Facebooking Coming of Age

facebook-small-logoA couple of years back I was asked to advocate for a young deaf girl. The girl was 6 at the time and her mother, a single mother, wanted to set up Auslan tuition in the home. Living in the country only 120 kms from Melbourne you would think it would be a simple task. But NO! The logistics were a nightmare. Finding someone suitably qualified to do the tuition was the first challenge. Paying the person extra for travelling from Melbourne was the next challenge. There were other issues that required addressing such as how would the mother practice regularly what she has learnt? Who would support her,  and the families learning over time and ensure it continued to develop. Mostly it came down to money and the extra money it costs to service someone away from the metro area.

It was actually quite offensive that the organisation would use the funds argument as an excuse. The organisation is far from poor. Rumour had it was that the staff of the organisation played a game. Readers may know of the game, Where’s Wally. Wally is in a mass of people at various destinations around the world. To play the game the reader must find Wally and his distinctive scarf among the crowds. Well Staff of the organisation apparently played a similar game called Where’s the CEO. At any given time the CEO might be anywhere in the world and at great cost. Meanwhile Client X , 120 kms, from Melbourne cannot be provided with a couple of grand to service their Auslan needs. Shocking I know.

But this is not what this article is about. It is a far more positive article. It focuses on using the popular medium, Facebook to provide support to families of deaf kids. Those who know Facebook will know of the fun that is had with Status updates. of the fun with pokes, quizzes, chats with friends, throwing sheep and god knows what else. It is a whole virtual world.

Through Facebook you can post videos. Videos of your holidays. Videos of your friends. Videos of your family. Youtube links – whatever takes your fancy. You can post these for your friends to see. There is a limit to the file size but the quality of the videos is good.  All it requires is a good Internet connection. You can, if you have a Webcam, even video yourself on the Facebook page  and post it. Or you can film yourself with a Camcorder, edit and upload to Facebook.

Recently I stole a friend from a friends status. The friend being in Canada had a mean sense of humour and we got into a banter. Now I wont go into details as to how this happened but through the banter my friend said that she wanted to learn some Auslan. To this point in time I had only been communicating by text. So I began to think how I could provide her with some information that would enable her to learn Auslan.

We first tried MSN chat. They have a little video box. We linked up this way. The picture is not great but we were able, even in this way, to pass on a few signs. We tried Skype which was marginally better but not great because my friend only has dial up so the connection speed wasn’t fast enough. I made little videos on my laptop Webcam. I added some captions to it to help. She, along with her daughter found this very useful.

And then by chance I noticed on Facebook the little camera icon. I  began to explore its use for uploading and making short and sharp videos to teach Auslan . Little videos like WH questions or explaining hand shapes. I used different mediums. Voice, captions, gestures – whatever was needed and posted them to Facebook.  It became obvious that right there at our finger tips, completely free, was a medium that could be used to teach Auslan to people living in remote areas.

I began to flesh out the idea some more. Imagine, thought I, if I was the CEO of THAT organisation and I could stop myself travelling for ten minutes and actually sit in my office and think of the clients the organisation serviced instead of trying to take over the world. I imagined I could set up a special Facebook account for families of deaf kids who needed access to Auslan. Little videos with captions focusing on various aspects of Auslan could be posted. families, with strict rules for access, could be invited to the Auslan page as FRIENDS. they could see the videos and learn.

But it would not stop there. the families would have a medium to support one another. Through their status updates they could share little snippits and tips about how they were bringing up their deaf kids.  A status Update might read: Gary’s Aden signed that he loved me today (SOB SOB)  and in this way parents could motivate each other and share stories.

But best of all families could trade videos. It wouldn’t be as fast as face to face communication but it could happen. Imagine Bob. Bob has just watched the video on WH questions. Bob practices signing What is your name?  He turns on his Webcam and tapes himself in Auslan asking what is your name. He sends the link to all the people who are registered to the Auslan page. Twenty people practice signing My name is … and post their videos. A kind of video SMS.

Some people might say that the video that is made through Facebook is not good enough quality. Well you can make a more sophisticated video. As long as the file size is small enough this can be uploaded to Facebook. It can be edited with captions. The signing can be filmed from different angles to provide a more 3D image. For teaching these better quality videos would be ideal. BUT let me tell you, even with grainy videos my friend in Canada and her daughter have learnt some pretty good Auslan in three weeks. Quality picture would be great but is not absolutely essential. thus far I have only made the videos with a Webcam and using my lounge room curtains as a backdrop. 

It can be done all it needs is some imagination. Forget the costly production of CD roms. Forget spending thousands on film editing. A $150 Ulead film editing package will allow you to add captions easily. The beauty is the videos can be used over and over again. Ongoing costs are reduced and families get support HERE AND NOW. Sure face to face is still ideal  but now time, distance and money can no longer be used as an excuse. Right there at your finger tips Facebook has a solution, not the full solution by any means, but certainly a 100% better than scrounging for pennies while staff of THAT ORGANISATION play Where’s the CEO.