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


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