.

I was not impressed. My reaction got me called into the office of my manager back at the Deaf Society. She was very empathetic but reminded me that getting angry and sarcastic with potential employers could be counter productive in the long run. ( I’d said to the boss something along the lines of, “You poor hearing person, you really don’t care do you?”)

Sadly, in 2022 this is still happening. Last week I was assisting a client to get into a training course. The client had been refused. The course provider was insisting that a Deaf person could not work in this role because today, with the need to wear masks, communication would be too hard. It would, therefore, be impossible to do the job.

Deja Vu! It took me all the way back to 1990 and the plumber. It took me all the way back to my studies when my social work lecturer questioned whether I could be a Social Worker because it was not feasible to be a Social Worker and use Auslan interpreters. It took me back to times when I was refused jobs because of assumptions made by bosses that communicating in the workplace were challenges too hard to overcome. It took me back to the many excuses hearing bosses make around risks that Occupational Health and Safety regulations (OHS) could not accommodate. The bosses have not a shred of evidence, it is just their assumption.

But there is Deja Vu and there is Google. Today, unlike in 1990, I can Google jobs that Deaf people do. I can find Deaf plumbers or Deaf Tradesmen. I can find Deaf Chefs. I can find Deaf Physiotherapists, nurses and any number of health professionals including doctors. Just on Google I can find these people describing how they do their jobs and the adjustments that they make. None of it is assumption, it is just cold hard evidence. Then there is technology, hoo boy, I have all the answers that back in 1990 I did not have. Evidence is a very powerful medium!

So you hearing people out here who are making these assumptions about what Deaf people can and cannot do, its 2022 and assumptions do not hack it. There are answers and we have them, jut ask us! Let Deja Vu be left where it should be, in the past!

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