Sunday, 31 July 2022

Auslan interpreters

are far less common in this country than they should be. Even when they should be available there are problems with using them.

Auslan is the language of many deaf people. It is a language in its own right. It is not "just English using your hands" as someone put it to me yesterday. I know. I can use a tiny amount of Auslan...and I mean a tiny amount.

I am not good at it. I usually resort to finger spelling with the occasional sign thrown in. People I know in the deaf community are remarkably patient with me.  They have given me my own "name sign" (naturally it includes "cat") and they shake their heads over my inability to express myself in signs. On the whole we get along just fine.

Yesterday I was stopped by a couple I don't know at all. They had seen me signing to someone in the supermarket - just responding to a where to find something. They wanted to know whether it was "just English using your hands".  I had to explain that the grammar, particularly the syntax, is different.

It was then that they asked me about the request by one of the new Senators to have his maiden speech in parliament translated into Auslan. The request was denied - on the grounds that a "stranger" was not allowed on the floor of the house. (There didn't seem to be the same difficulty with another Senate member feeding her baby in  the same place although the baby was also a "stranger" for that purpose.)

It would also have been expensive - interpreting does not come cheaply. It is a very skilled business - even more so than interpreting from one spoken language to another.  I have always suspected that one of the reasons for demanding that deaf children learn to lip read and use English - however badly - is because of the difficulty and expense of providing interpreters.  

The best interpreters I know are those who have grown up bilingual - in an Auslan/English world. I am also of the personal belief that Auslan should be far more widely used and far more available. All too often we see signing taking place in other countries when it is not available here. There was some done during the first phases of the Covid pandemic but it seems to have ceased. Occasionally it is done for other emergencies. Apart from that the deaf are expected to rely on English subtitles on television - subtitles which often go far too rapidly for them to read.

A profoundly deaf Canadian friend is bewildered by the lack of services here. While she needs to rely on her husband here because of the differences she says she has far more resources in Canada...and even there those are not enough. Here it seems we have not even reached the basic right of knowing what our representatives in Parliament have to say on our behalf.

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