My experience with being me:

Image is of a brain on its stem. It is bein pulverised at the front and back by red swinging demolition balls. Fragments of the brain are seen breaking off.

“You’re too loud!”I stopped talking.

“You closed the cabinet/door too loudly!” (I also quickly apologize if I think I may have done something loudly or too hard. Not to the Hearing person, but to the door or cabinet. Yeah)I am painstakingly careful to the point of refusing to participate in family kitchen/party activities.

“My Gosh, I could hear you stomping from the other side of the house! Walk softly!” – I learn to walk toe-heel steps so softly no one knows I am present. (I have scared people when suddenly appearing.)

“You chew too loudly!” – I eat alone more often than not. And when I do eat with others I am wary of making sound so I tend to eat very slowly. (And then they complain I eat too slowly.)

“You breathe too loudly!” – I often find myself gasping for air to avoid annoying others with my breathing.

A lover asks, “Are you into me? You’re too quiet when we’re making love!”During intimacy I make no sound at all. Lord knows I don’t want to embarrass my lover.

These are my lived experiences just being a kid, and then an adult with being hard of hearing and now Deaf.

I once had a strong, jovial laugh and high energy.

Now, no one knows I am present and they don’t know when I am gone because I will simply disappear when I am told I am too much.

JC Wordsmith

I am not sure if JC Wordsmith is an actual person, but can you feel their TRAUMA? I certainly can.

Lately, I have started to think that I no longer want to be deaf. I have been exposed to so many stories of deaf trauma in the past few weeks that I have begun to wonder if it is all worthwhile. Whether it is adults, children or parents of deaf kids, the deaf experience seems to be one big TRAUMA! Everywhere I look be it at the theatre, on TV, in my work, on Facebook or just in everyday life, there is so much TRAUMA in the deaf experience. Nearly all of it is to do with interacting with a hearing world. It is exhausting.

Last night was no different. I turned on New Amsterdam on Stan. A new episode arrives every Wednesday. Marnie and I watch it religiously. Last night, the psychiatrist was assessing a two year old boy. He had severe behavioural issues. He screamed, he spat, he hit, he threw and was generally a real handful. His parents wanted answers. As it turned out, the boy was deaf. The smart psychiatrist diagnosed him in five minutes as having, “Language Deprivation Syndrome” (It is TV land; they’re allowed )

As it turns out, the parents had been ill advised. Hearing professionals told them if their lad learnt to sign, it would impact on his speech development. They said sign language would prevent him lipreading. They said sign language would narrow down his circle of peers and he wouldn’t be able to function in a hearing world. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

So clever psychiatrist starts gesturing and signing to young deaf lad who immediately smiles and responds, and even copies the psychiatrist signing, verbatim. The parents look on in wonder. To continue their education, the clever psychiatrist takes the young deaf lad and parents to see a deaf doctor operating in the theatre. The young deaf lad is in awe, perhaps seeing hope for himself in the future. The parents are amazed.

There has to be a happy ending, right? It’s TV land after all. The psychiatrist, without a hint of irony and with a big smile, says the young deaf lad needs to go to a deaf school for total language immersion. Only problem is the school is four hours away and the young lad will have to reside there. His parents look horrified for they will be separated from their child! We never got to know what happened. The last scene with the deaf lad is seeing the parents’ horrified faces at the prospect of being separated from their child. Truth be known, a lot of this is what parents of deaf kids experience in real life, even if it was condensed. It is pure TRAUMA, nothing less.

Moving on to Facebook; a friend screams on her status that she hates the NDIS. They have denied her funding for a visual alert system that will notify her of fire or someone at the door no matter where she is in the house. It is colour coded too, so she knows whether it is the door bell or the fire alarm going off. The NDIS say it is too expensive and want her to get an inferior system that relies on batteries and remembering to wear a pager. God forbid if you forget your pager or the batteries go flat and there is a fire. You are literally toast. (Apologies for the visual image.)

They denied her hearing aids too, despite these being recommended by a hearing professional with detailed reports. Too expensive, apparently. She is appealing which means she has to get even more reports with no guarantee that the hearing aids she wants will be approved. The paradox is that the NDIS pays for these reports and the reports, along with the appeals process, probably cost more than the hearing aids themselves, Meanwhile, my friend is made to feel devalued and to jump through hoops. – TRAUMA!

Moving on to theatre; I am attending a Deaf story telling night. There is a deaf woman on stage. She is recounting her upbringing in a hearing family. She talks of her isolation around the dinner table as her family banter rapidly expecting her to lipread them all. Inevitably, she gives up, finishes her dinner quickly and retreats. She talks of having to watch TV on her own because her family don’t like subtitles. Sitting on her own, she would often glance at the rest of the family watching TV together, talking and laughing in the other room. She tells the tale of her family learning Auslan to communicate with her Deaf boyfriend. When she and her boyfriend broke up, they stopped learning because she was oral and could supposedly communicate with them without problems. – TRAUMA!

Back to Facebook. A mother has discovered that cochlear implants apparently can provide data of usage to hearing professionals. Hearing professionals are able to use this data to ascertain how often the device is used. There is a family that, apparently, give their child a break from the cochlear implant because it causes exhaustion and headaches if used all day. Hearing professionals have ascertained when this break happens and have told the parents to ensure the cochlear implant is used throughout the day until bedtime. Cue guilt for the parents and never ending exhaustion of the child who has to use the cochlear implant 24/7. – TRAUMA!

Does it ever end? No wonder deaf people have some of the highest incidences of mental health issues in the world. This constant fight to meet the standards and demands of hearing people is absolutely exhausting and worst of all, TRAUMATIC.

I know the life of deaf people is far more positive than the traumatic stories we see and hear everyday. I know that deaf people are not all a bunch of sad sacks. There are happy stories out there. Like how I met my deaf wife at the front door and I was wearing Humphrey B Bear boxer shorts.

I have a challenge to readers of The Rebuttal. Send me your happy deaf stories and I will compile an article or a series of articles to highlight these positive stories. Email them to me at Please! Because, quite frankly, I have had a gutful of all this TRAUMA! It’s exhausting!

“There are wounds that never show on the body that are deeper and more hurtful than anything that bleeds.”
― Laurell K. Hamilton, Mistral’s Kiss

It Ain’t Necessarily So!

I was following a discussion on a Facebook group last night. A mother was asking whether mainstream schooling or support within a Deaf school or Deaf unit was better. It is an age old dilemma for parents of deaf kids. Some advised the mother to choose deaf schools or units so that her child could be around deaf kids, communicate easily, make friends and get the support that they require. Some advised the mother that mainstreaming is better and that exposure to hearing kids is good for development and speech. I fancy that at the end of the discussion the mothers dilemma was even greater because there was no clear consensus.

One of the responses that struck me went along the lines as follows:

” My Johnny is doing great in a mainstream school. He has heaps of hearing friends and is involved in everything. I asked him if he was happy and he said he was. He doesn’t really need signing, he is doing great .. “

Perhaps I am getting old, but I often read such comments with a great deal of skepticism.

I say ‘Old‘ because I realise things are very different now than from my time at school. Hell, I am 58 and when I left school cochlear implants had been around for about 5 years. Implantation in young kids was very rare then, it is not now. Virtually every deaf kid who can gets an implant these days. That isn’t a bad thing.

My observations are only anecdotal. I cant back them up with any research, but I am sure that there is plenty out there. What I see is that kids who were implanted early, many of them have great speech and great English language development. Not all of them. Some don’t respond well to implantation and you will need someone more qualified than me to explain why. However, what I do see is that many implanted kids have good English and great speech.

What I also see, despite the better speech and English language, is that they still often struggle in hearing settings. Particularly as they get older. Particularly as they begin to be ‘self directed’ and don’t have the support of a school or a visiting teacher. I have spoken to many of these young kids and, despite their good speech and language, they often tell me how frustrated that they are at school.

What it seems to come down to is that once they get into an environment where communication is not controlled, where all are talking at once, where there is a lot of background noise and where everything is spontaneous, these kids with implants become very frustrated and isolated.

Again, I point out that these are my anecdotal observations. However, as I stated, many of these kids find their way to the Deaf community later. They begin to learn Auslan, they begin to experience full inclusion where communication is not such a struggle. They begin to feel fully valued. For many, perhaps for the first time, socialising becomes fun and something to look forward to rather than hard work.

It probably isn’t a lot different from ‘successful oral people‘ of years gone by who later found their way to the Deaf community. Those people who were told that – ” … your speech is so good, no one will know that you are deaf.” What this backhanded kind of compliment tells them is – ‘Hearing Good, deaf Bad’ This is kind of stone age isn’t it? But that is the message that came through.

In my time I was told things like, ” Your hearing aid is so small, no one will ever know.” or “Grow your hair long and no one will ever see it.” The message is the same, ‘hearing Good, deaf Bad’ Cover it up, hide it and everyone will think you are are the SAME as them. That would be until the hearing aid started whistling. Cue everyone looking at you and pointing to their ears to let you know that your hearing aid is whistling. Talk about standing out!

If anyone had asked me back then if I was happy, I would have said yes. If anyone had asked me if I had friends, I would have said yes. But was I happy? A lot of the time, no! I was acutely aware of my difference and tried everything to hide it. Hell, it took me wagging school 14 days in a row before the school contacted my parents and people kinda twigged that perhaps all was not well.

And kids are cruel. Knowing I was a lipreader some would come up to me after school and mouth things like, “Are you a poof …?” No disrespect to lgbtqia+ friends and readers, but that’s what they did. I would look at them kind of blankly and they would all giggle and walk off slapping themselves on the back in acknowledgment of their own hilarity.

School in the mainstream was not fun. For me to openly say that I was not happy was to acknowledge my deafness. There was no way that I was doing that. As a kid, particularly as an adolescent, that is the last thing that you want to do. It can be tough, and while I am sure cochlear implants might have made this easier, the fact that a lot of young people with implants find their way to the Deaf community as they get older suggests that many of these issues probably still exist.

In 1996 I was employed as the Project Officer for the National Mental Health Education Project for Young Deaf People. I was able to research some of the social impacts of deafness on young deaf people. I came across many who were mainstreamed. Many socially struggled. I found that there were different types of young deaf individuals.

Those that sat on their own at lunch time. Those that chose a different friend every month. They would find a friend and smother them to death because it was easy to communicate with that person. Often times this ‘FRIEND’ would start to avoid them. So they would find another friend and the cycle would recommence. There were those who, in an effort to control communication and avoid having to listen, just spoke all the time, played the clown and spoke over others. AND – there were some that were well adapted and coped very well. Some could be any of the above mentioned at any given time.

The variations were stark. The impact on the self esteem and mental health of these young people could be severe indeed. I am pretty sure that many Deaf and hard of hearing people who read this will be triggered by what I am writing. I know that many took the pain of their younger years into adulthood. It took a lot of counselling and hard work to overcome the negative experience.

My own view is that it comes back to the fact that in these early days the message is, even if it is unconscious, ‘hearing Good, deaf Bad’. There is no value for deafness, no value for differentness. The consequence of this is that the young deaf person feels not valued unless they can show they can exist as a ‘HEARING’ person in a ‘HEARING’ world. It is that message, in my view, that does untold damage that can take years to repair and unpack.

I believe society can help by being loud and proud about being deaf. Let deaf kids meet other deaf kids. Let them socialise regularly. Value Deaf schools and units that support deaf kids. See them as viable options that add value to the education and development of deaf kids. The Deaf identity has a place, a very important place. The hearing world needs to value all of these things.

So your deaf kid says they are happy? Hopefully they are, but it ain’t necessarily so!

Pulling the Finger Out

Image is of a young Deaf girl, She has long brown hair in a pony tail and is wearing a hearing aid. She is using sign language.

Many years ago, as a fledging Deaf community member, I attended a workshop on Deaf culture, run by the wonderful Breda Carty. This was the early 1990s and Breda would visit different Deaf Societies around Australia talking about Deaf culture and Deaf history. I was fascinated to learn about the rich history of the Deaf community, much of it associated with its institutions. The institutions were not necessarily bricks and mortar, but things like the Australian Deaf Games, Deaf Clubs, Deaf Theatre and so on. What became clear to me is that these institutions, along with bricks and mortar institutions like Deaf Societies and Deaf Schools, were crucial to the identity and existence of the Deaf community.

The 1990s were a wonderful time. The Deaf community were led by highly driven and determined people that wanted the Deaf community to thrive. I was in awe of people like Colin Allen, John Lovett, David Peters, Brian Bernal, Anne Bremner, Bobbie Blackson, Robert Adam, Don Cresdee, Katrina Parker, Paul Bartlett et al who gave up so much of their time to advocate for the needs of the Deaf community. Much was achieved from their advocacy. We, in the Deaf community, need to be very thankful for having these people fight for us.

Despite the best efforts of these wonderful people, the institutions of the Deaf community have been constantly under threat. I have been lucky to have been able too attend Deaf clubs all over Australia. Being South Australian, I have a particular affinity for the grand old 262. I met my first Deaf girlfriend there and it was the start of my professional career in the Deaf sector. I sat on their Board for a time too.

I loved Stanmore in NSW. I was gob-smacked when I first visited it in 1988. Marlee Matlin was touring at the time. Blimey, it had lawn bowls out the back. There was a squash court too. The Deaf club, with its little bar, was sensational. I worked there as well, for just under a year. Every Tuesday, I played squash downstairs with my mates and then headed to the pub in the main street. Sadly, by the time I started worked there, the lawn bowls was no more. The cost of maintaining the rink proved too prohibitive.

I first visited Jolimont in Victoria in 1985. I was studying in Brisbane at the time to be a Teacher of the Deaf. Malcolm Peters was studying with me and he invited me down to Melbourne to stay with him. Like with Stanmore, I was totally awestruck. The full size snooker tables were a thing to behold. I sat for hours at the bar drinking cocktails made by David Peters. I was a bit worse for wear the next day. I was lucky enough to work at Jolimont too. Every morning starting the day having coffee upstairs with John Lovett, David Peters, Bill Hynes and Greg Culpitt was a great way to start the day. Jolimont was an absolute hub of activity. I shouldn’t forget that I got married there at the quaint old church on the grounds.

And you know what? I even worked at Townsend House. I set up a brilliant program called Successful Adults in Life (SAIL). Current Deaf Australia President, Debra Swann, began her career in the Deaf sector working for the program. In the background was the grand old Townsend House building. I ran workshops in the building for deaf youth. I used to love walking the grounds and breathing in the vast history of the place.

But my favourite, my all time favourite, was working at VSDC. VSDC is now known as Deaf Children Australia. I was a case manager there working with Deaf kids and their families. The old Bluestone building is steeped in history from top to bottom. Next door is the wonderful Victorian College for the Deaf. (VCD)

One day my boss, Dorothy O’Brien, asked me to assist clean up the archives that were in the basement. The basement is a bit like a rabbit’s warren. I remember being fascinated by the communal bath. The bath is a relic of the times when Deaf kids boarded at the school. The archives themselves were absolutely fascinating. Down there were records of past students. Many of them were to become staunch advocates for the Deaf community. Confidentiality forbids me from stating the names of these people. Suffice to say, I feel privileged to have been able to see and experience such a wonderful and valuable record of the Deaf community and its history.

What I liked about working at VSDC was seeing the Victorian College for the Deaf in action. It was a vibrant school. In 1997, all the rooms at the college had a home class. Many of the students were proficient users of Auslan. The school was a hub of interaction. No one missed out. From primary to Yr 12, the kids all interacted. I used to go over and play soccer with the kids. I could go into the lunch room and chat with the teachers. From time to time, I’d pop my head into Joe Corbett’s office for a chat. Joe was the principal at the time. How the VCD kids were so fully included was a stark contrast to the many isolated and lonely deaf kids I supported in mainstream schools. Many, if they were lucky, got the support of a visiting teacher once a month.

During my time at VSDC, there was a tragedy. A student was sadly killed when struck by a train. VSDC case managers were over at the school supporting the staff and kids in their grief. All of us banded together. It was almost as if VSDC and VCD were one.

My fondest memory is seeing the Deaf kids running through the old Bluestone building. I used to love chatting with them in the corridors. It was a truly wonderful and inspiring time in my career. I wish I could experience it again.

I have been so lucky to have experienced all of these wonderful Deaf community institutions, both socially and professionally. Where are these institutions now? All of them, sadly have been sold and closed. 262, gone. Stanmore, gone. Jolimont, gone. Townsend House, gone and turned into a retirement village. VSDC and VCD- still there, but just.

What happened? Well, the dollar spoke. Sometimes it was just a matter of surviving so these wonderful old institutions were sold off. What happened to the Deaf community? Well it survived, but all of its Deaf clubs were closed leading to the community becoming incredibly fragmented. Only now are efforts being made to restore Deaf clubs, and thank god for that.

What of the Victorian College of the Deaf? Will it survive? Last week my wife, Marnie Kerridge, gave the Colin Allen Lecture for Deaf Australia as part of the National Week of Deaf People. She implored the Deaf community to value the school before it is gone. That old model that I was fortunate to witness in the late 1990s is no more. Instead the college has become a school for those Deaf kids that the mainstream cannot deal with. Deaf kids with additional needs.

And that’s fine, because every community looks after all of its members. Like society, the Deaf community has members that need extra support. It is right that the school helps them. BUT – the value of the Victorian College of the Deaf is mostly the interaction it brings, the sense of belonging and the development of strong and expressive language skills through Auslan. The beauty of interacting with one’s peers, never being left out, all included; that’s the value of VCD. That’s the model we need to restore. It is much more than just a school for Deaf kids with additional needs.

BUT, VCD needs the community to get behind it. We need to get back to the days when VCD and Deaf Children Australia were almost as one. Where DCA had its doors open to the kids, where DCA staff were an extension of the school. We need to get back to the days when VCD valued DCA as much as DCA valued them. Partnerships and respect, just like my time there.

But mostly, the Deaf community needs to value the school and what it can offer. They need to realise the strong and important role the school can play in the human and language development of Deaf kids. Because if they do not, the school will be gone. And like those other beautiful institutions that I was fortunate enough to know and love, it will be gone and lost forever!

The Deaf community need to get behind VCD. Organisations like DCA, who exist because of the Deaf community, need to get behind VCD. It’s time to pull the collective finger out before it is too late. You have been warned.

The Deaf Community is Adonis!

Graphic is a painting of Adonis. Image is an ancient painting of a young man with curly brown hair. He is wearing a leopard skin cloak draped over his left shoulder. The right side shows his exposed chest.

I made the mistake last night of saying Deafness Awareness Week. If looks could kill, the one my wife gave me certainly would. In my defence, I was just showing my age. It is, of course, The National Week of Deaf People. There is a huge difference between Deafness Awareness Week and the latter. My slip of he tongue, or fingers, was quite unforgivable.

Deafness Awareness Week takes us all the way back to the 1970s. This was a time when hearing people decided to make society more aware of the scourge of deafness. It was all about the tragedy of what being deaf was. How it needed to be fixed . Hearing people would show little kiddies with hearing aids speaking. Parents would be seen crying as they told the story of how they felt when the found out little Johnny or Jill was deaf. Educators would go to the media trying to convince the world that to ‘Speak is to Listen’. You get the gist.

We have seen some pretty awful stuff coming from hearing people who have this negative view of deafness. The worst probably being the Cora Barclay Centre advertisement. In the advertisement a young lad is seen signing poorly and haltingly, and then suddenly he bursts into speech, almost in a sing-song fashion. He exclaims, ‘.. and now there is a better way.’ True, the aforementioned advertisement was not part of Deafness Awareness Week, but it is the sort of crap that Deafness Awareness Week often spouted.

National Week of Deaf People is the complete opposite. It is a fabulous celebration of Deaf people and the Deaf community. It celebrates Sign Language (Auslan), the Deaf community, Deaf culture and Deaf achievements. It is a coming together of a loud and proud community in all its glory and diversity. It is everything that is positive about being Deaf. It is about how the Deaf community, Auslan and its culture enriches the lives of not only Deaf people, but society in general.

This beautiful community, sadly, is always under threat. Why? It is because the majority of hearing people see the word DEAF in a medical light. They see DEAF as being deficit and needing to be fixed, even eradicated. Over the years the Deaf community have had to fight to survive, but survive they do. But it isn’t easy.

Doctors are at the forefront of this, of course. Sometimes it’s through genetics. They want to eradicate deaf babies by identifying the gene. They want to identify it in the womb so that parents can choose to abort the deaf child before it is born. Recent advances in stem cell therapy and nerve regeneration are also continued threats to the existence of the Deaf community. (Although the latter two offer great hope to later deafened people who often really struggle to adapt to having lost their hearing.)

Sometimes it is technology. In years gone by it was hearing aids. Hearing aids and the obsession with making deaf children speak. So obsessed were hearing people in getting deaf kids to speak they denied them access to sign language and paradoxically in some cases, any language. I’ve written about this in the Lost Generation previously.

In more recent years, it has been cochlear implants. When the cochlear implant was first introduced, it caused great anguish in the Deaf community. There was a lot of negativity and fear about implants. Who could blame the Deaf community for reacting in this way given the sustained attacks by the medically obsessed hearing community on them in years gone by?

Be it Milan, be it hearing aids, be it obsession with oral education – over the years, the hits have kept coming. In the early stages of cochlear implants, the vibe was really negative. The Deaf community reacted very angrily, some may say too angrily. The cochlear implant was an enormous trigger of trauma for many people in the Deaf community. Who can blame them considering the harm that had occurred to many Deaf community members by the medically obsessed hearing sector.

Thankfully, this negativity towards cochlear implants has largely dissipated. You see, as good as cochlear implants are, they are not perfect. Many deaf people with cochlear implants still struggle in the hearing community. The reasons are varied and complex. Factors can include if the environment is not perfect, if the environment is noisy, if people don’t take the time to speak one at a time and the fact that there are sometimes extreme variations in the success of implantation.

These variables have led to many deaf people with cochlear implants still being very isolated within the hearing community. What happened to these deaf people? Well they found the Deaf community of course. They became Deaf and the Deaf community has continued to thrive.

Technology is not always a negative thing though. Look at how the Internet has opened up doors for the Deaf community. Look at how it has opened up telecommunications for the Deaf community. The Deaf community now have Convo Australia where they can access interpreters on their mobile phone any place any time, and funded through the NDIS.

Interestingly, the Deaf community are often wary of technology though. Probably this is because of the negative impact of technology in the past. Some of this technology, particularly the internet, is changing the lives of Deaf people as they know it. Many Auslan interpreters prefer to work from home and online. Many Deaf people prefer face to face interpreting. Indeed face to face interpreting is crucial for many situations, particularly medical. Still, many deaf community members are bemoaning the demise of regular face to face interpreting. This is something that the Deaf Community is going to have to accept and adapt to moving forward.

Then there is voice recognition technology where speech is converted to text. So accurate is the technology becoming that in many cases Auslan interpreters are not needed, particularly if the person has clear speech. I confess that I am in love with speech to text technology because it gives me immediacy of access, in the same way Convo Australia does for many Auslan users. That said, I am under no illusions that as this technology gets better and better it is yet another challenge that the Deaf community must adapt to in its battle for existence.

Who is to say that one day avatar technology wont become so good that there will be a usable app in your mobile where speech is converted into sign language, complete with expressions – Pah! on your mobile, anytime any place, without the need to access a live sign language interpreter. Far fetched? Perhaps, but we used to say that about speech to text technology and look where that is now!

Will the Deaf community survive this onslaught of technology and medical developments? I have no doubt that it will. Like any resilient community it will adapt and confront these challenges head on. The Deaf community is little like Adonis from Greek mythology. It cannot be destroyed. Just when it seems to be on its knees and and finished, Hades in the guise of incredible resilience, fueled by pride and determination restores it!

Happy National Week of Deaf People everyone and also Happy International Day of Sign Languages. Long may we all be together, because together we can and are achieving great things!

Pete’s Day

Picture is of the lower half of a mans head and upper part of his body. He is wearing a dark jacket and striped shirt. His hands are upright on his chin, tips of his fingers touching. His mouth suggests that he is anxious.

Pete woke up. He stared at the ceiling as he thought about what he had to do today. It was Saturday and being Melbourne, it was raining. Pete is deaf and 48 years old. His day seemed pretty standard. Post office visit, shopping at the supermarket, followed by a snooze at home and then his nephews 18th birthday. His heart began to race!! He pulled the covers over his head, wishing he could stay in bed all day.

At 9.30am he reluctantly dragged himself out of bed. He showered and got dressed. For breakfast he made himself some crumpets with melted cheese. He sat down to watch the news and played with Muppet, his dog. He was really just delaying the moment that he had to head out the door. With luck, the post office would be closed before he got there.

He let out a big sigh and headed out the door. He had to get to the post office. The present he had ordered his nephew was ready to be picked up. It had been waiting at the post office for over a week. Pete had been procrastinating, avoiding the post office for as long as he possibly could. His nephews birthday was today, he couldn’t wait any longer.

Pete arrived at the post office with 15 minutes to spare. He sat in the car for a few minutes gathering the courage to go in. The post office was owned by a lovely couple who were obsessive in their wearing of masks in these Covid times. As Pete walked to the door of the post office he stopped, he took some deep breaths and he entered.

There was a line, thank god. It delayed a little bit more the moment he was dreading. Eventually, he found himself at the head of the line confronting the nice owner. He handed over the delivery notice and the owner said something through his mask. Pete closed his eyes momentarily, this happened every time. Pete tapped both his ears with his forefingers to indicate that he was deaf. Still the owner spoke through his mask.

Pete looked behind himself, there were five people waiting. The people in the line stared at him with what seemed to be a mixture of fascination and pity. He turned bright red, he knew he was holding them up. Suddenly the owner began to mime driving a car. Pete understood that he wanted his drivers license for ID. He hurriedly got his driver license out and offered it to the owner. The owner nodded and went off to get Pete’s item. Item received, Pete moved hastily for the exit, acutely conscious that the eyes of all the customers were upon him.

He got back in the car and rested his head on the steering wheel while gripping the sides with both hands. For some strange reason his heart rate was a bit elevated. This happened every time he went to the post office. He could not understand why the post office owner couldn’t remember that he was deaf. Why did it have to be so hard? He took a moment to gather his wits and headed for Woolworths.

Woolworths was relatively uneventful except at the checkout. The young checkout woman didn’t make any eye contact and looked down as she muttered questions to Pete. He could not understand a word she was saying. He just nodded, hoping that this was the right response. The checkout woman asked him if he had Fly Buys. When he nodded she waited for him to offer the card. After a moment or two it was clear that Pete didn’t have Fly Buys, she moved on to the next question.

She asked if he wanted a sticker for the crockery special. The nod saw Pete get offered a sticker he really did not want. She asked if he wanted to make a donation to the local firies. His nodding came apart at the last request because she also asked him how much he wanted to donate and he nodded again.

For the first time the checkout woman made eye contact with him. She just stared at him like he was the strangest man that she had ever met. She asked him again if he wanted to donate. This time he shrugged his shoulders. Her mouth opened a little bit as if to ask “What’s wrong with you?” The checkout woman gave up trying to solicit a donation and asked Pete if he wanted a receipt for his purchases instead.

He did, but he didn’t hear the question. For reasons known only to Pete, rather than nod he shook his head. As he stood there waiting for his receipt, she looked at him as if he was a complete nutter. She actually physically recoiled from him. He turned beetroot red and gathered his shopping. He left as fast as he could without, he hoped, looking like a maniac.

Pete drove home and went straight to bed. A simple trip to the post office and supermarket had left him spent. He needed a rest before his nephews 18th. Pete slept for three hours!

Pete awoke at 4pm. The party started at 6.30pm. It was a party where he would be the only person who was deaf. He really didn’t want to go. The thought of endless lipreading and communicating with a large number of hearing people made him feel a little sick. As the time for the party got closer his anxiety increased. Pete hated these gatherings but he was close to his nephew. He had to be there.

Although the Party started at 6.30pm Pete didn’t arrive until 8.00pm. He sat at home delaying leaving for as long as possible. He felt very ashamed about this because his nephew deserved better. He looked down at Muppet the dog and wished that everyone was as easy to communicate with as him.

Arriving at the party he was greeted by his sister. His sister knew a little Auslan and spent a bit of time chatting to him. After a while she left Pete to his own devices. Random people that Pete knew came to say hello. With exaggerated lip movements they asked him how he was. His little niece came over to say hello and slowly finger spelt her name … B E T T Y … He gave her the thumbs up and his niece squealed with delight and ran off to tell her mother how clever she was. A couple of people actually ruffled Pete’s hair. After all, he is only 48 years old.

Largely, Pete just sat alone. He really did not have the energy to lipread all night long. It was far safer just to sit alone with his beer and party pie. Then there were the speeches. His nephew mentioned Pete. Saying how wonderful Pete was and how lucky he was to have Pete as his uncle. Everyone turned to clap Pete and slap him on the back. He gave everyone the thumbs up. He had an inkling it must have been because his nephew had said something, he knew not what.

At 10.15pm Pete left. He was the last to arrive and the first to leave. He gave his nephew and sister a hug. They implored him to stay. He made some excuse that it had been a long day and that he had a splitting headache. It was true that he had a headache, but the truth was he just wanted to get out of there. Being there was just awkward and exhausting.

He headed home and poured himself a whisky. A bit of Netflix with captions and a cuddle with Muppet the dog. Within 10 minutes he had fallen into an exhausted slumber in his chair. This was a day in the life of Pete. As he drifted off to sleep he told himself that tomorrow would be a better day. He hoped!

Victim Blaming

Image is the head of a young person. Her head is surrounded by hands and she is looking on very stressed. The caption reads – Stop Victim Blaming

I once worked in an organization that loved to blame the victim. The organisation were not particularly good at self-reflection. If a worker was struggling it was the workers fault. The workers were unprofessional or they were tardy. They were irresponsible or they were liars. There could be no other underlying reason. It was the workers fault and that was it. I once looked on in horror as my senior colleague accused a worker being lazy and of making excuses so that they could get home early. The worker wanted to leave eight minutes early so that she could pick up her child for an appointment. Said my senior colleague, ” I told her NO! She has only been here for a few weeks and she doesn’t have the time in hand. She will hate me, but I don’t care!” The senior senior said this with a haughty air of superiority. To my horror my fellow seniors concurred. There is a reason I am not working there now.

When someone is not performing at work there can be any number of reasons. They could be receiving a lack of support. There may be troubles at home. There may have been rapid changes in processes that the worker has found hard to adapt to. They may have misunderstood information because English is their second language. They may have episodic mental health issues that they are too frightened to disclose. There are a myriad of reasons and a good workplace looks deeply into reasons for underperformance. A bad and unaccountable workplace blames the victim.

And you know, if you have a disability, if something is not going right, the disability is blamed. If a deaf person hasn’t understood, its because they’re deaf. It couldn’t possibly be because information was badly presented could it? It couldn’t possibly be because a process has been badly designed, could it? It couldn’t possibly be because the person delivering information was a bad communicator, could it? No, it has to be because someone is deaf – Communication problems and all the ensuing issues are all the deaf person’s fault! Of course! (Please read dripping sarcasm into these comments.)

A deaf friend of mine was telling me that they had made a complaint about their supervisor. The supervisor was aggressive, bullying and prone to gaslighting. My friend had a disagreement over reporting requirements with the supervisor, who then abused them and belittled them. The supervisor blamed the disagreement on my deaf friends inability to understand them. They claimed that the automatic captioning was inaccurate and as a result the misunderstandings were resulting from my friends inability to “hear” the supervisor properly.

Incensed, my friend complained to HR that they were being victimised and blamed for the disagreement. They complained that the supervisor was refusing to accept any responsibility for the disagreement and trying to blame my friends deafness for all the problems. Sadly HR backed the supervisor. They ordered that every meeting that my friend attended with the supervisor have a second person in attendance and it had to be recorded. No other person in the organization was subject to this sort of treatment or requirement. My friend quit her job in disgust. This is what we call victim blaming!

Today I had a very upset friend contact me. My friend has “dual” disabilities and has worked in the “NDIS Sector” for a number of years. It seems that their work place were discussing recent developments of the Disability Employment Service (DES) where a number of providers lost their contracts. One of my friends co workers said this – “It can be hard for the DES because many people with a disability don’t want to work. They prefer to get their $600 a fortnight, health care/concession card and rental subsidies rather than work.”

This is, again, victim blaming. This is why Robodebt came to being. Because welfare recipients are burdens that abuse the system. They are lazy good for nothings that cost Australian taxpayers billions. Indigenous communities are also full of alcoholics and abusers who must be controlled with cashless debit cards. You see the pattern? Blame the victims, the ones who are living in poverty and need help. Because they are a burden. Lazy good for nothings. ( Again read this with dripping sarcasm.)

My friend, disabled and compassionate, said this in reply, “Well, if I could live on $600 a fortnight, Healthcare/concession cards and rental subsidies I would have retired years ago.” BOOOOOOOOOOOM! And do you know what happened? The person that stated people with a disability prefer to live on $600 a fortnight and other handouts complained about him. Why? Because he apparently belittled her and infringed on her right to express an opinion. Yes, I suggest you all read this paragraph again if you are shocked and in disbelief.

But what happened next is worse! My friends manager actually called them. Told them off for being insensitive to his colleagues comment and told him to tone his responses down. My friend, the person with a disability, insulted by a colleague, and who spoke up to give people with a disability a voice got told to shut up and get back in his box.

That my friends, is victim blaming. That it is happening to people with a disability in the disability sector in this day and age is a disgrace. AN ABSOLUTE DISGRACE!! We have to do better than this!!

The Lost Generation

Image is an old black and white photo of a teacher of the Deaf teaching a group is deaf children to listen and speak. He is speaking into an antique manual voice piece, the students are holding tubes from the voice piece to their ear

I watched the Barry Priori documentary last night. Barry is a legend in the Australian Deaf community, he passed away recently. He was an Auslan educator and staunch advocate for all things Deaf. The documentary touched on Barry’s life. It was supposed to have been 90 minutes but due to Barry’s untimely death it was shorter. There were many positive things to come from the documentary. Barry’s oral upbringing was not one of them.

I know it is 2022 and we should be well past this debate. But sadly, the treatment of Barry and a generation of Deaf people from his time must never be forgotten, EVER. The history of oralism is one of human abuse. The horrific tales of the treatment Deaf people received at the hands of oralist must be told over and over. Why? So that people are never treated in this way again.

Barry and his friends Deane, Don and Katrina were interviewed and told of their experience of oralism. They told of their fear of being caught signing. They told of being smacked if they were caught. They told stories of being made to sit on their hands. Of being forced to HEAR as hearing teachers cruelly covered their mouths as they spoke. They told of times at boarding school where they had to wait for lights out and teachers to leave before they could sign to each other in limited light. The treatment was incredibly cruel.

I was horrified to hear Katrina’s story. So hell bent were they on making her speak properly that if she did not pronounce a word or sound properly they would lock her in a cupboard. This might be a simple sound like CH or SH. They would lock her in the cupboard, whereupon she would have to keep trying the sound until she got it right. Once she got it right they would let her out. I cannot imagine the trauma that this treatment would have caused. Likely the scars would be permanent, causing trauma right up to this very day.

How far back do we go? Back to Milan in 1880? The obsession of hearing people to make deaf kids hearing clones has been around for hundreds of years. I can only speak from my own time and I can pin-point the 1960’s to 1980’s as being particularly awful times. Around these times oral educators seemed to have accepted that relying totally on hearing was damaging deaf kids and that their needed to be some sort of manual prompts to assist.

The motives of the hearing people were mostly pure. They likely recognised that deaf kids were growing up illiterate. Worse, the deaf kids were being damaged mentally, both conceptually and cognitively. It is not for nothing that Oliver Sacks described Deafness as a preventable cause of intellectual disability.

In the 60’s they tried cued speech. This was a system that used hand symbols near the mouth to indicate sounds. The idea was that deaf kids were being made illiterate because they had no access to phonological information. By providing manual access to phonological information it was thought that a deaf kid would learn speech and English better. There are many that will swear by cued speech but the reality is that it was an abject failure. It had some advantages for single word recognition but research will tell you that as a language acquisition tool it failed spectacularly.

Later in the late 70s and 80s Signed English was introduced. I remember this well. I lost my hearing when I was about 8 or 9. I struggled in mainstream schools for a number of years. At the age of 14, in 1978, I found myself at the Strathmont Centre for Hearing Impaired Students.

It was the first time that I had met another deaf kid. I was struck by how poor their English was. They couldn’t string the simplest of sentences together. I could not work this out. They were just deaf. With the naivety of youth I could not understand why this would make them “stupid”. Now, I know there will be people offended by this last remark, I am just quoting directly what I thought at that time – I assure you, I don’t think this way now.

They signed together in break time and seemed to communicate brilliantly. I know now that they actually did. Some of these kids were from Deaf families and were using Auslan, but I didn’t know this at the time. I saw their Auslan as mime, gesture and broken English. I watched them in class struggling to understand the signing of their teachers. I thought it was the kids problem because they were slow. What I know now is that the teachers couldn’t sign for shit. I wonder now how much the teachers actually understood of what the kids were signing to them.

Of course, the teachers were using Signed English. But very badly. The reality is that they would sign a few words and speak a few words. Or they would speak mostly and add a sign here or there. (This was called Total Communication.) The kids were supposed to learn from them in this way. It was just a jumble of information that often made no sense. The end result was a lot of illiterate deaf kids with language deprivation. Yes, I know that other issues including lack of family interaction and access to “overhearing” also impacted. However, you cannot underestimate the deep damage this terrible education system caused to many of these deaf kids.

And you know, many of these deaf kids were being introduced to Signed English in their teens. But unlike me, they were not born hearing and with developed language. They had been born deaf, struggled through an oral system and then in a last ditch attempt to “help” them they found themselves at Strathmont. Cast offs from a system that had failed them.

Many of these kids began to mix with native signers at the school and started to learn Auslan. They started to interact and make friends with deaf kids. Rarely did they interact with hearing kids at the school unless forced to. The access to Auslan through these other deaf kids improved their communication to a degree, but the reality is many of these kids were language deprived. They lacked conceptual development, they had poor literacy and their maturity and ability to deal with adult concepts was severely delayed. In short the system screwed them.

Even today the failed experiments of cued speech and Signed English from the 1960s to 1980s impacts on Deaf people. For example, at work Deaf people are expected to complete online compliance training for them to continue in their employment. The training is written in complex English language that they struggle to read and understand. In my current role I am assisting people in their 50s and 60s to make sense of this online training. I often have to assist these deaf people to fill in forms. The stress and trauma that these people experience at struggling with these basic English tasks is very real! The barriers experienced by Deaf these people throughout their lives have been severe. These are the people that were damaged by that awful period of Deaf education in the 1960s and 1980s.

Victor Hugo said – “

“What matters deafness of the ear, when the mind hears? The one true deafness, the incurable deafness, is that of the mind.”

And that is what oral deaf education caused over so many years, a deafness of the mind. Particularly so, in that awful period of the 1960’s to 1980’s. Will the hearing world ever say SORRY for the damage that they caused to this generation of Deaf people? I don’t think they ever will, but there is no doubt in my mind that they should! They are a lost generation!

Watch Barry’s story on ABC iView – For more information click the link –

Being Wooed

Image is of two Korean doctors. They are obviously in love. The pretty woman doctor rests her head on the shoulders of the handsome male doctor.

I am ashamed! I have become hooked on Korean TV. Korean TV has this way of getting you addicted. It’s like a bag of salted chips. Have one and you have to have another, and another until they are all gone. You know full well its gonna make you fat. It’s bad for your heart, but you finish the pack nonetheless. It is like a Mills and Boon novel. It’s trash, its corny and written terribly. But still you turn each page until you get to the end. In short, it is a guilty pleasure.

And the English translations are terrible. Every cry of excitement is “GOSH”. Where Koreans might say “Fuck it” the translation is always “Darn it.” It’s quite often hilarious!

To be fair Korean writers are fantastic story tellers. They develop really engaging characters too. I tell you, when a Korean actor cries, no one does it better. It’s so real!! At the moment I am hooked on Extraordinary Attorney Woo and Good Doctor. Both of them about Autistic people doing good in the world. Woo is probably better, but both are cringeworthy. I don’t care, I love them.

Good Doctor is the worst of the two. Si On is our hero. He is autistic and described as a savant genius. The problem is he shuffles around like he is the Hunch Back of Notre Dame. I don’t know why they chose to portray him like that but It is incredibly annoying. But still I loved it.

Woo and Si On have romantic interests in their stories. Their romantic interests have doubts. They are hesitant. They resist their feelings for our autistic heroes. Partly because they are worried that they are mistaking pity for love. Partly because they fear the reaction from their friends and colleagues. But what is most interesting is the reactions of Woo and Si On.

They doubt themselves, you see. They cannot believe that anyone would be interested in them. They hide their feelings because they fear rejection. They are awkward in the presence of the person they love. The fear and the stress of that moment when they have to express their feelings is on show for all to see.

The hesitant, halting and ultimately unsatisfactory first kiss. “Why do you hold my hand like that Si On?” asks the object of his affection. ” Because when I was young, that’s how they held my hand. It was to stop me running away.” Cue a close up of his new beau, tears streaming down her face. Mind numbing but un-turn-offable. And here is me wiping a little tear from the corner of my eye. FOR FUCK SAKE, what’s wrong with me?!

Indeed, what is wrong with me? It’s twaddle, it’s patronising and it’s stereotypical. But still I watch and I OOOH and I AHHHH as I cheer the lovers on. BUT WHY? And then it hit me. Woo and Si On are experiencing everything that I did in my adolescence. For all of the poppycock and literal license on display in these two shows, the portrayal of disability and love is very close to my truth.

Yup! That’s what I used to think. I used to think that because I was deaf I was never gonna find a girlfriend. I used to think that no girl would have me. Ugly hearing aids, funny voice and the embarrassment of having deaf me tag along. Who would have me? I was convinced it was no one! Poor, and pathetic deaf me.

It is true, I could not ask a girl out. I loved this one girl called Robyn. She lived at a big house with a tennis court. After school each day I would walk Scruffy, my dog, up past her house. Across the road was a group of display houses. I would sit on the lawn out front of the display houses and stare longingly across the road.

Each day I would see her at school. She was lovely to me. She would sit and talk with me. I couldn’t say much beyond a couple of grunts. I hated myself, I was paralysed and couldn’t say anything remotely intelligent. My mates insisted that she was into me and I should just ask her out. No! I was convinced she only spoke to me because she pitied me.

Then one day as I was walking the dog she came out and invited me into her house. She introduced me to her sister. Gave me an ice-lolly and we watched some TV. I swear I said not a word. She probably did like me, but still I did not ask her out.

I wish there was a happy ending to this story, but there is not. One day, don’t ask me why, I managed to get her phone number. Being the deaf git that I was, I rang her. As I rang all I could hear was the dial tone, then feint ringing on the other end and finally an obvious pick up. I could hear a voice but not understand a word. What the fuck was I doing??? I imagine at the other end they are wondering who this idiot was who was breathing deeply and noisily at the other end – And then I spoke ..

“Roses are Red

And violets are Blue

Dear Robyn

You’re a prune”

And I hung up. What an idiot! Suffice to say, Robyn never spoke to me again. So Robyn, if ever you read this, I am very sorry. And thank you for being so very kind to me. I’ll never know your intentions, I was too love struck and lacking in confidence to feel anything but extreme embarrassment.

So yes, I get Si On and I get Woo. I get how very hard it is to fit in when you know how different you are. I get how you fear the response of others. I get how, rather than get a response, you just withdraw. It’s tough, really tough! Not many non disabled people really get how traumatic it can be.

So that’s why I love the Good Doctor and Extraordinary Attorney Woo. It’s cos there is a little bit of me in there. I love these shows because I know that for many of us people with a disability the challenges of love and our own lack of belief in ourselves are very real challenges. It’s worse when growing up but if I am honest, it never really goes away.

So excuse me, it’s time to be Wooed 😀 See you on the other side 😀

DeJa Vu

Graphic is a cartoon. It has two stick figures in caps. One asks the other, “He bro, have you ever felt deja vu?” The other answers, “I don’t think so, haven’t you asked me that before?”

I have come full circle from where I began my career. In 1989 I was still at University. I was 24, I did not yet have my drivers license. Partly because over a period of time I had broken my leg three times and shattered my elbow as well. My friends will tell you how fed up they were of driving me everywhere. In 1989 I was offered two jobs. One as a porter at the Royal Adelaide Hospital and the other as the Employment Project Officer at the Royal South Australian Deaf Society. I accepted the latter.

I well recall the CEO of the Deaf Society looking at me with distain at the interview for the role. “How do you expect to do this role without a license?”, he asked. It was a fair question, but his facial expression clearly showed he was unimpressed. I promised that I would get my license in haste and I did. I got the job and that was the start of my career. I spent the first six years of my career in employment. Now in the twilight of my career, I am back.

Oh, how it has changed. Back when I started, disability service providers received block funding. As an employment professional I was able to assist whoever came through the door. I, naturally, expected a certain level of commitment from the client to find work. There was the odd difficult client who missed appointments or didn’t show up for interviews. However, by and large, people were motivated to get work.

It was not always plain sailing. I remember finding a bloke a job as a welder. The first week of his job he was late every day. Come the Friday his boss called me in. It turned out that the blokes car had broken down and he was catching three buses to get to work. The bloke said his car would be fixed next week, and he would be there on time.

Come the second week I got called in by the boss on the Friday again. The bloke had been refusing to wear toe capped boots. They were not comfortable he said and he didn’t like them. So the boss, through me, explained it was a rule for safety and that they had to be worn or he could not work. The bloke reluctantly agreed.

Come the third week, I was called in again. This time the bloke was refusing to wear protective gloves. He complained it made it hard for him to weld and his hands got all sweaty. The boss was exasperated by this time. He really wanted to give the bloke a fair go. I asked the boss, “If he wasn’t deaf, what would you do?” The boss said he would have sacked him in the first week when he was late every day. I said, “There is your answer.” And that was the end of that.

I am not sure that I could do that today. You see, we don’t receive block funding. We are paid per the person, based on the jobs we find, the support we give and how long that they remain in the job. Survival of the service depends on jobs and those jobs being retained to generate income. I would definitely have to approach it in a different way.

But that is how it is now, especially with the NDIS. Service providers have to offer a service that the disabled person wants. To retain the client and generate income to keep services going, clients must be satisfied. A lot of the power now resides with the client. We serve them and have to provide a quality service. Just like any business, we have to ensure that we have satisfied customers. If that doesn’t happen, the chances of survival are bleak.

A lot of old school service providers do not like this new world. Understandably, many service providers don’t like the uncertainty of income. They liked the old days when they had some control and knew how much money that they would receive. Many people despise the fact that people with a disability have become a commodity for profit. They find this de-humanising. The NDIS does not suit all people with a disability either. There are many that were better served with the old block funding model where there was certainty of service.

It is what it is. Service providers either adapt or they perish. It is up to them. Many people with a disability also love the NDIS for the control it gives them over the funding and services that they receive. The NDIS is not going anywhere soon, so its either structure the service to fit within the frame work or go out of business. The choice is stark.

However, some things never change. One of the things that never changes is how many hearing people assume what Deaf and HoH people can and cannot do. I think I have told the story of the plumbing apprentice a few times before. Suffice to say, back in 1990 a hearing boss tried to tell me that Deaf people couldn’t work as plumbers.

Apparently, and this is what the boss told me, when digging holes plumbers often dig in different areas. They communicate with each other by yelling across from their holes. It would waste too much time getting out of their holes just to communicate with the Deaf person so that the Deaf person could could lipread.

I was not impressed. My reaction got me called into the office of my manager back at the Deaf Society. She was very empathetic but reminded me that getting angry and sarcastic with potential employers could be counter productive in the long run. ( I’d said to the boss something along the lines of, “You poor hearing person, you really don’t care do you?”)

Sadly, in 2022 this is still happening. Last week I was assisting a client to get into a training course. The client had been refused. The course provider was insisting that a Deaf person could not work in this role because today, with the need to wear masks, communication would be too hard. It would, therefore, be impossible to do the job.

Deja Vu! It took me all the way back to 1990 and the plumber. It took me all the way back to my studies when my social work lecturer questioned whether I could be a Social Worker because it was not feasible to be a Social Worker and use Auslan interpreters. It took me back to times when I was refused jobs because of assumptions made by bosses that communicating in the workplace were challenges too hard to overcome. It took me back to the many excuses hearing bosses make around risks that Occupational Health and Safety regulations (OHS) could not accommodate. The bosses have not a shred of evidence, it is just their assumption.

But there is Deja Vu and there is Google. Today, unlike in 1990, I can Google jobs that Deaf people do. I can find Deaf plumbers or Deaf Tradesmen. I can find Deaf Chefs. I can find Deaf Physiotherapists, nurses and any number of health professionals including doctors. Just on Google I can find these people describing how they do their jobs and the adjustments that they make. None of it is assumption, it is just cold hard evidence. Then there is technology, hoo boy, I have all the answers that back in 1990 I did not have. Evidence is a very powerful medium!

So you hearing people out here who are making these assumptions about what Deaf people can and cannot do, its 2022 and assumptions do not hack it. There are answers and we have them, jut ask us! Let Deja Vu be left where it should be, in the past!

I’m Back!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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