Dear Auslan Interpreters

Image is of an Auslan interpreter interpreting a COVID update.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rock On Y’All

Dear Bill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DDA – Destitute Discrimination Act

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saving the NDIS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That is the Liberals and Australia’s great shame!

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

Image is of a hip bone with replacement joint.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How are you?”

“All went well?”

Can you feel that?

“We will take you to the ward soon?”

” Whats that he is using? Bloody marvellous!”

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

THAT!!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NDIS Heroes

Image is of a silhouette of a woman in a field. Her hands are on her hips, she looks to the horizon as a cape blows dramatically from her shoulders, like a super hero.

And the shame was on the other side
Oh, we can beat them forever and ever
Then we could be heroes just for one day

We can be heroes
We can be heroes
We can be heroes just for one day –

David Bowie

Happy Easter everyone. If Easter isn’t your thing well just be happy anyway. You know, on these pages I am very critical of the NDIS. The criticism is well deserved, really. You know, the NDIS should be a world class program. Run properly it can provide world class support to people with a disability. It actually does provide world class support for many. Sadly, within the NDIS there are people that really should not be there. They lack experience, understanding and knowledge. This includes Minister Reynolds and many in the executive who should have kept their cushy jobs in the banking industry.

Last week on Auslan Day, of all days, a mother of deaf child had Auslan interpreting for her child denied. Many parents request Auslan interpreters for their children so that they can participate in sport, social activities and not be left out or miss important information. It is often rejected by the NDIS, some clueless review officer will deem it as parental responsibility. I am not sure about you but when I played soccer as a kid, the last thing I wanted was my mother hovering around. (An ordinary life and all that.)

Not in this case, however. The mother in question posted on one of the NDIS discussion pages. She posted a photo of the text of the explanation from the review officer as to why the support had been declined. It read simply, “…….interpreter may cause her to become more dependent on an interpreter rather than use and develop her oral English skills.” I read this and I fancied I could hear every Deaf person that uses Auslan, every hearing person that knows anything about Auslan, every coda that uses Auslan and every Auslan interpreter in the country screaming …. FFS!!!!!

It will surprise no one that I was livid. I invited the mother to send me a personal message and offered my assistance. As a person who previously worked within the NDIS sector, I still have many contacts and networks within. The mother did indeed contact me. I have been assisting her to identify contacts within who she can contact and make a complaint. It will be a long journey. However, it is a truism that it’s not what you know, but who you know.

But guess what? There were actually people within the NDIS who read the post, who saw my message to the mother offering assistance and who contacted me offering help. Within the NDIS, for every incompetent, power hungry and ignorant bureaucrat, there are good people. People that care. People that understand disability and people that want the very best outcomes for people with a disability. These are the heroes of the NDIS! Sadly, to few of them are in positions of power.

In the case of this mother, they offered advice. They asked me questions. They provided me with questions to ask the mother. They provided me with contacts and they provided me with advice as to how to use these contacts. They offered to assist to identify the Review Officer that made this decision and who had provided the offensive and ignorant explanation for the denial of the support. In this way they could condemn and hopefully educate the person concerned. But you know what? They asked me to be careful and not to identify them because otherwise they would get in big trouble.

Can you imagine that? You work within this huge program and you are frightened to do be identified for wanting to help and do the right thing. What sort of organisation develops a culture like that? What sort of organisation develops a culture where people within have to engage in whisper campaigns and subterfuge to make sure that the right thing happens? Well, I think it is an organisation that has lost its way. It is an organisation that needs an almighty clear out and restructure to get it back on track.

But you know, there are many people within the NDIS who are like the people that helped me assist this mother. They are heroes. They want to do the right thing. They try to find ways to get the very best outcomes for people with a disability. I will give you a couple of examples.

In my time with the NDIS they had a computer generated logarithm that calculated the level of support a person should get. It was bloody awful. It was one of the many assessment tools that the NDIS used to try and work out what support to give to people with a disability. The problem is that disability is not all the same. The variations of support are immense. The tools that the NDIS use are nearly all focused on physical and cognitive assessments. You provide a score to a question like – On a scale from 1 to 5, how easily can the participant feed themselves. You go through this set list of questions in the computer program that cover things like mobility, communication, independence and so on. From the data entered it generates a Typical Support Package. (TSP)

Now, often the TSP was so far off the mark, it was laughable. (Don’t get me started on the tool that they used for kids) As a planner I had to recommend a level of support. Now, if that level of support was within 5 % of the TSP I could approve it. If it was over I had to go to my manager, who would then go through a process of deciding what was an appropriate level of support. It was not a quick process. I had one poor woman that was on the cusp of being homeless, my manager had her case for over four months. By the time I left the role, my manager had still to make a decision.

There were planners who knew how to make sure the TSP generated the highest amount of support possible. They would see a person needed a lot of support and they would enter information to the TSP in such a way as to generate the highest support package possible. They would work the system in a way so that they didn’t have to go through their manager. They would work the system so that they could approve a plan with a high level of support and avoid unnecessary delays. These are the heroes that I am talking about.

When I worked as a planner in Melbourne I often had planners or LACS as far away ass far North Queensland contact me. They would want advise about a Deaf client and how to develop justifications so as to provide the best level of support. They would ask me what we could do to provide Auslan to clients, despite the lack of Auslan proficiency in the area. They would bend over backwards to try and make sure the client got the best and highest level of support possible. Such planners are real heroes. You would be surprised how many planners don’t do this kind of research, simply because they cannot be bothered!

And directors, yes directors, would contact me from Tasmania. They would say that they had a plan for a Deaf person and they didnt have the expertise to do a plan for a Deaf person. They would ask me to mentor and guide the planner to make sure they developed a plan that matched the persons needs. These are the heroes who I am talking about!

BUT, sadly there are people within that just use TSP to write plans. They just use the figure that it generates. It doesn’t matter to them whether supports that the TSP generates are appropriate or not. It is quicker, less work for them and helps them to achieve their KPIs. That’s why we have such pathetic plans for some Deaf people, like $5000 of which half is to pay a plan manager, a quarter is for an assessment and $800 is what is left over for actual support. Other planners are just power hungry and apathetic. They see themselves as gate-keepers of the public purse. That they are dealing with a human being with needs does not really register with them.

Then you have the clueless. Like Stuart Robert who claimed millions of NDIS money was spent on prostitutes. Or you have the planner, who you would swear attended the 1880 Milan conference, who will claim that Auslan will impede the development of oral skills. Numpties in other words, clueless and power hungry numpties.

But there are heroes. They exist within the NDIS. We don’t hear enough about them. They fight the good fight everyday to get the very best outcomes possible. Let us not forget them, because they often do what they do at great risk to themselves. I thank god that they are there, otherwise the NDIS would be truly screwed. Long may they continue!

No Time Like the Now! – Gary Kerridge

(For the Auslan version of this video, please scroll to the bottom.)

Albo put the Deaf community offside on the very first day of the election campaign. He announced support for the Shepherd Centre. He promised $1.5 Million to develop the Hearhub online platform that the Centre runs. Hearhub, in the words of the Shepherd Centre:

” …. is on a mission to improve the listening and communication skills of children with hearing loss around the world by revolutionising the way clinicians and educators work with children in the listening space. Our innovative online tools and courses provide professionals with a suite of unique resources to support children and their families.”

The Shepherd Centre has a bit of a Voldemort complex with the Deaf community, as in “…they who should not be named.” In the past they have had a stubborn refusal to accept Auslan as part of their early intervention programs. They, along with Dimity Dornan’s Hear and Say Centres, are seen as the bastions of oralism and the enemy of Auslan. Both have previously steadfastly refused to accept Auslan in any shape or form. Dimity, of course, once called Deafness a scourge and compared it to polio. It did not go down well. This old article at Ramp Up, My Deafness is no Scourge; an open letter to Dimity Dornan, will give you some idea of the hurt that she caused.

So as luck would have it, Albo’s first commitment of the election campaign was to commit $1.5 million to the Shepherds Centre’s Hearhub. To the surprise of no one, many in the Deaf community erupted. In years gone by, I would have been one of the many to be appalled. But not anymore, and here is why.

You see, very recently The Shepherd Centre announced that they were taking on the wonderful Hear for You Deaf Mentoring Program. Of course, Hear for You wasn’t just about Deaf youth; it was about hard of hearing youth as well. It provided both with some wonderful opportunities and exposure. And that was whether they used Auslan or were oral.

Now, I can imagine that there were many Deaf people, hearing that the Shepherd Centre were now going to run the program, thought that this would lead to some form of discrimination against Auslan users. Nope, that’s far from the truth. In fact, possibly for the very first time, The Shepherd Centre have publicly committed to supporting kids that use Auslan. Here is what their CEO had to say:

“I am so excited about Hear For You joining with The Shepherd Centre to create a new organisation that will be able to provide even better services to more participants. And we will also be supporting participants who use spoken language for their communication as well as participants who use Auslan for their communication because we want to make sure that all of them have access to the best services that can make sure that their future life will be as bright as possible.”

There you have it, straight from the horses mouth. The Shepherd Centre want to make sure that young people who use Auslan have the very best start in life. One assumes that means to all their programs from birth, right through to adolescence. That’s brilliant!!

So, what I suggest is that the Deaf community get on board really quickly and begin to have some influence. Make sure that native Auslan users are involved right from the start. Make sure the inevitable development of early intervention Auslan programs are set up properly by Deaf professionals and teachers. In this way we can make sure that young Auslan users get the very best start in life.

And if Albo gets in, part of that $1.5 million can be used to develop world class Auslan programs from birth to adolescence. This will mean that the futures of the young people that use Auslan, in the words of the Centre CEO, “… Will be as bright as possible.”

Come on Deaf Australia, get in there now so that the Shepherd Centre can develop the very best Auslan programs possible! There is no time like the now!

(THE VIEWS EXPRESSED IN THIS POST ARE THE VIEWS OF THE AUTHOR ALONE.)

Be the Change

Back in 95 I was offered a new job. I was on a bus coming back from Deaf soccer in Melbourne. I had been representing Queensland because they were short. We were a bit of a Dad’s army, nevertheless we were runners up. We beat Victoria on the way, always very satisfying. This was a time before cheap flights so I caught a bus over.

After the three day tournament, I arrived back at the Adelaide depot at some god awful hour of 6am. I had been on the bus for 12 hours. (God was I sore, having played three games in three days and then catching the bus back the very next day.)

But I am digressing. I was offered a job. When I arrived at the depot I was met by my girlfriend. Somehow, someone had got a message to her that Options Coordination had been trying to contact me. I cant recall exactly how, but likely they rang my mums home, who then let my girlfriend know. My girlfriend had the number to call. She called and they let her know I had been offered the job and when I was to start.

This was before email. It was a few weeks before the National Relay Service started too. In 1995, this was how the Deaf professionals survived. We relied on others. It was often very much hit miss. I remember just before starting the new job I went on a road trip in my Suzuki Sierra. I went via the Great Ocean Road, to Melbourne, up to Canberra then home through Wagga Wagga and Robin Vale.

I left Canberra on Sunday at 2pm to drive back to Adelaide. Crazy really because I was starting the new job the next day. About 30km outside Pinaroo, at 11.30 pm, the ole Zuki shuddered to a halt. I’d run out of petrol. I was shitting bricks. I had to start my new job. I had no way to call my boss. I was in the middle of nowhere. It was freezing cold and I had run out of petrol. I was in the RAA, but had no way to call them.

Luckily for me, about two minutes after I came to a halt, a car came over the hill and stopped to help me. Blow me down, it was a Jaguar. It had four people in it. They told me to hop in and they would take me to Pinaroo to get some petrol. Not only that, they dropped me back. It was a round trip of 90kms. So I put five bucks of petrol in a can, quite a lot back then, got petrol in the Zuki, thanked them profusely and took off for Pinaroo to fill up proper.

When I arrived at Pinaroo, and this is true, the Jaguar was at the petrol station. It’s bonnet was open and steam was coming out of it. In the Zuki I had some fine Canberra Wine, I gave them a bottle and asked if I could help. They said not to worry because they had called the RAA. Hearing privilege I guess. If that had been me, I would have been asking the guy in the service station to make the call.

This is what it was like for deaf people in 1995. Not that long ago really. I look back and wonder how we all coped. Now I have so many options it’s not funny. Back then we really had it quite hard. Anyway, if you are wondering, I arrived home at 3am in the morning. I was up at 7.30 am and at work for 8.30am. I recounted the nights adventure to my new boss and he shook his head. He took one look at me about 11.30am and sent me home. Nice of him. (He was probably wondering what he had got himself into with this nutter that leaves Canberra for Adelaide at 2pm, knowing he started his new job the next day.)

Paradoxically, the second day of new job was the start of the new National Relay Service. In my interview it had been a big selling point. They asked about phone work and I was able to tell them about the NRS and how it was going to make my life so much better. I explained that I could work on the same level as hearing peers and so on. Deaf people all over Australia were really excited about the Relay Service and I was looking forward to making my first independent call in my new job. But, that very first day was a disaster. The system crashed and no one could make any calls.

Not to worry, they got it fixed the next day. My very first call was to Jean, who owned a nursing home. She also offered home care that was funded through my work. I called her about a client. We arranged to meet. We met and went to the pub after. She was an ex Olympic swimmer. I confessed to her that the name Jean had given me visions of this grey haired 60 year old nurse. She was anything but and we actually went on a few dates. All arranged through the NRS of course. Those were the days!

Isn’t it funny that I now don’t have to use the NRS, ever! The need for the NRS gradually dwindled over time. What with SMS, email, Skype, messenger platforms, online booking and communication etc, I don’t need the NRS. I mean, I order in food via Uber. If I had broken down outside Pinaroo now, I could have got hold of RAA through a simple text.

All of this text based communication has been a godsend for us deaf people. It has made life so much more easy. But the biggest change, in my mind, has been voice to text technology. Voice to text technology used to be a bit hit and miss. It struggled with phonetics and accents. It was also very expensive. That was until Live Transcribe!

I was first alerted to Live Transcribe when I was working with the NDIA. A Deaf colleague sent around an email saying she was using this free app, only available on android phones. She said that when she was in smaller meetings that it worked quite well for her. So I tried it. It was a game changer!

In 2019 it was fairly accurate. At an estimate, I would say 80 percent accurate. It allowed me to have impromptu meetings without the need to rely solely on lipreading or a last minute dash to secure communication support through either Auslan interpreters or Live Captioning.

In 2019 Live Transcribe was good. It is a heap better now. I’m not a tech whiz but it just improved over time, don’t ask me how they tweaked it. When the pandemic hit, we all went online. Zoom and Teams were it. I would place my Samsung Tablet on a stand next to the computer and Live Transcribe allowed me to be part of meetings.

It made mistakes, of course, and still does, but the accuracy was outstanding. At the top of this article you will see a meme. It is poking fun at the old Youtube automated captioning. Really, it used to be like that but not any more. I swear Youtube automated captioning is now more accurate than Live Captioning of the news.

Today we have a plethora of options. You can pay for it if you want, but the free apps are just as good. I currently prefer Microsoft Group Transcribe. It is more accurate than Live Transcribe. It works for phone calls and even providing captions for TV shows that don’t have them.

But it doesn’t stop there, Zoom and Teams also now have very accurate automated captioning. So good are the automated captioning features that this year I have only had to book Auslan interpreters and Live Captioning ONCE! A far cry from the $84 000 my former employer forked out in a year for communication access for me and one other deaf staffer. (Actually, the $84 000 was only 8 months into the year. )

The greatest development in recent times has been the live captioning feature of Android 12. I was first alerted to it by my friend, Richard Pearce. Why Android don’t promote it more, I have no idea. It is an amazing feature that detects speech on your phone and automatically captions it. This can be a phone call, a video call or simply watching a Facebook video. It is insanely accurate, watch the video below.

The video shows a phone call to the RAA. It is an answering machine and the Google Pixel Phone Automated captioning feature is
captioning it to almost 100% accuracy

And this is my life now. I make and receive calls. I don’t need an NRS. I don’t need to send a text or an email. I don’t have to wait for a response. I now make and receive calls live. I call my mother, she calls me. I deal with problems with my bank. I arrange a change of my insurance. My accountant calls to discuss Superannuation options. I do all this, independently for the first time, at the age of 57! Mate, its a game changer.

I am well aware that I am privileged to have speech that is understood reasonably easily. I am well aware that many are not in the same boat. But I have been surprised that many people actually avoid, even fear, this new technology. There is a hesitancy but I believe, wherever possible, we need to embrace this new technology. Whether it’s the phone or the automated captioning, we need to embrace it!

Not to save money. Not to put interpreters and captioners out of a job. Not to defund the NRS. But to make sure that the limited resource of Auslan interpreters, captioners and the relay service is available for those that really need them. Now, more than ever, with NDIS demand, educational demand and even Convo Australia, Auslan interpreting resources are stretched. Those that really require them are missing out.

People in hospital. People in Courts. People who have been victims of crime and abuse. Deaf people with English language challenges and so on. All these people are struggling to access the limited resource. People like me, who can utilise this new and brilliant technology, need to do so. It lessens demand and ensures limited support dollars are directed where they are most needed.

Be the change. Not just for ourselves, but for the others that will benefit if we do so! Take my word for it, this technology is the game changer.

(Here is hoping Apple catch up soon – Cos some people that can benefit wont give up their beloved Apple 😀 )

DisaDebt

Image is of a silhouette of a head. The head is bowed and inundated by many balls of crumpled paper representing stress and demands.

RoboDebt was introduced by the Australian Government in 2016. It’s architect was the appalling Christian Porter, then Minister for Social Services. Its aim was to recoup debt from Australians perceived as being paid too much by Centrelink. It targeted the most vulnerable in our community. It basically crosschecked the incomes of all recipients receiving welfare payments. If they were earning too much it sent them a debt notice demanding that they repay any overpayment. It was said that RoboDebt issued up to 20,000 debt notices a week.

Many people were extremely stressed when they received RoboDebt notices. Some people that received notices suicided.  Shalailah Medhora, writing for TripleJ Hack, reported that 2030 people died after receiving RoboDebt debt notices of which 429 were under the age of 35. How many of those 2030 were suicides is not known. Nevertheless, it is an appalling statistic.

It was later found that RoboDebt actually issued hundreds and thousands of debt notices in error. It led to a class action to recoup the repayments. It was suggested that as many as 600,000 people were wrongly issued with debt notices through RoboDebt. This led to refunds of $721 million to 373,000 people, $112 million in compensation and $398 million in cancelled debts being repaid. The total cost to the Government for this tragic and cruel policy was $1.2 billion. This is not including the human cost. RoboDebt was described by The Conversation as a fiasco with a cost we have yet to fully appreciate.

It will come as a surprise to no-one that Stuart Robert oversaw RoboDebt for most of its policy life. He refused to apologise for the fiasco. The deaths, the costs and the stress it caused meant nothing to him. On the 25th November 2019 he had this to say, “Let me say very categorically this government does not apologise for its efforts to protect the integrity of the welfare system.” In 2020 Scott Morrison did apologise. Stuart Robert went on to be the Minister for the NDIS.

Just this morning, while browsing through Facebook, I came across an article that described how the NDIA had been spying on a participants Facebook posts. They did this to try and prove that she was not eligible for the NDIS. Apparently, the NDIA developed a dossier on the woman based on her posts on Facebook and Linkedin. One post was complaining about the lack of fruit at a major Supermarket chain. The NDIA submitted this as evidence that she was lying about her claim that she was unable to go shopping.

The woman appealed the NDIA decision not to grant her NDIS access. The Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) found in favour of the woman. They described the conduct of the NDIA as “Far from sound” The whole process of trying to deny the woman access to the NDIS, partly based on a Facebook post about the amount of fruit in a Supermarket, took 21 months. At what cost??

Firstly there is the human cost. The stress on this woman. The AAT appeal took 21 months! How long was she trying to gain access before the appeal? How much money was she made to spend on doctors reports to prove her need? Most likely, she was denied important support and services for over two years. The stress of having to prepare for the appeal. The stress of having to gather evidence for her case. The stress to her health at having no support in that period. That human cost cannot be measured. And based on what? A Facebook post about the amount of fruit. How low can the NDIA go?

This woman is not an isolated case. She is one of many. She is one of thousands of people appealing about the substandard treatment and plans being doled out by the NDIS. Her case took 21 months!!! In that time the NDIA paid lawyers to present their case. They paid specialist to write reports to try and show the woman was lying about her need for support. There is the cost of the AAT for the time of the Member, the administration and the processing. The cost is enormous! And they are doing this for thousands upon thousands of people – In 2021 there was a 324% increase in NDIS AAT appeals. The NDIA is spending millions to try and win these cases and based on what? Well sometimes just a person buying fruit in a supermarket!

I am contacted by NDIS participants on a regular bases about the NDIS asking them to repay money. Many participants receive funding for low cost technology. Deaf people use this to purchase items that will allow them to communicate better or be safe. This ranges from iPads to smart watches. Smart watches alert them to alarms and door bells. An iPad allows them to communicate through VRI or receive captioning. Ridiculously, the NDIS will often say that these items are not needed and request funds be repaid. Or worse, they take control of the participants budget and refuse to let them self manage! They make them feel like criminals!

In their unholy obsession to save money, the NDIA are either refusing access, cutting plans or chasing funds that they believe are wrongly spent. The amount of stress that they are placing on people through this manic and cruel attempt to cut NDIS expenditure is scandalous!

I call it the DisaDebt – The NDIS version of RoboDebt. There is no doubt RoboDebt led to human tragedy and DisaDebt is likely causing the same. What price a human life?

All I can say is dump this inhumane Government now. This abuse of human dignity and rights has to end!