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!

I’m Back!

Image is of three young people on their laptops communicating with each other by video conference.

After 20 years of working within hearing organisations and programs, I am back. Back in the Deaf sector and loving it. The last Deaf and HoH program I worked on was back in 2002. That was with the wonderful Successful Adults in Life Program for young people with a sensory disability – Deaf, HoH, Blind, Vision Impaired and Deafblind. I was privileged to lead a team what was wholly formed with people who had a disability. Probably one of the few teams like it in Australia at that time. How things have changed.

Since that time I have worked mostly as an National Disability Coordination Officer. Other jobs in this 20 years included an access coordinator, NDIA Senior Planner, Senior Local Area Coordinator and as an advocate. Of course, the biggest challenge for me in the last 20 years was communication.

For many years I required Auslan interpreters. My experience in advocating for Auslan interpreters has been well documented within these pages. Suffice to say it was a constant struggle. I saw today that Australia has 571 qualified Auslan interpreters to service the Deaf community. That is covering work, education, health, courts, weddings, funerals and the many situations that Deaf people use interpreters for with their NDIS plans.

Not surprisingly, the supply of interpreters nowhere meets demand. It is probably worse now than it has ever been. In years gone by it was difficult to source interpreters, but now as the Deaf community uses NDIS funding, as more Deaf people move into professional roles and as more Deaf people begin to source tertiary education the demand is sky high. Booking agencies are struggling to meet demand. Add Convo Australia to the mix, now providing online interpreting 24/7, you begin to see that the demand for Auslan interpreting has never been higher.

In my 20 years out of the Deaf sector this is, perhaps, the biggest change that I have seen. Going back 20 years, I think it was easier to source an Auslan Interpreter. You always needed to book in advance, but you probably had more chance of getting an Auslan interpreter 20 years ago than you do now. Australia simply cannot train enough interpreters to the level required to meet the rapidly increasing demand. The consequence of this is that many miss out.

Working within hearing programs and hearing organisations for the last 20 years I have been fortunate that where ever I have worked, my employer has never baulked at providing me with the access that I required. I mean, the Brotherhood of St Laurence (BSL), where I worked as a Senior Local Area Coordinator, once called me in to find out if there was a way to reduce interpreting costs. I and one other Deaf employee managed to spend $84 000 in 8 months. Even though the costs was high, BSL still provided for my and the other Deaf employees every communication need.

But the thing with working in a hearing organisation is the need for immediate communication. As a senior you have to respond to situations. Workers will come into the office with a problem and you have to communicate with them there and now. Clients will come in and need advice and there is a need to be able to respond to them as well. Up until a few years ago, all I could do in those situations was make do as best I could. I had to be incredibly innovative and resilient.

Sometimes I would grab a work colleague to scribe for me. Sometimes I would write notes. Sometimes, if I was lucky, the person might be easy to lipread and I could make do. Often it was hard. Accents, beards, mumblers and the like, all came into the mix. Nevertheless, I had to meet the challenge. Immediacy of communication was just me and them, making do the best we could.

Overtime things have changed. Email, SMS, live text chat etc, all these things made communication easier for me. I well recall a client coming in very distressed and I could not lipread them. It was a busy period and I couldn’t grab a colleague to scribe. I asked the person if they had Facebook Messenger and they did. I grabbed a spare laptop and had them sign in. Across the table we communicated successfully Via Facebook messenger. That was how it was sometimes.

Later, I discovered that Live Remote Captioning was generally more available. I began to use that more. Sometimes a client would call and ask if they could come in in a couple of hours. I would know the chances of getting an Auslan interpreter were zilch. I would get a hold of Barney and say I need someone in two hours, can you serve? Barney would check and get back to me within ten minutes. (I usually sent these requests through Facebook messenger) Nine times out of ten Barney would find me a captioner at short notice. Once Barny let me know someone was available, I would go online and confirm the booking.

Then in 2018 things changed dramatically. Android introduced Live Transcribe. Live Transcribe is a free app that basically is voice recognition technology. Someone told me about it and I was very skeptical. To my surprise, it was very accurate. In 2018 it was far from perfect, but it was usable. Colleagues would come to my desk, and if they were hard to lipread, I would switch it on. Presto immediate communication.

I began to use Live Transcribe in meetings where I could not get interpreters. Or when clients walked in and needed immediate advice. As I said, it wasn’t perfect, but it was usable. It meant I was able to flexibly address a variety of work situations there and then. Indeed, overtime Live Transcribe became better and more accurate. It was a bit of a godsend.

Then Covid hit. By this time I was back working as an NDCO. When I won the NDCO role I was interviewed over Zoom. This was 2019 and I had never heard of Zoom at the time. I still required interpreters because Live Transcribe on my phone didn’t really pick up computer generated voices very well. Then one day I experimented using a tablet rather than the phone. The Tablet worked immensely better.

What I would do was set up the tablet on a stand next to my computer. I would dial in and I would access the meeting that way. I was very fortunate to have very savvy colleagues. They made sure they only spoke one at a time. If they ever forgot, I would just hold up my hands and a chorus of apologies would ensue.

Of course Live Transcribe would sometimes get the phonetics wrong. If this happened I would stop the meeting and read out what had been transcribed and my colleagues would then let me know what they had said. Sometimes it was hilarious. Like when the USEP program got transcribed as the New Sex Program. We had many a laugh over these phonetic errors.

Then one day I discovered another program, Microsoft Group Transcribe. This was only available on Apple devices. I uploaded it to my iPad. Blimey, it was even better than Live Transcribe. It was more accurate and you could even use it with the TV. It would transcribe what was being said on TV. Live Transcribe, at least I found, was not so good with the TV and was, overall, less accurate than Microsoft Group Transcribe.

All of this happened within a couple of years. Then Zoom and Teams video conference platforms introduced automatic captioning. At first I found Teams and Zoom automatic captioning a bit clunky and stayed with Microsoft Group Transcribe. But like with any technology, it got better over time. It got to a point where a colleague would want to discuss something with me. They would call me on Teams, I would turn on the captions, I had immediate communication.

It drops out sometimes or the captions are wrong sometimes, but generally the accuracy is outstanding. In fact, so good is this technology that for the last two years I have not spent all of my Auslan For Employment budget. Previously the paltry $6000 that was provided would be wiped out within the first two or three months.

Then Android 12 gave us the captioned mobile. I’ve written about this before, but now I can make and receive calls. I don’t need a go between or a National Relay Service, I have immediate access to the phone 24/7. All of these developments in the last two years, it is incredible .

I am well aware that I have usable speech which makes all of this technology possible. Not every Deaf person is in the same boat. I am determined to lessen my demand on Auslan interpreters through this technology. Not because of the cost, but so that the short supply of interpreters can be directed to Deaf people that really prefer and require it.

So here I am, back in the Deaf sector. I am at an organisation where 95% of my colleagues all use Auslan. Those that don’t are quickly learning it. It’s refreshing to be able to meet someone in the kitchen and just strike up a conversation without having to switch on my iPad to access captioning. It really is wonderful to just be able to relax and converse with nearly everyone. I think for the first time for many years, I am actually excited to go to work.

That is not to say past workmates didn’t go out of their way to facilitate communication. They did, I was very fortunate. But I look back over twenty years and I see how much more access I have through this technology and it never fails to blow my mind. I mean, two of my current team are learning Auslan and the technology facilitates communication for us until they develop some proficiency in Auslan. It’s kind of weird calling your colleague at the next desk on Teams so as to access captioning but hey, whatever works.

The last 20 years out of the Deaf sector have made me a better and more resilient professional. I’m glad I did it and it taught me so much. Thanks to all my past work colleagues who made my working life such a wonderful and inclusive one, I will never forget you.

But I’m back now, and loving it! Here is to the next chapter.

A Sign of Manners

The graphic is a black and white banner with a stylised M. It reads, in capitals – MANNERS

Parliament is back. An emotional Prime Minister Albanese gave his full endorsement to the Uluru Statement from the Heart. This will give First Nations People a voice in parliament. Said Albanese,

“When you have issues that are affecting people, particularly people who have a history going back 65,000 years that offers us a continuous source of great national pride here in Australia, why wouldn’t you?

Why wouldn’t you grasp that generous and gracious offer which is about reconciliation, which is about acknowledging dispossession and colonisation and all of the tragedy and injustice that occurred as a result of the First Fleet arriving in 1788?

In what might be the understatement of the century, Albanese called the push to give First Nations People a voice in parliament – “A sign of manners.”

It was looking to be good week for minority groups at the opening of parliament. Australia’s first Muslim Hijab wearing Senator, Fatima Payman, urged Muslim women to wear their Hijab with pride. This was reported widely in the media. Senator Payman believes that it was time that Australia’s parliament reflected, “…the true diversity….” of the country. And so it should.

I began to think that the adults had finally arrived in parliament. Gosh, this collection of MPs and senators might actually begin to treat each other with respect and dignity. Finally, we might actually have a parliament that can disagree and debate without personal attacks and ulterior motives. It was looking good.

And then Dutton spoke. He accused Albanese, with out a shred of evidence, of siding with, “Union rapist thugs.” Such Unionist are apparently harassing women on building sites.

Worst of all, Pauline Hanson walked out of the Acknowledgment the Country at the opening of the Senate. Simply put, Hanson threw all her toys out of the pram. She stated that she wouldn’t acknowledge the Elders past and present now and never would. Racist only scratches the surface of all the evil things that this woman is.

But wait, it gets worse. New Senator, David Pocock, requested an Auslan interpreter for his maiden speech in the Senate. He was apparently refused this request by the major parties because they feared setting a precedent. You see, if Senator Pocock were allowed an Auslan interpreter it would mean that every Senator in the Senate or every MP in the parliament could request one. We cant have that, can we? Not with a trillion dollars in debt. Blimey, it might even encourage Deaf people to try for parliament. Gosh, all that diversity that Senator Payman is pleading for, we cant have that can we?? It was about here that I knew nothing really had changed. In the first line of this paragraph there is a hyperlink. Read it and weep, but don’t read the comments that tell Deaf people to stop moaning and use the subtitles. (I kid you not.)

What does that tell you about how the government and the opposition really thinks about people with a disability. Certainly not a group of people to enhance diversity. Certainly not a group of people that should be part of an inclusive workplace.

Prime Minister Albanese says it is good manners to give First Nations people a voice in parliament. It absolutely is and I support this 100 percent. BUT, somehow the simple measure of providing an Auslan interpreter to be inclusive for the Auslan users of Australia is some sort of dangerous and costly precedent. Sorry, but this smacks of double standards.

I urge the major parties to reconsider the request of Senator Pocock and any other member of the parliament or senate who should make such a request for Auslan interpreters hereon. After all, in the words of our newly elected Prime Minister, “It’s a sign of manners.”

Or are we not worthy???

Joyced!!!

Image is of a gold coloured, standard T-handle walking stick

Over COVID? Me too! Its been over two years and the dastardly little bug wont go away. It’s locked us down, separated us, made us sick, killed us and it’s destroyed economies the world over. To the end of last year Governments decided that they were no longer going to be held hostage by this little bug and opened up. Freedoms returned and we all go to travel again. We all got to fly interstate or overseas. And weren’t we happy!!

We hoped that COVID would have gone by now. Alas, no! We are currently confronting the third wave of Omicron and people are dying again. Who knows? Mandates and lock downs might return. In the meantime we continue to travel and fly. Now, we not only have to fear COVID but if we are flying, we fear being JOYCED.

JOYCED is a term that was coined to describe the chaos that flyers are experiencing as demand for flights increases. Essentially the term is taking the piss out of Qantas CEO, Alan Joyce. Unfortunately, the efficiency of airlines has taken a hit since COVID. Flights are frequently cancelled, baggage has gone missing, processing passengers is taking ages. Consequently, people need to be at the airport very, very early to make sure they get to their gate on time.

Much of this is because the airlines are under-staffed. People are sick with COVID, forced to isolate and cant come to work. The result of this under-staffing is unbridled chaos. Instead of acknowledging these very real issues of under-staffing Joyce made the mistake of blaming passengers for the delays. Apparently, we were all out of practice for catching planes and this is the main cause of the delays. Passengers didn’t take to kindly to being blamed for things out of their control so decided that they would blame Joyce. Hence, when things go arse up at the airport, flights are cancelled or baggage is lost, passengers have been JOYCED!

People with a disability are also being JOYCED. Unfortunately, the consequences for being JOYCED if you have a disability can be quite severe. My dear friend Liz represented Australia at a recent United Nations disability gathering in America. Liz is a wheelchair user. On her journey to New York she endured two broken planes meaning they had to book her other flights. She had connecting flights cancelled mid-flight causing extreme delays. This led to overnight stays in strange places and re-bookings that saw her finally land at her destiny. Only for her baggage to go missing! It remained missing for over a week.

For a person with a disability this can be catastrophic. In Liz’s case all her chargers for her wheelchair were in the baggage. All her medications were in her bag causing her extreme health challenges that led her to having to go to ER in New York. She had been promised that her bags would be returned soon, yet by the day of her leaving, more than a week later, they had not arrived. Naturally, she was greatly inconvenienced and stressed. That’s what being JOYCED entails … ( Do note, it wasn’t all Qantas’ fault, however, for the sake of the narrative we will blame them 😀 )

There is a reason why many people with a disability hate flying. In these COVID riddled days they hate it even more. Before COVID it was bad enough. No more than two people with a disability per flight. Valuable mobility equipment damaged by baggage handlers. People with disability being denied access to a flight because they were seen as a risk. Famously, Kurt Fearnley crawled through an airport because airlines refused to allow him to use his own wheelchair and he refused the “Standard” trolley like chairs that they insisted he use.

Recently former Disability Commissioner, Graeme Innes, was humiliated by airport security, They refused to let his guide dog go through X-ray machine. Apart from that they treated him like a child and with immense disrespect. So upset was Innes that he is now seeking damages.

In these COVID days, any delays can be a disaster I got VIRGINNED recently (We cant blame poor Alan for everything.) I couldn’t get through security. I had just had a hip replacement and the new fangled metal hip set of the alarm. SHIT! The security guard comes up, masked and all, and mutters something that was probably. “Go back and come through again.” I started shitting bricks because I was already running late.

Now I am Deaf, and in this case I was also physically limited. I was four weeks post-op and using a walking stick. I’m telling the security guard I cant hear him and have to lipread. He refused to remove his mask. I suggested he might like to use my Live Transcribe. He ignored me and my suggestion. What he did next was truly mind boggling.

He took away my walking stick and asked me to walk through. I asked him how I was supposed to do that. He just gestured angrily for me to walk through. So here I was, physically incapacitated and expected to walk through. So I did, very painfully and with great difficulty. Unsurprisingly the alarm went off again.

I explained to the guy about the hip operation and why the alarm was going off, but he didn’t care. He gestured at me to take my shoes off and go back. By this time I had had enough. Angrily I said,

“Look mate, I’m in pain. I have no idea what you are saying. I cant walk any further without my walking stick AND if I take my shoes off, I hope you are the one that will help me put them back on! “

He said something through his mask. I reminded him I couldn’t hear him. The fucker rolled his eyes at me and gestured at me to stay. He went and got his manager who must have told him to frisk me, and he did. Fifteen minutes or so later I was on my way. Luckily, my flight had been delayed.

And then, of course, the inflight entertainment had no captions. (I was in business class.) I mean in this day and age, where streaming companies can caption everything, you expect something as simple as captioning to exist. The food was good though, and I commend Virgin on their choice of wines. I commend them a little less on their choice of security guards. By the way, the airline steward was great too. Made communicating as easy as possible by removing his mask and even spoke into my Live Transcribe.

This is Australia today. It is 2022 and disability discrimination is rampant everywhere. Australia, particularly the airline industry, needs to do better than this.

So, if you’re non-disabled and you get JOYCED, while I empathise with you, spare a thought for what people with a disability often have to endure. It ain’t a lot of fun, I can tell you!

Dear Auslan Interpreters

Image is of an Auslan interpreter interpreting a COVID update.

Hello old friends, the Terps. It has been such a long time between breaks. This year I have hardly booked an Auslan interpreter at all. It’s a far cry from the heady days where I was at the NDIS. I could have an Auslan interpreter twice a day. Indeed, I and Michael spent $84 grand on interpreting inside 12 months. My employer was always accommodating, but even they asked if there was a way we could cut it back somehow. Why have I hardly used you this year? More on that later.

I told my NDIS employer to cut back on endless and unnecessary team meetings. I said we could probably do them once a month rather than fortnightly. To my surprise they agreed to this. It’s not that I don’t think that you Terps are worth it, its just that somehow we have to keep costs to a sustainable level.

And you know Terps, cost has always been such a big thing in delivering Auslan interpreting. In my work life a big focus has been on reducing costs of interpreters as much as possible. When I started work at the University of Ballarat my job had me covering nearly half of Victoria. From Ballarat to Mildura, to Geelong right down to Portland. My coverage was immense.

This was in 2003. In 2003 to access an interpreter I had to have an interpreter physically there. For me to attend a workshop in Warnambool, that might go for over two hours, I needed two interpreters. The closest interpreter to Warnambool was based in Geelong. If I couldn’t get them, I would have to access interpreters from Melbourne.

It was an expensive business. We had the standard two hour fee for two interpreters and their travel time to get there. This simple meeting would set my employer back near or over 2 grand. 4 hours of interpreting plus 10 hours travel time for the two interpreters to get there – Do the maths!

Luckily for me, I had a really supportive employer in the University of Ballarat. I can tell you my work budget, along with $ 6000 Auslan for employment, ran out after 4 months. For the next 8 months my employer simply covered the cost from their central budget. My boss said they did it because they thought I was worth it. Again let me tell you Terps, I think you were worth it. BUT – To make things sustainable I had to find another way.

So I began to explore Video Relay Interpreting. Back in 2003 we couldn’t do this by Internet. We had to do it by teleconference using the old Polycom system. We could deliver Video Relay Interpreting via the phone line, but we needed a minimum of three lines. One hour was around $548 for the phone plus extra for the interpreter time. In the country this still worked out cheaper than getting interpreters physically there.

Over time the internet began to improve. It got a bit stronger. Over time we got access to remote WiFi through the dongle. We had 3G, oh wow were we excited. A dongle was about $80 a month for something like 4 GB of data. It was a godsend. So I began to experiment with delivering interpreters to my laptop via the dongle.

It wasn’t always great. Drop outs were common. Audio was crap. But I persisted. I got some funding to buy a couple of Macs and a couple of dongles. For a year we experimented using the dongle to deliver Video Relay Interpreting. As time went on the dongle became more reliable. The possibility of ongoing VRI became a reality. I even had a Deaf student experiment having her school class interpreted with the dongle and it went ok.

It wasn’t always brilliant, but what it showed was the potential. From this project I printed a manual as to how to effectively use Skype for Video Relay Interpreting. The manual covered how set up the room and how to maximise the dongle . I recall sitting near a window was one of the tips. We experimented with Bluetooth microphones to deliver sound direct to the laptop to maximise the audio. All of this was detailed in the manual.

These were heady days. Even now as I write this I get a bit emotional. Through these experiments I increasingly accessed interpreters remotely and cut the cost for my employer by a considerable amount. Interestingly, there was resistance. Some said interpreting wasn’t possible by VRI. The 2D format would not work they said. Others said without visual cues they couldn’t interpret. Some said VRI was soulless and took away the personal touch.

Look at us now, we even have Convo delivering interpreting to our mobiles whenever we need it, paid for by our NDIS. If you have not already guessed, I am very proud of this body of work. I look at the world now and I am so glad that I persisted. I am so glad that Terps persisted. I am so glad that the Deaf community persisted. We are all better for it today.

But you know, I didnt stop there. I experimented with what I called pre-recorded interpreters. Universities and TAFE were all saying that the cost of interpreting was not sustainable. So I said, why not try some pre-recorded stuff. I believed that there was core learning that you could film and add interpreters to it. You could place this online and deaf students could access it whenever. My argument was that by having some core learning online, and accessible, it could cut costs for interpreting as well as making learning more flexible for everyone.

Core stuff that never changes like Pavlov’s dribbling dog. Or making a cappuccino. Or stocking a freezer room. You could film these lectures and add interpreters later with little boxes or via Green Screen. I argued that it didnt need to be expensive. You could do it with your basic MacPro editing software.

And I did. I filmed myself making cheese on Toast. In a funny skit I forgot to plug in the toaster, burnt myself and I dropped the toast, much to the dogs glee. I added myself later, interpreting myself via Green screen using a green blanket hanging in the background.

My boys, Tyler and Finlay, filmed it for me on a cheap bloggy camera that I brought from JB HiFi. I used the video as an awareness tool for universities to highlight what was possible and to show it didnt need to be expensive. Unbeknown to me the lads had found the skit hilarious and could be heard chortling loudly in the background as they filmed me. It was such enormous fun.

And look where we are today. Every Sunday we have interpreted ABC news. We have endless Auslan announcements on Facebook. Emergency announcements are sometimes made with Interpreters superimposed later in the day and placed online. Video Relay Interpreting is common place. I feel very proud to have played my little part with you wonderful Terps and with the wonderful people at Auslan Services in making some of this possible.

So given this history, how did I get to the point today that I hardly use you Terps anymore? Well, it’s not because I don’t love you all, cos I do. Its just that captioning technology has boomed since COVID and everything went online. Automatic captioning has become incredibly accurate. I mean, bloody hell, I have a captioned mobile now courtesy of Android 12.

What I have now is immediacy. If I need to communicate with someone here and now, I can do it. I don’t need to book interpreters three weeks in advance. I can get online and manage my team all day using the automatic captioning. Clients call me and I call clients. Just in the middle of this blog my property manager rang and we had a chat about the tenants leaving and getting hold of the keys. No relay service, no interpreter – just me and my strange pommy deaf accent. But it works.

So I don’t book interpreters very much any more. But thats just for me. I have recognisable speech and that helps. I know that not all Deaf people do and they prefer you Terps. You Terps are still absolutely essential and I still use you for big gatherings and meetings. I just have less need day to day cos I now have immediacy of access. I had to wait til the 57th year of my life, but now I have it!

It’s a good thing. Because when people like me use the technology it takes away some of the demand on the system. It means that more Terps are available to interpret where they are needed. At hospitals, In courts, at universities at funerals and so on. I see me using the technology for my needs as a way to help the community get better and more access to Terps for essential things. God knows, I have hogged you Terps enough over the years.

So my my Terp Friends. I just wanted you to know that I still love you, I still value you and most of all I know you are still absolutely essential. So when you see me plugging the technology, its not cos I am trying to do you out of a job, it’s cos I truly believe that through people like me using the technology, the valuable resource that you Terps are can be more available for those people that need it for essential things. Most of all, because Auslan is the first language of many in the Deaf community and they have the right to access it.

Rock On Y’All

Dear Bill

Image is of Bill Shorten and an NDIS campaigner. He is wearing a suit and a red tie. He is sitting next to the campaigner who is wearing a white T-shirt with the slogan of which Defend NDIS can be read.

Welcome back Bill. I think most of us in the disability community have been hoping, praying, screaming and demanding for your return to the helm of the NDIS. A succession of Liberal Ministers proved to be pretty clueless, even heartless. We even had one accusing people with a disability of wasting millions on prostitutes, remember that one? Linda Reynolds tried hard but ultimately wasted $41 million on legal fees trying to claw back money from people with disabilities who had received sub-standard and inadequate plans. Nine years of Liberal cluelessness, it wasn’t a great time. I really mean it when I say welcome back!

And what a task you have. It’s a mess isn’t it? I note that one of your first media releases was about going after corrupt service providers. Service providers who are overcharging and are sometimes negligent. It’s a good move and I support this. I particularly hope that you can improve the standards of care and accountability so that cases like Anne-Marie Smith never happen again. I note two directors of that company have been arrested. I am not after revenge, I just want people with a disability treated fairly and kept safe.

You know what Bill? People with a disability are not innocent either. Some are corrupt and abuse their plans. Not on yachts and prostitutes, mind you, but they spend their plans on inappropriate things. They get gardeners and cleaners in through their core, even though they have no such need for these services.

There was one really appalling case that I hope was reported. In this case a “service provider” took a spa off the hands of an NDIS client. (Yes you read that right.) The client was chucking it out. “The service provider” asked if they could have it. So they took it home and found that it didn’t fit. To get rid of it they asked the client if they could charge them three hours of service to pay for a rubbish removal company to remove it. Allegedly, they got the rubbish removalist to take it away, paid for it and then charged the client a few hours to cover the cost of the removalist. Yep, this sort of corrupt behaviour happens, I hope you can clean it up.

I am really pleased that you are looking at advocacy for clients so that they can be assisted at all levels of the NDIS process and not just for reviews and appeals. I am pleased that you have recognised that navigating the NDIS and getting a fair go is hard for many people. It is hard, stressful and often traumatic. Advocacy is often needed at initial planning meetings and scheduled reviews. Currently, this isn’t funded. It needs to be so that NDIS participants get help to understand and develop plans that best meet their needs. This sort of funded advocacy cannot come soon enough.

You know Bill, there are funded advocates that assist with unscheduled reviews and AAT appeals. The agencies that provide this service are swamped. They have huge waiting lists and often have to deny support. AAT appeals are the worst. Imagine being a participant trying to win an AAT appeal without support. They have to deal with qualified and highly paid NDIS lawyers, many who are subcontracted. It is intimidating and stressful.

AAT cases go on for a very long time too. The NDIA are unwavering and attempts at conciliation between participant and NDIA, more often than not, hit a brick wall. It ends up as a Directions Hearing. It’s laughable because the participant is then expected to fill in a “Hearing Certificate”. In this certificate they have to outline who their witness are and which of the NDIA witnesses they want “CROSS EXAMINE”. Yup, your every day participant, many without representation, are expected to navigate this. I am sure that you will agree that this is incredibly unfair. The extra funding for advocates cannot come soon enough.

But Bill, despite all of the above, the biggest problem that you have is the NDIA workforce. Hard working as they are, there are way too many that don’t understand disability. There are way too many that are gathering information and developing plans who really do not understand the issues and needs of disability. They rely on algorithms on computers to spit out plans that are often incredibly inadequate. Far too often, these plans come back for reviews.

This highlights the next problem. The reviews are often overseen by delegates and executives who also do not understand disability. The reviews are denied and they end up as AAT appeals that take months and months. There is a reason reviews and appeals went up 400%, its because way too many people in decision making roles have no clue as to what they are doing.

Do you know what that means? It means hours of people time, millions in resources, millions in legal fees and it all adds up to waste. $41 million in legal fees probably pales into insignificance to the amount of time and money wasted internally because inexperienced delegates, LACS and management are developing plans that do not meet the needs of participants. That’s a 400% increase Bill. That is time and money wasted.

The worst thing though, Bill, is the stress and trauma that all of this causes people with a disability. The stress of appealing. The stress of receiving inadequate plans. The trauma at receiving a plan that has been so drastically cut that the participant can barely function. This is happening everyday Bill. It is not just trauma, it is outright abuse.

I cannot emphasise enough just how important fixing the workforce issue is. It’s not just getting more people in to deal with the demand, its getting people in that know what they are doing. This means that more people with a disability need to be at management and executive level. More people with a disability need to be in decision making roles. More people that “GET IT” need to be employed. To my mind, that is your biggest priority!

Thanks for listening Bill. As I said, I am so glad that you are back. The NDIS is a world leading scheme. When it works, its fantastic. But, when it doesn’t it can cause great harm to people with a disability. I can confirm that thoughts of suicide and suicide attempts have happened because of decisions that are made by the NDIA. It’s just wrong.

Good luck Bill, give me a buzz if I can help.

DDA – Destitute Discrimination Act

Photo is of Graeme Innes. He is wearing a dark suit with a white tie. He has a small badge on his jacket lapel. He is sitting with his black guide dog.

Graeme Innes is a legend in the disability sector. He has been a committed and tough advocate for people with a disability. He was one of the prime drivers of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA). He is often the DDA’s strongest advocate , encouraging the Disability community to make complaints and set precedents. At the moment he is very angry. You can read why HERE.

Recently, Mr Innes had an awful experience at the Adelaide Airport. Mr Innes uses a guide dog. A security guard made things difficult for Mr Innes. To cut a very long story short, Mr Innes had to get through a security lane that used a body scanner. He did this to avoid long lines which his guide dog found difficult to navigate. As he made his way through security, Innes was told his dog was not allowed in the lane. In Mr Innes own words:

“We put bags and metal on the belt and walked to the scanner. The male security guard said aggressively you can’t come through this lane with the dog. I explained that at GC airport where I live there are only body scanners, and I do it every time I travel – regularly. He refused. I explained I would sit the dog, be scanned, and call her through. She would trigger, I would not, and she gets pat-down. She loves, I do not. Again refused.”

Apparently, by this time the guard had turned his back on Mr Innes. Being blind, he did not know this, but his friend told him. Eventually, Mr Innes got through the security but not before at first being humiliated and treated like a second class citizen. All Mr Innes wants is a system that treats everyone equally and not differently. He is sick of being singled out. I can only empathise with him.

The airlines industry in Australia has a long history of disability discrimination. Their rules will only allow two people with physical disabilities to fly at any one time. Kurt Fearnley famously crawled through an airport, rather than being forced to be pushed around the airport in a standard wheelchair. Many people with disabilities receive no assistance to leave their seat. We often hear stories of valuable mobility equipment being damaged in the cargo hold or worse, lost. Inflight entertainment is often inaccessible with no captions or audio description. Australia’s airline industry and their treatment of people with disabilities has been, historically, lousy.

Mr Innes has had enough, He wants change at policy and service level. What is also interesting is that Mr Innes had this to say – “I am publishing this on Twitter because it is now in the public domain, so it will be much harder and less relevant to settle through a confidentiality clause in an agreement. I want this in the public arena.”

Has Mr Innes, one of the staunchest advocates of the DDA and a person who encourages us all to complain through the DDA, inadvertently just admitted that the DDA is cumbersome and difficult to use to get the change that we desire?

Mr Innes has also chosen to be very public. He is even demanding compensation now, outside of the DDA process. Said Innes,

” I want policy change and more respect and flexibility for people just trying to comply with the Security process the way everyone else does. I do not want a separate system. Want this one to treat us equally. I also want $5000 compensation to a charity of my choice. Apologies made are meaningless platitudes – I want real change. I am happy to try conciliation, but will not settle for less.”

It is interesting that Mr Innes is open to conciliation. However, the whole point of the conciliation process is to negotiate a resolution. Given that Mr Innes, “…will not settle for less.”, it would seem conciliation would be pointless, unless the respondent would offer more. Highly unlikely!

Perhaps Mr Innes has already completed a DDA complaint, but judging by his comments, he does not seem to have much confidence in the process. Rather than follow the process, he has publicly slammed the respondent and demanded change and compensation. Of course, with his huge profile and following he can do this. Hopefully, he will be successful and many will benefit.

Sadly, very few of us have Mr Innes’s status and clout. In Victoria, many people with physical disabilities will not be able to get on a tram today. Either, because the tram stops are inaccessible, or because the stops are serviced by old trams which can only be accessed through steep steps. Maybe one of these disabled people will scream blue murder to the press and demand $5000 and immediate change, as Mr Innes has done. I reckon their chances of success are slim either way.

Or those Deaf and hard of hearing people receiving phone calls from the NDIS (of all organisations!). When they cannot answer, their requests for access to the NDIS are put on hold. They are sent a letter that tells them the NDIS tried to contact them and they need to contact them immediately if they still want access to the NDIS.

Or worse, the planners and LACs who refuse to book interpreters or meet on Teams. They try to do planning meetings over the phone. Or call on the phone to organise reviews. When the deaf person doesn’t answer, they simply roll over plans and sometimes with steep cuts. Maybe one of these deaf people can write a blog and demand action, change and compensation. Or they can try the NDIS complaints process along with the DDA? I can’t say I fancy either of those options leading to change either.

Or the poor student who can’t study because they have severe autoimmune issues. They want to study online. However, because COVID protocols have been removed they have been directed to study on campus. They have provided medical evidence that they cannot, and if they did that they would need to attend in PPE. They have been told bad luck, because if they help them study or attend class online, it will impact on the quality of learning of others. Given that university students studied successfully online for two years, I would say this is absolute nonsense. So four months into the term, the student can’t study and can’t get resolution.

Meanwhile, their fellow students merrily study on. Can the student do what Mr Innes did? Can they use the DDA? Can they use State Equal Opportunity law? Well they can. She might win and be able to study in 2025. Perhaps $5000 compensation will sweeten it for her. I kind of think she will be pissed off either way.

These are real life stories. What is the DDA doing to help? Precisely nothing. It is a useless law. It relies on complaints that are directed to conciliation. That respondents to complaints can refuse conciliation if they want, is a joke. More often than not, complaints need to go to court for resolution. Many people just drop things there. It is all too hard and all too stressful. It is a truism to say that the DDA is destitute.

Meanwhile, organisations run roughshod over people with a disability. They can’t get on planes. They cant get on trams. Organisations develop communication systems with no thought to deaf or hard of hearing people. Educational providers make studying an uphill battle using inherent requirements and quality of learning as an excuse to deny access for people with a disability. If they are private providers, they just claim they are too poor to provide any support.

The DDA is dead. It is long past its use by date. We can’t all go screaming to the media demanding change and compensation here and now, like Mr Innes has done. We can’t even use the DDA most times because our window of opportunity is too small. Governments stall change, claim that they are better than other States and that we should be thankful. (Yes this happened.)

Don’t get me wrong. I support Mr Innes in his quest. I hope he wins. I hope change happens. But I, like other people with a disability, have become despondent. It really is a Destitute Discrimination Act. It needs change and strengthening.

Labor claims that they want a country for all Australians. Let’s hope that they have the guts to tackle this ridiculous law and and provide people with a disability with the dignity and access that they all deserve. If they don’t, I demand $5000 now – not for charity but for an airline ticket to a country that might treat me better.

Saving the NDIS

Image is a black and white photo of a lady. She is showing signs of great distress. One hand covers half her face. It seems she has insurmountable worries and concerns.

For six weeks I watched on in horror. I watched on as Albo seemingly couldn’t remember the most basic of details. I mean every person and their dog knew the unemployment rate was 4%. We know its now 3.9%. Frydenberg reminded us daily, multiple times. ScoMo smirked as he read out the rate at 4%. This seemingly confirming the Liberals as the greatest economic managers known to man. Forget a trillion dollars of debt, 4% unemployment is what it is all about. If Australia needed any proof that the Liberals were gods gift to Australia, ScoMo, 4% unemployment and his smirk were all the proof that they needed.

So the very first question that aspiring PM to be, Albo, was asked was the unemployment rate. I mean its like an episode of Chaser. First question – What did Humpty fall off ? – a) a stall b) a ball c) the mall or d) a wall. That simple. And he muffed it. ” It’s 5, no 5.4 – Sorry I don’t know what it is.” I screamed at the TV – “It’s 4 you NUMPTY!! Oh god, I held my head in my hands because another three years of ScoMo was sending me to New Zealand.

If Albo had lost because of his inability to get across such minute detail it would have been a tragedy for Australia. Don’t get me wrong, the press behaved appallingly towards Albo. Their bias was disgusting. But Albo needed to be across his brief. That he often wasn’t caused heart palpations across the nation, I am sure. Thankfully, ScoMo was so on the nose that Albo could probably have sung songs and danced at his press conferences and still won. But god, he didnt help himself.

I am pretty sure Albo will make a great PM, but as a campaigner he left a lot to be desired. But he won and now Labor can begin the task of saving the NDIS. That is going to be a job and a half.

Just last week I received a message from a mother who has a daughter with cerebral palsy. So that the daughter can remain independent and pain free she needs extensive therapies. The NDIS want to cut back on the therapies because they are not convinced that the daughter cannot have her needs met by other means, including surgery.

Indeed, the mother had been advised by her LAC to have a letter written by her doctor that states, and this is a direct quote, “Nothing cures cerebral palsy ….” Oh yes, rather than fund and continue successful therapies that are assisting her daughter to build muscle strength, manage pain and maintain independence, the mother needs to prove to the NDIS that cerebral palsy cannot be cured. Supposedly, this will convince the NDIS to maintain the therapies at the level that is required. Fuck!

It has gotten to the point that I literally hate the NDIS now. They have become so pig-headed, so hell bent on cutting cost, so hell bent on controlling people with a disability that they are literally making the lives of people with a disability a living hell. As review times come for plans I am hearing stories of plans just being turned over, without consultation or review meetings. Plans are being set up for two years. The first participants hear about it is through email or the mail. They are often shocked that their plans were cut or rolled over without any consideration to any new or important needs that may arise through a proper review. It is a disgrace. I am hearing these types of stories daily.

For myself, I assist a few deaf people with their AAT appeals. Originally I did this as part of a side business that I had and received some payment for it. Now, I just do it voluntarily. Basically, I provide advice as to the process of appealing and then assist with collating the evidence that is required to argue the case.

I sometimes represent these people at their hearings. The first step is that the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) try to resolve the issue with the NDIS and the participant. The NDIS send qualified lawyers to these hearings to argue their case. Most people with a disability represent themselves, because they cannot afford a lawyer or do not qualify for any legal assistance. They can try to get advocates to represent them, but waiting lists are so long that many miss out.

What I do is help participants to put forward their arguments and gather the evidence that they require. Usually what happens is that the NDIS lawyers steadfastly refuse to give any ground. This might be over a number of months. If resolution cannot be agreed then it usually falls to the AAT to look at all evidence and give a ruling.

This is where it gets hairy. Because when it gets to this point the lawyers and participant have to submit a Hearing Certificate. The Hearing Certificate basically outlines what evidence will be submitted, which witness will provide evidence, who will be cross examined and so on. It is a very legal and intimidating process.

If you are a lawyer, like the well paid NDIS lawyers, it is your bread and butter. (Many who are subcontracted by the way, at great expense.) If you are a participant it is very much a WTF moment and very scary. Imagine representing yourself and being asked which one of the NDIS witnesses you want to cross examine. It’s crazy.

You have to remember these people representing themselves are parents or kids with a disability or people with a disability. Many have low incomes, low education and perhaps even some cognitive and processing issues. As an advocate I have had to support and advise deaf people who may have low literacy and even language deprivation. It is fair to say that the whole AAT process is not weighted in favour of people with a disability. Especially if they cannot get any kind of representation.

But this is what is happening everyday through the NDIS. The stress and lack of dignity that is directed at people with a disability by the NDIS is a national disgrace. The pig-headed attitude to cut the cost of plans is literally sending people with a disability and their families over the edge. Talk of suicide and giving up is not uncommon.

This is what Labor must fix. An integral part of the Labor plan is to ensure that people with a disability who take on the NDIS have adequate representation. According to Labor they will, “Increase advocacy funding: Labor will double existing support for disability advocacy, investing an additional $10 million over four years and match existing provider advocacy funding for AAT appeals.”

This is great. Representation is much needed BUT – I would much rather that they fix the planning process so that the need for appeals and constant reviews is minimised. I accept that planners will sometimes get it wrong and the avenue for appeal and review must always be there. It just should not be happening to the extent it is now. Part of the solution is increasing staffing of the NDIS with personnel that understand disability and the needs of people with a disability. This is currently, sadly lacking!

A big part of ensuring knowledge of disability will be Labor weeding out the deadwood within the NDIS. A crucial strategy needs to be placing people with a disability in management and decision making roles to a far higher degree than they are now. People with a disability must be in CONTROL!!

So get going Bill Shorten. There is not a minute to spare. People with a disability are being hurt by the very scheme that was established to make their lives better.

That is the Liberals and Australia’s great shame!

Hip Hip Hooray -Surgery and the Deaf in the New Age.

Image is of a hip bone with replacement joint.

I entered hospital this week for a hip replacement. Yes, I and The Rebuttal are that old. You will have to forgive me any errors in this article. Drugged up on Endone and on a permanent high, I am not sure I should actually be writing. For the record I do not recommend a hip replacement just for fun. It is a painful procedure. I would advise, if you do have one, to make sure you absolutely need it.

Of course we live in Covid times. No one gets in, or I suspect out, until they prove they are Covid free before their operation. My Friend Meg dropped me off at the Memorial in Adelaide. I had been hyperventilating all the way from Christies Beach. I walked in and there was a typical socially distanced line as each admission was screened for Covid.

Thats fine, unless you can barely stand because of your hip. So I found a seat and eventually managed to wiggle my way forward to be screened. The lady at reception was masked. I pointed to my ears and said I was deaf, So she added some meaningless gestures to her speech behind the mask, while making no attempt to remove her mask.

It was useless. I told her to hold on and fished out my iPad from my backpack. I loaded up Microsoft Group Transcribe (MGT) and asked her to start again. She was very patient and did so. I suspect behind her mask was a nice smile letting me know she was with me. MGT is a free voice recognition app that is available on Apple. It’s very accurate. So through the App I was able to workout that I was to fill in the questionnaire in the waiting room, and wait to be called in for my Covid test.

I asked the nice lady to make sure they waved rather than called. But having been caught out many times I left MGT on just in case. Sure enough, about ten minutes later, MGT informs me that my name is being called out …. GARY CARRIAGE GARY CARRIAGE is what the text read. I walked over to the lady and said here I am.

So anyway, I got tested, The nurse and I chatted about MGT, all accurately translated by MGT, where to get it and how it should be widely used around the hospital and so on. “Bloody Marvellous.”, said the nurse.

Back to the waiting room I was to go and wait for my results. As before, I left MGT open, just in case they called me again. Bless them, this time the receptionist waved at me and said to come over to start the admission proper.

She offered to take off her mask so that I could lipread her. I said not to worry, I’d use MGT. Smooth as a babies bum. Each question accurately translated. And we were ready to go within ten minutes. “Whats that?” asked the admission lady. So I explained again and we talked about how every hospital should have an iPad set up at reception with the App for Deaf people that could benefit from it. “Thats bloody brilliant.”, she said. (It’s all in the days work of an advocate you know, we are never off duty.)

So, back to the waiting room and wait to be called to go upstairs for surgery and prep. I left the app on, just in case they decided to call me again instead of a wave. While I was waiting the app picked up a few convos around the room, Quite a few hip replacements. Someone having her airways seen to as she had palps in them, a knee arthroscopy and so on, Then there it was, Gary Carriage, Gary Carriage. ( All those years I’ve been in waiting rooms, I never realised that they were so informative.)

So, it was upstairs and trusty MGT saw me through the personal details, weigh in, blood pressure, safety questions etc. All without a hitch. Nurse, Anaesthetists, Dr- The whole lot. Each time we had the same convo about the brilliant MGT and how we all wish it had been around years ago. “Terrific initiative that!”

It struck me. Here I was about to have major surgery and I was still working. Still advocating. Still educating. No rest for the wicked as they say.

Anyway, all was done and then I was called again. By this time with a hearty wave. I fancy we had all become best mates by that time. I had the operation garb on. I left my undies on. I was told I would walk into the theatre and hop up onto the operating table. I really didnt fancy my butt hanging out the back when I did that. It was cold for a start, and you have to have some dignity.

And they let me take my iPad and trusty MGT with me. So for the first time I knew exactly what they were saying in the operating theatre before I went under. The last I read on MGT was from the Surgeon. “What are these?”, he asked as he hurriedly removed my underpants. I had a quip for him before I went under, but alas the drugs got me first. I was going to say – “No one has taken my underpants off me that quickly since my wedding night?” Maybe I actually did say that. Who knows?

And as I awoke in recovery the nurse had my iPad and was waving it in my face. She mimicked pressing buttons, no doubt wanting me to turn on MGT. Wearily, I did so and read what they were saying through one eye:

“How are you?”

“All went well?”

Can you feel that?

“We will take you to the ward soon?”

” Whats that he is using? Bloody marvellous!”

And indeed it was marvellous. Welcome to the new age!

THAT!!!

Image is the lower third of a woman. She is dressed in black. She is holding a cardboard sign across her chest, it reads BLESSED!

“Jenny and I have been blessed, we’ve got two children that don’t — that haven’t had to go through that,” .. and as one, the disability community erupted. Didn’t they let ScoMo know! Look, I don’t think he meant any harm. But there are two parts of what he said – ““Jenny and I have been blessed, we’ve got two children that don’t ….” No doubt he was about to say “.. have a disability” But he corrected himself with … ” – that haven’t had to go through that”THAT – What does this word tell you about his attitude to disability?

The first part, where he has corrected himself, it tells you he is glad that he and Jenny didnt have children with a disability. That tells us he thinks, consciously or subconsciously, that people with a disability are lesser beings. ScoMo wouldn’t be the only one. However, as Prime Minister we expect better of him.

The second part of his comment is what intrigues me the most – “- that haven’t had to go through THAT.” The mother who asked him the question wanted to know how he was going to improve the NDIS because her son had just had his plan cut. Is ScoMo, consciously or subconsciously, stating that Australia is no place for people with a disability? Is he stating that the struggle that people with a disability have to get the support that they require is as a direct result of the policies that his Government has introduced? Think about it – he and Jenny are glad that their children did not have to go through THAT! Blessed by god to have avoided it even!

The mothers question was directly related to the NDIS having failed her and her child. The failure is a direct result of Government policy. This Government is hell bent on cutting plans. They are hell bent on making it more difficult to get the supports that are required. They have publicly stated that they need to reduce expenditure on the NDIS. They have caps on the number of people the NDIS employ so as to save money. The shortage of workers has led to great delays in processing claims for essential things like wheelchairs. Did ScoMo just admit that his Government was the cause of THAT and it was a blessing that he, Jenny and his kids did not have to go through THAT?

You see the mistake that ScoMo and his Government continue to make is that they want to continue to make it all about people with a disability, and not in a good way. They want to make it about people with disability in a way that they are a drain on the public purse – A BURDEN. Never have I heard his Government discuss the NDIS as an investment with benefits that allow people with a disability to contribute to society. Never have I heard them discuss the return on investment.

The evidence is clear. Caitlin Fitzsimmons, writing in The Sydney Morning Herald, reveals that the average cost of a plan for participants fell by 4% in 2021, “… The figures revealed in the latest NDIS quarterly report show average spending per participant fell from $71,200 in 2020 to $68,500 in 2021” Clearly, the Government is hell bent on cutting plans, even to the point that they hire private legal firms to fight their cause when participants appeal cuts to plans. What was it last year that they paid in legal fees? $32million? Did you know appeals for cut plans increased by 400% last year? It’s very clear what the Government is doing.

And how do they do this? Well, Albanese provided us with a brilliant example. A disabled person uses a colostomy bag. This is not uncommon. For some unknown reason a bureaucrat in the NDIS decided to cut the purchase of colostomy bags in a persons plan. These are not cheap. Without proper hygiene and access to colostomy bags many disabled people are at risk of severe infections. It’s a clear cost of disability, but it was cut! When questioned as to why the cut was made the bureaucrat asked .. “..Cant you reuse a colostomy bag?” It’s crazy that the NDIS could even consider employing anyone that would be this clueless, but there you have it.

This is what disability is about. Not the individual person with a disability, not being blessed but constantly having to fight a system that puts up barriers and prevents access to … almost everything. It’s not just the NDIS. People with obvious disabilities, who cant work and who have mountains of evidence are denied income support through the Disability Support Pension.

Again, it is Government policy to spend less on pensions. So these people have to appeal too. They go to AAT. They have to spend good money on doctors reports and evidence. But still they are denied. Yes, I know there are people who rort the system. I work as an advocate in this area and let me tell you none of the people that come to us, and there are many, are rorting the system. Often it is just a pig headed bureaucrat trying to follow the Government mandate!

And you know what? It means thousands of people with a disability are living on almost nothing. They have to go on Jobseeker -$46 a day. It adds to the spiral of poverty. What was it that Price Waterhouse Cooper found? 45% of people with a disability are living below the poverty line. How many others are on very low basic wages. Hell, one Disability Employment Enterprise pays its executive a healthy salary and makes $17 million just from Bunnings alone. Yet, they somehow think that paying someone $2.37 an hour is ok. You know why? In many cases because if they do pay more the person will receive cuts to their Disability Support Pension. Again, it is this ablebodied and clueless bureaucracy causing the problem, not people with a disability.

We talked about this at a team meeting at work yesterday – I am blessed to work with informed people :-D. It is a vicious cycle. The poverty means that there are many people with a disability who are actually homeless. Many, because they cannot afford cars petrol etc, are forced to use public transport. Thats cool, but a lot of public transport isn’t accessible. In Victoria, as an example, the State Government promised every tram stop was supposed to be accessible this year. They are nowhere near it! Indeed, many of the trams are still not accessible.

This means people are stuck at home. Unable to get out and about. Not to worry, they have an NDIS support worker. But the NDIS is being cut too, by a Government obsessed with cutting expenditure on us pesky disabled! Oh, how I wish Mark Bagshaw was still alive to give us the modelling of how much Australia would benefit from people with a disability if they made society fully accessible. I think he said that if they just made public transport accessible, Australia would benefit to the tune of $43 billion. That was around 2008. How much would it be now?

Yes Scomo, you and your family are truly blessed that you – ” … haven’t had to go through THAT.” – Of THAT, I am sure.