I Sign. I Wander.

The Year of Auslan

In the early weeks of 2015, we saw Drisana Levitzke-Gray being awarded Young Australian of the Year during the Australia Day ceremony in Canberra. This gave Auslan a new spotlight in the public.

This was the start.

Ever since then, there has been more awareness about Auslan in the public through media – interviews, news articles and whatnot.

Two more significant things happened:

Last week, NSW Labor made a mistake when they uploaded this particular campaign poster…

American Sign Language? It’s clear that their graphic designer used stock photography.

Whilst they meant well, no research was done and no consultation was made with the Deaf community in NSW. I think the poster is fantastic, but it would have been better if Auslan was used.

The poster was created as part of NSW Labor’s campaign for the upcoming NSW State Election to be held in late March. Deaf people do vote too. After all, they want an inclusive NSW!

Just tonight, there was a segment on Channel 7 News in Sydney about this issue. Alastair McEwin, President of Deaf Society of New South Wales was interviewed.

Colin Allen (WFD President) recorded the news segment and uploaded it to his Facebook for everyone to see – thank you!

23 February 2015 – UPDATE: Deaf Society of New South Wales has recorded and uploaded the interview with Channel 7 News:

I was disappointed. It didn’t give Auslan a positive portrayal.
Even the news anchor had the audacity to say “deaf people cannot speak”, in which made me feel appalled. She also mentioned that we couldn’t understand the sign language used. We could understand it alright – in fact, we recognised it as American Sign Language. We wanted to see the correct sign language being used – that is, Auslan (Australian Sign Language).

It focused too much on the “voice” part, and not much about Auslan. Alastair only appeared twice for a short time. There was only 5 second flashes of Auslan interpreters at various events.
The truth is that we weren’t offended about the use of “voice” in the said poster. We were actually expressing our concerns about the use of ASL rather than Auslan, and we were commenting on their Facebook page. Unfortunately, they took it offline.

Essentially, it was a terrible and poorly researched piece of journalism. They did not get the point. They did not focus on the criticism on the stuff up of ASL and Auslan by NSW Labor. Instead, it was a bashing of the said political party. Not good, especially with the upcoming state election in NSW.

My friend, Rachael created this fantastic response to NSW Labor’s mistake:

To date, they still haven’t made a public apology to the NSW Deaf community and come up with a revised version of the poster. We’re still waiting, NSW Labor.

Now, onto the next newsworthy piece…

You’re all aware that Queensland is currently being battered by the lovely Tropical Cyclone Marcia.

Marcia, Marcia, Marcia.

Sorry. I couldn’t help but make a Brady Bunch reference ;)

Anyways, since the 2010/2011 Queensland floods, Auslan interpreters have been interpreting alongside with the Premiers (Anna Bligh, Campbell Newman and now Annastacia Palaszczuk) during their emergency media briefings. People have been alerted to the importance of the use of Auslan interpreters to convey messages to the Deaf community during emergencies. All other states in Australia have followed suit, which is fantastic! Other countries have also followed suit – for example; Christchurch earthquakes in New Zealand and Hurricane Sandy in New York, USA.

#SignGuy is currently trending on Twitter.

Who is #SignGuy?
Mark Cave, one of staff interpreters for Deaf Services Queensland, has been interpreting all emergency media briefings since yesterday. People have been saying that they’ve been mesmerised by his signing, hence the hashtag #signguy. News articles have been popping up all over the Internet about him.

There has been a lot of positive comments about the use of an Auslan interpreter – a lot better than what it would have been 5 years ago! So glad to see the public becoming more aware nowadays.

There has been a few negative and uneducated comments in regards to the importance of Auslan, and the use of facial expressions. Some of us (Deaf people and Auslan interpreters) took upon ourselves to educate those people about how it is important for facial expressions whilst using Auslan. And we’ve had positive responses from those people thus far.

Education is important.

I said this on Facebook today:

In the light of raising awareness of Auslan and sign language interpreting, it’s completely on us as the Deaf community to share information and teach the public about our beautiful language, and the importance of Auslan interpreting. There has been a few negative comments floating around on social media, but this is our opportunity to educate others and most importantly, to raise awareness. Let’s all work together by responding to comments made by the public and educating them!

We need to remind ourselves that we should keep a sense of humour whilst educating the public about Auslan and the importance of sign language interpreters. Publicity is good for Auslan and the Deaf community, be it negative or positive because at the end of the day, it’s all about educating the public.

On a final note, I want to say that Auslan interpreters are a crucial part of the Deaf community. They are the bridges between Deaf community and the public.

Buzzfeed nailed this:

Cave. The name’s Mark Cave.

However, I want to say that ALL sign language interpreters are the James Bonds of the Deaf community. Rain, hail, earthquakes, floods, cyclones or whatever Australia can throw at us, they will be there!

If you’re a sign language interpreter reading this post, I would like to say a big THANK YOU for all you have done for the Deaf community. You’re our James Bond.

Let’s work together to educate the public about our beautiful language and the importance of sign language interpreters!

S x

Born too late: Missing out on the experience of Deaf clubs.

In all nearly 30 years of my life, I’ve never been to a Deaf club.

I’m talking about Deaf clubs like Stanmore (Sydney) and Jolimont (Melbourne).

Those Deaf clubs were vibrant and so rich of community spirit. Deaf people of all ages got together in one place to catch up and make new friends. Young Deaf people listened eagerly to stories told by older Deaf people.

That, I have never experienced.

I haven’t had many encounters and opportunities to sit down with an older Deaf person (the age of my grandparents) to learn about the past of the Deaf community, be it from the 1920s, 1930s and so on.

I remember briefly meeting Alan Fairweather when I was 15, and I relished the 10 minutes I had with him. He told me a fascinating story – for the life of me, I cannot remember it but I do remember being fascinated especially with the way he signed. I really wished I had more opportunities to sit down with him and ask him about his life.

I’ve been lucky to have a few encounters with Nola Colefax. Nola is a phenomenal woman, and a true legacy of the Deaf community in Sydney. The last time I saw her was when we were both invited to participate in a panel at the Renwick College. We both learnt we were heading towards Parramatta afterwards, so we sat together on the bus from North Rocks and talked. I listened and she talked about her life, and her work with the Australian Theatre of the Deaf. I taught her how to text Transport NSW to find out when the next bus would turn up. She was amazed at the technology, and she thanked me profusely for showing her. She’s still very much alive, and very active in the Deaf community. Amazing.

Some years ago, I was staying at a close friend’s place in Brisbane during the National Deaf Netball Club Championships. Percy Bates was staying there as well, and it was a rare opportunity for me to learn about his life, and what the Deaf community was like 60 years ago. Percy is yet another phenomenal Deaf legend, and he is still soldiering on at the age of 96 (I think?)!

I’ve heard so many stories about Deaf clubs like Stanmore and Jolimont, yet I never had the chance to experience the vibrancy of the Deaf community like a lot of older Deaf people did some 40 years ago.

The Deaf Society of NSW did a history project as a part of the Centenary celebrations, where information was collected about the history of the NSW Deaf Community. As a part of the project, a documentary was created about Stanmore Deaf Centre.

Link to report on Stanmore to Parramatta oral history project.

Fascinating. I would have really loved to be a part of the Stanmore era.

Unfortunately, Deaf clubs like Stanmore and Jolimont have been sold. The Deaf community in Adelaide are still grieving over the sale of 262 – their Deaf club. 262 was sold by Deaf:Can Do, and the said organisation gave the Deaf community in Adelaide a new venue to establish a Deaf club. People have said it doesn’t feel the same anymore, which is saddening.

Vicdeaf have recently joined forces with Deaf Children Australia to establish a research team to search for a new venue that can become the Deaf community hub for Deaf people in Victoria.

Two Deaf bloggers have written about their experiences in regards to Deaf clubs:

The Rebuttal (Gary Kerridge) – Deaf Clubs and All That

Life and Deaf (Karen Lloyd) – Deaf clubs – Part 1: A vibrant community of old & Deaf clubs – Part 2: A fragmented community today

Their recounts about their experience at Deaf clubs are a lot different to my experience.

The only Deaf social gatherings I’ve experienced are usually held at pubs and RSL clubs organised by Deaf organisations. It’s been pretty much a touch of luck with those social gatherings – it may be well attended one month, and the next month, it would be lucky to get as much as 10 attendees. I’ve also been to the Australian Deaf Games, which are held every 4 years and provides a great opportunity for Deaf and HoH people from all over Australia to get together.

I had the opportunity to attend Deaf Social Night, organised by Deaf Australia (NSW) the other week when I was in Sydney. It was very well attended, and it was great seeing heaps people I haven’t seen in ages. But…the need for a Deaf community hub is obvious. A bar run by Deaf people who are trained bartenders. A bistro run by Deaf chefs/cooks. Pool tables. Table tennis competitions. Darts. Lawn bowls. Theatre performances. The hustle of the community in ONE place. That is what I would have liked to experience.

I know I was born approximately 5-10 years too late, but I am grateful for opportunities to learn about what the Deaf community was like 35+ years ago from my older Deaf friends and acquaintances.

S xo

Harry Potter, muggles…and deafness

“The wizards represent all that the true ‘muggle’ most fears: They are plainly outcasts and comfortable with being so. Nothing is more unnerving to the truly conventional than the unashamed misfit!”

– JK Rowling.

I was introduced to the wonderful world of Harry Potter at the age of 15 by the school librarian. I initially thought it was a kids book. Alas, I was proven wrong…in so many ways.

Throughout the book series, I met Harry, Ron Weasley, Hermione Granger, Professor Dumbledore, Snape, Draco Malfoy and many others. They resonated with me, but I connected with Hermione on a deeper level.

Why?

You see, Hermione is a Muggle born.

I did not know why I was able to connect with her…until a friend sent me this amazing academic article – Understanding Harry Potter: Parallels to the Deaf World, written by Todd Czubek and Janey Greenwald.

It blew me away. At last, I was able to explain why Hermione and I were similar.

I was born to hearing parents – just like Hermione was born to Muggle parents. 90% of Deaf children are born to hearing parents who have had no or little exposure to Deaf people and/or the Deaf community. Just like the majority of wizard children being born to Muggle parents.

Deaf children who are born into Deaf families could be considered Purebloods – a full wizarding family.

Deaf children who are born to one hearing parent and one deaf parent respectively could be considered Half-bloods, in which are born to one Muggle parent and one Wizard parent respectively.

Hermione’s parents actively encouraged her to embrace her magical abilities by sending her off to Hogwarts. My mother actively encouraged me to embrace my deafness by teaching me sign language and getting involved in the Deaf community.

However, I was not sent to a Deaf school so I cannot say I have had a similar schooling experience as Hermione. Instead, I was mainstreamed and sometimes put into a Deaf unit connected with the main school.

As I was mainstreamed, I liked to be on par with my hearing classmates by reading ahead and researching about the world around us, especially having the access to the same classroom curriculum. A Deaf school may not offer the same curriculum as hearing schools – I’ve seen cases of this.

Hermione was similar – she read ahead on magical textbooks on all subjects she did at Hogwarts and she also made sure she was well informed about the wizarding community. Hogwarts may not have the same curriculum as a Muggle school, however it offered Muggle studies…just like a hearing school would offer Deaf studies where available.

The wizarding community is a minority…just like the Deaf community.

This is why Deaf people should read the Harry Potter series – especially if they haven’t already! I have become a Potterhead ever since then, and I actively encourage Deaf people to read the series, especially if they want to take up reading to improve their English – and Harry Potter is a great place to start.

“Whether you come back by page or by the big screen, Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home.”

~ J.K. Rowling

Yours in magic,

S xo

Lights, action…and Auslan!

In early 2010, I had the opportunity to see Wicked in Sydney. It was the first time in my entire life I had attended a theatre show with Auslan interpreters, and it was beyond incredible!

I loved EVERYTHING about the musical, and I found myself wishing there were more opportunities to go to theatre shows & musicals with Auslan interpreters. It was like a new world had opened up to me, as the possibilities of theatre shows being interpreted were sacre back then.

Then…BOOM!

Auslan Stage Left was born in 2012! Susan Emerson and Medina Sumovic are the geniuses behind the not for profit community organisation. It is entirely run by volunteers consisting of Susan, Media, a part-time intern and a large team of Auslan interpreters and Deaf consultants across Australia. It organises Auslan interpreting for theatre shows around the country.

Source: Dots Mise Studios

Since the formation of Auslan Stage Left, Deaf patrons have been able to attend productions of The Lion King, Wicked, Grease, Les Miserables, Strictly Ballroom, The Wiggles and many more – big or small for all ages. Theatre shows are now accessible – even more than it was 20 years ago when it was rare as hens teeth to attend an Auslan interpreted theatre show.

Deaf people are now able to appreciate the art of theatre. There are interpreted theatre shows in the UK and the US. There has been a couple of ASL interpreted Broadway shows in NYC! Imagine that! Australia is finally catching up, so this is fantastic!

Unfortunately, there are a couple of theatre companies who are reluctant to use Auslan interpreters to provide access to Deaf patrons. One in particular, Gordon Frost Productions has confirmed that they will be providing captioning for most of their shows around Australia, but not Auslan interpreters. What is this…?!

Captioning access at theatre shows are great, but not for Deaf people whose first language is Auslan. Deaf people are very visual, and we understand concepts, stories and whatnot better when conveyed in Auslan.

Last October, Les Miserables was in Melbourne and it was very well attended by Deaf patrons. From what I’ve been told, they thoroughly enjoyed it, and they loved having Auslan interpreters there. Les Miserables is a complicated story, and would have been better understood in Auslan rather than relying on captions. Deaf people who had previously read the book or seen the movie have said that they understood the story better through Auslan at the recent theatre show.

With captioning, you cannot pick up on the vibes, emotions and the whole story from a theatre show. You would not know if a character was being sarcastic. You would not know if they were upset. All emotions, vibes, meanings, concepts, etc are better conveyed in Auslan so Deaf patrons can better understand what is going on.

I missed out on the opportunity to see Les Miserables last year in Melbourne, so if an Auslan interpreted performance is provided in Sydney, then I would be willing to fly up for it (that depends if I can afford it!). Les Miserables is currently in Perth, and an Auslan interpreted performance is scheduled for Sunday 15th February 2015. Approximately 30 Deaf people are attending – which is a fantastic number for Perth! Melbourne had approximately 80 Deaf attendees. I predict Sydney would get a large number of Deaf people to see Les Miserables if there is an Auslan interpreted performance.

It is not looking possible for Gordon Frost Productions to agree to an Auslan interpreted performance for Sydney, so if you are definitely interested in seeing Les Miserables with Auslan interpreters, you should post on their Facebook page and tell them that you would LOVE to go when it comes to Sydney.

Use the power of social media to make the need for an Auslan interpreted performance in Sydney heard!

YAY for attending more Auslan interpreted theatre performances! ;)

S x

DISCLAIMER: This post was written in support of Auslan Stage Left and the future of Auslan interpreted theatre performances.

The importance of language.

Language is a crucial part of my life, like everyone else especially those who are Deaf and hard of hearing.

I’m bilingual. I am fluent in both Auslan and written English.

Auslan and English are two COMPLETELY different languages. They have their own set of rules, grammar and syntax.

Auslan is short for Australian Sign Language, and is the language of the Deaf community in Australia. It’s a part of the BANZSL (British, Australian and New Zealand Sign Language) family, and was born out of British Sign Language. However, there is some influence from Irish Sign Language which was used in Catholic schools for Deaf children waaaaay back in the 19th and 20th century. There’s some signs borrowed from American Sign Language (ASL).

However, being a ’85 baby, I started out by using Signed English. It’s not a sign language per se, but was created in the late 1970s so teachers could teach English to deaf students. Signed English is an artificial sign system, where manual signs are created for each word in English, so in this case, it follows simultaneously with spoken & written English. Signed English has been largely rejected by the Deaf community.

The difference between Signed English and Auslan is as follows:

Signed English: I AM GO-I-N-G TO THE SHOPS.

Auslan: I GO SHOP. 

In Auslan, ‘ing’, plurals, suffixes, etc are not generally used but it is possible if you use Auslan in an English structure. It’s essentially all about the content and context in the message you are conveying whilst using Auslan.

I might have had some exposure to Auslan as a baby/toddler, but I have no memory of it. Although, I do remember meeting Deaf adults who used Auslan throughout my childhood, and I was able to understand them. Growing up, I thought Signed English was great…until I started high school and realised the impact it had on my ability to learn and to express myself freely with confidence.

During my first two years of high school, I refused to present in front of my class for English assessments. I was not confident, and I had to persuade my English teacher to allow me to present during lunch break in front of her and a trusted classmate/friend, with a teacher aide/interpreter speaking for me. I hated it with a passion. I felt like I was a robot, and it would take too long for me to convey my message – having to sign word for word.

That said, I wasn’t an active participant in most of my classes. The teacher aides/interpreters allocated to all of my classes often said that I was too fast for them to be able to interpret properly, and that often frustrated me. I was grateful I was able to get all information, but I still wasn’t satisfied.

It also had an impact on my ability to understand mathematics concepts. I’m still terrible at maths!

My family uprooted and made the big and life-changing move to Sydney halfway through my second year of high school. Upon enrolling at a new high school, I was exposed to Auslan, and I found myself becoming more confident. I found myself being able to express my thoughts more freely. I found the confidence to stand up in front of the class for oral presentations for English and other subjects. I found I could actually understand mathematics better than before.

Being exposed to Auslan has had a huge yet positive impact on my academic results. As mentioned earlier, I may have been exposed to Auslan as a kid, but I did not actually start using it myself until I was 14.

Signed English was great for me during my childhood, but it certainly had its limits. I don’t remember being imaginative before I started using Auslan. Although, I loved writing (and still do…obviously!), so that was pretty much my only imaginative & creative outlet, apart from art and craft. I was a creative child, though! I think. I’m pretty sure my mother and teachers could vouch for that ;) Creative fiction still isn’t my forte – I sucked at that, and I loved (and still do) non-fiction writing.

A couple of years ago I met with some Deaf children who were still using Signed English, and I was astounded to find that it took me a while to fully understand them! I was also asking them to clarify themselves, as I had forgotten most of Signed English.

However, I am incredibly grateful for my mother who worked hard to make sure I had access to language, be it both signed and written. She wanted to make sure I was able to strive and succeed, especially as an independent person I am today. It’s incredible for her to achieve this because she has grown up bilingual with English as her second language, and most importantly, becoming a single mother at the age of 22 and raising 4 kids on her own. I don’t resent her for starting me with Signed English, and because of her, I have been able to communicate with others whilst growing up.

Mum said this to me a while ago:

Communication is about all our senses and everything around us..and i just wanted you to use what YOU were meant to utilize, whether it be signing or banging two sticks..it didnt matter..it has always been about me guiding you to your destiny. I’m so so proud of you, cuz you took the possibilities/daydreams in my mind when i was a young mum..and made it into realities..<3

She has always taught me why it’s important to have language in order to be able to communicate, whether it be signed, spoken or written.

I strongly believe that Deaf and HoH children should have the opportunity to become bilingual because it will allow them to flourish through their lives and to learn more about the world around them. It doesn’t matter if they’re fitted with hearing aids or cochlear implants; they should be given an opportunity access to BOTH sign language and English because language is the crucial stage of a child’s development and will allow them to succeed.

I’ll be posting two videos below so you can see why it’s essential for your deaf child to have access to both sign language and English, and to grow up bilingual.

This video is about early intervention for deaf children. It’s in ASL, but has English captions. Worth watching.

This video delivers a profound message.

ASL Rose: Two Deaf Babies from ASL Rose on Vimeo.

I would like to let parents know that their deaf child should have access to ALL options available, and that it is highly encouraged by academic professionals within the field of Deaf education to ensure the deaf child is given the opportunity to become bilingual in sign language and English (spoken and/or written).

If you have any questions about this post, feel free to comment or contact me via email

Yours in language,

S xo

Are we being HEARD?

It’s important having your own voice, especially in today’s society.

Over the last 10+ years, I have learnt to be assertive and to stand up for my beliefs and rights. I have also learnt that it is important to be recognised as an equal citizen.

Just right before Christmas, the Australian Government announced that 13 peak disability organisations would not be refunded for 2015-2016. Hearts across the disability sector in Australia were broken. Only 6 groups will be funded. They are population groups – women, children, CALD (culturally and linguistically diverse) and indigenous, which means ALL disabilities will be represented across those groups. Say, an organisation representing women with disabilities will be funded.

Colin Allen, President of World Federation of the Deaf, and past President of Deaf Australia explains it all clearly in a joint press statement with Ms Maryanne Diamond AO:

(Transcript available on YouTube)

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Closed captioning in Australia

At the age of 5, my mother bought a tiny Panasonic TV (it was TINY – about 31cm, if I remember) for our caravan. We all loved it. I loved it because everything was so animated. I could already read, but I didn’t know it was possible to watch TV with captions.

Fast forward to 2 years later.

I was 7 when I first came across closed captioning. School was about to finish up for the year, and my teacher had put Home Alone in the VHS player. There was an odd device sitting on top of the VHS player. My teacher fiddled with it then pressed play.

BEHOLD!

There was CAPTIONS!

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To Melbourne, with love.

I’m writing here at one of the huts on Brighton Beach. It’s absolutely gorgeous. Today has been the epitome of a beautiful spring day. Sunshine, no clouds, blue skies and temperatures in mid twenties.

It’s been 3 months since I moved here. Time has flown by so fast, and I feel like I have been here only 4 weeks.

Before moving here, I never thought it was possible to fall completely in love with a city.

Melbourne proved me wrong.

I am SO in love with this city.

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