Category Archives: Learn Auslan Online

If you define me

I’m Deaf. But being Deaf is not the most remarkable thing about me. People who know me will tell you that far more interesting is my creative drive, the fact that for holiday reading I’ll read a business text book and write my own precis, or that I built my own house when I was 22 and it has a huge food garden, including animals that I raise and kill myself for meat. In fact, there are lots of things more interesting about me than my Deafness.

But it can be really hard for people who meet me to get a handle on this. The Deaf thing leaps out at them. I’ve been knocked back from courses, where I would probably be the hardest working and  most devoted student, because the idea of catering for a Deaf student is just too overwhelming for the teacher, and all they can see is my Deafness (along with, I suspect, a bit of the old assumption that to be Deaf is to be stupid, and therefore it’s probably not even worth teaching me anyway).

My friend Anna recently studied her grad dip to become a teacher, and while all the other students in her course were granted their teaching licenses, she was required to present herself to the board. “Since you’re Deaf,” they said, “We think we should give you a restricted licence – so that you can only teach in schools with Deaf students.”

Knowing Anna as I do, this OUTRAGED me. To think that she was seen as only having value to Deaf students, but not to hearing students. Aside from being a terrific model for diversity, Anna is funny, smart, compassionate and highly entertaining. If I was a hearing student, I would learn bucketloads from having her for a teacher. And one of the main things I’d learn is that Anna’s Deafness is not her main talent. No – it’s her incredible wit and ability to hit the nail on the head, which would make learning fun and easy. But I’d also learn that Deaf people can be more than their label.

So, I’m asking you, next time you meet a person who is Deaf, or a person who uses a wheelchair, or has some other physical condition that seems remarkable, remind yourself that it’s probably not the most remarkable thing about them. And you won’t even know what IS remarkable, until you get to know them.

Please feel free to share this post or hang a print of this painting on your wall to raise awareness about this tricky issue. Giclee prints of this artwork are available in my shop.

Prints and artworks about Deafness

If you’d like some artwork on the wall that is for Deaf people, by a Deaf artist, and reflects Deaf values, you might like one of my prints. I have heaps of different images available and they include Deaf activism, Deaf experience and Deaf pride.

These prints are great for the lounge room wall, and would also suit spaces where services are offered to Deaf people – think Deaf units in schools, Deaf clubs/societies, audiology clinics, interpreting agencies and more.

If you want something striking, or a splash of colour, along with a great message, check out my prints here.

It is not my goal to be normal


When I was a child, my parents watched them patronise me, talking over-loudly with me, they noticed that if they told people I was deaf, they’d have to deal with their heartbreak and sorrow on my behalf. They’d watch them patronise me, talking over-loudly with simplistic language appropriate for a much younger child.

Eventually, they figured out it was better to zip their mouths about my deafness, and let them see, through interacting with me, that I was just like any other child – racing around the house with my siblings, spilling apple juice and playing hospital games with toilet paper for bandages. Later, they’d say, quietly like it was no big deal, “Oh, by the way, she’s a little bit deaf.”

They chose not to use sign language with me, figuring that the more ‘normal’ I seemed, the better I’d fit into the world and the more appropriately people would treat me.

I get why my parents made these choices for me. They did the best they could.

But there’s a flip side. I grew up thinking I was only a ‘little bit deaf’ and that it was my own fault that I didn’t concentrate hard enough to understand people. The entire burden of communication rested on my shoulders, as I struggled to make sense of the world through lipreading, with no accommodation by others. There was a subtle but definite pressure to be as ’normal’ as possible, and not to make waves or ask for help because of my deafness.

As an adult, I’ve discovered that by letting the world see I’m deaf, I can share the burden of communication with others, and I can relax more, instead of always being alert to the possibility of people speaking to me. Using sign language, I can chat in a group and it’s enjoyable and relaxing, unlike trying to lipread, which is basically impossible in a group setting.

Instead of straining to be something I’m not, by ‘passing’ as hearing, I choose to be me as I am – Deaf – and to set up my life to be as Deaf-friendly as possible. That makes my world smaller, more limited, but it also makes it more relaxing and enjoyable, and on the balance, that’s what I prefer and choose.

This piece has been sold.

Learn Auslan – Level 1 – 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.

Deaf dilemma – to laugh or not?

Deaf dilemma



When I was a kid, I always laughed along. I didn’t even know I did it. I survived by copying faces. Someone was upset, I’d make sympathetic faces while they spoke to me. Someone was excited, I’d let out a little excited yelp too.

I didn’t even realise I did this until I was in my late teens. And when I did, it occurred to myself that I was doing myself a disservice. By copying faces, it gave people the impression that I understood what was being said. If instead, I gave them a quizzical expression, I’d be more likely to get an actual explanation.

I set about trying to break my habit. It’s deeply ingrained. I still do it sometimes, but mostly I try to be more honest about when I have and haven’t understood.

But it’s really difficult when I’m standing in a group, say, of people I don’t know that well, but whom I hope to get to know and want to make a good impression on. They’re all laughing. If I stand there, blank-faced, it feels incredibly rude. But it’s also often not right to interrupt them and demand that they explain, especially if we’ve only just met. And yet, if I laugh along, that gives them the impression I understand, and it doesn’t let them know that if this relationship is going to work, I’m going to need a bit more information.

It’s tricky. I don’t have an answer for how us Deaf people should handle this situation. I just wanted to raise some awareness about it.

But, if you’re with a Deaf person and the group starts laughing, maybe you’ll consider leaning over to explain.

If you’d like to do your bit to help raise awareness, feel free to share this post. Thanks!

Learn Auslan – Level 1 – 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)