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Government inquiry into Auslan access highlights disadvantages for Canberra's Deaf community

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Kellyanne Rosalion and her seven-year-old daughter are both Deaf, but Ms Rosalion's husband and three-year-old are not, so she describes her household as bilingual, practising both Auslan and English.

"Auslan is my daughter's first language, given it was the only language fully accessible to her due to her deafness," she said.

But Ms Rosalion said when she first moved to Canberra the lack of early education concerned her, and to this day it still does.

"The lack of Auslan support in the ACT means that Auslan has become the 'lesser' language in our household," she said.

"There is nowhere for my husband and I to go to continually develop and grow our Auslan skills, which is particularly important given our need for Auslan has gone past conversational level for us but now is also required to build and develop our daughter's language."

Due to the lack of broader support for the language in the ACT, Ms Rosalion says she instead joined an Auslan playgroup, where families come together to connect with others and develop their Auslan skills.

She also took matters into her own hands, working for the non-for-profit organisation Parents of Deaf Children and hoping to establish a support group for families of Deaf and hard of hearing children in the ACT.

Yesterday, Ms Rosalion shared her experiences and frustrations with an ACT Legislative Assembly committee, which is tasked with examining Auslan accessibility in Canberra.

The government inquiry was sparked by a petition with 536 signatures tabled in the Assembly last year, arguing current access to the language in the territory was "inadequate and disadvantaging Deaf Canberrans".

A group of people sit in a meeting room.
The inquiry spoke to 13 people on Tuesday about the accessibility of Auslan services in the ACT.(ABC News: Mark Moore)

Ms Rosalion told the committee more needed to be done to support young Deaf people and their families.

"It is becoming increasingly clear that families are struggling to find services to support them with Auslan when they discover their child is Deaf," she said.

"The early intervention services are great in their areas of expertise, but sadly they do not really recognise or understand how vital Auslan is to Deaf babies and children."

'The focus was really on how do we change his deafness?'

A woman with blonde hair looks concerned.
Lou Farrer says more support should be offered to help families with Deaf children learn Auslan.(ABC News: Mark Moore)

Lou Farrer told the inquiry before her three-year-old son Milo was diagnosed with profound deafness at five weeks old, her family had no experience with the Deaf community.

"We're a hearing family … and he's the first Deaf person that we've ever met or known," she said.

Ms Farrer said the support that was offered centred around teaching Milo spoken language and getting him cochlear implants, not about what it meant to be Deaf and the community.

A young boy plays in a playground tunnel.
Lou Farrer's three-year-old son Milo is Deaf.(Supplied)

"The focus was really on 'how do we change his deafness? How do we fix his deafness and have him learn spoken language?'" she said.

Ms Farrer said she had connected with a number of hearing families of Deaf children around Australia and found that Canberra lacked early childhood spaces that use Auslan.

"Something that was really missing in Canberra right from that very early age was access to early intervention playgroups, providers, preschools and daycare centres that have any access to Auslan," she said.

"We've had to provide resources to Milo's daycare just to learn some basic Auslan."

When asked whether she thought there was enough interest in Canberra to justify spending more to support teaching Auslan to more people in the community, Ms Farrer said there was.

"When we talk about learning Auslan overwhelmingly the response I get from people is to say 'I would love to learn Auslan, that's something that's always been on my list, I'd love that,'" she said.

A woman with two sons.
Lou Farrer's son Milo Richards (right) is Deaf.(Supplied)

She told the inquiry that having pathways to learning Auslan presented when Milo was first diagnosed would have helped her family reach where they are now in understanding his deafness, but they had received no such support.

"It's really something we've had to advocate for and pursue ourselves," she said.

"There was just an assumption that as a hearing family we would not want to go down a pathway of learning Auslan and we would be focusing on spoken language."


Source: ABC

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