I’m Deaf, not stupid.

“Being deaf doesn’t mean you’re stupid: One woman’s experience with workplace discrimination in Australia” 

My Facebook newsfeed was flooded with this article, and many Deaf people can relate to it. I can relate to it as well.

As a Deaf person, I have experienced workplace discrimination. It’s not a pretty experience, to be honest. It’s extremely frustrating.

Like Ms Carlton, I use Auslan to communicate with others, however I do not speak. I’ve never been able to speak a whole sentence. I’ve found myself more comfortable signing rather than speaking.

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Although, I can lipread…to an extent. It’s that I need to get used to someone’s speaking patterns in order to be able to lipread properly. If someone is wearing a bright red lipstick, then that’s distracting. A beard? That’s a big fat no. Moustache? Nah. That’s distracting too. There’s a few other distractions in regards to lipreading as well. I wear hearing aids, but if I am lipreading someone and my hearing aid is picking up a lot of background noise, then it makes lipreading more difficult. Accents do make it difficult too.

Deaf people communicate in different ways. Some, like Ms Carlton, are able to speak, lipread and sign. Some prefer to speak and lipread. Some prefer to sign and lipread. Some prefer to only sign.

But… how do we communicate with those who cannot sign?

In comes the old school method of pen and paper. A piece of cake. Heck, there’s computers, laptops, iPads, tablets, mobile phones, text messaging, and instant messaging. Technology nowadays makes communication a whole lot easier for deaf people, especially in workplaces.

There’s also sign language interpreters, but they do come at a cost. They’re not cheap. In Australia, we can access Employment Assistance Fund once when we are employed. For Auslan interpreting and/or live remote captioning in workplaces, the fund is unfortunately capped at $6,000 per year and it runs out quickly for those in professional workplaces. This saying – “One size does not fit all” – applies to employment. A deaf retail worker would not be able to use all of their EAF in a year – probably only $500 at the most, whereas a deaf professional would use up the EAF in less than 2 months.

Once when the $6,000 runs out, the employer then has to resort to using the company funds to pay for interpreters and/or live captioning. It can be as high as $25,000 per year. Doesn’t sound pretty, does it?

Now, back to workplace discrimination…

“Being deaf doesn’t mean you are stupid, people just have to face me and talk normally. Not to cover their mouths, turn away when speaking to me, not to shout and say the words slowly,” 

This is VERY common with Deaf people. I’ve experienced this too, and it is extremely frustrating…even to the point where I wanted to cry and strangle them. Heh. I’m not a violent person, mind you 😉

“They need to understand that deaf people face lots of barriers [in] communication. People who don’t know sign language need to learn to be patient with them by talking clearly.”

Patience is the KEY to communicating effectively with a deaf person at work. You need to be patient so they can understand you in order to reply to you. For most deaf people like me, English isn’t our first language and it can take a couple of seconds for our brains to register what you said in English. There’s some of us who translate English into Auslan in our heads so we can understand you. Remember this – patience is a virtue.

“People need to understand that those who are deaf are capable of doing anything, no matter what. To me, my ears are broken, that’s all, but everything else is completely fine.

I agree with this wholeheartedly. I’m constantly having to prove myself to the world out there, especially with my abilities. I studied at uni – heck, I’m still studying at uni…! I’ve done so much in 29 years of my life, and my life is enriched for that. I want to show the world that I’m more than capable of doing anything, regardless of my deafness.

We’re all the same, but the 1% difference that separates us is our ears: yours work and mine doesn’t. That’s it.

Deaf people can drive, fly, travel, marry, and do everything else their hearing peers are doing. Of course, there are a couple of limitations such as joining the Army. The Australian Defence Force, Royal Australian Air Force and Australian Navy doesn’t allow people with a hearing loss to join because of safety concerns (I think this is complete bollocks!).

The bottom line is that workplace discrimination is rife in Australia, especially within the deaf sector. You know, Australia is a signatory to the United Nations Convention for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD), and we have the Disability Discrimination Act 1992…but they haven’t stopped discrimination from occurring in this country especially within employment.

I was astounded to learn of America being more accessible than Australia in terms of deaf people. I came across Stella Young’s status on Facebook, where it was shared and made public.

I’ve been home for more than 24 hours now and really struggling with what to say about my trip to the US. I’ve seen some friends, I’ve called my parents, and I can’t manage much more than “it was amazing”. It was, it really was. And what I’ve come home to is a wonderful country, filled with drinkable coffee and so many people I love, but it’s also a country that chokes and stifles me. It’s a country in which my civil rights are not considered or honoured. It’s a country in which I’m not genuinely protected from discrimination by the law. A country that expects me to be grateful for the crumbs, and ignores my right to be an equal, contributing member of the communities I belong to.

I’m happy to be home among my beloved friends and family, but I can’t shake the sadness, the anger at the knowledge that I’m not as free as I was two days ago. I can no longer go to a restaurant without calling ahead to check access. I can no longer drink as many cups of tea as I want to, safe in the knowledge that I’ll be able to access a bathroom wherever I am in the course of my day. I can no longer expect to be treated as though my occupation of public space is a right and not a privilege.

There are so many reasons I am not happy to be home. There are so many reasons to leave again. And there are so many reasons to stay and sort this shit out before all the anger subsides.

Stella Young – 8 August 2014.

Profound, and the truth really does hit home. Like Stella, I am ashamed to live in a country where disability discrimination is rife. Regardless of the DDA and UN CRPD, we’re not protected from it. I hear about deaf people being denied access to Auslan interpreters, especially with private educational institutions. It breaks my heart.

We all need to become open minded and start seeing people for WHO they are, not because of their disability and/or deafness. Forget about deafness and disability, ask us what we are capable of and how we can contribute to your business/company. We want to be able to contribute to the society like our able-bodied peers by using our abilities and what we studied or trained for.

Give us a chance.

Australia is supposed to be a ‘fair-go’ country.

S x

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