Sunday, February 19, 2012

Should a Profoundly Deaf Member of Parliament be required to pay for their own translation service?

It's an interesting point. Mojo Mathers was elected to NZ Parliament as a List MP for the Green Party, after the counting of Special Votes gave the Greens an extra member. Mojo is profoundly deaf and although the Speaker of the House, Lockwood Smith, has apparently been most helpful in researching the technology that will enable Mojo to take part in the cut and thrust of The House, he is steadfastly refusing to have Parliamentary Services fund the $30,000 for secretarial services. He has suggested that because The Greens put forward a candidate with a disability, they should fund any extra help she needs. He has also suggested that as she doesn't represent an electorate (being a List MP, not an Electorate MP), the money for secretarial services to do her job in the electorate could be used for this. Or that other MPs could donate some of their electorate budget to this cause. And other MPs, from other parties, have offered to do this. For the Greens though, this is a principle that needs to be dealt with correctly and from the top. From Dr Smith in fact.
I like Dr Smith's handling of the barnyard squabbling in the Debating Chamber. But his comments on this matter reek of arrogance and condescension.

Dr Smith has missed the point. Or several of them.

Every member of Parliament has the right - the goes-without-saying, give-me-a-break, not-even-worth-arguing-about right to take part in the debates of Parliament.

Deaf people have the right to represent us in Parliament. Any person does, as long as they don't have a disability that affects their ability to understand the issues they will be dealing with. And that's "understand" not "hear".

Mojo represents not just one electorate, but all the people who voted for The Greens, including me, including those with disabilities, and including those without. Mojo most particularly represents those NZers who have a disability. I'm sure she'll be getting a mountain of mail and influx of emails from other profoundly deaf people, and the parents of profoundly deaf children, who will be all saying the same thing - we know what you're dealing with here, because it's like that for us as well.

Metiria Turei, co-leader of the Greens, said that she herself can take part in debates in Parliament in Te Reo Maori, which is then translated for the benefit of the non-Te Reo speakers in the House. She doesn't have to pay for this translation, nor do the non-speakers. But apparently if you are deaf, the rules are different. NZ Sign Language is one of the three official languages in NZ - the other two are English and Te Reo Maori. Officially, then, we as a community embrace and support our deaf members.

Dr Lockwood Speaker of the House Smith said on Close Up, on TV1, that had Mojo Mathers been disabled and required a wheelchair, well then of course Parliamentary Services would pay. There would need to be physical alterations to the House. But the service required by Ms Mathers is only for Ms Mathers. Which would indicate that the physical alteration of the House for wheelchair access is somehow not only for the person in the wheelchair.....?

Parliament is unfortunately hammering in the benchmark of how deaf people are treated in the community. Is is because it's an invisible disability? No white stick and guide dog? No wheel chair or crutches?
Dr Smith has the opportunity to up the ante for all of us. He has the opportunity to say how much New Zealanders care about all members of our society, and that Parliament will pave the way and show the example for all to follow.
Unfortunately I'm afraid that's exactly what he is doing.

He is wrong and he's being steadfast about it. I hope that he's man enough to change his mind and recommend to Parliamentary Services that Mojo's secretarial support staff be funded from their budget. And that is my hope, not just because it's the fair and decent thing to do, but because he has the opportunity here to extend to all the deaf in our communities an expression of acceptance and inclusion by so doing.