THAT!!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NDIS Heroes

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

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

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

David Bowie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Time Like the Now! – Gary Kerridge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be the Change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DisaDebt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The A Team

Image is of disabled people disrupting a tram as part of the transport campaign. There is blonde lady at the front, dressed in black with a medium sized brown dog and small white dog.

I had so much fun today. I attended a campaign for accessible transport. It was attended by heaps of people with different disabilities. There was an Auslan interpreter present. We held up the trams at Clifton Hill for fifteen minutes. One of the trams was a beautiful accessible tram that a person in a wheelchair couldn’t get on anyway. Why? Because the tram stop wasn’t built up for it.

Do you know that Deaf and hard of hearing people are spoilt in Australia. It is almost like they cough, and they get what they want. Deaf Auslan users, according to Signbank, number just around 7000 in Australia. Despite this, Auslan interpreters are everywhere. We even have Auslan news on the ABC every Sunday. Government announcements have trusty Auslan interpreters alongside the politicians. Auslan translations of important information can be found on social media. I know of one university that spent $250 000 in a year just providing Auslan interpreters to ONE student.

Yup, Deaf Auslan users get great access. It’s not perfect, mind you. However, when you look at the numbers that the interpreting is for, you begin to realise that they are very well serviced indeed. Woah and betide should a Government make an announcement and no Auslan interpreter is present. Shit hits the fan. As it should.

Hard of hearing get it pretty good too. At least for television. Not too many years ago we might have been lucky to have three or four shows captioned per week. Now virtually every show is captioned. However, compared to Deaf Auslan users hard of hearing have a long way to go. Cinemas still rely on the dreadful Craptiview. Few movies are open captioned. Theatre is not captioned very much either. Strange really, considering that people who are hard of hearing number the millions.

Recently a Deaf friend of mine bemoaned the fact that all of the attention was on Wheelies. They get everything the Deaf friend said. Deaf people are ignored. The Blind get a pension they said. Why cant Deaf people get a pension too? My friend was the eternal victim. I am here to tell you that if any group of disabled people get good access, it is people who are Deaf and hard of hearing, By the proverbial mile.

People with physical disabilities have it very hard indeed. Many buildings in the CBD still have steps and are not accessible. Public transport to the CBD is largely inaccessible, particularly trams. In Victoria, a lot of money has been spent making train stations accessible with lifts and the like. But getting to the Train stations is a nightmare. You cant park, because accessible parking is at a minimum. Footpaths are in disrepair making it difficult for people in wheelchairs to get around. Space for wheelchairs on trains is minimal too. It is not surprising that many people in wheelchairs, or who have mobility issues, avoid public transport like the plague.

And those trams. They are a nightmare. They have modern state of the art trams that are fully accessible. Yet these trams service tram stops that have not been built up properly so that wheelchairs can get on them. On Burwood Highway they have beautiful tram stops that have been built up so that wheelchairs can access the trams that service them. But some scheduling numpty has serviced these stops with very old trams that all have steps. I am due for a hip replacement and I can tell you these old trams are not easy to get on.

Victoria has an accessible transport plan the plan states that by 2022 all infrastructure will be accessible. By 2032 all trams, trains and buses will also be accessible. So that is this year that all transport infrastructure is supposed to be accessible. No chance! Hence, the protest today. It was Auslan interpreted too, sadly I was the only person there that needed the interpreter.

Lobbying is a skilled business. It works better if disabled people find common ground and work together. Accessible transport, for example, is not just about getting on a tram, bus or train. It’s about having access to information. Knowing when trains are cancelled. It’s about information in plain English and staff at stations being trained to be able to assist people with a disability. It is a huge area of access. Disability groups need to find common ground and lobby together. In the lobbying game, numbers win. We all need to be the A Team … The Accessibility Team.

It’s not just transport, its services in general. Communication is a huge issue. It is not just interpreters and captioning. When you rock up at emergency at the hospital you need fluid and clear communication. If you are a person with an intellectual disability you need support to communicate with the doctor. You need information in accessible formats, visual and plain English for example. If you have autism and have some specific social and sensory needs, staff need to be aware of the diversity of needs among autistic people and how they might be able to assist. Deaf need interpreters, hard of hearing need access to captioning and fast. Hospitals need to set up and implement technology that will provide fast and accurate captioning. Health is the next great bastion for disability access.

Communication access is huge in so many areas. Yet, 30 years into my career we still have a fragmented advocacy industry that works largely on their own issues. Instead of finding common ground and working together, they lobby alone and on their own issues. It is so inefficient and such a waste of resources and knowledge. Hell, even Deaf Australia and Deafness Forum go it alone most of the time. It’s crazy.

To me it is so important that the advocacy industry becomes less insular. They need to support each other and find common ground. They need to lobby together and be there for each other. The last time the advocacy industry really got together and lobbied together in this way was probably for the NDIS. We need to revisit that campaign and find out why it was so successful. I’m pretty sure it was because diverse groups found common ground and all worked together!

It is time to work together. We all need to become the A Team!

They think they’re right because there are more of them …

Image is of a cartoon of a woman with brown hair. She is holding her hair in frustration, eyes are angry and she is screaming. The caption reads – Why? Because I said so.

I am having a bit of alone time in Adelaide. I had friends over for a few days and they left yesterday morning. They left me a wonderful Australian Whiskey to sup on, made in the Adelaide Hills, not far from here. As you do when you are alone, you channel hop on the TV. First, it was a bit of cooking, then over to the news, a browse through Stan before finally settling on Netflix. I found a rather depressing movie, Forgive Us Our Trespasses, about the persecution of disabled people in Nazi Germany.

Depressing topic. Nevertheless, I watched it. Thankfully it was only a short movie, 14 minutes long. I won’t go into details, lest the reader wants to watch it, but at the end it gave some harrowing statistics. The Nazis killed over 300 000 people with a disability and sterilised over 400, 000 more. The operation to rid Germany and the world of disabled people led to the development of the Gas Chambers. We all know the awful consequence of that.

Fourteen minutes later I was depressed and continued my hopping. I came across a movie, Marilyn’s Eyes. This explored mental health and how society treats it. The movie has been described as stereotypical and twee, as indeed it was, but it explored a number of very important themes about which we people with a disability are well aware.

It explored the lack of control of the person with a mental health issue. It explored how often they are browbeaten and ignored. It showed they are often denied basic rights such as a say in their treatment or things like access to their children. It explored the theme of people only seeing the disability and not the person’s innate value. And it was a love story. What more could you ask for?

Again, I won’t go into too much detail, lest the reader would like to watch and judge for themselves. I’m pretty sure it will make a huge number of them groan at the stereotypical way mental health is depicted. Nevertheless, there are important themes in this movie, none more important than the quote below:

“… They think they’re right because there are more of them …”

As an advocate I could be a very rich man if I got a dollar for every time I have said that. How often have people with a disability been browbeaten because the so called experts think that they know better? How often have we sat on Boards and Committees as the sole disabled person, only to have our views ignored and be outvoted? How often have we lost resources and money because there were more of them and we were outvoted? It is frustrating and it hurts.

To continue my theme of hopping, I awoke in the morning and began the social media hopping. First to Messenger to see if anyone loves me enough to say hello. Then to Facebook with its mismatch of interesting information and drivel. Finally, to twitter where I saw this from Sam Connor:

“Oh, hi people. If I am tied to a chair and left to die in my filth, without being taken to the toilet or leaving the house for two years. Then my domestic violence perpetrator will only get 6 and a half years for my torture and murder, even if they steal my shit, What a joke.”

Connor’s angry post is referring to Anne Marie Smith. A disabled person in Adelaide who suffered extreme neglect from her carer and care support agency which led to their death. Connor has described what happened in full detail above. It beggars belief. That the perpetrator got only six and a half years for this gross mistreatment of a human being is beyond my comprehension. And this happened HERE in Australia!!

Now, I don’t want to compare Australia to Nazi Germany, but the way Australia treats people with a disability is really appalling. They think they’re right because there are more of them … and it’s true. They use their numbers, they use their authority and they use their power to keep people with a disability firmly at the bottom of the pile. Worse, they show how much they value people with a disability with abhorrent jail sentences like the one described above! (The person could be out in five years with parole.)

You see, these people in power still see us as a burden. They do not want to value us the same way as they value others. They still, in this day and age, don’t want us here. Hell, there is still legal debate about whether it is ok to sterilise people with a disability. People still think it is ok to abort babies with Down Syndrome. They even want to eliminate deafness. The reader might have gathered by now, I am actually kind of angry.

And why wouldn’t I be? My friend, who has a heap of complex communication and disability needs, was denied Auslan because some planner and his boss decided that Auslan would harm her. They argued that an Auslan interpreter can only sign for an hour without stopping. (actually, true), therefore if she were to sign it would cause her fatigue and be bad for her health. It is all crap, they just didn’t want to pay for it.

I’m betting that they also have no clue that Auslan is a real language, not just a bit of hand flapping to aide communication. Do not get me started on the specially funded legal service that tried to deny her access to captioning for a meeting because it was their policy not to caption legal meetings. They think they’re right because there are more of them … Can you see the pattern? (As a footnote, my friend had her Auslan reinstated after a long and stressful AAT appeal.)

Or just this morning, during my Social Media hop, I came across a family who were denied a miniscule amount of money from the NDIS to purchase Auslan resources to help them and their child develop Auslan. They were told no, watch Sally and Possum on the ABC or borrow some books from the library. According to the NDIS, Auslan resources are just like books and therefore a parental responsibility. I kid you not. Such ignorance on the part of the planner is beyond my ability to understand …. They think they’re right because there are more of them … Aye!

And yet again, on a Facebook NDIS discussion page, some Deaf or hard of hearing person has been denied proper access to an NDIS planning meeting through either Auslan or captioning. Worse, they have even tried to make the person do it over the phone. Of course COVID has meant a lot of planning meetings are done over the phone. Not possible if you are Deaf. HELLO!! Are these people serious?

I know of a Deaf parent who was almost excluded from the planning process for their disabled child, because the LAC organisation would rather do a phone planning meeting with the hearing father. This is despite the woman being the primary carer who attends the majority appointments for their child. It’s all about those, the many, and making their job as easy, quick and cheap as possible. Bugger the disabled person!

Let me remind LACs and NDIS Planners, you have an Operational Guideline booklet on communication access, it’s available on your intranet. It clearly outlines what access you must provide and at your expense – READ IT … They think they’re right because there are more of them … I think I have made my point.

These examples are all about deaf people. But believe me it happens to others. The NDIA are hell-bent on cutting back plans and costs. Parents are losing therapy hours for their disabled children because it’s “parental responsibility”. Disabled people are experiencing long delays in receiving much needed technology because the NDIA only want to provide standard and often inadequate technology. Community participation support is withdrawn because the NDIA are saying that its the responsibility of informal supports. Anything to save money!

And you know why? It is because the value of people with a disability is only seen by the amount of money that is spent on them. What would we know? After all … They think they’re right because there are more of them …

The Man Who Would Be King

Image is of a crown, gold with purple velvet inset

We used to call Damian Lacey the Empire Builder. He had grand visions for Deaf Children Australia in the early 2000s. His vision had merit. He wanted one brand for deafness. One brand to raise money, and one brand lobbying for the Deaf community and deaf children. By working together, we could achieve much. The problem was the timing. Australia was not set up for it at that time.

I was a Board member at Deaf Children Australia when Lacey was the CEO. I was very resistant to his vision as were a couple of other Board members. I liked his vision but, in my view, Australia was not set up for a one national Deaf organisation; at that time, at least. I felt we were better placed focusing on deaf children in Victoria, doing this well, and with the reasonably substantial wealth that Deaf Children Australia had at that time.

This was pre-NDIS days. It was a time when state Governments were responsible for disability funding. Governments of the time provided block funding for Deaf Societies to deliver services. As always, this funding was never enough. The Deaf Societies around Australia relied on fundraising to make up the shortfall.

Lacey was determined to expand. My argument was that if he was going to have a national organisation that serviced adults and children, it would be essential that the services of the organisation in each state were equitable. It would not work, I argued, if Victoria provided high class children services and South Australia, Western Australia, Queensland etc received an inferior service. I wanted Deaf Children Australia to do children services well in Victoria, rather than spreading itself thin all over Australia.

I had a more conservative view; Lacey did not. There was no stopping him. He got the majority of the Board’s support and pushed on. At the time, Deaf Societies all over Australia were struggling to stay afloat. The Royal South Australian Deaf Society had to merge with Townsend House, which eventually led to the Deaf community there, losing its spiritual home at 262.

I think Lacey may have offered to help the SA Deaf Society at the time, then known as Deaf SA. I have no idea what happened, but they decided against a merger with Deaf Children Australia and went for Townsend House. Nevertheless, Lacey pushed on. He eventually developed partnerships with the Queensland Deaf Society and the Western Australian Deaf Society. He may have tried for Tasmania as well, but they eventually merged with VicDeaf, now known as Expression Australia.

Lacey worked hard and for a time was CEO of WA, Queensland Deaf Societies and Deaf Children Australia. Deaf Children Australia even branched out into the Northern Territory. It seemed that Lacey had a vision and nothing was going to stop him. Despite good intentions, the partnerships that were established eventually were all dissolved.

I don’t really know all the details but the rapid expansion all fell in a heap. The Deaf Societies in question, all seemed to find some equilibrium and stability. Once that stability was established, the support of Deaf Children Australia was no longer needed. Rumour has it that Lacey delivered an ultimatum to one of his partners that they either did it his way or he would resign. They accepted his resignation. To keep a long story short, that was the end of that.

I have no idea of the business arrangements that went on. I don’t know how much money Deaf Children Australia channelled into these other organisations. But at the end of it all, the partnerships ended and the benefit to Deaf Children Australia appears to have been minimal indeed. Meanwhile, the Queensland Deaf Society, whom Deaf Children Australia originally “propped up“, have gone from strength to strength. Western Australia seems to be doing alright too. The Northern Territory Services branch of Deaf Children Australia never really took off, and they are now part of the rapidly expanding Deaf Connect.

I have a feeling that Lacey would have had a little more success in today’s climate. The NDIS means that the services sector is cherry ripe for a national approach. The business model has changed. Very few services now receive block funding. Services have to play the market. The power has shifted, somewhat, to the consumer. If a services organisation is to survive, they have to provide services that their clients demand.

That also means service providers have to be business savvy. They have to keep overheads to a minimum. Services have to turn over a profit otherwise, like any business that doesn’t make a profit, they will crash and burn. Indeed, many do.

It is now less about the community and more about the organisational survival. Those with the stronger business model will survive. Those that do not have a strong business model will become prey to larger organisations and are ripe for the picking. Ironically, Deaf Connect, who initially were propped up by Deaf Children Australia, are now the biggest player of all Deaf services.

Supposedly, profits from Deaf Connect and other services such as Expression Australia are to be used for the benefit of the Deaf community. How? I am not sure. They do Auslan translations of information such as Covid and other vital news. Beyond that I don’t see a lot. interpreters are provided for Government announcements, but I am pretty sure this is a profitable fee for service arm. Grants are provided to community groups. Discussions have been had about setting up Community Hubs for the Deaf community. I am not seeing a lot of evidence of this at the moment, but the profits are supposed to go back to the Deaf community.

Lacey, the man who would be King, is no more. He has seemingly been replaced by Brett Casey, the CEO of Deaf Connect. Deaf Connect started from a merger of the Queensland Deaf Society and the NSW Deaf Society. In a few short years they have taken over the services of the Northern Territory that were abandoned by Deaf Children Australia, They have recently taken over the services of Deaf Can Do in South Australia.

According to Deaf Can Do CEO, Heidi Limereff, speaking to The Advertiser, this is because Deaf Can Do have lost trust of the SA Deaf community and this trust cannot be rebuilt. As a result, Deaf Connect have received a “… significant amount of money” from Deaf Can Do to take over the services. No doubt this was the so called ‘TRUST FUND’ established from the sale of 262. One can only hope that Deaf Connect gives this significant amount back to the SA Deaf community, and do not swallow it up into their rapid growing coffers.

Ironically, it seems that Lacey’s original vision has come to fruition through the guise of Deaf Connect. Lacey’s problem was not so much his vision, but the timing of that vision. Australia’s deaf services were not ready for it at that time, politically or financially. Even more ironic, one of the organisations that Lacey and Deaf Children Australia helped to prop up, is now leading the charge to take over Deaf services all over Australia.

And what of Deaf Children Australia now? Well they are still there. Trying hard to find a niche in the NDIS market. Existing in an old building that is swallowing any profits that they do make for its upkeep. Lovely old building that it is, its up keep is not financially sustainable for a business. If Deaf Children Australia are to survive, hard decisions have to be made. They are sitting on millions of dollars of land that can not be sold because of heritage and Government caveats, much to their frustration. There is no room for sentiment and hard decisions have to be made.

What of the future of Deaf Children Australia? Perhaps a merger with Expression Australia. Is there room for the two of them? Can Victoria afford two CEOs, two sets of administration and competing services in such a small market?

Perhaps they are a target for the new king of the block, Deaf Connect and its Deaf CEO, Brett Casey. Who knows, but one thing is for sure, change is afoot. Watch this space!

The End! – What next for The SA Deaf Community?

Photo is of the old red brick building that was the Royal South Australian Deaf Society?

I was 24 years old. Still at University and I had been offered a job as a porter a the Royal Adelaide Hospital. I went for an interview for the position of Employment Project Officer at the Royal South Australian Deaf Society, at the old 262. Before that I had done some voluntary work for the Deaf Society. I volunteered for the Deaf high support needs group and also at the Hope Valley retirement village. I didn’t have a drivers licence at the time. The number of jobs that I had applied for was two, in my entire life! And I had recently been offered one of them!

Damian Lacey, the CEO, seemed unimpressed. “How do you expect to do this job without a licence?” He looked me in the eye, his scepticism was plain for all to see. I bumbled some sort of answer that I was close to getting my licence and that it wouldn’t be long. I thought that I had better not tell him I had failed my first driving test after going up the kerb doing a three point turn. I forgot to put it in reverse. So petrified was the poor tester that he refused to go on. “You get out of the car.” he ordered, ” And if you don’t, I’m bloody walking back.” I may have told him to fuck off at that point, it is all a bit of a blur.

Some how, they offered me the role. I had a choice of becoming the Deaf Society Employment Project Officer or a porter at the hospital. I chose the former, I often wonder what would have happened if I had chosen to be a porter. I mean working in a hospital, dealing with medical conditions and the drama of every day life in a hospital had its attractions. Giving people sponge baths, less so. So, I chose the Deaf Society.

I still look back and think I should have been a porter. The politics, the egos, the tragedy and the relentless struggle for people who are Deaf or have disabilities takes its toll. It never stops. I imagine clocking off at five pm. Job done, home to the family, game of golf and finishing with an ice cold beer. I sometimes think not having to deal with the daily struggle of access and inclusion for the Deaf community and disabled people would not necessarily be a bad thing.

But I didn’t choose to be a porter. I chose the Deaf community. It’s been a good life and a good career. I have travelled widely. I have met wonderful people. I have met politicians and stars. I remember being sat next to Todd McKenny at a function. He offered me his hand to shake and said, “Hi, I’m Todd”. I replied, “I know.” He rolled his eyes and said, “Of course you do” We both laughed. He is a really lovely guy.

At a Deafness Forum Summit I met John Howard in a washroom trying to dry his tie with an air dryer, cos he had splashed it washing his hands. He was moving his body backwards and forwards, trying to get his tie dry. There is a famous Mr Bean skit where Mr Bean does exactly the same. I just stared with my hand over my mouth, trying to stifle a giggle. I sometimes wish I had filmed it.

I had the pleasure of meeting Tony Abbott too. I met him in his posh Parliament House office with expensive art on the walls. ( I assume it was expensive anyway.) He was running a little late. He came in and bowed, Asked us to excuse him as he had some personal things to deal with. He came back, said hello and shook my hand. His hand was still wet.

We then sat down around a coffee table to chat. He puts his feet on the table and his hands behind his head. As he did so, his trousers bottoms rucked up revealing his hairy legs and sock tops – “What can I do for you?” he asked. I answered, Can I put my feet on the table too? “ He smiled and said, “Go for it.” I actually enjoyed chatting with him. He challenged me and didn’t patronise me in anyway. I found him really different from his public persona.

All of this started from those humble beginnings as the Deaf Society Employment Project Officer. It is for this reason I look back fondly at my time with the Royal South Australian Deaf Society. She gave me so much and so many great memories. She was my introduction to the Deaf community through Her youth group at the ripe old age of 18. I am very defensive of Her, and very angry at what she became.

There was a time when She was the hub of everything. Before we all got old and egotistical, we worked hard together to make positive change. As Employment Officer I had a licence to create. I once established a bar course for Deaf people at Regency Park TAFE. I argued that Deaf people could work behind a bar and overcome any communication obstacles.

The late and wonderful, Carmela Pavia, was a student and we had her working at the Green Dragon, on the corner of South Terrace and Pultney. It is now Fasta Pasta. One wag of a patron, who wanted a light beer, pointed to the light and then the beer tap. I got interviewed by Channel 10 news. They said that people that go to bars often need to debrief about their life to the bartender. They asked if I would miss doing that if I worked behind the bar. I answered,

“Mate, I’m a social work student, I count myself lucky that they cant talk to me about their life problems!”

Damian, the CEO, was often a great support. The South Australian Association of the Deaf wanted to protest about Debra Swann being discriminated against by the Surf Life Saving Association. He let us use the Deaf Society resources to make banners and posters. We spent hours designing posters and banners and headed off down to the Association’s head office at West Beach. When we got there it was closed! It was all a bit anti-climatic. We left all the banners and posters on the front step and door for the staff and CEO to see in the morning. (Lesson for any would be protesters – Check opening hours before you go,)

Barry Priori passed away this week. He is an icon of the SA Deaf community. Everyone knew Barry. We will all miss him very much. He was one of my first clients. He had been working in a factory and injured his shoulder. He could not work there anymore. I suggested to him that he would make a great Auslan trainer. I mentioned this to my boss, Dorothy O’Brien. She said to get him on board.

I gave him a little bit of training on how to teach. He wanted to be able to clearly explain why Auslan was a language and different from English. We decided to use ‘How are you?’ as an example. We used four examples:

wie geht es dir – German

Come Stai – Italian

How are you – English

Auslan sign for ‘How are you’

We went to our local travel agent and found posters of England, Germany and Italy. These were props. Barry had to teach without using his voice. He would point to ‘How are you?’ that was written on the board- then to the poster of the relevant country . He would then point to the phrase, ‘How are you?’ He would then count the words. He would point to the German poster, then the German translation and then count the words 1-2-3-4. He did the same for the Italian translation – 2 words. The English translation, three words, Finally he would sign Auslan – 1 word!

In this way he pointed out that all languages were different and had different ways to say things. At the end of the lesson he would have a list of all the signs he had used for the lesson. In this case it could be:

How are you?

Numbers 1 to 4

Italy, German, England

Same/different etc

He would show the signs again for each of those words that he had used during the lesson. He wasn’t a qualified teacher, nor was he a linguist. He was just a natural teacher with an enormous gift to engage his class. From that first lesson we worked on together, around 1990, he remained an Auslan teacher for over thirty years. He even had an enormously popular stage show called Naughty Hands, a sell out at the Fringe. Barry is irreplaceable and will be missed immensely.

That was the start of my career. Sadly, to progress in my career I had to leave Adelaide and the old Royal South Australian Deaf Society at 262. It was truly one of the most happy times of my life. In later years the Deaf Society struggled. Funding was cut as the SA Government opted for the Options Coordination program.

When I was there it was a vibrant hub. It had three community workers and a youth worker. It had me, the Employment Officer. It had a large fundraising team and the Auslan training team. There was an Early Childhood Group coordinator. There was the senior citizens group that I absolutely loved. Friday night was club night. It was just brilliant, a real community hub. Let’s not forget that it also had a CEO, a Services Manager, a Payroll Officer, an admin team and the interpreters coordinator.

Once the funding was cut it was the beginning of the end. Supports were gradually reduced, Assets were sold off to stay afloat. An Audiology business was established to make money. But it was a struggle. Indeed, many of the business decisions made were questionable. One cannot be too critical, it was an enormously difficult challenge.

In 2007, it seemed that the end was nigh. The Royal South Australian Deaf Society reached out to Townsend House for help to stay afloat. At the time someone sent me the partnership proposal. I urged caution. From what I could see they basically were signing over all control to Townsend House. I remember writing a Rebuttal and saying if they were not careful, the much loved 262 building could be sold from right under the Deaf communities noses.

Oh boy! That upset lots of people at the top. To keep a long story short, I copped a torrent of abuse from the President and Townsend House CEO. I was accused of making up stories for print space. I argued that the old 262 belonged to the Deaf community. The Deaf community had raised the funds for it. Indeed, many Deaf trades people had been involved in the building of 262. I argued that it was for the Deaf community to control and that the Deaf community should have the last say.

Promises were made that 262 would never be sold. The Deaf community in South Australia were led to believe that they would have the last say. We all know what happened. A few years later the building was sold. This was despite massive protests from the SA Deaf community. The heart and soul of the South Australian Deaf community was ripped out from asunder them.

It is true that the old 262 was a financial burden in the end. It was a massive expense to keep. It was probably the right decision to sell it. BUT, the Deaf community were ignored. The asset was sold against their wishes. The community has never really recovered from its broken heart,

Townsend House, who took over the Deaf Society, shunted the community centre off to Modbury, to an old Indoor Cricket Centre that they had inherited, It was a soul-less building. Not central and not near public transport. Despite the best efforts of many Deaf community members, Modbury never took off.

Last year Townsend House wrote a series of letters to the Deaf community apologising for what they had done in selling 262. They wanted to consult with the Deaf community to find a way forward. I am told they consulted with over 70 members of the community. I was one of them. At my talk with them they revealed to me that the money they had gotten from the 262 sale was held in a trust fund. They asked me what I would do.

I said to give it back ton the Deaf community. I said to allow the Deaf community to develop a consortium of Deaf business people and services experts. I suggested that the Deaf community might like to develop a Deaf Hub. A centre for Deaf business and community support, staffed by and run by Deaf people.

I have no idea what happened from these consultations. What I do know is that the Deaf Society, by this time a services branch of the Can Do Group called Deaf Can Do, has this week handed over its services to Deaf Connect. Whether this is what the Deaf community asked for in their message through the consultations, I don’t know. But this is what is happening.

Deaf Connect are a huge group. They started from a merger with the Queensland Deaf Society and NSW Deaf Society. They have recently expanded to the Northern Territory and now they have taken over Deaf services in South Australia. Their CEO is a Deaf man, Brett Casey. They aggressively seek and employ Deaf talent into management roles. They are definitely PRO DEAF!

Last night (4/3/22) they held an information session with the South Australian Deaf community. I understand that around 80 people attended. Details are sketchy, but I understand that in taking over the services, equity and funding from the old Royal South Australian Deaf Society was not transferred to them. I understand that the audiology business, set up with Deaf Society funding and quite profitable, remains with the Can Do Group.

What of that trust fund? Is it gone forever? Have the Can Do Group hoodwinked the Deaf community? Have they washed their hands of the Deaf community and said to Deaf Connect – “Here, you have the services, we don’t want them”?

Deaf Connect are a huge franchise. I have no doubt that CEO, Brett Casey, will engage and involve the South Australian Deaf community properly. But, what of that trust fund that was generated from the sale of 262? Will it be handed back to the rightful owners, the South Australian Deaf community? Those funds came from the blood, sweat and tears of that community. Are those funds lost forever, swallowed up into the massive coffers of the Can Do Group?

I wish Deaf Connect well as they service the wonderful South Australian Deaf community. But for me it seems that it really is THE END! And those questions I have asked, hopefully there are some answers!

Photo is head shot of Barry Priori, he has a cheeky smile and is wearing spectacles, He is sporting an immaculately groomed, white and long goatee beard.

IN MEMORY OF THE WONDERFUL BARRY PRIORI, WHO PASSED AWAY THIS WEEK!

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!!!)