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!

A Liar and a Fake

I am a liar and a fake. I lie and fake on a daily basis as do many deaf people. It’s what I do when I can’t be bothered with communication. Sometimes the effort of lip-reading and intense concentration involved with communicating with hearing peers is a drag. So rather than make this effort I lie and I fake. If you are deaf I am betting THAT YOU DO TOO!!

It happens everywhere. Where I work there are thousands of people walking around everyday. They come from all walks of life. From overseas, from up the road from regional Victoria … you name it we have it. At least four times a week someone will stop me, lost in the vastness of the campus and ask for directions. Now sometimes it is a simple ask like, “Where’s the loo?” and sometimes it’s more elaborate and detailed like, “..Where is the X room in the Y building?”

Now generally I can assist but from time to time I get an Asian person asking for directions. Now I am not racist but I can not lip-read many Asian accents. Some Malaysian student will come up and ask me a question and I just will not understand them. So I fake it and answer, “No idea mate, the office will be able to help you.” And point them to the office. Sometimes they give me weird looks. They probably asked something like, “What’s your name?” and I answer, “No idea mate, the office will know.”

McDonalds and any like fast-food place are the pits. It’s noisy and the person serving you just can not accept your order. You specifically say what you want and they ask if you want more. “Large chips?”, “would you like an upsize?”, “Desert with that?” -It’s worse than the Spanish inquisition. On occasions I will fake it, look a my son and say, “What do you reckon?” This is a mistake because he will always say “Yes”, “Large” and “More”. The consequence is I end up spending 20 bucks more than I intend to!

Then of course when you have ordered they have to repeat your order to you. It’s noisy in McDonalds you know. I have a deaf voice and have trouble monitoring my volume in noisy areas. I either scream or whisper but very rarely get the right volume for the moment. What this means is I am often misunderstood. The person serving me will read back my order of a Big Mac with a large fries as a “Kids pack and an apple pie” I of course – fake it and nod vigorously. Mind you its fun to play with the toys. I guess you reap what you sow.

I am a liar and a fake – My question to my fellow deaf folk out there is – ARE YOU?

And in the Left Corner ……

Sometimes you have something on your mind that you just have to get out. It sits there and bothers you when you should be focusing on other things like work or that short four foot putt that you need to sink. Today is one of those days. Perhaps I really need to get a life because surely there are nicer and more exciting things to worry about than what I am about to offload.

I was chatting the other day with a group of friends about our representative Deaf and hearing impaired organisations. We have two – Deafness Forum and Deaf Australia. These two organisations are like chalk and cheese yet are almost essentially the same. DF represent a whole range of issues including hearing health, parents, education, access, Deaf people, captions, hearing technology and anything else under the sun that comes under the banner of “hearing loss:. Deaf Australia represents the Deaf community and issues that affect them. Most of them include exactly what DF represent with the exception in that they focus solely on the Deaf community, the rights of the Deaf community and protecting Auslan – these issues they OWN and protect like a rabid dog with a bone.

…..these issues they OWN and protect like a rabid dog with a bone.

DF of course claim to represent everything that DA do too. DA doesn’t want DF to represent anything to do with the Deaf community. For DA they would rather DF focus on hearing health and that stuff and leave anything to do with the Deaf community to them. The problem is “Hearing Health and that stuff” often overlap and include the Deaf community. For example Deaf people wear hearing aids and want access to them and repairs throughout their life. DF represents that argument and DA SHOULD represent it too. Other issues that overlap include education, captioning, communication access and so on. The two organisations represent Deaf and hearing impaired people on nearly all issues bar say hearing loss prevention and tinnitus. On the latter I am sure there are Deaf people that suffer from tinnitus, so maybe that overlaps too.

Now DA want DF to take a running jump on anything that is relevant to Auslan. Auslan, say DA, is their domain SOLELY. DA want DF to leave Auslan alone to the point of removing reference to Deaf people in their constitution. DA would like a clause in the DF constitution that acknowledges Auslan and Deaf people as the SOLE domain of DA.

DF will not do this. They rightly point out that they have Deaf members too. They argue that too many of the issues overlap. That much of what they advocate affects Deaf people as well as hearing Impaired and blah blah blah we have an impasse. Neither organisation will budge and US, the tax paying Deaf and hearing impaired people of Australia, watch in bewilderment as the two organisations war with each other. “Its MINE” says one president – “ITS OURS TOO” says the other – and the two children continue their squabble ad-infinitum.

I can’t claim from this quick glance at the websites of these organisations to understand the politics that go on within them

I wonder if Australia is the only place in the world that is like this. I took the liberty of goggling deaf advocacy in England, Canada and America. I came up with organisations like the Royal Association of the Deaf in the UK, Orange County Deaf Advocacy in the US and the Canadian Deaf Legal and Advocacy Services. I picked all these at random. Not ONE, I repeat not ONE, represented only Deaf or only hearing impaired people. The advocacy services of these organisations covered the broad spectrum of Deaf and hearing impaired issues.

I can’t claim from this quick glance at the websites of these organisations to understand the politics that go on within them BUT at a glance they seem to quite happily blend the needs of the various groups into one compact service.

I would not be so naive to assume that these organisations are without their conflicts. I am sure there are plenty of disagreements within. It just seems that everywhere I look that advocacy agencies around the world have managed to put political differences aside, find some common ground and advocate for the needs off both the Deaf and hearing impaired successfully. Perhaps Bill Shorten should give DF and DA some money to jointly research how these agencies operate successfully with the view of doing the same in Australia. As it stands it just seems so much time and money are being spent by DF and DA duplicating each other.

I am well aware of past injustices to the Deaf community. Timothy, on the now defunct AAD Discussion page, was fond of evoking the spectrum of the Milan conferences in the 1880’s. I am well aware of the battle that people like Colin Allen and Robert Adam fought to have the Deaf community and Auslan recognised. I am also well aware that these gains were hard fought and that the Deaf community are rightly suspicious and slightly mistrusting lest these hard earned gains be lost. However, smart individuals and organisations learn from past mistakes and move forward and find better ways to meet the needs of their target groups.

The current situation between DF and DA has gone beyond a joke. Bill Shorten and his head Minister, (Is it Jenny Maklin?) should tell the two of them to get together and sort it out. They should tell them “SORT IT OUT OR WE WILL FOR YOU” All they need to do is learn some lessons from the past and move forward. If DA and DF can not do this then the only losers are US, the long suffering, tax paying and bewildered Deaf and hearing impaired individuals of Australia.

The Rebuttal Goes Auslan – But What of the Hearing Impaired?

“Excellent work as usual. I think there was some mention some time ago about providing this forum in Auslan for those who struggle with English as their second language. My understanding is that there are still a large proportion of the Deaf Community who are finding the articles too “English” to follow. At this stage do you have a timeline for when the Auslan version of the Rebuttal will become available?” Mark Quinn
A simple email such as this was the catalyst to finally get The Rebuttal translated into Auslan. We replied to Mark that we were all volunteers and asked if he would assist us. He, of course, was only too willing. Not only that, he asked Vicdeaf if they would be willing to help with the translations of The Rebuttal. Vicdeaf kindly agreed and to top this, they even made their studio available to produce the video. We at The Rebuttal can not thank Mark and Vicdeaf enough. We also need to thank James Blyth and Cheryl Sandilands, interpreting staff of Vicdeaf, who provided their skills for the videos.
The Rebuttal team had been aware for sometime that the E-zine was not accessible to many of its readers. A fair proportion of people on our mailing list have some difficulty with reading English. The reasons are many but it is a fact of life that many Deaf people leave school with below average literacy. Many have good literacy but not quite the extensive vocabulary of their hearing peers.
This happens because people who have a hearing loss (Deaf and hearing impaired) do not have the same ability to “overhear” as their hearing peers. Overhearing the conversations of our peers, listening to talk back on radio, watching media on TV /Internet or simply listening to chatter on the bus all contribute to expanding a person’s vocabulary and social awareness. People with a hearing loss, for obvious reasons, miss out on this. Couple this with a lousy education system for the deaf and you have a recipe for low literacy.

A simple email such as this was the catalyst to finally get The Rebuttal translated into Auslan.

Of course literacy levels vary. Some Deaf people have excellent literacy and some do not. One can never assume. It is therefore vital that when we produce media such as The Rebuttal, we think of ways to make it accessible to as many people as possible.
It is a challenge that is not easily met. Money, time and lack of knowledge of the technology that enables access are all reasons why it is difficult. But it’s not impossible! If a free and voluntary publication like The Rebuttal can provide it, in partnership with a willing organisation such as Vicdeaf, then our richer multi-million dollar friends certainly can. Perhaps resources need to be channelled into more important priorities??
But how far do we go? It is naive to believe that providing access to The Rebuttal in Auslan will suddenly provide access to all our readers. Like with English, the Auslan skills of Deaf people vary. Many learn Auslan later in life and it is their second language. Many who learnt Auslan as a second language also have English literacy issues. So for them the Rebuttal in Auslan can be a double whammy!
The Auslan used in The Rebuttal videos is sophisticated. It does not “dumb down” The Rebuttal. The translations largely catch the nuances and meaning of the written English version. BUT unless you are proficient in Auslan to a high standard, the Auslan versions can be difficult to follow. Some recognised proficient Auslan users have commented that they needed to watch the videos two or three times to catch the full meaning. They have commented that they were fortunate to have good language development to help them with their understanding.
Sadly this is not the case for many Deaf people in Australia. Whilst the Auslan versions of The Rebuttal provide access for more people there are still those that will not have full access. What is the next step – a plain English version? Do we, as volunteers, have the capacity to do all of this? Will plain English be able to convey the subtle nuances and messages of the language used in The Rebuttal? Or worse would a plain English version been seen as patronising to the reader and “dumbing down” The Rebuttal?
Is it really feasible for us to be considering providing access to everyone? Indeed a few people have bemoaned to us that there is far too much emphasis placed on Auslan in the deafness sector. Auslan users make up a very small proportion of the “hearing loss” population in Australia. Despite this it seems that near on 100% of recent funding for communication access from the government has been directed towards Auslan users.
In recent times we have seen $18 million provided for Auslan interpreters to private medical appointments through the National Auslan Booking Scheme (NABS). We then had $5 million directed to the pathetic program called the Auslan for Employment Scheme (AFE). This for a population of Auslan users that is, at most, 25 000. The reality is that the number of people that will use Auslan interpreters regularly is probably half of this.
It is great, the AFE aside, that this funding has been provided but it beggars belief that somehow our advocates and the Government have failed to see communication access on a larger scale. There are millions of hearing impaired people who require access to communication at the doctor, at work, for job interviews, for counselling and so on. Yet despite this we continue to see the topic of communication access in isolation.

The puzzling thing has always been why NABS is limited to medical appointments and Auslan.

It would make sense for a service like NABS to focus and fund other means of accessible communication. A patient could, in theory, attend a doctor’s appointment with a laptop or PDA. The doctor would link up to a captioning service through the phone and what the doctor says to the patient can be relayed through the internet to the laptop or PDA. The puzzling thing has always been why NABS is limited to medical appointments and Auslan. Why not expand it to other communication means? Why not add employment to the scope of services that NABS can cover and do away with the worthless AFE? In this way we could fund communication access to work meetings, professional development, interviews and so on.
It is so very important that our Deafness sector organisations work closely together to identify key issues. It makes no sense to have separate Auslan funding when we are talking about such a broad issue as communication access. Communication access is the same thing – even if the mode is different. A simple and open partnership based on respect between The Rebuttal and Vicdeaf is providing access to many of our readers. Perhaps our Deafness sector advocates need to take this on board.

We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.
Martin Luther King

The Pursuit of Truth

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it. The beginning of thought is in disagreement — not only with others but also with ourselves. You’ve got to rattle your cage door. You’ve got to let them know that you’re in there, and that you want out. Make noise. Cause trouble. You may not win right away, but you’ll sure have a lot more fun. In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act. You do not become a “dissident” just because you decide one day to take up this most unusual career. You are thrown into it by your personal sense of responsibility, combined with a complex set of external circumstances. You are cast out of the existing structures and placed in a position of conflict with them. It begins as an attempt to do your work well, and ends with being branded an enemy of society. (This paragraph has been formulated using quotes from – Beatrice Hall, Hoffer, Kennedy, Orwell and Havel)

A couple of wags decided to post some satirical songs on the Australian Association of the Deaf Discussion page. Those of us in the know knew who the songs were about and found them amusing. The songs suggested that resources of the organisation which could be better used to support people who are Deaf and hearing impaired were being used for other not so important purposes. They suggested that services and staff support were not getting enough priority. An excess of travel by the CEO was cited as a large part of the reason.

One suspects that there was more than an element of truth in the statements and this was probably the major motivator for preventing them being heard and seen.

AAD have now closed the Discussion Page to the general public. To contribute individuals now have to be a financial member of AAD. Closure occurred to protect AAD’s reputation and to avoid possible legal action . Apparently challenging the practices of an individual or organisation using satire is akin to slander. Of course closing the Discussion Page does nothing to prevent satire/slander, it just makes it harder for people to comment, to question and to challenge. Making the user pay for the Discussion Page makes the more cynical among us see it as a nothing more than a clever fundraising initiative.

According to some, to dissent now means to slander. What rubbish! Dissent, if you are not aware, means disagreement with the philosophy, methods, goals, etc, of a political party or government. This is one of many meanings, but for the purpose of this article it is the most appropriate. Slander is, legally, an untruthful oral (spoken) or written statement about a person that harms the person’s reputation or standing in the community***. Certainly voicing dissent to the policies of an individual within an organisation and suggesting these policies were very wrong could harm that person’s or that organisations reputation. This is not in dispute. The question is whether the actual statements were untruthful. One suspects that there was more than an element of truth in the statements and this was probably the major motivator for preventing them being heard and seen.

Many years ago I was involved in an act of dissent as a member of the South Australian Association of the Deaf. At that time there was, we felt, misinformation going out to the public about the benefits of hearing aids. The person responsible for the misinformation was speaking at a function. SAAD organised a protest outside the function. We had support from a prominent organisation. They provided us with all the resources we needed and a mini bus to get protesters there. I vividly recall how empowered we all felt. We got outstanding radio and TV coverage. A few people were upset at this act of dissent but it was a VERY effective means to bring attention to the issue.

Surely there is a better way to deal with something like this than preventing discussion on the issue? What is wrong with explaining the policy of the organisation, challenging the views of the dissenters and having an open and honest debate? It seems debate is too hard and dissenters a pain in the neck. Caroline Wilson, The Age Footy correspondent was recently the butt of sexist jokes on The Footy Show. Her response is an excellent and dignified example of responding to controversy. (Ironically in her case slander actually occurred). Click on the link to read it. Wilson’s calm and dignified response to a sensitive topic is a lesson to us all.
Wilson’s article

Martin, ( http://www.uow.edu.au/arts/sts/bmartin/pubs/93nw.html ) writes widely on the need for Dissent. He tells the tale of engineers on the Space Shuttle, The Challenger, who tried to bring attention to design flaws in the Space Shuttle. Their superiors, for reasons known only to themselves, suppressed the views of these engineers. The engineers were eventually forced to conform and remain silent with tragic consequences, the Shuttle blew up. Martin believes that the only thing more dangerous than censoring dissent is individuals who simply conform so as to not cause trouble or to avoid trouble for themselves. He calls this self censorship.

Martin’s example of the engineers who warned of problems with the Space Shuttle and were kept quiet is a tragic example of dissent suppressed. The problems that they identified ultimately led to the Challenger Shuttle blowing up with the loss of lives. This could have been avoided simply through openly listening and debating the issues. But instead the all systems go approach and the “I know what I am doing” philosophy won over. What was the result? BOOOOOOOM!!! Sadly, in the case of the Challenger, it probably had more to do with saving money than with common sense.

The articles that sadly led to the demise of AAD Discussion Page clearly had impact. If individuals felt aggrieved by them they only needed to put forward their own views

Martin explains that a common tool for suppressing dissent is the threat of legal action through defamation. Actual defamation cases are apparently very rare. The threat of being sued for defamation is often enough to make people shut up shop and say no more. If the dissenter has a truthful and valid argument, defamation is hard to argue in the courts. However, the threat of defamation and the costs involved if the case gets to court are usually enough to prevent people speaking out. Martin believes that in most cases defamation threats are never carried out because they bring with them negative publicity that is best avoided. It is a sad fact of life that legal threats, more and more, are being used to silence dissenters in areas of the deafness sector. These threats are nothing more than a form of censorship.

It would be so easy to blame the dissenters for the closure of the AAD Discussion Page to the public. It is so easy to classify the dissenters as trouble makers. But people usually only dissent when all avenues to be heard are exhausted. To be heard they will use a variety of tactics to get attention including, but not limited to, humour, satire, anger and controversy. They do this not to cause trouble but because they are committed to the cause. One can only admire them for their desire to be heard. Free speech is the cornerstone of democracy and is what makes Australia what it is today. Why should this be any different for the Deaf and Hearing impaired?

The articles that sadly led to the demise of the AAD Discussion Page clearly had impact. If individuals felt aggrieved by them they only needed to put forward their own views. Sadly they took the easy way out – they chose censorship.

Ultimately this will achieve nothing except more frustration and more anger. As the late and great George Bernard Shaw once said “ ..All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions.” Sad but true. So much, in fact, that there is almost nothing left to say that is permissible!

If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.
Desmond Tutu


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…

And The Winner Is ……

HEY! the captioning awards are next week. Did you know? On August 23rd, at Rydges in Sydney, there will be a slap up bash. Channel 7, Foxtel, Austar, and the Australian Communication Exchange with support from Deafness Forum will bring us these awards. Captioning has come a long way since the dark old days where the intellectual stimulation for Deaf and hearing impaired people was Neighbours and a few interesting shows on the ABC. We should take the time to celebrate, praise and slap people on the back. But while we do this let’s remember captioning access is far, far from perfect. This in mind I would like to award Prime (7) the captioning award for the Most Aggravating and Stupid Scheduling of Captioning ever in the Western, Eastern or Alien World. (Even though they are a sponsor of the awards)

I live in rural Ballarat. I watch 24, admittedly an acquired taste. Jack Bauer can never die. He saves the world, his lovers, his children and their pet dogs. His wounds heal in a nanosecond. He shoots people, cuts their throats and loves them the same. His pained and emotional looks whenever he slashes someone’s windpipe is a lesson to us all in how to murder with compassion.

Jack’s pained looks of failing and guilt were too much to bear. In the background the mushroom cloud rose into the air hauntingly

In short, 24 is great fun. It is release from a tedious day and quite exciting. Every Wednesday I pressed the remote in anticipation. The momentum and excitement were building and then suddenly, after three weeks, there were no captions. I clicked! 24 came on, no captions, there was an ad break and in this ad break our esteemed and fellow hearing impaired Prime Minister, John Howard, came on to make an announcement. What it was about, I would not know, because, despite government policy to the contrary, it was not captioned. And neither, unfortunately, was the rest of the episode of 24. Not to worry thought I. “A technical problem. Captions will be back next week.” And next week, there they were, captions blessed captions. Jack killed a few more people, but bugger the nuclear bomb went off. It killed thousands. Jack’s pained looks of failing and guilt were too much to bear. In the background the mushroom cloud rose into the air hauntingly.

“Goodness .. can’t wait for next week” thought I. The next week the time for 24 came, the credits for 24 commenced and .. bugger .. it wasn’t captioned …. I screamed, I literally screamed. Anyway in the ad break that kind old gent John Howard came on again. What it was about I would not know because his announcement was not captioned. And neither was the rest of 24.

And next week all was back to normal, killing, car chases and the like were all captioned so that I knew of every bang and scream. All was right in the world. And the week after it wasn’t captioned. John came back on with his severe and serious look, no doubt apologising for the lack of captions on 24 – I wouldn’t know because whatever he said was not captioned and neither was the rest of 24. This charade went on for the whole series. John, not to be beaten by mere excitement, even came on the very last episode so that the very last and exciting episode of 24 was not captioned either.

To add insult to injury whatever the Wally of a PM had to say wasn’t captioned either (Not that I really cared, but still…).

Was I frustrated? You bet! Was my wife frustrated? You bet! What was this all about? Well apparently the esteemed PM of Australia had bought himself some airtime to make announcements to people in rural areas. In doing so his announcements interrupted the captioned feed from Melbourne that was beamed to rural areas. What this meant was that the rural TV stations provided their own feed and for some reason the copy of 24 that they had did not have captions. To add insult to injury, whatever the Wally of a PM had to say wasn’t captioned either (Not that I really cared, but still…).

Confused? Well imagine how I felt! But that’s how it went. Every other week, because John Howard had something to say, we missed the captioned feed from Melbourne and the feed coming direct from the rural Prime station did not have captions. We complained, we screamed, we emailed but all to no avail. Media Access Australia said to complain and we did. And then we even complained about having to complain and have nothing happen. And then we simply just screamed. It was the pits!

So the award goes to – (And guess where my vote won’t go?)


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)

The Rebuttal – Editorial Comment

Welcome to The Rebuttal

The Rebuttal is an independent and community conscious newspaper that raises issues and information for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Australians and those who service and support them.

Comments expressed by the authors of articles in The Rebuttal do not necessarily represents the views of the publishers of The Rebuttal. All views expressed are the sole responsibility of the authors alone.

Paul Creedon on Dissent

The article, The Pursuit of Truth, focuses on a minority perception – but a perception common to many people who are members of, or work with or around community organisations. Community organisations are generally those that have a membership, Boards of Directors and who generally provide services for no profit.

Organisations like the Australian Association of the Deaf (AAD), all of the Deaf Societies, Deafness Forum and thousands of other cultural, disability, environment, sporting and special interest groups operate in this way around Australia.

Usually these community groups are created by people who value different things to the mainstream. They might believe in a different path, assert things are unfair, seek to challenge the way things are to create a better future for themselves and people like them. This ‘difference’ is what they are all about.
So why is it that while these groups live or die based on their success at dissenting with the mainstream community many are so unable to accept or manage dissent in their own ranks? Why do so many exclude people with a different view, who ask different questions, people who challenge, who debate, who dissent?

What is it about us, even when we want to break down an old system, that makes us want to produce a new world that is as intolerant as the old? What is it about these organisations and about us as a species that is so resistant to real openness, and real change?
At the core of this article are those sorts of questions.

Albert Einstein is reputed to have once defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. In other words, if you really want things to change then you have to do things in a different way yourself. The argument as logically applies to organisations as it does to individuals – if an organisation wants a different world then it needs to be a different organisation. If it wants the world to be more inclusive and accepting of its members’ differences, then perhaps it needs to be accepting and inclusive of others as well.

Agree or disagree with the views of this author, we bet that you have felt that your voice hasn’t been listened to by one organisation or another at sometime in the past.

You might have been told “you aren’t a member”, “you will get sued”, “you don’t know what you are talking about”, “you don’t have a right to know” or something similar – we have all heard something like this at sometime in the past.

It’s frustrating, it’s scary, it’s belittling and often it’s just wrong – but more importantly it prevents open discussion and debate. If Deaf/deaf/hearing impaired/HoH (or whatever definition you choose) people are really to have a say in their futures then open debate – of all stakeholders – is the only way.

Unfortunately, the Rebuttal seems to be the only forum that currently allows and encourages that debate. So like always have your say – like this author has!