Pete’s Day

Picture is of the lower half of a mans head and upper part of his body. He is wearing a dark jacket and striped shirt. His hands are upright on his chin, tips of his fingers touching. His mouth suggests that he is anxious.

Pete woke up. He stared at the ceiling as he thought about what he had to do today. It was Saturday and being Melbourne, it was raining. Pete is deaf and 48 years old. His day seemed pretty standard. Post office visit, shopping at the supermarket, followed by a snooze at home and then his nephews 18th birthday. His heart began to race!! He pulled the covers over his head, wishing he could stay in bed all day.

At 9.30am he reluctantly dragged himself out of bed. He showered and got dressed. For breakfast he made himself some crumpets with melted cheese. He sat down to watch the news and played with Muppet, his dog. He was really just delaying the moment that he had to head out the door. With luck, the post office would be closed before he got there.

He let out a big sigh and headed out the door. He had to get to the post office. The present he had ordered his nephew was ready to be picked up. It had been waiting at the post office for over a week. Pete had been procrastinating, avoiding the post office for as long as he possibly could. His nephews birthday was today, he couldn’t wait any longer.

Pete arrived at the post office with 15 minutes to spare. He sat in the car for a few minutes gathering the courage to go in. The post office was owned by a lovely couple who were obsessive in their wearing of masks in these Covid times. As Pete walked to the door of the post office he stopped, he took some deep breaths and he entered.

There was a line, thank god. It delayed a little bit more the moment he was dreading. Eventually, he found himself at the head of the line confronting the nice owner. He handed over the delivery notice and the owner said something through his mask. Pete closed his eyes momentarily, this happened every time. Pete tapped both his ears with his forefingers to indicate that he was deaf. Still the owner spoke through his mask.

Pete looked behind himself, there were five people waiting. The people in the line stared at him with what seemed to be a mixture of fascination and pity. He turned bright red, he knew he was holding them up. Suddenly the owner began to mime driving a car. Pete understood that he wanted his drivers license for ID. He hurriedly got his driver license out and offered it to the owner. The owner nodded and went off to get Pete’s item. Item received, Pete moved hastily for the exit, acutely conscious that the eyes of all the customers were upon him.

He got back in the car and rested his head on the steering wheel while gripping the sides with both hands. For some strange reason his heart rate was a bit elevated. This happened every time he went to the post office. He could not understand why the post office owner couldn’t remember that he was deaf. Why did it have to be so hard? He took a moment to gather his wits and headed for Woolworths.

Woolworths was relatively uneventful except at the checkout. The young checkout woman didn’t make any eye contact and looked down as she muttered questions to Pete. He could not understand a word she was saying. He just nodded, hoping that this was the right response. The checkout woman asked him if he had Fly Buys. When he nodded she waited for him to offer the card. After a moment or two it was clear that Pete didn’t have Fly Buys, she moved on to the next question.

She asked if he wanted a sticker for the crockery special. The nod saw Pete get offered a sticker he really did not want. She asked if he wanted to make a donation to the local firies. His nodding came apart at the last request because she also asked him how much he wanted to donate and he nodded again.

For the first time the checkout woman made eye contact with him. She just stared at him like he was the strangest man that she had ever met. She asked him again if he wanted to donate. This time he shrugged his shoulders. Her mouth opened a little bit as if to ask “What’s wrong with you?” The checkout woman gave up trying to solicit a donation and asked Pete if he wanted a receipt for his purchases instead.

He did, but he didn’t hear the question. For reasons known only to Pete, rather than nod he shook his head. As he stood there waiting for his receipt, she looked at him as if he was a complete nutter. She actually physically recoiled from him. He turned beetroot red and gathered his shopping. He left as fast as he could without, he hoped, looking like a maniac.

Pete drove home and went straight to bed. A simple trip to the post office and supermarket had left him spent. He needed a rest before his nephews 18th. Pete slept for three hours!

Pete awoke at 4pm. The party started at 6.30pm. It was a party where he would be the only person who was deaf. He really didn’t want to go. The thought of endless lipreading and communicating with a large number of hearing people made him feel a little sick. As the time for the party got closer his anxiety increased. Pete hated these gatherings but he was close to his nephew. He had to be there.

Although the Party started at 6.30pm Pete didn’t arrive until 8.00pm. He sat at home delaying leaving for as long as possible. He felt very ashamed about this because his nephew deserved better. He looked down at Muppet the dog and wished that everyone was as easy to communicate with as him.

Arriving at the party he was greeted by his sister. His sister knew a little Auslan and spent a bit of time chatting to him. After a while she left Pete to his own devices. Random people that Pete knew came to say hello. With exaggerated lip movements they asked him how he was. His little niece came over to say hello and slowly finger spelt her name … B E T T Y … He gave her the thumbs up and his niece squealed with delight and ran off to tell her mother how clever she was. A couple of people actually ruffled Pete’s hair. After all, he is only 48 years old.

Largely, Pete just sat alone. He really did not have the energy to lipread all night long. It was far safer just to sit alone with his beer and party pie. Then there were the speeches. His nephew mentioned Pete. Saying how wonderful Pete was and how lucky he was to have Pete as his uncle. Everyone turned to clap Pete and slap him on the back. He gave everyone the thumbs up. He had an inkling it must have been because his nephew had said something, he knew not what.

At 10.15pm Pete left. He was the last to arrive and the first to leave. He gave his nephew and sister a hug. They implored him to stay. He made some excuse that it had been a long day and that he had a splitting headache. It was true that he had a headache, but the truth was he just wanted to get out of there. Being there was just awkward and exhausting.

He headed home and poured himself a whisky. A bit of Netflix with captions and a cuddle with Muppet the dog. Within 10 minutes he had fallen into an exhausted slumber in his chair. This was a day in the life of Pete. As he drifted off to sleep he told himself that tomorrow would be a better day. He hoped!

Victim Blaming

Image is the head of a young person. Her head is surrounded by hands and she is looking on very stressed. The caption reads – Stop Victim Blaming

I once worked in an organization that loved to blame the victim. The organisation were not particularly good at self-reflection. If a worker was struggling it was the workers fault. The workers were unprofessional or they were tardy. They were irresponsible or they were liars. There could be no other underlying reason. It was the workers fault and that was it. I once looked on in horror as my senior colleague accused a worker being lazy and of making excuses so that they could get home early. The worker wanted to leave eight minutes early so that she could pick up her child for an appointment. Said my senior colleague, ” I told her NO! She has only been here for a few weeks and she doesn’t have the time in hand. She will hate me, but I don’t care!” The senior senior said this with a haughty air of superiority. To my horror my fellow seniors concurred. There is a reason I am not working there now.

When someone is not performing at work there can be any number of reasons. They could be receiving a lack of support. There may be troubles at home. There may have been rapid changes in processes that the worker has found hard to adapt to. They may have misunderstood information because English is their second language. They may have episodic mental health issues that they are too frightened to disclose. There are a myriad of reasons and a good workplace looks deeply into reasons for underperformance. A bad and unaccountable workplace blames the victim.

And you know, if you have a disability, if something is not going right, the disability is blamed. If a deaf person hasn’t understood, its because they’re deaf. It couldn’t possibly be because information was badly presented could it? It couldn’t possibly be because a process has been badly designed, could it? It couldn’t possibly be because the person delivering information was a bad communicator, could it? No, it has to be because someone is deaf – Communication problems and all the ensuing issues are all the deaf person’s fault! Of course! (Please read dripping sarcasm into these comments.)

A deaf friend of mine was telling me that they had made a complaint about their supervisor. The supervisor was aggressive, bullying and prone to gaslighting. My friend had a disagreement over reporting requirements with the supervisor, who then abused them and belittled them. The supervisor blamed the disagreement on my deaf friends inability to understand them. They claimed that the automatic captioning was inaccurate and as a result the misunderstandings were resulting from my friends inability to “hear” the supervisor properly.

Incensed, my friend complained to HR that they were being victimised and blamed for the disagreement. They complained that the supervisor was refusing to accept any responsibility for the disagreement and trying to blame my friends deafness for all the problems. Sadly HR backed the supervisor. They ordered that every meeting that my friend attended with the supervisor have a second person in attendance and it had to be recorded. No other person in the organization was subject to this sort of treatment or requirement. My friend quit her job in disgust. This is what we call victim blaming!

Today I had a very upset friend contact me. My friend has “dual” disabilities and has worked in the “NDIS Sector” for a number of years. It seems that their work place were discussing recent developments of the Disability Employment Service (DES) where a number of providers lost their contracts. One of my friends co workers said this – “It can be hard for the DES because many people with a disability don’t want to work. They prefer to get their $600 a fortnight, health care/concession card and rental subsidies rather than work.”

This is, again, victim blaming. This is why Robodebt came to being. Because welfare recipients are burdens that abuse the system. They are lazy good for nothings that cost Australian taxpayers billions. Indigenous communities are also full of alcoholics and abusers who must be controlled with cashless debit cards. You see the pattern? Blame the victims, the ones who are living in poverty and need help. Because they are a burden. Lazy good for nothings. ( Again read this with dripping sarcasm.)

My friend, disabled and compassionate, said this in reply, “Well, if I could live on $600 a fortnight, Healthcare/concession cards and rental subsidies I would have retired years ago.” BOOOOOOOOOOOM! And do you know what happened? The person that stated people with a disability prefer to live on $600 a fortnight and other handouts complained about him. Why? Because he apparently belittled her and infringed on her right to express an opinion. Yes, I suggest you all read this paragraph again if you are shocked and in disbelief.

But what happened next is worse! My friends manager actually called them. Told them off for being insensitive to his colleagues comment and told him to tone his responses down. My friend, the person with a disability, insulted by a colleague, and who spoke up to give people with a disability a voice got told to shut up and get back in his box.

That my friends, is victim blaming. That it is happening to people with a disability in the disability sector in this day and age is a disgrace. AN ABSOLUTE DISGRACE!! We have to do better than this!!

The Lost Generation

Image is an old black and white photo of a teacher of the Deaf teaching a group is deaf children to listen and speak. He is speaking into an antique manual voice piece, the students are holding tubes from the voice piece to their ear

I watched the Barry Priori documentary last night. Barry is a legend in the Australian Deaf community, he passed away recently. He was an Auslan educator and staunch advocate for all things Deaf. The documentary touched on Barry’s life. It was supposed to have been 90 minutes but due to Barry’s untimely death it was shorter. There were many positive things to come from the documentary. Barry’s oral upbringing was not one of them.

I know it is 2022 and we should be well past this debate. But sadly, the treatment of Barry and a generation of Deaf people from his time must never be forgotten, EVER. The history of oralism is one of human abuse. The horrific tales of the treatment Deaf people received at the hands of oralist must be told over and over. Why? So that people are never treated in this way again.

Barry and his friends Deane, Don and Katrina were interviewed and told of their experience of oralism. They told of their fear of being caught signing. They told of being smacked if they were caught. They told stories of being made to sit on their hands. Of being forced to HEAR as hearing teachers cruelly covered their mouths as they spoke. They told of times at boarding school where they had to wait for lights out and teachers to leave before they could sign to each other in limited light. The treatment was incredibly cruel.

I was horrified to hear Katrina’s story. So hell bent were they on making her speak properly that if she did not pronounce a word or sound properly they would lock her in a cupboard. This might be a simple sound like CH or SH. They would lock her in the cupboard, whereupon she would have to keep trying the sound until she got it right. Once she got it right they would let her out. I cannot imagine the trauma that this treatment would have caused. Likely the scars would be permanent, causing trauma right up to this very day.

How far back do we go? Back to Milan in 1880? The obsession of hearing people to make deaf kids hearing clones has been around for hundreds of years. I can only speak from my own time and I can pin-point the 1960’s to 1980’s as being particularly awful times. Around these times oral educators seemed to have accepted that relying totally on hearing was damaging deaf kids and that their needed to be some sort of manual prompts to assist.

The motives of the hearing people were mostly pure. They likely recognised that deaf kids were growing up illiterate. Worse, the deaf kids were being damaged mentally, both conceptually and cognitively. It is not for nothing that Oliver Sacks described Deafness as a preventable cause of intellectual disability.

In the 60’s they tried cued speech. This was a system that used hand symbols near the mouth to indicate sounds. The idea was that deaf kids were being made illiterate because they had no access to phonological information. By providing manual access to phonological information it was thought that a deaf kid would learn speech and English better. There are many that will swear by cued speech but the reality is that it was an abject failure. It had some advantages for single word recognition but research will tell you that as a language acquisition tool it failed spectacularly.

Later in the late 70s and 80s Signed English was introduced. I remember this well. I lost my hearing when I was about 8 or 9. I struggled in mainstream schools for a number of years. At the age of 14, in 1978, I found myself at the Strathmont Centre for Hearing Impaired Students.

It was the first time that I had met another deaf kid. I was struck by how poor their English was. They couldn’t string the simplest of sentences together. I could not work this out. They were just deaf. With the naivety of youth I could not understand why this would make them “stupid”. Now, I know there will be people offended by this last remark, I am just quoting directly what I thought at that time – I assure you, I don’t think this way now.

They signed together in break time and seemed to communicate brilliantly. I know now that they actually did. Some of these kids were from Deaf families and were using Auslan, but I didn’t know this at the time. I saw their Auslan as mime, gesture and broken English. I watched them in class struggling to understand the signing of their teachers. I thought it was the kids problem because they were slow. What I know now is that the teachers couldn’t sign for shit. I wonder now how much the teachers actually understood of what the kids were signing to them.

Of course, the teachers were using Signed English. But very badly. The reality is that they would sign a few words and speak a few words. Or they would speak mostly and add a sign here or there. (This was called Total Communication.) The kids were supposed to learn from them in this way. It was just a jumble of information that often made no sense. The end result was a lot of illiterate deaf kids with language deprivation. Yes, I know that other issues including lack of family interaction and access to “overhearing” also impacted. However, you cannot underestimate the deep damage this terrible education system caused to many of these deaf kids.

And you know, many of these deaf kids were being introduced to Signed English in their teens. But unlike me, they were not born hearing and with developed language. They had been born deaf, struggled through an oral system and then in a last ditch attempt to “help” them they found themselves at Strathmont. Cast offs from a system that had failed them.

Many of these kids began to mix with native signers at the school and started to learn Auslan. They started to interact and make friends with deaf kids. Rarely did they interact with hearing kids at the school unless forced to. The access to Auslan through these other deaf kids improved their communication to a degree, but the reality is many of these kids were language deprived. They lacked conceptual development, they had poor literacy and their maturity and ability to deal with adult concepts was severely delayed. In short the system screwed them.

Even today the failed experiments of cued speech and Signed English from the 1960s to 1980s impacts on Deaf people. For example, at work Deaf people are expected to complete online compliance training for them to continue in their employment. The training is written in complex English language that they struggle to read and understand. In my current role I am assisting people in their 50s and 60s to make sense of this online training. I often have to assist these deaf people to fill in forms. The stress and trauma that these people experience at struggling with these basic English tasks is very real! The barriers experienced by Deaf these people throughout their lives have been severe. These are the people that were damaged by that awful period of Deaf education in the 1960s and 1980s.

Victor Hugo said – “

“What matters deafness of the ear, when the mind hears? The one true deafness, the incurable deafness, is that of the mind.”

And that is what oral deaf education caused over so many years, a deafness of the mind. Particularly so, in that awful period of the 1960’s to 1980’s. Will the hearing world ever say SORRY for the damage that they caused to this generation of Deaf people? I don’t think they ever will, but there is no doubt in my mind that they should! They are a lost generation!

Watch Barry’s story on ABC iView – For more information click the link – https://www.abc.net.au/religion/watch/compass/the-silent-world-of-barry-priori/14019726

Being Wooed

Image is of two Korean doctors. They are obviously in love. The pretty woman doctor rests her head on the shoulders of the handsome male doctor.

I am ashamed! I have become hooked on Korean TV. Korean TV has this way of getting you addicted. It’s like a bag of salted chips. Have one and you have to have another, and another until they are all gone. You know full well its gonna make you fat. It’s bad for your heart, but you finish the pack nonetheless. It is like a Mills and Boon novel. It’s trash, its corny and written terribly. But still you turn each page until you get to the end. In short, it is a guilty pleasure.

And the English translations are terrible. Every cry of excitement is “GOSH”. Where Koreans might say “Fuck it” the translation is always “Darn it.” It’s quite often hilarious!

To be fair Korean writers are fantastic story tellers. They develop really engaging characters too. I tell you, when a Korean actor cries, no one does it better. It’s so real!! At the moment I am hooked on Extraordinary Attorney Woo and Good Doctor. Both of them about Autistic people doing good in the world. Woo is probably better, but both are cringeworthy. I don’t care, I love them.

Good Doctor is the worst of the two. Si On is our hero. He is autistic and described as a savant genius. The problem is he shuffles around like he is the Hunch Back of Notre Dame. I don’t know why they chose to portray him like that but It is incredibly annoying. But still I loved it.

Woo and Si On have romantic interests in their stories. Their romantic interests have doubts. They are hesitant. They resist their feelings for our autistic heroes. Partly because they are worried that they are mistaking pity for love. Partly because they fear the reaction from their friends and colleagues. But what is most interesting is the reactions of Woo and Si On.

They doubt themselves, you see. They cannot believe that anyone would be interested in them. They hide their feelings because they fear rejection. They are awkward in the presence of the person they love. The fear and the stress of that moment when they have to express their feelings is on show for all to see.

The hesitant, halting and ultimately unsatisfactory first kiss. “Why do you hold my hand like that Si On?” asks the object of his affection. ” Because when I was young, that’s how they held my hand. It was to stop me running away.” Cue a close up of his new beau, tears streaming down her face. Mind numbing but un-turn-offable. And here is me wiping a little tear from the corner of my eye. FOR FUCK SAKE, what’s wrong with me?!

Indeed, what is wrong with me? It’s twaddle, it’s patronising and it’s stereotypical. But still I watch and I OOOH and I AHHHH as I cheer the lovers on. BUT WHY? And then it hit me. Woo and Si On are experiencing everything that I did in my adolescence. For all of the poppycock and literal license on display in these two shows, the portrayal of disability and love is very close to my truth.

Yup! That’s what I used to think. I used to think that because I was deaf I was never gonna find a girlfriend. I used to think that no girl would have me. Ugly hearing aids, funny voice and the embarrassment of having deaf me tag along. Who would have me? I was convinced it was no one! Poor, and pathetic deaf me.

It is true, I could not ask a girl out. I loved this one girl called Robyn. She lived at a big house with a tennis court. After school each day I would walk Scruffy, my dog, up past her house. Across the road was a group of display houses. I would sit on the lawn out front of the display houses and stare longingly across the road.

Each day I would see her at school. She was lovely to me. She would sit and talk with me. I couldn’t say much beyond a couple of grunts. I hated myself, I was paralysed and couldn’t say anything remotely intelligent. My mates insisted that she was into me and I should just ask her out. No! I was convinced she only spoke to me because she pitied me.

Then one day as I was walking the dog she came out and invited me into her house. She introduced me to her sister. Gave me an ice-lolly and we watched some TV. I swear I said not a word. She probably did like me, but still I did not ask her out.

I wish there was a happy ending to this story, but there is not. One day, don’t ask me why, I managed to get her phone number. Being the deaf git that I was, I rang her. As I rang all I could hear was the dial tone, then feint ringing on the other end and finally an obvious pick up. I could hear a voice but not understand a word. What the fuck was I doing??? I imagine at the other end they are wondering who this idiot was who was breathing deeply and noisily at the other end – And then I spoke ..

“Roses are Red

And violets are Blue

Dear Robyn

You’re a prune”

And I hung up. What an idiot! Suffice to say, Robyn never spoke to me again. So Robyn, if ever you read this, I am very sorry. And thank you for being so very kind to me. I’ll never know your intentions, I was too love struck and lacking in confidence to feel anything but extreme embarrassment.

So yes, I get Si On and I get Woo. I get how very hard it is to fit in when you know how different you are. I get how you fear the response of others. I get how, rather than get a response, you just withdraw. It’s tough, really tough! Not many non disabled people really get how traumatic it can be.

So that’s why I love the Good Doctor and Extraordinary Attorney Woo. It’s cos there is a little bit of me in there. I love these shows because I know that for many of us people with a disability the challenges of love and our own lack of belief in ourselves are very real challenges. It’s worse when growing up but if I am honest, it never really goes away.

So excuse me, it’s time to be Wooed 😀 See you on the other side 😀

DeJa Vu

Graphic is a cartoon. It has two stick figures in caps. One asks the other, “He bro, have you ever felt deja vu?” The other answers, “I don’t think so, haven’t you asked me that before?”

I have come full circle from where I began my career. In 1989 I was still at University. I was 24, I did not yet have my drivers license. Partly because over a period of time I had broken my leg three times and shattered my elbow as well. My friends will tell you how fed up they were of driving me everywhere. In 1989 I was offered two jobs. One as a porter at the Royal Adelaide Hospital and the other as the Employment Project Officer at the Royal South Australian Deaf Society. I accepted the latter.





I well recall the CEO of the Deaf Society looking at me with distain at the interview for the role. “How do you expect to do this role without a license?”, he asked. It was a fair question, but his facial expression clearly showed he was unimpressed. I promised that I would get my license in haste and I did. I got the job and that was the start of my career. I spent the first six years of my career in employment. Now in the twilight of my career, I am back.

Oh, how it has changed. Back when I started, disability service providers received block funding. As an employment professional I was able to assist whoever came through the door. I, naturally, expected a certain level of commitment from the client to find work. There was the odd difficult client who missed appointments or didn’t show up for interviews. However, by and large, people were motivated to get work.

It was not always plain sailing. I remember finding a bloke a job as a welder. The first week of his job he was late every day. Come the Friday his boss called me in. It turned out that the blokes car had broken down and he was catching three buses to get to work. The bloke said his car would be fixed next week, and he would be there on time.

Come the second week I got called in by the boss on the Friday again. The bloke had been refusing to wear toe capped boots. They were not comfortable he said and he didn’t like them. So the boss, through me, explained it was a rule for safety and that they had to be worn or he could not work. The bloke reluctantly agreed.

Come the third week, I was called in again. This time the bloke was refusing to wear protective gloves. He complained it made it hard for him to weld and his hands got all sweaty. The boss was exasperated by this time. He really wanted to give the bloke a fair go. I asked the boss, “If he wasn’t deaf, what would you do?” The boss said he would have sacked him in the first week when he was late every day. I said, “There is your answer.” And that was the end of that.

I am not sure that I could do that today. You see, we don’t receive block funding. We are paid per the person, based on the jobs we find, the support we give and how long that they remain in the job. Survival of the service depends on jobs and those jobs being retained to generate income. I would definitely have to approach it in a different way.

But that is how it is now, especially with the NDIS. Service providers have to offer a service that the disabled person wants. To retain the client and generate income to keep services going, clients must be satisfied. A lot of the power now resides with the client. We serve them and have to provide a quality service. Just like any business, we have to ensure that we have satisfied customers. If that doesn’t happen, the chances of survival are bleak.

A lot of old school service providers do not like this new world. Understandably, many service providers don’t like the uncertainty of income. They liked the old days when they had some control and knew how much money that they would receive. Many people despise the fact that people with a disability have become a commodity for profit. They find this de-humanising. The NDIS does not suit all people with a disability either. There are many that were better served with the old block funding model where there was certainty of service.

It is what it is. Service providers either adapt or they perish. It is up to them. Many people with a disability also love the NDIS for the control it gives them over the funding and services that they receive. The NDIS is not going anywhere soon, so its either structure the service to fit within the frame work or go out of business. The choice is stark.

However, some things never change. One of the things that never changes is how many hearing people assume what Deaf and HoH people can and cannot do. I think I have told the story of the plumbing apprentice a few times before. Suffice to say, back in 1990 a hearing boss tried to tell me that Deaf people couldn’t work as plumbers.

Apparently, and this is what the boss told me, when digging holes plumbers often dig in different areas. They communicate with each other by yelling across from their holes. It would waste too much time getting out of their holes just to communicate with the Deaf person so that the Deaf person could could lipread.

I was not impressed. My reaction got me called into the office of my manager back at the Deaf Society. She was very empathetic but reminded me that getting angry and sarcastic with potential employers could be counter productive in the long run. ( I’d said to the boss something along the lines of, “You poor hearing person, you really don’t care do you?”)

Sadly, in 2022 this is still happening. Last week I was assisting a client to get into a training course. The client had been refused. The course provider was insisting that a Deaf person could not work in this role because today, with the need to wear masks, communication would be too hard. It would, therefore, be impossible to do the job.

Deja Vu! It took me all the way back to 1990 and the plumber. It took me all the way back to my studies when my social work lecturer questioned whether I could be a Social Worker because it was not feasible to be a Social Worker and use Auslan interpreters. It took me back to times when I was refused jobs because of assumptions made by bosses that communicating in the workplace were challenges too hard to overcome. It took me back to the many excuses hearing bosses make around risks that Occupational Health and Safety regulations (OHS) could not accommodate. The bosses have not a shred of evidence, it is just their assumption.

But there is Deja Vu and there is Google. Today, unlike in 1990, I can Google jobs that Deaf people do. I can find Deaf plumbers or Deaf Tradesmen. I can find Deaf Chefs. I can find Deaf Physiotherapists, nurses and any number of health professionals including doctors. Just on Google I can find these people describing how they do their jobs and the adjustments that they make. None of it is assumption, it is just cold hard evidence. Then there is technology, hoo boy, I have all the answers that back in 1990 I did not have. Evidence is a very powerful medium!

So you hearing people out here who are making these assumptions about what Deaf people can and cannot do, its 2022 and assumptions do not hack it. There are answers and we have them, jut ask us! Let Deja Vu be left where it should be, in the past!

I’m Back!

Image is of three young people on their laptops communicating with each other by video conference.

After 20 years of working within hearing organisations and programs, I am back. Back in the Deaf sector and loving it. The last Deaf and HoH program I worked on was back in 2002. That was with the wonderful Successful Adults in Life Program for young people with a sensory disability – Deaf, HoH, Blind, Vision Impaired and Deafblind. I was privileged to lead a team what was wholly formed with people who had a disability. Probably one of the few teams like it in Australia at that time. How things have changed.

Since that time I have worked mostly as an National Disability Coordination Officer. Other jobs in this 20 years included an access coordinator, NDIA Senior Planner, Senior Local Area Coordinator and as an advocate. Of course, the biggest challenge for me in the last 20 years was communication.

For many years I required Auslan interpreters. My experience in advocating for Auslan interpreters has been well documented within these pages. Suffice to say it was a constant struggle. I saw today that Australia has 571 qualified Auslan interpreters to service the Deaf community. That is covering work, education, health, courts, weddings, funerals and the many situations that Deaf people use interpreters for with their NDIS plans.

Not surprisingly, the supply of interpreters nowhere meets demand. It is probably worse now than it has ever been. In years gone by it was difficult to source interpreters, but now as the Deaf community uses NDIS funding, as more Deaf people move into professional roles and as more Deaf people begin to source tertiary education the demand is sky high. Booking agencies are struggling to meet demand. Add Convo Australia to the mix, now providing online interpreting 24/7, you begin to see that the demand for Auslan interpreting has never been higher.

In my 20 years out of the Deaf sector this is, perhaps, the biggest change that I have seen. Going back 20 years, I think it was easier to source an Auslan Interpreter. You always needed to book in advance, but you probably had more chance of getting an Auslan interpreter 20 years ago than you do now. Australia simply cannot train enough interpreters to the level required to meet the rapidly increasing demand. The consequence of this is that many miss out.

Working within hearing programs and hearing organisations for the last 20 years I have been fortunate that where ever I have worked, my employer has never baulked at providing me with the access that I required. I mean, the Brotherhood of St Laurence (BSL), where I worked as a Senior Local Area Coordinator, once called me in to find out if there was a way to reduce interpreting costs. I and one other Deaf employee managed to spend $84 000 in 8 months. Even though the costs was high, BSL still provided for my and the other Deaf employees every communication need.

But the thing with working in a hearing organisation is the need for immediate communication. As a senior you have to respond to situations. Workers will come into the office with a problem and you have to communicate with them there and now. Clients will come in and need advice and there is a need to be able to respond to them as well. Up until a few years ago, all I could do in those situations was make do as best I could. I had to be incredibly innovative and resilient.

Sometimes I would grab a work colleague to scribe for me. Sometimes I would write notes. Sometimes, if I was lucky, the person might be easy to lipread and I could make do. Often it was hard. Accents, beards, mumblers and the like, all came into the mix. Nevertheless, I had to meet the challenge. Immediacy of communication was just me and them, making do the best we could.

Overtime things have changed. Email, SMS, live text chat etc, all these things made communication easier for me. I well recall a client coming in very distressed and I could not lipread them. It was a busy period and I couldn’t grab a colleague to scribe. I asked the person if they had Facebook Messenger and they did. I grabbed a spare laptop and had them sign in. Across the table we communicated successfully Via Facebook messenger. That was how it was sometimes.

Later, I discovered that Live Remote Captioning was generally more available. I began to use that more. Sometimes a client would call and ask if they could come in in a couple of hours. I would know the chances of getting an Auslan interpreter were zilch. I would get a hold of Barney and say I need someone in two hours, can you serve? Barney would check and get back to me within ten minutes. (I usually sent these requests through Facebook messenger) Nine times out of ten Barney would find me a captioner at short notice. Once Barny let me know someone was available, I would go online and confirm the booking.

Then in 2018 things changed dramatically. Android introduced Live Transcribe. Live Transcribe is a free app that basically is voice recognition technology. Someone told me about it and I was very skeptical. To my surprise, it was very accurate. In 2018 it was far from perfect, but it was usable. Colleagues would come to my desk, and if they were hard to lipread, I would switch it on. Presto immediate communication.

I began to use Live Transcribe in meetings where I could not get interpreters. Or when clients walked in and needed immediate advice. As I said, it wasn’t perfect, but it was usable. It meant I was able to flexibly address a variety of work situations there and then. Indeed, overtime Live Transcribe became better and more accurate. It was a bit of a godsend.

Then Covid hit. By this time I was back working as an NDCO. When I won the NDCO role I was interviewed over Zoom. This was 2019 and I had never heard of Zoom at the time. I still required interpreters because Live Transcribe on my phone didn’t really pick up computer generated voices very well. Then one day I experimented using a tablet rather than the phone. The Tablet worked immensely better.

What I would do was set up the tablet on a stand next to my computer. I would dial in and I would access the meeting that way. I was very fortunate to have very savvy colleagues. They made sure they only spoke one at a time. If they ever forgot, I would just hold up my hands and a chorus of apologies would ensue.

Of course Live Transcribe would sometimes get the phonetics wrong. If this happened I would stop the meeting and read out what had been transcribed and my colleagues would then let me know what they had said. Sometimes it was hilarious. Like when the USEP program got transcribed as the New Sex Program. We had many a laugh over these phonetic errors.

Then one day I discovered another program, Microsoft Group Transcribe. This was only available on Apple devices. I uploaded it to my iPad. Blimey, it was even better than Live Transcribe. It was more accurate and you could even use it with the TV. It would transcribe what was being said on TV. Live Transcribe, at least I found, was not so good with the TV and was, overall, less accurate than Microsoft Group Transcribe.

All of this happened within a couple of years. Then Zoom and Teams video conference platforms introduced automatic captioning. At first I found Teams and Zoom automatic captioning a bit clunky and stayed with Microsoft Group Transcribe. But like with any technology, it got better over time. It got to a point where a colleague would want to discuss something with me. They would call me on Teams, I would turn on the captions, I had immediate communication.

It drops out sometimes or the captions are wrong sometimes, but generally the accuracy is outstanding. In fact, so good is this technology that for the last two years I have not spent all of my Auslan For Employment budget. Previously the paltry $6000 that was provided would be wiped out within the first two or three months.

Then Android 12 gave us the captioned mobile. I’ve written about this before, but now I can make and receive calls. I don’t need a go between or a National Relay Service, I have immediate access to the phone 24/7. All of these developments in the last two years, it is incredible .

I am well aware that I have usable speech which makes all of this technology possible. Not every Deaf person is in the same boat. I am determined to lessen my demand on Auslan interpreters through this technology. Not because of the cost, but so that the short supply of interpreters can be directed to Deaf people that really prefer and require it.

So here I am, back in the Deaf sector. I am at an organisation where 95% of my colleagues all use Auslan. Those that don’t are quickly learning it. It’s refreshing to be able to meet someone in the kitchen and just strike up a conversation without having to switch on my iPad to access captioning. It really is wonderful to just be able to relax and converse with nearly everyone. I think for the first time for many years, I am actually excited to go to work.

That is not to say past workmates didn’t go out of their way to facilitate communication. They did, I was very fortunate. But I look back over twenty years and I see how much more access I have through this technology and it never fails to blow my mind. I mean, two of my current team are learning Auslan and the technology facilitates communication for us until they develop some proficiency in Auslan. It’s kind of weird calling your colleague at the next desk on Teams so as to access captioning but hey, whatever works.

The last 20 years out of the Deaf sector have made me a better and more resilient professional. I’m glad I did it and it taught me so much. Thanks to all my past work colleagues who made my working life such a wonderful and inclusive one, I will never forget you.

But I’m back now, and loving it! Here is to the next chapter.

A Sign of Manners

The graphic is a black and white banner with a stylised M. It reads, in capitals – MANNERS

Parliament is back. An emotional Prime Minister Albanese gave his full endorsement to the Uluru Statement from the Heart. This will give First Nations People a voice in parliament. Said Albanese,

“When you have issues that are affecting people, particularly people who have a history going back 65,000 years that offers us a continuous source of great national pride here in Australia, why wouldn’t you?

Why wouldn’t you grasp that generous and gracious offer which is about reconciliation, which is about acknowledging dispossession and colonisation and all of the tragedy and injustice that occurred as a result of the First Fleet arriving in 1788?

In what might be the understatement of the century, Albanese called the push to give First Nations People a voice in parliament – “A sign of manners.”

It was looking to be good week for minority groups at the opening of parliament. Australia’s first Muslim Hijab wearing Senator, Fatima Payman, urged Muslim women to wear their Hijab with pride. This was reported widely in the media. Senator Payman believes that it was time that Australia’s parliament reflected, “…the true diversity….” of the country. And so it should.

I began to think that the adults had finally arrived in parliament. Gosh, this collection of MPs and senators might actually begin to treat each other with respect and dignity. Finally, we might actually have a parliament that can disagree and debate without personal attacks and ulterior motives. It was looking good.

And then Dutton spoke. He accused Albanese, with out a shred of evidence, of siding with, “Union rapist thugs.” Such Unionist are apparently harassing women on building sites.

Worst of all, Pauline Hanson walked out of the Acknowledgment the Country at the opening of the Senate. Simply put, Hanson threw all her toys out of the pram. She stated that she wouldn’t acknowledge the Elders past and present now and never would. Racist only scratches the surface of all the evil things that this woman is.

But wait, it gets worse. New Senator, David Pocock, requested an Auslan interpreter for his maiden speech in the Senate. He was apparently refused this request by the major parties because they feared setting a precedent. You see, if Senator Pocock were allowed an Auslan interpreter it would mean that every Senator in the Senate or every MP in the parliament could request one. We cant have that, can we? Not with a trillion dollars in debt. Blimey, it might even encourage Deaf people to try for parliament. Gosh, all that diversity that Senator Payman is pleading for, we cant have that can we?? It was about here that I knew nothing really had changed. In the first line of this paragraph there is a hyperlink. Read it and weep, but don’t read the comments that tell Deaf people to stop moaning and use the subtitles. (I kid you not.)

What does that tell you about how the government and the opposition really thinks about people with a disability. Certainly not a group of people to enhance diversity. Certainly not a group of people that should be part of an inclusive workplace.

Prime Minister Albanese says it is good manners to give First Nations people a voice in parliament. It absolutely is and I support this 100 percent. BUT, somehow the simple measure of providing an Auslan interpreter to be inclusive for the Auslan users of Australia is some sort of dangerous and costly precedent. Sorry, but this smacks of double standards.

I urge the major parties to reconsider the request of Senator Pocock and any other member of the parliament or senate who should make such a request for Auslan interpreters hereon. After all, in the words of our newly elected Prime Minister, “It’s a sign of manners.”

Or are we not worthy???

Joyced!!!

Image is of a gold coloured, standard T-handle walking stick

Over COVID? Me too! Its been over two years and the dastardly little bug wont go away. It’s locked us down, separated us, made us sick, killed us and it’s destroyed economies the world over. To the end of last year Governments decided that they were no longer going to be held hostage by this little bug and opened up. Freedoms returned and we all go to travel again. We all got to fly interstate or overseas. And weren’t we happy!!

We hoped that COVID would have gone by now. Alas, no! We are currently confronting the third wave of Omicron and people are dying again. Who knows? Mandates and lock downs might return. In the meantime we continue to travel and fly. Now, we not only have to fear COVID but if we are flying, we fear being JOYCED.

JOYCED is a term that was coined to describe the chaos that flyers are experiencing as demand for flights increases. Essentially the term is taking the piss out of Qantas CEO, Alan Joyce. Unfortunately, the efficiency of airlines has taken a hit since COVID. Flights are frequently cancelled, baggage has gone missing, processing passengers is taking ages. Consequently, people need to be at the airport very, very early to make sure they get to their gate on time.

Much of this is because the airlines are under-staffed. People are sick with COVID, forced to isolate and cant come to work. The result of this under-staffing is unbridled chaos. Instead of acknowledging these very real issues of under-staffing Joyce made the mistake of blaming passengers for the delays. Apparently, we were all out of practice for catching planes and this is the main cause of the delays. Passengers didn’t take to kindly to being blamed for things out of their control so decided that they would blame Joyce. Hence, when things go arse up at the airport, flights are cancelled or baggage is lost, passengers have been JOYCED!

People with a disability are also being JOYCED. Unfortunately, the consequences for being JOYCED if you have a disability can be quite severe. My dear friend Liz represented Australia at a recent United Nations disability gathering in America. Liz is a wheelchair user. On her journey to New York she endured two broken planes meaning they had to book her other flights. She had connecting flights cancelled mid-flight causing extreme delays. This led to overnight stays in strange places and re-bookings that saw her finally land at her destiny. Only for her baggage to go missing! It remained missing for over a week.

For a person with a disability this can be catastrophic. In Liz’s case all her chargers for her wheelchair were in the baggage. All her medications were in her bag causing her extreme health challenges that led her to having to go to ER in New York. She had been promised that her bags would be returned soon, yet by the day of her leaving, more than a week later, they had not arrived. Naturally, she was greatly inconvenienced and stressed. That’s what being JOYCED entails … ( Do note, it wasn’t all Qantas’ fault, however, for the sake of the narrative we will blame them 😀 )

There is a reason why many people with a disability hate flying. In these COVID riddled days they hate it even more. Before COVID it was bad enough. No more than two people with a disability per flight. Valuable mobility equipment damaged by baggage handlers. People with disability being denied access to a flight because they were seen as a risk. Famously, Kurt Fearnley crawled through an airport because airlines refused to allow him to use his own wheelchair and he refused the “Standard” trolley like chairs that they insisted he use.

Recently former Disability Commissioner, Graeme Innes, was humiliated by airport security, They refused to let his guide dog go through X-ray machine. Apart from that they treated him like a child and with immense disrespect. So upset was Innes that he is now seeking damages.

In these COVID days, any delays can be a disaster I got VIRGINNED recently (We cant blame poor Alan for everything.) I couldn’t get through security. I had just had a hip replacement and the new fangled metal hip set of the alarm. SHIT! The security guard comes up, masked and all, and mutters something that was probably. “Go back and come through again.” I started shitting bricks because I was already running late.

Now I am Deaf, and in this case I was also physically limited. I was four weeks post-op and using a walking stick. I’m telling the security guard I cant hear him and have to lipread. He refused to remove his mask. I suggested he might like to use my Live Transcribe. He ignored me and my suggestion. What he did next was truly mind boggling.

He took away my walking stick and asked me to walk through. I asked him how I was supposed to do that. He just gestured angrily for me to walk through. So here I was, physically incapacitated and expected to walk through. So I did, very painfully and with great difficulty. Unsurprisingly the alarm went off again.

I explained to the guy about the hip operation and why the alarm was going off, but he didn’t care. He gestured at me to take my shoes off and go back. By this time I had had enough. Angrily I said,

“Look mate, I’m in pain. I have no idea what you are saying. I cant walk any further without my walking stick AND if I take my shoes off, I hope you are the one that will help me put them back on! “

He said something through his mask. I reminded him I couldn’t hear him. The fucker rolled his eyes at me and gestured at me to stay. He went and got his manager who must have told him to frisk me, and he did. Fifteen minutes or so later I was on my way. Luckily, my flight had been delayed.

And then, of course, the inflight entertainment had no captions. (I was in business class.) I mean in this day and age, where streaming companies can caption everything, you expect something as simple as captioning to exist. The food was good though, and I commend Virgin on their choice of wines. I commend them a little less on their choice of security guards. By the way, the airline steward was great too. Made communicating as easy as possible by removing his mask and even spoke into my Live Transcribe.

This is Australia today. It is 2022 and disability discrimination is rampant everywhere. Australia, particularly the airline industry, needs to do better than this.

So, if you’re non-disabled and you get JOYCED, while I empathise with you, spare a thought for what people with a disability often have to endure. It ain’t a lot of fun, I can tell you!

Dear Auslan Interpreters

Image is of an Auslan interpreter interpreting a COVID update.

Hello old friends, the Terps. It has been such a long time between breaks. This year I have hardly booked an Auslan interpreter at all. It’s a far cry from the heady days where I was at the NDIS. I could have an Auslan interpreter twice a day. Indeed, I and Michael spent $84 grand on interpreting inside 12 months. My employer was always accommodating, but even they asked if there was a way we could cut it back somehow. Why have I hardly used you this year? More on that later.

I told my NDIS employer to cut back on endless and unnecessary team meetings. I said we could probably do them once a month rather than fortnightly. To my surprise they agreed to this. It’s not that I don’t think that you Terps are worth it, its just that somehow we have to keep costs to a sustainable level.

And you know Terps, cost has always been such a big thing in delivering Auslan interpreting. In my work life a big focus has been on reducing costs of interpreters as much as possible. When I started work at the University of Ballarat my job had me covering nearly half of Victoria. From Ballarat to Mildura, to Geelong right down to Portland. My coverage was immense.

This was in 2003. In 2003 to access an interpreter I had to have an interpreter physically there. For me to attend a workshop in Warnambool, that might go for over two hours, I needed two interpreters. The closest interpreter to Warnambool was based in Geelong. If I couldn’t get them, I would have to access interpreters from Melbourne.

It was an expensive business. We had the standard two hour fee for two interpreters and their travel time to get there. This simple meeting would set my employer back near or over 2 grand. 4 hours of interpreting plus 10 hours travel time for the two interpreters to get there – Do the maths!

Luckily for me, I had a really supportive employer in the University of Ballarat. I can tell you my work budget, along with $ 6000 Auslan for employment, ran out after 4 months. For the next 8 months my employer simply covered the cost from their central budget. My boss said they did it because they thought I was worth it. Again let me tell you Terps, I think you were worth it. BUT – To make things sustainable I had to find another way.

So I began to explore Video Relay Interpreting. Back in 2003 we couldn’t do this by Internet. We had to do it by teleconference using the old Polycom system. We could deliver Video Relay Interpreting via the phone line, but we needed a minimum of three lines. One hour was around $548 for the phone plus extra for the interpreter time. In the country this still worked out cheaper than getting interpreters physically there.

Over time the internet began to improve. It got a bit stronger. Over time we got access to remote WiFi through the dongle. We had 3G, oh wow were we excited. A dongle was about $80 a month for something like 4 GB of data. It was a godsend. So I began to experiment with delivering interpreters to my laptop via the dongle.

It wasn’t always great. Drop outs were common. Audio was crap. But I persisted. I got some funding to buy a couple of Macs and a couple of dongles. For a year we experimented using the dongle to deliver Video Relay Interpreting. As time went on the dongle became more reliable. The possibility of ongoing VRI became a reality. I even had a Deaf student experiment having her school class interpreted with the dongle and it went ok.

It wasn’t always brilliant, but what it showed was the potential. From this project I printed a manual as to how to effectively use Skype for Video Relay Interpreting. The manual covered how set up the room and how to maximise the dongle . I recall sitting near a window was one of the tips. We experimented with Bluetooth microphones to deliver sound direct to the laptop to maximise the audio. All of this was detailed in the manual.

These were heady days. Even now as I write this I get a bit emotional. Through these experiments I increasingly accessed interpreters remotely and cut the cost for my employer by a considerable amount. Interestingly, there was resistance. Some said interpreting wasn’t possible by VRI. The 2D format would not work they said. Others said without visual cues they couldn’t interpret. Some said VRI was soulless and took away the personal touch.

Look at us now, we even have Convo delivering interpreting to our mobiles whenever we need it, paid for by our NDIS. If you have not already guessed, I am very proud of this body of work. I look at the world now and I am so glad that I persisted. I am so glad that Terps persisted. I am so glad that the Deaf community persisted. We are all better for it today.

But you know, I didnt stop there. I experimented with what I called pre-recorded interpreters. Universities and TAFE were all saying that the cost of interpreting was not sustainable. So I said, why not try some pre-recorded stuff. I believed that there was core learning that you could film and add interpreters to it. You could place this online and deaf students could access it whenever. My argument was that by having some core learning online, and accessible, it could cut costs for interpreting as well as making learning more flexible for everyone.

Core stuff that never changes like Pavlov’s dribbling dog. Or making a cappuccino. Or stocking a freezer room. You could film these lectures and add interpreters later with little boxes or via Green Screen. I argued that it didnt need to be expensive. You could do it with your basic MacPro editing software.

And I did. I filmed myself making cheese on Toast. In a funny skit I forgot to plug in the toaster, burnt myself and I dropped the toast, much to the dogs glee. I added myself later, interpreting myself via Green screen using a green blanket hanging in the background.

My boys, Tyler and Finlay, filmed it for me on a cheap bloggy camera that I brought from JB HiFi. I used the video as an awareness tool for universities to highlight what was possible and to show it didnt need to be expensive. Unbeknown to me the lads had found the skit hilarious and could be heard chortling loudly in the background as they filmed me. It was such enormous fun.

And look where we are today. Every Sunday we have interpreted ABC news. We have endless Auslan announcements on Facebook. Emergency announcements are sometimes made with Interpreters superimposed later in the day and placed online. Video Relay Interpreting is common place. I feel very proud to have played my little part with you wonderful Terps and with the wonderful people at Auslan Services in making some of this possible.

So given this history, how did I get to the point today that I hardly use you Terps anymore? Well, it’s not because I don’t love you all, cos I do. Its just that captioning technology has boomed since COVID and everything went online. Automatic captioning has become incredibly accurate. I mean, bloody hell, I have a captioned mobile now courtesy of Android 12.

What I have now is immediacy. If I need to communicate with someone here and now, I can do it. I don’t need to book interpreters three weeks in advance. I can get online and manage my team all day using the automatic captioning. Clients call me and I call clients. Just in the middle of this blog my property manager rang and we had a chat about the tenants leaving and getting hold of the keys. No relay service, no interpreter – just me and my strange pommy deaf accent. But it works.

So I don’t book interpreters very much any more. But thats just for me. I have recognisable speech and that helps. I know that not all Deaf people do and they prefer you Terps. You Terps are still absolutely essential and I still use you for big gatherings and meetings. I just have less need day to day cos I now have immediacy of access. I had to wait til the 57th year of my life, but now I have it!

It’s a good thing. Because when people like me use the technology it takes away some of the demand on the system. It means that more Terps are available to interpret where they are needed. At hospitals, In courts, at universities at funerals and so on. I see me using the technology for my needs as a way to help the community get better and more access to Terps for essential things. God knows, I have hogged you Terps enough over the years.

So my my Terp Friends. I just wanted you to know that I still love you, I still value you and most of all I know you are still absolutely essential. So when you see me plugging the technology, its not cos I am trying to do you out of a job, it’s cos I truly believe that through people like me using the technology, the valuable resource that you Terps are can be more available for those people that need it for essential things. Most of all, because Auslan is the first language of many in the Deaf community and they have the right to access it.

Rock On Y’All

Dear Bill

Image is of Bill Shorten and an NDIS campaigner. He is wearing a suit and a red tie. He is sitting next to the campaigner who is wearing a white T-shirt with the slogan of which Defend NDIS can be read.

Welcome back Bill. I think most of us in the disability community have been hoping, praying, screaming and demanding for your return to the helm of the NDIS. A succession of Liberal Ministers proved to be pretty clueless, even heartless. We even had one accusing people with a disability of wasting millions on prostitutes, remember that one? Linda Reynolds tried hard but ultimately wasted $41 million on legal fees trying to claw back money from people with disabilities who had received sub-standard and inadequate plans. Nine years of Liberal cluelessness, it wasn’t a great time. I really mean it when I say welcome back!

And what a task you have. It’s a mess isn’t it? I note that one of your first media releases was about going after corrupt service providers. Service providers who are overcharging and are sometimes negligent. It’s a good move and I support this. I particularly hope that you can improve the standards of care and accountability so that cases like Anne-Marie Smith never happen again. I note two directors of that company have been arrested. I am not after revenge, I just want people with a disability treated fairly and kept safe.

You know what Bill? People with a disability are not innocent either. Some are corrupt and abuse their plans. Not on yachts and prostitutes, mind you, but they spend their plans on inappropriate things. They get gardeners and cleaners in through their core, even though they have no such need for these services.

There was one really appalling case that I hope was reported. In this case a “service provider” took a spa off the hands of an NDIS client. (Yes you read that right.) The client was chucking it out. “The service provider” asked if they could have it. So they took it home and found that it didn’t fit. To get rid of it they asked the client if they could charge them three hours of service to pay for a rubbish removal company to remove it. Allegedly, they got the rubbish removalist to take it away, paid for it and then charged the client a few hours to cover the cost of the removalist. Yep, this sort of corrupt behaviour happens, I hope you can clean it up.

I am really pleased that you are looking at advocacy for clients so that they can be assisted at all levels of the NDIS process and not just for reviews and appeals. I am pleased that you have recognised that navigating the NDIS and getting a fair go is hard for many people. It is hard, stressful and often traumatic. Advocacy is often needed at initial planning meetings and scheduled reviews. Currently, this isn’t funded. It needs to be so that NDIS participants get help to understand and develop plans that best meet their needs. This sort of funded advocacy cannot come soon enough.

You know Bill, there are funded advocates that assist with unscheduled reviews and AAT appeals. The agencies that provide this service are swamped. They have huge waiting lists and often have to deny support. AAT appeals are the worst. Imagine being a participant trying to win an AAT appeal without support. They have to deal with qualified and highly paid NDIS lawyers, many who are subcontracted. It is intimidating and stressful.

AAT cases go on for a very long time too. The NDIA are unwavering and attempts at conciliation between participant and NDIA, more often than not, hit a brick wall. It ends up as a Directions Hearing. It’s laughable because the participant is then expected to fill in a “Hearing Certificate”. In this certificate they have to outline who their witness are and which of the NDIA witnesses they want “CROSS EXAMINE”. Yup, your every day participant, many without representation, are expected to navigate this. I am sure that you will agree that this is incredibly unfair. The extra funding for advocates cannot come soon enough.

But Bill, despite all of the above, the biggest problem that you have is the NDIA workforce. Hard working as they are, there are way too many that don’t understand disability. There are way too many that are gathering information and developing plans who really do not understand the issues and needs of disability. They rely on algorithms on computers to spit out plans that are often incredibly inadequate. Far too often, these plans come back for reviews.

This highlights the next problem. The reviews are often overseen by delegates and executives who also do not understand disability. The reviews are denied and they end up as AAT appeals that take months and months. There is a reason reviews and appeals went up 400%, its because way too many people in decision making roles have no clue as to what they are doing.

Do you know what that means? It means hours of people time, millions in resources, millions in legal fees and it all adds up to waste. $41 million in legal fees probably pales into insignificance to the amount of time and money wasted internally because inexperienced delegates, LACS and management are developing plans that do not meet the needs of participants. That’s a 400% increase Bill. That is time and money wasted.

The worst thing though, Bill, is the stress and trauma that all of this causes people with a disability. The stress of appealing. The stress of receiving inadequate plans. The trauma at receiving a plan that has been so drastically cut that the participant can barely function. This is happening everyday Bill. It is not just trauma, it is outright abuse.

I cannot emphasise enough just how important fixing the workforce issue is. It’s not just getting more people in to deal with the demand, its getting people in that know what they are doing. This means that more people with a disability need to be at management and executive level. More people with a disability need to be in decision making roles. More people that “GET IT” need to be employed. To my mind, that is your biggest priority!

Thanks for listening Bill. As I said, I am so glad that you are back. The NDIS is a world leading scheme. When it works, its fantastic. But, when it doesn’t it can cause great harm to people with a disability. I can confirm that thoughts of suicide and suicide attempts have happened because of decisions that are made by the NDIA. It’s just wrong.

Good luck Bill, give me a buzz if I can help.