Category Archives: All about Deafness

All about Deafness

Typical stupid conversations about Deafness

This video is hilarious. Unfortunately, it’s so true. It’s not just interpreters who have these kinds of stupid, STUPID conversations with people who have never thought about what it means to be Deaf. Deaf people have them too… all the time. I can really relate to this. I couldn’t count the number of times I’ve had to respond to people like this lecturer, while trying to remain polite and gracious. I wish we had some basic education about Deafness for all school children, so that by the time they are grown up, they have sorted out how to deal with Deaf people and interpreters without being complete #!@%wits.

 

Don’t forget to help improve access to the arts!

If you haven’t already had your say and told the government how they can improve access to the arts for people who are Deaf/deaf, have a disability or mental health condition, now’s the time! Seriously, please don’t delay. This is SO important. We all have the opportunity to make a huge difference to the lives of so many Australians – let’s do it.

If you’ve only got five minutes, email Arts.Disability@arts.gov.au and say:

– Access needs to be built into all creative projects from the start, and this includes creation, promotion and presentation of arts projects. The government should fund this.

– Provide open captions for all public screenings of movies and laws to support this.

– Create an awareness campaign to remove the stigma, lack of respect, and discrimination experienced by people who are Deaf/deaf or have a disability or mental health condition.

If you’ve got more time, head to my blog post for more details:

 Here’s our chance to improve access to the arts!

Here’s our chance to improve access to the arts!

The government is working to improve access to the arts for those of us who are Deaf/deaf, have a disability, or a mental health condition. People, this is super-important! It’s an amazing opportunity for us to make a difference!

The government is not sure how to provide access, and they need us to tell them. They want to know everything about all the barriers and discrimination we experience in accessing the arts. The arts includes movies, books, theatre, multi-media games, fashion design and everything creative. You can fill in a survey or send them an email. You don’t have to be Deaf/deaf, have a disability or mental health condition yourself – the government also wants to hear from you if you are our friends or family members, or work with us, or want to work with us in the future.

As well as filling out the survey, I am sending an email which I have pasted below. I have outlined three things the government can do that I believe will make the biggest difference. If you feel these things will help us, please contact the government and let them know, or tell them what YOU think will help. The more voices they have, the more likely they will make the change, and the right change. Scroll to the bottom to find out how to contact the government.

Please pretty please, help let everyone know about this amazing opportunity by sharing this post!!

Dear Cultural Ministers,

Thank you for working to make the arts more accessible for those of us who are Deaf/deaf, have a disability or mental health condition. I am a professional Deaf artist who has been working in the field for 18 years. In this time I have experienced a significant amount of discrimination, and I have had to fight hard to become professional and overcome numerous frustrating barriers.

THE TYPE OF BARRIERS I HAVE FACED

Let me tell you about just some of the barriers I have experienced:

  • As a young performing artist, I could not find a professional company that would take me on as they would also have to hire interpreters and this was prohibitively expensive.
  • I decided to freelance and tried to get an agent. But no agent had confidence in me and I received no bookings.
  • I invested my personal savings to pay a friend to call festivals and events and tell them about me. I posted them my promotional material and started to receive bookings. Once they had booked me once, repeat bookings were easy as they loved my work.
  • I became a writer, had a book series published, and was invited to speak at writers’ festivals. However, I had never done this type of speaking before and I wanted to go and watch some other authors speak, so I could get an idea of what types of things they said. I could not access any author talks as there were no interpreters. So I had to make up my talk ‘blind’, without knowing the context. To this day I do not know how my talk sits in the context of others’ talks. I only know that I get repeat bookings.
  • I went to a writers’ festival and was invited to opening night networking and drinks. However, while the festival had hired an interpreter to interpret my presentation, there was no interpreter for the networking and drinks. I could not connect with others on the scene. I remain isolated as a writer.
  • At one festival, a writer who I am absolutely in awe of was presenting. I begged the festival to provide interpreters for her talk. I was told they would not, because the previous year they had a budget for interpreting but no Deaf people came, so they scrapped that budget and it’s not available this year. I thought to myself: maybe the Deaf people who didn’t come are like me – I don’t even look at programmes for writers’ festivals because it’s like looking at a candy bar full of lollies I am not allowed to eat. How would I know to look at that one festival’s programme?
  • I became a visual artist. I applied for a course in how to best sell art online. I emailed the teacher and asked if the course content was accessible. He said it was not. I asked if he could make it accessible. He said no. I asked if he would teach me privately. He said, ‘This course is not suitable for you.’ I sent him a long and persuasive list of my credits and experience and outlined exactly how I thought he could help me. He relented and gave my private sessions via type-Skype. He told me later I was among his best students.
  • I applied for another course and they said it was not suitable for me. I was ill at the time and felt too tired to fight. I gave up on that one. I often give up. I have to pick my battles.
  • I wanted to go to a film festival, but when I looked at the programme it didn’t say which sessions had captions. I called up and asked. I could book for a session with three movies, one of which had subtitles but the other didn’t. That would hardly be a fulfilling experience, so I didn’t go.
  • I wanted to go and see some shows at the Melbourne Fringe. But in past years the programme did not indicate which shows would be accessible to me and there was no central office I could call that would know which shows were suitable – I’d have to call up each show individually. I did not even get the programme nor look through it. Best to focus on things I CAN access.
  • My family and friends love to go to the movies. So do I. But I cannot go with them because they like to see new popular movies, and I can only watch foreign films as they have subtitles. So they go and watch the movies and talk about them and I am left out. Then a few months later I watch it by myself on DVD. I want to talk about it with them but they have moved on or forgotten – they are talking about this week’s movie.
  • NDIS, since it was rolled out, now provides me with some funding that I could use to book interpreters for events and pay for course content to be transcribed. This has been amazing and life-changing for me. However, my current plan gives enough funding for one booking (max 2 hours) per week. I have to choose between using this for a medical appointment, a social event, a cultural event, a fitness or creative class, or access to something I want to learn online. For the other 166 hours each week I am still without access.

Please help make this easier for artists who come after me, and for the rest of my career as an artist and my life as a consumer/creator of the arts. In this email, I outline the key things the government can do to make a huge difference to accessibility in the arts.

BUILD ACCESS INTO CREATIVE PROJECTS FROM THE START

Access needs to be built into all artistic projects from conception. Just as funding bodies require artists to present a budget and a marketing plan, so should artists be required to develop an access plan in order to secure funding. This access plan must be funded by the government, so as not to inhibit artists’ capacity to create. For example, arts courses, shows, movies, exhibitions etc should all be required to include captions, transcripts and visual information. Artists should be encouraged to think creatively about how to meet access requirements in an integrative and innovative way, rather than seeing access as something to lump on at the end of a project. Creators should ask the question: how will people who are deaf or have a disability or mental health condition access this? A guidebook needs to be made in consultation with Deaf/deaf consumers, those with all types of disabilities, and those with mental health conditions, that help artists and organisations understand how to provide access. Funding organisations need to fund this as a crucial part of the project.

Access needs to be incorporated at the promotional stage too, so that programmes routinely indicate the type of access provided/available to audiences. Booking systems need to be made accessible. For Deaf people, sometimes the barrier is small, such as that we are required by the computer system to enter a phone number but there is no box to check to indicate that that number is for text messages only, and sometimes the barrier is larger in that we are expected to make phone calls (cumbersome through the National Relay Service) or are required to book through a special organisation rather than through mainstream channels. People with other disabilities, such as those who are blind, face different barriers to booking. The guidebook needs to cover all aspects of creation, promotion and presentation of arts projects.

WE NEED ACCESS TO MOVIES

Movies are an intrinsic part of life for most Australians. Going to the movies is seen as a way to switch off at the end of a week, a way to ignite romance on a date, a way to get together socially with friends, and to celebrate the conclusion of a project or course of study. Discussion of new and popular movies is part of life. Deaf people are left out of this because most movies do not have open captions. There are so many barriers to the current Captiview system of providing access that it is useless. To provide true access, we need open captions to be displayed on all movies. Legisltation needs to force this to happen, as cinemas are afraid that they will lose audiences if they do this under their own initiative. Legislation needs to require that movies can only be imported into Australia if open captions files are provided too. Australian made movies must be required to develop captions during the production stage, as part of the funding requirements. Australians will quickly become accustomed to watching movies with captions. In European countries where the main language is not English, almost all movies are shown with captions, and they still experience a strong audience in cinemas. Perhaps cinemas could offer special screenings for those who oppose the use of captions in less popular timeslots (think Tuesday mornings ‪at 9am‬ – which is currently when we generally get to access the movies if access is provided at all).

I have focused here on Deaf access, as that is my area, but naturally access needs to be provided on all levels, audio descriptions included.

ATTITUDES NEED TO CHANGE

Peoples’ attitudes are a major obstacle. Art/creative teachers don’t want to go the extra mile to make their courses accessible to me. Agents are reluctant to take me on. Festivals are reluctant to book me. Professionals are nervous about giving me commissions and residencies. They don’t think it will be worthwhile, because they have never seen Deaf artists, performers and so on. This is a systemic problem, which creates barriers in the arts as well as in all aspects of society. In order to improve access to the arts, we need to change peoples’ attitudes. There are few Deaf people in positions of power and authority because licensing boards don’t accept us. It is a huge fight to become a teacher, a nurse, a doctor, a pharmacist and so on. Some people win, and many lose or give up. With few of us in role-modelling positions, the public doesn’t see us. They assume we are not in those positions because we lack the capacity to perform them effectively. This feeds into an assumption by the mainstream that we are stupid and incapable.

The government can address this firstly by placing new, stringent legislation in place that force organisations and licensing boards to stop discriminating. They can set up an organisation that we can contact when we experience discrimination, who will fight on our behalf to rectify this. Currently the legal system is inaccessible and ridiculously expensive. Fighting discrimination is impossible for most of us. The government should be doing this.

The government also needs to put in place initiatives to get Deaf people, people with a disability and people with a mental health condition into the top tiers of jobs in all professions, so that we can become role models and be seen in the public. When the public sees us in professional roles of authority, the stigma and fear surrounding us will be vastly diminished. They will come to respect us. This can mean extra support for education to help us achieve the knowledge and skills we need, as well as whatever support we need to fulfil the role given our limitations, and financial incentives for employers to take the risk in hiring us.

The government can create an awareness campaign, much like those we have had for drink driving and sun protection, to help people understand how to relate to us in an inclusive, respectful way. In Australia, even though many of us are not religious, we have a strong cultural understanding of the Ten Commandments as a kind of moral code that we are not to break. In Scandinavian countries, there is a similar cultural understanding known as Jante’s Law.

The laws are:

  • You’re not to think you are anything special.
  • You’re not to think you are as good as we are.
  • You’re not to think you are smarter than we are.
  • You’re not to imagine yourself better than we are.
  • You’re not to think you know more than we do.
  • You’re not to think you are more important than we are.
  • You’re not to think you are good at anything.
  • You’re not to laugh at us.
  • You’re not to think anyone cares about you.
  • You’re not to think you can teach us anything.

When I go to these countries, I am treated with respect and not discriminated against to the extent that I am here in Australia. I believe it has to do with the cultural foundation that was built on these laws. People who believe in Jante’s Law cannot look at a person who is Deaf or has a disability and assume they know more than us, are smarter than us, nor are better than us at anything. Instead, people relate to me as though I am more skilled and knowledgeable than them, just as they do with everyone in their culture. I mention this because cultural understanding and awareness is critical to how we are related to and treated. I don’t believe Australia should adopt Jante’s Law. But I do believe that a strong awareness campaign that promotes respect for the skills, knowledge and insight that people who are Deaf or have a disability can bring to our community would make a huge difference.

Much of the stigma I face from individuals and organisations that deny me acess is due to a lack of awareness, fear and uncertainty. By providing an awareness campaign about what it means to be Deaf/deaf and how people should relate to us and include us would be very helpful. Obviously this is needed for those with other disabilities and mental health conditions too.

WHY I NEED ACCESS TO THE ARTS

The art is the most important part of my life. It brings me great pleasure and keeps me sane, as well as earning me an income. I am a voracious reader and always have a book on the go, and have written numerous books myself. How I wish I could access networks of authors. All types of craft – knitting, sewing, art journaling, drawing, painting, mosaicing, sculpting and jewellery making (to name just a few) are activities I do for fun. Spending time making things with my hand brings me peace and calmness in a way that nothing else can. Learning the skills to do these are crucial to my enjoyment, as is accessing and becoming inspired by creations made by others. Dancing and circus skills keep me fit and healthy and again I love to participate in classes for these. When I go more than a week without being creative, I feel depressed and life does not feel worth living. I know that I need to be proactive in staying creative, for my mental health.

Many thanks for considering us and being prepared to make a change. I am happy to be contacted to help make a difference in terms of designing suitable campaigns and law changes and an access handbook for artists.

Many thanks for considering us and being prepared to make a change.

Yours faithfully,

asphyxia-signature.png

Asphyxia

 

WHAT YOU CAN DO

  • Fill in the government survey:
    People who are Deaf/deaf, have a disability or mental health condition click here.
  • Carers, family and friends of the above group click here.
  • Organisations who work with or want to work with the above group click here.

Email Arts.Disability@arts.gov.au and say:

• Access needs to be built into all creative projects from the start, and this includes creation, promotion and presentation of arts projects. The government should fund this.

• Provide open captions for all public screenings of movies and laws to support this.

• Create an awareness campaign to remove the stigma, lack of respect, and discrimination experienced by people who are Deaf/deaf or have a disability or mental health condition.
If possible, give examples from your own experience to support these three ideas. Tell stories about what happened when you tried to access something and couldn’t, and how you felt about it, and how it affected those around you. Let them know why it is so important for us to access the arts. Share your email online to encourage others to have their say too.

You can also make your submission public or upload a video of yourself signing in Auslan – see here for how to do that.

For more info from the government, read here.

Please encourage those around you to have their say as well – share this post to let everyone know about this amazing opportunity to MAKE A DIFFERENCE!!!

If you define me

I’m Deaf. But being Deaf is not the most remarkable thing about me. People who know me will tell you that far more interesting is my creative drive, the fact that for holiday reading I’ll read a business text book and write my own precis, or that I built my own house when I was 22 and it has a huge food garden, including animals that I raise and kill myself for meat. In fact, there are lots of things more interesting about me than my Deafness.

But it can be really hard for people who meet me to get a handle on this. The Deaf thing leaps out at them. I’ve been knocked back from courses, where I would probably be the hardest working and  most devoted student, because the idea of catering for a Deaf student is just too overwhelming for the teacher, and all they can see is my Deafness (along with, I suspect, a bit of the old assumption that to be Deaf is to be stupid, and therefore it’s probably not even worth teaching me anyway).

My friend Anna recently studied her grad dip to become a teacher, and while all the other students in her course were granted their teaching licenses, she was required to present herself to the board. “Since you’re Deaf,” they said, “We think we should give you a restricted licence – so that you can only teach in schools with Deaf students.”

Knowing Anna as I do, this OUTRAGED me. To think that she was seen as only having value to Deaf students, but not to hearing students. Aside from being a terrific model for diversity, Anna is funny, smart, compassionate and highly entertaining. If I was a hearing student, I would learn bucketloads from having her for a teacher. And one of the main things I’d learn is that Anna’s Deafness is not her main talent. No – it’s her incredible wit and ability to hit the nail on the head, which would make learning fun and easy. But I’d also learn that Deaf people can be more than their label.

So, I’m asking you, next time you meet a person who is Deaf, or a person who uses a wheelchair, or has some other physical condition that seems remarkable, remind yourself that it’s probably not the most remarkable thing about them. And you won’t even know what IS remarkable, until you get to know them.

Please feel free to share this post or hang a print of this painting on your wall to raise awareness about this tricky issue. Giclee prints of this artwork are available in my shop.

Prints and artworks about Deafness

If you’d like some artwork on the wall that is for Deaf people, by a Deaf artist, and reflects Deaf values, you might like one of my prints. I have heaps of different images available and they include Deaf activism, Deaf experience and Deaf pride.

These prints are great for the lounge room wall, and would also suit spaces where services are offered to Deaf people – think Deaf units in schools, Deaf clubs/societies, audiology clinics, interpreting agencies and more.

If you want something striking, or a splash of colour, along with a great message, check out my prints here.

It is not my goal to be normal

it-is-not-my-goal-to-be-normal

When I was a child, my parents watched them patronise me, talking over-loudly with me, they noticed that if they told people I was deaf, they’d have to deal with their heartbreak and sorrow on my behalf. They’d watch them patronise me, talking over-loudly with simplistic language appropriate for a much younger child.

Eventually, they figured out it was better to zip their mouths about my deafness, and let them see, through interacting with me, that I was just like any other child – racing around the house with my siblings, spilling apple juice and playing hospital games with toilet paper for bandages. Later, they’d say, quietly like it was no big deal, “Oh, by the way, she’s a little bit deaf.”

They chose not to use sign language with me, figuring that the more ‘normal’ I seemed, the better I’d fit into the world and the more appropriately people would treat me.

I get why my parents made these choices for me. They did the best they could.

But there’s a flip side. I grew up thinking I was only a ‘little bit deaf’ and that it was my own fault that I didn’t concentrate hard enough to understand people. The entire burden of communication rested on my shoulders, as I struggled to make sense of the world through lipreading, with no accommodation by others. There was a subtle but definite pressure to be as ’normal’ as possible, and not to make waves or ask for help because of my deafness.

As an adult, I’ve discovered that by letting the world see I’m deaf, I can share the burden of communication with others, and I can relax more, instead of always being alert to the possibility of people speaking to me. Using sign language, I can chat in a group and it’s enjoyable and relaxing, unlike trying to lipread, which is basically impossible in a group setting.

Instead of straining to be something I’m not, by ‘passing’ as hearing, I choose to be me as I am – Deaf – and to set up my life to be as Deaf-friendly as possible. That makes my world smaller, more limited, but it also makes it more relaxing and enjoyable, and on the balance, that’s what I prefer and choose.

This piece has been sold.

Deaf dilemma – to laugh or not?

Deaf dilemma

 

 

When I was a kid, I always laughed along. I didn’t even know I did it. I survived by copying faces. Someone was upset, I’d make sympathetic faces while they spoke to me. Someone was excited, I’d let out a little excited yelp too.

I didn’t even realise I did this until I was in my late teens. And when I did, it occurred to myself that I was doing myself a disservice. By copying faces, it gave people the impression that I understood what was being said. If instead, I gave them a quizzical expression, I’d be more likely to get an actual explanation.

I set about trying to break my habit. It’s deeply ingrained. I still do it sometimes, but mostly I try to be more honest about when I have and haven’t understood.

But it’s really difficult when I’m standing in a group, say, of people I don’t know that well, but whom I hope to get to know and want to make a good impression on. They’re all laughing. If I stand there, blank-faced, it feels incredibly rude. But it’s also often not right to interrupt them and demand that they explain, especially if we’ve only just met. And yet, if I laugh along, that gives them the impression I understand, and it doesn’t let them know that if this relationship is going to work, I’m going to need a bit more information.

It’s tricky. I don’t have an answer for how us Deaf people should handle this situation. I just wanted to raise some awareness about it.

But, if you’re with a Deaf person and the group starts laughing, maybe you’ll consider leaning over to explain.

If you’d like to do your bit to help raise awareness, feel free to share this post. Thanks!