Hi Ya!

I think at 53 I am becoming more cynical and more insular. You know for  45 of the 53 years I have been deaf. You put up with a lot of shit when you are deaf. Not just deaf but if you have a disability of any type. People are either over the top in trying to meet your needs or they just exclude you all together.

Yes, I have had religious people come up and bless me when they have seen me signing with friends. I’ve had literally hundreds of people come up to me and sign Hi! This is either with an exaggerated wave or they finger spell it. The worst is the American alphabet H and I. With a broad grin people come up and do that awful wrist flick with a H and an I.

Is it entirely wrong for me to want to punch them in the face when they do this to me? OK, it’s a little bit wrong but believe me it’s very irritating. I swear it’s part of the reason a night or even week at home with Netflix is so much better than this kind of human interaction.

If you think that I sound old and bitter you are probably right. But you know there is a campaign that is aimed at making people with a disability feel more included called Just Say Hi! There are heaps of videos just like the one below. For a laugh turn on the automated captions, it’s the only access deaf people have to this video. How do you make deaf people feel included?  Just make videos like this with no or second rate access!

 

“Instead it came across as go seek them out and say HI!  No one does that in real life. EVER!

 

Many people with a disability hate this campaign because they think it is really patronising and it is.  Because, you know, we just walk up to complete strangers and say Hi every day. I want to make more Muslim friends so I go out and find Muslim people and say Hi! I don’t know many Aboriginal people either so I am gonna go to Redfern and mingle and say Hi to every Aboriginal person I see. It is completely normal isn’t it? No it isn’t. It is daft and patronising.

That is not to say you ignore people with a disability. It is to say you just talk to them when you meet them in life. Perhaps at a party. Perhaps at work. Perhaps in a bar because they are with your group of friends. You say Hi when you have common interests and you have a genuine interest in people.

I am sure this is what the designers of this campaign had in mind. They were trying to say treat people with a disability like any other. Instead it came across as  go seek them out and say HI! No one does that in real life. EVER!

But why were people with a disability so upset about this campaign? I’ll tell you why.

It’s because it gives non- disabled people a license to use people with a disability as a tool to make themselves FEEL GOOD. John with CP over there .. HIIIIIIIII! I’ve done my good deed for today.

Stella Young hated these kind of campaigns. She despaired getting on a train or going into a bar because some well meaning person would come over and say something like -“Hi, it’s great to see you out and about.” Inevitably someone will come over and think they are being kind by taking an interest in you. “What happened to you?” they enquire.

Sadly this is often what well meaning campaigns like JUST SAY HI do. They just give people a license to satisfy their curiosity and do their good deed for the day.

 

“It is a truism that it is nearly always up to the person with a disability to lead the way.

 

Inclusion is never easy. It is a truism that it is nearly always up to the person with a disability to lead the way. They have to explain their needs and make endless requests for the environment to be adapted. This is because the needs of people with a disability are rarely considered in the design of things.

In my current job I spent some time teaching and informing my workmates as to what needed to happen for me to be included. I was very strong in letting them know that when they are chatting I often miss out on what is going on. Often what they are talking about is relevant to work and I need to know.

To their credit they’re terrific and when they’re chatting on the floor they will, often without me asking, just let me know what they are talking about. Even if they’re talking about what they did on the weekend. They do it naturally and easily and it makes me feel very included.

And that is the key – Do it naturally and easily. It cannot be false and it cannot be forced. It especially cannot be orchestrated by well meaning campaigns like JUST SAY HI!

I dare say if the designers of such campaigns took the time to ask us people with a disability what we thought before diving headlong into such campaigns they could have saved themselves a lot of pain and bother. Mostly they could have saved US, the people with a disability, the pain and bother.

Nevertheless, the struggles of non-disabled people to make us disabled’s feel included can be the stuff of much hilarity. Watch the video below and if you want to have an awareness campaign that works – Follow the format! Enjoy.

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A Question of Priorities

I’m a cheater. I have cheated lots of times. Probably more times than Steve Smith and David Warner combined. I played Cricket for the Deaf cricket team many times.  It was kind of crazy because when we played umpires were players from our own team. So when I batted the umpires, more often than not, were other deaf cricket players. So hearing bowler steams in and bowls me a rank long hop which I try to pull over mid on. There is the faintest of snicks that goes through to the keeper.

The hearing opposition go up as one, “HOOOOOWWWWWZAAAAATTTTTTT”. Of course the deaf umpire cannot hear the snick so asks me if I hit it. Hell, I’ve yet to score and I am not going anywhere. I shake my head in denial. “Not Out.” says deaf umpire. Meanwhile hearing opposition have gone hysterical and are calling me every name under the sun. Do I care? Nope, I just wanna bat some more. Is it bad? Of course it is but in the scheme of things I am hardly a mass murderer am I?

So the Australian Cricket team cheated. They tried to rough up the ball a bit so that their bowlers could make the ball do reverse swing. I wont bore the reader with a scientific explanation of reverse swing suffice to say it makes the ball go in the opposite direction as to what it should.  You know roughing up the ball probably only gives the bowler as very small advantage. It’s  no biggie really. But the problem is they tried to do it on the world stage with television cameras everywhere. They got caught, OOPS.

A bit naughty really but they are not the first nor will they be the last. A fine and a slap on the wrist was probably all that was needed. But OH NO! Australia and the world went mad. Every newspaper, every comment on Facebook and every news item on television leads with it.

” He is livid because Peter Dutton, that leg of mutton, has had the gall to let white South African’s come to Australia on protection Visa’s

SACK THE LOT OF EM people cry. The Prime Minister even has something to say about it. James Sutherland, CEO of Cricket Australia, emails every registered cricketer and fan in Australia to apologise. The captain is stood down, fined and suspended. The Vice Captain is stood down and the nation is in shame. OH MY GOODNESS it’s the world’s end!

Meanwhile David Marr is on Insiders, the ABC’s Sunday morning political review of the week. He is livid because Peter Dutton, that leg of mutton, has had the gall to let white South African’s come to Australia on protection Visa’s.  Apparently white South African farmers are being killed and this warrants protection. In Marr’s view this is racist because Black, Islamic or Syrian refugees are being denied entry to Australia and sent to Manus Island even though their need is just as great. Marr believes that white people are being given favouritism. But let’s forget that because the Australian Cricket team cheated and are a national disgrace.

“Surely this warrants a higher level of outrage than cheating cricketers. SURELY!!!

Apparently, according to Marr, there are literally tens and thousands of people in other countries in similar danger as the white South African farmers. These other people have a greater need but their requests for help are being ignored. Marr is angry because children are still on Manus Island who have self harmed and are being denied entry to the Australian mainland. Why don’t these important, tragic and compelling humanitarian circumstances raise the anger of Australian people in the same way as cricketers cheating? Why doesn’t a clearly racist immigration minister who addresses his critics by announcing that the said critics, “…are dead to me…”, raise the same level of response? Surely this warrants a higher level of outrage than cheating cricketers. SURELY!!!

In this sports obsessed country of ours a little bit of yellow tape down your pants is more important than refugees dying. Sticky in my Dicky reads the headlines and meanwhile George Pell is in court on child sexual abuse allegations. Sack the captain they say but ignore Michaelia Cash threatening to spread salacious gossip about innocent women who happen to work for Bill Shorten. I don’t see the country screaming for her head when they should.

Meanwhile people with a disability can’t get work and 45% are living in poverty but a cheating cricket team warrants more attention.  All over Australia people with a disability are being abused and even killed. In some cases the courts seem to endorse it calling it compassionate killing. Where is the nations outrage about all of this!

No question that the Australian cricket team did a bad thing. But in the scheme of things it’s just a game and really not that important. How is it that a bit of yellow tape and a roughed up ball can cause more outrage than real human suffering? I don’t understand it.

This is surely the nations shame!

We do not have a money problem in America. We have a values and priorities problem.

Marian Wright Edelman

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!)