The Forgotten People

Picture is of Star Wars character, Yoda, taken from a comedy sketch about bad lipreading – He has apparently said – Poke me in the coconut.

I read this lovely little story on the Channel 7 News page. This young woman, a manager of a food section in Woolies, noticed that there was a couple that came in and used Auslan. The young manager took it upon herself to learn a bit of Auslan. She started with YouTube videos learning basic greetings. Eventually she did a course to become more proficient. She recalls how the faces of the Deaf couple lit up when she first signed to them. The young manager is determined to develop her skills so that she can converse easily with the couple. Her commitment to inclusion was seen as an INCREDIBLE ACT.

Australia has a fascination with Auslan. Ever since the Cyclone Marcia in 2015, it seems that Australia has become fascinated with Auslan. Mark Cave, who did the bulk of that interpreting back in 2015, got dubbed SIGN GUY. Cave, a CODA (Child of a Deaf Adult), was a bit taken aback by all of the attention. Watchers became fascinated with what they saw as his ANIMATED facial expressions and gestures. Said Cave at the time, “It’s been very surprising, extremely unexpected, particularly because there’s been interpreters used for previous natural disasters so I didn’t think it would cause as much of a stir as it has, It’s been good in a way because it’s raising awareness about the deaf community and about Auslan and the need for interpreters”

Cave is a brilliant interpreter. He was not the first to interpret disaster announcements but his particular style seemed to capture the watchers attention. Since that time, Auslan interpreters have become more common. They have become pseudo-media personalities. One in Perth was on TV dancing with Fat Cat and teaching the Premier Auslan. Mikey Webb was described as high profile and “Much Loved” when he went missing from Covid announcements for a period of time. This was owing to the fact that he had to isolate after having been a close contact.

Others have been subjected to being mocked and laughed at when the watcher doesn’t know what they are signing. We have all had to roll our eyes when yet another hearing person gasps in horror at the Auslan sign for available because they think its looks like the interpreter is giving them the bird.

Mostly, its been terrific. It has brought attention to the needs of the Deaf community, and their need to access information in their own language. I am all for it and celebrate it. Very often I am approached by people on the NDIS that have lost access to Auslan for their kids or for themselves. I am a fierce advocate for them. However, I do wonder about the “OTHERS”

I first became aware of the “OTHERS” twenty years ago. I was working at the NSW Deaf Society at the time. I attended a function that was both Auslan Interpreted and Oral Interpreted. The Oral interpreter was a lovely and genial man with a mop of white hair. English is my first language so I decided to watch him. I thought that I would probably understand more through him.

For those that may not know, an Oral Interpreter basically mouths the words in slightly exaggerated mouth movements for lipreaders. So, I watched this lovely old guy do his stuff. To my horror, I could not understand a word that he was saying. He appeared to have a very thick Scottish accent ( I am not joking.) I quickly gave up on him and focussed on the Auslan Interpreters. I looked around me and it seemed that even the Oral deaf in the room were also watching the Auslan interpreter. Possibly because the lip movements of the Auslan interpreter were infinitely more decipherable than than the Oral interpreter.

I don’t mean to mock him because he was a really nice fellow. (I know that sounds patronising too.) But it set me thinking. What happens to these deaf, hearing impaired, hard of hearing, who do not use Auslan ?(Choose your preferred term.) What happens when they don’t have access to an Auslan interpreter to lipread? This guy was the first, and still the only, Oral interpreter I had ever seen. How did these people access information when they attended events, like the one that I had just attended?

I need to reiterate here that I love Auslan. I support Auslan. I support Auslan interpreters. Indeed, Auslan interpreters have been one of the primary reasons I have been successful in my career. BUT, it is a truism to say that Auslan users are the minority. In fact, Signbank suggests that there are only 6500 Deaf people in Australia for whom Auslan is their preferred mode of communication.

Yet, despite this, for all the media coverage we see it is almost like Australia thinks that if you are deaf, therefore you must sign. Anecdotally, I can say this is true. In these Covid times, where everyone is wearing a mask, I have to often disclose that I am deaf. The number of people that then begin to finger spell or demonstrate their own rudimentary signing to me is quite staggering.

I mean, they don’t even know me but they choose to sign anyway. What if I did not sign? (and the majority of people who are deaf don’t). Well, then it is going to be embarrassment all around, isn’t it? I wonder if this is why many people who have a hearing loss and do not sign, choose to remain mum rather than subject themselves to this embarrassment.

I go back to my original example; the Woolworths manager and her INCREDIBLE ACT. What if she had noticed a deaf couple who didn’t sign, but nevertheless needed alternate communication? What would she have done?

If she had chosen to write on a note pad? If she had chosen to upload a voice to text app to her phone so that the deaf couple had access to text based communication? If she had set up at every counter and check-out, a tablet that has a voice to text app so that deaf people that didn’t sign had access to communication? If she had set up signage around the store telling people to disclose they are deaf ‘cos all staff have the app on their phone? If she had done all of this, and thus providing better access to the majority of deaf people, would she have got as much attention? I wonder. (Or would the store have told her to shut up because they didn’t want the expense?)

It bugs me too, that nearly all the focus on accessible theatre is Auslan. Again, I think it’s great. BUT, how many thousands of deaf people are missing out because so little theatre is captioned. It bugs me that this vast population are so silent. The Deaf community (Auslan users), if a politician forgets to use an interpreter at important announcements, they go ape-shit. And rightly so, but if something is not captioned, and it often isn’t, there is not a peep. (Deafness Forum Australia, I am looking at you!)

I fancy that the Oral interpreter I described is now out of a job. Technology and the advent of Live Remote Captioning has made the need for him almost obsolete. While the uptake of this technology has been wonderful, it gets virtually no publicity. I wonder if my favourite captioner, Roxanne, will ever be described as ZIPPY FINGERS, in the same sense of awe that Sign Guy is held. Probably not.

And who is promoting all the new solutions for the deaf people that don’t sign? Automatic captioning gets more accurate everyday. Android 12 allows phone calls, both outgoing and received, to be automatically captioned. IT IS AWESOMELY ACCURATE. Who is promoting this and where is the sense of awe and awareness that should be occurring surrounding the access that this technology is providing? Apart from my work, awareness campaigns seem non-existent. (Deafness Forum Australia, I am looking at you again.)

Meanwhile and thankfully, Auslan interpreters are virtually everywhere. They are rightly getting accolades and creating fantastic awareness. But the “OTHERS”, the forgotten deaf people; who is creating awareness of the access tools at their disposal? Who is lobbying to get society to implement and introduce these solutions? No one it seems! (Deafness Forum Australia, I am looking at YOU!!!)

NDIS!!! What Should ScoMo Do??

ScoMo welding without the safety mask

We in Australia are so lucky to have such a talented Prime Minister. The guy is a marvel!! He can do absolutely everything – He can weld –

ScoMo washing hair

Mind you he was advised after trying to weld that he was a much better hairdresser. By golly the man had even done that!

ScoMo cooking curry

But that is not all. You hungry? Well lets hope that ScoMo can visit you soon and cook you a delicious curry!!

ScoMo in a race car

But that’s not all!!! Old Scomo is a bit of a daredevil. I hear Mercedes are hot on his trail. Should he lose the next election they have a spot for him as their lead driver for next seasons Formula 1 championships.

ScoMo with flowers on his head and a Hawaiin shirt

Is there nothing that this man cant do? Some days he even finds time to be Prime Minister and announce how he is going to save the Antarctic. Quite possibly because he had a bad experience in Hawaii where things got a tad to hot!

Perhaps the last comment is just a tad too cynical. Yesterday ScoMo announced that his Government was providing $804 million in funding to expand Australia’s presence in the Antarctic. Apparently, there are “Others” there. Australia had an obligation to protect the Antarctic from the “Others” – Who might those “Others” be? I am betting it is those dastardly Chinese and Russians. There is a treaty down there and Australia, with its strong border policy and all, has to ensure the treaty is upheld and not abused by those rotten “Others”

The announcement was made down in Tasmania. You see, there are one or two votes that he might pick up there. It seems the rest of Australia has given up on him. But this funding is an “Investment”. It will create jobs, many hundreds of them. The jobs will also lead to the creation of supply chains and that will create more jobs.

Long range choppers will be purchased creating jobs in the chopper industry to build them and maintain them. Pilots and mechanics will be needed. What’s more, research will be expanded creating opportunities for scientist and graduates. It will be a bit of an economic boon for Tasmania. But only if Tasmanian’s vote the LNP back.

Cynicism aside, I think it’s great. I think that looking after the Antarctic should be a priority. Protecting the environment and the wildlife there is essential for the planets health. It’s is fantastic and I hope that if Labor get in they continue with it. It’s an investment that will lead to wonderful opportunities for many. So, well done the ScoMo on that!

BUT, and there is always a but, why is the Antarctic seen as an investment that creates opportunities but the NDIS is seen as a cost that is unsustainable? Why are people with a disability seen as a burden that is sending the country broke? Why, at every corner, are the LNP looking to cut the cost of the NDIS? Why is expenditure on disability seen as a cost and not an investment like expenditure on the Antarctic?

ScoMo talks about supply lines and how these supply lines create jobs and opportunities. What about supply lines for people with a disability? Consider this:

  1. Wheelchairs
  2. Hearing Aids
  3. Vehicle Modifications
  4. Home modifications
  5. Hygiene supplies
  6. Assistive technology
  7. Support workers
  8. Interpreters
  9. Therapists
  10. Local Area Coordinators
  11. The NDIA
  12. and so on and so on

Can you imagine how many jobs this is creating? Can you imagine how much stimulus is happening from NDIS expenditure as these people pay tax and spend their hard earnt money? Literally thousands upon thousands of people owe their jobs to people with a disability, including people in the NDIA and Local Area Coordinator Services.

I mean, hell, even by producing shit plans the NDIS is creating opportunities for the legal profession. Last year I hear that reviews and appeals of plans increased by 400%. This year appeals, alone, generated something like $55 million for the legal profession. This is a whopping increase on the $22 million spent last year.

Then, of course, there is a multiplier effect. By providing funding that allows people with a disability to better participate in society they access services. They go to theatre. They go to movies. They attend functions and events. They eat out in restaurants. They don’t do this by themselves. They do it with friends and family as well. Then there is the support and the technology that is creating thousands of jobs. This multiplier effect creates $52.4 billion in economic activity for Australia. That’s not bad for an outlay of $26 Billion is it? A 50% return on investment. I’ll take it. What cost is the NDIS? There doesn’t really appear to be one.

So, ScoMo! You are multi-talented. You can put your mind to almost anything. You can weld, cook, be a hairdresser and race cars. You can even find ways to save the Antarctic and create economic stimulus for Tasmania, all with one well timed $804 million investment. Clearly you are a clever clogs, but not clever enough to see the massive benefit that the NDIS provides for Australia. This is for both people with disability and ablebods alike.

For such a talented bloke I find it really hard to believe that you don’t get it. But I am sure that you can. Just put your mind to it like you do all those other things. YOU CAN DO IT!

And, If you cant, just go away and let the other mob have a go.

For more information on the economic benefits of the NDIS, click HERE

An Evolution of Complaining

Caption is of a man. His mouth is taped shut with the label – Complaining.

It has been my lot in life that my career has been based on complaining. As a disability advocate the whole concept of positive change for people with a disability in Australia is based on a complaints system. All our disability laws are based on submitting complaints to activate the law. Don’t complain, no change happens. That’s the status quo.

Back in 2015 I wrote an article about complaining and how it impacts on us all. The gist of it is that when you complain it wears you out. It causes stress and anxiety. The more you complain the more stress and anxiety you experience. If you complain about something and don’t get a resolution, complaining about it a second time increases the anxiety and stress. In the article I quoted research to back it up. I wont bore the reader with it today, but take my word for it, complaining is bad for your health. At 57 and 30 odd years of this gig, I can tell you that I am a bit tired.

I can recall my first act of complaining for change. I wrote a piece for the Parents of Hearing Impaired Children’s newsletter. I think I might have been about 19 at the time. I complained about teachers of the deaf at my old school. I said that teachers working with kids who used sign language should at least be able to understand the students that they were working with. I argued that they should be able to sign in a way that students understood them. (I had not yet heard the name Auslan at this stage.)

I recounted how my old art teacher had been given a temporary position as a teacher of the deaf. The art teacher could barely finger spell, let alone read back sign. I wrote that this was not on and that we needed better teachers of the deaf who knew what they were doing. This was the first time that I was summoned. I’ve been summoned many times since.

So my old Coordinator at the Centre for Hearing Impaired called me into his office. Accused me of disloyalty, talking rubbish and being counter productive. Basically told me if I could not be loyal to shut up.

The theme of under qualified teachers of the deaf has always been a bone of contention for me. Many years later I spoke with one of the senior lecturers at Melbourne University about teachers being shit at Auslan. (Auslan was a thing by this time.) He said that University had to produce teachers of the deaf that could work with such a wide range of students that all they could really do was offer two weeks Auslan and hope that if they worked with students who used Auslan they could build on what they had learnt.

He basically said that teachers of the deaf were expected to be a Jack and Jill of all trades and adjust to whoever they were employed to work with. He also said that if I ever mentioned his name he would deny that he said it until he was blue in the face. ( I have never publicly said his name and in respect of his honesty, never will.)

In 1989 I became the Employment Project Officer at the then Royal South Australian Deaf Society. I had to develop employment resources and also place Deaf people into employment. I dealt with the old SkillShare system, employers, Department of Social Security and Government bodies. In 1989 we didn’t have a DDA and access to services and support for people with a disability was the absolute pits. (The DDA is pretty useless anyway, but I have written about that many times.)

As you can imagine I was forever complaining to someone about lack of access. I called the Department of Social Security one day through an interpreter (No relay service yet and the interpreter was someone who worked at the Deaf society, not necessarily a qualified interpreter.) I was quite angry because they were refusing to allow an interpreter for an interview for the dole for one of my clients. I was very blunt back then, they hung up on me saying I was to call back when I was able to modify my tone.

One day I met an employer. We were trying to get someone a job as a plumber. He had to to an aptitude test that had English that would trouble a PhD student. I was trying to get a modified test for my client, who had literacy issues. The employer said this,

“Plumbing is not good for Deaf people. They dig holes. The holes are far apart. Workers yell out to each other from their holes. A Deaf person cant do that. Plumbers are a funny breed, I myself am an electrician and electricians are ok. But plumbers!!!!… I would try for a different job.”

My response to that was to stand up and say, “You just don’t really care, do you?” I remember the interpreter of the day ushering out the Deaf person from the room while the boss and I hammered it out. Of course the Deaf person didn’t get the job. My conduct earnt me a session with my manager who was surprisingly empathetic. Despite her empathy she reminded me that such an aggressive approach would not get me many wins. She was right, of course.

My battle with the University of South Australia to get interpreters is well documented in these pages. Suffice to say that after 6 years, countless support group meetings, loads of letters to the top dog, the involvement of the Education Minister and finally the introduction of the DDA – I got interpreters in my final year of University. (Thank you Lucy.) Only for my Social Work Lecturer to try and deny them based on his view that I couldn’t be a Social Worker and rely on interpreters. That was a whole other battle. No wonder this complaining gig wears us out.

Over the years I became more sophisticated. I learnt that there was away to complain and have impact. It’s a truism that it’s not what you know, but who you know. So I developed extensive networks within the sector. I took part in countless consultations. I got involved in a number of high powered Government committees. I even got paid for some of them and got flown business class.

I loved flying in business class in my shorts and Crocs. It’s true I tried to convince the Government to fly me economy because a flight that was around $150 economy could cost over $1000 business class. They would have none of it. I console myself by telling myself that I have provided, and still provide, countless hours of support and advocacy voluntarily.

But even so, the complaining is relentless. You repeat the same stories over and over again. Government Departments are beasts. You spend a year educating a bureaucrat to the point that they finally understand, then they leave. They are replaced by another clueless poppy that has come from the taxation department, with no clue about disability. And we start all over again.

I could outline the complaining I do on behalf of participants of the NDIS. I’ll just say that I really wouldn’t want to know how much the NDIA are paying for legal fees to try and reject VisuAlert for the seven people that I am assisting. (I heard last year that they spent $55 million on legal fees.) Repeating the same arguments to the same lawyer 7 times is frustrating, but someone’s got to do it. I fancy Sarah, the lawyer I see at the AAT hearings, feels as frustrated as I do at hearing the same arguments over and over again. I can see the pain in her eyes, I swear I can.

Yeah, I am a little tired. It has been 33 years. Somehow I still have the passion and the wherewithal to keep going. But last week I almost felt like packing it in when I heard that a high ranking Government official, responsible for accessible infrastructure, said something along the lines below:

” .. We don’t get a lot of complaints. That shows that things are really quite good. Really, compared to other states, we are leading the nation.”

Yeah right, buddy. Have you ever tried getting on and off one of those old trams when you are in need of a hip replacement? I can tell you first hand its hard, painful and embarrassing. And if you are in a wheelchair and wanting to get on at the tram stops in my area, its a long roll to the city. People are just tired of complaining for so little gain, so they stop! The official has no clue, absolutely no clue.

And that’s why we are tired. That’s why I now find myself reverting, increasingly, to the blunt no nonsense approach to advocacy I had in the early days of my career. I just tell it as it is and bugger the sensibilities of the clueless bureaucrats.

I’m just tired and it is time Australia caught up with comparable countries. I’m still here, cos as I said, someone’s got to do it and I still have a passion for a fair go. But yeah, retirement, BRING IT ON!!

An Open Letter to .. Everyone

Dear All

I’m sorry if I come across as a miserable bastard, I probably am. I am just struggling with how people talk about disability. I know most people are just trying to be decent folk. They are just trying to show how much they care and value other human beings. I know that when they rejoice at the achievements of a person with a disability, they really mean it. When Andy Murray told Dylan Alcott that they didn’t even care about his wheelchair, I know that he meant it as utmost praise. I know that when people say that they are inspired by Alcott, they really are. It’s just that often the language being used makes me cringe. I’ll try to explain.

I found myself talking to the TV screen this morning. I was watching the ABC news. I was not particularly coherent. My conversation with the TV screen went something like this:

No”

“No, no”

No. no, no, no ….”

“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!…”

You see, there was a story about a blind boy attending a mainstream school. The boy himself was great. He spoke about how he was looking forward to school but hoping that he didn’t fall down stairs and walk into poles. He had completed orientation training at the school just so he would not do that. That’s his reality. Those are what one might call “Blind life skills.” I liked him straight away.

In reality the school were great too. Except they kept saying that the lad was a student just like everyone else. He is just the same. No different to all the other students. It is about there that I began my incoherent babble at the TV consisting of that one word, “NO!”.

You see the lad is not just like everyone else. He is blind, and that’s a good thing. It’s good because diversity is a powerful thing. Like with Andy Murray telling Alcott that the public didn’t care about his wheelchair, I find this counter productive. I would have loved for the school to come out and say something like this:

” … he is blind. That’s great. We love diversity at our school. We encourage people to recognise and accept diversity whether a person is Blind, deaf, black or LGBTQIA. All are accepted here and difference is a good thing. All are treated equally and equitably.”

It really is just a subtle shift in language. It’s language that recognises, accepts and encourages difference and diversity. It recognises that diversity is a good thing. It recognises that saying that a person is blind, gay or whatever is just part of that process. I might be overthinking this, but when someone says ” … he is just the same as everyone else.”, this tends to dismiss and deny the diversity.

You will note that I have also used the word ‘equitable‘. This is important because I have found that people have a strange interpretation of the word equal. None of us are equal really. We all face challenges of some kind. We are not all equal that we are academic geniuses. We are not all equal that we can run up stairs. We are not all equal that we can go into a class room with people and interact automatically. Equitable means that we recognise this and adjust our environment and behaviour to make that environment inclusive. This process of equitability starts with recognising diversity.

To be fair, the school showed that they understood this. They explained how they had changed their environment to make it more inclusive. They had placed braille signs on doors. They had redesigned the environment to make it safer. I imagine there were further adjustments that needed to be made to the learning environment to ensure our blind student could participate to the maximum. All of this happened because the school recognised the diverse needs of the student. This is great to see.

Now, I may be nit-picking, but I strongly believe we need a subtle shift in how we speak about diversity. We need to move away from thinking we are all the same. That we are no different to others. We need this shift to say, ” Yes, the person is necessarily different, we recognise this and we have changed our environment and behaviour to ensure that the person is included.” This recognises that society and the environment is the problem, and that is where the focus needs to be.

It is my firm belief that when we are comfortable talking about diversity in this way our society will be truly on its way to being fully inclusive. We have quite some way to go yet!

I’m Deaf Gary, thanks for listening!!

Everyone’s Inspiration

Photo is of Dylan Alcott, arms outstretched after winning a tournament
Dr George Taleporos. photo portrait in his wheelchair, looking directly at the camera

This week, disability has been everywhere. Dylan Alcott won Australian of the Year. A well deserved winner for many different reasons. Great tennis player, staunch activist, top bloke and a role model for everyone. An inspiration??? Alcott has it all ahead of him, in more ways than most of us will ever appreciate.

Not surprisingly, Alcott lost his last Grand Slam final. In his own words, he was fried. He had flown to Canberra for the awards. He would have had countless people calling him. Endless media interviews. It would surprise no one that his focus was elsewhere. He admitted he should have won the first set. When he lost it, all he could think was that he had to play two more sets. He knew that he might lose, but if he did, he wanted to make sure that he had fun. He had fun and he lost. At the end there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Including his own..

At the end of his game he received a text from his mate and tennis great Andy Murray. This is what Murray said, 

… I don’t know if I’ve articulated that well but you’re an absolute rock star and inspiration. Thanks for everything that you’ve done. …. Special. Like you’re just a part of it … they don’t even care you’re in a wheelchair.”

Don’t get me wrong, I fully get what Murray was trying to do. But that last part, .. they don’t even care you are in a wheelchair.”That triggered me, as I am sure it did many other people with a disability. Why should they care that Alcott is in a wheelchair? Well, because he is a champion tennis player. He is the GOAT! I mean fuck, they should care that he is in a wheelchair because he is the greatest and most skilled wheelchair tennis player, of all time. It is who he is! He said it himself. He is a proud, disabled man.

Then I wondered, those people in the stands crying – why were they crying? Were they crying because they would never see him play again? Or were they crying with him, at his sadness that his career was over? Or were they crying because they were inspired that wheelchair man had made good against all odds? Were they they thinking that Alcott was an anomaly; not sad, depressed and suffering like all those other people with a disability? The reality is that it was probably a combination of all of the above.

Disability is a bit of an enigma. Society has a way of wanting it hidden. They do this in lots of subtle ways. For example they make hearing aids as tiny as possible. They struggle to even say the word disability. They use revolting terms like ‘Differently Abled’, ’Sight challenged’, ‘People of Varying Abilities’ and so on. All these terms are designed to normalise disability so that we are all more like the non-disabled. “DON’T EVEN KNOW ITS THERE MATE” is the attitude as many non-disabled try to find ways to deal with their own discomfort. Take it from me, just say the word DISABLED! 

Then, there is perception. Alcott tells the world he is a proud, disabled man. That’s great. There are many proud disabled people. Disability is their identity. It is their life style. It is something that they declare loud and proud. Then there are people who are proud to be associated with the disability community, but don’t love their disability so much.

Dr George Taleporos, a disabled man, and in a post on Linkedin that was later published on many media platforms, had this to say:

“ While I recognise that a lot of the discrimination and injustices I face are societal, I hate the fact that I have a genetic condition that causes severe muscle wasting and that over the years it has slowly crippled me, to where the only movement I have remaining is a wriggle in my thumbs.

Does that make me less evolved in my disability journey? Does it mean that I am yet to reach my ultimate destiny of fully embracing and celebrating my disability? Some may presume so.”

Dr Taleporos is an accomplished, disabled man. He is an academic and has been at the forefront of disability activism for many years. He is a role model for people with a disability and non-disabled alike. He defines success. He is proud of his achievements and his standing in the disability community and the community at large, but he hates his disability. In his own words:

I don’t want sympathy. I want people to understand that we can’t all “love our disability”. For me, there’s really not a lot to love. I hate it and always will.

Hating my disability doesn’t mean that I hate my life. I love my life and I feel proud of what I have achieved and of the work that I do. I feel proud of and love the disability community that I belong to.”

So I wonder, perhaps with too much cynicism, just how do many non-disabled really feel? On the one hand you have Alcott, someone that they can relate to. He has a ready smile. He is handsome and a successful sports person. He is a media personality and loves a beer. They love him because he is everything that they aspire to be, despite his wheelchair. I add that last bit to see if it makes the reader jump. How many people out there actually think that?? Far too many for comfort, I would say.

On the other hand, you have Dr Taleporos. Probably even more successful than Alcott. A person that has created enormous change for disabled people in Australia. A successful academic. A person that has dedicated his life to the Disability community. A person that has helped to identify and break down societal barriers for disabled people. Respected, dedicated and talented,  but hates their disability.

And if Dr Taleporos was to walk down the street with Alcott. The Dr and his ability to wriggle his thumbs, Alcott with his looks, charm and beaming smile. What would be the perception of non-disabled people? What would really go on in their heads?

And here lies the challenge for Alcott as Australian of the Year. He has to represent all these shades of grey in the Disability community. He has to articulate all the challenges, all of the perceptions and all of the barriers. His job is to also present success and what that means for the different disabled people. For some, it is sport. For some, it is academic. For some, it is just being happy and being out here. For others, it is a a constant hard grind, where facing everyday is exhausting to a point that many would rather not. Alcott has to represent the needs and experiences of so many diverse disabled people in a realistic light, both positive and negative. I do not envy him.

I will leave you with the words of the brilliant Dr Taleporos,

So as we spend the next 12 months listening to Dylan and his inspiring, “feel-good” story, don’t forget there are many other stories that might not be quite as heartwarming but that represent the daily reality of disability in its many forms. We can’t all love our disability. We don’t have to.

But what we all need to do is work towards a society where accessibility and inclusion are front and centre of social policy so that there is more to love and less to hate about being disabled.”

To read more of Dr Taleporos views click Here

Value Zero

Image is a cartoon of a rat who is holding a sign , written in dripping red paint that reads – BECAUSE I’M WORTHLESS

He was a proud little boy. Just six years old and he got his Covid vaccination today. He stood proudly for a photo showing the certificate they had given him, replete with his tiger face mask. Super brave read his certificate, and indeed he was. He has some health issues so it is important that he is vaccinated. He knows this, so he rolled up his sleeve. It’s also important that his family and everyone around him are vaccinated so as to lessen the risk that he catches Covid. Unsurprisingly, his family have zero tolerance of people who refuse to get vaccinated.

At the other end of the spectrum is The Joker, Novak Djokovic. He is perhaps the worlds most prominent anti-vaxxer. He refuses to get vaccinated, presumably because he is one of those individuals that believe that it is his right to refuse. This is the guy who believes that “positive thoughts” will cleanse polluted water because, “..Molecules in water react to our emotions.” He also tells the tale of his nutritionist pressing a piece of bread down on his arm and feeling much weaker as a result. He believes that this is evidence that he is gluten intolerant. Whatever his reason for not wanting to vaccinate, given the above, I really don’t want to know. (For more on Novak’s weird beliefs, click HERE. )

You would have had to be in the Antarctic, with no access to any technology at all, to not have heard about Novak this week. He landed in Australia and had his visa revoked. This is because he is not vaccinated. Novak claims that he had an exemption because he was diagnosed with Covid on the 16th December. Apparently, he was photographed at various events on the 17th and 18th December. Clearly, he didn’t care about passing Covid on to anyone. He didn’t care that he could have placed the life of a little boy like my friends at risk. He is just a self entitled jerk that does what he wants.

We know that today the court said that revoking Novak’s visa was wrong. He had an exemption from some eminent doctor. He had done everything right. The court said that legally Border Control were wrong to revoke his visa. Apparently, Novak had until December the 10th to declare his exemption to Tennis Australia, he didn’t. You see, he wasn’t diagnosed until the 16th December. So he broke the rules, shouldn’t have been allowed in. But hey, he has a zillion dollars to hire the best lawyers around to argue his case. To add insult to injury, the court has ruled the Australian Government erred and have to pay his costs.

I am no fan of the Federal Government. I am even less a fan of Novak. What a whiny bastard he is. In detention all he did was moan. The food was crap, the place was dirty, there were maggots in his food. He was being treated like a common criminal. In that same hotel were asylum seekers who have been detained there for a number of years. They are being detained for no other reason than that they were fleeing violence and oppression in their own countries. They don’t have access to millions of dollars to fight their cause. They don’t have access to the media who lap up their every word. They don’t have the President of their country fighting their corner, nor do they have their countries Ambassador pleading for them to be placed in more suitable accommodation.

Yet, this rich and super fit man who has had the privilege of playing tennis for fun and getting rich from it, who won’t get vaccinated, who thinks he can clean water through his positive thoughts and who refuses vaccination is treated like a king. I am sorry, I have no sympathy for him. I just wish he would get on the next plane and fuck off back to Serbia.

It’s not because I am jealous, its because the treatment that he is getting is an absolute insult to so many people, particularly people with a disability. Consider this quote from my friend Suresh,

” .. For all of you who are mortified by the Govt’s treatment of Novak Djokovic, can I simply note that we routinely deport members of a family who happen to have a person with disability in their midst. If you want to be hurt and offended by our abrogation of human rights, spare a thought for the families of and the people with disability that we do this to. And we also routinely place people whose visas we cancel into Immigration Detention and not at the Park Hotel in Carlton… “

Did you hear about Kayaan Katyal, the six year old with cerebral palsy who Australia tried to deport after his family had resided in Australia for 8 years. Yes, 8 years, you read that right. He was, in fact, born in Australia but they wanted rid of him because Australia did not want to bear his medical costs. The family were about to open a restaurant here and had paid taxes for 8 years. They were awaiting permanent residency but the moment that their child was diagnosed with a disability the Australian Government wanted them out. This was 9 months ago.

Or Siyat Abdi, a blind Doctor, who had lived in Australia for ten years but was asked to leave because under the law his ‘condition’ would “… be likely to require health care or community services”. He was eventually allowed to stay after having spent thousands of dollars in appeals and having to lobby to the Minister to allow him to stay.

The Government also tried to be rid of Kinley Wangyel Wangchuk, a Bhutanese adult with a hearing loss and learning disability, who had been in Australia for 7 years. The reason that Australia wanted him out? “It is an objective assessment to determine whether the care of the individual during their stay in Australia would likely result in significant costs to the Australian community or prejudice the access of Australian citizens and permanent residents to services in short supply.”

Apparently, up to 15 families a year face this predicament. Unlike Novak they don’t have millions to fall back on to appeal their case. They cannot afford the best lawyers. People don’t line up outside of their hotels protesting on their behalf. The Presidents and Ambassadors of their countries don’t scream and complain asking that they be given a personal chef and a better hotel. They are left to their own devices to fight their corner, with minimal resources to help them. Many lose and are sent packing.

So, excuse me if I would rather this entitled millionaire sports person who lacks nothing, who thinks he can clean water with his mind and refuses vaccination because he is like a child throwing their toys out of the pram, be sent packing and hopefully banned from returning to Australia for three years. It is just an affront to the dignity of these people who want to come to Australia for a safer and better life and are refused. It shows that these people and people with a disability in Australia have ZERO VALUE!

Look, I get it, immigration mucked up. Look I get it, Novak applied for an exemption that was seemingly granted. Look I get it, The PM spoke publicly to garner populism on the back of an outraged Australian population. I get it, legally Novak has grounds to stay.

But, I don’t care. In October last year Dan Andrews publicly stated that unvaccinated players are unlikely to be allowed to play at the Australian Open. Said Andrews, “Professional sport is part of that authorised worker list and they have to be double dose vaccinated.” He did say that the visa issue was a Federal Government responsibility as a caveat, but his view was clear. His silence this week has been deafening.

I have all sympathy for a tennis player who may not be able to vaccinate for health reasons such as allergies and so on. Novak is not one of them. He is just an entitled brat who thinks he can do what he wants. Chuck him out I say. He is just an insult to all those genuine asylum seekers and refugees, particularly people with disability, who have been denied entry and the vast resources that he has to fight his corner. It is a disgrace and it makes me sick to my core!

That is all!!

For more information about the cases described in this article, click on the following links.

Kayann

Kinley

Siyat

Dan Andrews Comment

T’was 10 Days Afore Xmas

Photo is of a trades man in his orange trade shirt. His head is shaven and his sunglasses are on his head. He has a look of extreme surprise, even fear.

Xmas time is frantic. More so if you have changed jobs, have to move interstate and prepare your Adelaide house for the AirBnB market. Being deaf can make this a big challenge too. Luckily, I now have a captioned mobile phone where I can make and receive voice calls and this is saving me heaps of time. But there is Covid and all of the communication issues and restrictions that it brings with it.

To make matters worse, I have building repairs to do on my house in Adelaide. Luckily,it’s covered by insurance but its a big job. It took a long time to organise. The process started in June 1975 and the builders have just arrived today. I jest, it was actually June 2021, but it feels that long.

Last week I finally moved back to Melbourne for good. The last few weeks I have been toing and froing, It’s a real pain in these Covid times because each time I arrive back in South Australia I have to have a Covid Test at least 72 hours before I leave. Of course testing brings with it masks and masks with it communication issues. Most of the Covid Testers are great but some are kind of, to put it mildly, thick.

The simple thing is to show us the questions on the iPad, we then respond. Deaf who speak well can verbalise , those less confident in their speech type answers on their phone and so on. It is not rocket science. There is always this one person that thinks we can some how hear them and when it becomes obvious that we cant, they resort to pantomime that often makes no sense at all. Over exaggerated mime to show that they are going to stick something up your nose can be hilarious. More often it just gets on your nerves.

If you drive into Adelaide you have to deal with the border control. If you fly you are dealing with security, air hostesses and so on. All replete in masks requiring you to tell them you are deaf, cannot hear them and have to lipread them. The number that continue to talk through their masks, even when you tell them this, is mind boggling, A simple trip to SA, either driving or by plane, becomes a communication logistical nightmare. I don’t know about my Deaf and hard of hearing friends, but it leaves me feeling pretty exhausted.

Today, 15th December, was something else altogether. Let me tell you the tale.

I took off for Tullamarine at 5am. My poor and tired wife had to drop me off and then go to work. I got through security with not one of them willing to remove their mask to assist with communication and all of them trying to speak to me through their masks. One actually stood closer to my ear and, presumably, had a bit of a yell before realising that this was futile.

Jetstar staff were much nicer. They didn’t remove their masks but pointed to relevant things and helped me on my way. The flight was uneventful. I was surprised at how lax the Adelaide airport security was. No checks. They just waved us through. I headed to Hertz to pick up the hire car.

It was just my luck I got a trainee. But, she was brilliant. Again, she didn’t remove her mask. However, because it was quiet at Hertz I was able to use Live Transcribe on my phone. She spoke clearly to my phone so that her voice was transcribed. This allowed me to answer the relevant questions. She then took me to my car, pointed to relevant areas, showed me how to use the key and I was away.

Next stop was Covid Testing. Although I had tested negative before leaving one of the conditions of entry to SA is that I get tested as soon as I arrived. Once I am tested I am free to mingle. If I test positive I must immediately quarantine. Highly unlikely given that I am double vaccinated and just had a negative test but possible. So I drove to Bedford Park where the ever obliging testing staff just showed me the questions on the iPad for me to respond, swabbed me and sent me on my merry way.

It’s not yet 8am and I have navigated all of this. I set off for home where the builders are doing the repairs. As I leave the testing station my phone flashes. I pull over and use my trusty Google Pixel Captioned Phone to answer. It’s the builder, who has been told to text not call. He, of course, calls. Luckily, the captioned phones means that I can speak to him. His boss has neglected to give him the pin to the key safe. “We are at the front door mate”, he says. I give him the pin and let him know I had flown in, was getting tested and would be there soon.

It’s a beautiful drive to my house. Beautiful views of the sea, the sun is shining and all is right in the world. I arrive at my home and one of the tradies approaches me, replete with industrial mask. I assume this is because of the dust as he had been pulling off plasterboard.

I cheerily greet him. As I approach he tells me to stop. Big hand gesture telling me to stop. He points to me, he points to him and gives me a gesture that clearly says I’m not to approach any closer. He starts talking to me through his mask, of course. I let him know that I cant hear him and have to lipread. He starts a pantomime which is clearly a plane. Picture a little boy, arms outstretched, rocking from side to side in clear imitation of a flying plane. That’s our tradie.

So anyway, I says yes, I’ve flown in from Victoria. He starts talking through his mask again and shaking his head vigorously. One assumes he is saying NO … something. I tell him its no good, he will have to remove his mask so I can lipread him. He takes three steps back removes his mask and begins speaking,

I resist the temptation to pretend to need binoculars to lipread him. He asks if I have been tested . I tell him yes, on the Monday and that it was negative. I tell him not worry about me, I was just going upstairs to work. Meanwhile, his work mate is across the road looking across at me, very agitated and seemingly scared. I give him a wave and head upstairs.

I settle down to respond to staff and emails and all the things you do as a team leader. Ten minutes later there is a text from my tradie mate. He wants proof that I tested negative. So I come down stairs and he is sitting in his truck. I presume its smoko time. I find the SMS message telling me that I am negative and make my way to his truck.

He is a bit away with the fairies. I knock on his window. He turns round to see me and literally jumps back in fright. He gestures at me to go away, move back. This I do and he quickly gets out of the car and runs five metres up the road telling me to stay. His workmate has got out of his car and run even further up the road looking absolutely petrified. I give him another wave. To be honest, he looks like he might weep with fright.

Th tradie removes his mask. With a combination exaggerated lip movements and more plane pantomime tells me that I’ve been on a plane. He doesn’t care about my negative test. I might have caught Covid on the plane and that he is leaving. I point out that I am double vaccinated and even if I did catch it on the plane, I would not yet be infectious. I offer to leave and come back later.

He said something that lipread distinctly as “No fucking way”. He says that he will come back on Saturday and finish the work. By this time I am thoroughly fed up. I tell him to do whatever he likes and that I was heading upstairs to work. And that’s what I did. He and his mate left too, leaving behind a very expensive ladder and some tools. Presumably, because I may have touched them and they would catch the dreaded virus from them. I am in the mood to put them on Ebay and make a profit, that’s how fed-up I am.

About half an hour later I get an email from the tradies boss. Basically berating me for putting his staff at risk. I email back stating that this is incorrect, that I have followed all protocols and am not required to isolate. Point him to the relevant internet pages to consult and resist the temptation to tell him to go fuck himself.

To his credit he emails me back. tells me I was absolutely correct and that I had done nothing wrong. He says in the interest of safety, his team will return on Saturday, when I am gone.

And that, dear readers, was my day. Merry Xmas! – I think. Oh, and a little later I got my third shot! GO ME!!!

Xmas Spirit – An Open Letter to the NDIS

Dear NDIS People and Partners

Image is of a cartoon Santa. He is smoking a cigar and holding a sign that says Bad Santa

Merry Xmas NDIS people. I wish you all good tidings of Xmas and the new year. I wish this open letter to you all could be in better spirit. Alas, the NDIS seems to be lacking in Xmas spirit at the moment if recent decisions are anything to go by. In fact, the NDIS seems to be lacking in any spirit at all in its hell bent quest to cut costs.

I would like to tell you a story. You see, I once worked as a Senior Local Area Coordinator. For a time I was even a Senior Planner within the NDIS on a short term contract. I like to think that I was a very good planner. Since leaving the NDIS I have been very outspoken about ongoing failures of the NDIS. So much I that I fear I have been blacklisted, never to be employed again.

I started in 2016. I was employed as part of the second roll-out to the North East Metro area of Victoria. It was an interesting time because the NDIS screwed up a change over of their CRM system. Full records of participants did not transfer over to the new system. It was chaotic as no one knew what funding was left. Services could not be booked, let alone paid. Indeed the crisis was so bad that some services closed down because they could not generate any cashflow to pay themselves and staff.

The crisis lasted about 8 weeks. Eventually things returned to normal and we began planning. As a newbie it was a sharp learning curve. Not only was it a sharp learning curve for me as a worker in a partner organisation, it was a sharp learning curve for people that worked in the NDIA offices too. Many of us were new to the NDIS and had to learn the rules and legislations of the NDIS very quickly.

For a time we even shared offices with delegates from the NDIA. It was great because we could sit down with them and talk about plans and client needs. We could explore the legislation together and discuss Section 34 and how it applied to decision making. All of us had a copy of section 34 on our desk, it was our bible.

My second ever plan is still my favourite. She was a young woman studying to get into the medical field. She had cerebral palsy and had personal care needs. She attended university and until she had applied for her NDIS her mother was her full-time carer. Her dad pretty much her full time taxi.

Mum would attend the university and carry her books to class. She would attend to her personal care needs throughout the day. Toileting, getting food from canteen, assistance with feeding and so on. The young woman was a full time student. The commitment from her mother was huge.

She had friends at university too. She would go out with them. Dad would drive her and I think her friends, between them, assisted with her personal care needs. Her family were brilliant. The young woman wanted for nothing.

In the mornings mum helped her get ready. Got her books ready, dressed her and breakfasted her. Then dad would drop her and mum at university and the day began. This commitment from the family had been going on for two years. It was a joy to behold.

Like most young people the young woman wanted some independence. She didn’t want to have her mum and dad with her wherever she went. She wanted to live life on her own terms. It is not that she was not grateful for her families support, it was just that she was young and wanted some independence and privacy.

I had a great relationship with her family. When I visited they always fed me. They were from a CALD background and they would feed me with exotic curries and treats. When I left mum would slip me goodies like samosas and curry puffs.

One must also consider the toil on the family. Mum couldn’t work because she was virtually supporting the young woman full time. She didn’t complain, she just saw it as her motherly duty. When I worked in the NDIS field I met many, many families like this. The level of commitment they gave was immense.

The young woman wanted to be able to attend university without the constant presence of her mother. Her mother was quite happy to continue with the support she was giving but admitted that a bit of time for herself would be wonderful. The young woman also wanted to be able to go out with her friends without her dad hovering around.

The young woman also wanted to leave home eventually and wanted to prepare for that. She wanted carers who were not her family. She wanted to develop some skills that would enable her to be as independent as possible. She wanted to identify technology that would enable her to cook for herself and be safe in the kitchen. The NDIS plan that she required was quite substantial and needed to cover her time at university, time at home, time in the community and her capacity building requirements.

I was lucky to be sharing an office with NDIA delegates. We discussed the young woman’s needs at great length. We agreed that the care needs on campus were the NDIS responsibility. We agreed that the share of care that the informal supports had taken on (mum and dad) was not really sustainable. We also agreed that it was completely feasible that the young woman wanted to develop capacity to be as independent as she possibly could in preparation for moving out of home. There was even some support required at home to assist with preparation, scribing and getting assignments done.

All care needs on campus were funded. A carer to assist the young woman get ready in the morning was also funded. Assessments were funded and therapy was funded to build greater capacity leading to greater independence. Transport was funded to get her to University, home and to be able to socialise independently. Her needs to complete university assignments such as scribing while at home were also covered,

It was a great plan. It all fitted in with section 34 of the Act. The plan allowed for community and economic participation. The plan allowed for capacity building towards independence. The plan acknowledged she was a fulltime student and therefore qualified for level 3 transport. The plan acknowledged that the level of support provided by informal supports was not sustainable and that the informal supports needed to be supported so that they did not break down. The plan acknowledged that informal supports also needed to participate in the community and that the level of support that they had to provide did not make this possible. All of the above are justifiable under Section 34 of the Act. Approving it was a no brainer.

A happy story. One that shows the potential of what the NDIS can provide when people know what they are doing and interpret NDIS legislation correctly. Indeed, none of the above is rocket science. Sadly, it seems, that if this young woman had tried to get this level of support today she might be denied.

Recently I received an email from an access and inclusion officer at a university in Queensland. This is what they said of some students at the campus, “…. They were advised that NDIS will not cover on campus personal care or off campus educational support (such as a support worker when at home to help with highlighting and organising notes, organising folders, assisting with scribing and handling notes for assignments etc).”

I despair. What are these delegates doing? What justification do they have to deny this support to a person with a disability that requires it so they can participate in university? I can tell you that they have absolutely no justification whatsoever – NONE!

Let’s be clear. A university’s job is to teach. It provides all the necessary things for a student with a disability to learn while on campus. Auslan interpreters, captioning, wheelchair accessible venues, assistive technology, extra times for exams and so on. A university is also responsible for providing accessible amenities like parking, toilets and the like. That is their responsibility!

Every student who does not have a disability that attends university cares for themselves. They feed themselves and look after their own hygiene. This is not the university’s responsibility. If not being able to care, feed or look after ones hygiene will preclude someone from participating at university and campus life this is where the NDIS comes in. If its not to do with learning it is not, I repeat, IS NOT, the university’s responsibility. It is, I repeat, IT IS, the responsibility of the NDIS. A responsibility that is clearly outlined in section 34 of the ACT, that allows community and economic participation. It is not rocket science.

I know not why these students with a disability are having their funding cut for care needs on campus. If delegates are ruling this they should not be in the job. If Local Area Coordinators are refusing to ask for it in plans, they should not be in the job. If it is directors, the CEO or the Minister directing people to not fund this care, they are in breach of their own NDIS legislation!

I have no doubt these students who are being denied are going to review the decision. It’s going to take three months or more for their review to be dealt with. In the meantime how will they study? Possibly, even after the review, the NDIS will stubbornly refuse to change their decision and this will necessitate an appeal to the Tribunal at great expense.

What is worse is the appalling stress and barriers that these ridiculous decisions are placing on the students. What is worse is that the NDIS are messing with the dreams and aspirations of these students with disabilities. It is disgusting!

So to the NDIS and its partners I say merry Xmas to those of you who constantly strive to do the right thing, and there are many. To the others, take a long hard look at yourself, you are in the wrong job, just get out!

A Lesser Kind of Being

Australia is opening up. The borders are coming down. Vaccination rates are booming as we hurtle along to that 80% of population over 12 that are double dosed. By all accounts the data is showing that the Covid 19 vaccines are extraordinarily effective. With a double dose of the vaccine you are 75% less likely to catch it. If you do catch it you are not likely to get very sick and end up in hospital. Because your body has the immunity to fight the infection you are also less likely to pass on this awful disease to others. In South Australia it is expected that when the borders open 13 people may die in the first 300 days. Not much fun if you are one of those that die but put into perspective, 125 people from south Australia died from the flu from 28486 infections in 2017. So we know Covid19 vaccines work. They are not perfect but they will enable us to return to some sort of normalcy.

BUT WHAT IF YOU ARE DISABLED?

In September this year the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability released a report that found the vaccination of people with a disability and their support workers was seriously deficient. For whatever reason the vaccination rate of people with a disability is extremely low. Why? It could be for any number of reasons including:

  1. Lack of plain English communication explaining why vaccination is important.
  2. Higher rates of susceptibility to misinformation through cognitive, communication and literacy issues.
  3. Lack of mobility and ability to attend any number of hubs.
  4. Fear of the unknown and lack of support to get vaccinated.
  5. General lack of understanding of what is happening during this pandemic and the need to get vaccinated.

I base these few points on my own experience in working with people with disability for over 30 years. I am sure there are other reasons but I hope that these few points give the reader some sort understanding of why the vaccination rates could be lower for people with a disability. It’s quite scary, many people with a disability also have other underlying health issues that make them more susceptible to Covid19. This could be health issues related to their disability, poor hygiene, poor nutrition or simply not understanding and following rules like mask wearing and social distancing. In October the ABC TV show, QA, provided us with a harrowing statistic that in the UK, six out of 10 people that have died from Covid19 have been people who have disabilities. That is more than half of the total deaths

I am sure some of those with disabilities in this data were also elderly people. Many would be people that had acquired their disability with age and who had underlying health issues. However, it is still a horrifying statistic. Typically, governments, all over Australia, have not recognised the dangers for people with a disability until it is almost too late. It is only since the Royal Commission Report was released on September 27 that they have kicked it up a notch to try and get people with a disability vaccinated properly.

As we are all celebrating opening up there are going to be many people with a disability who cannot go out. They will be barred from entering places because, largely through no fault of their own, they are not vaccinated. Mary Mallett, CEO of Disability Advocacy Network Australia, says the community is feeling “worried”.

The government let down people with disability. People with disability and their families and advocates are really worried that many people are not adequately protected and will be a few months behind at least, which means they will not be able to join the rest of the NSW population in attending events, getting haircuts, going shopping, taking part in the community and society as they should be able to,

As it always is, governments have had to be embarrassed action. The Victorian Government has allocated $5 million, I believe, to fast track the vaccination of people with a disability. Why now? They have been working towards 80% vaccination for some time now. Why did people with a disability mean so little that they and other governments had to be embarrassed by a targeted media campaign to get action happening? There is no doubt in my mind, people with a disability are a lesser kind of being, under valued and under represented.

It came as no surprise to me that people from the Deaf community, apparently, are among the lowest vaccinated in the country. The Deaf community can be incredibly open to misinformation. There are a large number of people within that struggle with English language. They are easily influenced by people who spread conspiracy theories. Many have degrees of language deprivation that makes it hard for them to see issues from different perspectives. They are vulnerable to misinformation. It actually makes me quite angry, because the people that spread this misinformation are causing great harm and contributing to possible tragedy. They should know better. I include the pro-choice people in this. The choice they make is placing others at risk. It’s your body, true, but what right do you have to risk the lives of others on a stubborn principle.

I’m sure there are other issues. Many of us deaf people are experiencing severe social anxiety as the result of masks. As a result many are avoiding situations where they must communicate with people in masks. Social anxiety is a real thing. It is not just a case of saying get over it. In an effort to overcome this issue in Victoria they have set up hubs with interpreters and officials who all sign. A great initiative! Despite this I am told that a recent Hub was attended by just 10 people in a day and only two of them were Deaf. The Deaf community in Australia is relatively small. That a large number of them are unvaccinated and at risk is scary indeed.

I wonder what will happen when the vaccination passport kicks in. The vaccination passport will mean that to enter a shop, a service, a pub or a cinema, you will have to provide proof of vaccination. I wonder what will happen when someone with cognitive or communication issues, who doesn’t understand what these passports are, tries to gain entry. The people at the door will already be stressed at having to check everyone and, more likely than not, will not have the training to deal with people with severe cognitive and communication issues. Will they remove their masks to communicate with the deaf person? Will they write notes? Will they have technology to help them communicate or strategies to patiently explain and help a person who is struggling to comprehend what is happening? More importantly, who is thinking about these issues now and what are they doing to address it? I’ve heard nothing; have you?

A lesser kind of being, that’s who we disabled people are. There is much work to be done. If governments don’t kick it up a notch it could well unfold to be a real human tragedy. Just like in Britain where six out of every ten people that died from Covid19 were people with disabilities. To the governments out there, please act fast!

Accessibility Through the Ages – A Technological Journey!

Image is a cartoon graphic showing two hands typing on a keyboard and how technology has developed so this keyboard can connect to a variety of online platforms … Like shopping, banking, entertainment and so on. The keyboard is connected to all these things through lines like a flowchart.

Not so long ago I worked in the NDIS sector. I really loved my team there, pity about the manager. It only takes one to spoil the apple cart. I had to do many NDIS plans. I liked doing them. I liked meeting the clients. I like to think I was pretty good at them too. Of course, being deaf, communication could be problematic. For these meetings I always booked Live Remote Captioning. I could have chosen Auslan interpreters, but my reasoning for captioning was that the clients were already in a vulnerable position. They were disclosing personal information.  The person doing the captioning was invisible, because they delivered it remotely and online. Having one less person in the room was my way of making it more comfortable for the client.

I am well aware that I am privileged here. I have good speech (for a DEAF GUY ANY WAY :-D) That meant that I could speak, use the captioning and carry out the meeting. The added benefit was that I would get a full transcript of the meeting. This helped me in the final writing of the plan and ensured I had no excuse for missing anything.

It is interesting because when I began my career, captioning was not available. Interpreters were barely available. I remember Barb, the accountant, was a CODA. She interpreted for me. We made hundreds of cold canvassing calls to get Deaf people into work. John was a CODA too. He managed the fledging interpreter service. I would grab him when I could. Vanessa shared an office with me, sometimes she would interpret too. The year was 1989.

Interpreting grew over time. I was one of the first in South Australia to receive interpreting paid for by the University. I had Barb, Heather and Karin. All wonderful interpreters. I remember having to fight my social work lecturer to keep them in the class. He reckoned they had no place in his class cos in real life, I wouldn’t be able to work with interpreters. How wrong he was. I wish I could see him now and give him the bird. It would be so satisfying.

So, I graduated and started work. In truth, I worked and studied. In those early days the phone was always a problem. I would apply for jobs; they would ask me about the phone. I would have to confess that I couldn’t. Try to sell the idea of job trading. You know, I’d do extra paperwork, someone would do my calls. Often, I lost out on jobs because I couldn’t take incoming calls. It was a hard slog.

Then in 1994 the National Relay Service came. Finally, I could use the phone, albeit through a third person. They could call me too. I had to train them how, but most were accommodating. I had a TTY (before the times of Jobaccess. The employer had to buy it) I had a flashing light too so that I knew when my phone was ringing. These were heady days. Ordering pizza, making dates with girls I had met in the pub and actually using the phone at work. WOOOOAHHHH!

Then it was the mobile phone. By golly wasn’t that brilliant. I remember at the start you could only send an SMS to people who had the same carrier, Telstra to Telstra, Optus to Optus etc. If memory serves me right, Robert Adam started a campaign to get carriers to allow text to different carriers.

Before that I had a Hutchinsons pager. I could receive messages but not send any. Now I could actually communicate with someone direct, no third person. OOOOH!! It was addictive. We sent thousands of texts. Blimey, it was expensive at 25cents a text. I know many a deaf person that got in heaps of financial strife cos they went batty with texts. But that changed over time to unlimited texts. And rightly so, given that a text at the time cost something like .00000000000017 cents.

Independence grew every year as technology improved. Opportunities for deaf people improved with it. Email was the next big step. You could cut out the phone altogether and just email. I say could, but hearing professionals love talking on the phone. When they could email, they would call. When they could text, they would call. Getting them to change a habit of a lifetime is harder than taking a bone from a determined dog, and almost as dangerous.

In 2006 we had another breakthrough. The Howard Government introduced Auslan for Employment. It was a shabby policy at the time.  Just $5000, once off. Then the employer was expected to pay. So we campaigned hard to change this. Luckily for us, Howard got kicked out on his sorry arse (I’ve never forgiven him for Tampa.) Rudd came in and Shorten was his Parliamentary Secretary for Disability. Soon enough Auslan for Employment was an annual $6000 for everyone.

It has not increased since. It’s still shabby policy because it doesn’t consider different needs, demands, regions, duties etc – BUT – it opened doors and opportunities for many Deaf professionals in that it allowed them to participate more in the workplace, be involved actively with meetings, training and so on. For all of its faults, Auslan for Employment has been a life saver for many Deaf people.

Then there was real time captioning. Then Live Remote Captioning. I remember attending the University of Melbourne where Matthew Brett demonstrated how it could work for students. I was on the Deafness Forum Board and we had a conference. AI media demonstrated how it worked. Way back in 2004 or 2005 The University of Sunshine Coast were flogging an IBM system where lectures were all recorded and converted to text by voice recognition. An admin person would correct any errors and within 24 hours they would place the recordings of lectures, with the corrected captioning, online.

It was a great time to be hard of hearing because suddenly the access needs of this group were being considered. Whether we like it or not, nearly all people with any kind of deafness do not sign. Only a very small percentage of the vast population of people who have a “hearing loss’ actually use Auslan. But somehow, until that time, Auslan had been the primary focus of access. Not that this is wrong, rather there were many people who were missing out and very little was being spoken about their needs.

So, we went from a time when the Australian Caption Centre were really the only people focusing on captioning to a time when there were multiple providers of real-time captioning both live and remote. We have Bradley Reporting, Captioning Studio, Red bee Media and AI Media. In time Auslan for Employment changed to allow payment of captioning too. The playing field began to even out.

As Australia’s internet improved these services began to go online. Video Relay Interpreting started. Captioning was delivered through different platforms – Gotomeeting, Skype and so on. You could basically get access anywhere and anytime. Deaf and hard of hearing people live in Utopia compared with when I began my career.

For many of us it’s always been a farfetched dream for there to be voice recognition technology available whenever it was needed. You could meet friends in the pub, turn it on and it would allow you to follow conversations. You could receive a phone call, turn it on and know what the person was saying at the other end. This was the dream of voice to text technology.

I used to scoff at this. I used to think that there was no way it would become common. I mean how was it going to distinguish accents, synonyms and so on. I was a sceptic and felt that it was always going to be limited. Indeed, this was always a weakness of such technology. If you had a cold, for example, the technology would struggle to understand you.

Then one day in 2018, while working for the NDIA, Sarah sent an email. Deaf people in the NDIA had a sort of information sharing thing going on. Sarah encouraged people to try Live Transcribe, an Android based voice to text app. She said it was surprisingly accurate and she was able to partake reasonably well in a meeting when she was unable to book interpreters. So, try it I did, and I was gobsmacked. Sure, it made errors, but it could pick up everyone and it was surprisingly accurate. I began to use it regularly for impromptu meetings that were called, one on ones and so on. I have not stopped since.

The rapid development of this sort of technology has been outstanding. It has allowed me to communicate more independently, without the need of a third person. It makes errors that are really quite funny. Calling a USEP Partner a New Sex Partner for example.  When the pandemic started, I would set the technology up on a tablet near the computer and it would transcribe Zoom meetings really accurately.  My colleagues and I began to develop protocols so that I could participate better. No one talking over each other for example. Using the hand raising feature and so on. Teams and Google Meet have really accurate auto captioning built into their systems too.

To give the reader an idea of the change this has made on my work life, consider this. In 2017, while working as a Senior Local Area Coordinator, the bill for two deaf people to use interpreters and captioning, just for nine months, was $84000. Last year I didn’t even finish my $6000 Auslan for Employment money, so good is this technology now. I am well aware I am privileged because I speak well, but the change and the independence it has provided me has been life changing.

Live Transcribe is a free app on Android. Currently, my technology of choice is Microsoft Group Transcribe. This is an Apple based app, and its free too. It’s even better than Live Transcribe. I used to try Live Transcribe to see if it would transcribe the TV or someone talking on my phone. It didn’t work well. But Microsoft Group Transcribe does. I use it when a TV show doesn’t have captions, which is rare now. I also use it to make voice phone calls. I put my phone on speaker, I turn on the App on my iPad and away I go. Just today I arranged my home insurance and booked a restaurant doing just that.

And now we have Convo Australia. Interpreters at the ready anywhere and anytime. You pay a monthly subscription and if you need an interpreter Covo Australia are there at the ready on your phone. What that will do in terms of supply of interpreters for those that need it face to face I do not know. I do wonder if it will place stress on system that already cannot meet demand. Who knows? Time will tell.

It’s incredible, isn’t it?  From those days when I had to hope that Barb was available to make a call, I can now make calls independently. From those days where only the lucky could get interpreters for their work, they are now commonplace. From the days when we could communicate independently through the NRS, we can now do away with the third person. From the days when we had to book interpreters well in advance, they are now available at the ready on our mobiles.

Life’s good! – Enjoy it until the next amazing development in technology comes along.