The Rebuttal Goes Auslan – But What of the Hearing Impaired?

“Excellent work as usual. I think there was some mention some time ago about providing this forum in Auslan for those who struggle with English as their second language. My understanding is that there are still a large proportion of the Deaf Community who are finding the articles too “English” to follow. At this stage do you have a timeline for when the Auslan version of the Rebuttal will become available?” Mark Quinn
A simple email such as this was the catalyst to finally get The Rebuttal translated into Auslan. We replied to Mark that we were all volunteers and asked if he would assist us. He, of course, was only too willing. Not only that, he asked Vicdeaf if they would be willing to help with the translations of The Rebuttal. Vicdeaf kindly agreed and to top this, they even made their studio available to produce the video. We at The Rebuttal can not thank Mark and Vicdeaf enough. We also need to thank James Blyth and Cheryl Sandilands, interpreting staff of Vicdeaf, who provided their skills for the videos.
The Rebuttal team had been aware for sometime that the E-zine was not accessible to many of its readers. A fair proportion of people on our mailing list have some difficulty with reading English. The reasons are many but it is a fact of life that many Deaf people leave school with below average literacy. Many have good literacy but not quite the extensive vocabulary of their hearing peers.
This happens because people who have a hearing loss (Deaf and hearing impaired) do not have the same ability to “overhear” as their hearing peers. Overhearing the conversations of our peers, listening to talk back on radio, watching media on TV /Internet or simply listening to chatter on the bus all contribute to expanding a person’s vocabulary and social awareness. People with a hearing loss, for obvious reasons, miss out on this. Couple this with a lousy education system for the deaf and you have a recipe for low literacy.

A simple email such as this was the catalyst to finally get The Rebuttal translated into Auslan.

Of course literacy levels vary. Some Deaf people have excellent literacy and some do not. One can never assume. It is therefore vital that when we produce media such as The Rebuttal, we think of ways to make it accessible to as many people as possible.
It is a challenge that is not easily met. Money, time and lack of knowledge of the technology that enables access are all reasons why it is difficult. But it’s not impossible! If a free and voluntary publication like The Rebuttal can provide it, in partnership with a willing organisation such as Vicdeaf, then our richer multi-million dollar friends certainly can. Perhaps resources need to be channelled into more important priorities??
But how far do we go? It is naive to believe that providing access to The Rebuttal in Auslan will suddenly provide access to all our readers. Like with English, the Auslan skills of Deaf people vary. Many learn Auslan later in life and it is their second language. Many who learnt Auslan as a second language also have English literacy issues. So for them the Rebuttal in Auslan can be a double whammy!
The Auslan used in The Rebuttal videos is sophisticated. It does not “dumb down” The Rebuttal. The translations largely catch the nuances and meaning of the written English version. BUT unless you are proficient in Auslan to a high standard, the Auslan versions can be difficult to follow. Some recognised proficient Auslan users have commented that they needed to watch the videos two or three times to catch the full meaning. They have commented that they were fortunate to have good language development to help them with their understanding.
Sadly this is not the case for many Deaf people in Australia. Whilst the Auslan versions of The Rebuttal provide access for more people there are still those that will not have full access. What is the next step – a plain English version? Do we, as volunteers, have the capacity to do all of this? Will plain English be able to convey the subtle nuances and messages of the language used in The Rebuttal? Or worse would a plain English version been seen as patronising to the reader and “dumbing down” The Rebuttal?
Is it really feasible for us to be considering providing access to everyone? Indeed a few people have bemoaned to us that there is far too much emphasis placed on Auslan in the deafness sector. Auslan users make up a very small proportion of the “hearing loss” population in Australia. Despite this it seems that near on 100% of recent funding for communication access from the government has been directed towards Auslan users.
In recent times we have seen $18 million provided for Auslan interpreters to private medical appointments through the National Auslan Booking Scheme (NABS). We then had $5 million directed to the pathetic program called the Auslan for Employment Scheme (AFE). This for a population of Auslan users that is, at most, 25 000. The reality is that the number of people that will use Auslan interpreters regularly is probably half of this.
It is great, the AFE aside, that this funding has been provided but it beggars belief that somehow our advocates and the Government have failed to see communication access on a larger scale. There are millions of hearing impaired people who require access to communication at the doctor, at work, for job interviews, for counselling and so on. Yet despite this we continue to see the topic of communication access in isolation.

The puzzling thing has always been why NABS is limited to medical appointments and Auslan.

It would make sense for a service like NABS to focus and fund other means of accessible communication. A patient could, in theory, attend a doctor’s appointment with a laptop or PDA. The doctor would link up to a captioning service through the phone and what the doctor says to the patient can be relayed through the internet to the laptop or PDA. The puzzling thing has always been why NABS is limited to medical appointments and Auslan. Why not expand it to other communication means? Why not add employment to the scope of services that NABS can cover and do away with the worthless AFE? In this way we could fund communication access to work meetings, professional development, interviews and so on.
It is so very important that our Deafness sector organisations work closely together to identify key issues. It makes no sense to have separate Auslan funding when we are talking about such a broad issue as communication access. Communication access is the same thing – even if the mode is different. A simple and open partnership based on respect between The Rebuttal and Vicdeaf is providing access to many of our readers. Perhaps our Deafness sector advocates need to take this on board.

We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.
Martin Luther King