Deaf people and the community.

In the early 1990s, my family settled in a small town in Central Queensland, called Springsure. It had a population of approximately 900 people. Springsure was chosen as a place to settle after 2-3 years of travelling throughout the Outback because I was due to start school.

We got into Springsure in late 1989, and I was enrolled at Springsure State School to start preschool in the new year. Being 4 years old, I had no idea what was going on. All I knew that I would be starting school and I would be making new friends. I do remember being excited about it.

By some magic, my teachers could sign. The kids in my class were taught to sign. All posters – alphabet, numbers, nursery rhymes, etc – had both written English and Signed English printed. I loved preschool.

1991 rolled around, and I was eager to start Grade 1. Again, my classroom was accessible. My teacher could sign. I had a teacher aide who “interpreted” for me. All of my classmates could sign. This was the same in Grade 2.

I had no idea about what happened behind the doors to make the school inclusive. Absolutely NO idea at all.

One day, I decided to ask Mum how it happened. What she told me completely blew my mind.

As soon as I was enrolled to start school, Mum took it upon herself to ask the Queensland Department of Education to provide me with a teacher aide who would be able to interpret and to provide resources so I would be on par with my peers.

The Department of Education said they could only provide 4 HOURS of assistance/interpreting PER WEEK.

4 HOURS?!?!

I would be going to school from 9am to 3pm, 5 days a week. 4 hours of assistance was simply not enough.

Mum was outraged, and so was the school.

They found it difficult to navigate through the red tapes and bureaucracies of the Department. Mum said it was a long and tiring fight for my access and inclusion.

The community of Springsure decided to rally together and raise funds to cover the costs of a teacher aide full time and used the remaining money to purchase resources for me. Resources such as storybooks in English and Signed English, videos of popular children’s stories being signed in Auslan (remember those big ass coloured folders the videos came in? Anyone?), copies of Signed English dictionaries and so much more. I’m quite sure Springsure State School still has those.

A teacher aide was employed. Teachers gave up their holidays and weekends to go up to Rockhampton (the nearest big city) to learn sign so they could communicate with me.

I remember Mum selling those signed alphabet tea towels made by the Queensland Deaf Society (now known as Deaf Services Queensland), and Signed English dictionaries. I also remember everyone in the town buying those. I remember Sarah coming up to me and signing “My mum bought the signing dictionary!!!!” and she was so excited about it. I remember everyone in my family buying those as well.

Mum told me last night about how the Springsure community got together to put up posters with signs relevant to their businesses – the local newsagent, video store, bank, etc and learnt basic signs in the lead up to Deafness Awareness Week.

Wow. I had NO idea. I just thought how cool it was at the time that everyone could communicate with me. This blew my mind.

Nowadays, it’s rare as hens teeth to find a community like Springsure willing to make sure everyone feels included.

You may have seen the advertisement made by Samsung Turkey that’s currently going viral on the Internet. It’s incredibly heartwarming, and it definitely reminds you there’s still faith in humanity.

Samsung Turkey created this advertisement for their new video calling centre for deaf people.

I was mainly concerned with their use of “hearing impairment” rather than “deaf”, but then again, this is Turkey we’re talking about. There’s still work to be done in regards to teaching media, companies and the wider community with using the correct terminology when Deaf people are involved.

Still, it was very touching, especially where everyone was taught basic sign language. It did make me tear up a little 🙂

Just one day where a Deaf person feels included in their hometown. It mattered so much to the Deaf man in the advertisement, but I wonder how he felt every day afterwards? Did people involved stop signing? Did they keep it up?

Jesse, a Deaf guy from USA, created a vlog in response to the said advertisement.

He does have valid points.

However, Samsung Turkey meant well. Mum reckons it’s possible they’re preparing the Turkish community in the lead up to the XVII World Congress of the World Federation of the Deaf to be held in July 2015. Digital Synopsis, Buzzfeed and other mainstream media picked up on it and there have been positive responses from people all over the world.

You know, in the last 48 months, there has been a truckload of videos, advertisements, articles and whatnot consisting of sign language, deaf people and the Deaf community being shared on all social media platforms.

Remember the #fakeinterpreter debacle? As a result of that, people have become a lot more aware of the importance of accredited and qualified sign language interpreters. The #signguy craze also has had a positive impact.

Social media is amazing. What’s more amazing is that the wider community becomes a lot more visible on social media, thus we’re exposed to a lot more other communities online hence more awareness and whatnot!

I’m pretty sure there has been an increase in enrolments for sign language classes all over the world. More and more people are now becoming more aware of the Deaf community and sign language. It’s just incredible. None of this would have happened 10 years ago.

It’s amazing when the community gets together and includes deaf people by doing something small yet meaningful, such as learning sign language, participating in the National Week of Deaf People and/or International Day of Deaf People, and so much more.

If communities took a page out of Springsure’s book, then the world would be a better place for not only Deaf & hard of hearing people, but everyone else. It benefits everyone. No one is left out. Like Jesse said, barriers would be taken down if the wider community got together to make deaf people feel included, no matter where we are in the world.

Yours in community spirit.

S x

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