Deaf Ninjas


For the first time in the history of Australian Ninja Warrior, a Deaf person was given an incredible once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It’s not every day we see a Deaf or hard of hearing person on national television. Big kudos to Paul Cashion for giving it his everything – his determination is to be commended.

It’s unfortunate he was disqualified approximately 3 seconds into the obstacle course. He lost his grip on the wall thingy, which resulted in his foot touching the water. The rule is pretty clear: if you touch the water, you’re immediately disqualified.

The big question is:

Did Paul fully understand the rules of the Australian Ninja Warrior?

Fans of the Australian Ninja Warrior have gone into an uproar about Paul’s disqualification. They’ve demanded that he should be given another chance. They started a petition, which has collected more than 1000 signatures to date.

I don’t agree with the idea of giving Paul another chance. Rules are rules, and they should have been explained to him clearly. He would have benefited more if the rules were delivered in Auslan, thus giving him a clear understanding. If he had his cultural and linguistics needs met, he could still have gotten disqualified by having his foot touch the water. His reaction would have been different. But we don’t know.

I have to really take my hat off to his step-son, Josh, for trying his best to interpret pre-interview and during the show. He really tried his best, yet he was thrusted into a high-stress environment. This is one of many classic examples of how things can go horribly wrong when a family member has to interpret for their Deaf relative. It wasn’t fair on both Josh and Paul.

When someone without an Auslan/English interpreting qualification is asked to interpret in a stressful environment, misinterpretations can occur. Unintentional withholding of information can also occur. This becomes stressful for the person, and the Deaf person. More so, it can have an impact on the Deaf person. It can also impact on the person who tried their best to interpret – especially if they wanted to become a qualified interpreter later on.

This is why I am strongly against having any of my family members interpret for me in stressful situations such as a medical appointment, an interview, and whatnot. I’m perfectly okay with a relative interpret for me at family gatherings – just because they are already familiar with the dynamics of our family.

Because this happened on national television, it was highly embarrassing for Paul, his family, the Auslan community, Channel 9, and the producers of Australian Ninja Warrior.

Imagine this:

You move to Germany for work. You’re invited to participate on a German version of Ninja Warrior. You’re given a contract and a copy of the rules. They’re in German. Your German is very basic, so you wouldn’t be able to fully understand. 

You would have asked for the contract and rules to be translated into English, so you can understand what is required of you as a participant.

Paul’s disqualification was a stroke of bad luck, and I am pretty sure he’s already moved on from it. He was given an amazing opportunity. The producers of Australian Ninja Warrior should be commended for allowing him to have a go.

However, I also noticed the red visual siren light going off upon his disqualification. Did Paul know about it? Did the producers tell him that they would be providing a visual cue?

Another contributing factor would be Paul not being aware of his rights to request for a qualified interpreter. Maybe he was not aware about the inappropriateness of using a family member to interpret a high-stress environment. If this is one of the factors, then we need make sure this does not happen again. We need to ensure the entire Auslan community is made aware about the importance of having a qualified Auslan interpreter booked for any high-stress environment to ensure the cultural and linguistic needs of Deaf and hard of hearing Auslan users are being appropriately met.

There’s so many factors which could have contributed to what went wrong last night.

All in all, we don’t really know what happened. We don’t know what happened behind the scenes. We don’t know how Paul and his family felt about what happened. We don’t know the full story.

However, Paul taught us an important lesson: we need to become ninjas to ensure our cultural and linguistic needs are met at all times.

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