I have been deaf now for nigh on 50 years. I was not born deaf so have the privilege of speech. In addition to this I have a strong language base. Note the word privilege. My life may well have been different had I been born deaf. Perhaps I would have had no access to Auslan until my late teens. Perhaps for many years I would have struggled to express myself in the hearing world that I existed. Perhaps my language development, literacy and education could have been impacted. There are many things that could have happened, so I consider myself privileged.

Now that word “privileged” is not used in a good way here. I mean it in a way that indicates that I have rights and advantages over others. This is wrong. I am a firm believer that everyone should have the same access to everything. Be it education, housing, employment – No one should have ‘privilege’ over others. Alas, in our society privilege is everywhere. It’s ugly. We must tackle privilege head on everyday.

My 35 year career has been about fighting unfair privilege. It’s tough and the fight makes me angry, really angry. I have very low tolerance for people that are privileged who make themselves out as victims. I have a very low tolerance for people who are privileged who try to tell me how I should live life as a deaf person. This low tolerance is what has kept me going in the disability sector for 35 years.

You would think that by now I would have got used to it. You would think that I would just retreat into a hole and say, “That’s just the way it is … “ But no, I still get angry. I live and breathe this shit everyday. When I stop getting angry, I will know it will be time to retire.

Yesterday, late in the day on a Friday, I had a late call from a client. They had been suspended from work. They had been called into a meeting to discuss performance. The client refused unless an interpreter was booked or a support person could be arranged. Instead, because they refused the meeting, they were frogmarched from the premises and told they were suspended. They still do not know for how long because since being suspended no communication has happened. You see, the privileged hearing people expect this person to do all the adjusting and refuse to adjust for the client. A simple text or an email seems to be beyond these privileged hearing people.

I spoke to the client for nearly 2 hours. The client was depressed. I mean really depressed. They spoke about driving home and not caring what happened to them. They spoke about how they had requested interpreters and were told no because they were a good lipreader. The boss had said, “… if you don’t hear something, let me know, Ill tell you.” They had requested the staff TV in the staff room have the captions put on. This was refused because the captions were a distraction and annoyed the hearing staff.

As the client told me this story, my anger was palpable. I had to do many things for this client. The priority centred around the depression and making sure that the client was safe. As a professional I did this in a cold and methodical way. As a human being I was seething.

Earlier in the week I had been working with a client that wanted to transfer to our service. They had been supported in a “hearing” organisation that, in the clients own words, “… didn’t understand deaf.” If you are hearing, a transfer is a very straight forward process. There is a number you call, you provide details and request a transfer to the organisation that you want. It takes 10 to 15 minutes.

Of course, if you are deaf and for whom Auslan is your first language, accessing this transfer line is problematic. I have the privilege of speech and a captioned mobile, so I told the client I would ring for them.

Now, before I regale the reader with this tale, I should explain that before calling we tried a number of other ways to make the transfer happen including online means. The online method failed because it sent a code to the clients mobile, which was unfortunately broken. No matter, there was the phone method which hearing people get to use. It’s their privilege.

So I rang. Trusty captions on my mobile telling me what buttons to press to get where I needed etc. I got an operator and explained what I was trying to do on behalf of the client. The operator, point blank, refused to process the transfer. They wanted to speak to my client. I pointed out this was not possible because they were an Auslan user, their speech would not be understood over the phone and so on. Didn’t matter, the operator still refused. “If I help you …. “ said the operator, “… Ill get in trouble.”

I explained why we couldn’t do it online and why the transfer phone line was our only option, all to no avail. The operator said I could try this special line that helped people who use different languages. You see, if you are hearing and don’t speak English you can use this other line through a spoken language interpreter. I explained that this was slightly harder with an Auslan interpreter. But the operator assured me it would work with Auslan too. Yeah, RIGHT!

So, I called this other line and was asked by the AI technology what spoken language interpreter I wanted. I said Auslan and was asked to confirm if I needed a Bengali interpreter. I decided not to respond in the hope that I would get an operator. I did, eventually, but as I was explaining the Auslan issue the line cut out. I tried again with the same result except this time I was asked to confirm if I needed an Arabic interpreter.

In exasperation I called the original transfer line again. I was told the same thing, that they wouldn’t process through a third person. They said that my only option was to call the organisation that the client wanted to transfer from and organise it by agreement. So I did.

So after messing about for half an hour getting through this organisations call centre, I got put on to a case worker who referred me to their manager. The manager refused to process the transfer as well. She said that the clients would need to come into the office and ask for the transfer themselves. I pointed out they were Auslan users and had traveled a fair distance to see us for this transfer (over 50 kms.) I pointed out they wanted to come to us because we were a specialist service for deaf. The manager was adamant …. They had to come in to their office.

It was two and a half hours into the appointment by this time. I apologised profusely to the client. They were very understanding. (I wouldn’t have been) The client said they would pop into the organisation on the way home. They did so, saw the manager for five minutes, who said OK and that they would email me the transfer forms. A week later I am still waiting for the signed transfer forms.

I might get in trouble from work for writing this. I am beyond caring. I am so angry. This client traveled over 50 Kms to see us. They patiently waited 2 and half hours as we tried to resolve things and get them transferred. They were forced to travel back home and attend the office of this organisation. They did all they were asked for and the transfer has still not been processed. If they had the privilege of being hearing, this whole process would have taken ten to fifteen minutes, tops. Let’s also consider that if you are hearing and speak another language, you have more privilege with this system than a person who is deaf!

Yes, I am angry. Not for myself but my client and thousands like them that have to endure this shit every day. Privilege, especially hearing privilege, is rife in Australia! It is a disgrace! As for me, rest assured my anger will drive me on. A few people will be hearing from me next week. It wont be pretty and it wont be fast but change has to happen.

It’s just not fair!


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