Schools now have Auslan mainstream
The good news for the deaf community is that Auslan the language of the hearing impaired (deaf) is being included in the Australian education mainstream.
My wife Delma of 40 years has a congenital hearing difficulty. For many years she has attended AUSLAN (Australian Sign Language) classes, held in venues from Moruya on the south coast of NSW to Tweed Heads, to The Pines in Queensland. Although these lessons have come in a variety of formats, she has now gained some aptitude in communicating in AUSLAN, and she finds it of great benefit.
The statistics show that there are almost one million Australians with some type of hearing loss (out of 22 million people). Although this includes those with partial hearing loss, it also represents only those who are registered. It is likely that many more Australians than this are at some type of disadvantage in our increasingly ‘listening’ world.
Anecdotal evidence is that the consultants who staff the hearing-testing centres across the nation are constantly astonished at how many come in for hearing tests who should have been fitted for hearing aids many years previously. Many were so used to a low level of hearing, that they didn’t even believe they were having any difficulty; while others soldiered on with their handicap because the last thing they wanted was to be seen wearing is a hearing aid.
The former Prime Minister, John Howard, however, was a good role model because he was not shy about wearing one, having had a hearing problem since he was a child. In contrast, Delma Tronson’s late father-in-law only had hearing aids fitted after he turned sixty although he struggled to hear most of his life, because his hearing was originally affected when a fire cracker went off too near his left ear when he was a child.
Auslan choir, Tweed Heads
In those days, hearing impairment was not diagnosed in children, because the symptoms were not recognised as well as they are today. Nowadays, the Australian Government has various schemes available to help people who are in financial need with the equipment they need such as hearing aids; of course there are similar schemes available for people with any other disability.
Hearing aids have come a long way from the battery operated large cumbersome modules of the 1950s to today’s digital models with miniature electronics that not only can fit neatly inside an ear, but can filter out extraneous noise and help the wearer to hear more ‘natural’ sound.
The profoundly deaf, if they wish, now have easier access to cochlear implants where a devise is inserted surgically in the ‘cochlear’ (spiral) structure within the ear and connected to the outside of the skull, where the receiver is fitted. This device was developed in Australia about thirty years ago, and even that has evolved into a very sophisticated and simplified technology that has transformed innumerable lives. Already, in 100 countries 180,000 people have been fitted with one type of cochlear implant or another.
But even for those, like Delma with partial hearing loss, a knowledge of AUSLAN can help enormously. Delma has attended two types of classes each week, and has gained such proficiency that she can assist in 'signing' for church services. She also finds that there are many Christian worship services on television which have a 'signer', which not only have helped her to enjoy a wider range of programs, but have also proven to be one of the best 'learning aids' for developing her Auslan skills.
“Many people who watch these Christian worship services on television can practise their skills,” Delma Tronson observed, “And we can also acknowledge how astonishingly skilful those signers are as they keep up with the momentum of both the singing and the sermons.” At her Auslan Class in Tweed Heads, Delma Tronson and others learn to develop and heighten their signing skills in order to work with students and staff at TAFE and regional primary schools and high schools assisting those with hearing difficulties.
1950's North Mackay State School – 70 years later Auslan
Hearing is one of the five human ‘senses’, and one which we benefits many aspects of our lives. Without hearing, a person is left in a difficult world. Auslan has been of wonderful assistance to many Australians and Delma Tronson is a great supporter of learning more about communicating in this way.
But even those who are not skilled at this ‘second language’, Delma says they can help in the general community. She asks everyone to be aware of communicating with people, because you may not know that someone is hearing impaired.
In general social situations, it is always good practice to make sure you are looking at the person you are talking to; even those who have perfect hearing will gain more of your meaning by watching your face and lips. And if someone does not respond when you speak to them, don’t get annoyed but make sure you touch them lightly to gain their attention, or wait until you can face them before speaking again.
If you are in the position of giving a talk or a seminar, then it is important not to ‘talk to the screen’ behind you, but to face the audience and talks slowly.
Anyone in the audience who is ‘hard of hearing’ will easily get your message that way, and by using these practises that are ‘inclusive’ of those with a disability, the rest of the audience will also enjoy your seminar more because you will improve your own communication technique for everyone.
Delma Tronson engaged in Auslan classes
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He mentors young writers and has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children. Dr Tronson writes a daily article for Christian Today Australia (since 2008) and in November 2016 established Christian Today New Zealand.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html