Covid-19 contributes to demand in Auslan instructors

Misty Garett, Kelly Hope from Hope CODA Services and Rowan Butcher signing the word 'Auslan'.
Misty Garett, Kelly Hope from Hope CODA Services and Rowan Butcher signing the word 'Auslan'.
Hayley Sudholz from the Bunbury South Regional TAFE.

Hayley Sudholz from the Bunbury South Regional TAFE.

ENROLMENTS in Australian Sign Language courses across the South West have increased at a rapid pace during the height of Covid-19.

In light of pandemic related lockdowns last year and with the community being told to 'stay home', press conference live streams on social media platforms and television became largely popular, which in turn caused an exposure of Australian Sign Language interpreters from within the media.

Both the South Regional TAFE and Hope CODA Services at Willow Training College have confirmed they both began offering Australian Sign Language courses in order to meet the 'increasingly high demand' not just in the South West, but across Australia.

To find out why there was a spike in enrolments, the Mail reached out to Deaf Australia, a deaf-led organisation representing members of the deaf and hard of hearing community.

Deaf Australia Interim Chief Executive Officer Rodney Adams said there were a few reasons why learning Auslan had grown in popularity.

"The Covid-19 pandemic has been partially responsible for the greater exposure of Auslan in the media, as well as the Black Summer bushfires that also propelled Auslan to the forefront of media announcements," Mr Adams said.

Australian Sign Language (or Auslan) was created by and for deaf Australians.

It is a visual language that uses hand, arm and facial movements to communicate.

Out of an estimated 130 different sign languages in the world, Auslan is uniquely Australian with over 10,000 native speakers.

In 2020, Bunbury's South Regional TAFE met the demands of the community by offering Auslan Level One, Two and Three as short courses in collaboration with Australian Sign Language provider Auslan in the West.

From just 30 enrolments in 2020, the number of students taking the course more than doubled at the beginning of 2021.

Auslan is not just for those who are deaf but also for the non-verbal members of our community. We tend to forget that deaf people are a part of our culture and our society.

Kelly Hope

Auslan in the West Founders Darren and Briana Beath founded their company in 2017 after receiving strong demand for Auslan courses.

Briana is from Bunbury and is profoundly deaf as well as Darren who is a third generation hard of hearing.

"Everyone is seeing Auslan interpreters on TV so there's a high demand for Auslan interpreters, but it's led to a shortage in Western Australia.

The Bunbury TAFE hasn't offered courses for around 15 years or so, hence they have received a high demand of interest in the Auslan courses," the Co-Founders said.

The Bunbury South Regional TAFE offers Auslan Level One, Two and Three online via the streaming chat service Zoom.

TAFE Student Hayley Sudholz began the course in term one of 2021 and said it was her desire to better communicate with children who are hard of hearing that led her to enrol.

"I work in education and although learning Auslan wasn't a job requirement, it has taught me so much. I feel like I can now make a difference to the lives of these small people," Ms Sudholz said.

Hope CODA Services at Willow Training College also offer Auslan Level One, Two and Three courses in Bunbury.

Willow Training College Trainer Kelly Hope is a Child of a Deaf Adult (CODA) and began offering the courses in 2021.

"I began teaching the courses with my Mum and her friend who are both deaf. We saw a need for Bunbury as there is a lack of interpreters in the South West," Ms Hope said.

"Auslan is not just for those who are deaf but also for the non-verbal members of our community.

"We tend to forget that deaf people are a part of our culture and our society.

"I would recommend everyone to do this course."

However, the rise of interest in learning Auslan in Australia has resulted in a rise of non-deaf interpreters teaching Australian Sign Language courses.

There is currently no national strategy to ensure that only those who are hard of hearing shall teach Auslan.

Mr Adams said like any Indigenous language, the custodians of a language should teach it, and as is the same with Auslan.

"These teachers have the linguistic and cultural knowledge that compliments the teaching of the language to make it more engaging and authentic to those learning it," he said.

"Some attempts have been made to ensure a national strategy is created for deaf only instructions, but these are not regulated by deaf professionals.

"It's an area that needs to be looked at."

Those wanting to enrol in an Australian Sign Language course in Bunbury can contact the South Regional TAFE via their website www.southregionaltafe.wa.edu.au or Willow Training College at www.willowtrainingcollege.com.au.