Category Archives: Learn Auslan Online

Learn Auslan – Deafness and sign language

Here are some signs about being deaf and using Auslan (Australian sign language):

Vocab:

  • Deaf
  • Hearing
  • Sign
  • Language
  • Auslan (Australian sign language)
  • Fingerspell/spell
  • Alphabet (A-Z)
  • Voice
  • Lock your voice/voice off
  • Oral (this is also the sign for lipread)

There are some words and phrases here that aren’t commonly used in mainstream English.

People who aren’t deaf are referred to as ‘hearing’. Deaf people who don’t use sign language, communicating with speech and lipreading, are described as ‘oral’. I grew up oral and learnt to sign when I was eighteen – this is a common situation for Deaf people in Australia.

Fingerspelling refers to manually spelling out the letters of words. If you don’t know the sign for a word, fingerspell it. In Auslan, fingerspelling is commonly used for names and places. Some words, such as ‘cream’ are always fingerspelled, and the fingerspelled version becomes a sort of ‘sign’ for that word. There are some English words for which there is no equivalent Auslan sign. In this case, you could fingerspell the word, though more fluent signers will usually find a way to visually convey the meaning of the word using Auslan signs.

Lock your voice: since Auslan has its own grammar, trying to speak English while signing can be challenging, and also make your signs difficult to understand. It’s common in Auslan to refer to ‘turning off your voice’ or ‘locking your voice’ which means that you don’t speak – just sign. However, if you are speaking English with a group of hearing people, and there is a Deaf person present, it is polite to sign whatever words you can, even if it’s not using correct Auslan grammar, so that the Deaf person can get an idea of what you are talking about.

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 – Transport

Kids love learning and using transport signs:

Vocab:

  • Walk
  • Run
  • Ride a bike
  • Car
  • Drive
  • Train
  • Tram
  • Bus
  • Taxi
  • Plane/fly
  • Airport (sorry, the subtitle says ‘landing’. This sign is used for both ‘landing’ and ‘airport’)
  • Station

Other signs that kids often embrace are colours and foods – they are covered in other lessons. For our next lesson, though, we’ll get back to signs commonly used by adults.

I was a bit over-enthusiastic when signing some of these. While signing like this is not really ‘wrong’ and Deaf people will still understand you, it would be correct to sign ‘run’ with just two rotations of my arm, and ‘ride a bike’ should also be two cycles of pedaling with my fingers, and ‘car’ should be two rotations of my fists. ‘Bus’ should be two twists of the steering wheel. My apologies that these videos aren’t perfect – I hope they’ll still help you learn.

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 – Animals

A great way to get children interested in signing is to teach them the signs for animals.

Vocab:

  • Cat
  • Dog (pat your thigh twice)
  • Rabbit
  • Bird/chicken
  • Horse
  • Sheep
  • Cow
  • Giraffe
  • Elephant
  • Lion
  • Monkey
  • Gorilla
  • Dinosaur

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 – Signs for babies (and adults too)

It’s quite popular for parents who don’t sign themselves to teach their babies some signs. This means babies can communicate before they are able to speak. This lesson and the next two have signs that are helpful when communicating with young children, though they are also good signs for anyone to know. When I taught in a kindergarten, these were the most helpful words that allowed us to communicate with very young children.

Vocab:

  • Food
  •  Drink
  • Milk
  • More
  • Finish
  • Sleep (I show you two signs for this)
  • Awake/Wake up
  • Yes
  • No

Finish and more are the most useful signs – as these are abstract concepts that children often want to communicate but cannot. At a meal time, always ask if your child has finished, using the sign. If they haven’t, sign ‘more’. When they do finish, confirm it by signing ‘finish’ yourself. By doing this every time, your child will quickly learn the meaning of the words.

I should have included the sign for ‘toilet’. Luckily you don’t need a video for that. It’s just the letter T, fingerspelled twice: ‘TT’.

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 – Some words to indicate purpose

Vocab:

  • Will
  • Won’t
  • Can
  • Can’t
  • Want
  • Don’t want
  • Have
  • Don’t have (here I demonstrate the handshape I’m using)
  • Need
  • Must
  • Should
  • Prefer
  • Because
  • Can’t be bothered (you’ll see that sometimes a whole English phrase is captured with a single sign)

In the video I signed ‘prefer’ with several flicks. But really, it should be just two flicks.

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 frequently used little words 2 in Auslan – Australian Sign Language

Here are some more signs that are often used in conversation:

Vocab:

  • Look
  • See
  • Right
  • Wrong
  • Help
  • Some
  • Nothing/none/silence
  • Sorry
  • Most
  • Thing

In the video I signed ‘sorry’ with a few too many shakes. Just moving your hand twice will do the job.

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 signs when asking questions – Australian Sign Language

Use these Auslan signs when asking questions:

Vocab:

  •  Who
  •  What
  • Where
  • When
  • Why
  • How
  • How much
  •  How many
  • Which

In Auslan, the grammar is different from English. When asking a question, the W-word goes last.  For example, when asking ‘When did you eat?”, you would sign ‘YOU EAT WHEN?’ To ask “Where do you live?” you sign ‘YOU LIVE WHERE?’

You’ll notice in these examples that I have omitted ‘did’ and ‘do’. In Auslan, words such as “and”, “to”, “a”, “the”, “it”, “be”, “are” etc. are not used.  Simply delete them from the sentence.

Sometimes in Auslan, the W-word goes both first and last.  This is known as bracing.  E.g. WHO WASH-DISHES WHO?

There is no time when the W-word is first, but not last, the way it is in English.

For this week, practise asking questions.  If you don’t know the signs for the vocab you want to use, fingerspell the words.  By fingerspelling words you don’t know, you create a space in your brain for them, so when you learn the sign for that word you will remember it more easily.

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 frequently used little words in Auslan – Australian Sign Language

Here are some Auslan signs that are often used in conversation:

Vocab:

  • Same
  • Different
  • Again
  • Maybe/or
  • Lots/too much
  • But
  • For
  • Go
  • Come
  •  With

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.

Royal commission into violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation of people with disability

I found out just a few days ago that there is a royal commission into violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation of people with a disability. Making a submission to an inquiry is an excellent way to instigate change because the powers that be are actually listening. So I decided to make the effort to write a submission. I’m posting it here in case you’d like to read it. If this inspires you to write in something, please do, as they are accepting submissions until 12 September. It doesn’t have to be as lengthy as mine. Even one short description of an issue that bothers you makes a difference. Or send a link to this post and tell them it matches your experience. You can email them or send an Auslan video if you prefer. I hope that reading my submission will inspire you to make some small changes that will help make the world more inclusive for Deaf people. Here’s my submission:

I am a Deaf woman who communicates using Auslan. For me the biggest barriers to inclusion are peoples’ attitudes, lack of knowledge about our rights, and the fact that Deafness tends to be a forgotten/invisible condition.

Deafness is forgotten

As an example of how we are forgotten, the train station closest to where I lived for 20 years has rubber strips on the ground and braille on machines for blind people, and it has ramps for people who use wheelchairs, but there is no accomodation for Deaf people. To find out when the next train is coming or other information, one must press a button and listen. It is clear that efforts have been made to ensure the station is accessible but it seems the efforts did not include Deaf people.

Here are some more ways in which we are forgotten:

The emergency department of the hospital closest to me has an intercom in order to access it late at night. One time I drove a friend to emergency at two in the morning. I left my friend in the car while I went to get hospital staff, but was unable to talk with them through the intercom to explain what was needed. It was very stressful. I had to get my extremely ill friend to come and handle the access side of things! It means that it is difficult for me to be a good support person and carer when the need arises, as I am actually more of a liability on the person I am attempting to support!

For quite a time I lived in a small town, and the police station was not staffed around the clock. They have an intercom that connects people to the police station in the next town. So if I went to the police, I could communicate with them!

When filling in forms, it is routinely required to give a phone number, but there is nowhere for me to tick to say that this is for text messages only, no voice calls. 

When deliveries of parcels are made by courier or postal services to my address, sometimes they will call me to clarify about when they can deliver or where to leave the parcel. It doesn’t occur to them that I might be Deaf and cannot take their call. When entering phone numbers on parcels there is no box to tick saying that I am Deaf and to contact via SMS.

The support departments of numerous organisations can only be contacted by phone, and will only deal with me by phone call. We live in an era where email is prolific but many organisations refuse to deal with me by email. For example, the ATO, Centrelink and more. I use the national relay service (NRS) to call such organisations but I am frequently on hold for a long time, and the chance of the NRS cutting out before the call is complete is high. Even then, I can’t convince the organisation to start the conversation by email. Organisations regularly ask me to call them and it doesn’t occur to them that I might be Deaf – it would be better if they said, ‘please call or email,’ and then provided email contact details as well as phone details.

Given how we are forgotten, I assume there’s a high chance that contact-tracers for Covid-19 will not consider the possibility that the person they are trying to contact is Deaf. Usually when people call me voice on my phone I ignore it, because the alternative is to hassle someone into ‘helping’ me and usually that is intensely frustrating. I will talk about that further below. However, now I am worried that a covid-19 contract tracer will try to call me and so I have started getting people to answer the phone when it rings, leading to a large amount of stress. If only I could be confident they would send a text message as well as attempting a voice call.

The frustration of a phone call

Even organisations that are supposed to service us, such as NDIS, do not seem capable of Deaf-appropriate practices. As part of the approval process to get a plan with NDIS, I sent them my audiogram, showing a profound level of Deafness, which they 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. Why this person was considered qualified to assess whether I really am deaf is beyond me. It astounds me that this person did not remember that Deafness = difficulty on the phone. 

Now to explain the stress involved when hearing people call me and I need to ask for help from others to handle the call. On this occasion, I handed my phone to a friend who told the doctor that I was deaf, and unable to speak on the phone. The doctor spent several minutes trying to convince my friend to put me on directly, then finally accepted this as ‘confirmation’. For some strange reason, this bizarre encounter was required, despite my sending in an audiogram signed by a professional audiologist and confirmed by my GP. The friend on hand that day was not a qualified interpreter, and didn’t know how to assist communication between me and the doctor. Instead she spoke to him on my behalf and I don’t know exactly what was said! This is hardly an inclusive and respectful way of handling my affairs. It also didn’t afford me any privacy – I didn’t know it was an NDIS doctor calling at the time I handed the phone to my friend, and the conversation had gotten quite out of hand before I even know who was calling and what it was about. I consider details about my disability and NDIS funding highly personal and private. By calling me on the phone instead of contacting me in a Deaf-friendly way, the doctor set up a breach of my privacy.

Now for another example regarding phone calls. When I had an issue with accessing my NDIS portal, I used a professional interpreter to call NDIA (the organisation that administers NDIS), to ask for some technical assistance. The person I spoke to refused to put me through to the IT department and said someone would call me back. I explained that as I am Deaf, I would need the person to email or text me. Although I had an interpreter with me at that time, she would probably not be present at the time the call was returned. The person assured me that a member of IT staff would email me promptly.

The following day, my phone rang. Thinking it was likely a different organisation, I handed the phone to someone nearby and asked her to say that I am Deaf and so please email me, but unfortunately it was NDIA IT department. I gathered the response was that they are unable to email outside the department, so that was impossible. I attempted to reply, ‘We are living in the 21st century, and presumably you, as an IT specialist, have access to a phone with email on it. You could use that phone, even if it is your personal phone, to send me an email, since your company clearly has not made accomodation for the possibility of needing to contact a Deaf person.’ But the person holding my phone did not relay what I wanted her to say. I think she felt uncomfortable about being so sharp.

The phone call was lengthy and highly frustrating as I kept saying things that were never passed on. By the time the person on the other end said, ‘How wonderful that your friend was there and could help us resolve this!’ my blood was at boiling point from anger and frustration.

For me it was not wonderful at all. I want to handle my own affairs myself, and to communicate directly with the people involved, not via unqualified interpreters.

By the time the call had ended I was angry with the person who had accepted my phone, for not passing on the things I was saying, but it was not her fault – she was just trying to be helpful. When NDIA refused to allow deaf-friendly methods of communication, they created a rift between me and the person helping me.

The government provides us with the national relay service (NRS) for phone calls. While it has been life-changing to be able to make calls independently through the NRS, this is not a solution for me for phone calls in most circumstances. There are a number of reasons for this:

  • First, often when I want to make a call, the relay service will be busy, so I will be put on hold for a period of time. For time-critical calls this makes a problem.
  • Calls through the NRS take MUCH longer than voice calls and so take a significant portion out of my day, which is why I always get a professional interpreter to make calls for me if possible.
  • Another issue is that the NRS frequently disconnects before the call is complete. When I have been on hold for a long time and been transferred through multiple departments and am finally making headway with an issue, for it to suddenly cut out and have to start again is devastating.
  • The biggest problem for me with using the NRS is the time lag between rounds of communication. I type what I need to say to a person, and then I have to wait for their reply and the relay officer to type it out. The wait can be quite lengthy. There are also significant waits if I am on hold. If I sit there and stare at the screen while waiting, I go insane with boredom. Therefore, I need to do something else while I wait. That means my eyes go elsewhere. Unfortunately, I can never remember that I am on the phone for an extended period of time while I engage in another activity. There is no auditory sound to remind me to check the NRS window for activity. When I was younger I could remember to check all the time, but now I am older my brain doesn’t work as well and I simply don’t remember. So, over and over again I start calls to organisations, get put on hold, forget I am on the phone, do something else for too long, then suddenly remember about the NRS call and realise it’s far too late, the person answered and then hung up because I didn’t respond! Hearing people don’t have this problem because they hear music while on hold and when the music stops it catches their attention. Or a person speaks and they hear it.

NDIA – lack of cultural appropriateness

I know a woman who was an Auslan interpreter with a deep knowledge of the Deaf community, who became an LAC for NDIA (the LAC is a case manager for clients who are Deaf or have a disablity). I was very excited, and told her how wonderful it would be if she worked with Deaf clients because she would automatically contact them in appropriate ways, would not ask stupid questions about Deafness, and would understand already the types of barriers we face in everyday life. She would also be able to sign directly with clients so that the appointments could be entirely in our own language rather than conducted via an interpreter.

But unfortunately she told me that NDIA will not allow her to work with Deaf clients because they will not have case managers who know the clients personally. As someone who had worked in the Deaf community for many years, the ex-interpreter knew them all. And this is the catch-22: if there is someone involved in NDIA who truly knows about Deafness and Deaf culture, chances are we know each other already. It is so wrong to prioritise anonymity over our cultural needs. In the Deaf community we do not have the luxury of anonymity, much as I and others might like it. It is vitally important that we work with people who actually understand us.

Dealing with the medical profession

Attitudes towards Deafness are a major problem for me. While they are systemic in every aspect of our society, examples from the medical profession are perhaps a good way to highlight them.

Recently I have had to see three different new doctors due to an anomality in my iron studies blood test. Every single doctor, instead of focusing on my iron issues, spent an inordinate amount of time discussing my Deafness. They wanted to know when I became Deaf, and why. They wanted to tell me how well I speak (even though I was not speaking during the appointments), and marvelled over the amazingness of Auslan, and asked questions such as why my interpreter had become an interpreter, and so on. I am accustomed to being told my time is up during medical appointments before I have finished with my questions to the doctor, and I really didn’t want to waste time on this. I felt that if I cut the doctor off and insisted we focus on the task at hand (my iron studies!) then I would come across as rude, which is not a good first impression to make when I am trying to establish a relationship with a new doctor. So I tried 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 as I spend so much of my life fielding questions about my Deafness, and now I feel aggravated and stressed if I am asked to see a new health professional. Eventually I found a way around this by connecting with an old friend (formerly an Auslan interpreter) who lived interstate, who had become qualified as a GP. We had appointments via Telehealth where we discussed my medical issues, not my Deafness. However, he then informed me that he had been notified that Telehealth is only a temporary measure during Covid-19 and that we will soon be required to have in-person appointments again. I can see this particular solution closing off to me in the near future. 

Before Covid-19 hit, I was seeing a psychologist. Due to the fact that I know all the interpreters in my area, and I wanted my sessions to be confidential, I decided to do the sessions directly and see if I could lipread and speak during the appointments. She had to repeat herself a lot but overall we managed to make communication work. Then with Covid-19 I was informed the appointments would now be via Telehealth. However, when the time came for the appointment, the clinic had not emailed me connection details. I was emailing them, and meanwhile my phone was ringing. As you know I don’t usually answer my phone when it rings, and I didn’t have anyone with me who I could have asked to answer it as I had planned to be alone for the appointment. 20 minutes into our session, the clinic finally emailed me details and I connected online. However, the time lag between video and sound and missed frames meant that lipreading was impossible. I had anticipated this and had an Auslan interpreter on stand by. However, the connection was poor and I could not understand the Auslan interpreter either due to freezing of images and other technical problems. About 40 minutes into the session we cancelled her involvement. For the remaining 20 minutes, the psychologist and I attempted to communicate, which was pretty futile, and made worse by the fact that she kept talking to herself, seemingly oblivious that trying to decipher every word was giving me a major headache, and making me unnecessarily work on words I didn’t need to decipher was a waste of my effort. I asked her if she could type what she was saying but I did not understand her response. No typing occurred. Somewhere in there she let me know that it was she who had been calling me on the phone, to have our appointment. I was astonished – had she not grasped at any of our previous appointments that I was Deaf? We only managed a few successful communication exchanges about emotional topics, and then she informed me it was time to end the session.

I contacted the clinic to ask about the access policy, and asking if I could have longer sessions to compensate. They cited Medicare as their reason for refusing this. I quoted from the disability discrimination act indicating that it was the responsibility of their organisation to take steps to give me the same level of access as a hearing person would have.

I also passed on resources I had found online published by Metro Health South in Queensland with specific guidelines for mental health practitioners working with Deaf clients – one of their suggestions was to allow for longer appointments. The clinic responded that they had sought the advice of NRS, and that they had excellent news: the NRS had advised them to conduct my psychology appointments through the NRS! If you have read my issues with the NRS above, you will know already that this is not a suitable platform for me to have psychology appointments! It would be against the law for a relay officer to do a psychology session as they would not have the appropriate qualification. The clinic ignored the resources I provided as to how to best provide access.

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, frustrated by the fact that my efforts at advocacy went unheard, and I experienced a significant mental health crash due to feeling like a nuisance and the disappointment of realising that it seemed my psychologist did not actually care about me. It would have been better for my mental health if I had never had any psychology appointments at all to begin with.

The challenge of taking classes

Only a week later, I ran into another problem with regards to the painting class I was enrolled in for professional development. While the teacher had already moved his classes online, he refused to have me in his online class, and the excuse he gave implied that it was because of my Deafness. He said he would have me in his class later when we were back to in-person classes.

I had also made the request that when he wants to demonstrate something, he talk and then demonstrate. This is because I would need to look at him to lipread or look at the interpreter to watch their signs, and thus would not be able to simultaneously watch him paint or point. So he would need to alternate between talking and painting. He told me that this would be far too time consuming and thus was impossible.

I ended up cancelling my enrolment in the class, and felt bitterly disappointed. Meanwhile a friend who was also enrolled was easily accepted into his online class, which rubbed the exclusion in my face as I watched her do the classes each week. Not only that, but I was particularly galled to note that during the term he did only a single demonstration of ten minutes! It was clear that the teacher did not want to have to think about inclusion and simply preferred to get rid of me.

I wish I could say this was a one off situation but I have encountered it repeatedly since leaving school. Sometimes I battle hard, advocating for myself and my rights and doing my best to sell myself to the teacher and convince them it is worthwhile teaching me. Usually it fails. Once it succeeded. Now I just feel so angry and exhausted that i would rather not even try. When I hear about classes these days I just think that I can’t face the likely upcoming battle.

Barriers to careers

When I was a young circus performer, I contemplated joining a professional circus company, but none were able to afford to provide the interpreting support I would need to be included. I tried to get work as a freelance performer by registering with agencies, but although my friends were successful, I was not. I think the agencies did not have confidence in me so didn’t put me forward for jobs. I had to spend my own savings to pay someone to call festivals for me (this was before email was widespread) and promote me. I got bookings this way, including repeat bookings, and slowly my career grew. I ended up running my own theatre company which toured nationally and internationally with a successful show of my own creation. It was no accident that I ended up working for myself. No-one else would have me. Most Deaf people I know do not have the right personality to run their own business – it takes a particular kind of courage, organisation, self-accountability and discipline that is not especially common. There are further barriers, such as not having the confidence to spend their own savings, or not having the required savings to begin with, nor a job with which to build those savings.

Licencing boards for many careers actively discrimminate against us. I have had Deaf friends knocked back from careers as a pharmacist, teacher and nurse. In all cases the licencing boards refused to give them a licence, despite their excellent skills and results when graduating from study. Some people have fought with the relevant boards and ended up settling rather than with a career. Others have fought hard and eventually succeeded, after long and exhausting battles. Assuming they can get a licence, the next hurdle is the attitude of people working in the relevant industry – who often don’t have confidence in the idea of a Deaf staff member. Most Deaf people I know end up either working for a Deaf organisation for low pay, or working in a menial job, also for low pay, where they are unable to climb to higher positions. To make this especially painful, it these barriers are not spoken of to young Deaf people. They certainly never were to me nor many of my friends. Hence, Deaf people waste valuable years of their lives studying for careers that they will never be able to have. Realistic pathways are not set out for us.

Watching movies

When I grew up, I did not watch TV, because there were no subtitles. My family used to go to movies, and there were no captions and I was bored, but I still wanted to go because I wanted to be a part of my family. When I was an adult and still with my ex-partner and son, the two of them would go and see new releases that I was excited to see too, but I didn’t go with them because I knew I would find it too frustrating to not understand what was going on. Later, when the movie came out on DVD, I would sit and watch it alone. Although the two of them had enjoyed discussing the movie after seeing it, by the time I saw it and was ready to discuss it with them, it had faded from their memories.

Eventually captiview was introduced, or ‘craptiview’, as we call it, in the Deaf community. This is supposed to tick access for us by providing a device that gives us closed captions, while other movie-goers are freed from the supposedly onerous task of having to watch a movie with open captions on the screen. I will point out here that when I was in Norway, almost all the movies came from other parts of Europe, and hence were shown at cinemas with Norwegian open captions. (Open captions means the captions are shown on the screen and everyone sees them. Closed captions mean that the captions are provided in a way that only Deaf people access them.) In Norway, movies were as popular as they are here, so I gathered that the public will accept open captions and still embrace movies, if they have to. I long for Australia to require open captions for movies – there could be special sessions without captions (perhaps on Tuesday mornings at 10am) for people who object to the captions.

I wrote a blog post in 2016 about access to open captioned movies, which you can read here to understand the issues involved with open captions and ‘craptiview’.

Watching TV

Since the advent of Covid-19, I have started to watch the ABC news, via Apple TV. Although the news has closed captions, which I have set to be switched on, there are numerous technology problems with this:

  • The live-stream news almost never has captions that work.
  • Therefore I need to wait until the segment has been loaded as an individual episode, in order to watch it, but the captions are never loaded immediately – for some reason they don’t become available until about an hour after the live news, so I have to watch quite late.
  • Sometimes the captions don’t work on the news segment I want to watch, so I have to compensate by watching news from another state instead. Sometimes I surf state after state before I find one that works!
  • The captions have an extreme lag time – so much so that I watch the action on the screen while reading the text belonging to the action a whole scene ago, and then I have to try and read this while simultaneously remembering the current picture so that I can mentally sync it with the text when the text finally appears. This is so exhausting that often I would rather not watch.
  • The captions have so many errors that in addition to the mental gymnastics I am already doing to cope with the lag, I have to do further mental gymnastics to try and work out what the ludicrous sentences say.
  • This is compounded when I do succeed in watching live-stream news, because behind the captions there is often rolling text with breaking news – the combination of text overlaid over text and the scrolling adds an immense strain to my brain to try and distinguish the two.
  • I would have thought that given the fact that I am watching the segment a whole hour after it was published, the captioners could have used that hour to sync up their captions and correct the errors. I understand the lag is necessary when something is genuinely live stream, but I almost never watch it live-stream due to the subtitles not working live!

I emailed ABC to raise these issues with them but they never got back to me.

Now on Sunday nights, if I watch the live-stream news at the right time, I can see an Auslan interpreter on the screen. I LOVE this – it has been so unbelievably good to see Auslan on the screen. The news is very fast though, and I watch the interpreters signing unnaturally fast to keep up. This is a bit hard for me to watch, especially if the topic is one I am not familiar with. At the end of the segment is 5 minutes of news for the Deaf community. It is presented by a Deaf person, in Auslan, at a natural speed, in a style that explains issues clearly and appropriately for Deaf people. This is a highlight of my week. I cannot even begin to express how thrilling it is to see my language on the screen, to be able to watch in a relaxed way as someone explains the news in a format that is clear and accessible to me – no brain gymnastics required. The analogies given to explain news concepts relate to the Deaf community, unlike analogies given at breakneck speed by the interpreter, which are much harder to figure out. Seeing actual mentions of my own community on the screen has brought me to tears. It is such a relief. It is confirmation that we exist, we matter, we are important enough to be considered on the news.

Despite this incredible highlight, it strikes me as extremely sad that I can only access 5 minutes of this per week. I would like to watch all the news, every night, presented by a Deaf person, in unhurried Auslan, with references to my own commmunity. Come to think of it, this is what hearing people get, not only with the news, but every time they turn on the TV. They get shows in their language, reflecting their community, their lifestyle, their people and customs and ways. We get… five minutes. And to add insult to this, for some reason I cannot figure out how to access it after the live-stream. It doesn’t seem to be published anywhere. How I would love to watch that five brief minutes twice, if only for reinforcement that we really exist.

I am so hungry for movies (and books!) that depict Deaf people and sign language, preferably Auslan. (Sign language is not universal – America has its own sign language which is very different to Auslan and I don’t understand more than a few words.) One night a Deaf friend and I searched Netflix for movies with sign language. We found MVP: Most Valuable Primate which features a little girl and chimp who sign to each other… using gibberish! Yes – made up sign language! Not even American sign language! We were soooooo disappointed. I have only once watched a movie in Auslan, and it was about ten minutes long, and I saw it about 15 years ago. How I long for movies in Auslan. When I was 19 I watched Children of a Lesser God (American sign language), and this was the first time I had ever seen sign language in a movie. The character was so strong and proud of her own Deafness, I was blown away. The movie was life-changing for me.

Imagine the effect on Deaf people if we could see movies and storied depicting our language, our culture, our lifestyle, and the barriers we face! How I long for this… with every part of my being.

As I am a writer, not a movie-maker, I decided to write the book I wanted to read. The book is coming out in October this year, published by Allen and Unwin – Future Girl, featuring a Deaf protagonist. If you want an insight into the barriers faced by Deaf people, and the incredible value of the Deaf community, read it. It will help with your inquiry. It demonstrates how the media can be used to put foward our stories in a valuable way that are both educational to hearing/able bodied people, and validate our own lives and experiences.

How can we change

Remember Deafness

This means when you make or update something, whether it is a service, a form, a website, a product, a building or a course, you ask the question:

HOW WILL DEAF PEOPLE ACCESS THIS?

This needs to become normalised. We need a huge campaign to get people to change their approach to start incorporating Deaf access. The more people who do it, the more forms there are that allow you to tick that you are Deaf, the Auslan interpreters and open captions there are, the more others will think to do the same. A campaign to kick start this, and having the government lead the way, would be excellent.

Eliminate the phone call

With the enormous amount of technology available to us today, it should never be essential for Deaf people to make phone calls. It needs to become normalised that phone calls are not expected of us. Organisations such as Centrelink, NDIA and ATO as well as telecommunications service providers, energy service providers, banks and so on all need to establish Deaf-friendly ways of communicating with clients via text-based means such as email, SMS and instant-messaging. This will be valuable not only to Deaf people but the numerous hearing people who hate making phone calls or don’t want to be put on hold for lengthy periods of time. To lead the way, rules need to be established with a date by which organisations need to make the change.

Create an advocacy service

Create an advocacy service with case managers. Then people like me who are exhausted from self-advocacy can contact them to ask for help in dealing with people who refuse to provide access. This advocacy service could provide you with valuable information about issues that arise, and thus provide ongoing advice about legislation changes and programmes that would be most helpful to mitigate the need for their service. This will need to be a LARGE service with a lot of case managers to begin with. But hopefully over time, if their advice is followed, they will eliminate the need for their own organisation.

Create a Deaf department within NDIS

Since it seems to be too difficult for NDIA to train all staff in Deaf appropriateness (which would be ideal), an alternative would be to create a Deaf department. We have different needs than other types of disabilities – different communication needs, different language needs, different cultural needs. So make a department especially for us. Employ a Deaf person as the head of the department and listen to them when they advise how to make your organisation Deaf-appropriate. Hire multiple staff from the Deaf community to work in this department. Any client who registers as ‘Deaf’ or ‘deaf’ should automatically be allocated to this department for any contact with the NDIA.

Instilling better attitudes in people

How can we help people like my psychologist and the teacher of the painting class I wished to join develop a more inclusive attitude? Having our rights legisltated doesn’t really make a difference in practice. I believe the following strategies would be effective to enact widespread change:

  • 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, documentries 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.

Legislation and funding guidelines can help achieve these items

  • Start with the school curriculum and make changes.
  • Require licencing boards to develop Deaf and disability-friendly policies.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Require cinemas to switch on Open Captions upon request.

One more thing you can do

Fix up the ABC in terms of access. Ensure that access is working properly on ALL platforms! Have the captioners stay behind and fix their errors and sync up the subtitles after the live-stream, for anything that will be published on TV.

Greetings

The signs in this video will help you learn to greet a deaf person.

This is the vocab I’ve shown you:

  • Hello
  • My
  • Name
  • How are you? (this is one sign)
  • Good
  • Bad
  • So’s so
  • Alright
  • Hot
  • Cold
  • Tired
  • Please/thank you (use this sign for both please and thank you)

You’ll notice my facial expression changes with each sign.  Facial expression is very important in Auslan – practise using appropriate expressions for your signs.

With a friend, practise greeting each other in Auslan.  Introduce yourself and fingerspell your name.  Through the next week, notice when you feel any of the above feelings, and do that sign to yourself.

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.