Hi Dean, thanks for talking to us! Firstly, tell our readers about yourself.
At the moment, I am currently a first-year student at University of Auckland studying psychology. I am profoundly deaf from birth and was taught to communicate in New Zealand Sign Language and written English.
So what drew me to your story was your post on the ‘Overheard @ University of Auckland’ page (which got 387 likes and reactions) about you being left behind at the university during a fire alarm, as you couldn’t hear it. What drove you to write that post?
I was furious after learning I was left behind unaware. The university’s fire alarm system is still not fully accessible for some, and it could have put my life in danger if there was a real fire. What disappointed me the most is that there was no communication during the fire drill: people nearby could have at least let other people know if they noticed, but they did not move or doing anything.
It prompted me to take my disappointment to the Overheard page in a bid to get people to understand what it is like being deaf or hard of hearing and to get them involved in making the university environment safe by encouraging them to communicate during an event of emergency. Communication is obviously essential!
What happened after the Overheard post?
I was quite impressed with how all fellow students and other members of the public took my unfortunate experience seriously and how I got people talking about it. What is more impressive is the support; I expected to get trolled. My unfortunate experience prompted the Deaf Action New Zealand (advocacy group for the deaf) to launch a petition to make visual fire alarms mandatory in New Zealand. I worked closely with them to launch this petition. The whole deaf community in the country has heard my experience and I have been receiving many messages from those who have had a similar experience. Unfortunately, their experience has been an ongoing issue for a very long time around the country.
How long, and what have/are you doing for deaf people activism-wise?
I only became a member of the Deaf Action New Zealand as soon as they learnt about the fire drill incident. It is an advocacy group, which was established about a year ago, to help the deaf community advocate for their rights.
What are your top three priorities of things that need to be done to assist deaf people?
Firstly, I want the petition, Make Visual Fire Alarms Mandatory in New Zealand, to succeed, so we, as deaf and hard of hearing people, can feel safe anywhere and to trust and reply on fire alarm systems in all public places. Everyone wants to be independent like everyone else. The petition closed on Thursday 27 October and will be handed to Mojo Mathers on Thursday 3 November at 12.30 pm in Wellington.
Secondly, I want to see deaf and hard of hearing, as well as people with general disabilities to get full and fair access in all public places. They must not be left out of anything. I want to see more people to get involved assisting other people around them regardless. Communication must be part of the emergency evacuation and procedures, including all types of emergencies. Effective communication involved is highly likely to reduce the risk of being left behind. Communication is a lifesaver.
Thirdly, I want to see the University of Auckland to start putting something in place, as they have not done enough to make their university a safe place to study since the incident. They accommodate up to 40,000 students every day and between 700 and 1,000 of them are disabled. I have met with the university related to the fire drill incident – they were aware of the seriousness of the situation and of the ongoing issue at their university.
And as this is express, we’re curious to hear your coming out story too.
It was one of my best moments in my life! I came out to my parents and family when I was 16, which was on Easter Sunday in 2012 with help of my psychologists and counsellors.
I went through a lot before I came out. I was depressed and isolated, which led me to a suicide attempt in late February 2012. I regret causing so much damage to my family since the attempt, but I am really thankful that I am still alive and that is the main thing for my family and me.
I actually came out to my parents and siblings first, before the rest of my family and friends.
My parents already knew I was gay, but they wanted me to come out to them myself. I was crying with happiness after coming out, because it took me about four to five years to come out. I was struggling until I found the light at the end of the tunnel. My parents and siblings have been so supportive and accepting since then. My mum and dad said if I was happy with my sexuality then they will be happy too, and told me that I will always be their son no matter what. They now know what they can do to support me. My friends were the same, which I am really grateful for.
Thanks for talking to us, Dean, and we hope that new legislation is just around the corner! Make sure you sign the petition before Thursday 27 October.