The Australian Government has responded to and do not support a recommendation from the Standing Committee on Health, Aged Care and Sport’s Report in making Hearing Health as National Health Priority. However, the Australian Government recognised there are number of issues of national importance.
3.9 million of Australians have some form of deafness in varying degrees. This large number is a significant concern where there are insufficient infrastructure and transparency of providers comes into the equation costing hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars over the last decade.
Deaf Australia acknowledge the needs for a more cohesive and mainstream system that calls for better accountability and fairness for everyone. However, Deaf Australia is extremely disappointed that the Committee’s view of Auslan (Sign Language) is consigned to interpreting support and not as a language or communication mode that will enhance a persons’ wellbeing whilst reinforcing deafness as medical model of disability.
The Committee’s lack of understanding of the social model is reflected in the language and recommendations.
- The focus on deafness as a hearing deficit rather than, as it for members of Deaf Australia, an essential part of linguistic and cultural identity;
- The Committee’s use of ‘Development Delay’ refers the development of speech and listening’ rather than overall development;
- The lack of reference to cognitive delay and social delay caused by lack of exposure to accessible language (e.g. signed language); and
- There is no recommendation for deaf people aged over 65, who cannot access NDIS and therefore have extremely limited access to sign language interpreting and therefore to participation in the broader community.
In addition, the Australian Government supports the Committee’s recommendation that listening and speech language therapy, and speech pathology be included in the Medicare Benefits.
Deaf Australia fails to understand why these services be included in the Medicare Benefits as they do not eliminate, reduce or minimise person’s hearing loss. Like Auslan, these services are communication tools and strategies that enables the individual to effectively communicate with others and does not necessarily improve the person’s hearing health or wellbeing, therefore, these services are not medical services. For this reason, Deaf Australia request the Australian Government to reverts its support.
Australian hearing system is already very much focused on supporting parents of deaf children to learn to speak and listen, yet where is the informed decision making for parents of deaf children, when even this Committee fails to recognised the social model of disability and the inherent benefits of sign language for deaf people?
“The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, to which Australia is a signatory, gives deaf people the right to sign language, the right to participate in the community, the right to access information in our sign language – yet our Government, despite the implementation of the NDIS, is still stuck in a 1950s- era understanding of disability,” said Mr Kyle Miers, Chief Executive of Deaf Australia. “Australia’s commitment to ‘hearing health’ simply cannot be considered fair or equitable when deaf adults, and deaf children and their parents, are subject to a purely medical model of disability, which privileges hearing and speech over access to sign language.”
Deaf Australia is calling the Australian Government to ensure that all deaf adults, and all deaf children and their parents, have access to Auslan, have access to health information in Auslan, and are provided with objective and impartial information about deafness and the deaf community, based on social model of disability.