The hardest of beginnings
Craig wasn’t born Deaf. When he tells us that this would be his ideal fantasy version, we feel compelled to ask what happened.
“My mum was an angry person – I believe she had some serious mental health issues. When I was two years old, she threw me against a wall after accidentally breaking the lid of her musical jewellery box. My aunt came running up the hallway and saw me bleeding from the ear, and that was that.”
To say Craig’s upbringing was challenging is putting it mildly. With a wry smile, he says that his family “put the word ‘dysfunctional’ in the dictionary”, and shares that he was forbidden from learning sign language as a child due to it being ‘the devil’s language’. Craig spent his childhood and teen years without a way to communicate. Struggling to find his place in the world, he worried he’d never be accepted. However, he dug in and his life began to improve when he left the family home.
“I learned sign language at 19 and in 1988 I started university. At that point I still thought I had a mild hearing loss. I remember my first class – the lecturer spoke really quickly and there was a sign language interpreter. I suddenly realised I would get 3 words out of 10 from the lecturer who was speaking fast; yet with the visual signs I was getting almost 100%. I think the realisation hit me – ‘F*%k, I’m really that deaf’. That was a turning point. All of a sudden I could access the community - I could communicate with others. It was an important part of healing and moving forward.”
Survivor to supporter: advocating for disability
Craig’s experience of disability and trauma has undoubtedly shaped his career trajectory. He’s always felt a calling to fight for those who couldn’t fight for themselves. Initially thinking he could enact change as a Teacher, back in the 1990s, he was dissuaded by a confronting practical teaching unit in his final year of teaching.
“I saw lots of cruel behaviours in the classroom that made me quite concerned for the students’ welfare. It became clear that this wasn’t the right career for me so I had to think of something else I could do.”
The Disability sector seemed a logical choice for Craig, having been on the receiving end of discrimination for much of his life.
“I’ve experienced a lot of ignorance because of my Disability, and was told there was so much I couldn’t do because I was Deaf. So many people with Disability have a story like that. I saw a job in disability as an opportunity to help people work through their problems. Everyone deserves to have a good life and I wanted to help them beat the system.”
Craig says he’ll never tire of seeing clients progress and achieve their goals.
“When a client first comes to you, everything is messy and noisy. There are heaps of issues. As we address issues over time, things begin to calm down. With a routine in place and the right support, you get that ‘aha’ moment and the result is happier clients and families.”
Big personality; deep connection
There’s no doubt that Craig is a natural-born entertainer! He peppers our conversation with stories and anecdotes which put you at ease and make you smile. Craig says this ability to connect is vital if you are to succeed in this space. He says his own secret to breaking the ice and getting people to open up is quite simple.
“Laughter! I get a lot of joy from making people laugh; I don’t take myself too seriously.”
He chuckles as he motions to his Mickey Mouse tie as if to say, ‘obviously!’
A man of great conviction, Craig clearly won’t settle for just any employer. Having worked for various providers in his career, he says he’s found his place at The Benevolent Society.
“I’ve seen so much bad practice elsewhere over the years. It was very common to see strict, rigid service delivery imposed on the client. Here at The Benevolent Society, it’s so much better! We’re not a mandatory services - our clients decide to choose us or not. That means we work hard to listen, understand and help them achieve their goals.”
True to form, Craig illustrates his point with a story from his own life experience.
“My partner of 26 years is Deafblind. He attended a Disability Services expo last year. He didn’t have a good day - most of the providers made the mistake of talking to his interpreter instead of him and only seemed interested in grabbing his NDIS dollars or wanting to see his plan and tell him what they will do for him. In an expo featuring 143 organisations, only one impressed him. Only one showed a genuine interest in him, saying, ‘It sounds like you have a lot of aspiration and things you would like to do. We would love to work with you and help you unpack what this means to you’. As he told me this, I said, ‘Who is this organisation?! I will quit my job and work with them!’ When he said that it was The Benevolent Society, my heart swelled. I guess I’m staying right here.”