Ausnew Home Care | Woman travels globe in silence and finds richness

Woman travels globe in silence and finds richness in world without sound

Deaf disability Disability Employment Services disability law disability stereotypes intellectual disability Living With a Disability NDIS NDIS Aged Care Approved no ‘dis’ in disability. Seeing the ability in disability umbrella of disability

Paula Thornton travelled through 20 countries in 14 months, relying on hand gestures and silences to navigate through the various cultures.

Where some may consider this rude or disrespectful of culture and language, for Ms Thornton this is her everyday.

Ms Thornton is third-generation Deaf*. And in her opinion, she experienced a world that was more open-minded than most would imagine.

"I went to South America, South Africa, Europe, the Philippines ... all over the place really," she said.

"Being a Deaf person, I'm a very visual person, so when I was meeting different people from all over the world, we were just really using mime and gesture.

"Countries such as Spain and Italy, they're very good with using gestures, but other countries that spoke English, I would just use my phone [and texting] to communicate with other people."

Young woman hanging out of train doorway in Sri Lanka. Ausnew Home Care, NDIS registered provider, My Aged Care
Paula Thornton exploring Sri Lanka via train.(

Supplied: Paula Thornton


Ms Thornton explained to ABC Radio Darwin's Jess Ong that she appreciated how certain cultures responded to communication through mime.

"For example, I [wanted to] say 'chicken', so I would put my arms up like I was using my wings, and then I would sign a circle around my hands where they would know that I wanted a chicken pizza."

Ultimately, though, she said travelling as a Deaf person was now more accessible than ever before.

"There's also the international sign language that we all use, it's kind of based on gestures, so that makes it easier for me to converse with a Deaf person overseas."

Young woman sitting in front of Jerusalem door, Israel.
Ms Thornton says people from different cultures around the world were determined to communicate with her.(

Supplied: Paula Thornton


'I realised that I was a minority'

As a child Ms Thornton assumed all people used sign language to communicate, as this was the only language in her household.

"When I was about six years old I realised there were people out there that don't use their hands to communicate because I had hearing family members that could sign," she said.

"I thought everybody used Auslan, so [as a child] I missed out on nothing, I had access to language, I had access to communication [and] to the Deaf community."

It was a "positive upbringing" compared to many other Deaf children, she said.

"Most Deaf people come from hearing families, they would be exposed to everybody learning and speaking in English, and their family members may not learn how to sign."

It wasn't until she learnt that Auslan wasn't used as widely beyond her home that Ms Thornton found learning to communicate isolating.

"I realised that I was a minority."

Jess Ong (left) in radio studio with Paula Thornton (right) during interview.
During Ms Thornton's interview, her translator was on Skype relaying the conversation for ABC Radio Darwin.(

ABC Darwin: Gabrielle Lyons


However, Ms Thornton said even from a young age she was confident in her surroundings and happily fit into "both worlds".

"Being in a mainstream school we had 30 Deaf students and then we had 800 other hearing students, so I could kind of switch between the two," she said.

"I was always more comfortable going back to the Deaf community, obviously, but I would always make an effort to communicate with the hearing as well."

Richness in a world without sound

Ms Thornton believes assumptions are made of what aspects of life you would lose if you were without hearing.

Music, radio, films and laughter are top of mind when it comes to being deaf, but Ms Thornton said she had found a way to create her own form of "visual music".

Close up of phone in studio with interpreter Ms Kennewell signing to Ms Thornton during radio interview.
Interpreter Sarah Kennewell used Skype to communicate Ms Thornton's story on air.(

ABC Darwin: Gabrielle Lyons


"A lot of hearing people would often say they would rather become blind because they couldn't lose their music, but when they meet me they often change their answer," she said.

"I don't access music, I haven't heard these things before so I don't understand it, but in saying that I enjoy going to the beach.

"I watch the water and waves crashing on the sand; that's my visual music — watching the trees, the leaves blowing in the wind.

* Ms Thornton prefers the capitalised form Deaf to describe a broader community.

"We have our community, we have a culture within our community, and we have our own language. I guess it's the same with a Greek community," she said.


Source: ABC

Older Post Newer Post