Category Archives: All about Deafness

All about Deafness

Learn Auslan – Frequently used little words #2

Here are some more signs that are commonly used in conversation in Auslan:

  • nice
  • better
  • best
  • brilliant
  • outstanding
  • terrible
  • professional
  • address
  • letter

This post is part of my free online Auslan course. See the rest of the course here.

To learn more about what it is really like to be Deaf, details about the Deaf community and how Auslan is used by Deaf people, read my book, Future Girl.

Learn Auslan – Phrases

Signs in Auslan don’t always correspond directly with English words. This video contains useful Auslan signs that encompass a whole English phrase.

  • finally – notice the lip pattern here: ‘pah.’ This sign is used frequently – if someone is late and has just arrived, you could sign ‘pah’.
  • now I get it – the lip pattern here is also ‘pah.’ This sign is used for a moment of enlightenment, when you have suddenly understood something.
  • good riddance – the lip pattern here is ‘sha.’ You can do this sign in the direction of the thing that you are glad to be rid of.
  • responsibility – notice the American letter ‘R’ is the basis for this sign. This sign has been borrowed from ASL – American sign language. The borrowing of signs is very common and it’s helpful to know the American alphabet for this reason.
  • not my responsibility,
  • not yet. In English we often separate the ‘yet’ and put it at the end of the sentence. Eg, ‘I haven’t eaten yet.’ In Auslan, you cannot separate the ‘yet’ from the not’. You might say: EAT ME NOT-YET.
  • poor you. Add an expression of sympathy to your face for this sign!
  • go to bed. One hand forms the bed covers, while the other hand represents the legs of a person going under the covers.
  • get up. Completing the idea of the previous sign, one hand represents the doona while the other one shows a person standing up.
  • stuffed. This sign is used when something is completely exhausted, or ‘fucked’. But it’s not rude, the way ‘fucked’ is in English. You use it for an appliance that is damaged beyond repair, or for a person who is exhausted. In the video, I also demonstrate changing the direction of this sign to show myself as exhausted.
  • day off. It’s easy to think of this sign as starting with a nose-blow, an illness that can lead to a day off.

This post is part of my free online Auslan course. See the rest of the course here.

To learn more about what it is really like to be Deaf, details about the Deaf community and how Auslan is used by Deaf people, read my book, Future Girl.

Learn Auslan – Role Shift

Role shift is used to describe interactions between two or more people or animals.

Its most common use is when describing a conversation you have overseen between two other people, or a conversation you have had with someone previously. The idea is that you become one speaker, and adopt their position, facial expression and energy, then you say what they were saying, then you change to become the other speaker, with a different position and facial expression, and sign as if you were them.

There are a number of rules associated with the use of role shift, and these may seem very unnatural at first, but become easier with practise.

Warning: role shift is an advanced concept and takes a lot of practise. Here are some rules:

Identify each person first – use classifiers to locate the people in space and say who they each are.

Move shoulders – after you have identified the people, shift your shoulders to “become” each person as they speak.

Use eye gaze – when you are speaking as one of the people you have identified, show them looking at the other person. If the other person is taller, look up, if the other person is lying on the floor, look down.

Use facial expression – show the expression on the faces of each of the people who are talking. Make the contrast between the two people as clear as possible.

Using role shift, you should never use the signs for “he said” and “she asked”. Identify the people you are talking about and then become them, as they converse.

Watch the video to see the following conversation between a mother and her daughter who has just arrived home late.

Mother: (angrily) Where have you been?

Daughter: (defensive) Out.

Mother: I’ve been waiting up for you, worrying! It’s after twelve o’clock!

Daughter: It wasn’t my fault. I rang for a taxi but it didn’t come. I had to wait for another one.

Mother: Well next time, ring me!

Daughter: (as if her mother is being over protective) Alright.

Now have a go at it yourself. Try using role shift to describe a conversation. Then look over the rules and ask yourself whether you remembered to follow all of them.

Chances are, the first few times you’ll forget at least one rule, if not most of them. Try the conversation again, this time with the rules added.

Practise practise practise – that’s the only way you’ll get the hang of role shift.

This post is part of my free online Auslan course. See the rest of the course here.

To learn more about what it is really like to be Deaf, details about the Deaf community and how Auslan is used by Deaf people, read my book, Future Girl.

Why Deaf people need to be assessed and treated by practitioners from the Deaf community

The average practitioner who cares for Deaf clients has only a superficial understanding of Deafness, making them ill-equipped to support us, assess us, treat us and make recommendations for us. Practitioners involved with the Deaf community are more likely to assess and treat us appropriately.

I include here health practitioners, mental health practitioners, teachers and school principals, occupational therapists, audiologists, and staff at organisations like NDIS and many disability-focused organisations.

To those unfamiliar with Deafness it may seem simple: the person can’t hear. You might think this would lead to rational measures such as contacting the Deaf person by email or text message rather than attempting to call them on the phone, but sadly even these obvious measures are often missed by practitioners working with Deaf clients. In this article I want to show you exactly why practitioners need more than a superficial understanding of Deafness in order to be effective.

Don’t miss the obvious in relating to Deaf clients

Many practitioners miss obvious steps in relating to their Deaf clients, such as expecting them to be able to enter a clinic with an intercom at the front door, and expecting them to be able to talk on the phone. As part of the approval process to get a plan with NDIS, I sent my audiogram, showing a profound level of Deafness, which was passed on to a doctor for verification. This doctor called me on the phone to confirm that I am deaf! Any doctor who knows anything about deafness would have glanced at my audiogram and known that a phone call was fruitless. It astounds me that this person did not remember that Deafness = difficulty on the phone. But this is what I encounter everyday in the hearing world.

Deafness has subtle and surprising ramifications

Beyond stuff that should be obvious to anyone who takes the time to think about how not being able to hear changes the way one should relate to us, it is essential to understand that Deafness affects different people in different ways, and no two Deaf people are the same. But there are some broad categories that affect every aspect of how we relate to the hearing world. A practitioner from the Deaf community knows to ask specific questions early in the relationship in order to establish exactly where their client stands in this regard and what their needs might be.

Some Deaf people cannot use English well

As an example, one category is Deaf people who use Auslan and did not have access to language as young children. It is common for these people to have difficulty with English. A Deaf person with little childhood language access may find it very difficult to access information in today’s world. Such a person might struggle to do a Google search because they cannot read and interpret the results. They might struggle with everyday tasks such as cooking and health management because they have never received adequate education in Auslan in these areas. They might have difficulty understanding subtitles on TV. Their behaviour might not be considered socially appropriate when interacting with others personally and professionally, because they have not received the cues that hearing people receive that inform subtleties of behaviour. Such a person may need significant support in order to catch up on missed learning areas, to access routine information, and to function effectively in our society. Providing an interpreter for work and social occasions doesn’t even come close to bridging the gap. Deaf people in this category may be misunderstood, assumed to have a low IQ, or to be willfully difficult. I have people in this category in my friendship group, and when we sign to each other, I can see their intelligence, insight and sophistication, but when we are in a hearing environment, I see the gaps in their knowledge of the hearing world, and watch hearing people making troublesome assumptions about them.

I have a friend who was assessed by his psychologist as having a low IQ. I know from relating to him that he is a very quick and sharp thinker, and I surmised that the psychologist had used tools made for hearing people to assess him and concluded that he had a low IQ. This diagnosis followed him and went on to give many in the medical profession the wrong idea in terms of how to treat him – he needed education and support for social appropriateness, not supports related to having a low IQ. Had my friend seen a psychologist who could sign fluently and was familiar with Deafness, the psychologist could easily have made an accurate diagnosis and recommended appropriate supports.

Another friend asked the NDIS to fund cooking classes for him, as his parents had been unable to communicate with him as a child, and hence he had not learnt to cook. Without English, he could not utilise the internet to learn independently. He required one-on-one tuition in Auslan. The NDIS representative, the LAC, who had no prior experience of Deafness, was baffled that the need for cooking classes could somehow be related to Deafness, and was resistant to the idea. If he saw an LAC who was familiar with Deafness, he could simply have said that his family didn’t sign, and that would have been enough for the LAC to understand all the implications of that, the missed opportunities from a lack of overhearing, and the LAC could have been in a position to suggest further supports to help him catch up, such as nutrition classes, health classes, English language tuition, a support worker who can help him use Google regularly to find out what he needs to know. A knowledgable person would have been able to suggest things that he himself had not thought of.

Deaf people may have issues with their family, if the family doesn’t sign

Another example of a category of Deaf people is those who prefer to use Auslan but whose families don’t sign. Regardless of where their English skills are at, these Deaf people have something in common – complex emotions regarding their families, such as the desire to be included and to belong, while simultaneously feeling hurt, anger and frustration at their ongoing exclusion. Deaf people in this situation often need significant support to come to terms with the difficult family dynamics and to make decisions about to what extent they will continue to engage while being excluded, to what extent they will insist the family change to include them, and to what extent they will distance themselves and find connection elsewhere. The anguish this causes can be lifelong, yet psychologists who are not familiar with Deafness rarely understand the conflicting emotions involved and the subtleties of the many things that contribute. For example, parents who have spent years heavily invested in speech therapy and efforts to raise their child to be as ’normal’ as possible, may be quite resistant to change. To suddenly be asked to learn sign language can be experienced as a very personal slap in the face. Psychologists who are not familiar with the pressures that Deaf people and their families face need a lot of education, usually provided by the Deaf person themselves, before they are in a position to assist theraputically. I personally find the process so draining that I generally don’t discuss Deaf-related family dynamics with a psychologist unless they are members of the Deaf community themselves.

It is exhausting for us to have to educate practitioners who don’t know anything about Deafness, in order to get our needs met and to guide them in how to treat us.

Practitioners may focus inappropriately on Deafness

For me, even straightforward visits to my local GP for unrelated issues such as iron studies have ended up fraught with Deaf-related problems. Most doctors I see focus too much on my Deafness and do not dedicate the brief time I am able to spend with them to focusing on the reasons I have made the appointment. They will waste time asking when I became Deaf and why, they tell me how well I speak (even when I am not speaking), marvel at the amazingness of Auslan, speak directly to the interpreter and ask her why she became an interpreter and so on. And then I am told that time is up before we have finished dealing with my medical-related questions. If I cut off the doctor and insist we focus on the task at hand (iron studies!) I worry he will find me rude and thus I could destroy goodwill in treating me. So I try to strike a balance between being polite and friendly while at the same time cueing them to pay attention to my medical issues, not my Deafness. This is irritating in the extreme. I cannot begin to describe the relief I felt when I began to see a doctor who had formerly been an Auslan interpreter. We could both sign and were able to relate to each other in a natural way, and suddenly my Deafness never came up unless it was actually relevant. Sadly there is no Deaf-community doctor in my local area and Medicare will not fund me seeing an interstate doctor via Telehealth – I am expected to pay for the appointments myself.

Practitioners may not understand the needs of Deaf clients, and be unwilling to try to meet them

In another example, I was seeing a psychologist before Covid-19 hit. When appointments were moved to Telehealth, I waited to receive a link for a video call, but none came. At the allotted appointment time, the psychologist called me on the phone, expecting to conduct our appointment that way! I wondered how she had failed to grasp the extent of my Deafness, given that I had been seeing her for some time. Due to delays with interpreting, I also requested of the psychologist that we have longer appointments, but she refused, citing Medicare as the reason for refusal, despite the fact that it is well established that appointments conducted with an interpreter take 2-3 times as long as appointments without. Despite my providing resources with guidelines to working with Deaf clients in mental health settings, the psychologist ignored the guidelines and proposed we conduct our sessions via the National Relay Service. This suggestion was ludicrous in the extreme. It would be against the law for a relay officer to do a psychology session as they would not have the appropriate qualification. At this stage, I no longer felt that my psychologist had any rapport with me, any understanding of my Deafness or barriers I face, nor caring for my plight, and felt there was no point attempting to continue the fight for access, so I abandoned the effort. I felt exhausted by the need to advocate for myself and frustrated by the fact that my efforts at advocacy went unheard. I also experienced a significant mental health crash as a result of this saga. It would have been better for my mental health if I had never had any psychology appointment at all to begin with!

Barriers at a systemic level compound the problems

You can see why it is easier for us when we are treated by people who understand Deafness, understand the barriers we face in life which often extend beyond the simple fact of not being able to hear fully, and are able to treat us appropriately. Yet there is much resistance to this at a systemic level. For example, Medicare makes no allowance for the needs of Deaf clients and we are expected to comply with mainstream treatment protocols. Likewise, even NDIA, Australia’s largest disability-focused organisation, does not cater for Deaf clients. Rather than using the significant numbers of staff from the Deaf community to support their Deaf participants, NDIA actively discourages this practice, citing that anonymity is more important than cultural knowledge. Naturally, the decision to prioritise anonymity was made by a person without any understanding of the Deaf community. The Deaf community is small, while we sometimes long for anonymity, this is rarely possible. It is more like living in a small village from the past, when everyone knew everyone else, and there are benefits to this as well as drawbacks. But it is not for a culturally incompetent hearing person to decide for us that anonymity should trump all.

If your organisation has Deaf clients, I recommend the following measures:

Provide Deaf awareness training to all your staff.

Ensure that staff know how to contact Deaf participants in appropriate ways.

Ensure that forms filled in by clients allow them to tick ’sms only’ next to the phone number field.

Provide Deaf-friendly ways for your Deaf clients to contact you, such as by email or SMS, and ensure these are widely advertised on your website and other promotional materials. Of course, everyone should be able to contact you in a Deaf-friendly way, not just Deaf people.

Modify your processes and policies to ensure they are accessible and friendly to Deaf people.

Consider hiring Deaf staff, and allowing the opportunity for them to work with the Deaf clients.

Remove the requirement of anonymity when it comes to Deaf people.

Look up resources and guidelines for working with interpreters and Deaf clients in your field.

Ensure that staff know how to book Auslan interpreters and offer to do so for Deaf clients.

If your organisation has several Deaf clients (for example, Medicare, NDIA, any large government organisations, ATO, disability-focused organisations, schools with several Deaf students):

Create a Deaf department

Hire a Deaf person to lead it.

Hire a Deaf consultant for advice on how to make the entire organisational structures and processes Deaf-appropriate. Follow the advice.

Hire multiple staff from the Deaf community, as needed, to work within the Deaf department and across the organisation as a whole.

Consider setting up a web-chat specifically for Deaf clients, separately from mainstream web-chat, which allows Deaf clients to access staff from the Deaf department.

Unravelling systemic bias

If Deafness was better understood by the hearing community as a whole, we would not need to ensure that we are treated by practitioners with experience of Deafness, as everyone would possess the required knowledge. How could we change our culture so that hearing people can catch up?

Start young, at school. Children need to receive an education, at every year level, that fosters positive, inclusive and empathic attitudes towards us. This is best developed through real life examples – teachers who are Deaf and have a disability would provide strong role models and would be well placed to help children build appropriate attitudes. The way staff respond to students with a disability sends a powerful message too. Stories, films and documentries that develop empathy and insight are critical.

It is difficult for a person to understand the damaging consequence of their non-inclusive behaviour when they never see how it affects the person involved. Thus, we need stories in the media. Films, books, documentaries that demonstrate exclusion and the consequences, as well as showing viewers alternative behaviours and providing role models are critical. These need to be incorporated into mainstream media, not sideline projects. As an example, since same-sex marriage was legalised, the change in the media has been striking. There are now casual examples of LGBTIQ characters and relationships portrayed in mainstream films, TV shows and books. Before the legislation, LGBTIQ characters were mostly only included in niche material. This has helped to normalise LGBTIQ experience. If we make the same change to incorporate the stories of people who are Deaf or have a disability, the effect could be very very powerful. Note here that it is essential that people with the actual disability need to be consulted and used as actors, writers etc in the development of this media, to ensure authenticity. Nothing fosters respect like seeing people who are Deaf or have a disability in positions of authority. We need roles in parliament, we need to become teachers and doctors and nurses and school principals and lawyers and CEOs and actors (as per the previous point). Right now the barriers to these positions are insurmountable – we don’t have these positions because current attitudes prevent us from gaining them, not because we are incapable. So programmes need to be developed to help us get there.

Provide funding for films and books only if they include a character who is Deaf or has a disability, and provide the additional funding required for the sensitivity checks and the support that will enable the Deaf and disabled actors and consultants to fulfil their roles.

Encourage media that not only includes a Deaf/disabled character but that highlights real life issues experienced by that group.

Require licensing boards to develop Deaf and disability-friendly policies. Frequently Deaf people are barred from obtaining licences to teach, to practice nursing or medicine. This means it is difficult for Deaf people to achieve leadership roles and positions of authority in society – from these positions they would be able to educate and inform others, causing a ripple of change.

Create a specific well-funded programme that aims to help Deaf/disabled people gain employment in positions of authority. This may involve case managers for young people who advocate for them, guide them, and ensure they have sufficient support to perform their roles.

Learn Auslan Level 2

Welcome to Auslan Level 2

Welcome to level 2 of my online Auslan course for beginners. If you have made it this far, and can remember most of the vocab from level 1, then you are acing out and can probably already have some pretty good conversations with Deaf people. The signs you learn here will fill in some gaps and help bring your signing up a notch.

If you haven’t studied level 1 yet, head there to start learning Auslan and to find out answers to frequently asked questions such as which hand to use when signing.

Please remember that the signs I’m teaching you are the signs I used in Melbourne, Australia. Signs vary a lot around Australia, so people will be sure to tell you that some of the signs I’ve shown you are ‘wrong’. But my aim here is to help you communicate effectively with Deaf people, and if you use a sign from another state, or a sign they don’t usually use, chances are they’ll still understand you.

You’ll notice a dramatic change in the videos for Level 2. You asked me to sign slower (I hope I did that!) and to repeat my signs. I’ve signed each word twice, so you can watch the first time, and do it with me the second time. I hope that makes it easier for you. If they are still too quick, watch the video on YouTube and use the settings cog to change the speed to 0.25.

The other big change in the videos is how amazingly professional they look.  This is thanks to Joanne Donahoe-Beckwith, who kindly volunteered to film the videos for me. She’s a pro, as you can see, and even created a studio set up with beautiful lighting to make the videos the best they can be. She also subtitled and formatted all the videos for me, saving heaps of time. Many, many thanks to Joanne for her generosity.

Now.. let’s get started. Here are some signs that will be useful in conversation:

  • alive
  • live (e.g. to live in a house)
  • dead
  • sick
  • cuddle/hug
  • important
  • true
  • shh
  • quiet
  • sit
  • stand
  • trouble

This post is part of my free online Auslan course. See the rest of the course here.

To learn more about what it is really like to be Deaf, details about the Deaf community and how Auslan is used by Deaf people, read my book, Future Girl.

A bit of love for you

What is a language if you don’t know how to tell someone you love them?  In this video I sign, ‘You are beautiful. I love you.’  Then I wave goodbye, and as I wave, I change my handshape into the American sign for ‘I love you’.

This post is part of my free online Auslan course. See the rest of the course here.

To learn more about what it is really like to be Deaf, details about the Deaf community and how Auslan is used by Deaf people, read my book, Future Girl.

The highlights and lowlights of creating a 384 page art journal novel

Image: A double page spread of the inside of Future Girl / The Words in My Hands. On the left side is an artwork of a girl holding a rabbit. She wears a long sleeved blue dress with a white collar and her long, wavy black hair is blowing in the wind to her left. The background is blue paint with pink roses floating around her. Her eyes are blue, cheeks blushing and her tiny lips are tinted red. The left side page has a painted yellow background with blue and red roses in the margins. A small piece of brown paper collaged over the background to form a heading with the text, ‘TUESDAY 14 JULY’. The page also shows the text content of Future Girl book page 62. There is collaged brown text paper on the side and splashes of green, red and pink paint on the borders.

A friend of mine asked me, what were the best and worst parts of creating my recent book, titled Future Girl (in Australia) and The Words in My Hands (in North America). It’s a 384 page book of full colour art that is the art journal of 16-year-old Piper, a Deaf girl who lives in near future Melbourne just as peak oil hits. I thought I’d share my answer with you.

I wrote the book entirely from scratch three times, as well as doing multiple edits on each of these drafts. One of the lowlights was attempting to process feedback from my editor, Elise Jones, after rewriting the book for the second time. The manuscript came back to me with over a thousand comments in it, stipulating the changes the publishers were suggesting. The requests often felt contradictory, such as:

overall the book is too long, please make it shorter.’

versus

‘this is so interesting – please show this unfold (in a scene, with nuances/meanings implied) instead of telling it (with meanings stated/explained or as an info dump’), which is less engaging for the reader.’

One of the suggestions was to remove what for me was the central theme of the book, peak oil, and focus on other aspects of the story instead. I can see how every single one of these comments had a sound rationale behind it and formed part of a strategy to make the book stronger. But at the time I was very sick from arsenic and lead poisoning and my brain wasn’t functioning well, so it was an overwhelming task to try and assimilate all the information and work out a game plan going forward.

It took me an entire two years to process everything and decide how to go forward. I took some leaps of faith and decided to keep peak oil as a central theme, and as soon as I made that decision, suddenly I could see my way. I just had to write a manuscript that would convince my publishers. 

I rewrote the book again from scratch, and this time I had this nagging voice in my head with every word I wrote saying, ‘It’s too long! It’s too long!’ But I ignored it and ploughed onwards, trying to incorporate the rest of their feedback, and taking steps to mitigate their concerns about peak oil. In the end, although I submitted a manuscript at double their desired word length, and fully about peak oil, they loved it! Phew!

Elise also worked out a clever way to shorten the manuscript again by cutting an entire thread of the story, which ended up making it so much stronger. It was hard to let go of that thread – there was a really awesome character in there who I just loved! But I’ll keep her for another book.

As for the best parts, well there were a few…

Making 384 pages of art is a surefire way to hone your design, composition and technical skills, both with art-making and Photoshop. I am thrilled with this. Here are just some of the pages I made for the Australian edition:

Image: Artwork of two printed book pages with different shades of pastel colours of yellow, olive green, pink, blue & brown. The left page has paintings of blue and pink roses in the corners, and flower doodles done in black pen. In the centre is a rubber stamp in a box that says ‘This book belongs to..’ It has been filled in with handwriting saying ‘Piper McBride. PRIVATE! (Do not read.)’ The right page has pink roses at the top. Text below the roses says, ‘WEDNESDAY 17 JUNE’ and text content from Future Girl book, page 1. It also has a black and white border on the left side of the right page and the background is a collage of pink and brown text paper. There is a hand drawn doodle of a flower in the margin.
Image: Artwork of two printed book pages with collaged patterned papers in different shades of blue, green, brown, pink and yellow pastel colours. The left page has a piece of torn brown paper collaged over the background with the text heading, ‘SATURDAY 27 JUNE’. It has red and pink roses on top. There is a sculpture of a frozen Charlotte doll in the bottom left corner and light pink flowers on the middle bottom. It also has the text content of Future Girl book page 32 in the centre. The right page has a border of different kinds of pink and red flowers with a black spraypainted curlicue. It has the text content of Future Girl book page 33 in the centre.
Image: Artwork of a boy with blond, wavy, medium length hair standing on the right side of the page. He is wearing a grayish brown turtle neck sweater and both hands are inside the pockets of his tight black jeans. He wears large black boots. The page is surrounded with black line drawings of bicycles on top of a grungy watercolour background of bluish green, black and yellow. The boy has a speech bubble saying, ‘Your hearing aids are whistling.’ The left page is black text handwritten with a text saying ‘On the wall, someone written: Imagine: if the GDP was replaced with a contentment index.’ Below that is the text content of the book page 34.

Once the book was put together, I re-read it for a final check. I hadn’t read it for a long time and I had fresh eyes. One of the scenes I’d written about Deafness gave me goosebumps and made me quite teary – I just couldn’t believe I’d written it. In fact, I felt that way about the whole book. I set out to write the book I wanted to read, and in the end, I got to read it and found myself fully immersed and emotionally moved. Wow.

Receiving the hard copy of the book for the first time, I cried. Eight years in the making and finally I got to hold it. It was perfect. The paper, the textures, the colours, the weight, everything. I am so in love with this book. And it struck me that if I had not created it and was seeing it for the first time, I would want to cancel my whole life for a month just to dive into it and absorb all that beautiful art.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is futuregirl_words_low_res.jpg
Image: Two similar book covers. On the left is Future Girl (Australian edition) and on the right is The Words in my Hands (North American edition), both by Asphyxia. They show a girl with long, black, wavy hair. She wears a gray sleeveless top and holds a magenta pencil and paint brush in her fist, with a light blue paint dripping from the brush. She has large black cross over her right ear. Her eyes are green and her lips red. The background shows drawings of buildings. The left background is green, brown and teal textured paint; the right background is teal, pink and ochre textured paint. On both covers is a review by Amie Kaufman, a New York Times bestselling author, which says, ‘Brilliantly imaginative, totally immersive…’

If you’d like to read it, get your copy here if you’re in Australia, and here if you’re in North America.

Learn Auslan – American fingerspelling

I am often asked if sign language is universal.  It’s not.  Auslan came to Australia with English convict Betty Steele, who signed BSL (British sign language).  With years of isolation, Auslan and BSL have both evolved, so that while the languages are similar, they are now quite different.  The Americans got their sign language from France, and French sign language looks very different to Auslan, as the fingerspelling and many of the hand signs are done with one hand instead of two.

If you put two signing people in the same room who don’t know each others’ language, they will work out how to communicate with each other much faster than two hearing/speaking people would.  When I bumped into a group of Deaf women in France one time, despite me not knowing any French sign language and them not knowing any English or Auslan, we worked out how to communicate quite quickly.  Within half an hour we had moved on to abstract concepts like planned obsolescence.

Back to American fingerspelling… in America there is a larger population of Deaf people than in Australia.  They even have a Deaf university.  This means that their language has more opportunities to evolve than ours, and although some people are against this practise, in Auslan we often borrow signs from ASL (American sign language).  Also, several of these borrowed signs, and signs that are considered proper Auslan, are based on handshapes that come from the one-handed American alphabet.  It’s handy to know the alphabet in order to familiarise yourself with these shapes.

Some people who use Auslan will  spell with American sign language if they have only one hand available, because the other is busy holding a drink or something else.  However, when I went to America, I discovered that the actual American letter T is different from the way Australians sign T when they think they are using American fingerspelling!  There may be other letters that are different.  This video shows my best guess for the American alphabet, and the way my friends and I use American fingerspelling:


In the video there are two variations for the letter T – the first one shows how American people actually sign it.  The second one shows how Australians tend to sign it.

This post is part of my free online Auslan course. See the rest of the course here.

To learn more about what it is really like to be Deaf, details about the Deaf community and how Auslan is used by Deaf people, read my book, Future Girl.

Learn Auslan – Impolite stuff

No language is complete without swear words, toilet words, genitals and sex words. I’ve grouped these together in this video so that parents who are studying this course with their children can decide whether to show them or not.  This doesn’t mean that I think certain body parts are ‘rude’ or ‘impolite’.  The sign for ‘toilet’ is in here – that isn’t a rude sign at all.  I just grouped it here along with signs like ‘poo’ where are considered rude.

Fuck (this is not as rude as the equivalent work ‘fuck’ in English – it’s ruder than saying ‘damn’ but perhaps not quite as rude as saying ‘shit’)
Fuck you (this is offensive and hurtful)
Shit (this is used as a swear word (not to refer to ‘poo’) and it is not nearly as rude as ‘shit’ is in English. It’s more like saying ‘damn’ and you can even say it in somewhat polite company.)
•  Toilet
•  Poo
•  Piss (man)
•  Wee (woman)
•  Vagina
•  Penis
•  Erection (option 1)
•  Erection (option 2 – you can see an element of bragging and humour here!)
•  Sex (this is the formal, polite sign for sex, however, if you are talking informally, you would be likely to show the position – the next three signs give examples of that.)
•  69
•  spoon position
•  sex scissor position
•  cunnilingus (woman)
•  blow job (man)

This post is part of my free online Auslan course. See the rest of the course here.

To learn more about what it is really like to be Deaf, details about the Deaf community and how Auslan is used by Deaf people, read my book, Future Girl.

Learn Auslan – Colloquialisms

These are common Auslan signs which don’t relate specifically to a single English word. Note that many of them have their own lip patterns too.

• Strange/weird
• Finally, at long last
• Too late
• Hopeless
• Oh, now I get it!
• Come on
• What luck this situation occurred!
• Take me home
• How dare you!
• Sprung! / Ah ha! Caught you! (In the video, just before this sign, I start to sign something else – please disregard that!)
• Please yourself
• Relief / phew

This post is part of my free online Auslan course. See the rest of the course here.

To learn more about what it is really like to be Deaf, details about the Deaf community and how Auslan is used by Deaf people, read my book, Future Girl.