Happy Hearing Awareness Week

Please scroll to the bottom for the Auslan Version.

Image shows a flock of sheep in close up. In the middle is a wolf that is dressed up as a sheep so as to not be recognised. It represents the saying, Wolf in Sheep Clothing.

Happy Hearing Awareness Week! I hope that is what it is called. We have had so many name changes over the years that I have lost count. But this week is a week of hearing awareness. It’s a week when hearing people celebrate being hearing and let us know that even if we can’t hear, there is hope!! Can Do Hearing proudly proclaim …

“The empathy and compassion promoted by Hearing Awareness Week, generally leads (each year) to an increased sensitivity to the experiences, needs, and aspirations of people with hearing loss.”

Experiences, needs and aspirations of people with hearing loss. There you have it. I am assuming this mean all types, including those in the Deaf community that use Auslan. Or even those who are perhaps not fully involved in the Deaf community but use Auslan. Or little kids, whose parents have chosen Auslan as part of their child’s language development. And of course those that can’t hear, or can’t hear well, and who don’t use Auslan. All of them is what Hearing Awareness week is about and their – “… Experiences, needs and aspirations.” ALL OF THEM!

So this week people in Brisbane driving across the Story Bridge were exposed to this. No doubt a campaign that is linked to Hearing Awareness Week:

OK! Now before I go on I will disclose that I work in the deafness sector. I want to point out that the views that I am about to express are entirely my own. As a Deaf person who lives and breathes being deaf and supporting a diverse range of people with a hearing loss everyday, I am exercising my right to comment on issues that are important to me. That said, these views are my own entirely.

I need to clarify the banner. It is misleading. Firstly it says that deaf kids can hear. Some can but need assistance through aids or cochlear implants. Even with these aids, they hear to varying degrees. It is the same with speech. Some speak just lovely, while others struggle a bit. Some have great language development and others less so. It varies. ALSO deaf can sign too. Again, with varying success depending on lots of factors and access to language models. It is not black and white for any of these “…kids who are deaf …”

May be the banner needs to have the word SOME in it. It definitely needs the words Auslan in it. It definitely needs reporting to the Advertising, Competition and Consumer Commission. Why? Because it is terribly misleading and manipulative. I am actually gobsmacked that it was approved for release. The banner is incredibly damaging.

The reader will have garnered by now that I am a bit angry about the banner. I know I am not the only one because several people have brought the banner to my attention. Possibly in the hope that I would write something about it. With stuff like this, I really do not need a lot of prompting.

It frustrates me because there is a history of this sort of advertising in the last 20 years. Many deaf people, like me, protest about it. They are always ignored and always disrespected. For some, it is disparaging of the identity that they have chosen. Imagine the outrage today if some racially focused group put out an advertisement – “Black people can be white.” Or some homophobic organisation splashed a banner across the Sydney Harbor Bridge focused on the LBGTQIA+ community – “Gay people can be straight.” Yes, I am being extreme, but this is how many in the Deaf community feel about this sort of advertising.

I, and many others, want this sort of misleading advertising to stop. But always we are ignored. Our views are brushed off and we are all considered extremist. We are not. We just see the damage this kind of advertising does to many people who are deaf. It demeans them and tells the world that being deaf is a lesser state of being. I ask the people responsible for this harmful advertising to please stop. JUST PLEASE STOP!

You know, I have witnessed some howlers in my time. There was the lad that was filmed using appalling sign language. His sign language is captioned in the video along the lines of this – “In years gone by this is how people like me communicated …” – he then breaks into speech in what I was told at the time was almost in a sing song manner – “… But now there is a better way”. It is all true; you can read about it in an old Rebuttal HERE.

This was 2008. Yup, we were complaining about this sort of stuff way back then. No one has listened. One of the worst advertisements I saw was of the identical twin sisters, one who was deaf. It was not captioned at the time and I had to get a hearing colleague to transcribe it for me. (Thanks Nic!) This is how it went …

My sister Maddie and I are identical twins. Except that she was born completely Deaf, and I was not. The Hear AND Say Centre for Deaf children helped kids like Maddie to hear and to speak just like me so that they can communicate to the world with confidence like everyone else. And you will be surprised just how much they have helped Maddie.

The other girls talk: – You are Maddie, silly!!!”

Read it slowly and carefully, and let it sink in. You can read this old article HERE.

It is true that this type of advertising offends the Deaf community. But what is worse is that it is incredibly misleading. It gives parents hope, not necessarily a false hope, but it makes them think that hearing and speaking is EVERYTHING. It makes them think that DEAFNESS is an unfathomable tragedy that needs to be eradicated. It means that from diagnosis, parents are seeing their kids as deficit and needing to be fixed. This is the real tragedy because no parent should be starting their relationship with their child with this type of messaging.

The Foundation of Divergent Minds had this to say about the focus on deficit – ” .. When a child is Deaf, in this model, they are disabled because they cannot hear, not because of society.  This model, which is prevalent in schools and therapeutic settings, is a structure that upholds the typical, and places all responsibility for struggle on the individual and their distance from the norm.” (Click on the quote to read the full article.)

And this is what this sort of advertising does. Apart from being disgracefully misleading, it blames the deaf kids. It says that unless they become like the hearing they are not with us. It tells parents of deaf kids that their deaf kids are a problem that need fixing so they can fit with the norm. And worse, it absolves society of any responsibility because – “All deaf kids can hear and speak.” You see?

To the people that continue with this damaging advertising can I just ask – PLEASE, PLEASE STOP!!

Auslan version below.

Universal Design, It’s Not a Mythical Beast!

Image is a black and white sketch of a mythical rabbit with reindeer horns.

For the Auslan version of this article scroll to the bottom.

SIGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!! I have had a day when I just have decided that hearing people or non disabled people, take your pick, need to go in the bin. Sometimes you get to a point where you think they are just more trouble than they are worth. You know, they just think about themselves and no one else. You want to slap sense into them, but my mother told me that violence was not the answer. I am pretty sure she is wrong, but a mothers influence is strong.

Did you read my last article? You can read it HERE if you didn’t. It tells the tale of the deaf couple that wanted a transfer to our services but couldn’t even get past the phone operator because the operator refused the assistance of a third person. That couple who had a 100 km round trip to try and sign up for our services. That couple that patiently waited for two and a half hours while we tried to get them transferred and were refused by a rigid hearing designed system. Yeah them, they are still waiting.

Something that should have taken ten minutes has now been escalated all the way to the top dog. Who, credit to them, replied to me within fifteen minutes and instructed their minions to fix the farce. So now, what should have been over in ten minutes, has a number of high ranking bureaucrats running about to make a simple thing like a transfer to another service happen. I don’t know how much this is costing the tax payer, but this is what happens when you design systems with with very little thought for the needs of people with a disability. Or simply all people for that matter.

Before I get into the meat of this tale, I will tell you a funny little aside. These hearing people told us to tell our Deaf clients to call them through the National Relay Service and they would help them. Another third person but go figure. BAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHHAHAH. So funny!!!. As it turns out our deaf heroes are not even registered with the NRS because they think the service is so rubbish. And it is!

But anyway! You non-Deaf, non disabled people out there, I’m going to lecture you. I’m going to Deafsplain to you in very simple terms what you should be doing. Just as you are often condescending to us, I am about to be so to you. I fear it is the only way to make you all understand!

Firstly, all of you, you people with expensive university degrees who are employed and contracted to design systems, services, products and buildings etc, learn what Universal Design means. I will put it in very simple words. You design things FOR EVERYONE. Not just the so called privileged majority. I could explain to you what the term EVERYONE means. But I am banking on the fact that your expensive education has taught you this already.

So, just to be clever I will give you a jargonised definition of what universal design means.

Universal Design is the design and composition of an environment so that it can be accessed, understood and used to the greatest extent possible by all people regardless of their age, size, ability or disability. An environment (or any building, product, or service in that environment) should be designed to meet the needs of all people who wish to use it. This is not a special requirement, for the benefit of only a minority of the population. It is a fundamental condition of good design. If an environment is accessible, usable, convenient and a pleasure to use, everyone benefits. By considering the diverse needs and abilities of all throughout the design process, universal design creates products, services and environments that meet peoples’ needs. Simply put, universal design is good design.

Yes! A building needs to be accessible – A system like a phone system or a customer service system needs to be accessible – Education needs to be accessible – The environment needs to be accessible – Public facilities and services need to be accessible – TO THE GREATEST EXTENT POSSIBLE!



Is that clear? Do I need to put it it in plainer English? Let me know, I am certainly happy to try and explain it more simpler for you . After all, that is Universal Design!

Now in simple terms, if you are a person designing these systems, buildings, services, products etc, ask yourself,

  1. Can all people get in?
  2. Can all people reach it?
  3. Can all people hear it?
  4. Can all people see it?
  5. Can all people get on it?
  6. Can all people process it?

There are other questions, I am sure, but the idea is that you consider as many possible scenarios as you can to encompass all people to THE GREATEST EXTENT possible. This means, just incase extent is a word that you don’t understand – THE MOST POSSIBLE!

Most of all just ask yourself – CAN ALL PEOPLE USE IT????!!!!!!!!

If the answer to any of these questions is NO, design it better. And for god sake, if you don’t know the answer to any of these questions, and it is ok if you do not – Go and consult with people that do!

OOOHHHH, I can read minds – It will cost too much! … It will take too long! … It’s not realistic! My answer to all of you nae-sayers thinking this is – POPPYCOCK!

Read this, then click on it to take you to the website:

According to the Center for Universal Design, “The intent of universal design is to simplify life for everyone by making products, communications, and the built environment more usable by as many people as possible at little or no extra cost. Universal design benefits people of all ages and abilities.” Adds John P.S. Salmen, president of Universal Designers & Consultants, Takoma Park, Md., “Universal design is a much more holistic view of the lifespan and people’s changing abilities throughout their lives.”

In short, take the time to do it right and make the world accessible to everyone. It will save everyone money in the long run. Believe me it takes more time and money to redesign things and systems that inadvertently have not considered the needs of every one. Just ask the bureaucrats who are running around trying to fix the mess that was created and that prevented access for my clients today. I’m betting you that they wish someone had got it right the first time.

That’s Universal Design for you. It’s not a mythical beast! Make it real, it’s in your hands!

Auslan version below. With thanks to Marnie Kerridge