Save the NRS

My first ever phone call on the National Relay Service (NRS) was at work. At the time I was working with Disability South Australia, then known as Options Coordination. I worked in the physical and neurological area. My job was to basically assess and then broker care plans for people with a disability, including technology. There were a lot of private service providers of care. My first call was to Jeanne. She ran a nursing home and also provided care in peoples homes. So through the NRS we negotiated a package for a client and arranged for a meeting. After the meeting we went to the pub and had a chat. This was the start of a very brief romantic interlude. That was the power of the NRS. For the first time I could call hearing people on the phone.  I could use the phone to call hearing people who did not have a TTY. This created enormous opportunities for me, both professionally and socially.

For people not in the know the NRS is a service that allows deaf people to contact hearing people via the phone. When it first started deaf people who had a TTY could call hearing people through the NRS. Basically a third person based at the NRS would receive the typed message from the deaf caller and voice it to the hearing person. What the hearing person said they would then type it to the deaf person. In this way a conversation occurred.

Before the NRS the only option a deaf person had was to either have a friend or family member relay messages or to call other people who also had a TTY. With the advent of the NRS deaf people could now work in jobs that required the phone. They could call for a pizza. They could call for a taxi and so on. It was a life changer that opened up a multitude of doors for deaf people.

This was in 1995 and the world has since changed greatly. Now deaf people have enormous telecommunications choices. They can text people. They can text chat with people in real time. They can video chat too. Many services now have a text chat feature where people can contact them and chat about the services and products that they provide. You can send online queries. You can order pizza online. You can book plane tickets, cars and holidays  online through any number of apps. And of course we have trusty email. Many of the things we used the NRS for in yesteryear we deaf people can now do independently.

In fact there is a level of loathing for the NRS. Not because it is a bad thing. More because deaf people now cherish the independence that they have. The NRS, for many, is now a service of last resort. When all the options we have at our finger tips fail the NRS is there.

It might be that your car  has broken down and you need assistance. It is true that RACV have an SMS service for this  but not all drivers are members. Many people have 24 hour roadside assistance with their car purchase. This means these deaf people have to call through the NRS. Tradies generally have to be contacted by the NRS when a pipe blows or a window breaks. Most goods and services, including hospitals, still require you to call. Mind you some GPs actually have online bookings now. The NRS still has a place and a very important one at that. That said one would imagine that the demand for it has reduced over the years owing to the wealth of technological options at the disposal of deaf people.

The Government has recognised this. They think that because deaf people now have this greater telecommunications independence that the NRS is less important. The Government wants the NRS to be scaled back and for deaf people to use the other solutions as much as they can. I do not think this is a bad thing.  Savvy Deaf people who are able to use technology to their advantage are the ones most likely to be successful. However, the Government is considering making the NRS a part time service.  They are considering scrapping the 24 hour service. This is where my support ends.

It is really simple. Deaf people do not live part-time lives. They are busy and productive people. Like everyone, especially in today’s world, they need ready and easy access to communication. When your car breaks down this can be at any time. When a pipe bursts this can be at any time. People cannot predict when communication will be needed. For this very simple reason deaf people need a 24 hour NRS.

God forbid if  your car breaks down at 4am in the morning. Oh bugger, just sleep in the car  until the NRS opens at 9 am. Be late for work, lose your job and inconvenience everyone. That is OK because, you see, the NRS is shut. Having the NRS available for anything less than 24 hours is a ridiculous idea. It is not rocket science. Let’s hope the Government wakes up on this one.

The Government has also completely cut Outreach services. Outreach for the NRS basically provided information to the wider public about how the NRS works. It was certainly greatly needed in the early stages of the NRS. We deaf people will all have experienced people hanging up on us  when we were using the NRS. Often it is  because the person we called thought it was telemarketers or something. People hanging up on NRS calls is still common but much less now. That is a testament to the success of the Outreach program.

One could argue that the need for Outreach is much less now. Certainly the Government think so because they have scrapped it altogether.  Arguably Outreach is needed now as much as ever. Especially so if the Government wants more people utilising the technology that they have rather than the NRS.

Outreach could serve a purpose to educate deaf people of the options. It could serve a purpose of educating the wider business community as to how they can adapt their business and services so that communication with deaf people is more accessible. It is very short sighted to do away with Outreach altogether. Rather we should be looking at how Outreach can be targeted better.

I can understand why our Government is looking to scale back the NRS because there are so many innovative telecommunications options available to deaf people now. That said, the NRS is still a critical service. People need it for work, emergencies, arranging services and a whole host of things. Sure we need it less but we are a long way from needing it less than 24 hours a day. Maybe the aim is to make the NRS redundant in 20 years but we are a long way from that now.

Here is hoping that the Government wakes up to this one.





I thought that I would start this article a little bit differently. The video that you have just watched inspired me. It inspired me because it made me realise that deaf education is behind the times. So what I have done is I have written the first paragraph entirely using voice recognition technology. What you see is word for word what the voice recognition technology on my phone produced. But I am a rarity. I, you see, am iDeaf.

What is iDeaf ?  Put simply iDeaf is an informed and proficient deaf person. It is a deaf person that knows how to interact with the world. It is a deaf person that understands and utilises all of the many technological solutions at hand that will enhance their interaction with the world, socially and economically. It is a deaf person that knows how to use interpreters. It is a deaf person that knows how to use live remote captioning. It is a deaf person that knows how to adapt to any number of situations, particularly when captions or interpreters cannot be had. It is a deaf person that can use the simple mobile phone in a way to beat down many of the barriers that this deaf and disability unfriendly world presents to them. In short the iDeaf person has all the tools that they need to tackle this deaf unfriendly world of ours.

I loved the part of this video where the lawyer uses posters to demonstrate how things have changed. He shows a photo of a smart phone and then a picture of what phones were like  a hundred years ago. He shows a picture of a modern streamlined car and then a picture of what was probably an old Model T Ford. His point is that we have progressed. Things have become better, efficient and more streamlined. He then shows a picture of a modern classroom and compares it with a classroom of yesteryear. Virtually nothing has changed.

Still kids are seated at desks. Still they are in rows. Still the teacher is out the front and writing on the board. No matter that it is a white board, it is still a board. It is true that other things have been incorporated into schools like computers and technology but teaching and the classroom set up remain relatively unchanged.

What is his point? His point is that we are short changing our kids. We are under-funding education. We are underpaying teachers. We are lacking in innovation. His point is that mostly education strategies have not moved with the times. The result? Our kids are woefully under-prepared for life.

This made me think about Deaf Education. Has it changed? Has it kept up with the times? Are we preparing our Deaf kids for this modern world so that they can compete? The simple answer to this is NO! Few of our Deaf kids are iDeaf!

“Let’s ignore the fact that the Education Department thinks that hearing is everything. Let’s ignore that they think a deaf kid that is doing OK is enough .

Today I met a mother of a deaf girl. The mother had tried to get her daughters school, a mainstream school, to provide her daughter with a classroom interpreter or communication aid. She had been refused by the Education Department. The Education Department claim that her daughter hears well enough with her cochlear implant and Phonak device. Therefore no other support is required.

Let’s ignore the fact that the Education Department thinks that hearing is everything. Let’s ignore that they think a deaf kid that is doing OK is enough. Let’s ignore for a moment that providing support to the deaf girl so that she can meet her absolute potential is her right. Whatever way you look at this case it will make you angry.

I asked the mother if they had discussed the possibility of using live remote captions in class to facilitate communication and  improve the girls English. “Whats that?” asked the mother. It had simply never been considered or discussed. Who is preparing this girl for life as as an adult? Indeed, does teacher of the deaf training teach new teachers of the deaf anything about technology and innovation that can support deaf kids? Beyond listening devices that is. Who can help this girl to become iDeaf?

” Well the solution may just lie with the humble smart phone and the voice recognition technology within.

Let me give you a simple but effective example. Deaf Gaz has been pulled over by a policeman. Policeman rocks up at his window with big bushy beard. Unlipreadable!!!!  It becomes clear very quickly that Deaf Gaz is not going to understand him at all. What next?  Well the solution may just lie with the humble smart phone and the voice recognition technology within.

What you see below is a word for word mock conversation I had with my son Fin. I used my very cheap OPPA phone that is given free with a $40 plan. I switched on the voice recognition technology on the keyboard. This was the result.

Gaz: Hi Fin I was the soccer (“I” should be “how”)

Fin: yeah not bad

Gaz: and do you have a game on Saturday

Fin: I do

Gaz: where are you playing at

Fin: Blackburn

Gaz: you said that you hurt yourself what did you do

Fin: and you’re my ankle (He said, “I hurt my ankle”)

Gaz: how did you do that

Fin: twisted it I will look after it

Forgive Fin. He is a teenager and talking beyond a grunt is hard for him. But I mean how good is this? You could use this at the doctor if you wanted to make sure you understand what the Doc is saying. Or may be you’re in the back of an ambulance and they are trying to work out if you have any medical conditions so that they don’t inject you with something that will kill you. Trusty old mobile to the rescue. But how many deafies know how to do this? How many kids are learning about and practicing simple solutions like this? How many iDeaf are there out there?

She asked me how I could make these teleconferences accessible. Lucky that I am iDeaf.

Just this week my boss said teleconferences are returning. You know we deafies hate teleconferences. Bastard things that they are. Work tends to just organise them and then gets  some poor sod to sit next to me and type frantically what people are saying. It is far from satisfactory. I have no input and the poor typist is so stressed worrying that they are not keeping up that they cannot contribute either. Typically and frequently the poor typist can’t keep up and I miss heaps of information. But thankfully I have a new manager who is switched on. She asked me how I could make these teleconferences accessible. Lucky that I am iDeaf.

The solution is quite simple. What we can do is use the Gotomeeting platform. This is basically just conferencing software where people can chat to each other, see each other or text chat to each other. So what we can do is get all the people who are part of the teleconference to all log in to the same meeting and have Bradley Reporting caption it for us.

If you are an Auslan user you can use Auslan Services to interpret for you. As I speak I can just use captioning and take part in the teleconference like everyone else. Auslan users could use the interpreter to voice back. Admittedly it takes a bit more coordination to use the Auslan interpreter but it is possible. I know this because I am iDeaf.  It would look something like below:


This is the new world of the deaf professional. At their finger tips are a myriad of communication solutions. Sometimes they are sophisticated like Gotomeeting. Sometimes as simple as Facebook messenger. Sometimes it is just emails and Skype. It is a far cry from when I started work in 1989 and there was not even a National Relay Service. Email? – Oh don’t be silly!

It’s not just technology that deaf people must know either. They need to know how to explain their needs. How to educate others. They need to know about their rights. They need to know how to sell these solutions at a job interview. You can bet your bottom dollar that their possible employer to be wont know. Because they do not know this possible employer is already finding ways to not employ them. The iDeaf person is sharp, articulate and assertive.

The question we need to ask is ARE DEAF KIDS LEARNING THIS AT SCHOOL? Are new teachers of the deaf learning this as part of their training. Or are these new teachers simply learning a couple of weeks of Auslan, maintaining hearing aids. audiograms and speech?

Clearly there is much that the modern day deaf kid needs to learn beyond the curriculum. Are they learning this at school so that they are ready for the world? I don’t think so. We are developing a whole generation of just deaf kids with no i. They are expected to use whatever hearing they have to get by. This is not the way. It is time to graduate them iDeaf!

Hi Ya!

I think at 53 I am becoming more cynical and more insular. You know for  45 of the 53 years I have been deaf. You put up with a lot of shit when you are deaf. Not just deaf but if you have a disability of any type. People are either over the top in trying to meet your needs or they just exclude you all together.

Yes, I have had religious people come up and bless me when they have seen me signing with friends. I’ve had literally hundreds of people come up to me and sign Hi! This is either with an exaggerated wave or they finger spell it. The worst is the American alphabet H and I. With a broad grin people come up and do that awful wrist flick with a H and an I.

Is it entirely wrong for me to want to punch them in the face when they do this to me? OK, it’s a little bit wrong but believe me it’s very irritating. I swear it’s part of the reason a night or even week at home with Netflix is so much better than this kind of human interaction.

If you think that I sound old and bitter you are probably right. But you know there is a campaign that is aimed at making people with a disability feel more included called Just Say Hi! There are heaps of videos just like the one below. For a laugh turn on the automated captions, it’s the only access deaf people have to this video. How do you make deaf people feel included?  Just make videos like this with no or second rate access!


“Instead it came across as go seek them out and say HI!  No one does that in real life. EVER!


Many people with a disability hate this campaign because they think it is really patronising and it is.  Because, you know, we just walk up to complete strangers and say Hi every day. I want to make more Muslim friends so I go out and find Muslim people and say Hi! I don’t know many Aboriginal people either so I am gonna go to Redfern and mingle and say Hi to every Aboriginal person I see. It is completely normal isn’t it? No it isn’t. It is daft and patronising.

That is not to say you ignore people with a disability. It is to say you just talk to them when you meet them in life. Perhaps at a party. Perhaps at work. Perhaps in a bar because they are with your group of friends. You say Hi when you have common interests and you have a genuine interest in people.

I am sure this is what the designers of this campaign had in mind. They were trying to say treat people with a disability like any other. Instead it came across as  go seek them out and say HI! No one does that in real life. EVER!

But why were people with a disability so upset about this campaign? I’ll tell you why.

It’s because it gives non- disabled people a license to use people with a disability as a tool to make themselves FEEL GOOD. John with CP over there .. HIIIIIIIII! I’ve done my good deed for today.

Stella Young hated these kind of campaigns. She despaired getting on a train or going into a bar because some well meaning person would come over and say something like -“Hi, it’s great to see you out and about.” Inevitably someone will come over and think they are being kind by taking an interest in you. “What happened to you?” they enquire.

Sadly this is often what well meaning campaigns like JUST SAY HI do. They just give people a license to satisfy their curiosity and do their good deed for the day.


“It is a truism that it is nearly always up to the person with a disability to lead the way.


Inclusion is never easy. It is a truism that it is nearly always up to the person with a disability to lead the way. They have to explain their needs and make endless requests for the environment to be adapted. This is because the needs of people with a disability are rarely considered in the design of things.

In my current job I spent some time teaching and informing my workmates as to what needed to happen for me to be included. I was very strong in letting them know that when they are chatting I often miss out on what is going on. Often what they are talking about is relevant to work and I need to know.

To their credit they’re terrific and when they’re chatting on the floor they will, often without me asking, just let me know what they are talking about. Even if they’re talking about what they did on the weekend. They do it naturally and easily and it makes me feel very included.

And that is the key – Do it naturally and easily. It cannot be false and it cannot be forced. It especially cannot be orchestrated by well meaning campaigns like JUST SAY HI!

I dare say if the designers of such campaigns took the time to ask us people with a disability what we thought before diving headlong into such campaigns they could have saved themselves a lot of pain and bother. Mostly they could have saved US, the people with a disability, the pain and bother.

Nevertheless, the struggles of non-disabled people to make us disabled’s feel included can be the stuff of much hilarity. Watch the video below and if you want to have an awareness campaign that works – Follow the format! Enjoy.

A Question of Priorities

I’m a cheater. I have cheated lots of times. Probably more times than Steve Smith and David Warner combined. I played Cricket for the Deaf cricket team many times.  It was kind of crazy because when we played umpires were players from our own team. So when I batted the umpires, more often than not, were other deaf cricket players. So hearing bowler steams in and bowls me a rank long hop which I try to pull over mid on. There is the faintest of snicks that goes through to the keeper.

The hearing opposition go up as one, “HOOOOOWWWWWZAAAAATTTTTTT”. Of course the deaf umpire cannot hear the snick so asks me if I hit it. Hell, I’ve yet to score and I am not going anywhere. I shake my head in denial. “Not Out.” says deaf umpire. Meanwhile hearing opposition have gone hysterical and are calling me every name under the sun. Do I care? Nope, I just wanna bat some more. Is it bad? Of course it is but in the scheme of things I am hardly a mass murderer am I?

So the Australian Cricket team cheated. They tried to rough up the ball a bit so that their bowlers could make the ball do reverse swing. I wont bore the reader with a scientific explanation of reverse swing suffice to say it makes the ball go in the opposite direction as to what it should.  You know roughing up the ball probably only gives the bowler as very small advantage. It’s  no biggie really. But the problem is they tried to do it on the world stage with television cameras everywhere. They got caught, OOPS.

A bit naughty really but they are not the first nor will they be the last. A fine and a slap on the wrist was probably all that was needed. But OH NO! Australia and the world went mad. Every newspaper, every comment on Facebook and every news item on television leads with it.

” He is livid because Peter Dutton, that leg of mutton, has had the gall to let white South African’s come to Australia on protection Visa’s

SACK THE LOT OF EM people cry. The Prime Minister even has something to say about it. James Sutherland, CEO of Cricket Australia, emails every registered cricketer and fan in Australia to apologise. The captain is stood down, fined and suspended. The Vice Captain is stood down and the nation is in shame. OH MY GOODNESS it’s the world’s end!

Meanwhile David Marr is on Insiders, the ABC’s Sunday morning political review of the week. He is livid because Peter Dutton, that leg of mutton, has had the gall to let white South African’s come to Australia on protection Visa’s.  Apparently white South African farmers are being killed and this warrants protection. In Marr’s view this is racist because Black, Islamic or Syrian refugees are being denied entry to Australia and sent to Manus Island even though their need is just as great. Marr believes that white people are being given favouritism. But let’s forget that because the Australian Cricket team cheated and are a national disgrace.

“Surely this warrants a higher level of outrage than cheating cricketers. SURELY!!!

Apparently, according to Marr, there are literally tens and thousands of people in other countries in similar danger as the white South African farmers. These other people have a greater need but their requests for help are being ignored. Marr is angry because children are still on Manus Island who have self harmed and are being denied entry to the Australian mainland. Why don’t these important, tragic and compelling humanitarian circumstances raise the anger of Australian people in the same way as cricketers cheating? Why doesn’t a clearly racist immigration minister who addresses his critics by announcing that the said critics, “…are dead to me…”, raise the same level of response? Surely this warrants a higher level of outrage than cheating cricketers. SURELY!!!

In this sports obsessed country of ours a little bit of yellow tape down your pants is more important than refugees dying. Sticky in my Dicky reads the headlines and meanwhile George Pell is in court on child sexual abuse allegations. Sack the captain they say but ignore Michaelia Cash threatening to spread salacious gossip about innocent women who happen to work for Bill Shorten. I don’t see the country screaming for her head when they should.

Meanwhile people with a disability can’t get work and 45% are living in poverty but a cheating cricket team warrants more attention.  All over Australia people with a disability are being abused and even killed. In some cases the courts seem to endorse it calling it compassionate killing. Where is the nations outrage about all of this!

No question that the Australian cricket team did a bad thing. But in the scheme of things it’s just a game and really not that important. How is it that a bit of yellow tape and a roughed up ball can cause more outrage than real human suffering? I don’t understand it.

This is surely the nations shame!

We do not have a money problem in America. We have a values and priorities problem.

Marian Wright Edelman

Ableist- We Love em Anyway!

(Please watch the video before reading the article. Otherwise it will make no sense.)

I hope you enjoyed the video. Of course racism is nothing to be laughed at but this video is very good. It pokes fun at white people who sometimes exhibit unconscious bias. You know, those people that claim they are not racist but actually are. Usually they start a sentence with – “I am not racist but ….”

But this article is not about racist it is about ableist. I’m going to use this video to highlight the many experiences of ableism that I have experienced in my life. I am sure many of my disabled and Deaf colleagues will relate. And to all those non-disabled people out there who accept me and are inspired by me because of what I have achieved despite…. This is for you!

“You see I was special. I was Lil’ Deaf Gary”

“We love white people at SBS and we deeply respect their vibrant culture and way of life. HELLO ELLEN …” – It was this line that made me realise that their are many similarities between racism and ableism. Who amongst us in the disability community has not heard of the Down Syndrome community being tagged as happy and joyful. “Down syndrome people are so lovely , they are always happy …” Or those hearing people who wish they were Deaf because Deaf culture is so enchanting. But mostly for me it was the bloke patronisingly getting down to Ellen’s level, almost as if he were superior, to say hello loudly and slowly. This really hit me!

Not to long ago I worked at the Yarra Ranges Council. We worked in these partitioned offices. These offices were divided by false walls and at eye level there were small glass panes. Every morning my boss, Rachel was her name, would come in and peer at me through this pane. With eyes wide and an enormous grin she would wave crazily at me. “MORNING GARY .. ” she would say in what I fancied was a high pitched mocking tone. Being Deaf I would not know.

Not to anyone else, just to me. You see I was special. I was Lil’ Deaf Gary. She meant well, I know. She was trying to make me feel included. But every morning I dreaded the moment that she would come in and unconsciously patronise me. It was a strangely stressful routine that irritated me no end. I felt guilty for wanting to punch her in the face. In hindsight this desire was entirely warranted. She looked not unlike the woman in the picture below, honest.

Photo of an oldish woman, Staring manically with a wild grin, She has fishing line spool for earnings. She is wearing black spectacles and curlers in her hair.

“I firmly believe that white people continue to make a fascinating and meaningful contribution to society …..”  – Breathe deeply  my Disabled and Deaf colleagues. We have all heard this. Non-disabled people spouting nonsense about how people with a disability should be allowed to be a valued part of our community. It is almost like these non-disabled people give us permission to do so.

It’s not seen as something that should be standard. It is seen as something that is rare and wonderful. When we disabled people are actually out their achieving something it’s because these non-disabled people have made it possible. Not because we disabled people have worked our butts off to get our qualifications. Not because we have overcome any number of prejudiced attitudes. Not because we have found a way around any number of barriers that society has placed in our way. It is because non-disabled people think we should be able to. And permission granted they ride off into the sunset with a warm glow because they, of course, made it all possible. Harsh? Perhaps, but that is the reality.

” … And he is just like anyone else.” – Oh yes Deafie plays cricket just like everyone else even though he can’t hear his team mates. Oh yes, Bobby the autistic is just like all of us. He loves and eats and goes to the toilet. Oh and they have sex too . They are gay, god forbid, but there are gay disabled’s too. Stella Young used to tell the story of people patting her on the head and proclaiming that it was wonderful that she was out and about. No doubt it was a shock that she could do this,  just like them. I had girlfriend once who took me to a dinner party and started telling people all the things I could do and liked to do, just like everyone else. The relationship did not last long.

My favourite was the cabinet maker that loved employing deaf people because they couldn’t hear what people were talking about and were not distracted.”

“Some of our best employers are white …. “  – Now … This one really grates. I have worked in and around the employment sector for nearly 30 years. This is how the disability sector markets people with a disability. You see people with a disability are spectacular workers. Their disability does not stop them. They love coming to work. They are rarely sick. They are punctual. My favourite was the cabinet maker that loved employing deaf people because they couldn’t hear what people were talking about and were not distracted. This made them more productive. And people with a disability are good for team morale, they inspire everybody.

I have spent a lifetime telling the sector to stop marketing disability in this way. I say often that you must focus on the skills that the people with a disability bring. You must focus on the fact that they are good at what they do. That they are value for money. You invest in the person because they are worth it and will bring a return for your investment.

Disability comes into it a bit. After all you have to modify things sometimes. Sometimes you need some assistance from the government to meet the cost of modifications. This is all part of the marketing. Please don’t start marketing with, “… if you employ a disabled person you will get x amount of dollars in wages subsidy.” Focus on the value and the skills. Despite my best efforts, nothing much has changed.

There you have it. The video at the start of this article was a spoof on racism. It reverses things and highlights the attitudes and behaviours that white people often are guilty of.

People are often unconsciously racist.  If you pick them up on this they will become incredibly offended. This is also the case with ableism. We people with a disability or who are Deaf face it everyday. We grin and bear it most of the time. But make no mistake, even though it can sometimes be funny, it hurts!

*** The Deaf community often use the term Audism to highlight ableism that is targeted at people who are deaf.


“There’s nothing more debilitating about a disability than the way people treat you over it.”
Solange nicole


The Invisible People

David Brady missed out again. Mr Brady is the esteemed Chair of Deafness Forum Australia and CEO of Hear for You. He is a staunch advocate for both Deaf and hard of hearing people. He attended a consultation for hearing services and was not provided with access. Puzzling but all too common.

Mr Brady has some rudimentary signing but it is not something he can rely on. He needs assistance to hear through either listening devices like hearing loops or to understand information through captions. These things were conspicuously absent at the consultation. There were, however, two Auslan interpreters. This is great but not if you have a hearing loss and cannot sign. This is the situation for around 3 million Australians of which only a very small percentage use sign language. Estimates range between 7000 and 30 000 people use sign language. Either way the percentage is small.

Michael Uniacke raises this issue in his wonderful article, Disability, Is It Time to Redefine. Mr Uniacke makes the distinction between hidden and visual disabilities of which deafness is obviously one. What this means is that if you saw someone walking down the street, unless you saw their hearing aids or cochlear implant, you would not know if they were deaf. Uniacke points out that for members of the Deaf community this is less the case. This is because through Auslan, which is the name for the sign language Australians use, they are highly visible.

Yet Uniacke also points out that these signing people make up only a small percentage of the population of people with a hearing loss. Uniacke emphasises that the Deaf community are the only disability group that have a language of their own. Some will say they are also the only disability group that have a culture of their own. People within in the Disability community will challenge this and argue that there is actually a Disability culture. That debate is for another day.

Says Uniacke, “In terms of numbers, the hearing-impaired population is a whale, while the Deaf community is a tadpole. In terms of public funding, political influence, and public perception and recognition however, the metaphors are reversed: the Deaf community is a lion, while the hearing impaired are merely fleas. That is the power of visibility, in this case, the power of a visible language.” This is the paradox of funding in the Deaf Sector.

I have made this point often, but out there in the community there are more people that require captioning and listening devices than do Auslan. Yet support and funding for this group is hopelessly inadequate. Organisations, many who should know better, think that to provide Auslan interpreters is enough. I know it is not cheap to provide interpreters but it also means that the bulk of funding is only assisting a very small percentage of people with a hearing loss. That, as Uniacke states, is the power of visability.

Just last week I had a Deaf person contact me because they were attending a workshop organised by a prominent disability programme. She wanted captioning for a colleague and also because the captioning would provide her with a transcript of information presented at the the workshop. Part of the problem for a person who is deaf that uses Auslan interpreters or captioning is that when they take notes, they miss some information.

Many people with a hearing loss have developed a Deaf Skill, which allows us to fill in the missing gaps. This comes from many years experience of only receiving partial information. However, this skill only works if the person is familiar with a topic and its context. It is less effective when you are receiving unfamiliar or new information. Hence my colleague requested captioning so she could access a transcript in lieu of taking notes herself.

So my colleague asked me for assistance to get captioning. I provided her with some contacts. She asked these contacts for captioning and was flatly refused. Why? Because Auslan interpreters were present and this was seen as meeting access obligations.

I would postulate within the audience there were several other people with a hearing loss who had not disclosed this fact. There were probably people for whom English was their second language too. All of these people would have benefited from captioning yet their needs were overlooked.

This is part of the reason that in my last job why I encouraged my employer to book captioning for every workshop or event they put on and only book Auslan interpreters when they were requested. The fact that Auslan interpreters would be provided if required had to be clearly stated on any promotional material.

I take this approach because, in my view, many Deaf people who use Auslan are more comfortable to disclose and request.  The opposite is true for the majority of people who have a hearing loss who do not sign. More often than not they feel embarrassed to request support. It may seem unfair but my view is that limited funding needs to be used to support as many people as possible and captioning does that. It is not a popular view point.

There are many reasons why these people with a hearing loss who do not sign will not disclose. Many are latter deafened and embarrassed to tell people they are struggling. Some are in denial or not realising how much information they are actually missing. Some have been brought up to believe that hearing is superior so they tend not to want to bring attention to their inadequacies. Whatever the reason, these people need support and they are not getting it.

Currently there is a big debate going on within the NDIS about the cut off point for people with a hearing loss when it comes to access. Suffice to say that people who are very deaf, many of whom will use Auslan, will get automatic access.

Those with lesser hearing losses have to  justify their needs. Some who previously were granted access to the NDIS are now having that access revoked. This is because the NDIS believe that they hear too much.

The reasons behind this is, of course, sustainability. The NDIS have to make sure that the funding that they have is targeted at those most in need. However, many people who have a hearing loss and who do not meet the NDIS criteria are struggling.

They need their hearing aids and they need listening devices. This technology is extremely expensive and many cannot afford it. Some require captioning in certain situations. Many are isolated in the community because they can only really function optimally when there is little background noise and where there are few people.

Put these people into situations where the environment is extremely noisy and where many people are talking at once they are extremely disadvantaged. This causes great stress and is one of the reasons why there is a higher incidence of mental health issues among people with a hearing loss. It is a mystery why the needs of these people receives scant recognition.

There may also be a number of people who are Deaf who use Auslan for whom the NDIS may deem as hearing too much. It will be interesting to see what happens in the coming months if these people have their access revoked. I suspect the Injuns will revolt if this becomes common place.

In a nutshell, people with hearing loss and who do not sign get a raw deal. Their needs are very misunderstood. An access criteria based almost solely on how much a person can hear is fraught with danger. I have no desire for Auslan users to lose their access, They have fought hard for it and it is needed. I only desire that these millions of non-signing people with a hearing loss get recognition for their extreme disadvantage and get the support that they desperately require.

A Day of Mourning

mournThis week was Australia’s Disability Discrimination Act’s (DDA) 25th birthday. At 12 pm, on the day, Australia’s people with a disability commenced one minutes silence to mark its passing.

Twenty five years ago Australia passed a law that effectively sold out the rights of people with a disability. And so we mourned.

It was not always like that. When the DDA was passed there was much optimism. Indeed in the early days of the DDA much was achieved. You see people did not really understand how the DDA worked. They thought that they could not ever again discriminate. So in a mild panic began to grant access.

Little gains began to happen. Transport became a bit more accessible. Captioning and interpreting for the deaf started to become more common and accepted, access to university and further education improved, buildings became more accessible and so on. As a consequence people with a disability felt that they at last had recognition and a bit more power.

But very soon people without disability cottoned on that the DDA was actually a toothless tiger. As a law it was terrible. The paper it was written on made good toilet paper. Fitting really given that the DDA is a shit law.

The DDA has this weird concept of reasonable adjustment. But a reasonable adjustment really has no definition. It is supposed be something that a person or organisation does that provides better access and inclusion for people with a disability.

But one persons reasonable is one persons too much and visa versa. Those in the know will know that the rich cinema chains are protected from providing open captions to all sessions because the awful Captiview system is seen as a reasonable adjustment, even if it does not work properly – Those not in the know, watch the video at the end of this article.

Let’s say a Deaf person wanted interpreting for his/her hospital appointment. Reasonable one would think.  But not according to the hospital. For them reasonable might mean a family member facilitating conversation or the doctor writing notes to the deaf patient. Technically either interpretation could be right. Sounds daft doesn’t it? But that’s how things often pan out.

If the hospital can demonstrate that they have consulted with the deaf person about their needs this is  seen as meeting a legal obligation.  The hospital can simply say, “We asked, we talked, we offered alternatives but could not agree. Silly deaf person wouldn’t accept our offers of support. And gee, they said we would have had to pay for the interpreter, no way!”

Now I know I am being flippant but really this is what happens. Organisations, hospitals often, just simply refuse to provide. (Some are actually very good and willing to provide access, so if you are reading this and work in one of those good hospitals please do not take offence.)

If Deaf person and hospital cannot agree what  next? Well Deaf person has to make a complaint to Australian Human Rights Commission or the State Equal Opportunities Commission. Complaint received conciliation is then organised between Deaf person and hospital. But here’s the thing:

  1. Before complaint is accepted deaf person must show that they made attempts to resolve the issue with the hospital.
  2. Hospital has no obligation to attend the conciliation and can, if they want, simply refuse to participate.
  3. By this time Deaf persons appointment is long gone and for all we know they poisoned themselves by taking the wrong drug dosage because they did not really understand what the doctor said.

What happens next if organisations like a hospital refuse to come to the table? Well the Deaf person has to go to court to try and get a decision made as to what the hospital must provide. The cost of this is apparently capped at $20 000 for the people with a disability who choose to go down this path.

Because people with a disability, 45% who live at or below the poverty line, just have a spare twenty grand lying around. Of course hospital with its high flying lawyers don’t have this problem. So usually what happens is everything stops there. Deaf person gets nothing. Hospital gets away with virtual blue murder. Replace hospital with any similar organisation, like a Council for example, and you can write this example in exactly the same way and it will be just as relevant.

I know this for a fact. I worked for a council out the very East of Melbourne and tried to get them to the table for discrimination, victimisation and bullying. I complained to state Equal Opportunity and the council simply refused to come to the table. Next step court. With all the risks and stresses that would have involved I simply dropped it.  It is just too hard. But this is what we were served up when the DDA was passed 25 years ago.

Then we have the standing joke which is Unjustifiable Hardship. An organisation simply needs to say that they cannot afford it and usually they get off scot free.  “I need interpreters” The response can legally be  “Love to but sorry I cant pay cos I cant afford it.”

You mark my word any number of organisations hide behind this loop hole in the law. Sure you can take them to court and get them to justify that they cannot pay but who can afford that? There is the likelihood, and it has happened often, that the courts simply side with the organisation or person claiming hardship. Ok, I know there have been some wins but the risks are enormous and most people with a disability do not have the resources or wherewithal to be able to take things all the way to court.

Put simply, the DDA offers virtually no protection, whatsoever, to people with a disability.

And then we have this absurd loophole in the law where multi-billion dollar companies can claim exemption to discrimination. They can ask for exemptions to modifying buildings because they need more time to plan or get a budget together for it. They can ask for exemptions to having to provide interpreters or captioning because they are in “establishment stages.” and so on. The sky is the limit really for what they can claim exemptions for.

So as a consequence, for example, multi billion dollar media companies have a five year exemption from having to meet captioning requirements for new digital television stations. Why? I have no idea. It’s all about protecting business it seems. People with a disability, well, they have waited this long a few more years will not hurt will it? (Please note the dripping sarcasm.)

But this is Australia today. Take away the NDIS and what have we?

  1. 45% of people with a disability live at or below the poverty line.
  2. A system where access can be whatever a person deems it to be, even just providing someone to write notes for a person. And then they can claim, if they want, unjustifiable hardship cos they have no money to pay for the note takers.
  3. A system where only 53% of people with a disability are actually employed. Worse than such economic giants like Mexico or Greece.
  4. A system where an accessible tram stop can be serviced by an inaccessible tram because the Government is just very slowly replacing old trams with accessible ones.
  5. A system where only two people in a wheelchair can fly on a plane at any one time.
  6. A system where someone as famous as Kurt Fearnley actually crawled through an airline terminal rather than be humiliated by being pushed around in an ancient push chair.

And this is Australia. One of the richest countries in the world, the land of the fair go. Meanwhile politicians are getting $275 a night to stay at their wife’s house.

This is Australia’s shame. Join me in another minutes silence to mourn the continued existence of the DDA and the total lack of willingness of anyone in power to reform it.

And finally – This is what our DDA delivers ….