International Week of Deaf People

By Mary Pianta

The World Federation of the Deaf is one of the oldest international organisations of persons with disabilities in the world. Recognising that deaf people faced barriers to full accessibility, equal human rights and participation in policy-making decisions that affected them, the WFD was established in Rome in 1951.

Hearing is easy to take for granted, yet it is one of our most valuable senses. Losing your hearing is losing quality of life. Over three million Australians have a hearing impairment, i.e., one in every six. For people over 70, this increases to three in every four. Hearing loss is a natural part of life and should not be ignored. Untreated hearing loss impacts the hearing centres in your brain and your lifestyle. We tend to ‘put up with it’ as it develops gradually, rather than taking action.

Deaf people are present in every culture and society, including Indigenous Australians who had well-developed sign systems before the European settlement. The first-recorded deaf European-born migrant in Australia is Elizabeth (Betty) Steel who arrived on the Second Fleet as a convict in 1790.
While preparing this article to be in line with Deaf Australia’s celebrations during October, I realised that I had missed their decision to change back to September, the same as other countries. I was able to reach some church bulletins to alert people, but apologise for now being late for this paper.

These annual celebrations present an opportunity to honour Deaf culture and language, as well as raise vital awareness about social inclusion and communication barriers.

Auslan is recognised as the language of the Australian Deaf Community, giving access to important community information, resources and directories, as well as an improved social life. With sign language, deaf people can use their natural language to express themselves and communicate equally in society.

The focus this year was on Auslan and ‘Sign Language Rights for All’. This made me wonder how many in our diocese use Auslan and how many can work as interpreters. It would be ideal to create a register so that we know where to call in emergency situations but also, perhaps, to offer regular/ occasional Masses for the Deaf community in our main city centres. I am only aware of two people in our diocese so would appreciate some contact from those who have those skills.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many members of our Clergy have worked hard to provide online Masses for us every weekend and, in some cases, daily. Additional steps have been taken at some churches to include an Auslan interpreter on screen to involve the Deaf community. Others have supported them with live-captioning, their second-best option.

Letters have been sent to Premiers and the Prime Minister, reminding them of their obligations to provide interpreters on television for all important announcements, whether the crisis be a bushfire, flooding or COVID-19. They are to be congratulated for their commitment to ensuring Auslan users receive information in their natural language.

The members of the Deaf community appreciate the use of interpreters. Having accurate knowledge ensures that they can make informed decisions and take appropriate action to protect themselves and their families. When an Auslan interpreter is not provided for these announcements, it is perceived as being discriminatory to deaf citizens.

Within our parishes, we need to consider the communication needs of deaf and hard of hearing people, not just as an afterthought. This requires planning and processes. By providing a good quality and working sound system and an audio loop in our parish buildings, we become more inclusive communities who warmly welcome the Deaf community, where we can all fully participate in the life of our Church.

Our vision is for equity for deaf people and to provide vital supports that will improve the lives of deaf and hard of hearing people across the Diocese of Sandhurst.

Mary Pianta
Disability Contact Coordinator


 IWD Prayer

Upcoming Events

22 Oct
Saint John Paul II
Date 22.10.2020
25 Oct
28 Oct
Saints Simon and Jude
Date 28.10.2020
1 Nov
Date 01.11.2020