Ableist- We Love em Anyway!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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



The Invisible People

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Day of Mourning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And finally – This is what our DDA delivers ….


Welcome to 2018! Utopia for Dissaaabiiillllattteeeee!

Welcome to 2018. This is supposed to be a wonderful time for people with disabilities. We have the NDIS  and access for people who are deaf has never been better. We have nearly 100% captioning on TV, interpreters or captioning at work and slowly we are getting more open captioning at the cinema. It’s a wonderful time. Awareness abounds. The worlds changed for the better – Or has it?

Let’s come up with some random dates.  1988, 1991, 1993, 2010, 2017, 2018.  I will tell you random stories. You be the judge as to whether the world has really changed.

And in this year – A student went to TAFE. This deaf student wanted to do a course by correspondence. She met with the course coordinator. An interpreter was present. They discussed her needs as a deaf student. Presumably they listed  all of the barriers and came up with a number of solutions. This Auslan using deaf student needed some adjustments to be able to do the course. She went away from the meeting excited, cos her enrollment was accepted. She waited  for the first installment of the program. Instructions were to arrive by mail. Mail dutifully arrived and contained a box of six audio recordings. The student was naturally confused and went back to the coordinator to ask why she had received the audio recordings. “Oh”,  said the coordinator, ” .. But I thought if you turned the volume up high you would be able to hear them.”  And yes this is a true story, and no I don’t know what drug of choice the coordinator was on.  CAN YOU GUESS THE YEAR?

And in this year – Yours truly wanted to attend a disability employment conference. And it was an expensive one at that. I naturally requested Auslan interpreters for the conference. This was some four months in advance. The organisers were happy to oblige.

Job done I thought nothing more of it. A week before the conference the organisers got back to me and stated that they could not get me any interpreters  and that they were very sorry. I called the booking agency and found out that there were interpreters galore available.

My employer said not to worry, that they would pay. I refused to let this happen. I insisted that the organisers were responsible and that at the prices that they were charging they could afford it. So I called them back, told them that I had actually found interpreters and booked them for them and reminded them of their obligations under the DDA.

They called back and said they were happy to give me a free rego if my employer covered the cost of the interpreters. This made no sense as the fee the conference was nearly triple what the cost of interpreters would be for the day. The organisers would have been even more out of pocket. I pointed this out and they said, and remember this was a conference on disability, ” If we pay for you we set a precedent and have to pay for all people like you.” ( Or words to that effect.)

So what I did next was to email them again and CC all their sponsors and keynote speakers, who I actually knew either professionally or personally. My boss was shocked. She said that would not work. I told her to sit at my desk in the morning and that there would be an email from them offering to pay all interpreting fees. Nine am next morning boss and I sat together and opened up my emails. There was nothing at nine am but at nine am and 35 seconds an email popped up from the organisers. And guess what? They offered to pay and offered me a grovelling apology. Another true story that makes you wonder why some people work at all in the disability sector.  CAN YOU GUESS THE YEAR?

And in this year – My favourite part of my work is supporting clients. I have done many jobs and in this job I was helping a young deaf lad to get a plumbing apprenticeship. We were going through a group training scheme and we were meeting the manager. The sticking point was the aptitude test.

My client, like many deaf people who were denied access to proper language development, had problems with written English. He was very smart and very capable but questions written in more abstract English could be a problem. We were arguing that a test conducted in English would not give a true indication of his abilities. We were arguing that we needed to do the test differently to provide my client with an equitable opportunity. In other words,  reasonable adjustments were required.

The manager was having nothing of it. All had to be done on merit he said. Deaf people couldn’t be plumbers he said. They could maybe be electricians. He himself was apparently an electrician. Electricians were generally accepting people he said. Plumbers, on the other hand, were a strange breed. There was no way a deaf person could be a plumber said the manager; ” .. Imagine when they are digging holes and they are digging in different holes, how on earth will the communicate with each other.”  Uh huh! That’s what he said.   You may pick your jaw off the floor now.  CAN YOU GUESS THE YEAR??

And in this year – A deaf student attends a social work class with their interpreter. It is for interview techniques.  At the end of the class the student and their interpreter are asked to attend a meeting with the lecturer. “Who is this?”, said the lecturer pointing at the interpreter.  Student explains that this is the interpreter who is there to help them understand whats going on. “Not in my class!”,  said the lecturer.  ” The interpreter is distracting the other students and, besides, when you work as a social worker you cannot reasonably expect an interpreter to follow you around everywhere. If I had known I would not have accepted you into this course!” 

I know it is beyond belief. But then and again a social worker once asked me if I needed a lift back to the office. ” Cheaper than a taxi.” she said. “It must be hard on you not being able to drive.” Perhaps, like plumbers, we should say that social workers, as a group, are a funny breed. I should know, I am one. CAN YOU GUESS THE YEAR?

And in this year – A client has an intellectual and physical disability. She has numerous physical disabilities that cause difficulties transferring, eating, toileting and walking anything but short distances. All of this is noted on the system. There are several Occupational Therapist reports and physiotherapist reports that provide evidence of the various needs of the client. A number of supports have been requested including some help to modify the home to make it safe and improve her mobility around the home.

All the support around her physical disabilities is denied because, “it only says in the system that she has am intellectual disability.” Therefore, apparently,  she does not have any other needs.  Even though reports abounded in the system with the evidence, the powers that be would still not change their minds. Get angry about this. I certainly did.  CAN YOU GUESS THE YEAR?

And in this year – Did you hear the one about the Deaf guy needing interpreting support so that he could communicate better with his hearing mates and friends at parties, weddings, funerals etc. Denied cos you know, parties, weddings and funerals are not considered everyday events.  Liberties I guess they are. So deaf people just sit at home and watch TV and mind their own business.

Or hearing aids denied cos not considered necessary and too expensive.

Or Auslan training denied cos they have hearing aids and they should not be greedy – choose one or the other – You either choose to hear or you don’t, you see.

CAN YOU GUESS THE YEAR? I am pretty sure on the last one you will be able to guess without problems.

And so in this year of 2018 you gotta ask – Are we really all that much more enlightened????


NDIS and Interpreting – A Revolution in Progress

Change is a dirty word. We don’t like change. Especially when that change challenges our status quo. We especially hate it when it challenges things that we have fought so hard for. But sometimes change is thrust upon us. Sometimes there is no stopping it. And sometimes we either find away to work with change or it passes us by. In the worst case scenarios sometimes we resist change so much that everything that we have fought for is lost and everyone loses. Change is being thrust upon the Australian Deaf community now in the form of the NDIS. Lot’s of us don’t like it but the NDIS is not going away.

Us Deafies mostly come from hearing families.  A lot of our time, if not most of our time, is spent interacting with hearing peers. This can be very frustrating. It can can be very lonely. Most of us Deafies know of the moments at Christmas, at parties, at home or simply out in the community where we are left out and unable to participate.  We miss the speeches at 21st. We miss eulogies at funerals. Sporting clubs have awards nights or trivia nights and we lack any capacity to be involved. It is soul destroying and frustrating. Potentially the NDIS will help us to beat the isolation of these events and be more involved.

How many of us have wanted to take part in personal training, in a local cooking course, learn a little about gardening at the local Neighbourhood House or learn how to knit properly. How many of us have seen courses advertised locally and yearned to take part but could not because communication would be too hard. Yes, the NDIS can help us participate in these things too.

Or that coaching course to improve our chipping at golf. Or our tennis serve is weak and we want to learn how to be better. Or we never learnt to swim when we were a kid  and would like to finally swim. Or training our dogs and the local dog agility classes. So many things we have wanted to do but communication has prevented it. Yes, the NDIS can help us with this too.

No begging to our Deaf societies. No arguing for access. No special courses. No cringing at being left out at weddings and parties. Being able to celebrate the life of our dear and departed. No begging and no charity. Just us in control and doing the things that we want and when we want. Blimey, if I want I can book an interpreter to accompany me for a drink with the lads at the local. And if you don’t sign you can have captioning to your iPad, laptop or mobile phone. Sure the latter needs a bit more arranging but it can be done. And all through the NDIS.

The NDIS is providing us with choice and control that we previously could only dream of. The potential is huge and we are just now scratching the surface of what we can do. But we are resisting! Why??

Part of the reason is because the NDIS have set a rate to pay for interpreters and it is far less than what agencies pay.  When agencies take their cut and then pay the interpreter it is way, way above the $122 an hour that the NDIS will pay. This is for a number of reasons, mostly that agencies and interpreters charge a two hour minimum. Then of course for jobs over two hours, two interpreters are required.  There can be travel time as well for jobs over 40 k from the Central Business District. It all adds up. The rate that the NDIS pays does not factor these things in.

The NDIS solution to this is to say that Deaf people can negotiate a payment rate with agencies or they can go direct to interpreters and negotiate with them individually. Sounds great in theory but it is causing all sorts of problems.

Under the NDIS  we can self-manage our funding or we can be agency managed. If we are agency managed we can only use registered providers. Very few individual interpreters are registered as providers which means Deaf participants only have the option of using agencies. This can limit how far their NDIS funds can go because of the cost that is charged.

However, if a Deaf person is self-managed they can choose whoever they want to interpret for them. This is causing a number of controversies. I will try to outline these controversies here:

  1. Most interpreters work through agencies. Agencies are their bread and butter. They are reluctant to accept jobs outside of agencies. There are two reasons for this. Firstly agencies pay the interpreters tax and cover them for insurance in event of accident and injury. Secondly they are want to go into competition with agencies (who really are their employers) lest the agencies black mark them and not provide them with other interpreting jobs.
  2. The interpreting community are up in arms about the possibility of Deaf people going it alone and booking whoever they want. They rightly point out there are risks involved if the Deaf person contracts someone without the skills and qualifications to do the job. The interpreting profession rightly feel this is not just dangerous but also unfair. Why should someone without skills be employed over them. Especially when many have paid thousands of dollars to get to the skill level that they are at. Deaf people will point out that as customers they have the right of choice and know who they want and why. One way or the other this area is a huge sticking point that needs to be resolved.
  3. A little known fact is that if the Deaf person chooses to negotiate directly with an interpreter they technically become the employer. Potentially they could be liable for any accidents or injuries that may happen.  This could be if the interpreter has a car accident on the way, for example, or even repetitive strain injuries. The lack of insurance of many individual interpreters is why they stick with agencies rather than enter into individual agreements. This can be overcome through service agreements that outline clearly who is responsible for what. Nevertheless, it is a legal minefield with many risks and not one that many people are equipped to deal with.
  4. Potentially interpreters can get paid more if they go it alone. They could agree to work for an hour only and get paid $122 directly. I dare say this may be more than agencies pay. But add to this insurance costs, travel costs and the like I am not sure whether interpreters actually come out ahead.

These are just some of the issues that we are dealing with. The problem is that nothing seems to be happening to resolve these issues. While I sympathise with the dilemmas of the interpreters, as a consumer I am also very frustrated. I would like my interpreter dollars to go as far as they possibly can but in doing so I realise that this may put me in conflict with many in the interpreter industry. I might get 90 hours of interpreting a year but the reality is that this is really closer to 45 in the current climate given the two hour booking minimum.

I fully understand that to maintain the interpreter industry interpreters need to be paid properly and have their health and safety looked after. If they are loosing money or being undercut by potential cowboys/girls they will leave the industry. If they are injured  from overwork this will defeat the purpose and cause greater strain on an already stretched market.  At the same time I have every right to feel cheated that my 90 hours of interpreting is, in fact, closer to half of that because of current payment structures. Where does it all end?

We could try going to the NDIS  and say pay more, which will be a long journey and not likely to be successful. We can say to the NDIS they need a structure that means we must only employ qualified interpreters similar to Jobaccess and Auslan for Employment. That might be doable but again it would take time. Or we can look at the current pay structures and adjust and change them to fit in with the new NDIS climate so neither Deaf people nor interpreters are undersold. Don’t ask me how we will resolve the latter because it requires much discussion as well as a lot of give and take. There is no quick fix.

Potentially the NDIS is a godsend for Deaf people. I would hate for it all to come crashing down because of the issues that I have outlined. It is up to us to make sure that this doesn’t happen. Perhaps it should be our new year resolution for 2018 – develop a working model that will see both Deaf people and interpreters reap the benefits of the NDIS.

Let the hard work begin!

(With apologies for those over 65 who will never qualify for the NDIS – It is not fair!)



An Open Letter to Bond University


Graphic is a collection of words that focus on equality and equity such as fairness, justice, equal etc

A friend contacted me recently. My friend lives on the Gold Coast in close proximity of the Bond University. He was excited to enroll in a Bachelor course offered by Bond University. He is deaf and requires support to access the course. He requires Auslan interpreting and possibly some note-taking. This is standard and offered by universities to deaf Auslan users throughout Australia. But not it seems by Bond University.

Let me begin by telling you my story. I am a bit old now. I started University a long time ago. I started at a time when Universities did not offer support such as Auslan interpreting, let alone the live captioning that is also provided today. I fought very hard to get my university, indeed all universities in South Australia, to accept responsibility to support deaf students. I, along with several other deaf students, lobbied over a number of years to get the support we required.

There was much heartache. There was much struggle. I repeated subjects. Withdrew in frustration, returned and finally graduated. It was not until 1993, my final year that, my university accepted its responsibilities to make its courses accessible to deaf students. This was in 1993, the year following the introduction of the Disability Discrimination ACT in 1992.

Access to university, indeed any study, is a subject very close to my heart. I worked for over a decade as a National Disability Coordination Officer. One of a fantastic network of 31 that work hard to make tertiary education and employment successful for people with a disability. I did much work on accessibility for students who are deaf. Particularly in regard to online education and delivering Auslan interpreting/captioning to remote universities to save costs and ensure students in regional areas received the support that they required.

A highlight for me was working on a Webinair with the Australian Clearing House on Disability (ADCET) to deliver an accessible Webinair. The Webinair had not just Auslan interpreting but live captioning. It was ground breaking stuff. I am no slouch, I know my stuff. You can take a look at this here.

While TAFE is still very much a dinosaur and underfunded in terms of disability support uiniversities have generally led the way. Even the small University of Ballarat, where I worked, accepted its responsibilities to provide Auslan interpreting through both its University and TAFE arms. You see education is universal and every person with a disability should be able to access it, wherever they want.

And I know it is not cheap to support students with a disability. Indeed it is a cost that Universities bear. Even though they can claim reimbursement through Additional Support for Students with Disabilities (ASSD) they generally only recoup around 50% of the cost. No matter, they accept their responsibilities. But not Bond University it seems.

And Bond University are not broke either. Indeed your 2016 annual report boasts increased revenue and increased operating surplus. Indeed Bond University is a very successful university. It ranked second in student satisfaction and skills development in 2016. Your annual report boasts proudly that, “In the 2017 Good Universities Guide, Bond University was awarded more 5-star ratings in the student experience category than any other university in Australia for the eleventh year in a row.”

By all accounts Bond University is a very successful university. It’s teaching is first class and its outcomes world class. Yet if you are deaf, sadly, you will not be able to benefit from the world class teaching and outcomes that Bond University offers.

My friend has been told that Bond University, this brilliant and clearly innovative institution, cannot afford to support students who are deaf. Indeed Bond University, that prides itself so much for its student outcomes, appears not to care at all about students with a disability.

In fact this hugely successful university, and seemingly with a healthy surplus, has invested in just one FM system. In a letter to my friend the University claims it has just the one FM system and that – and I quote – “ We don’t have scribes, hearing loops, sign language interpreters.. “

If I were a world class university that boasts the best teaching experience in Australia for its students, that boasts a health operating surplus, well I would be very embarrassed by this fact.

And then your disability support unit has the nerve to advise my friend to consider, and again I quote, “ .. larger (and more generously funded ) public universities as a potential destination.” It seems to me that Bond University are shirking their social responsibilities and seeing disability, or deafness at least, outside their remit.

One cannot imagine a non-disabled person who is considering attending Bond University  being told by Bond University that they should be considering going to a larger and public university. No that would be laughable. It just would not happen. Yet somehow deafness and disability is not valued by Bond University in the same way. Are people with disability or who are deaf second class citizens who are not worthy of Bond Universities world class facilities and teaching?

What is worse is that the Bond University web pages that advertise disability support claim to follow Australian and University guidelines for disability support. Indeed to quote your information you say that disability, “ …support will meet University and Australian guidelines. Support is provided on an individual basis and is consistent with proven appropriate levels of support.”  

I fail to see how not providing Auslan interpreting is an appropriate level of support. I looked through the guidelines and nowhere did I find a guideline that stated it was acceptable to handball responsibilities for disability support to other universities either. I did, however, find this:

It is assumed that approaches to the development, delivery and evaluation of teaching and services for students with a disability should be:

  • Inclusive – Core activities of the University are designed and implemented in order to accommodate the needs of all students including those with a disability.
  • Comprehensive – Provision for students with a disability should cover all core university activities in recognition of the right to participate fully in the academic and social life of the University.
  • Equitable – University responses to the needs of students with a disability should recognise the rights and responsibilities of all parties and ensure that solutions are equitable for all concerned.
  • Explicit – Policies should clearly identify student and staff responsibilities in relation to provision of services and adjustments, the procedures whereby these will be implemented and the mechanisms for resolving disagreements.
  • Systemic – Consideration of the needs of the diverse student population should be embedded within University-wide planning, administrative support and quality assurance processes.
  • Respectful – Universities should ensure that all their interactions with students with a disability are characterised by respect for their rights to dignity, privacy, confidentiality and equity.
  • Consultative – Students and staff should be engaged in planning and evaluation of teaching and support strategies.
  • Resourced – Universities should provide adequate resources to enable the provision of learning environments and services that address the needs of students with a disability.

Judging by the letter that was sent to my friend Bond University have failed nearly all these guidelines particularly its obligations to be inclusive, resourced, respectful, consultative and systemic. Particularly the SYSTEMIC requirement. To be SYSTEMIC the needs of students with a disability have to be embedded in your quality assurance and planning. Certainly having one FM system to assist the deaf and no budget to support the provision of Auslan interpreting and or captioning should it be needed would suggest you have let yourself and students who are deaf down badly on this one.

Note that these Guidelines were developed by the Australian Vice Chancellors’ Committee that prides its self on self-regulation. Certainly in terms of disability support Bond University does not appear to be regulating anything unless handballing responsibility for disability support to another university counts for something.

The Bond University response to my friend is wrong on so many levels. My friend, and all potential students who are deaf, should have an equal right to access the quality programs of the Bond University. To deny them this though the lack of provision of resources or support is clear discrimination. My friend wishes to attend your university because he is aware of its teaching quality, it is close to his home and the degree he wants is offered over two years instead of the usual four. Why should he be denied this wish?

For him to be denied this opportunity is wrong. I urge you to revamp your approach to disability support. I urge you to accept your full responsibilities under the DDA. I urge you to provide the opportunity for my friend to study at Bond University as is his right of choice.

I urge you mostly not to use the old worn excuse of financial hardship to not support people with a disability. Supporting my friend will not make Bond University bankrupt except if you are considering a clause of being morally bankrupt.

Bond University might not be the biggest university in Australia but it offers quality programs. My friend, anyone who is deaf and anyone with a disability should not be denied access to these programs. Please do better.

The Xmas Present

I am lucky in my work. I get to meet lots of people with a disability. I meet all types and it is a great privilege to develop supports for them and with them. I hope these supports make a great difference to their lives. Of course there is no guarantee that supports will be successful. Lots of factors come into play. Bureaucracy, life, markets and just plain old circumstances all impact. As they say, The best laid plans of mice and men.

Last week I met a young lad with his mother and little brother. The lad has Autism. He is a big fellow. He finds it hard to meet new people. He finds it difficult to express himself. He is shy and withdrawn. Questions to him are met with a grunt or a shrug of his shoulders. His answers are given with minimal eye contact. He looks down and just gives furtive glances out of the corner of his eye.

As I walked into the waiting room my client sat slumped in his chair looking at his feet nervously. His little brother, in contrast, was a bundle of energy. He had a baseball cap on back to front and when he saw me he beamed me a bright smile. I tend to do things a little left field sometimes. To try and lighten the mood I went straight to the little brother. I shook his hand and said, “I’m Gary, I’m here to help you develop your supports.”

He laughed and said to me, “I’m not Sam, that’s him over there.” The mother picked up straight away what I was doing and  laughed. Sam, my client for the day, looked at me out of the corner of his eye. I fancy I noticed a small but sheepish grin from him as well. I hoped that my little ploy had worked in assisting to lighten the mood a little.

Of course these sorts of meetings are serious and very formal. I led the family into the meeting room and addressed Sam directly. I explained to Sam my role and told him that I would like to hear from him about what sort of support he would like if possible. He looked down at his feet and shrugged his shoulders. Little brother, perhaps wanting to be centre of the attention again, informed me that Sam, “Don’t talk much.” Mum verified this and said that Sam was not likely to offer much to the process as he rarely said more than two words.

I assured Sam that this was fine. I let him know that anything he did say, even if it was just one word, would be taken seriously and would help me to develop his supports. Even so it was hard to get anything from him. As these meetings go, mum did most of the talking.

Being deaf I have to explain to my clients  how we will communicate. For these types of meetings I use Live Remote Captioning. I explain how the system works and that the captioning is also my notes. I let them know that because I get a transcript emailed to me of the whole conversation I have no excuses for forgetting anything. I show them the screen of my computer and they see how everything that they say gets transcribed. Little brother was fascinated. “COOOOOL” he said. Even Sam looked up from the floor to see what was happening. I sensed he might be beginning to thaw a little.

During the course of the conversation mum explained that Sam gets anxious. He thinks people are staring at him and talking about him all the time. This sometimes causes panic attacks. Sometimes in meetings I recount some of my own experiences. I looked at Sam and told him I used to feel like that. I told him how that when I was his age I used to think everyone on the school bus was talking about me. I told him that because I couldn’t hear them I thought they were all talking about me. I told him how I would be constantly glancing around and how this would make me have panic attacks. I explained how my heart would race and my head feel light. I asked if he felt like this sometimes. He looked up at me directly and nodded.

I sensed that I was starting to break the ice a little. I asked Sam if he could tell me of something that he really wanted. He said, ” I want a drivers licence and I want a job. But I think if I get a job ill be fired.” Little brother said, “WOW” mum just smiled like proud mothers do.

And slowly but surely Sam began to talk a little more. One time we were talking about recreation and Mum was telling me how he liked War Craft. “It’s not War Craft” said Sam, “It’s War Hammer.” He then whispered something in his mum’s ear. “What was that?”, I asked, “The captioner didn’t hear you” Sam obliged to share, “I like history”, he said.

He and I had a little conversation from there. It turned out he liked the history of war. We talked a little of different wars, WWI and II. He said he knew of the Korean war and Vietnam too. Just for that minute or so he spoke directly to me and not at his feet. Little brother exclaimed that he never got on the XBox cos Sam was always playing his war games. I said, “Do you know your caps on the wrong way?” Sam let out a little chortle.

And you know, sometimes when we have clients like Sam we always tend to talk through their carers. We do this because we are time hungry. We do it because we think it will be easier. We often forget the person that it is all about. But sometimes if you make a little effort it is worth it.

As the meeting came to an end I led the family back to the lobby to say good bye. I shook every ones hand. Sam shook my hand while looking at his feet. Little brother ran back to the meeting room cos he forgot his cap. Mum thanked me and wished me a happy Xmas. As the family walked out of the office Sam looked back and gave me a little furtive wave and a small smile out of the corner of his mouth.

I smiled too. I think that was my Xmas present. Just a little reminder that the work we do sometimes can make a difference, no matter how small, on someones life.

Happy Xmas everyone!