Issues

Current issues

FUTURE of HEARING SERVICES in Australia

Clients of the Australian Government Hearing Services Program who meet the eligibility criteria for the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) will transition to the NDIS by 2019-20.

Read a Fact Sheet prepared by Office of Hearing Services

The group most affected by this change is hearing impaired and Deaf children and their families.  This client group is currently under the care of Australian Hearing which is the sole provider of services to children with hearing loss and their families.  Under the NDIS there will be a choice of service provider for the first time.
 
The concept of client choice in service provider is not at issue.  This is concerning because the private market is untested in the delivery of services to children with hearing loss.  The introduction of contestability introduces significant risks in terms of access, expertise, quality, standards and client outcomes.
The paediatric client group is quite small.  If services are spread across multiple providers it will be difficult for the clinicians to maintain their skill level which puts the client outcomes at risk.  
A study by McCreery, Bentler and Roush (2013) which investigated the accuracy of infant fittings across 15 U.S. States, showed that despite the availability of fitting guidelines and prescriptive formulas in that country, 26% of the children were shown to have sub-optimal fitting that resulted in reduced access to speech.  A significant predictor of sub-optimal fittings was the audiology clinic the child attended.  Clinics with low client volumes and infrequent engagement with babies and very young children – as would be the case with contested paediatric hearing services – are likely to be prone to poorer fitting outcomes.
Also, the Government is still to make a decision on the future ownership options for Australian Hearing so it is still not clear whether the safety net of the Government hearing services provider will continue to be available.
 
Deafness Forum of Australia has developed a paper outlining the issues that need to be addressed in the transition plan.

Read Transition of the Australian Government Hearing Services CSO Program to NDIS -- issues paper June 2015

The Office of Hearing Services has released a Hearing Services Program/NDIS Transition Plan which describes the activities, dependencies and timeframes that need to take place to effectively support the transition of eligible Hearing Services client from the Hearing Services Program to the NDIS.

Read Hearing Services Program NDIS Transition Plan February 2016

Australian Hearing

The Government is investigating the privatisation of Australian Hearing.  Australian Hearing is highly regarded internationally as the provider of high quality hearing services, particularly to Deaf and hearing impaired children.  The National Acoustic Laboratories (a part of Australian Hearing) is regarded as a world leader in hearing research.

Whatever the future holds for Australian Hearing, Australia must maintain its reputation as a world leader in hearing services delivery and research.

  • Read our report on the release of information in June 2015 on the Government's scoping study to investigate issues and options relating to a sale of Australian Hearing.
  • The future of Australian Hearing was questioned at a Senate hearing in June 2015 in Canberra - download the transcript

Hearing assistance in aged care

At least three-quarters of aged care recipients have some degree of hearing loss.  It is often not realised that even a slight to moderate hearing impairment if not managed can inhibit social interaction resulting in significantly reduced quality of life and may also increase depression and dementia.

Residential care

The provision of hearing assistance for aged care residents who need it is a requirement of the Aged Care Act 1997, Quality of Care Principles 2014 (as it was under the previous 1997 Principles).  There has however been widespread failure to meet these accreditation requirements.  Presumably this has in large measure been due to:
•    general lack of awareness of the impacts of hearing loss combined with lack of staff training; and
•    a perception that hearing assistance will add to the workload of already stretched staff.
Satisfactory hearing assistance cannot continue to be neglected simply because it has not been attended to in the past.

Now that hearing assistance training and reference resources are freely available the Australian Aged Care Quality Agency must be relied on to ensure that accreditation expectations are met.

Lack of awareness of the impacts of hearing loss and lack of staff training

The Deafness Forum of Australia is seeking, amongst other things, to increase general awareness of the impacts of hearing loss through its campaign to make hearing health and well-being a national health priority.                                                                                                                                                                
More directly, Deafness Forum engaged with the Community Services and Health Industry Skills Council to gain inclusion of hearing assistance in the recently revised direct care certificates III and IV and in the Diploma of [Enrolled] Nursing.  It also developed necessary hearing assistance training resources for students in those programs as well as for in-service/ CPD purposes for existing aged care staff including nurses.  These resources are available free on the Deafness Forum website.  The resources are being provided to TAFE systems in all states and are also available to other relevant organisations.

Provision of hearing assistance by staff

The long-standing lack of adequate hearing assistance to residents who need it has resulted in a common misconception that addressing this need is largely a matter for residents and their families.  The fact that some care staff do however provide effective hearing assistance in the course of their normal duties demonstrates that this assistance can be provided as part of normal personal care.
There a risk that where hearing assistance is now introduced in residential  facilities already stretched staff may view it as a lower priority function to be attended to if and when time permits rather than being recognised as important for hearing impaired residents’ health and well-being.
There is also a common misconception that attending to the needs of hearing impaired residents increases the already heavy workload of care staff.
In fact, hearing assistance, if undertaken systematically and competently, adds little additional work and brings enormous benefit for both staff and residents.
Necessary hearing assistance responsibilities of residential aged care staff can be summarised as follows.
(These responsibilities are consistent with accreditation Standard 2.16 and Quality of Care Principles 2014 Schedule 1, Part 2, section 2.1(f) and are expressed in operational terms.

Staff hearing assistance responsibilities

a)    Use appropriate communication techniques when speaking with all hearing impaired residents.
b)    Identify and record in care plans any hearing assistance needed by individual residents.
Where needed by residents -
c)    Timely daily insertion of hearing aids and ensuring that they are functioning satisfactorily.  Also removal and proper storage of aids.
d)    Regular weekly battery change, cleaning of hearing aids and basic trouble shooting including if necessary clearing wax blockages in moulds and tubing.  Also noting signs of possible wax accumulation in the ear canal.  Ordering replacement batteries.
e)    Contacting a hearing services provider promptly to arrange hearing assessment, fitting, servicing and repair of hearing aids.
f)    Assisting eligible residents to access benefits under the government Hearing Services Program.

Pre-conditions for effective hearing assistance

The following pre-conditions are necessary for an effective hearing assistance program:
1.    As part of their duties a suitable staff member is assigned responsibility for championing and overseeing hearing assistance in a facility or section thereof (e.g. a Team Leader).
2.    Hearing assistance needs are included in on-entry and subsequent periodic assessment of residents.
3.    Personal care staff receive necessary hearing assistance training and are aware of their responsibility to provide daily and weekly hearing assistance to residents assessed as needing this support as stated in (c) and (d) above.
At a minimum, training of care staff to perform the above mentioned responsibilities (a), (c) and (d) could, for example, be initiated using the in-service Training Pack at
http://www.deafnessforum.org.au/index.php/publications/112-uncategorised...
followed by on-the-job practical experience supported by the prompt cards included in the Training Pack.
Training resources for other aspects of hearing assistance, and a comprehensive reference (the Good Practice Guide), can also be accessed through the above website.
The Deafness Forum training resources are also suitable for volunteers, if available, to supplement staff provision of hearing assistance - particularly in activities which are outside those normally expected of staff.  The presence of volunteers cannot and must not diminish management responsibility for staff providing satisfactory hearing assistance.
Above mentioned staff responsibilities (a), (b) and (c) cannot be undertaken by volunteers.  However, where staff are working under real stress due to tight budgetary constraints, a volunteer - if available on a regular basis - could be trained to undertake staff responsibility (d) - providing trained staff are available to continue this activity in the event of volunteer’s absence or resignation.  Without that staff back-up there is a very real risk that this necessary service will lapse.

Home care

Within home care, a broad range of services are available under consumer directed care arrangements including hearing assistance options similar to those which must be provided in residential care.
Residential care is becoming increasingly high dependency due to Government policy that care be provided to older Australians in their homes for as long as possible.  It is generally much harder for residents requiring high care to start using hearing aids whereas such residents may well continue already established hearing aid use.  It is therefore increasingly important that people attend to hearing loss before they may need residential care.
It may be appropriate for home care assessors and care staff to encourage clients to address their apparent hearing loss and then for carers to encourage and assist them to persevere while adapting to using hearing aids or alternative listening devices.
Carers may need to assist clients with hearing aid management and basic trouble shooting (particularly where the client does not have family support). In particular, ensuring that a client has undertaken the regular weekly change of hearing aid batteries and by providing basic trouble shooting assistance where necessary.  Because of the high incidence of hearing loss among aged care clients it is reasonable to expect that home care staff routinely use appropriate communication techniques when speaking with their hearing impaired clients, whether or not they use hearing aids.
Home care staff will need the same training as their residential counterparts.


Medical Benefits Scheme

Deafness Forum of Australia offered its views to the Government’s review of the Medical Benefits Scheme (MBS).

Medicare benefits are payable for professional health services.  A professional service is a clinically relevant service which is listed on the MBS.  A medical service is clinically relevant if it is generally accepted in the medical profession as necessary for the appropriate treatment of the patient.

The audiology items require review to bring them into line with current clinical practice.  This includes the need for a review of the rules that apply to existing items and the inclusion of additional items to cover new diagnostic procedures.

Some of the rules governing the MBS in relation to referrals to and from audiologists require review in order to make the system more efficient.  This change if implemented would result in it being more patient focussed.

It would be reassuring for consumers to know that the MBS items were based on evidence based practice guidelines and were regularly updated to reflect current practice recommendations.  This would eliminate the risk of their practitioner providing an MBS approved service that had been superceded due to new evidence or an updated procedure.


Poor quality automated online captions

Deafness Forum is part of a group of not for profit organisations representing people who rely on captions for information, which draws attention to the growing issue of inaccessibility of online audio/visual content being posted to websites.

We are concerned that while there is an increasing amount of web video content being auto-captioned, the vast majority of these captioned videos are not being reviewed for accuracy, readability or comprehensibility.

In the same way that any text document published online is reviewed and edited for accuracy, captioned content needs to be reviewed and edited for accuracy, readability and comprehensibility before being published on the web.

The group expressing these concerns includes Australian Communications Consumer Action Network, Media Access Australia, Australian Seniors Computer Clubs Australia, COTA For Older Australians, NEDA, Deaf Australia and Deafness Forum of Australia.

The group conducted a survey of Australian Government-associated websites and found a wide range of problems, ranging from video with no captions, video captions with minor misspellings and videos with completely incomprehensible captions.  Access to government information and services, political party policies and parliamentary member’s communications is an integral aspect of our democratic society.  When inaccurate captions bar access to this information people who rely on captions are at risk of being excluded from full economic, social and political participation.

What is captioning?


Health warning

Life threatening danger to children posed by button batteries

Severe complications can develop within two hours if a young child was to swallow a coin lithium battery, such as those used in hearing aids and a range of other products.

If it is not removed promptly, death could result within 24 hours. 

Most instances occurred where children removed the battery from a device or the battery was left unsecured.

Nearly 10 percent of injuries to children under the age of four involved batteries associated with hearing aids.

Deafness Forum of Australia calls on its members, other advocates, and professional and industry associations in the hearing health sector to champion the message.

The Office of Hearing Services (part of the Department of Health) acted promptly to notify service providers contracted under the Hearing Services Program to raise awareness amongst clients and practitioners.


Willing to Work: National Inquiry into Employment Discrimination Against Older Australians and Australians with Disability

The current 'Willing to Work' inquiry, conducted by the Age and Disability Discrimination Commissioner, Susan Ryan AO, has the following terms of reference:

  • obstacles faced by older persons and persons with disabilities in actively participating in the workforce
  • discrimination against older persons and persons with disabilities as a systemic problem and a considerable barrier to their enjoyment of human rights
  • economic and social costs, and the costs to productivity, that result from discrimination against older persons and persons with disabilities in employment

Deafness Forum of Australia referred the Commissioner to a report published by Australian Federation of Disability Organisations (AFDO).  Deafness Forum is a foundation member of AFDO and a contributor to its submissions to government.  The report highlighted that taking into account Australia’s looming workforce challenges, it was critical that all people with disability and businesses be placed at the centre of a new employment framework to ensure that people with disability were not left behind.
Deafness Forum also submitted to the Commissioner its views on dismantling barriers to employment participation for the people we represent; and suggested practical ways to improve the Government’s Employment Access Fund.

We made a point that the Australian Public Service is not the leader and exemplar it could and should be.
We explained that people who want to participate in the labour force and have  hearing loss or are Deaf face challenges that are unfamiliar to most of their hearing peers: for some, the barriers become evident, start at or before the process of searching for work and, for many, they become more acute during the selection process or at work.  A loss of hearing can also lead people to exit the labour force sooner than they would like to, and before their intended age of retirement.  As a result, there is a hidden loss to national productivity. 
The problem may be worse than currently perceived.  There is, we believe a significant under-reporting of disability amongst people who are hearing impaired or have a chronic disorder of the ear.

Read about real life experiences at True Stories
In acknowledging there are some common issues, Deafness Forum did not favour combining age and disability in this one inquiry.  Employment of people with disability requires a sophisticated approach.  Employment of mature age Australians with disability is both a complex and complicated matter. 

Community volunteers are of inestimable value to the nation

Inhibitors and disincentives to Australia's unpaid workforce, of which people with disability and mature age citizens are both significant contributors and beneficiaries were overlooked by this inquiry.


Recommendations for improvements to Employment Assistance Fund

The Government's Employment Assistance Fund (EAF) was established to "...help people with disability and mental health conditions by providing financial assistance to purchase a range of work related modifications and services for people who are about to start a job or who are currently working, as well as those who require assistance to find and prepare for work."

http://www.jobaccess.gov.au/government-services/employment-assistance-fund

It is an excellent program of government.  It can continue to optimise the return on tax-payer investment by keeping in step with evolving workplace realities.  In this respect, here are our recommendations.

EAF passport

A generic EAF assessment to people with a disability before they commence or seek employment.  Their 'passport' would provide access to the EAF and any workplace-specific modifications could then be more readily accessed as add-ons or via a short form application process.  For example, in the case of a person who is hearing impaired or Deaf, the generic EAF assessment could cover standard communication related modifications and so on, with any specific requirements for a workplace to be accessed separately as and when required.

Flexibility

The EAF needs to be more flexible and able to meet other work-related requirements of recipients.  For example, more emphasis needs to be placed on supporting the needs of employees at informal and social functions within their workplace as these are often crucial to forming productive networks with colleagues and enabling access to future career progression opportunities.

The EAF needs to be expanded to become accessible to people who are hearing impaired or Deaf who wish to undertake volunteer or community work as a way of enhancing their skills and experience and making them more employable in the future.

Tailored to suit the need

Provision of increased EAF support funding for applicants who are promoted to management positions to ensure that there are no artificial caps that restrict the career advancement opportunities.

Awareness

More sensory disability awareness training provided to EAF consultants, so they fully understand and appreciate the barriers faced by people who are hearing impaired or Deaf.

A national, ongoing strategy to engender greater awareness by employers of the entitlements of individual employees under the EAF program.

An up-to-date knowledge bank of the main examples of EAF workplace modifications.

An up-to-date survey undertaken of employers and employees that will lead to published data on the level of public awareness of the EAF and its functions.

Corporate incentive

Tax advantages for employers who supplement an EAF entitlement from company funds to ensure individuals do not miss out on meetings, training and other opportunities that hearing colleagues are afforded.


National Practice Standards for Audiology

The Office of Hearing Services (part of the federal Health Department) is developing national practice standards in Audiology.
The process is supported by an Audiology Expert Reference Group.  Deafness Forum of Australia is a member of the Expert Reference Group.
The objective is for the voluntary standards to reflect nationally agreed practice expectations of those working in the hearing services sector. The standards will:

  • Be applicable to all professions involved in hearing services in Australia
  • Encompass all client populations and practitioner types
  • Be up to date, evidence based and relevant to the needs of all key stakeholders in the hearing services sector including clients, practitioners, families, carers and funders
  • Be endorsed and owned by the hearing sector
  • Be measurable by third parties if required

While the Office of Hearing Services has instigated their development, the standards will, it is hoped reflect agreed standards of practice beyond the Australian Government Hearing Services Program.  Consequently the standards will not be owned by the Office of Hearing Services or any professional body, but are intended for the hearing services industry as a whole. 


On-demand, real time captions and interpreters in Government shopfronts

Deafness Forum has advocated since early 2012 the need for on-demand captions and Auslan interpreting services to improve customers’ interactions at Australian Government service shopfronts, such as Centrelink, Medicare and NDIS offices, etc.
A welcome result of this advocacy was that Centrelink initiated a trial project.  The outcome of this trial has yet to be made public.

The current communication arrangements in shopfronts are inconsistent, time-consuming for all involved, and the source of tension and misunderstandings for both customers and staff.  People with hearing devices rely on hearing loops, but these are not always present, may not function properly or are not switched on.  People whose preferred communication is Australian Sign Language are significantly disadvantaged.
Our immediate objective is that all Government shopfronts provide designated facilities that provide equitable communication access.


Inclusion in education

All children in Australia have the right to an inclusive education.  However, there are many barriers to the realisation of this right in the lived experience of children and families.
Current efforts towards upholding the rights of all children are impeded by a lack of understanding of inclusive education and misappropriation of the term.

Teaching and acquiring literacy is vital for children with reduced hearing acuity and those whose native language is Australian Sign Language.  Literacy is the ability to read, write and to apply critical thinking skills to the written word.

Children with Disability Australia (CDA) is a national not for profit organisation that advocates on key issues common to children and families across the disability spectrum.  Deafness Forum of Australia has contributed the views of its members and constituents to CDA's work.
In its submission to Government - Hear Our Voices: current levels of access and attainment for students with disability in the school system, and the impact on students and families associated with inadequate levels of support - CDA notes that the current education system in Australia is failing to adequately meet the needs of students with disability.  
It is recognised that some students with disability have positive education experiences with good academic and social outcomes but this is by far the exception.
The breadth of disadvantage students with disability must contend with in the current education system is profound.  CDA says it is inundated with reports of poor and shameful education experiences.  A typical school experience for students with disability involves discrimination, limited or no funding for support and resources, inadequately trained staff, a systemic culture of low expectations, exclusion and bullying. There are increasing incidents of restraint and seclusion reported to CDA, which are seen as a clear consequence of a system in crisis.
Failings have become entrenched in the education system and the urgency of delivering system wide solutions is now acute.
Despite the high value and strong evidence base linking educational attainment and improved life outcomes, students with disability are frequently denied educational opportunities.  Even though there have been significant advances in recognising and affording people with disability rights and equal opportunities, ableist attitudes are still entrenched in the Australian community and very much shape the typical school education experiences of students with disability.
Available statistics and research demonstrate stark gaps in educational access, attainment, performance and outcomes for children and young people with disability in Australia.

Download the submission by Children with Disability Australia here


Unwelcome change to Veterans’ hearing health entitlements

Australians who live with a hearing loss as a result of their military service have lost their right in civilian life to receive a proper level of hearing services.
As a result of a review of military compensation arrangements, Veterans with long term hearing needs have been switched to a Repatriation Health Card. 
The White Specific Treatment card, as it is known, was intended to streamline services and payments, however it also introduced changes to the level of hearing aid technology that a Veteran could receive without payment.

Until recently, eligible Veterans could receive aids to suit their individual hearing needs.
Now that these Veterans have been issued with a White Specific Treatment Card they receive their hearing services under the Australian Government Hearing Services Program.  Under this Program, Veterans receive only a base-level hearing aid at no cost.  To access the correct level of technology to suit their individual hearing needs they must now make a personal payment to bridge the gap.
Veterans have told Deafness Forum of Australia they were not consulted or informed of the changes in the level of hearing devices they would receive when they were issued with the White Specific Treatment Card.
While Veterans who volunteered to defend their country have lost their entitlement, government employees and contractors will continue to receive fully funded top up hearing aids under Comcare arrangements.
Deafness Forum of Australia believes it is an administrative oversight: at odds with the Government's regard for defence personnel and a matter that can be readily rectified.


TV captions

An issue of interest is the captioning quota in place for Subscription Television, which is based on platform (Foxtel, Fetch, etc), not individual channels.  These channels do not have a specific common quota.

Our view, and that of Deaf Australia and other advocacy organisations are as follows:

  • Free to Air channels must be 100% captioned 24 hours a day (currently 0600 to 2400).
  • Multi-channel platforms (ABC2, 7Mate, etc.) must caption their programs to the same standard as Free to Air channels.  Many programs bought from overseas for the purpose of multi-channel screenings arrive already captioned but these captions are not displayed in Australia.
  • Subscription Television - each channel must have a common, minimum captioning quota.
  • Captioning quality standards - the current “readability, comprehensibility and accuracy, so that they are meaningful to viewers” standard is subjective.  Captioning quality standards should be metric based.

Hearing care for hospital patients

Enrolled Nurses are employed in a wide range of nursing fields and can be influential in recognising the needs of people in their care who are Deaf or live with a hearing difficulty.

Enrolled Nurses are trained to take part in hospital admission and discharge procedures and, with a knowledge of communication access assistance, would be well placed to contribute to reducing stress on vulnerable patients.

Deafness Forum made key recommendations to a review of the curriculum for the Diploma in Nursing for Enrolled Nurses.
Communication access needs to be adequately identified in appropriate parts of the curriculum.
Communication access needs to be presented as an integral part of nursing care, particularly for our increasing elderly community.
There is a crucial need for Enrolled Nurses to be equipped to support and oversee implementation and maintenance of communication access in residential and in-home care as well as in hospital settings.
Enrolled Nurses would be well placed to ensure that patients' hearing aids or alternative listening devices are used and cared for while in hospital.


Safer buildings

A proposed change to the Australian Building Codes with the aim of reducing false alarms resulting in unnecessary Fire Brigade attendances was opposed by Deafness Forum of Australia.

The change would have meant that some buildings, such as hotels would no longer require installation of monitored smoke detectors. 

While the aim is worthwhile, the solution was ill-informed.  An unforseen effect would be a significant increase in the risk of a sleeping occupant being unaware of the presence of a smouldering fire.  A Deaf or hearing impaired person could be overcome by smoke and fumes before the heat detector or the sprinkler system were activated.

Deafness Forum of Australia, AFAC representing the various Fire Brigades, the Australian Protection Association of Australia and Standards Australia advised that the benefit would be outweighed by dangers to personal safety.

As a result, the proposal to change the Building Code of Australia to install smoke alarms in place of smoke detectors was withdrawn.  The current requirements will remain in force.

Safe and accessible accommodation

Hotels, motels, and serviced apartments should provide communication access facilities that:

  • Ensure appropriate rules are in place to ensure that all guests and staff will be alerted to any danger, and to any drill or system test
  • Have guest registration cards that include a section “If you are likely to have any difficulty hearing alarms, or evacuating the building in the event of an alarm, please tick this box”
  • Provide a telephone with built in or clip on amplifier, telecoil coupler and flashing light alert
  • Provide a television capable of accessing captioning
  • Provide a portable non-audible door alarm
  • Provide a vibrating alarm clock
  • Provide meeting rooms with functioning assistive listening systems

Public rail wants exemptions from disability discrimination laws

The Australian Human Rights Commission is considering an application by Australasian Railway Association (ARA) for exemptions under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992, Disability Standards for Accessible Public Transport 2002 and Disability (Access to Premises – Buildings) Standards 2010.  The ARA is a peak industry body representing railway operators in Australia.
The application relates to exemptions from compliance with parts of the Transport Standards for a maximum allowable period of five years “to ensure compliance requirements can be practically implemented”.
Exemption applications include:
•    Hearing augmentation – listening systems - public address systems
•    Signs - electronic notices
•    Information - size and format of printing
Signage alone is not the complete answer.  We need a combination of 80% hearing loops, and real time captioning of all announcements, with a particular emphasis on the captioning of non standard announcements - non standard announcements are usually the most important, most urgent and safety related.

Audio-Frequency Induction Loop systems (AFILS) are being installed by the transport industry but are not always used or maintained properly.
Construction engineers at building sites are largely unaware of the sensitivity of induction loops to nearby building materials, often insisting that AFILS cables be laid at the convenience of the builders, rather than for best audio performance of the AFILS.  If placed on multi-storey sheet decking or metal system floor, the range is reduced to less than two metres and compromised by the offset vector angle to the listener's ear.
The 10% coverage rule for Hearing Augmentation adopted by the transport industry has been misinterpreted in ways that can make these systems ineffective for hearing aid users.
The use of the "International Symbol for Deafness" signage to denote the availability of a hearing loop is not consistently utlisied in a helpful manner - there should be a map to show the precise locations of the loop filed.

Wayfinding for sight-impaired people requires an acute ability to hear messages, therefore speech clarity and hearing augmentation is an important requirement and should be specified for all locations in premises, where wayfinding techniques apply.  Speech intelligibility values must be well above measured zones defined as "excellent" for persons with normal hearing.  Wayfinding requirements should include speech clarity values for compliance.  American Standards suggest a Speech Transmission Index (STI) better than 0.84 and Common Intelligibility Scale (CIS) that is equal or better than 0.93.  This compares with 0.5 (STI) used in AS 1670.4 "Sound System for emergency Purposes.  An STI of 0.5 is inadequate for the sensory impaired.

Signs and electronic notices that are of a suitable size and format are vital for people whose first language, or language of choice is not English. 


Replacement speech processors for pensioners aged over 26 years

Addressing the inequity of Age and Disability pensioners who are denied Government support for replacement cochlear speech processors
Age and Disability Pensioners who have cochlear implants and are eligible for the Australian Government's Hearing Services Program are denied the appropriate, reliable technology through the Government which they depend on for social inclusion, productivity, independence and quality of life.
These ”Eligible Persons” under the Hearing Services Administration Act 1997, are not provided with replacement cochlear speech processors.  However, people who use hearing aids as their means of amplification are (quite correctly) provided with replacements and upgrades to their hearing aids as required.
This inconsistency impacts the most significantly impaired and financially vulnerable cochlear implant recipient group.  It can be readily addressed at little cost to Government.
To its credit, the Government does provide replacement and upgraded cochlear speech processors for people under the age of 26.

Our understanding is the planned transfer of parts of the Australian Government's Hearing Services Program to the National Disability Insurance Scheme will resolve the matter for people who are eligible to enter the Scheme.  This may take several years to be put in place.


Deaf culture is rich in language, the arts and community

“The concept of “Deaf gain” not “hearing loss” and conveying the message to wider society that it’s OK to be Deaf!”

These are the words of Drisana Levitzke-Gray, Young Australian of the Year 2015.

“We must take action to improve access to Auslan for Deaf children in infancy, support hearing families in their efforts to learn it, expect educational institutions to embrace Auslan as a viable first language for Deaf children, and promote it as a valuable second language for LOTE (Language other than English) teaching in schools to hearing children too.”

The Government can implement:

  • Provision of information to new parents (and ongoing support) about the benefits of introducing Deaf children to Auslan
  • Elective study of Auslan in school curricula
  • Government and business shopfronts, health and welfare services to provide real-time Auslan interpreting and captioning services for customers, which would have flow-on effect in corporate Australia
  • Inclusion of Auslan and captions in electronic government communications, which would set the standard for commercial businesses 

Communication access

The support of strong, accredited Auslan interpreting and captioning services is crucial.  There are established Australian companies that can provide these services, both on-site and remotely via the internet.  However, there is a shortage of qualified interpreters.  Captioning, a growing service industry, would benefit from professional development programs and standards.

Literacy

Literacy is not just the ability to read and write, but to apply critical thinking to the written word.  Teaching and acquiring literacy to prepare for a competitive employment market is vital.  Quality education in the early years is key to optimising an individual's inherent, unique potential.


Fair and equitable access to justice

Equality and justice will not be served until all participants in a court’s proceedings know every word that is spoken by every other participant.

Our members believe that federal, state and territory Attorneys-General should put in place programs that will ensure full and equitable communication access to all courts in Australia for people who have a hearing impairment or are Deaf, using their preferred methods of communication.

All courtrooms should have consistently functioning hearing loops and be responsive to needs to provide appropriately qualified and certified Australian Sign Language interpreters.

People who are otherwise eligible for jury duty but come from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds such as those whose first language is Australian Sign Language should not be denied their right to serve. 


Abolish an unnecessary government charge

Remove the medical gateway in the Australian Government Hearing Services Program.

The Australian Government Hearing Services Voucher Program requires eligible people to complete an application (a paper form or electronic) and have a medical referral in order to access the Program.

Deafness Forum believes that improvements to the application process and other Government initiatives suggest that it is time to review the need for a medical referral in the application process.

The Office of Hearing Services introduced an on-line application process.  This is a very positive change as it has the potential to shorten the time for people to access hearing services.  With a paper application, a person can wait 2-4 weeks before they receive their Voucher allowing them to arrange a hearing assessment.  If a person applies on-line they could, in theory, access a hearing assessment on the same day that they apply. However there is a barrier to that as there is still a requirement for the person to go to their doctor to obtain a written referral before they can proceed with a hearing assessment.  This puts a paper process into what could otherwise be a very streamlined on-line process.

Deafness Forum advised the Office of Hearing Services that the removal of the medical gateway would have positive benefits for consumers and hearing services providers.  It would reduce the time for consumers to access a hearing assessment; and remove an administrative requirement for Providers which is consistent with the Government's focus on deregulation in order to remove unnecessary administrative burdens on business.

Office of Hearing Services would ensure the recommendation was included for consideration in the Government's program of reducing red tape.