Auslan at the WEA

Yesterday’s Auslan class was fantastic. I’ve really enjoyed learning the basics of Australian Sign Language. I actually learned the alphabet when I was a kid, my sister and I became really fast at spelling out words and carrying on private conversations with it. 🙂 I didn’t know any signs though, so we had to spell out every word which is pretty tedious. Learning signs for whole words and how to carry on basic conversations quickly is quite exciting.

I’d love to see Auslan or at least the basics being taught in schools. Many of us will experience some degree of hearing loss as we age, and already knowing the rudiments of sign language would help us to maintain communication. Some people experience hearing and sight loss, Auslan can be signed onto someone’s hand to overcome these significant barriers to communication. Knowing the basics also helps to connect with the Deaf community and include them.

I’m writing pretty cautiously because issues around rights, culture, choice and communication in the Deaf community have become pretty hot topics. There’s a lot of strongly held beliefs and politics that I am not in a position to make an informed call about. I am aware there’s been a lot of conflict and tension between Deaf people and medical professionals, and that sadly, the Deaf community seems to have a poor reputation for being unfriendly and elitist.

My background is chronic physical illness and mental illness. I have personal experiences in areas like the difficulty of having an invisible disability, the stigma of ‘madness’, the shame of trauma and abuse… my lovely Grandma was legally blind so I grew up attending craft groups at the RSB with her, I’ve spent a couple of years in a wheelchair when I was very unwell myself. I also used to babysit a child who had an intellectual disability and I did work experience at the special school he attended. I’m pretty passionate about disability issues and I have pockets of knowledge, but about other disability areas I’m quite inexperienced. I have very little contact with the Deaf community, but on the street where I live now I have a Deaf neighbour, and I’d like to be able to communicate with him. He came around one evening to let me know that I’d left my car lights on, and we wave at each other but I’m embarrassed that I can’t ask him how his day is or if he’d like some mandarins from my tree.

This class has been the most wonderful introduction to the Deaf community. The instructor is Barry, you can see him here on the home page of Deaf Can Do. He is wonderful, very friendly and funny with fantastic communication skills. I’ve so enjoyed this class I’m considering taking on Auslan as a second language. I bet there are some Deaf folks out there who could do with some good mental health information too. It does help to remember that behind arguing and politics are people, and that few of us like being defined by our ‘group’ – however passionate about it we are – to the exclusion of all else.

So, if you’re looking to learn something new and stretch yourself a little bit, consider this class! And while I’m spruiking for the WEA, Lee Pascoe, international hypnotherapist, will be back again to do three classes in January 2012. I did three of her classes at the beginning of this year and found them very helpful, I’d highly recommend her. She’s a wonderful woman full of vibrant energy.

A little story to finish on… I’m doing Auslan with a friend who attends the voice hearer’s group Sound Minds with me. At the first Auslan class we were looking through the notes and saw an instruction that we were to ‘leave our voices at home for these classes’… that gave us a bit of a private giggle!

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