Advancements in Australia May Be Its Biggest Strength and Biggest Weakness


A friend (Sue) and I went to Tradeblock Cafe in Melbourne, having no idea what was in store for us other than the fact that we were visiting a cafe operated by students of the Victoria College for the Deaf. We walked in to an almost immediate homey feeling and instant comfort. We looked at the menu for perhaps a moment too long. Everything sounded delicious. Nevertheless, we settled on a mushroom burger and quiche. 

I attempted my measly ASL skills, only to realize there was an iPad next to me with videos of how to sign different orders in Auslan (Australian sign language). I also then realized the woman I was talking to was a teacher and hearing. I figured this out when she verbally asked and signed "are you American?" That obvious, huh? 

Anyways, Sue and I sat down and immediately started observing. We had arrived right on the cusp of lunchtime, so things started to get exciting! A guy walked in, tall bearded guy, tattoo on the back of his neck (irrelevant but just pointing it out!), and he immediately started communicating with everyone behind the counter, even reaching over to give some hugs (the deaf are very hug friendly). 

He sat down at a table, and I kid you not, every student AND adult that walked in thereafter knew this man and was clearly a fan of him. Hugs, smiles, and secret handshakes were being thrown around. Sue and I watched in awe at the animation of these people, so much character and attitude is expressed in this visual language. They felt completely comfortable and at home, yet also perfectly fine with hearing customers amongst them. 

There was a giant-ass cake that we'd been eyeing in the display. Naturally, we felt that we must try it, so another teacher brought us our cake, and we got to talking. Come to find out, she's actually the one who started the cafe 9 years ago as a means of helping to break down communication barriers and prepare students for the hearing world. 

She goes on to explain that there are two teachers on shift at most times, students certain days of the week, and adults other days of the week. Adults? I thought this was a place for students. She explains how some former students have trouble acclimating to life outside in the hearing world, so they allow some former students to come back to work in hopes that they'll regain their confidence to work in a hearing world. 

Sue and I were particularly drawn to this last part. I think so many of us in hearing and deaf/hoh worlds alike are thrown into the real world with very little guidance about opportunities to take a step back and regain our confidence. More often than not, we're just expected to figure it out. 

Personally, I think this school is giving students an opportunity that not even many hearing schools offer. I mean, hello, exposure to real life is way more than algebra will teach you, no?

Anyways, she proceeds to tell us about the carefully selected use of the iPad to make orders. While many will just point at the menu to order, this allows hearing people the opportunity to connect with the deaf on a different level. Since the deaf are always having to find ways to communicate in the hearing world, the aim with this is to show the other side of it. 

Beyond just hospitality skills, these students and adults are being exposed to other general life skills like communication, teamwork, and interpersonal skills. 

So as I've mentioned, I feel like this type of advancement is hugely needed and helpful to those that are deaf/hoh and those that are hearing, and I'm so grateful this cafe has been established. 

On the other hand, though, unlike my experiences in Southeast Asia, I was really struggling to find people or an organization that would get back to me. No joke, I walked by over 10 organizations on my home from the workspace every day - all organizations that work to benefit and enhance the lives of the deaf/hoh, yet, they could not seem to find the time of day to speak with me. 

You'd think that if their whole mission is to help the deaf and hard of hearing, that they'd be willing to sit down with me even if just for a brief moment. One organization even responded by saying that "unfortunately we don’t have the capacity as a small not-for-profit to organise personalised tours of our office". This really threw me off, but it helped me to come to this conclusion that sometimes the more advanced we are, aka what I've found at times in the USA and Australia, sometimes the less willing we are to accept help from others and/or connect with others. 

Yeah, I'll probably get shit for saying that, but I think the lesson we can all take is that we should be more open to those around us and that our strengths can be weakness, too, so... how will you turn the tables on that?