Between Two Worlds

tornThis morning I had a funny reminder of just how much information we Deafies miss out on when we integrate with the hearing world. I received a text from my wife, who is also deaf, telling me that we had won the tennis grand final the previous Monday. It is now Sunday and we had been crowned tennis champions for a week and we were blissfully unaware. I had received a text from the organizer congratulating me on our win. I had found this odd, because we rarely lose. As it turns out she was congratulating me on our grand final win and I had no idea.

I am sure our hearing colleagues who make up our team were chatting about the fact that it was a grand final. Not being able to overhear them meant my wife and I had no idea. Most likely they had congratulated us at the net, but my wife and I didn’t hear this either. So we finished the game and headed home. Where we live its freaking cold at night so I wasn’t hanging about. This little story is stark reminder of just how much information deaf people miss out on when they interact in the hearing world.

Hearing and deaf interactions came very much to the forefront recently when a young deaf woman contacted me. Her name is Sian and she is an interior designer. She was seeking advice as to how she might advance further in her career. As it turned out Sian was born into a hearing family and had been the youngest person ever to receive an implant back in 1990. She was just two and a half years old at the time. Four months after her surgery the implantation of young babies was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration. At 19 Sian had a second implant. Deaf babies now have bilateral implants, this was not an option back in 1990.

I will come back to Sian and her original reason for contacting me later. After I met Sian I asked if I could interview her for The Rebuttal. I sent her a list of written questions, which she answered for me. She also asked her mother for her views on some of the questions.

One of the questions that I asked was about the impact at the time she had her implant. Because she was a world first I wondered how people had reacted. Her mother had this to say,

 “Not long after Sian had the cochlear implant, we went to a camp for families with deaf children. Sian’s head was half shaved from the surgery with a massive scar, we wanted to connect with other deaf families but at this event we physically experienced the Deaf community turning their backs on us. This was one of our family’s first experience encountering the Deaf community. Sian was only 3 years old. We wanted to get an understanding of the Deaf community and what it would mean for her. Unfortunately this turned out to be a really negative experience. This was in the early 1990’s. This set the stage of our family not feeling welcomed by the community.”

I well recall this time. In the early days of the Implant some of the more militant factions of the Deaf community reacted savagely to any suggestion that deaf babies should be implanted. They called it child abuse. They screamed that parents were disfiguring babies. They screamed that parents were putting young deaf babies at risk. I vividly recall a prominent member of the Deaf community going on the Today Show to tell the world that cochlear implants had led to paralysis. (It as an over reaction to the fact that a few deaf people had suffered from facial paralysis as a result of the surgeon nicking a crucial nerve during surgery.)

It must have been a horrible time to be a hearing parent of a deaf child and trying to decide whether to implant your deaf child or not. Sadly, because Sian had been the first, her parents seem to have received the brunt of this negative reaction. As a member of the Deaf community I can only apologise profusely to Sian’s mother. I cannot imagine the pain it must have caused. Suffice to say that it was not until Sian was 14 and began to be involved with the Deaf community that the Deaf community began to accept her family.

When Sian contacted me she wanted advice as to how she could progress at work. She is very intelligent. Her spoken language is fantastic. Her written language is superb. She clearly has much to offer but for some reason she had not progressed as much as she wanted to at work. She had  basically been in the same role in all that time. She was not where she wanted to be in terms of her position and skills. She wanted to gain more in her position.  She recounted all of this to me, in tears and clearly very frustrated.

One day I went into my manager’s office and sat down, I told him I was frustrated at where I was and that I was not where I wanted to be. I was in tears, to the point of crying uncontrollably. I told him I wanted more, I compared myself to people I went to university with that have flourished in the industry that are doing extremely well for themselves, in magazine spreads, owning their own business etc; that I was no where near that. I aspire to be like my colleagues, I want to develop my skills and knowledge further, I want more exposure in the industry. I laid all my emotions on the table and my manager took this on board. To his credit, he has been wonderful. Since then, I have been given more than I ever had in the last couple of years, I am being taken seriously and continuously supported to help me to get to where I strive to be.”

Despite her ability to hear well, speak well, write well and do her job competently she had many frustrations working in a hearing organisation. For example she works in an open office that is partitioned off. She hates this because she cannot see any one. She does not know what others are talking about. She does not have access to peer learning nor the ability to be involved n the discussions that her colleagues are having. This is something that many hearing people do not get, particularly in a workplace. One of the ways that people get ahead in their career is simply by listening to what others have to say. In this way they contribute their own ideas and become involved in the DNA of an organization. If they cannot, they are often seen as being the quiet person, content in what they are doing.

The sad thing is that because not much thought is given to how to properly include a deaf person in these “Office Discussions” employers miss-out on the true value of a deaf employee. And as we can see with Sian it can hold back the deaf employee to the point of frustration. Said Sian,

Because I can speak and hear well, my colleagues tend to forget at times that I don’t always hear absolutely everything. The little subtle things can be a huge effort: phone calls; the intense concentration of listening/lip reading; the strain to hear talking across the office; I am proudly continually educating them about deafness and of my needs. Even having to make or receive phone calls have been a challenge, there are people that I can have a comfortable conversation with on the phone, but there are others that I cannot understand a word because of their gruffness in their voice or accents, or speaking too quickly or in particular background noise. I find knowing the context and knowing the voice helps to predict the conversation. I panic when the phone rings at work, I have all these thoughts running through my mind – who is it? What’s the context? What if I cant hear them how do I get out of it?”

 There is always the constant that the deaf employee must re-educate their colleagues as to their needs. Often hearing colleagues are very accommodating but when things get really busy they forget. We deafies constantly have to remind our hearing colleagues of our needs. It can be very tiresome and there are times we just do not have the energy to continuously remind people. Sian has these frustrations too,

“I also get extremely frustrated that I miss out on a lot of information that can float throughout the office, it could be a construction issue or issues with the builder, or any crucial information that would be valuable for my personal development as a designer. The only way I process information is by being told directly or visually.”

And we develop our own strategies too. Sian has some. We all know that the world is designed for hearing people. It often does not stop to consider the needs of Deafies (or any people with a disability) So what happens is we adjust. In Sian’s own words,

“But of late I have come up with a strategy – leave answering machine on so I can listen to the message to know who it is and what they want, I will then figure out if I am able to ring them back or simply email. This is something that I will be raising in my staff review soon. But if its colleagues interstate, I make the effort of telling them to communicate with me via Skype or email. I find this really useful.”

What Sian has described, I call Deaf Life Skills. We really need to teach them to our deaf kids.

In many ways Sian is fortunate because her employer is very responsive to her needs when she raises them. Sian explains,

“I made a point in a meeting that the office layout needed to be changed especially removing the partitions between desks so that I could have a clear view of people around the office so I could try and see conversations (where appropriate). My colleagues support this, it made complete sense to them and that they had not realised that this was a barrier for me. Despite my frustrations at work, any issue that I raise as a result of my deafness is taken seriously and acted upon. At present I am working on developing confidence around my self advocacy skills.”

 Even so, challenges remain for Sian despite the fact that she gets great benefit from her implants. I winced when she explained that she sits in meetings of up to twenty people. She copes by focusing on the people that talk the most but obviously misses out on much information. I was able to give Sian some advice on strategies to deal with such meetings that she is now following up. That is the value of having a good deaf professional network.

“I got some sound amplication devices that are supposed to be of help with certain situations at work but they were such a pain in the arse to get it working; I would have to stop, make all these switches to tune in – for an example if the phone rang, I would have to had to turn on my loop, press a button on my processor to tune into the phone – it was difficult to do this in a number of seconds the phone rings, it got stressful and frustrating. It also meant that it cut out background noise so I could only hear the person on the phone but I could not hear myself responding back, I would speak so loudly’ with colleagues around. There was another device that I got to help with meetings, it would pick up the person speaking and cut out background noise. But I found this not to be as good as it could have been. It would take ages for it to tune in and if I was to respond, I couldn’t hear myself or control my tone. It also didn’t necessarily pick up other people making comments in a meeting, I still missed out of information. These devices made it a hell lot more awkward for me. However I was luckily enough to get some other devices through a different brand which work a lot better, but the thing is I have to remember to make good use of them. Through out my hectic day, I have to remember that I have these devices that I can use that would help – but who thinks to drop everything in order to make things better for ourselves. It is an effort.”

I asked Sian about some of her experiences growing up. She was educated within a Deaf unit. During her primary and secondary education she generally received good support. She recalls her time at primary school as being very happy. She felt accepted by her friends and she felt just like any other student. Things changed when she attended secondary school. Secondary school brought with it a very different set of challenges. This is how Sian describes this time,

“Secondary school was more challenging. The hearing kids were older and came from different primary schools – mostly from schools that did not have a deaf campus so they would not have the understanding of deafness that the kids I went to school with had. I struggled with my identity, bullying and pressures to be ‘accepted’ “

Sian feels that she was lucky to be part of a Deaf Facility during this time. She saw the Deaf facility as her ‘safe haven’ . The deaf students of the deaf facility are friends right up to this day. But even so there were many things that frustrated her,

“Sitting in groups trying to follow the conversations; having to sit at the front of the class room to ensure that I don’t miss any information. I was encouraged to wear an ‘RF’ transmitter which I gave up in year 8 much to my teachers and parents annoyance (in hindsight would have made a difference). Being a teenager I didn’t want to be any more isolated than I already was, it was a struggle enough as it was.”

Sian has battled with depression throughout her teenage and adulthood life. Much of this related to the struggles and frustrations she faced being deaf. Some of her depression was related to personal issues that she doe not wish to raise here.

“Growing up I have always felt a bit isolated in the hearing world trying to fit in and with my on going frustrations, but then I discovered a whole other world – my identity went into overdrive. I am deaf but I am oral but was learning Auslan. Who am I? Which group do I belong to? The Hearing? The Deaf? The Oral? The Signing? In my twenties, I have come to realise that my world is a whole lot richer that I have access to all these groups. I don’t need to belong to just one group. I can move across these groups fluidly. Having said this, I embrace my deafness, this is who I am. Acceptance has been a long journey but I finally have arrived! My teenage years and early adulthood I suffered chronic severe depression, I was very unwell that I had to retreat to focus on getting myself well again.”

Sian’s experience of deafness and interacting with the hearing world is something many deaf people can relate to. It is not a world that is designed for deaf people, even with the most advanced technology. Sometimes I think we are often set up to fail. If we talk well, hear well and appear to be doing great at school, this is often seen as enough. The internal and external struggles that Sian describes are not something hearing people understand well. Her time at university will resonate with many deaf academics,

I had thought that University would have been a phenomenal experience and I had also expected to make some good solid friendships through out my degree. But it was nowhere near that. My peers were from all walks of life with, I am assuming, not much understanding of deafness. It appeared that they seemed hesitant to approach me because I had a notetaker on my arse, the other students may have not have understood the dynamics between the notetaker and me. They may have also not have understood why I had a note taker if I could hear and speak so well. When it came presentation time, I was worried maybe I would be presenting something completely different to the rest of the class. If I can’t hear or the strain to hear is too much of an effort, I zone out. It is exhausting. I tried my best to be like my peers. To say it was a challenge is an understatement. I wish there was live captioning when I was at university, this would have made a world’s difference to me.”

I asked Sian whether having a cochlear implant meant that many people often had unrealistic expectations of what she could hear and do. Her answer was revealing,

“We need to continually educate the hearing world that just because we have cochlear implants it does not mean that we have 100% hearing, that we are still deaf and we still require support and assistance.”

And we need to educate the Deaf world too. I am still cringing at the backlash that Sian’s parents must have received when they made the very difficult decision to implant her. There are still these elements of the Deaf community that aggressively slam parents of deaf children and the hearing world for pushing cochlear implants. Don’t get me wrong; I also get frustrated with a system that constantly peddles biased information. Even so hearing parents of deaf children are often unfairly targeted and this causes them great pain. Not only does it cause them pain put it also leads to them withdrawing and even shunning the Deaf community. This means that their deaf kids miss out on so many wonderful social opportunities. As I bring this article to a close I ask all my deaf readers to carefully consider this last statement from Sian’s mother,

 I wish now that Sian had contact with the deaf signing community earlier on and that Sian was accepted by them. Being marginalized by the signing community I think caused many problems. It created a situation of us and them. Unfortunately this meant that she was not able to experience being a member of the deaf community until she was about 14 when she became involved in the Deaf community and learned to sign. It was clear that it was what she needed because she flourished in this environment. I wished back then that the Deaf community embraced all people who were deaf or hard of hearing, those who spoke or signed. Considering what we know about the brain’s plasticity now, I may have looked at Sian’s communication needs differently. I may have considered using Australian sign language before Sian learned to speak. But I would definitely have continued with our oral crusade.”

 Food for thought?

Thank you Sian and her mum. It has been a privilege to write your story.

Deaf Parenting Laid Bare – By Gary Kerridge

kidBefore I got married I had six theories about bringing up children; now I have six children, and no theories. ~John Wilmot

I am a parent of three robust lads. They are great lads too. We are all best mates, most of the time anyway. I pity my poor wife sometimes because we lads are all sport nuts. The footies on we watch, the soccer is on we watch – particularly so if it’s the English Premier League (EPL). The lads and I sit awake into the wee hours of the morning watching EPL. Sometimes Fin is upstairs watching Manchester United on a crap and probably pirated media stream. Fin made the mistake of supporting them while I and the other two are rabid West Ham supporters. Three against one – There is only one team that we will watch on Fox. The mother? In bed long ago.

And the poor mother. Some sop romantic thing comes on and there are automatically groans of despair all round as she claims the TV to watch it. No matter, there is the Playstation. Of course the game of choice is FIFA 14. Sometimes we play alone and sometimes we play together. Usually it is alone so that we are all arguing about whose turn it is.

“But daaaaaad you’ve been on it for three hours!!!!!!”

“But kiiiiiiiddds I only play Fifa from start to finish once a year.!!! –

“But daaaaaaaad it takes you 12 months to do that!!!”

Meanwhile on the TV, or in the bedroom and most often in the bath, the mother is watching PS I Love you for the 5 000th time. Or it might be Phantom of the Opera or Les Misérables . No there isn’t a TV in the bathroom, she watches it on her laptop. It’s not all bad, the eldest and the youngest are great fans of Dr Who, as is the mother. It keeps them together.

Of course our kids are all CODA’s – Children of Deaf Adults. There are some advantages of being a Child of a Deaf Adult. All three abuse these advantages at will. I mean they will get up after they should be in bed to watch stuff on TV, late at night, knowing that we cannot hear them or the TV. Or the eldest will pretend to go to bed and sneak out and spend another four hours on the Playstation and go to bed around 4am in the morning. They will swear knowing we wont hear it and one will dob the other in. The dobbee will then claim that they didn’t and that the dobber was trying to get them in trouble . God knows what else they do. They naively think that we don’t know about their little secrets, but of course we do. The looks of profound innocence and the lame excuses they come up with when found out are things of great amusement. They are ratbags, the three of them.

It is interesting being a parent who is deaf. Particularly when the kids first start to realise what it means to be deaf. Most CODA’s will tell you stories of when they had to ‘rescue’ their deaf parents from sticky situations. It’s hard for the kids when they see their parents struggling in communication situations. Around the ages of 6 and 7 my kids seemed to have this great need to ‘save’ me or their mother.

Now I am a lazy communicator. I am one of those deafies that faced with a communication difficulty at a place like McDonalds or a shopping line will just nod in the vain hope that a nod is what is required. Of course this is fraught with danger. You may be asked if you want sugar in your coffee, which I hate, and you will end up with sugar in your coffee. Or more commonly you are asked if you have a Rewards Card, which I don’t, and the poor assistant waits with a bemused look for you to provide it when you have wrongly confirmed that you have a Rewards Card. Most deafies are guilty of this and I am sure a fair few reading this are cringing at the memory.

CODA’s observe this over a period of years. At some point in their development it twigs that mum or dad have not heard properly and they feel the need to hop in and save them. What will happen is that at a place like McDonalds they will answer the question before the parent has had a chance to. The conversation will go something like this:

“ Do you want sugar with that?”

“No, he doesn’t have sugar”

The parent, not having heard any of the exchange, invariably nods. The poor assistant then looks bemused. The CODA then rolls his eyes at the parent and signs or exegerrates their lip movements – “They asked if you want sugar and you don’t have sugar.” The CODA then looks to the assistant and then to the heavens as if to say – “Sorry my dad’s such an idiot.”

And of course, if your kids are ratbags like mine, they will find an opportunity to abuse these situations no end. Another conversation at McDonalds will go like this:

Assistant: “Do you want to upsize that?”

CODA: “Yes Please”

Of course in this particular situation the deaf parent has actually been able to lipread the question and answers just after the Coda has said “Yes please” with a “No thank you.” Naturally the McDonalds assistant is totally confused and they are usually left looking from child to parent in a desperate attempt to work out what is wanted. The deaf parent then looks to the child to work out what has happened and the child is usually beetroot red and staring down at their shoe laces. CODA’s can be cunning. Deaf parents are well advised to tell them early that the parent and only the parent answers the questions, rightly or wrongly.

“But you always answer wrong dad!!!!”

“Well that’s my problem isn’t it!!!”

The trick is to just keep reminding them that it isn’t their problem that mum and dad have problems communicating and that it is not the CODA’s responsibility to fix it. You have to be quite firm with this otherwise the CODA is forced to take on responsibilities that are way beyond their tender years and way too early. And of course the ratbags, like mine, will try to take advantage from time to time. That said, it cannot be easy for the CODA to watch their parents struggling sometimes. As deaf parents we need to understand that.

Being a parent is the best and most rewarding thing that a person can do. I firmly believe that. It can be tough to be firm but a child needs a firm hand, particularly in adolescence.

Adolescence is where your kids begin to find their way in the world. They begin to experiment. Relationships, sex, alcohol and pushing the boundaries as far as they can are the norm. But still you must be firm and love them just the same. Even when they burn a hole in your decking, or you find a beer in their bag or even when more recently a taxi driver ends up at your front door demanding payment cos your kid couldn’t get out of bed in the morning and was running late for an excursion that they didn’t want to miss. Yup, its exasperating, rewarding and quite often very funny all at the same time.

And it’s all worth it – I think! 😀

The trouble with learning to parent on the job is that your child is the teacher. ~Robert Brault,



Power to The People


Have you ever stopped to think where the real power in life lies. Recently MYER copped some of the worst publicity they could imagine. They did so because their CEO, Bernie we disparagingly call him, remarked that the NDIS Levy was going to stop people spending money at MYER and it was therefore a bad thing. The outrage and ensuing publicity saw the MYER Facebook page swamped with angry protesters. The basic message was that Bernie and MYER were out of touch and mean.

Very soon after Bernie made his statement MYER apologised. It wasn’t much of an apology because it simply said, “Sorry we hurt your feelings but WE are still standing by what we said.” This just made people angrier. As a result MYER issued a better apology and did not try to qualify Bernie’s ill thought out statement.

Disability Commissioner, Graham Innes, called on MYER to say sorry through action. The Commissioner urged MYER to set a target to increase employment of people with a disability within MYER. At first MYER didn’t respond but then realising just how angry they had made millions of  potential customers and realising how bad it was for business they agreed to meet the Commissioner to talk about improving their disability employment outcomes. The power clearly lies with the people! Without the people MYER are screwed.

I have always known this. In my work in the disability sector I have always been aware that I owe the food on my table, the TV on my wall and the car that I drive to people with a disability. Without them I would have no work and no income. I am acutely aware that the service I provide for them is of great value but it is a two way street. I support them and through them I support myself and my family. That said the power is entirely with people who have a disability. If they chose or decide that I am not good at what I do or don’t like what I do, they can simply choose not to use my service. Without them I am up the creek without the proverbial paddle. There is no job for me.

And so it is with any service. But over in Adelaide the honchos at Townsend House have forgotten why they exist. Townsend House is quite a wealthy organisation. Hundreds of years ago services like Townsend House were established to support people who are deaf often through the efforts of deaf people themselves. The efforts of these deaf pioneers and some visionary hearing people saw the establishment of community services and centres. Townsend House was originally established way back in 1874 for the Blind and the Deaf and Dumb. Interestingly current Townsend House service, Deaf Can DO, was the old Royal South Australian Deaf Society. It was established in 1891 and is apparently Australia’s oldest registered charity.

Of course the services have changed and evolved over the years but essentially they were established to meet a need. This need has been either support, social, educational or religious and has been provided for over 100 years. Over the course of that time it has provided employment to hundreds, probably thousands of people, including myself. These people worked and were paid all because of Deaf people. (In the Townsend House case, the blind as well.)

Today Townsend House is known as the Can Do Group. It includes Can Do 4 Kids and Deaf Can Do. It also includes the Audiology, hearing aids and equipment business Can Do Hearing. It has an Internet company Can Do NET and a very profitable retirement village business in Brighton and Strathalblyn. It provides employment for a wide range of people including a CEO who is earning a handsome salary, car and I suspect some other lovely perks. It provides employment for numerous managers, audiologist, therapist, social workers, youth workers, receptionist and interpreters; largely because of deaf people. (and blind people in some instances.)

According to their last annual report The Can Do Group of Townsend House has total assets of $77,844,893.  Of course some of these assets are tied up in buildings and investments and are not all in cash. Some of the buildings probably have loans that need to be serviced and the like but even so after they have worked out what they owe  they have total equity of $33 200 161. They are not a poor organisation by any means. All of this is because of deaf and blind people.

It is well known that the old The Royal South Australian Deaf Society nearly went bust in 2007. Townsend House, asset rich if not cash rich, rode to the rescue and saved them from oblivion. Then CEO, Paul Flynn, promised that the Deaf community hub at 262 South Terrace would not be sold. In fact any suggestions that Townsend House would sell 262 from under the Deaf community were met with vehement denials. People that suggested as much were labelled as shit stirring trouble makers.

Now I hate to say I told you so, but I did. I said that once Townsend House was allowed to get their claws in they would have all the power. I suggested that they had quietly and bloodlessly just taken over the building. If they decided that the building needed to be sold there was not a lot anyone could do about it.

And so as it happens today, 2013, this is exactly what is happening. Townsend House, with their Can Do Group, have bloodlessly taken all the funding that went with The Royal South Australian Deaf Society, they have taken all the staff and the infrastructure, the audiology business and the interpreting business and relocated them to Welland. Essentially they now control all of this funding. The old 262 building is seen as a drain on assets and they want to be rid of it.

An asset drain it may well be but for the Deaf community it is their last asset. It is an asset that goes beyond just money. For many 262 has been their home. It is where they met their partners. It is where they met and continue to meet for a beer. It is where they were married or where their children were christened. It has a value beyond money. It is also a place that lots of us owe our careers, including me.

Now Townsend House has told the Deaf community that unless they can find a way to make 262 viable it will be sold. What this means is that the Deaf community are in danger of losing their spiritual home. Of course the Deaf community do not have the financial clout to maintain the building. They need help.

Apparently out of the blue this help arrived. It arrived in the guise of a Not For Profit Organisation that offered to take on the upkeep of 262 and allow the Deaf community to stay and use the building as they always have. Quite rightly the Deaf community were excited about this development and announced it publicly on Facebook through an Auslan video.

The Deaf community pleaded with Townsend House to accept the offer. From what I can ascertain the Not for Profit Organisation offered to renovate and maintain the building at their expense. This would mean that the Deaf community can stay ..YAY … But Nay.

You see over the years Townsend House have lent money to the old Royal South Australian Deaf Society so that it could survive. The Deaf community pleaded with Townsend House to be given time to pay that money back. They pleaded with Townsend House to accept the offer of the Not for Profit Organisation that made the offer to save 262. But Townsend House apparently have rejected the proposal of the Not for Profit Organisation.

At this stage no one knows why. An announcement is forthcoming and soon all will become clear. But this NO from Townsend House must be seen as an almighty slap in the face by the Deaf community. Perhaps Townsend House has a good reason and we should reserve judgement. All will be clear soon.

BUT – If Townsend House has turned down the offer because they want the money back that they are owed sooner rather than later – let us be clear on some things. The reality is that Townsend House is owed NOTHING. They are owed nothing because they owe their very existence in a large part to the Deaf community. The jobs and the assets are there because of DEAF PEOPLE! The reason they have such a profitable retirement village business that generates income was started all those hundreds of years ago is largely because of DEAF PEOPLE.

Let’s be clear – the services that were once based at the old Royal South Australian Deaf Society and are now based at Welland have come under the control of Townsend House. Townsend House have essentially stripped these services and now control the funding for these services and the management fees that go with them. Because of this, in my view, the Deaf community owe them NOTHING.

At this stage we do not know why Townsend House has said no. But it had better be a good reason. It had better not be about the money that Townsend House say they are owed  because the reality is, in my view, that they are OWED NOTHING! What is more if they insist on getting that money back they clearly have the assets to be able to allow the Deaf community to pay it back over time. If it’s not paid back soon with equity of over $33 000 000 Townsend House are hardly going to fall over are they?

Perhaps the decent thing for them to do is to heed Midnight Oil’s advice who famously sang:

The time has come
A fact’s a fact
It belongs to them
Let’s give it back!

Think about it. In the mean time let’s all wait and hear their reasons. But as I said these reasons had better be good!

That AD Again!

Like a dog to a bone I can not leave this one alone.  A couple of deaf friends have contacted me asking for a transcript of the THAT AD – I have pasted a transcript below this paragraph. The first part is the Voice Over of the signing version provided by the young lad .. The second part is a transcript of what he speaks.

Female voice over: (Boy Signing) Not so long ago the only way a deaf person like myself could really communicate was to sign – like this. Now there is a better way, a way everyone can easily understand …

Boy: (Now speaking) We talk! Cora Barclay Centre taught me to listen and then to talk, just like they have with 100’s of other deaf people. Now mum says I talk too much,  isn’t that great.

End of voice – cut to Cora Barclay graphic.

Picture this in your mind. Nice friendly looking lad with a mop of curly hair. Starts signing and then speaks. He apparently does not have any trace of a deaf accent – His speech is good and normal. I am told he has an appealing little lisp. This, apparently, adds to the lads charm.

But here is the rub – the spoken translation of the signed version only has a passing resemblance to what the lad actually signs. So things have been reversed. If I can be so bold and perhaps a little cruel, the lad signs with a “hearing accent”  Given he speaks so well we should not expect perfection should we? After all sign language is a lesser and ineffectual means of communicating isn’t it?

To give the reader an understanding of what the boy actually signs I have typed a literal translation below:

Literal English translation of boys signing.

A long time ago/ Historically/  In the Past (Tick which you prefer) only way deaf person like me can communicate date sign language. Today/Now better way. Way/Give (sign not clear) we can cheek one more.

Roughly, without the choices, we can translate what the boy signs to:

Historically only way deaf person like me can communicate date sign language. Today better way, we can cheek one more.

Sadly I am not trying to be funny. This is what the lad signed to my eye. Auslan is my second language so I welcome other interpretations that contradict my own. Either way the signing is terrible and the person that trained the poor lad to sign it needs to go back and do an Auslan or even Signed English beginners class.

Apologies to the lad who unfortunately finds himself, through no fault of his own, the centre of all this. If there is one positive, it is that he is obviously intelligent, has excellent language development and is happy for it. We can not ask for more except that the Cora Barclay Centre not use children to mislead the public.

Speaking Out – By Rodney Adams BA, DipEd, MstSpecEd

Auslan Translation – Click here

Recent Australian figures show that 25% of science teachers do not have a science qualification and about one quarter of maths teachers do not have a major in maths.   I am sure that the statistics of teachers of the deaf with no expertise in Sign Languages would be far higher. Not even a Certificate II in Auslan from TAFE is sufficient. I have been teaching this course for over 10 years and have encountered many teachers who fail to master the theoretical  or practical aspects of grammatical Auslan. There is a serious lack of accountability in the deaf teaching profession.

The practice of qualifying teachers to work in a class where proficient signing is essential, (and this includes teacher aides working as interpreters), and who are unable to communicate fluently in Auslan is unacceptable. Not only are deaf students limited by an inadequate linguistic method but they are being disempowered. The continual use of Manually Coded English, (whether it be Signed English or some visual form of English), has left me perplexed. Countless studies have shown the harder the subject material becomes, as it does in the high school years, the less effective MCE is. Many teachers do not have the linguistic ability to conceptualise English into a language medium that is accessible for the deaf. The lack of Auslan skills from these teachers leads to the “Dumbing Down” of deaf education.

In NSW the Department of Education realised sometime ago that “recruitment and retention” of Aboriginal teachers is crucial to the success of Aboriginal students. Is the recruitment and retention of teachers of the deaf who are Deaf equally crucial for the education of deaf students in Auslan? I think it is and we need to aggressively recruit suitable Deaf people as teachers of the deaf. Not only do deaf children need more deaf role-models but they need good linguistic models.

Hearing teachers of the deaf are often insecure with their signing. Unfortunately such teachers have a monopoly over deaf education. This is often reflected in the signing ability of the students that graduate from our schools. Many are in need of sign therapy! Is it benevolent paternalism or economic self interest that prevents deaf teachers from teaching deaf children? It is probably both.

I believe, as do many Deaf people, that bilingualism is the most effective method for developing good communication skills, acquisition of language and developing a healthy sense of identity. However, having worked in a number of educational settings I am more inclined to believe that all methodologies used to teach deaf children have limitations, even bilingualism! Even so, the arguments for bilingualism are compelling.

There are many different views of bilingualism but the one I like most is by Francois Grosjean, who states that “Every deaf child, whatever the level of his/her hearing loss, should have the right to grow up bilingual. By knowing and using both a sign language and an oral language (in its written and where possible its spoken modality) the child will attain his/her full cognitive and linguistic and social capabilities.” (1999).

Grosjean’s view means that both the sign language of the Deaf community and the written and oral language of the hearing majority are used equally for the deaf child’s education. As Deaf people we should not devalue the importance of spoken language in its oral form any more than the hearing majority devalues sign languages.

Naturally some children will be dominant in Auslan while others will be dominant in spoken English. Some will even be balanced in both languages. Whatever language and degree of hearing loss, bilingualism will enable deaf students to communicate more effectively in both the Deaf and hearing worlds. Aside from learning two languages there are many other benefits of bilingualism. Bilingualism increases mental flexibility and understanding of other cultures. Studies also reveal that bilinguals often outperform monolingual children academically and in problem solving.

Our Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is bilingual having learned Mandarin during his diplomat posting in China. It is well accepted that ‘Cultural intelligence’ and knowledge of a second language will enhance future opportunities, both in education and employment. In an increasingly global world Kevin Rudd is an excellent example. Is this belief reflected in deaf education?

Increasing numbers of Deaf children, particularly those with cochlear implants, have been denied access to Auslan. Auslan can be used to improve language acquisition and can be used as a tool to enhance interaction and access to spoken English. Auslan and spoken English languages can exist in a mutual partnership within an educational program. Far too often this does not happen. Is it because hearing parents and professionals find it too difficult learn another language? Instead the easier answer is to make the child speak and conform into mainstream society – Never mind the impact of this attitude on language development!

Most parents want their deaf child to learn to speak, which is perfectly good and natural. But parents are being misled and deaf children denied access to the learning of Auslan under the misconception that it will impede speech development. Why is there still enormous aversion to the learning of sign languages in conjunction with spoken language? Research abounds that demonstrates the benefits. It makes no sense. Educational authorities need to forego the conclusion that sign languages are an inferior language. It has been shown through intensive research that sign languages assist, not impede, the development of spoken language. (Emmory, 2002).

Studies from the University Of Washington, USA (2002) have indicated that if sign language is not taught at an early age then that child will not acquire the fluency of a child who has been exposed to sign language in their early years. I am sure many non-native signers wish that they had been taught a sign language during their early school years. Surely it is better to provide deaf children with thorough language development through sign language knowing that the acquisition of spoken language is going to be an enormous challenge. The acceptable answer seems to be that semi-lingual and semi literate deaf children are ok if some recognisable speech is the outcome!

A recent Australian educational conference concluded that ‘the next divide in Australia will be between those students who have a global outlook and an international language and those who do not’. The same principal applies to deaf children. It is estimated that there are more bilinguals than monolinguals in the world today. Deaf children should have this opportunity too!

“The lesson of our age is that languages are not mutually exclusive, but that human beings and humanity itself, are enriched by communicating in more than one language.”

Kofi Annan, General Secretary of the United Nations


David walked into his classroom and sat down. Around him there was a bustle of chatter. Richard and Adrian had their heads locked closely together in an obvious conspiracy. Debra and Meg whispered and giggled as they gossiped over the latest school yard romance. David watched everyone in animated chatter. He understood none of it. His head was filled with the noise of the class room. Screeching chairs, tapping pencils and a cacophony of mingling but indecipherable voices. The teacher entered the room and there was silence. A final screech of chairs and a tap of pens on desks, the class came to attention and the lesson was underway.

Today’s lesson was Australian History. Mr Isterling had forgotten to attach the FM microphone again. David had dutifully placed it on his desk. All it required was for David to put his hand up and ask Mr Isterling to attach it. But, hell, David has to ask him to do it nearly every lesson. He couldn’t be bothered today. It always meant he had to speak and bring attention to himself. David was very conscious of his deaf voice. Every time he spoke he sensed his class mates whispering around him. He was sure that they were whispering about him. No! David would leave things as they were.

Mr Isterling spoke, “Today’s lesson …will …learn …… turn to page ….pa….” Dutifully the class opened their books and turned to the correct page. David furtively looked over Peter’s shoulder to see which page he was reading. Peter, knowing that David was unsure which part he had to read, pointed to the paragraph they were supposed to be reading. The paragraph was quite interesting. It was about the development of the Australian larrikin trait. Reading was always David’s favourite part of a lesson. He understood most of what was on the page, interaction was minimal. It was just David and the book.

He would not know what to answer. He would look stupid. He dug his nails into the palms of his hands.

David was engrossed until Peter gently nudged him. Mr Isterling was talking again. David had not heard him. He realised his battery had gone flat. There were batteries in his pencil case. All it required was for David to insert the battery into his hearing aid. But this would mean that David would have to fumble with his ear in what he considered an uncool way. He was sure that when he did so everyone in the class stared at him in fascination. Apart from the odd glance they didn’t really, but David’s anxiety was very real.

Without the benefit of his hearing aid David had to rely totally on lip-reading. With his hearing aid he could hear some things and his lip-reading helped him to understand some of what he heard. At best David understood about 30% of what his teacher said. Without his hearing aid this percentage was drastically reduced. Without the benefit of his hearing aid, coupled with Mr Isterling’s bushy beard, he understood nothing. David found himself developing a cold sweat. He was sure the teacher was going to ask him a question. He would not know what to answer. He would look stupid. He dug his nails into the palms of his hands.

Suddenly the class erupted into laughter. Paul, the class clown, had made a joke. Even Mr Isterling chuckled and Mr Isterling was not known for his sense of humour. Peter, next to David, was beside himself with mirth. David looked around the class and smiled. He laughed too. He did not know why, but the laughter was infectious. Anyway, he didn’t want it to seem as if he had not got the joke.

Mr Isterling put on a video. It was about the Great Depression. Phar Lap and Donald Bradman figured prominently. Derelict men sat on the streets. Old people were interviewed about their experiences of the Depression. Manning Clark had a lot to say. David knew he was Manning Clark because his name flashed up on the screen. David realised that this was the author of the book that they had been reading. In fact the only parts of the video that David had understood were the names of the people that flashed up on the screen. Captions would have helped but the video was not captioned. David made as much sense as he could of the video over the next 30 minutes.

Mr Isterling explained the evening homework to the class. David did not understand a word of it. He looked to Peter with a questioning shrug. Peter wrote down for him what they had to do. David was thankful for this because communication with Mr Isterling was nigh on impossible. David usually made up for what he missed in class by reading profusely. This was really his only learning. He received no benefit from classroom discussions or from Mr Isterling.

His deafness set him apart from his school mates and he hated it. This fear of interaction and unwanted attention was his constant companion.

On the bus going home from school David sat by himself. He liked to sit at the very back of the bus so he could see everyone in front of him. If he could not get a seat at the back he found himself anxiously looking around. He feared that someone would be talking to him and he would not know. He wondered if they were staring at him, talking about him or making fun of him. Being a teenager he felt a strong desire to fit in. His deafness set him apart from his school mates and he hated it. This fear of interaction and unwanted attention was his constant companion.

David arrived home from school. “How was your day?”, asked his mother. David answered as he usually did, “Good” His mother smiled. “Teenagers”, she thought to herself, “ are such a surly lot..” David headed to his room and threw his bag in the corner. He lay down on the bed and covered his face with his arms. He was knackered…


untitledFinlay sits at the kitchen table, across from his mother, who is close to tears, and his father who is red faced with anger. He is being blamed for smashing his mother’s favourite perfume bottle against the wall before his parents arrived home. Carrie, Fin’s sister, sits quietly with her other siblings, Aden and Jenny in the lounge. They all know he is in trouble, but only Aden and Jenny can hear the yelling, because Carrie is deaf.

“But I didn’t do anything,” cries Finlay. “You always blame me for whatever happens.” Neither of his parents believes him. The only other possible culprit is Carrie. His parents are protective of Carrie. Their sorrow and guilt, because of her deafness, will not allow them to accuse her. No, of course, it has to be Fin. Fin gives up protesting. He knows from past experience that he will be punished anyway. He just wants it over and done with.

Fin and Carrie were born18 months apart. For some unknown reason Fin has become Carrie’s main protector and communicator. Perhaps it is because they were born so close together. Everywhere Fin goes, Carrie follows. Everything Carrie does, Fin has to do too. And if he does not, often his parents will make him. “Don’t be mean”, they will say. “She only wants to play.” He always seems to be feeling guilty.

Fin and Carrie, over time, have developed their own form of communication. It is a mixture of signs, gestures and oral communication. Fin seems to be forever trying to let Carrie know what is going on around her. When communication with Carrie becomes difficult his parents even ask him to “please explain to Carrie.” Sometimes Fin tires of this interpreting role and will tell Carrie that he will “tell her later.” He doesn’t quite understand why this makes him feel so guilty. He certainly does not often understand Carrie’s anger towards him when he refuses to interpret for her.

He remembers specific incidents quite clearly that make him feel sometimes that Carrie is like his Siamese twin. This “other” thing that never lets him do the things he wants, never lets him choose his own hobbies, never allows him to have his own friends, never allows him to be as dismissive of Carrie and her needs as everyone else seems to be able to be. He is always her interpreter, her translator, her guide in the world. She is always his responsibility and his family think it is “wonderful” that they are so close. In truth they have a love/hate relationship that is based on dependence and guilt. No-one understands this. They each feel as alone as the other; unable to take comfort in each other because it only seems to reinforce the roles they have been relegated to.

Carrie was born hearing, but became profoundly deaf at age two through illness. Finlay can still remember being held up to a glass window to see his baby sister lying in an adult bed with nurses completely covered in full length white gowns, caps and masks. At one time Fin thought she had died and the people surrounding her in white gowns were angels taking her to heaven.

When she came home everything was different. During the day Aden and Jenny were at school and his father was at work. For most of the day it is just Fin, Carrie and their mother. Often friends of their mother will visit. The conversation is always about Carrie. The attention is always on Carrie. Fin never seems to get any attention. He knows it is irrational but this makes him feel strangely resentful and angry towards Carrie. Fin can not make sense of these feelings. Usually when Fin feels this way he has an overpowering sense of guilt. This, in turn, makes him feel more resentful and angry. It is a vicious cycle.

Sometimes Fin just wants to be angry, to find someone to blame. But who does he blame? Carrie or himself? No, they are just kids, they don’t know what is happening, and are just trying to cope with what they have in front of them. His parents? No, they do what they are told by the professionals. It is the only thing they know at this early stage in Carrie’s life. If Fin knew better he might blame the system, the schools, the bureaucrats and the advisors. It will not be till much later that Fin will understand these issues. Meanwhile Fin is just confused, often angry, powerless and helpless.

In later years Finlay will witness much of Carrie’s grief and anger. It will be years before he fully understands where this comes from. He will ask himself, “Is it her Deafness, her difference, the communication issues, the way we were raised, the way the system views and treats her, or all of those things, or just Carrie’s natural way?”

Carrie is watching television. The captions are on but she cannot yet fully understand them. As always she asks Finlay to explain what is going on. Finlay is happy to oblige. He wonders how long it will be until she can fully understand the captions. When will he be allowed to be Finlay, a person without a deaf sister, able to do the things he wants without her around? Fin walks to his bedroom and shuts the door. He pushes his bed across the door barricading it from unwanted intruders. For the next ten minutes he will dream of a life without his sister. There is a knock on his door, it’s Carrie …

Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the future. – John F Kennedy (US President 1961 – 63)


Carrie is six years old. She is sitting at the dinner table with her family. She looks down at her Brussels sprout with absolute loathing. She isn’t going to eat it unless it’s forced down her throat.

She gazes around at her family members who are all in conversation. Mum is in an animated discussion with her sister. Dad is typically silent, fork in mouth, while he watches Sally do her job as principal on Home and Away. Her two brothers, Aden and Finlay, are discussing something loudly and obviously not agreeing. She looks at her brothers and uses the universal sign for “What’s up?” Palms facing upwards, elbows bent and a shrug of the shoulders. Finlay, with over-exaggerated lip movements, replies, “Tell you later,” while clumsily signing, “Tell you over”.

Carrie sighs and toys with the idea of trying to find out what the others are talking about. In the end she decides not to. She knows that the response from other family members will be the same as Finlay’s “tell you later.” She looks back down at her Brussels sprout. It suddenly becomes more appealing.

Carrie’s mother, Katie, watches her out of the corner of her eye. Like most mothers she can sense when something is not quite right with her children. She knows that Carrie is often isolated within the family at times like this when they are all chatting avidly. She is at loss as to what to do.

The family lives in a rural area. Services are few and far between. Just that day Katie had been in a meeting with her daughter’s school. She was trying to find some money to pay someone to teach her family Auslan. Katie felt that this, at least in part, would help make the family more inclusive for Carrie. She was handballed from one organisation to another and no-one seemed to want to take any responsibility. The family had learnt some rudimentary signs from a book and CD-Rom and Carrie had taken to signing like a fish to water.

She likes her doll. She and her doll can communicate without problems. She wishes her life could be just the same.

Dinner over, the family retreats into the lounge room. Usually Carrie will sit on her father’s lap. She just likes his man smell and rough beard. The two of them cannot really communicate well. Bob, the dad, is impossible to lip-read and cannot find time in the day from work to learn to sign. This night Carrie does not sit on Bob’s lap. She finds a doll and sits on her own near the heater. She thinks of her day at school. She likes her doll. She and her doll can communicate without problems. She wishes her life could be just the same.

Carrie is mainstreamed into the local school. She communicates as best she can with her FM system. She has no support apart from her visiting teacher who comes every fortnight to offer advice to her teachers and 45 minutes of learning support to her. This morning she had been in class. The teacher had been reading a book. Carrie did not understand a lot of it but she loved the pictures. The story, this morning, involved an animal, or rather a hybrid of animals. The teacher showed a picture that was part wombat, part crocodile and part kangaroo. A Womcrocroo, the teacher had said it was.

Carrie understood none of this but she loved the picture. As soon as the teacher showed it to the class Carrie was on her feet pointing animatedly. She wanted to know what it was. The teacher told Carrie to sit down and that she would explain it to her later. Carrie was disappointed. She felt humiliated, frustrated and angry all at the same time. She let out a little scream of frustration. The teacher made her sit outside.

This memory is vivid in Carrie’s mind as she plays with her doll by the heater. She adds Ted and a few of her brothers’ Power Ranger toys to her play. The doll is the teacher and in Carrie’s perfect world everyone in the class can communicate. She asks and answers questions and she is an active member of her fantasy class. She smiles for the first time that day. In the background she catches a glimpse of her mother in deep discussion with her father. Her mother is crying again.

She is angry that support is so sporadic in rural areas. Organisations from the city constantly haggle about time and money.

Bob does not know what to do. He rarely has time to attend appointments about Carrie’s needs. The appointments are always in the day and the responsibility for them falls almost solely to his wife. She works part-time and he works long hours. His wife is crying. She is telling him about her latest appointment. She wants support to get the family communicating with Carrie.

She is frustrated at having to constantly justify herself to the people that have the money for support. She is angry that support is so sporadic in rural areas. Organisations from the city constantly haggle about time and money. She speaks of Auslan, isolation and language acquisition.

Half of this Bob does not really understand. Instead he listens and lets her vent. He wishes that there was more that he could do. He bemoans the fact that family support is so bloody family unfriendly. Why can’t they offer support at a time when all the family can take part? The appointments to meet support people are usually at 10 in the morning. At this time he is at work and the kids are at school. Pointless, really!

Carrie watches her mum cry. Although she does not know what her parents are talking about she knows they are talking about her. She has no words for how this makes her feel, but she feels anxious and worried. She does not quite understand why she has upset her mother so.

Her two brothers and her sister listen to their mother and father discussing Carrie AGAIN! They are resentful in some ways. Carrie always appears to be the centre of attention. They sometimes wonder if they exist at all. Carrie goes to bed. It has not been a good day at all.

It’s morning. The family are sitting at the breakfast table. Carrie’s mother is in deep discussion with her sister. Dad is typically silent, spoon in mouth and admiring the attractiveness of Mel on Sunrise . Aden and Finlay are discussing something loudly and still not agreeing. For Carrie the whole scene is strangely familiar. She looks at her doll sitting on the table and wonders what the day has in store for her …..

Children seldom misquote. In fact, they usually repeat word for word what you shouldn’t have said. ~Author Unknown