The recent budget announcement by the Queensland State Government to award over four million dollars to the “Hear and Say” Centre in Brisbane perpetuates and reinforces the view that deaf children should be educated in a manner that has proven to be unsuccessful and denies deaf children the opportunity to acquire Auslan (Australian Sign Language). The type of methodology and practice promoted by the Hear and Say Centre is in breach of the UN Convention on the Human Rights of people who are Deaf.
The Queensland government has deeply offended and angered members of the Australian Deaf Community and members of CODA Australia by awarding the Hear and Say Centre’s Managing Director Ms. Dimity Dornan with the Queenslander of the Year Award. Her exclusive support of the auditory-verbal approach at the Hear and Say Centre and strict prohibition of the use of Auslan insults our organisation and the signing Deaf Community throughout Australia. The Deaf community have suffered enough with the appalling educational opportunities afforded to them in this country. The attempt to ‘normalise’ a deaf child to the detriment of their cognitive development is tantamount to criminal activity.
Historically, the deaf community has endured oppression from those who belong to the majority hearing population. This has been born primarily due to ignorance regarding issues that impact the communication needs of deaf people. In efforts to ‘normalise’ deaf children, the practice of teaching them how to speak and read lips prevailed over instruction in reading, writing, mathematics and learning of life skills. This has created a lack of awareness surrounding the value of sign language and the benefits it provides when teaching deaf children the same skills as their hearing counterparts. A negative attitude towards the use of Auslan has persisted until recently, when sign language was officially recognised as a true, living and complete language with its own syntax, grammar and lexicon.
Positively, changes are taking place due to the Australian Government’s ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2008. Deaf people now have the freedom and right to use a language of their choice. Specifically, Article 30 in the optional protocol states: “Persons with disabilities shall be entitled, on an equal basis with others, to recognition and support of their specific cultural and linguistic identity, including sign languages and deaf culture.”
Extensive research in the area of linguistics and neurological language learning has proven that sign language is the most easily accessible language for people who are deaf. This is due to the fact that spoken English requires a functioning auditory-verbal loop in order to facilitate comprehension (in the developmental years), an attribute that most deaf people do not have.
In light of service provision inequities servicing the Queensland deaf population it is immoral that such a large amount of additional funds have been allocated to the Hear and Say Centre promoting the speech of deaf children. In contrast, a minimal amount of funding is allocated to adults whose lives have been disadvantaged by inadequate and ineffective educational opportunities. Consequently, this segment of the Australian community require ongoing support services in order to live independently and have equal access to generic services. These support services in many parts of Queensland are non – existent.
Further to this, Ms. Dornan’s comment that “Deaf is not deaf anymore” is pure conjecture, she does not represent or serve parents (of deaf children) or deaf children themselves throughout their lifelong journey as deaf people. A deaf child’s hearing will not magically reappear because that child learns how to speak or read lips. The practice at the Hear and Say Centre is both disturbing and discriminatory. A deaf child, who has a Cochlear Implant even though it may be successful, does not hear perfectly. When the technology is not functioning the child continues to be deaf. In addition, only about one third of all deaf children are suitable candidates for an implant. This leaves two thirds of deaf children unsupported and disregarded by the Hear and Say Centre. How is this practice worthy of such an award?
The majority of deaf adults in our community have been denied access to Auslan in their formative years. Many of these individuals did not have opportunities to meet other deaf people until adulthood. This has resulted in a high proportion of mental health conditions amongst the deaf population. The flawed theoretical view dismissing the use of sign language has regained support in recent times and widely promoted by the Hear and Say Centre. This narrow minded approach is applauded by the state government by awarding the Hear and Say’s Managing Director with accolades, when she does not have the support of the community with which she is supposedly serving. The government has, in addition, provided substantial financial support (in excess of 4 million dollars) towards the Hear and Say Centre who do not subscribe to thorough research methodologies or apply modern research findings related to language learning and the cognitive development of deaf children.
CODA (Children of Deaf Adults) Australia is a national voluntary organisation that aims to foster confident relationships with deaf parents and their children throughout the journey of life. We aim to promote awareness of the cultural and linguistic dynamics within families where one or more family members are deaf. CODA Australia supports Codas (Children of Deaf Adults) regardless of their age, or their parent’s mode of communication. Membership to CODA Australia offers support to adults (who are not deaf) who have been raised by deaf parents. Our organisation promotes the inclusion of Auslan (Australian Sign Language) the language of the deaf community within Australia as an integral part of the range of communication skills taught to all Deaf children.
This press release outlines the deprivation of language and cultural identity that deaf Australians have had to endure for decades. The language eradication that was endured through the period of “assimilation” for the indigenous Australian population demonstrates a chilling example of how a minority group can so easily be abused by those in power.
Auslan is the native language of the majority of our members who are not deaf themselves.
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An AUSLAN version of this media release can be found at: http://www.codaaustralia.com/