January 23, 2010
What’s not to like about the idea of going Down Under? The land of kangaroos, outback deserts, Steve Irwin, Crocodile Dundee, billabongs, roadkill and gorgeous shorelines all around? I had always thought about going to Australia, lovingly called ‘Oz’ by its inhabitants, but the country seemed so far to fathom saving up a lot of money and air mileage to go. But fate threw a small snag in my plans that eventually led me to have this remarkable chance to go to Oz. (Remember the fiasco at Los Angeles International Airport…. ). Once I arrived in New Zealand early January, I snapped my fingers and dove in my history of networking and with luck I had a good number of acquaintances who lived pretty much all over Oz. Sydney was my first stop.
Morning came on the day of January 22. Ben dropped me off at the Auckland airport. It was deserted because it was insanely early in the morning… around 4:30am. Ben and I lugged my luggage to the Qantas counter and tried to check in my bags but was told we needed to go to another counter. The Qantas lady we first approached, showed some unethical attitude such as ignoring Ben’s requests to talk via pen and paper. She grabbed my wrist, knowing I was blind, and “dragged” me before Ben stepped in and told her to not handle me that way. The lady rolled her eyes and finally went to get a pen and paper. Ben and I talked about how awful that was… Our case got handled by a senior Qantas manager eventually, but all we got was a profuse apology. Out of forgiveness and understanding that we all make mistakes or have our ‘off’ days, we focused on getting me on the plane to Sydney. (Ben later on wrote a great support letter to the airport’s Qantas branch and requested the staff take sensivity training with his Deaf association, Deaf Aotearoa. Now, that is advocacy and education!)
Once I landed in Sydney, I was greeted by a woman escort who was arguably the most beautiful-looking Australian Aborigine woman. Her complexion was flawless, sunkissed and had piercing blue eyes. She was so sweet and led me right to the person picking me up. Eddie is a camper I worked with during my role as camp leader at the World Federation of the Deaf Youth Camp in Val-Morin, Quebec in 2003 just before the conference started. He rememebered me fondly because of my strong stance at the camp that everyone include Deafblind people, and eventually led to two campers ‘coming out of the Usher closet’. Eddie hugged me warmly, attempted nervously to tactile with me in Auslan (Australian Sign Language) and I told him to sign with ease – NZSL and Auslan have a lot of common signs including the British fingerspelling method.
Eddie works at the New South Wales (NSW) branch of the national Deaf Society offices with a large, varied staff focusing on advocacy, education, community, government affairs and outreach. Nice office may I say! He brought me to greet two of the people who were also present at the WFDY Camp in 2003 – Stephen (WFDYS Board who attended as a management team member at camp) and Ida, a camper who I mistakenly thought was Scandinavian. I went on a tour of the office then had the awesome opportunity to meet two Deafblind women. On my first day! Eddie took care of the arrangements and invited Carleeta (completely blind from Ushers) and Joyce (who has some vision remaining from Ushers).
Oh my gosh… it was so hard trying to communicate with them for two hours. They had lovely, bubbly personalities, many conversation subjects from advocacy to family to Australian disability laws came up – it was fun learning from them. However, Carleeta’s rapid use of Auslan with mostly British fingerspelling, and Joyce’s very limited vision and minimal tactile skills proved to be quite a challenge. Joyce preferred sitting back in a small distance and watch us sign, rather than tactile. Problem is a little confusing, but maybe you’ll get the idea.
– Carleeta does rapid BFS, which Joyce – in her ‘distance’ can understand but I cannot tactile Carleeta while she is signing to Joyce. Why? My hand would block the view. My hand would cover Carleeta’s hands, making it hard for J to see.
– The same thing goes for me. When Carleeta would tactile on me, Joyce cannot see. So when C is done tactiling me, I have to repeat to J with my signing in a very small box shape, with my black Tshirt in the background.
– Joyce cannot use both of her hands to communicate… aw heck this is hard to explain! I have a vlog out on Youtube – check it out.
Anyway, after that amazing tactile afternoon with the ladies, I was feeling inspired. They told me about Australia’s need for more advocacy on Deafblind issues, and explained what was already in place with the law and the social system. It was a long and hard effort to communicate with C and J – more so because it was done in rapid BSF. I find it much easier to have a 2-way communication if I used my American fingerspelling. I can spell “A” in both hands, rather than bringing my left hand index finger to my right hand’s thumb (BSF = A). Phew. They are cool women and I feel proud to have them in my circle of DB women.
Eddie took me to Manly Beach with his friends and Ida, her Deaf mother, Stephen, and a couple of others joined us for dinner. An amazing night full of tactile love (Stephen, Ida and Eddie are amazing when they tactile/guide/communicate with a Deafblind person – from practice at NSW with their DB clients) and it capped off an amazing day being able to partake in a tactile experience with two strong DB women. Only a fraction of what I’d tactile in Oz.
I feel like Dorothy, my cane is ruby red and the Tin Man, Cowardly Lion and the Scarecrow are the people that appear in my Yellow Brick Path to Deafblind enlightenment in the land of Oz.
Tactile love, matey.