Al McEwin (pictured) is one of those eternally busy people -“ he’s a lawyer managing a Redfern legal centre, he sits on boards and lobbies government agencies. He’s about to start studying for his MBA and he gets out and about on the gay scene whenever the mood takes him. He’s also deaf.
McEwin has held the voluntary presidency of the NSW Association of the Deaf since May. The organisation exists to promote deaf culture and to lobby for greater services for people who are deaf.
It’s practical. For example, if I want to go to a movie, he says, I’d like to have captions. So we lobby movie theatres to get captions. If I’m in my car in the middle of nowhere and it breaks down, I’d like there to be an SMS number so I can send a message to the NRMA.
For Hearing Awareness Week, which starts this Sunday, some of the association’s good ideas will come into place -“ at least for a week. Qantas, for example, will be captioning all of their in-flight films.
The deaf community is well-represented in the gay and lesbian scene, with signed conversations happening in bars up and down the Oxford St strip. McEwin said the deaf gay community was even more visible when he moved to Sydney four or five years ago.
I’ve found that a lot of gay hearing guys are very welcoming -“ I think maybe that’s because we’ve been marginalised as deaf people by society traditionally, and gay people have been marginalised by society as well, McEwin said.
I’ve found because it’s two minority groups meeting, socially or politically they’re much more welcoming -“ that’s a general statement, and a theory I have of my own.
The internet revolutionised the way both the deaf and gay communities could communicate with the wider world.
I do know that gay guys are on the internet a lot, and they find it a good way to get to know another person. Sometimes, and I have done this myself, they won’t tell the other person they are deaf. It really paves the way for people to work out if the other person is worth pursuing, McEwin said.
McEwin said he had had some bad reactions from gay men when he had told them he was deaf.
When I moved to Sydney and was starting to go out and date other guys, I wouldn’t tell them I was deaf. But I don’t think it was dishonest because a couple of the reactions I had had were so unreasonable -“ -˜oh, I’m sorry, I don’t think I can handle this’ or -˜oh, I’m sorry, it’s not you, it’s me’. They were sent by emails and they hadn’t even had a chance to meet me, but I haven’t had a reaction that’s left any permanent scars. And I don’t think it was dishonest -“ like hiding something bad. I don’t think deafness is a bad thing.
Hearing Awareness Week runs from Sunday 24 August until Saturday 30 August. Visit www.hearingawarenessweek.org.aufor a calendar of events. The Australian Deaf Gay and Lesbian Association can be contacted by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.