Thursday, 21 May 2015

Deaf: We don't need voice call options.

The arrival of the smartphone was welcomed by the deaf and hard of hearing community as a valuable communication tool, making texting easier; also, access to social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook opened up a new way to interact with friends and family.

Unfortunately, almost all phone plans include a non-optional voice-call component – something a deaf person would find no use for in day-to-day communication.

While many people who are deaf and hard of hearing have negotiated directly with telcos to help construct a phone plan to satisfy their specific requirements, the process remains complex, with an outcome where the deaf consumer often still ends up paying for some mobile voice services that never get used.

In an effort to provide real help, Deaf Australia teamed up with not-for-profit telco Jeenee Mobile to launch its deaf-friendly mobile plan. The plan provides access to a simple, affordable, no-contract text and data solution without unnecessary voice calls bundled in.

Text and browse

Jeenee Mobile is a disability social enterprise, operating on the Optus 4G network; its plans are available to all mobile users, although the company focuses on plans and solutions for those requiring additional assistance in dealing with technology. 

The plan from Jeenee Mobile offers unlimited text and MMS to any mobile phone on any carrier across Australia plus 100MB of data for $15 per month. While The 100MB data allocation may seem small, this would allow for a significant time browsing online and posting to social network, as long as there is no video and minimum use of photo images. If the customer wanted to watch more videos or download digital content, additional data blocks of 1GB ($12) or 2.5GB ($20) can be added.

"Jeenee Mobile aims to provide a complete service that makes mobile as accessible and inclusive as possible for every Australian," says Jeenee's general manager, Jeremy Way. "As a not-for-profit telco, we pride ourselves on doing the things that the other telcos either can't, don't or won't do."

As part of the partnership with Jeenee Mobile, Deaf Australia will receive a donation for any connection to Jeenee Mobile when 'DeafAus' is quoted in the application. Subscribers also receive free setup and postage of their SIM card. 

Bringing up Kezia....

Deaf Direct: Changes to ATW...

An Access to Work (ATW) grant can pay for practical support if you have a disability, health or mental health condition to help you start working or stay in work. Hours after the election results were announced, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) released a document stating their intentions to make significant cuts to the Access to Work scheme. 

This, and the announcement in The Independent and other newspapers that the new Minister for Disabled People, Justin Tomlinson, is against disability benefits, seems to demonstrate a clear political stance on the future of financial support to those who are Deaf and/or disabled. As someone who uses Access to Work, this is naturally a concern. The cuts that I have experienced before this date are already affecting me and many other Deaf people who use BSL interpreters in the workplace. 

The news of change has brought concern to ATW users all over the country. Section 3.3 of the report is entitled ‘Central Contracting of British Sign Language (BSL) Interpreters’; this in itself is alarming and suggests radical changes to the current system. Access to Work currently has 5,750 Deaf and hearing loss customers, 3,084 of whom have ‘awards’ for BSL interpretation and might be impacted by the framework. DWP has recently applied the Access to Work guidance to full-time Support Workers, and capped the hourly rate at which it is prepared to reimburse Support Workers’ costs. 

It seems as though BSL interpreters are included in this category and their pay will be capped also. This has a profoundly detrimental impact on many service users, particularly those who require a significant amount of interpretation in order to do their jobs effectively. DWP’s recognition of this adverse impact, and the temporary suspension of the guidance (which was not applied to my case, but is still a serious concern), is welcome; however, its stringent application of the guidance in this context demonstrated a lack of understanding of how BSL interpretation is currently provided and highlights the need for much improved consultation with stakeholders prior to significant changes to service delivery in the future. 

 The article included concerns about the way ATW now encourages ATW users who need BSL interpreters to employ one interpreter full time. One opponent of this wrote “I do not want to recruit a salaried / employed interpreter. I do not want my employer to have that extra burden. Why should they? I am the employee of the organisation… this is my life and my career. I feel completely disempowered with this whole process. 

I want to have a career and I am frightened that companies will be put off employing deaf people in the future if they suddenly have to employ 2-3 people rather than one.” A statistic I heard recently stated that it is twice as hard for a Deaf person to find work than for someone who has spent time in prison! Although the savings that will be made from these cuts in the framework are not yet clear, it is apparent that the governmental process of ‘bidding against itself’ has meant that the government’s buying power has not worked for the benefit of taxpayers or Deaf customers for whom competition has driven up costs, including instances when they need to source support from their own funds. 

 The whole process seems badly organised and the constant administration between us and the ATW team is arduous and time consuming. I heard this week that one of my new Deaf members of staff has been denied any funding from ATW – this is immensely disappointing and I hope this will not be a glimpse in to what support ATW will be able to provide in the future.

Pizza Ranch ad for the deaf...

A bit posed and amateur I'd like to see a more natural approach...