During Lottery 181, we are shining a light on how Deaf Services is delivering access to Auslan (Australian Sign Language) anywhere: connecting and empowering the Deaf community through their primary language. Meet Allyson, born and bred in Brisbane, who recently began a new chapter of her life in a tiny town that had never seen a Deaf person before...
Allyson was born hearing, but lost her hearing after complications from a chest infection at just six weeks of age. She began speech therapy at six months, and was sent to a hearing school.
It wasn’t until nine years into her schooling that Allyson began learning a Signed English (a signing dialect that directly mimics English syntax and grammar).
After school, Allyson completed a computing course through TAFE and began a data entry role at Brisbane City Council and the Lord Mayor’s Office. Throughout her early working career, she had to learn everything with no language support.
“There was no awareness of Deaf Culture like there is these days,” she says. “I learned by copying, writing and miming.”
Allyson spent much of her early life finding a way to communicate.
Allyson’s first experience with sign language interpreting was at her wedding, which was interpreted by tutors from her high school.
“It was really touching,” she remembers. “It was very special for me, because they watched me grow up.”
It wasn’t long after that Allyson learned through friends about Deaf Services, and began to connect with the Deaf community through Auslan. She and her husband settled down, surrounded by family and friends, and raised two children as Allyson worked as a teacher at Stafford State School.
Life began to change when Allyson’s husband, a police officer, took a regional posting to become a police sergeant at Burketown, a remote community with a population of just over 200 people. Allyson made the choice to remain in Brisbane for two years while her children finished school. Two years later, with both children at university, she made the decision to join him.
“I arrived there last year,” she explains. “It was very emotional. I had no friends or family, and certainly no Deaf friends. But my husband is number one. We had been apart for two years and I knew I wanted to be with him.”
Allyson and her husband on a short commute...
Allyson quickly discovered that no one in her new home had ever met a Deaf person before. In a way, she felt she had travelled back in time. There were also other culture shocks.
“In Burketown there are no shops, no movies, no parks,” she says. “Food is so expensive because we are so far away from everything. Then there is the wet season, when there can be no access in or out of the town from November to January.”
Allyson gained employment at Burketown State School as a teacher aide, a job she clearly loves. Despite the school only having only 23 students, Allyson says she is “privileged” to work with two children with autism, a boy and a girl.
“The girl was the first autistic student they’d had,” Allyson says. “I can teach her sign language, and she’s doing so well. The boy, who has very high level autism, actually went home and taught his mum some signs, and she came to me the next day and asked to learn too! I now teach her Auslan once a week and it’s just made me so happy. It has improved their relationship, and has made him calmer.”
Allyson was reconnected with Deaf Services after attending a meeting about the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).
“I had no idea about the NDIS,” she says. “I contacted Deaf Services and they have been so wonderful.”
Burketown State School
With the help of a dedicated Service Access Facilitator, Allyson was able to apply for and receive assistive technology for her home and workplace such as visual alarm lights and increased home security.
“I needed flashing lights installed at the school for the school bell, fire alarms and lockdown. There was nothing at the school to assist a Deaf person. Now it’s fantastic. Many of the kids appreciate the visual cues as well.”
Through Deaf Services, Allyson is also able to access Video Remote Interpreting (VRI) for herself and her husband, who is currently expanding his Auslan knowledge.
It has been the access to live Auslan interpreters, however, that has most changed Allyson’s life.
“For so long I never had any interpreters. I didn’t know how to approach them or how to pay. Now I can ask for an interpreter for anything.”
Allyson and her husband are valued members of the Burketown community.
Recently, Deaf Services facilitated an Auslan interpreter to fly in from nearly 800km away to attend a gala police dinner in honour of Allyson’s husband.
“I was so excited,” Allyson says. “It was fantastic. I was so relieved. Usually my husband has to stay by my side and interpret what people are saying. This allowed him to have a break and enjoy his night. I talked with so many people I wouldn’t usually get a chance to. I’d never had that experience before. I’ve always struggled. This was just fantastic. I didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything.”
“Deaf Services supported me through the whole process and it’s been invaluable. Without them I wouldn’t have made it. I’m so appreciative.”
Your support of The Deaf Lottery allows us to deliver Auslan services to more people like Allyson. We hope you will consider supporting Deaf Lottery 181.