“You have to be the best planner I have ever worked with, a breath of fresh air. Absolute champion.” With those words my week ended. It’s a good way to go to the weekend with that sort of praise before my very eyes. I was going to say ringing in my ears, but as it was sent by text it didn’t quite seem right. And anyway it would make me seem like a pretend hearie.
But the praise made me reflect. It made me realise just how far that I have I come. I have taken on insurmountable barriers and knocked them down. I have come from a time where support at university was minimal. I have been part of a movement that has lobbied hard so that Deaf and hard of hearing people all over Australia need never be excluded.
I started work at a time when there was no technology, no email, no NRS. I had to rely on finding time that the Deaf society accountant could spare me for interpreting. I had to get others to make my calls. I come from a time where jobs were simply not an option for me because there was no way around the communication issues.
But I fought those barriers. I fought them, as did others of my ilk. The battles that we have fought have meant opportunities could be afforded to Deaf and hard of hearing people previously considered impossible.
In my time we have fought for the NRS. We have utilised technology innovatively to create opportunities. We have introduced captioning to the workplace. We have done many things. I am very proud of what I and countless other Deaf and hard of hearing people have achieved during my 30 year career.
So when I get praise like “You have to be the best planner ever….” It moves me. It moves me because I could so very easily have been denied the opportunity to be at this point where my skills are so valued. It moves me because I know countless others have benefited from those heady days of the 80’s and 90’s where we achieved so much and created so many opportunities. I am very proud to be part of a movement that made Australia a better place for all people who are Deaf and hard of hearing.
The opportunities that I have been afforded because of my and others hard work I expect others to benefit from. My expectations for other people who are Deaf and hard of hearing are high. If those expectations are not met it makes me angry and very frustrated. And so it was last night.
I was asked to be interviewed. A young deaf woman who is studying journalism wanted to interview me about the benefits of Auslan. She touched on many issues such as teacher of the deaf training, influences on Auslan, mental health, what makes a good Deaf school, language development, cognitive impacts and so on.
Towards the end of the interview we began to touch on mental health and why the incidence of mental health was so high among people who are Deaf or hard of hearing. To try and highlight my point I asked her how she was going at University at the moment.
She said that she was going ok. I asked her what support she had. She said a note-taker. That was all. I asked how she coped in group sessions and discussions. She said she didn’t. She was frustrated and left out. I pointed out that this is the frustration of many deaf people and that it often leads to stress and mental health issues.
I wanted to know why it was that she had only received a note-taker. She said she thought it was that she speaks so well and communicates well in small gatherings. Because of this she felt that they had assessed her as needing only a note-taker.
I questioned her about live remote captioning and interpreting. She knows Auslan but is not proficient. She knew nothing about live remote captioning. I was livid. She attends one of Australia’s largest and richest universities and she had received virtually no advise and offered next to nothing.
This frustrates me no end. We are in 2019. In 2019 there is no excuse, whatsoever, for a large and wealthy institution not to provide advice, options and adequate support. The disability support staff at this university are vastly experienced. That this young woman was provided with only a note-taker and left to fend for herself for the rest of her learning is not just discrimination, it is tantamount to abuse.
I spent 12 years as a National Disability Coordination Officer. In that time I worked hard to promote access and inclusion in education for people who are Deaf and hard of hearing. I created solutions for access to online learning. I provided examples and training on how to make media such as videos accessible. I showed how using green screen you could super impose a lecture with an Auslan interpreter so that online content was accessible in Auslan. I showed how you could provide access to Auslan and captioning from virtually anywhere in Australia so that travel costs and the like could be minimised.
In short I know what I am talking about. I know that the solutions exist. AND I know that no Deaf or hard of hearing person, anywhere, need be excluded or miss out. There are no excuses whatsoever. Yet this young woman is being made to watch videos in classs without captions!!!
This young woman confessed that she feared drawing attention to herself. Subconsciously, perhaps, she feared that asking for support was a sign of weakness. She felt a burden. This saddens me. She should not have to ask. She should be advised and offered a range of support. Sure, if in the end she chooses only a note-taker than that’s fine. But this did not happen. It disgusts me.
“But I am doing ok. I am passing.”, she said. She confessed that she didn’t feel right having them pay for her support. I pointed out to her that by getting the support she is actually providing employment to people. Because of her people can pay for their cars and food. Without her virtually thousands of people would be without a job from hearing aid makers, interpreters, captioners, audiologist and the like. No way should she feel a burden. She, along with millions of other Deaf and hard of hearing people, is the centre of a thriving economy! There is no guilt to be had.
I have offered her my support. I have offered to go in and make the institution provide what they should be providing. I have offered to go in and remind the disability support staff what their job is!
My god, this is 2019 and this should not be happening. I will be damned if going to let 30 years of hard work and advocacy from myself and many others go to waste.
It’s just not good enough