In Victoria Auslan interpreting has been on the front page. Victoria has the only full-time Auslan course on the eastern side of Australia and is facing closure as the result of major Government cuts to TAFE funding. If you are an overseas reader, of which The Rebuttal has many, this is the equivalent of a Polytechnic. The course, which is provided by the Kangan Institute, has been the breeding ground for many interpreters in recent years. Without it, particularly in Victoria, supply of qualified interpreters to meet ever growing demand is not likely to be met. Not that it is now either but without the Kangan courses it is likely to get worse.
The students of Kangan and the Deaf community have been particularly vocal. They have held protests and have managed to get extensive media coverage to their cause. The issue was even debated in Parliament recently which led, for the first time I believe, to an interpreter actually being present on the floor of Victorian State Parliament. Despite all the anger and the doom and gloom the irony of this impending closure of the Auslan course at Kangan is that it has brought with it more attention and awareness about Auslan in the media than possibly ever before. This has been marvellous for the profession of interpreting as a whole and the Deaf community. In fact the whole Kangan saga could be the best thing that has happened for Auslan in many years.
A few weeks back I had a conversation about the Kangan dispute with a very senior Auslan interpreter. The interpreter had been booked for a job for me and in the lunch break we got chatting about what was happening. Startlingly the interpreter was not really a big fan of Kangan. To be more accurate the interpreter was a fan but felt that the Kangan Auslan courses had slipped in recent years. The interpreter suggested that the Kangan course had become outdated. The interpreter also suggested that TAFE course fee structures had meant that students coming in to the Kangan courses were students who could get assistance to pay course fees. (This assistance is essentially a debt that has to be paid back once the student begins to earn over a certain amount.) These students are usualy quite young and not necessarily worldly and experienced in the ways of the world. Interpreting covers many areas of life and this means experience and maturity can be vital components of an interpreters repertoire.
This is not to say that young interpreters are a bad thing it’s more to say that my interpreter colleague was suggesting that the balance has become out of synch. What my learned interpreter friend was suggesting was that there is a great need for older interpreters, experienced in the ways of the world of work and life in general. Such interpreters are familiar with terminology and concepts in a way that the younger brigade is not, simply because of the accumulation of life experience.
Unfortunately because of the fee structure these “older” students are often unable to pay fees upfront or afford the fee assistance which is essentially a loan. The younger ones usually do not have families and mortgages so are more willing to take on the course fee as a debt. Older and more experienced students often can not get assistance particularly if they have already completed study in another area which, as I understand it, precludes them from any course fee assistance. Older, mature students with families who can get course fee assistance often have mortgages and the like and simply can not afford to take on more debt in the form of course fee assistance. ( Any readers that can explain the course fee issue better than I please do so in the comments section.)
Followers of the Kangan saga will know of the mysterious involvement of VicDeaf and the NSW Deaf Society. It is apparent that these two bodies had been negotiating to set up part time and accredited Auslan courses with the Victorian Government for some time. This was all hush, hush and only became apparent when the Minister outed them. These negotiations may actually be a good thing. If Vicdeaf and the NSW Deaf Society are able to set up these part time courses it may provide an avenue for these mature age students to become interpreters. Many cannot afford to study full-time so a part time equivalent may be the answer for them. Meanwhile, all going well, Kangan can continue with the full time courses although, given the current climate of cost cuts, these courses may be scaled back somewhat. We will just have to wait and see. But an opportunity exists and if handled well could lead to a more flexible delivery of Auslan and a broader student intake. (For people who are confused at the involvement of the NSW Deaf Society in Victoria, their involvement is essential as they are a Registered Training Organisation which is a requirement for providing accredited courses. Vicdeaf are not)
Surprisingly amongst all the support for Kangan there have been rumblings in the background that the Kangan course has become outdated. These rumblings are not just coming from my interpreter colleague. The rumblings suggest that for many years now that Kangan has been delivering the same curriculum with little by way of change to keep up with the changing environment in the Auslan field. If this is the case then the Kangan saga provides an opportunity to completely revamp the curriculum and bring it into the 21st Century. Let’s consider, for example, the use of technology in interpreting. Now Kangan is not technically an interpreter course but it does have an introduction to interpreting component and provides the foundation for many of its students to go on to become qualified interpreters. The use of technology could perceivably be an opportunity to expand the curriculum, if it has not been done already.
Consider Auslan through Skype in interpreting. It could be incorporated into future training. Now Skype interpreting is potentially the biggest growing area of interpreting and this will only get bigger as the National Broadband Network becomes more widely available. As an example I have used Skype interpreting for a conference where interpreters were beamed to a large screen using a data projector. The conference was in Townsville whilst the interpreters had been based in Adelaide. The cost savings in not having to fly interpreters to Townsville was immense. I have also used Skype for large meetings and one on one meetings. It has meant that when I can not get interpreters in Melbourne I have been able to access them in Sydney and Adelaide. Such interpreting requires knowledge to set up the room, establishing the audio, lighting and so on. Sometimes it can be done using mobile modems. Use of mobile modems has its limits which can include black-holes for reception, drop-outs and so on. There are a few things that one can do to lessen the chance of these things happening. Another thing that assists with Skype interpreting is the use of green and blue backgrounds to enhance visuals. All of these things could be incorporated into Auslan and Interpreter training if this has not been done already.
The cheap and ever improving access to video technology also provides opportunities to put Auslan training online. The NSW Deaf Society has already been doing this for sometime now. Skype can be used to link students to practice with each other. There are nae sayers who vehemently reject any form of online training for Auslan. But why not? All that is needed is that we ensure that there are other parts of the course that require human contact. Never has there been a better time to incorporate technology into the delivery of Auslan training. Online training can provide options for people in rural areas who are interested in learning Auslan and becoming interpreters. The shortage of interpreters in rural areas is chronic.
What the Kangan saga has provided is an opportunity to improve, expand and bring the Auslan training into the modern age. Feedback I have heard suggests that the Kangan training has not moved with the times. There is now an opportunity to modernise it that needs to be grasped with both hands. From the ashes of what might have been Auslan and interpreting training in Victoria can be revamped and improved. Carpe Diem as they say!