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Hearing the importance of sign language education

Daniel Bouwmeester    February 28, 2023    4 min read   

A local provider of online sign language courses is planning a new series of videos and an increased focus on community education programs to help dismantle the barrier between Deaf and hearing people.

Michaela Reece operates Awesome Auslan, a Camira based education service founded in 2021 that specialises in the teaching of Australian Sign Language, commonly called “Auslan” – which is distinct from the American ASL.

Michaela launched the young company’s first online course in July last year to very positive reception, inspiring a second, more advanced course.

“We are in the very process of launching the next level of the online beginner Auslan course, Level 2, right now,” Michaela said.

“People who completed it were emailing, stating how much they had enjoyed it, that they had learnt so much, and asking what was next,” she said.

“I realised there was a demand and I needed to get the next level up and running sooner rather than later.”

Courses are self-paced and accessible for life, teaching not just the language and linguistics of Auslan, but also Deaf awareness.

One in six Australians have some form of hearing loss, and, according to Michaela, this figure may increase to one in four by 2050.

Michaela became deaf during the birth process, and was diagnosed as ‘moderate to severe’ hearing impaired at age 3 – her diagnosis was upgraded later in life to ‘severe to profoundly deaf’.

She undertook extensive speech therapy, which has allowed her to speak relatively well (known as ‘oral deaf’) despite her lifelong impairment.

Michaela began learning Auslan at age 16 through TAFE, and since then has immersed herself in the cause of Queensland’s Deaf Community. She was also a teacher in special schools for over 15 years, and after extensive training and studies, has become a qualified Auslan LOTE teacher.

The purpose of the new online videos is to better equip people with tools to understand and use Auslan.

“The online Auslan linguistics educational video series in early 2023 is something I have a personal love and interest in.

“These will be a compilation of short videos about concepts of Auslan linguistics [and] will be beneficial to Auslan students, Auslan teachers, and Deaf and/or Auslan users.”

She said with the increasing uptake of Auslan as a language subject in schools, there is a significant shortage of qualified Deaf teachers and Auslan teachers, which makes the goal of preserving the language more difficult – something the new courses can help address.

“While it is fantastic that students now have an opportunity to learn this Australian-based local language, this presents challenges as many hearing teachers are being required to teach Auslan often without any knowledge of the language or culture.”

Michaela teaching local SES volunteers. Images: Awesome Auslan.

To help address these shortages, Awesome Auslan is focussed on providing more Deaf Awareness Training and Auslan Taster day sessions (2 to 4 hours) for organisations, workplaces, and community groups, and face-to-face beginner Auslan classes that run over a number of weeks.

“The importance of Deaf Awareness Training cannot be understated.”

“Auslan Tasters are one-off sessions in which a small amount of Auslan is introduced with the goal of igniting a further interest in learning about the language and its culture.

“There is more to communicating with someone with hearing issues than people might initially think.”

“When most teachers look at the Auslan curriculum, they are not likely to be familiar with the Auslan linguistic concepts listed – and they not only need to teach these, but also assess them. It is my hope that this resource will work towards preserving our language as we see people who are not Deaf or native signers teach it.”

“This is a huge concern for many of us in the Deaf community, as one of the most unifying features of our community is our value and respect for this language.”

Furthermore, lack of awareness impacts the ability of Deaf people to access education and other services.

“With more ‘aware’ people in the community and our workplaces, life can be that little bit easier and accessible.”

For more information, visit awesomeauslan.com.au or contact Michaela on 0405 159 798 (texting is preferred) or michaela@awesomeauslan.com.au.

Daniel Bouwmeester

Daniel was born in a mining town in New South Wales to Dutch and Welsh immigrants, before relocating to Logan City, where he attended Canterbury College for twelve years. He pursued his passion for music by completing a first-class honours degree at the University of Queensland (UQ), and later signed with a local record label. He has travelled the world from a young age, including a student exchange in rural France, a job working the ski lifts in Colorado, and visits to the islands of the South Pacific. After a six-year career in market research, Daniel returned to UQ to complete a Bachelor of Journalism and Arts dual degree, majoring in political science. His varied experiences at home and abroad have contributed to a passion for spreading good news while defending the truth buried inside complex societal paradigms.