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Public hearing 29 - The experience of violence against, abuse, neglect and exploitation of people with disability from culturally and linguistically diverse communities - Day 1

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CHAIR:  Good morning, everyone  or is it the other way around?  I extend a welcome to everyone participating in or following this, the 29th Public hearing of the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability.  This hearing is being held at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre, of course in Victoria, and will be conducted over five days this week.

The hearing will examine the experiences of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation of people with disability from culturally and linguistically diverse communities.  To begin, I would like to invite Ms Jody Barney to make an Acknowledgment of Country.  Ms Barney is a First Nations woman who is Deaf and communicates using Auslan, various First Nations sign languages and written English.  She is the founder of the Deaf Indigenous Community Consultancy, which provides services to ensure effective communication between Deaf and hard of hearing First Nations people and various service systems.  The Royal Commission has greatly benefitted from Ms Barney's expertise and experience, through the evidence she has given at Public hearings and her contributions to our First Nations Strategic Advisory Group.  Ms Barney.

MS BARNEY:  Thank you.  I would like to begin today by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the land and waters on which we gather here today on Naarm, on the traditional lands of the Wurundjeri and Bunurong peoples of the Kulin Nation.  I pay respects to their elders past, present and emerging.  I am Jody Barney, a proud Birri Gubba Urangan Deaf woman who lived and has worked in Victoria for over 30 years.  Today I have been given permission from the elders who have worked and guided me here in Naarm, as a First Nations disability advocate and an active community member within the Aboriginal communities to do this acknowledgment.

I wish to acknowledge these elders for their commitment and grace, working with our First Nations people with disability.  I wish to acknowledge that the lands and the waters of this country have never been ceded.  That the oldest continuous living culture continues to thrive and to grow, providing individuals and families and community with opportunity to gain experience and participate in creating better opportunities for all.  I acknowledge the rich wisdom, grace.  I acknowledge the rich wisdom, grace, and resilience given by the elders who continue to educate, nurture, guide and provide our community daily.

I would also like to acknowledge the Disability Royal Commission, who today and for the next few days will listen, learn, question the process on the many experiences of people who come before them.  I acknowledge the Commissioners for their commitment and expertise as they do this important work.  As First Nations people, we understand the importance of language, of stories, sharing and caring.  I acknowledge today that these will have a huge impact on the way we do business in the future.  I know that our words are connected to the land, connected to our people.

I acknowledge that today we will see for the first time the importance of language, be it signed or spoken.  I acknowledge the wisdom of the elders who walk with us and guide us whilst on country.  I hope that the words that are signed and spoken today are truly heard.  Thank you.

CHAIR:  Thank you, Ms Barney.  There is one thing you have said which I perhaps should comment on and that is every one of these Public hearings is a learning experience for the Commissioners.  We learn something from every single hearing and from every witness with lived experience of disability or those who are family members or care for people with disability. So, thank you very much for making that point.

This hearing will be in two parts.  The first part of the hearing will focus on the experiences of the Deaf, Deafblind and Hard of hearing communities who identify as being ‘culturally and linguistically diverse’.  The second part of the hearing will focus on the experiences of people with disability who are part of other culturally and linguistically diverse communities.  This hearing is extremely unusual for a Royal Commission, if not unique.  Numerous witnesses will give evidence through interpreters, either Auslan interpreters or interpreters skilled in the relevant community languages.

I am joined today in the Melbourne hearing room by Commissioners Barbara Bennett PSM, Commissioner Rhonda Galbally AC and Commissioner Alastair McEwin AM.  This is also little unusual because we normally have, as members of the Commissioner group who conduct a hearing, the Chair and two other Commissioners, but on this occasion we have, as you can see, four Commissioners in total.

Senior Counsel Assisting the Royal Commission at this Public hearing is Kate Eastman AM SC. She appears with Ms Gillian Mahony and Ms Mary Anne Ryan, both of whom are in the Melbourne hearing room.  When my very brief opening is complete, I shall ask Commissioner McEwin to make an opening statement addressing the content of the first part of this hearing. After Commissioner McEwin's opening statement, Ms Mahony will give Counsel Assisting's opening statement. This will also be directed to the first part of the hearing.  There will be something a little unusual about Counsel Assisting's opening address, but I shall leave you in suspension for just the moment.

When we come to the second part of the hearing, Ms Eastman will make an opening statement.  Several parties have been granted leave to appear at this hearing.  And I will invite their legal representatives to announce their appearances after Commissioner McEwin's opening remarks. 

I would like particularly to welcome those people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds who are following this hearing, particularly, of course, those with disability.  The Royal Commission has conducted extensive work with CaLD communities and with CaLD people with disability during the three and a half years of our life so far.  More recently, the Royal Commission's media team has been spreading the word about this Public hearing 29 in 29 community languages   including, of course, Auslan   to people who identify as culturally and linguistically diverse, and to their various advocacy or representative organisations.

I understand that as a result of these efforts, there are events being held in each state and territory for the Deaf community to watch this hearing.  And I would like to express the appreciation of the Royal Commission and of the Commissioners sitting today for the media who are reporting on this hearing in community languages and also providing information about the hearing and about the Royal Commission's work.  Information of that kind can be found in a number of community languages on the Royal Commission's website.

I want to say something about intersectionality.  The Royal Commission's Terms of Reference require us to have regard to   and I'm quoting:

"The specific experiences of violence against and abuse, neglect and exploitation of people with disability are multi-layered and are influenced by experiences associated with their age, sex, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, intersex status, ethnic origin or race, including the particular situation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and culturally and linguistically diverse people with disability."

This part of our Terms of Reference reflects the wording of the preamble to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the CRPD.  That recognises   and again I quote:

"...the difficult conditions faced by persons with disabilities who are subject to multiple or aggravated forms of discrimination on the basis of race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic, Indigenous or social origin, property, birth, age or other status."

That is the concept normally described as intersectionality.  A concise and interesting definition of that term is contained in the recently released Victorian Disability Inclusion Bill Exposure Draft.  It defines intersectionality to mean:

"...the interconnected nature of attributes of a person or group of persons that creates overlapping and interdependent systems of disadvantage or discrimination."

The significance of intersectionality has repeatedly been emphasised in the evidence given at our Public hearings.  We heard such evidence recently in Public hearing 27 in Perth which examined violence and abuse against children and young people with disability in detention.  We heard about the multiple forms of cumulative disadvantage experienced by First Nations children and young people with intellectual disability or psychosocial impairments or both.

At this hearing, the Royal Commission will be examining the intersection of cultural and linguistic diversity with disability, although, of course, many witnesses will identify with having more than just these two identities.  The issues that will be addressed at this hearing include different cultural attitudes and understandings of disability, the concept of intersectionality and its relationship to identity, the barriers that culturally and linguistically diverse people with disability experience when engaging with systems and services in Australia   particularly language barriers   and the impacts of language deprivation and the importance of language acquisition as experienced by the Deaf, Deafblind and Hard of hearing community.

It will become apparent during this week, if it is not already apparent, just how much effort, care and skill goes into organising a hearing such as this and in particular this hearing because of the logistical complexities and challenges that it presents.  I express at the outset the gratitude of all Commissioners to everyone who has been involved in the preparation of the hearing and will be involved in the conduct of the hearing to all those both within and outside the Royal Commission who have contributed.

I conclude this opening by referring to protection for witnesses.  There are provisions of the Royal Commissions Act 1902 (Commonwealth) which have the very clear object of protecting witnesses who give evidence before the Royal Commission.  In particular, I want to draw attention to section 6M of that Act which provides that any person who uses, causes or inflicts any violence, punishment, damage, loss or disadvantage to any person on account of the person having appeared as a witness, given evidence or produced documents to the Royal Commission, any such person commits an indictable offence.  I emphasise in the light of some recent experiences that the Royal Commission takes this provision very seriously.

The Public hearings will continue   this Public hearing, of course, will continue to be made available by way of web stream.  The Royal Commission encourages those who are watching   whether by web stream or whether here in person   to be mindful that some topics might be upsetting, and we encourage people, if necessary, to seek support in that respect.  Now, there is a warning, I think, on the screen.  The Royal Commission has an internal counselling and support services team made up of social workers and counsellors who are able to provide counselling and support to people engaging with the Royal Commission.  That information is available on the Royal Commission's website.

I now invite Commissioner McEwin to make an opening statement.

COMMISSIONER McEWIN:  Thank you, Chair.  The Royal Commission has a number of obligations, but first of all, it's to put a spotlight on the issues relevant to its Terms of Reference.  Today and tomorrow, we are putting on a big spotlight onto the Australian Deaf community.  This will involve an examination of issues relevant to this community, including access to information in our national sign language   Australian sign language, Auslan   and recognising the distinct cultural and linguistic identity of this community. As a Deaf Auslan user myself, I will be receiving information through Auslan.

Our Terms of Reference requires us to examine how the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities can be implemented in Australia through legislation and policy.  The CRPD recognises and promotes the use of sign languages.  It makes it clear that sign languages are equal in status to spoken languages and requires governments to facilitate the learning and the provision of sign language and to also promote the linguistic identity of the Deaf community.

To date, the Royal Commission has received evidence and information from people who are Deaf, Deafblind, hard of hearing and hearing impaired.  Their representative organisations have also been providing evidence to the Royal Commission, ensuring that access to Auslan has been a prominent theme.  Some of our submissions have been provided in Auslan.

I have conducted a number of private sessions in Auslan where I have been informed of often distressing experiences around the lack of Auslan access for Deaf people in education, employment, and healthcare settings. Next week, I will be holding two days of private sessions with Deafblind people and a group of people who we have been told are at a significance disadvantage with respect to language access.

I express my deepest appreciation and thanks to all of those who have worked hard to ensure this hearing could become a reality.  This includes Counsel Assisting and staff at the DRC.  I also express my appreciation and thanks to all the interpreters who play a critical role in facilitating communication access.  And last, and certainly not least, I express my appreciation and thanks to my Deaf peers who will be providing evidence today and tomorrow.

In closing, I pay tribute to all these Deaf people who have gone before me, who through their determination and commitment and leadership have paved the path towards realising our human rights.  I thank them for their tireless efforts and the Royal Commission will build on their achievements in framing its final report.  Thank you.

CHAIR:  Thank you, Commissioner McEwin.  I shall now take appearances. 

MS EASTMAN:   Good morning, Commissioners.  If the Commission pleases, my name is Kate Eastman.  I appear as Counsel Assisting the Royal Commission with Gillian Mahony and Mary   Anne Ryan.

CHAIR:  Thank you, Ms Eastman.  Are there any other appearances to be announced in this hearing room?

MS MUNRO:  Yes, Commissioners. My name is Ms Munro.  I appear with Ms Robertson for the Commonwealth.

CHAIR:  Thank you, Ms Munro.

MS BEDFORD:  Good morning, Commissioners.  My name Rebecca Bedford, and I appear for the State of Victoria.

CHAIR:  Thank you, Ms Bedford.  Are there any other appearances to be announced from any parties appearing remotely?

MR LACK:  Good morning, Commissioners. My name is Lack, L a c k, initials PA, of Crown Law Queensland.  I appear on behalf of the State of Queensland.

CHAIR:  Thank you, Mr Lack.

MS FURNESS:   If it pleases the Commission, my name is Gail Furness, and I appear instructed by the Crown Solicitor's Office for the State of New South Wales.

CHAIR:  Thank you, Ms Furness.  I assume that is the totality of the appearances to be announced.  Yes.  Yes, Ms Mahony, I think you can now make your opening statement.  Thank you.

MS MAHONY:  My name is Gillian Mahony, and I am Counsel Assisting the Royal Commission on this Public hearing 29.  And I will be leading the evidence from our witnesses over the next two days.  You might be wondering why I am signing this opening.  Many years ago, before working as a barrister, I was involved in the Deaf community.  I learnt Auslan through the New South Wales Deaf community in the 1990s.  I was accredited as a level 2 paraprofessional Auslan interpreter and worked as an interpreter for a short period.  I'm signing today to show my respect to the Deaf community.

I am delivering some of my opening in Australian sign language.  Auslan.  Auslan is the language of the Australian Deaf community.  A Deaf person is often the last to receive information in a hearing world.  For example, when information is being interpreted from the spoken word into Auslan the interpreter receives the information and then places it into Auslan.  Inherent in that process is a time lag.  A lag also occurs where there are live captions and where captions do not keep up with the spoken word.  This lag means usually the Deaf person is always the last to receive the information.

This opening flips the experience for each non-Auslan user in the room.  Each of you are experiencing the lag.  Chair, and Commissioners, due to the importance of having appropriately qualified and highly skilled interpreters present in environments such as this, and due to my Auslan fluency being less than required, the dynamic back and forth when taking evidence from witnesses, your lag experience will be limited to part of this opening, as soon I will switch languages to English and have the interpreters interpret in Auslan.

But the experience of having that lag may inform you of the understanding of the importance of having appropriately skilled and qualified interpreters and to the importance of having appropriate supports to ensure Deaf persons are not neglected, exploited, or abused.

Research conducted in 2006 reported that one in six Australians have some form of hearing loss, with that number projected to increase to one in four by 2050.  Not all those persons identify as culturally Deaf.  The Deaf community comprises persons who use Australian sign language, Auslan, as their primary language.  For some members of the community, Auslan is their first language and English their second language.  For others Auslan has become their primary language, albeit acquired later in life.

Members of the Deaf community identify as culturally Deaf.  That is, they socialise within the Deaf community, they engage in sports teams comprised of other Deaf persons, they attend Deaf events like theatre, festivals and social nights.  They are a CaLD community.  Over the next two days, we will hear from nine witnesses.  Three of the witnesses are hearing, and six of the witnesses are persons who identify as culturally Deaf and will give evidence of their direct lived experience of many of the issues that will be explored.

Some of the Deaf witnesses are also experts and some are leaders of peak Deaf bodies and organisations that bring to this hearing the observed experience of other members of the Deaf community as well as their own lived experience.

Not all people with a hearing loss identify as being culturally Deaf and part of the Deaf community.  Some people who have a hearing loss may identify instead as being hearing impaired or hard of hearing.  People within this group may use speech as their primary communication tool and revert to aspects of Auslan in different environments or may not sign at all.  They may rely on other tools to communicate such as captioning or note-taking, like in educational environments. Members of the Deaf community may also rely on these same supports, subject to their individual needs, preferences and English literacy levels.

An added layer to the Deaf community is the Deafblind community.  Members of this community live with both hearing loss and vision loss.  How that presents is different for the individual and when it presents is also individual.  There are three distinct cultural groups within the Deafblind community.  The first group are born blind and lose their hearing as adults.  They tend to use speech as their main communication and have a variety of devices to help them communicate.

The second group are born deaf and lose their sight as adults.  The third group are those persons born blind and deaf.  They often communicate through deafblind finger spelling and tactile signing.  The Commission will hear from a member of the Deafblind community, a Deafblind man. His parents came to Australia as Italian immigrants. He was born deaf and became blind later in life.  He will speak to his experience growing up and identifying as Deaf and then identifying as a member of the Deafblind community as an adult.

The Commissioners received many responses and submissions from the Deaf community and has consulted with the Deaf community all over Australia.  Through that process, numerous areas have been identified relevant to this hearing.  Some of those areas have previously been explored in past hearings.  This hearing builds upon that evidence and intends to cover in detail some key issues.

A number of Public hearings have had individual Deaf persons give evidence as to their experiences and the experience of the Deaf community.  A previous witness and Deaf community leader was Leonie Jackson.  Leonie worked for the Deaf Society and Deaf Services now known as Deaf Connect.  Since giving that evidence, Leonie unfortunately passed in 2021 in tragic circumstances, leaving behind her children and leaving a significant hole in the lives of her family, friends and the Deaf community.

Leonie advocated for equality in education for Deaf children. And she was a pioneer of bilingual Deaf education in Australia.  Throughout her teaching, corporate and not for profit career, she championed the rights of Deaf children.  It is right that the legacy of Leonie is remembered and respected at this hearing.  I will now switch to English and ask the interpreters to interpret into Auslan.  Thank you for your patience during my signing.

Chair, Commissioners, in 2016, the Census of Population and Housing estimated that around 11,700 people used sign language at home.  The majority of those people, 87 per cent, used Auslan.  In the 2021 Australian Census, 16,242 people selected Auslan as the language that they use at home.  This figure does not include persons who use other forms of sign language, and it is important to remember that sign language is not a universal language.  It develops in the country of origin and is often unique to each region.

Auslan is a language with its own grammar and structure.  It is not a word-for-word English meaning.  It has its own specific words like pah and bah bah.  Those words translate loosely, depending on the situation to "pah", "oh, I get it", and "bah bah", "that's crazy, weird, bizarre".  Auslan is a purely visual language, which utilises not only hand shapes and movements, but also facial expressions and body language to convey tone and nuance.

It has been described to those assisting the Commission as a language that is layered and not linear like the English language.  One sign and how it is presented visually will add layers to the meaning of what may take multiple spoken words to present the same way.

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the CRPD, has made it clear that sign languages are equal in status to spoken languages.  The preparations for Public hearing 29 have identified four key areas that play into the abuse, neglect, deprivation and exploitation of Deaf people as culturally and linguistically diverse community members.  Those areas will be explored over the next two days and they are:  early intervention, language deprivation, education and interpreters.

In respect of early intervention, the Royal Commission has received many submissions that draw on the experience and the effect of poor language acquisition from an early age for deaf children.  The overall messaging that the Royal Commission has received is that for a deaf child to have the best opportunity in all stages of their life early intervention is required. The approach needed is one that maximises the potential for the child to successfully develop a primary language and to have also an understanding that their deafness is not unique to them.

The Royal Commission has been informed that a medical deficit model is the dominant model provided to parents where their child is identified as being deaf.  That model promotes assistive technology through hearing aids, cochlear implants, and it emphasises oral communication, including speech therapy.  It does not promote sign language.  Auslan is often used as a last resort down the track when the deficit model does not work for the deaf child.

The medical deficit model does not inform as to the important Auslan   the role it can have in a child acquiring language in the first years of their life.  It does not identify or inform of the existence of the Deaf community and the benefit that Deaf role modelling and social interactions with other Deaf persons can have on the overall development of a child.  Research suggests that deaf children who are not understood by their family are approximately four times more likely to be affected by mental health issues than those families who can successfully communicate.

This is significant when most deaf children are born to hearing parents where Auslan is not the primary language in the home or may well be and is often entirely absent from the home.  Further, these children have no Deaf peers, no Deaf role models and no presence of any Deaf persons in their life.

This hearing will also hear personal stories of being a deaf child in a hearing family and the impact it had on them, on that witness, on their sense of connection with the world, as well as their overall wellbeing.  The Royal Commission will hear experiences of being a Deaf child growing up with Auslan in their family.

Most deaf children are not exposed to Auslan early in their lives and consequently they do not often acquire a language to a native fluency.  The Royal Commission will hear of the devastating effects the absence of language can have on a deaf child for the whole of their lives.

On the question of   or the topic of education, the Royal Commission will hear about the different models of education currently operating in Australia, provide accessible education to deaf children and the supports available and not available within schools for deaf students.  Information provided to the Commission identifies that approximately 83 per cent of Australian deaf children are educated in mainstream, inclusive educational programs.

While mainstream schools may employ educational interpreters, they are usually not credentialed and there is no requirement for them to have a formal qualification.  There are insufficient teachers of the deaf, and it is no longer available as an undergraduate degree.  Many deaf children are still exiting the education system with poor education and poor language outcomes as compared to their hearing peers.  This can have life-long consequences in terms of accessing information, employment opportunities, and health and wellbeing.

This Commission will hear of various experiences of education, including evidence from Natalie Sandon Stanhope, a Deaf woman and a mother of both Deaf and hearing children.  Natalie will speak to her experiences of education and the advocacy role she has had to play to secure and accessible education for her children.  Natalie sees positives and needed changes from her days at school but also sees many areas that remain the same with the same barriers presenting to Deaf children for an accessible and quality education.

This Commission will also hear from Dr Breda Carty AO, a Deaf woman who will speak of her experience as an educator and the significant lessons that she took from her experience as a Deaf student at Gallaudet University in the United States of America.  Dr Carty was involved in developing a national curriculum for learners of Auslan in Australian schools and its inclusion as a LOTE, that is, a language other than English, in the national curriculum.

Witnesses before this hearing will be sharing their experiences of social and educational isolation and the impact on them by reason of their educational experience.  The Commission has been informed as to the different views, including whether there is a role for special or segregated schools or settings, and whether retaining such schools is compatible with the requirements of Article 24 of the CRPD, which is to ensure an inclusive education at all levels.

The evidence in this hearing will further explore those themes, including the benefits to a deaf child who is exposed to an educational environment that includes contact with other deaf children and Deaf role models and provides an education in a language with supports relevant to their individual learning needs.

Auslan interpreters provide an essential role in reducing a Deaf person's risk of neglect and abuse in society.  The presence of an interpreter can ensure accurate information is provided in a range of situations, including medical, legal, and educational settings. It can also allow a Deaf employee to engage in necessary workplace communications, as well as those desirable social interactions in the workplace.  That can lead to opportunities.  It is not to say that the presence of an interpreter is a cure-all, but it is one support that is a necessary and a desirable one.  However, there is a nationwide deficit of interpreters.  Further, the dispersion of interpreters is unfairly spread, with the majority in Victoria, urban New South Wales, and urban Queensland. 

Chair and Commissioners, you may also recall that Jody Barney, who gave the Acknowledgment of Country this morning, gave evidence in Public hearing 25 of there being up to 55 First Nations sign language systems which have evolved on country and that have cultural links to country.  But there is an absence of First Nation interpreters in the areas where she works.

The deficit of accredited interpreters poses a genuine risk of neglect for Deaf persons.  According to research undertaken by Orima Research in 2004 on behalf of the Australian Government, it was identified that between 83 per cent and 87 per cent of Deaf Auslan respondents required an interpreter during medical consultations, but only 44 per cent of those requiring an interpreter were able to access an interpreter on each occasion.

Further, of the 50,000 medical service appointments established by the survey respondents for which an interpreter was required, a professional interpreter was provided in only 41 per cent of instances.  In 30 per cent of instances, family and friends were required to serve as interpreters, while 29 per cent of appointments were either rescheduled or simply continued in the absence of an interpreter.

This Royal Commission will hear from Deaf witnesses and also from persons who were some of the first professional interpreters but who now primarily focus their professional lives on Auslan training and interpreter training.  This perspective will allow the Commission to be informed of a number of perspectives on the role of interpreters, including the role of the newly emerging Deaf interpreter role.

Chair and Commissioners, you will additionally hear from a witness who is a Deaf interpreter, and that is a Deaf person who works with another Deaf person and interprets with a hearing interpreter to ensure that communication is successful.  This is an even newer profession.  The first cohort of Deaf interpreters were accredited by NAATI in 2020.

The role of the Deaf interpreter arises where the Deaf person is unable to engage in traditional interpreting modes such as where the person uses sign language from another country, where the person is a Deaf First Nations person or may use one of the many First Nations sign languages, or where the Deaf person has minimal literacy skills and/or minimal language skills. A Deaf interpreter can also be used where there are other co-morbidities that require additional language supports.

In this hearing, the Commission is engaging with 10 or 11 interpreters.  These interpreters have travelled from Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia.  That represents a significant drain on interpreter availability, and unfortunately operates to the detriment of Deaf persons needing an interpreter this week across Australia.  We acknowledge the impact of that on the Deaf community.

Chair and Commissioners, there are very strong advocates within the Deaf community, and you will hear from a number of those advocates and those community leaders who are also Deaf themselves and will also share their own lived experiences. Each will speak to their own life as is relevant to the topics being considered at this hearing, but also the experiences of the Deaf community as a whole community.

CHAIR:  Thank you, Ms Mahony.  Now, do you wish to call the first witness now or do you wish to have a short break?

MS MAHONY:  Chair, we may have a short break now.  I might just call on Ms Eastman.

MS EASTMAN:   Thank you, Chair.  For those following the proceedings this week, I will ask everybody to be flexible around the timing. So, we have an opportunity now for a morning tea, and, Chair, we're going take a little bit longer than we usually do until 11.30.  So, we will return at 11.30.

CHAIR:  Thank you very much.  Yes, we shall adjourn now and return at 11.30 Melbourne time.



CHAIR:  Ms Mahony.

MS MAHONY:  Chair, I call the first witness, Natalie Sandon Sanderson.  Natalie will give an affirmation.

CHAIR:  Thank you very much for coming to the Royal Commission to give evidence today.  We very much appreciate your willingness to come here and give us the benefit of your experience.  If you would be good enough, please, to follow the instructions of my associate, who is located somewhere   over there, she will administer the affirmation to you.  Thank you very much.

ASSOCIATE:  I will read you the affirmation.  At the end, please say yes or I do.  Do you solemnly and sincerely declare and affirm that the evidence which you shall give will be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?



CHAIR:  Thank you, Ms Sandon Stanhope.  I will now ask Ms Mahony to ask you some questions.


MS MAHONY:   Thank you for joining us today.  I just need to do some formalities at the start.  Your name is Natalie Sandon Sanderson?

CHAIR:  Stanhope?

MS MAHONY:   Natalie Sandon Stanhope?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  That's correct.  Yes, it's a long one but you're right.

CHAIR:  It takes us a while, but we get there in the end.

MS MAHONY:   Thank you, Chair.  And your home address is known to the Commission?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  That's correct.

MS MAHONY:   Are you happy today to be identified by your name Natalie?


MS MAHONY:   And you are happy for me to address you as Natalie?


MS MAHONY:   Commissioners, we have had a discussion about the topics that Natalie would like to cover today, and that includes education and early intervention.  And when those areas are being explored, we're not going to be referring to the names of any persons or schools or locations or service providers.  And, Natalie, you're content with that course?


MS MAHONY:   Natalie, in terms of your upbringing were you born deaf?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Yes, that's right.  I was born deaf.

CHAIR:  And was it into a Deaf household with Deaf family members?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  That's right. I have a Deaf mother and father.  I'm Deaf and I have a hearing brother.

MS MAHONY:   Growing up in a household with Deaf parents, what was the first language that you learnt?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  My first language was Auslan.  What I'm using today.

MS MAHONY:   And at some time did you also learn English?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  That's right.  Probably around the same time.  When I was born, as a youngster, my mother would read me books and sign to me in English word order the content of the book.  Like the "the cat sat on the mat" for example.  She would finger spell those words. So, I knew the difference between both languages.  Whereas Auslan you would sign cat, sat, and mat in a different order than you would if you were saying it in English.

MS MAHONY:   Do you understand why your mum gave you that experience of reading books to you in English word order using Auslan signs?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Well, my mother is Deaf, and my grandmother, so my mother's mother, was hearing, but her mother was Deaf. So, it goes back down generations.  And we understood that it was important to have both languages being taught. So, that was handed down from my great grandmother to my mother and then to me.  And that's a bilingual approach 

MS MAHONY:   Is that an approach that you have taken with your family?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Yes; that's right.

MS MAHONY:   Growing up in a Deaf household like that, what impact did that have on you as your understanding of Deaf identity and Deaf culture?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  It was normal for me.  Just as anyone grows up, I didn't think about it consciously.  I was Deaf and I signed.  I realised there was a difference when I went to school.  I had to learn to lip read, and that was different, but at home I signed because everyone in my home   whether they were Deaf or not   would sign. So, it was something that was unconscious.  I didn't feel different growing up.

MS MAHONY:   And you mentioned that you have got a hearing brother.  What was his experience   

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  That's right.

MS MAHONY:     of language acquisition?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Well, it was his first language as well, Auslan.  And he's bilingual so he had the benefit of both languages, and he works as an interpreter part-time as well now.

MS MAHONY:   You mentioned about when you first went to school.  You started school very early in life, doing a   an Oral Early Education School.  Is that correct?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  That's right.  At that time education was perceived as   the only option at that time was oral education.  There wasn't a wide range of choice. So, my parents decided that I would go to that school.  I wasn't signing there, but I was very fortunate to have peers who could use signing. So   

MS MAHONY:   So, when you say it wasn't a signing school, were you allowed to sign in that school?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  No.  No.  Our hands had to be sat on in the class.  And we had to use our lips to speak and our voices to speak.  And sometimes we didn't understand what was going on, so the students in the classroom would help each other in understanding.

MS MAHONY:   When you say you would help each other, would you help each other through Auslan or   

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Yes.  It would be very subtle, and we would do it under the table and support each other so that we could see the signs.  And sometimes we would have fun doing that.  When the teacher looked away we were very excited to sign and communicate with each other.  It was a fun time as well.

MS MAHONY:   So in terms of playground time, lunchtime, morning tea, were you allowed to sign with students in the playground?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Well, that's a good question.  I do remember we weren't, but I do remember signing when the teacher wasn't around.  But when we saw the teacher, we would stop.  We all   automatically knew that we were not allowed to sign because we would be disciplined.  I can't remember exactly, because it was such a long time ago now.

MS MAHONY:   And when you say you would be disciplined, how would you be disciplined if you were caught signing?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  We would have to sit on our hands.  Me particularly.  Other students I saw being slapped on the hand with a ruler.  A light slap.

MS MAHONY:   When you were in the school and you were having to learn through oral means, how difficult was that?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Well, I don't know what I learnt, to be honest.  I had such a rich language at home, and I talked with my peers.  We had fun.  We had a social life together.  But I can't remember learning anything at school.

MS MAHONY:   That social life that you have just described, was that important for you as a young Deaf person?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Definitely.  Because they were the same as me.  We had the same feelings, experiences that we could share together.

MS MAHONY:   Some of the children at that school, did they have a similar background as you, having Deaf parents and a Deaf household?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Yes.  Yes, they did.  I was very fortunate.  At that time there were a few students from Deaf families and there were others who were not from Deaf families, but we formed a group and the ones that didn't have Deaf families learnt from us. So, it was a really   really strong cohort.

MS MAHONY:   Do you recall for the children that did not have Deaf families, Deaf parents or siblings, what was their language like compared to yours?  Do you have a recollection of that?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Yes.  They could lip read a little better than I could.  They would catch things on the lips and they would help me.  And I would help them by teaching them signing because they didn't know all the signs that we were using. So, they became absorbed in that visual signing with the rest of the group.  And sometimes they were a little overbearing, but it was a great group to be around.

MS MAHONY:   What was the   just looking back in hindsight, what was the primary benefit to attending a school that had Deaf students and Deaf peers there?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Well, my identity.  Being Deaf, I wasn't the only one there.  There were others there, just like me, that I could communicate with and share my experiences and how to overcome barriers and navigate the hearing world. So, we were able to share that together.  It was very valuable.

MS MAHONY:   Moving to primary school, you went to two different primary schools.  Is that correct?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  That's right.

MS MAHONY:   The first one, can you just explain the first one that you went to?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Right.  So the first one my parents sent me to, was one that was close to home, just around the corner.  The school was a smaller school.  It was a mainstream school, but it had a Deaf facility attached to it.  I think there were about 15   I don't remember exactly   I think 15 students at the time.  There was a teacher of the deaf who could sign.  When I went to that school, there were another couple of students who were at my year level who were Deaf but at the same time they would go to the Deaf facility and I wouldn't.  I wanted to go with them and I didn't know why I had to stay with all of the other hearing kids in the classroom.

MS MAHONY:   And why did you want to go to the Deaf facility and not stay    

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Well, because of communication, because I was Deaf.

MS MAHONY:   When you were in the mainstream school, what supports were you given at that time in your education?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  We had teacher of the deaf support.

MS MAHONY:   And did you have interpreters?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  No.  At that time no.  It was teacher of the deaf who did both roles, which was teaching and signed English interpreting.

MS MAHONY:   And was that also with a hearing teacher in the classroom as well, or was it a stand-alone role?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  At times there were two teachers. So, sometimes the teacher of the deaf would go and teach my peers, the Deaf peers that I had, and there was just the hearing teacher in the classroom.

MS MAHONY:  So why were you in the mainstream class and not in the Deaf unit or the Deaf facility of that school?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Because my English was pretty good. I had really good language. I was able to absorb the information, whereas my peers didn't have the access to language that I did.  They struggled and so they needed additional support and teaching so that they could catch up.

MS MAHONY:   Did you have the opportunity to engage with students who were either Deaf or hearing while were you at that school?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  With my peers, you mean?


MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Yes.  Not often, though.

MS MAHONY:   Why did you leave that first primary school?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Well, at lunchtime or playtime, morning break, the teacher would observe me in the playground being quite isolated.  I couldn't play with the other Deaf children because they were older than me, and the teacher kept us apart and wanted me to be with age-appropriate students. So my peers were boys.  They wanted to play football, and I wasn't keen on that.  So I sat on my own and I couldn't communicate with anybody else.  And the teacher noticed me sitting alone and spoke to my parents about it and told them that I was lonely.  My father drove by on a lunch break and saw me sitting alone and realised that, yes, I needed to go to a Deaf school so that I could have that socialisation with other Deaf children.

MS MAHONY:   So following that school, you went to a second primary school.  Was that a Deaf school or was it a mainstream with a Deaf unit?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  A mainstream school with a Deaf facility.

MS MAHONY:   What were the supports that   I will go back a step, first of all.  Did you attend the mainstream classes or the Deaf unit of that school?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Most of the time I was in the mainstream classroom.

MS MAHONY:   And what supports were you given in that class environment?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Very little.  Again, it's the same story.  The teacher of the deaf would be there and may begin the class by doing some sign language instruction and then would withdraw the other students, the other deaf students, who were behind and needed to catch up. So, she would do the introduction to the classroom and then she would go. So, I would do my work, but I didn't know what the other teacher was saying in the classroom.

MS MAHONY:   How did that impact on your educational learning outcomes?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  My education I don't think was impacted, but I think my personal approach   I wanted to be with other people that were Deaf.  Why was I on my own?  I couldn't communicate.  I could gesture. I could make small talk.  But I couldn't have any in-depth conversation.  I was quite isolated, even though there were people around me.

MS MAHONY:   So, with that school better than the first primary school you went to?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  I think it was pretty similar to the second because I didn't have complete access through sign language in both schools.

MS MAHONY:   The social interaction, was it better at the second school than the first school?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Yes, the second school was better for that because I could socialise with other Deaf students at my year level or slightly older or slightly younger. So, yes, I had more social benefits. 

MS MAHONY:   So those Deaf students at your year level or slightly older or slightly younger, were they mostly in the Deaf Unit during class time?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  That's right.  Most of the time.  Sometimes they were with me, they were like me.  Sometimes they sat in the class.

MS MAHONY:   But you were engaged at lunchtime and playtime?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  That's right.

MS MAHONY:   How important was that for you, as a young person growing up?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Well, I was finally able to socialise.  I wasn't on my own.  It is not usual.  Children learn through play and socialisation. So, that was very important to me.  And in addition, in those play, lunchtime moments, there might be people who   or students who came from different backgrounds, First Nations or CaLD students who would come and learn to sign with me because they were a little different to the norm. So, they included me and that was really nice. So, there was that mix.

MS MAHONY:   If we can just move now to your high school experience.  Did you go to a mainstream high school?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Yes; that's right.

MS MAHONY:   And were you provided with supports in that school?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Yes.  But through signed English and a teacher of the deaf who had two roles:  The interpreter and the Teacher of the Deaf role. So, 

MS MAHONY:   Can you just explain the difference between Auslan and signed English?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Right.  Auslan is what I'm using right now.  I'm using Auslan, which has its own grammar, syntax and structure, like any other language would, that's visual.  Whereas signed English relies on using signs in English word order.  People in   hearing people predominantly invented it because it was signing on the hands.  For example, the cat sat on the mat, I can sign the, cat, sat, on, the, mat.  It's sequential.  Whereas in Auslan, you would sign sit, mat, or the cat. So, it would be different. So, it's much more fluid, much more natural to convey it that way in Auslan.

MS MAHONY:   When you were at that high school, were there other deaf students at that school?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Yes; that's right.  At that school, it was an oral school, oral high school and I was the first Deaf signing student to enrol.  And my parents selected that school because of the level of education and it was easily accessible in terms of location. So, she advocated for me as a signing Deaf person to attend.

MS MAHONY:   You were the first signing Deaf person at that school, were you? 

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  That's right.

MS MAHONY:   Did that cause any difficulties for you, starting at that school as a Deaf signing person when the other Deaf students were oral?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  That's right. It did.  I wasn't confident at that time and I remember one incident very well. I went to school and some of the oral students could sign a little bit. So, I tried to communicate with them visually.  And then after the first few weeks or months I met one of the teachers, and she said to me, "You know when you started at this school there are two students who left because of you, because you use sign language." So two students, two deaf students left this school because their parents didn't want me to influence their children with sign language.  I felt so deflated.  I was only 13 or 14 and, you know, that's the age where you are developing your confidence.  I just felt so guilty, and I didn't understand what was wrong with me using sign language.  It was a dreadful time.

MS MAHONY:   In terms of those students that left, have you ever come back in contact with those students by chance?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Yes.  They are now involved in the Deaf community and very prolific signers.

MS MAHONY:   When were you at that school, you said it was an oral school and you used signed English or the teachers   some of the teachers used signed English with you.  Did you ever have to have oral assessments as part of that school?


MS MAHONY:   Were adjustments ever made for you when you had exams such as an English paper to present or anything like that?  Were you allowed to have an interpreter?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Could you repeat the question, please?

MS MAHONY:   Certainly. So, for example, when you had an English paper as part of your English studies, would you be given an interpreter when you had to present an important paper as part of your assessment?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Yes.  There was support in the classroom.  The school provided language   languages that you could select.  There were two.  One was French   say it was French and German, I think.  I learnt French.  But I decided not to learn German, and I used that time to discuss content with the Teacher of the Deaf for my other studies, and I found that very beneficial.

MS MAHONY:   In terms of year 10, did you do English as part of your year 10 studies?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  That's right.

MS MAHONY:   And was there as occasion where you had to give an assessment in the spoken language?


MS MAHONY:   Were adjustments made for you for that assessment?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  No.  They forced me   and I will use that word force   to speak.  And I wasn't comfortable and they said I would fail if I didn't use my voice.  And English is one of my favourite subjects, and I can write English very well and I very much enjoy literature.  But this had an impact on me and they said I had to recite a poem verbally or fail.  Both the teacher and the teacher of the deaf said I had to.  I went home.  I couldn't sleep.  I tried to practice.  And I went into school   and it was interesting, I hadn't told my parents about it.  I kept it to myself.  I don't know why I didn't, but I went to school and everyone was looking at me in the classroom and I tried to recite this poem but I felt very embarrassed.  I wished that the ground would open up and swallow me so that I could disappear.  It was horrible.

MS MAHONY:   And it appears that that is still a memory that has a very strong impact on you today?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Oh, yes.  Very clearly, I can recall that.  The one about the incident about the two students leaving, because I was a signer at that school and that assessment.

MS MAHONY:   You later attended   I will go back a step.  First of all, did you continue through to year 12 and gain your HSC or the equivalent for your state?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  I didn't get to that point.  I went to year 12. I started year 12.  And interpreters were not reliable.  They weren't always there. So, I decided to throw it in.  It was just too hard.  And I told my parents I wanted to leave school.  Could I?  And they said, "If you find a job." So I went searching and found employment two weeks later and my parents thought, "Well, that's what we said to her, it's too late, we can't go back on what we've said." So, I went off to work then.

MS MAHONY:   Did you ever have conversations with your own parents about their educational experiences and whether their experience was similar to yours?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Later, I did.  Not during my teen years.

MS MAHONY:   And what differences or similarities were there that you observed between your mother's   or your father's educational experience and your educational experience?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  What I noticed with my mother, she had a similar experience to me.  Oral education, she ran away from school nearly every day.  I remember her telling me that.  She still has vivid memories of that, because of the lack of communication for her schooling.  My father went to a predominantly Deaf school, where they would use finger spelling and signing, and he has good memories of his schooling.  He did   he says that his education wasn't brilliant, but the socialisation and what he learnt from his peers was amazing.  A lot of Deaf students left school early back then.  It was 15, or something that   when he left.

MS MAHONY:   And when you say your father's learning was not brilliant, what do you mean by that?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  The quality of education wasn't the same standard as those who were hearing and going to hearing schools.

MS MAHONY:   You did later attend university; correct?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Yes, that's right.  Much later.

MS MAHONY:   What year were you attending university?  Do you recall?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  I can't recall.  I would have been around 25 years of age.  As a mature aged student.

MS MAHONY:   When you were   so is that like pre NDIS days?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Yes.  Well before.  Yes.

MS MAHONY:   And when you attended university, were you given supports at university at that time?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Yes, I was.  Again, I had to advocate for it.  I asked for interpreters and they   I had to give a rationale and they agreed to provide me with interpreting support.  And I studied.  I studied politics and really enjoyed it.  I wanted to do it full time and get it out of the way, because I found it hard juggling a job and uni studies.  And I asked the uni, but where I lived at that time was   there wasn't enough interpreters to support that.

MS MAHONY:   Was that   did you attend just one university or two universities?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  This one was a smaller university and I really enjoyed studying and I wanted to continue and finish my degree.  And so I looked around and found one in a state where they would provide more interpreting support. So, I decided to move states to attend that university where the interpreting and note-taking support was readily available.

MS MAHONY:   So, the second experience of university, you didn't have to advocate for your own supports in that environment?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  At the beginning, I didn't.  Everything was going well.  I was   I was very enthused.  I couldn't believe that I was just involved in uni life, just like anyone else.  But, interestingly, there would be a replacement interpreter that came in that wasn't as experienced as the original interpreter.  And I did talk to the coordinator there, and I knew the interpreter was struggling, but I asked if I could have the other interpreter because it was cheaper to hire this interpreter that wasn't as skilled as to the original interpreter who was at a higher level and   who didn't really suit my educational needs. So, after some to ing and fro ing, they provided the higher level interpreter that I wanted.  But I had to advocate for that.

MS MAHONY:   And that was really necessary for you to be able to successfully complete your degree?


MS MAHONY:   Chair and Commissioners, I was about to move on to Natalie's employment.  I'm just curious if anyone has any questions about her educational experience before we move on.

CHAIR:  Yes, thank you.  I will ask Commissioner McEwin first.

COMMISSIONER McEWIN:  At this point in time, I don't have any questions.  Thank you.

CHAIR:  Thank you.  Commissioner Galbally?

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY:  No, I have no questions.

CHAIR:  And Commissioner Bennett?

COMMISSIONER BENNETT:  No.  I have no questions.

CHAIR:  Thank you.  Please do continue, Ms Mahony.

MS MAHONY:   Thank you, Chair.  Natalie, you are qualified as both a yoga teacher and also a Deaf interpreter.

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  That's correct.

MS MAHONY:   Can we just first turn to your qualifications as a yoga instructor.  Did you have to undertake a course of study for that?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  That's right.  My involvement in yoga began quite some time ago.  I have always been interested in yoga, but I found it hard to understand what all the different movements and poses were, and when I had an interpreter it was very difficult. So, I thought I want to learn this for myself so that I can go to classes and understand what they are doing and what the purpose is. So, I decided to do that.  And I applied to study yoga.

MS MAHONY:   And when you applied to study yoga, did you face any barriers in being able to participate in that course?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Yes, I did, you're right.  It took me a few years.  I asked the course providers, but they said they didn't have the funds for it.  Wait until next year.  So I waited and the next year came about.  I asked again, and this happened over and over to the point with where I had to make a complaint.

MS MAHONY:   So when you talk about they had no funds, what were you wanting them to fund?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  I would like for them to provide Auslan interpreters so that I could access the course content.

MS MAHONY:   So you have just indicated that you ultimately made a complaint.  Is it the case that the complaint resolved and you did that yoga training course?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  That's right.  Again, it took a couple of years for that complaint to get resolved.  I had to go to hearings, conciliations, and then they offered me one interpreter, and I said that's impossible because of OH&S.  You can't have an interpreter working on their own all day.  And they said, having two interpreters is going to really interrupt the teacher and they said, that they would provide one and I said no.  And I had   had legal support through a free legal service, who said, "Oh, this is such a generous offer Natalie, it's better than nothing."  And that set me up to fail because one interpreter is not going to accept that job because it's an OH&S issue.  We need to have two to alternate. So, I was happy to take it further.

MS MAHONY:   Did you end up getting two interpreters?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Yes.  A few days later, yes.  Two interpreters were agreed to.

MS MAHONY:   So when you first started wanting to try and get into the course, how many years until you actually started that course?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Probably was four or five years.

MS MAHONY:   Of you advocating for your access into that course?


MS MAHONY:   When you then engaged in the study, did you find any other barriers?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Yes.  I had to educate the teachers.  Some of the teachers wondered why the interpreter was standing next to them and didn't like that. So, I had to explain what they were doing, and they just didn't like the interpreter being there, and finally we resolved it over time and then things went well. And I would like to add that, as I've told other Deaf people here, I had the interpreter at the course, and other Deaf people wanted to come along, and that was nice because I could open it up for other Deaf people to come along and study alongside me.  And in the end, only one other person enrolled in the course with me.

MS MAHONY:   So   but you ended up having another Deaf person doing the course because of the availability of interpreters?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  That's right.

MS MAHONY:   If I can just ask you some questions now about your role as a Deaf interpreter.


MS MAHONY:   Is that a NAATI accredited role?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Yes, that's right.  I'm accredited through NAATI.

MS MAHONY:   And that is a professional interpreting role?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Yes.  But NAATI have three levels and I'm at the beginner level. So, it's equivalent to paraprofessional level.  But Deaf interpreting is quite new so they haven't yet established the higher level qualifications so I'm at the entry level.

MS MAHONY:   And that is the only level that's currently available through NAATI accreditation?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Yes, it's not available as yet.

MS MAHONY:   Can you just explain what your role is, for example, who your clients are, their age range, their backgrounds, etcetera?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Well, it can be a variety of people.  It could be children to elderly people, different people, different backgrounds. To give you an example, I might work with new Australians who have come here and have not yet learnt Auslan and need to have that assistance. So, I'm there to ensure that I can get visually   visual communication across.  There might be a Deaf person with a mental health issue, that may be signing very fast. So, having an extra set of eyes working in that space is important.

Sometimes it's just me being Deaf means that the Deaf person will be comfortable.  I might work with Deafblind people and people who have language deprivation.  Maybe brilliant signers and fluent that way, but not with English.  And with children, who sign differently, and then with elderly people who may predominantly finger spell.  It could be a whole variety of people.

MS MAHONY:   But when you talk about your clients with language deprivation, what's the age range of clients that you are dealing with?  Is it mostly older people or does it cover all age groups?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  All age groups.  Childhood, right through.

MS MAHONY:   So how do you make communication effective for those people that you are working with?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Again, it depends on the person and what their needs are.  For example, if it's a new Australian, somebody who's arrived and hasn't learnt Auslan or just began to learn Auslan, we might use role plays.  Visual depictions, drawings so that they can understand one thing that leads to another and scaffolding things. But it takes a long time but can be successful.

MS MAHONY:   So, part your role as a deaf interpreter can be to use your imagination or at least be inventive to help facilitate communication?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  That's correct.  Having to think visually.  That's the key.  And I have that as part of my lived experience and I know how to adjust my communication, because I have had to do that growing up.  And working with a whole number of Deaf people that I've socialised with, learning from them, I've   I can convey all of those learnings in the job that I do.

MS MAHONY:   In terms of your training to   as a Deaf interpreter, when did you do that?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Not that long ago.  COVID's thrown my timeline out a little bit, but it was just before COVID, so a couple of years ago.  I started studying at RMIT.  It was the foundation course, because there was this need to   the Victorian Government wanted to encourage Deaf interpreting, so I studied there and very much enjoyed it.  And I was able to learn directly in my language, which was lovely.  There wasn't the interpretation of a teacher presenting; I was able to learn in my language.

MS MAHONY:   That was to be my next question of you.  What language?  And what was the experience of having a course delivered in Auslan for you?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  It was terrific.  It was so good.  Information was quickly absorbed directly.  I didn't have to process going through an interpreter and processing what the meaning was.  It was so comfortable.  And I didn't get tired at all from what I used to by watching an interpreter.

MS MAHONY:   Chair and Commissioners, I am about to move on to a new topic of early intervention.  Does anyone have any questions for Natalie about her role as a Deaf interpreter or even as a yoga instructor?

CHAIR:  We will follow the same procedure.  Commissioner McEwin?

COMMISSIONER McEWIN:  No questions at the moment.  Thank you.

CHAIR:  Commissioner Galbally?


CHAIR:  Commissioner Bennett?

COMMISSIONER BENNETT:  No questions, thank you.

CHAIR:  Thank you very much.  Please do continue.

MS MAHONY:   Natalie, you have three children; is that correct?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  That's right.

MS MAHONY:   Are they Deaf or hearing?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  My youngest two are Deaf.  And my eldest is not Deaf.  He's hearing.

MS MAHONY:   Have   were each of your children given a test to see whether or not they would identify as hearing or Deaf when they were very young?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  That's right.

MS MAHONY:   And when your first child was identified as hearing, how did you feel about that?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Relieved because of education.  I didn't have to worry about their education.

MS MAHONY:   So that was one of the first thoughts that you had for your child?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Yes.  Sad to say, but it's true.  It was a relief to not have to worry about their education.

MS MAHONY:   Inherent in that, was there a concern about a fear of language deprivation?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  I'm not sure what you mean.  If you could expand on that?

MS MAHONY:   Were you concerned that your child would miss out on developing language if they were deaf because of their   the education available to them as a deaf child?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  What I was thinking of was the advocacy I would have to endure, because I would know that there would be the need for sign language if I have a Deaf child. So, I could just send my first child to any school in the area and not have to worry.

MS MAHONY:   In terms of your other children, so they were identified very early on as being Deaf.  How did you feel about that?


MS MAHONY:   Was education though still an issue   a concern for you?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Yes.  That's the first thought again.  Yes, it was.

MS MAHONY:   So looking to your second child, so they are a Deaf child and I understand they identify as non-binary and their preferred pronouns are they or them?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  That's right.

MS MAHONY:   So when they were tested for their hearing shortly after birth, what did the audiologist say to you when informing you that they were identified as being a deaf child?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  I would like to go back to my first child, if I may, to just show you the comparison.  My first born was in the hospital.  I gave birth there, and the assessment was done soon after he   he was born.  And they said, "Good news, your baby is hearing." And I said "What?" And then for the second child, "Sorry, they are deaf." 

MS MAHONY:   It was an apologist language given to you upon your child being identified as deaf?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Yes.  For my second.  And my second was a home birth, as was my third.  And when they were born they had their hearing test afterwards. So, I had to go into the assessment place to be advised and then it was very patronising.  They would say, "We are very sorry.  They are deaf." 

MS MAHONY:   They were aware that you were a Deaf person yourself?


MS MAHONY:   When you   when you were first   or at least your children were first identified as being deaf, what information were you given through that process?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  They gave me some paperwork, some brochures, a package of different services that were available that all related to the auditory function of the ear.  There were no Deaf services.  There might have been one, but I don't remember exactly.

MS MAHONY:   Were you given any information about the Deaf community?


MS MAHONY:   Or about   

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  They said to me, you know, you can Google it yourself.  I did ask.  They said, "Oh, just have a look.  Google it." 

MS MAHONY:   Was there an assumption that because you were a Deaf person, that they didn't need to give you that information?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Possibly.  I don't know.  But what I'm feeling is that they give the same package of information to everybody.

MS MAHONY:   And that package of information did not contain information about the Deaf community or Auslan or Deaf identity?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Not from what I remember.

MS MAHONY:   Were you linked with an early intervention service?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Yes.  Because I'm Deaf I knew about what services were out there. So, I did approach them myself, an early intervention service.

MS MAHONY:   And was that for all three children?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  For the   the younger two.  Not for my eldest.

MS MAHONY:   Was   what was aim of having the early intervention service?  Was it to focus on matters pertaining to your children being Deaf or was it general support?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  The early intervention, from what I understand, is to give parents information about what to do if you have a deaf child because a lot of parents do not know what to do. So, there's lots of information about the schools that are available.  But interestingly, for my second child, they were very auditorily focused.  They kept asking me when they would be wearing a hearing aid, when they would be starting to learn speech and that was the focus.

MS MAHONY:   Was there any, from your perspective, Deafness awareness by the support worker coming into your home?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  They worked for the Education Department, yes.

MS MAHONY:   And did you have any role in educating the support worker about your needs or your wants?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Yes.  It was a bit awkward and tense that time.  I kept trying to say, "You know, sign language is important" and in the end we became good friend and they became an ally of mine.  But, again, I had to educate.  I had to do all the work.

MS MAHONY:   Was there a power dynamic that made it difficult to have those conversations with the support worker?


MS MAHONY:   And you present as a confident Deaf person. Is your experience similar to other Deaf people or other parents who have deaf children?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Well, you can envisage somebody who may not be as assertive as I am listening to the professionals, because they know best.

MS MAHONY:   When it came to your third child being identified as deaf, what information were you provided by the audiologist?  You have spoken about the package of information for your second child.  Had anything changed with your third child?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Again I remember   I don't remember the details of the package, but the guy or the person, the audiologist, was younger, they   he said, "Sorry, I have to tell you that maybe you need to consider a cochlear implant" and that was the end of our discussion.  He was more open-minded.  Whereas the second   for my second child the professional kept repeating the need for cochlear implants, hearing devices and those avenues.

MS MAHONY:   As a parent of two Deaf children, what are your hopes for change for that process?  What is it that, as a Deaf   as a parent of Deaf children you would want to see occurring at that early identification of children being identified as deaf?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  I think there needs to be all the information, a variety of information, holistic information and not just a focus on auditory needs.  There should be signing and maybe a Deaf person involved, because a lot of parents don't know what to expect, and when they meet somebody who's Deaf they can make a better decision.  Maybe a bilingual approach if they wanted to.  But you have to add that signing support for children so that children are going to benefit.

MS MAHONY:   And as a person who now works a Deaf interpreter, and a person who has grown up with strong language, what benefit do you see to having more than a binary approach?  Having an approach that encompasses medical but also culture and language?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Well, I have mentioned that I worked with a number of services out there, with schools, and seeing that positive encouragement. Often, it's seen as less than sign language.  It needs to be considered so that parents can actually meet Deaf people and the services that are out there so that they can give them   it can give them a broad view, rather than having to focus only on the auditory medical approach.  A lot of parents I meet later say to me, I wish I knew this before.  But it's too late.  The child's struggling.  And comes to signing much later.  It should be earlier.

MS MAHONY:   And when you say "it's too late", what age are those families coming for contact with the Deaf community and learning Auslan?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Usually when they start at school.  We have Deaf sports days where deaf children congregate and all deaf children come together, and that's when they with exposed to sign language from the others.  It's around that age.  I think there is more awareness now because there have been a lot more interpreters in the media, and maybe a lot more parents are aware of that and maybe are more   able to explore their options.

MS MAHONY:   Commissioners, I just note the time.  And I'm just wondering if the interpreters would like a short break?

CHAIR:  Let me ask the interpreter.  Would you like a short break?  My reading of   my reading of Auslan suggests they don't.

MS MAHONY:   Thank you.  I will continue.  Just turning to your children.  Before I go on, I may ask the Chair and the Commissioners if they have got any questions at all about early intervention and your hopes for the future.

CHAIR:  I will look around.  No, I don't think so.  Yes.  Commissioner McEwin.

COMMISSIONER McEWIN:  Thank you, Chair.  Thank you, Natalie, for that explanation.  In relation to early intervention, what changes have you seen?  Has it been more attitude or educational training or expertise for professionals that has changed over the years?  Could you explore that a little bit with us?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Holistic.  What you said.  Attitude, encouragement, training, university.  That whole approach is necessary and why not having a Deaf person involved?  Because they have a lived experience that they can share.  I mean, we are looking at a majority community that are hearing, and I think that having that collaboration with Deaf people is important.

COMMISSIONER McEWIN:  For example, peer support, are there any other programs that you're aware of that currently exist that have been successful?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  My children are getting older now and I'm a bit behind. So, you might need to ask somebody who is in the current system.

COMMISSIONER McEWIN:  Okay.  Thank you.

MS MAHONY:   Just following on from an answer you gave to Commissioner McEwin, you said that Deaf people should be involved in this process.  What do you see the role of Deaf people in the identification of when a child is identified as deaf to their parents?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  I believe that Deaf people need to be encompassed at all levels of decision making.  Holistically.  Involved everywhere because Deaf people know.  There are many Deaf teachers out there that are terrific that have the skill, can work collaboratively with other professionals, and I think that can be quite successful.

MS MAHONY:   And do you have a thought or a view about how it would impact on a hearing parent to see a confident Deaf person in the process of the early identification of a child as being deaf?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  I think that's the case.  I think it's important for parents to see professional Deaf people involved because they can then see it as a future for their child.  If there's no one around that's Deaf that's successful, then what are they going to see their child achieving?  So I think they will feel better about themselves and feel more okay with that.

MS MAHONY:   Are there any other matters or hopes that you have for the process for children being identified as deaf allows them to have a more successful start to life to language acquisition and identity?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  I have written some down, so I just want to refer to my notes, if I may.  I think education, we need to broaden our scope.  We need to look at things differently.  I know in Brisbane there's a bilingual school, Auslan and English, and that seems to be quite successful.  Why is that not happening?  I know it happens differently from all states around the country.  Some have Deaf schools, some do not.  Maybe some consistency and a consistent approach would be better.

There are other schools that may teach other languages like French.  There is German schools, why not have Auslan English schools?  And if there is a school that provides Auslan and English in a mixed environment with hearing students, when those hearing students leave, then they are going to know sign language, and that has far-reaching impacts because more people will be able to socialise and enable Deaf people to be included.

MS MAHONY:   That's a very nice segue into the educational experience of your own children.  You have already told the Chair and the Commissioners that one of your first thoughts was about education for your children. So   and you have already also said that your mother very much ensured that you learnt both English and Auslan and were bilingual.  Why did you take a similar approach to your children?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Well, because I think bilingualism   having one language is not enough.  You need to have both.  You've got that rich, in depth knowledge and experience.  It opens up so many opportunities.  In Europe, people speak several languages and that's the norm.  Whereas not the case in Australia. So, one, two or three languages, I think, is beneficial.

MS MAHONY:   And in terms of your own children, their education, all three went to childcare; is that correct?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Yes, they did.

MS MAHONY:   Did they go to the same childcare centre?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Yes, all three.

MS MAHONY:   You can just talk about the supports that, in particular, your deaf children received at that childcare centre?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  I worked with the local council where I lived and I said that I had Deaf   a Deaf child and could they appoint a role model   a signing role model, even though they had a qualified childcare worker there.  And that worked very well.  The children could understand each other, the parents would understand; it was very inclusive.

MS MAHONY:   How many Deaf students were at that childcare centre?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  For my third child, there was two or three, and for my second child, there was only one.

MS MAHONY:   So it was funding made available by local council.

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  For the second child, yes.  It was quite easy to arrange.  For the third child, it was okay at the beginning but then they limited the hours.  Again, I had to negotiate and advocate why that was the case and finally achieved   they found the money somewhere and achieved that support. But there was a lot of restless nights thinking about that for me.

MS MAHONY:   And what was the benefit to your children and also the other deaf children that you saw, particularly with your third child, of having an Auslan interpret in that childcare environment?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Well, the benefits are huge because it was like they were able to play with the hearing children.  They were able to sign and be part of that centre.  And they had their identity that had developed, and the hearing children didn't think anything of having deaf children.  It was normal for them.  I think that was the best way to approach it, right at that early stage.  And they learnt how to get each other's attention by tapping each other on the hand or the shoulder.  And when I arrived to pick up the kids, it was just lovely to see all the children being able to communicate in that way and understanding each other.

MS MAHONY:   Are you aware whether your experience of your children is a common experience for deaf children in childcare?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  When I would   when I took my kids to that childcare centre, I explained to other Deaf parents and then it started to become popular with other Deaf parents.  But some councils weren't as generous as others and some people   some councils did provide the funds, some didn't.  Some were unaware, some weren't.

MS MAHONY:   So the benefits for your children in that centre again was due to your advocacy efforts?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  That's correct.

MS MAHONY:   It wasn't the norm for that type of support to be provided to deaf children?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  No, it's not.

MS MAHONY:   When your oldest son went to primary school   your oldest son is about 17 now, is that correct?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  18. He's here in the room actually.

MS MAHONY:   And you have already told us that Auslan was his first language.

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  That's correct.

MS MAHONY:   Did he attend a local school, a mainstream school?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  That's right.

MS MAHONY:   As a Deaf parent of a hearing child, were you supported by the local school?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Again, I had to advocate and educate them about the needs to book interpreters for things that happened at the school, but it was   having to do the work and reminding them, letting them know.

MS MAHONY:   So things like school assemblies?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Yes.  There wasn't interpreters for that.  The funding wasn't available.

MS MAHONY:   The parent teacher interviews? 

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Yes.  That's probably the only time, really, that there were interpreters accessible.

MS MAHONY:   Has that changed over time?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Well, with my younger two, when they went to school they had interpreters at assemblies because they were Deaf. So, they had to provide access for my children, so I benefitted from that access if I was to attend.

MS MAHONY:   Can we just move to your second child now. So, they have attended three primary schools.  Is that correct?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Yes, that's right. A few.

MS MAHONY:   So the first one was a Deaf school?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  That's right.

MS MAHONY:   And what do we mean by a Deaf school?  Can you just explain what a Deaf school looks like?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  A Deaf school is a place where there are Deaf teachers.  Sometimes there are hearing teachers who are fluent in sign.  But all the students are Deaf.  I feel   I felt it was important for my child to go to a school like that because I felt that was going to be an important start socially for them.

MS MAHONY:   And in terms of their establishing their Deaf identity and language development or for other reasons? 

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Those reasons you mentioned.

MS MAHONY:   Was the school, that Deaf school taught in a bilingual environment in Auslan and in English?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Yes.  Well, yes.  It's not an official bilingual school, but there is literacy in English taught as well as information delivered in Auslan.

MS MAHONY:   And in terms of the students going there, you've said they are all deaf.  Are they all Auslan proficient students?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  No.  It varies.

MS MAHONY:   And what   what's causing the variations in the Auslan proficiency?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Well, because parents may not have signed in the home.  They may be new Australians. So, they send them to the segregated Deaf school because they believe they should be learning to sign.  Maybe some have tried the oral-aural method and it's not succeeded so therefore they have sent them to the Deaf school.

MS MAHONY:   In terms of the students there are you able to comment on whether the majority hearing families or from Deaf families?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Mostly from hearing families.

MS MAHONY:   Did your   your child stay at that first Deaf primary school for long?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  A few years, from kinder through to prep and then   yes.

MS MAHONY:   Why did they leave that school?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  There was a teacher that mentioned to me that, "Your child is doing so well, they are advanced in their literacy and there are other deaf students there that have not caught up to where they are at because they don't have signing in their homes." So, the teacher recommended that I find another school for my child to attend so they can do better educationally.

MS MAHONY:   So your child was at risk of not being able to develop as much as they could because of their advanced language skills?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Yes.  Strong   yes.  They had a strong language foundation already.

MS MAHONY:   Upon receiving that information, did you consider sending your child to a local school?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Yes.  Yes, I did.  It was the same with my eldest.  I thought why not put them into the same school?

MS MAHONY:   And what happened   well, I will go back. Did you make inquiries and what was the result of those inquiries?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  I asked about enrolling them, and I explained that they were Deaf and they asked what would they need.  I said interpreting.  And they said that wouldn't be possible because the funding wasn't available for interpreting.

MS MAHONY:   So   and that didn't change at all with your negotiations?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  I'm sorry, I missed the question.

MS MAHONY:   Certainly.  And that did not change at all through your negotiation and lobbying?

MS MAHONY:   No, it didn't.

MS MAHONY:   So where did your second child go to school after refusal from the local school?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  I tried looking for another school, a mainstream school with a Deaf facility.  There was one school that I approached and they said, "Oh, they are able to sign very well. We may not be able to fit their needs. So maybe they can come for a day just as a trial." So we went and when I picked my child up from school, they were very excited.  And there was a teacher of the deaf who was working as an interpreter.  My child was putting their hand up in the classroom, and the teacher of the deaf just ignored what my child was trying to say.  It was not an environment I wanted to place my child in, and, again, the coordinator I think discouraged me from enrolling my child to that school.  I don't think they wanted my child to go to that school and encouraged me to look for another place.

MS MAHONY:   And did you look for another school for your child?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Yes.  I faced a lot of barriers.  It was frustrating.  There was one school that was a private school that I thought about. The fees were exorbitant but they looked at my child and what my child needed.  And I said they needed interpreters and they said that was possible.  There were teachers of the deaf at that school, but they would bring in an interpreter to suit my child's needs.  And that was a huge relief.

MS MAHONY:   And have you found that that school works for your child now?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Not perfectly.  But a huge percentage and   is great and it's a relief.  You know, I drop my child off, there's a few enhancements that could be made but there's that huge burden that has been taken off my shoulders.

MS MAHONY:   In that particular school you have spoken about having interpreter, and a teacher of the deaf.  Outside of class, though, are there supports for your child such as at school camps or extracurricular activities, excursions, etcetera?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Yes.  Always.  When I visit, there's always an interpreter available.  It's very comfortable.  Or if they can't, then there's a teacher the deaf that will be able to sign and I feel very welcomed.  As we speak today, my second child is on school camp for a whole term.  They are in their third week.  I hope they are not too homesick.  I'm missing them.  But the school looked for an interpreter to be able to stay on site at the camp for that time and sometimes they will rotate some of the school interpreters that are always employed to go down to the camp.  And so my child has the opportunity to communicate with her peers and there is signing available always.

MS MAHONY:   And in terms of the school community, what do you observe about its inclusiveness of Deaf culture, its use of Auslan generally within the community?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  I notice that that's improved, especially when the awareness of interpreters on TV has occurred.  I think there is some parents who have children with a hearing loss that   kids that go to that school and parents started to say, "I think we need to introduce sign language for our child." It's not seen as horrific to have to sign.  It's seen as something that's beneficial.

MS MAHONY:   And in terms of school assemblies, does it involve Auslan with other students?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  All students will be able to sign. So, it's really lovely.

MS MAHONY:   And how does that impact on your second child's identity and confidence as a young Deaf person?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Well, it would be perfect to have more Deaf students going to that school so that they would have peers.  But some are very focused on using speech to communicate, but this school is better than all the other alternatives. This school is very costly and not very accessible to many in our community.  I'm fortunate that I can afford to send my child there.

MS MAHONY:   If we can just look at your third child now, so they are Deaf as well?


MS MAHONY:   What's their language   first of all, how old is that child now?


MS MAHONY:   And your second child is how old?


MS MAHONY:   In terms of your third child, what school did he go to after childcare?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  He went to the same Deaf school, the segregated one that I mentioned for my second child, for a little while.  But he didn't like it because of the travel component.  It's about an hour one way   an hour and 15 one way.  Because with the transportation, they have to pick up a number of deaf children on the way so there's a lot of stops and he didn't like it. I won't go too far ahead of myself.

MS MAHONY:   In terms of his language acquisition, he grew up in a Deaf household.  Was his   


MS MAHONY:     Auslan very proficient by the time he reached kindergarten?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Yes.  Very proficient.  And he's a finger speller.  He loves   he has that strength.

MS MAHONY:   Did that impact on his enjoyment of learning at that school, how proficient he was compared to his peers?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  That's correct.

MS MAHONY:   So what were the reasons why he changed schools?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  First of all was the travel component.  That was   it had such a huge impact on him.  I looked at the local school, but if I go before that, when he was going to that school, it was interesting.  With my 15-year-old, they are more able to adjust their signing to those who haven't yet developed language.  And the teacher would say to me, that they would be   the teacher would say that my child was able to help the other students learn in the classroom because they were able to adjust their signing to the different levels of signing ability of the other students in the classroom.  With my third child, they are more introvert.  They don't adjust their signing to others.  They want to sign in the way that they sign.  They don't want to adjust their signing to others. So, they both had different personalities.  They are different people.

MS MAHONY:   So your third child went to a different school.  Did they end up going to the same school that your first child went to?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Yes, that's right.

MS MAHONY:   So, that was the school that could not provide an interpreter for your second child and was not suitable for your second child?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Yes.  They wouldn't provide for my second, but they did for my third.

MS MAHONY:   How did that change come about?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  I don't know.  I don't know.  The powers that be.

MS MAHONY:   And in terms of the supports, then, what supports are provided to your third child at the school that he now attends?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Could you just repeat that question, please?

MS MAHONY:   Certainly. So, your third child attends your local mainstream school that has a Deaf Unit?


MS MAHONY:   So what supports does he receive in the classroom?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Interpreter support and visiting teachers of the deaf.

MS MAHONY:   You can just explain what a visiting teacher of the deaf does, what their role is and how they assist your child in the classroom? 

MS MAHONY:   The visiting teacher of the deaf, their role is to explain or make sure the classroom is accessible.  That's their first role.  And they are to support the hearing teacher in terms of strategies to ensure that the education is smooth for my child.  Because, obviously, when a deaf child puts their hand up, some little things that you might not have thought of, such as time delays for the interpretation, also visual cues.  There might be Auslan incorporated in visual materials such as on the toilet door, you have got the word "toilet" and then a visual depiction of the sign for toilet. 

So, they encourage Auslan throughout the school. So, they would teach the school, I guess, all those little strategies.  Sometimes they will take over the class.  The regular classroom teacher might not be there.  And I think that they use both English and sign language with the students and demonstrate what it's like to have a Deaf teacher instead of a hearing teacher, because this particular teacher is confident in being able to do that.

MS MAHONY:   And when you say "this particular teacher", you are referring to that particular teacher of the deaf?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  That's right.  Yes.  Just to be clear.

MS MAHONY:   In terms of the interpreter that your child has, how often   how many days a week is   does he receive interpreting in class?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Five.  Five, full time, yes.  Five days full time.

MS MAHONY:   And if the interpreter is not available, what occurs on those occasions?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Well, I have to cancel the work that I have scheduled for that day to look after my son or my husband will.

MS MAHONY:   So he doesn't go to school on those days if there is no interpreter?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  That's right.

MS MAHONY:   Can I ask you a question about Auslan as a LOTE subject at that school?


MS MAHONY:   Do they have Auslan as a LOTE there?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  That's right.  When the visiting teacher of the deaf attends, they encourage Auslan as a LOTE, or when she did attend.  And they started with a teacher who was hearing and not very skilled in sign language or fluent.

MS MAHONY:   If I can just stop you there. So, when you say "they started", is that the person who was delivering Auslan as a LOTE?  They were not proficient in Auslan?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  That's right.

MS MAHONY:   And so what happened from that?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  I noticed this, and I approached the principal and said, "We need to have a fluent signer." Number one would be a Deaf person.  That would be the best choice, to have a fluent Deaf person as a teacher.  And the visiting teacher of the deaf helped us find a Deaf Auslan teacher to deliver it 

MS MAHONY:   Before we talk about that teacher, can I just ask about whether or not having Auslan as a LOTE impacted the environment of the school, the playground, the kids, etcetera?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Can I answer that after I just explain about this particular teacher?

MS MAHONY:   Yes, certainly. So, we will go back. So, what happened with this LOTE teacher, the Auslan LOTE teacher?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  So they appointed a Deaf person who was very confident, developed a curriculum, and as time went on, the school asked them, because when they were teaching all the hearing students, even though this was only one Deaf child, all the kids were Seining and the teacher   this LOTE teacher was asked to please teach their   the language using their voice as well as the visual.  And this teacher felt this was very unusual and very uncomfortable, because using your voice is not part of the visual language.  And I would support that.  And the school kept asking this teacher to do this.  And so they resigned.  And I   and they actually have been traumatised by that and don't want to teach Auslan in schools anymore, which I felt quite sad about.

MS MAHONY:   When they were teaching   I withdraw that.  When that teacher was teaching Auslan as a LOTE, how did that impact on the culture of the school?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Yes, because it was a Deaf person, students learnt how to get the teacher's attention.  And you know how excited kids can be, but now they have got a hearing teacher and when they began, they didn't sign very well.  They had to go and study, and I encouraged that and I appreciate that.  But it's interesting, the children will speak to this teacher with their voices.  They don't communicate in sign. So, those   those who are hearing will use auditory spoken language. So   they don't use those cultural appropriate ways in which they would for a teacher who is Deaf themselves.

MS MAHONY:   So in terms of children, do children sign in the playground because of having Auslan as a LOTE? I will say that again.  Do the hearing children sign in the playground to your child?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Yes, they do.  You can see the benefits.  Having that Deaf teacher there, kids were more aware than a teacher that was teaching Auslan who was not Deaf.  They can make small talk, and in the classroom they can talk with each other, but when it becomes more in depth, I guess, they use the interpreter to communicate.  Which I think is fine.

MS MAHONY:   How many other Deaf students are at the school with your third child?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  There isn't any others.  He's the only one.  One that's hard of hearing but no signing Deaf students.

MS MAHONY:   Does that give any concern for you as a parent?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Yes.  I'm pretty conscious to ensure that on weekends that he has access to Auslan friendly children so that he can socialise, so that he's got that social skills.  Those basic things like learning how to turn take in a conversation, for example.

MS MAHONY:   One of the matters that you raised before with the recommendations that were you reading off your sheet was about having bilingual schools.  Do you also have a view about mixed enrolment?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Mixed enrolments.  By that, do you mean Deaf and hearing students together?

MS MAHONY:   Yes, or what that means for you as a   as a parent of the a Deaf child?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  I don't see anything wrong with a mixed enrolment.  I think that's a good thing because I think awareness is therefore able occur and then, as children get older, they are much more aware of difference in the community.  But the same time after saying that, I think there's an important role for Deaf schools.  There needs to be both, because not every child is the same.  We are all different.  Some people who have babies that are not deaf and they grow.  They might go to a sporting school or a school for the arts.  You don't have to think that a school is going to fit all needs.  Each school is going to fit particular needs.

MS MAHONY:   Looking back on your three children's educational experience, your educational experience and that of your mother's and father's, what do you see as things that have changed and what hasn't changed?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  I think there have been minimal improvements but not dramatic improvements.  From what I've seen, interestingly, as a parent and as a person with lived experience, I don't think my experience is valued.  We need to incorporate Deaf people in all levels of decision making, and I think that that will make a huge difference.

MS MAHONY:   Chair and Commissioners, I'm at the end of my questions.  Does anyone have any questions for Natalie?

CHAIR:  Thank you.  We shall shortly ascertain that, yes.  Commissioner McEwin?

COMMISSIONER McEWIN:  Thank you, Chair.  I did have one question, Natalie.  It was really following on from the last question.  So you have talked about your educational journey, your children's, and that's still ongoing, obviously.  Looking back in hindsight, what are the positive examples that you wish to incorporate into what exists today in mainstream?  We know it's not at a point in time where education for deaf children is perfect, but what would you suggest that we could add into education for deaf children into the future?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  I haven't had a positive experience to date. So, I can't tell you.

COMMISSIONER McEWIN:  So, your sense is that barriers are still in place.  What changes would you recommend?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  For Deaf people to be heard, because we have the lived experience to offer.  We can work together because we know people don't always understand, but we can do that so that access can be appropriately I provided for all different types of Deaf people 

MS MAHONY:   Before   can I just interrupt.  I've just been informed that we do need a very short interpreter break.  We are very close to lunch.  Would it be appropriate if we have a couple of minutes now and that allows Natalie just to form any views to things she would like to say last and then we can go to Commissioner McEwin's question?

CHAIR:  If that's what the interpreters need?

MS MAHONY:   Yes, it is, Chair.

COMMISSIONER McEWIN:  I only had one further question.  I don't know if the other Commissioners had further questions.

MS MAHONY:   The messages that I'm getting is the interpreters do   no, they are happy to proceed.  Thank you.

CHAIR:  Right.  We will get Commissioner McEwin to ask his question, and then we will   

COMMISSIONER McEWIN:  Thank you.  So, Natalie, you were talking about your second child going into a private mainstream school, and it looked like there was a lot of effort made there on the school's behalf, which was positive.  Am I correct?  And why isn't it the same in other educational settings?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  The school would accept up to 20 Deaf or hard of hearing students because of the way they needed to coordinate things.

COMMISSIONER McEWIN:  So it's a great example or model, if you like, that others could model from?

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  Yes, I think so.

CHAIR:  I don't think either Commissioner Galbally or Commissioner Bennett have any questions.  Is there anything else that you wanted to ask?

MS MAHONY:   There's nothing further from me, Chair.

CHAIR:  Alright.  In that case, this is going to be good, great.  Just a minute.  I'm going to get it.  I'm going to get it.  Yes.  Definitely.  And thank you.  And thank you for teaching me Auslan.  Thank you very much. 

MS MAHONY:   If I can just say thank you for coming here today and giving your evidence.  It's really greatly appreciated.  Thank you.

CHAIR:  It is.  Thank you. On behalf of the Commissioners, thank you very much indeed  

MS SANDON STANHOPE:  I would like to thank you for listening.

CHAIR:    for coming and giving evidence today at such length about your experiences and those of your family.  And thank you to child number one also, for coming to the Royal Commission. So, do we now adjourn for lunch?

MS MAHONY:   Yes, Chair.  One hour.

CHAIR:  It is now nearly 1 o'clock.

INTERPRETER: Thank you all for listening, from Natalie.

CHAIR:  We will resume at 2 pm.




CHAIR:  Ms Mahony.

MS MAHONY:   Chair, I now call the next witnesses, Jen - Jennifer Blyth, B-l-y-t-h, and Brett Casey, C-a-s-e-y.  Both witnesses will give an affirmation.

CHAIR:  Thank you very much.  And thank you, Ms Blyth and Mr Casey, for coming to the Royal Commission today to give evidence and assisting us with the hearing on this important question.  If you would both be good enough to follow the instructions of my associate, who is located in the far distance to my left, she will administer the affirmation to you.

ASSOCIATE:  I will read you both the affirmation.  At the end, please say yes or I do.  Do you solemnly and sincerely declare and affirm that the evidence which you shall give will be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?





CHAIR:  Thank you very much.  If you will be good enough to listen to Ms Mahony, she will ask you some questions.


MS MAHONY:   Thank you both for joining us today and giving some evidence and sharing your experiences with this Royal Commission.  I just need to do some formalities first.  Starting with you, Jen.  Your name is Jennifer Blyth?


CHAIR:  And you are the CEO of Deaf Australia?


MS MAHONY:   And your address is known to this Commission?


MS MAHONY:   And turning to you, Brett.  Your name is Brett Casey?


MS MAHONY:   And you are the CEO of Deaf Connect?

MR CASEY:  And your address is also known to this Royal Commission?


MS MAHONY:   Can I just confirm, you are both happy to be identified by your first names and for me to address you by your first name?

MS BLYTH:  Yes, and Jen for me, not my full name, Jennifer.

MR CASEY:  And, yes, fine with me.  Thank you.

MS MAHONY:   Jen, just turning to you first, you are the CEO of Deaf Australia.  Can you provide a very brief background about that organisation's history and the services it provides?

MS BLYTH:  Sure.  I want to acknowledge that Deaf people have existed in one form or another as an organisation, as a group for many, many years.  Our history says we were established in 1903 as ADDA, which was the Australasian Deaf and Dumb Association.  After that, in 1932, the name was changed to Australian Association for the Advancement of the Deaf, and the motto at the time was of Deaf, by Deaf, for Deaf.  Then that organisation no longer existed.  In 1986, the organisation established called the Australian Association of the Deaf, to achieve the Destiny of Deaf People.  After some time, we have achieved a lot over the years.  We are now about to celebrate 40 years of being in existence as Deaf Australia.

MS MAHONY:   And in terms of the services that Deaf Australia provide, what is their main focus?

MS BLYTH:  We are the peak advocacy body for all Deaf, Deafblind and hard of hearing people in Australia that use Auslan.  We provide advocacy. It should be systemic, but often it is individual, because there is no individual advocacy organisations around Australia that are resourced.  We also provide information to the community about things to do with Deaf people's rights, how to advocate and helping the community be aware of what issues they need to advocate for.

MS MAHONY:   And just your role as the CEO, what does your role do and what do you get to see of the Deaf community and its experiences throughout Australia?

MS BLYTH:  Well, that's a big question, actually.  I think we are such a small organisation, and we are underresourced.  I wear many hats as a role of the CEO.  We are supported by an amazing team.  Our focus should be on systemic advocacy, so work with the NDIS, government agencies and legislations as other peak advocacy organisations do.  Often we provide individual advocacy to the Deaf community related to AAT cases for the NDIS, whether it's issues people are facing when it comes to accessing hospitals or visa issues. The issues are quite various. I think I have forgotten the second part of your question, if you wouldn't mind repeating that 

MS MAHONY:   Certainly.  The second part of your question was your particular role as CEO and what you get to observe of the Australian Deaf community?

MS BLYTH:  Thank you.  Well, in terms of - a question similar to this will be how many drops of water are there in the ocean.  I think nothing is not an issue for many Deaf people across the country.  There are barriers everywhere that Deaf people face.  We see a variety of issues in amongst the community.  We see many Deaf people being oppressed by society.  And when I say "society", I mean the hearing peer, the family members, and even other Deaf people at times.

We see Deaf people facing barriers in all forms, when - it is education, from those early years, employment, hospital services, the judicial system, those over the age of 65.  And within that, we think of people of varying backgrounds, whether they are from an ethnic background, whether they are queer, First Nations, and a variety of other intersections.  And some people face more, some people face less barriers.  But not one Deaf person has a perfect existence in Australia.

MS MAHONY:   Brett, just turning your organisation.  So, you are the CEO of Deaf Connect.  Can you give a brief background to that organisation's history and the services it provides?

MR CASEY:  Sure, thank you.  Before I start, can I also thank the Commissioners in the room today for really making this accessible to Deaf people and the experience that we have here in the room with so many different interpreters working.  I actually don't know where to look, to tell you the truth.  I think I have kind of navigated and oriented myself but thank you for providing that access.

Deaf Connect - now, I will be roasted by my colleagues if I don't get the year right that we were established.  I think it was 1902 we were established in Queensland.  Deaf Connect was the Deaf Society at the time, the Queensland Deaf Society.  We were primarily based as a mission. So, it was religiously affiliated to support the Deaf community in that space, and I think most Deaf societies across Australia came from a mission-based-type organisation.

Over time, we have shifted to a professionalised organisation, and over the past 100 years, especially in the last 20 or 30, we have focused on growing our service outcomes for the Deaf community. So, our service remit is quite broad.  We have interpreting services like you are experiencing today.  One-on-one support for individuals at home to maintain their living skills and their capacity to have a good life, and some of those Deaf people have additional or secondary disabilities.

We also provide access programs, so a social worker-type support model for Deaf people who require that at that particular point in their lives.  We have an aged care service.  So we are approved under the Commonwealth Aged Care Provider Scheme.  We also provide early intervention services for deaf children, between the ages of 0 and 7 years old.  We also have an education arm and we are a registered training organisation.  And we provide accredited Auslan classes and training.  We also offer the Diploma of Interpreting for individuals who are interested in that space.

Right now, we are about 750 in our workforce and we are becoming quite a large organisation.  We recently merged with New South Wales two years ago, and we have had a transfer of services from the Royal South Australian Deaf Society earlier this year. So, we have grown, and we are operating across five - yes, five jurisdictions. So, Canberra, New South Wales, Queensland, the Northern Territory and South Australia.

MS MAHONY:   Just in terms of your own personal background s, were each of you born deaf or did you acquire deafness later?

MR CASEY:  I was born hearing, and I think at 3 or 4 years old I acquired an illness and lost my hearing. So, I think - it was meningitis.  I don't remember much at that time. I just remember being very, very ill at a young age.

MS BLYTH:  I have the privilege of being born into a family where both of my parents were Deaf.

MS MAHONY:   So for you, Jen, does that mean that Auslan was your first language?

MS BLYTH:  That's correct.

MS MAHONY:   And at some time did you come to learn English also?

MS BLYTH:  I did, yes.

MS MAHONY:   And is the opposite for you, Brett?

MR CASEY:  Pretty much.  Definitely not the same.  I struggled with learning English as I became deaf, but, yes.  Certainly later in life, I acquired Auslan and my membership into the Deaf community.

MS MAHONY:   Just looking at your qualifications, Jen, you have a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and a Graduate Diploma of Psychology.


MS MAHONY:   And a Diploma of Auslan?


MS MAHONY:   Did you ever have a an aim of becoming a psychologist, given your studies?

MS BLYTH:  Yes.  I did.  Growing up, I saw my parents and friends that were Deaf and really, from what I observed there was something missing in terms of having access to a psychologist that was Deaf so you could communicate directly with them. So, growing up, I always wanted to work in that space.  So, I studied, got my degree and was excited to become a psychologist but no hearing psychologist was willing to support me.  They were saying how dare we have an interpreter in the room for our hearing patients. If it's a Deaf patient, that's fine, but for you to access this information, there is no way we can have an interpreter in the room. So, I couldn't find anyone to supervise me, so I had to drop that as a career.

MS MAHONY:   Are you aware whether that has changed now for Deaf people who wish to become psychologists?

MS BLYTH:  I am aware that there are a few Deaf people that would like to become psychologists.  I do know of one Deaf person who I might say is more hard of hearing or has a hearing loss that uses spoken language.  They had to go through an unconventional method to become a psychologist.  They had to move overseas, in fact, to get the skills and experience and come back to finish their degree.  For that person, that's an incredible journey that they had to go through.

MS MAHONY:   Turning to you, Brett, you have a Bachelor of Arts?  And also a Bachelor of Law?


MS MAHONY:   Did you ever have an - I will go back a step.  You are also admitted to the Supreme Court of Queensland; is that correct?


MS MAHONY:   Did you ever have the opportunity or the desire to work as a lawyer?

MR CASEY:  Definitely had the desire to work and practice as a lawyer, but, unfortunately, the barriers I faced were just too many to get myself to that position of working full-time as a lawyer.

MS MAHONY:   And what barriers were you facing when you were trying to get work as a lawyer?

MR CASEY:  Primarily in regards to access to interpreters within the workplace. So, there is a program, the Employment Assistance Fund, which provides up to $6000 of interpreting in the workplace but as a lawyer working with clients and colleagues, that money would run out very, very quickly.  I was offered some work as a lawyer within a firm, but at the same time I was offered to work within the Deaf community.

And I remember, as I did my work experience in a legal firm, at the end of my experience, they were like, "Thank you for your work over the last seven or eight weeks." They had a morning tea for me but didn't provide an interpreter at that morning tea. So, we had a thank you and a farewell morning tea for me that I couldn't even access.  And that was a point of impact.  It was an easy decision to move into a Deaf organisation where I knew that I could easily communicate rather than continue to struggle in a law firm. So, I changed my career path.  It wasn't planned, but something that happened.

MS MAHONY:   Is that a similar experience to you, Jen, about making that decision not to proceed with being a psychologist and moving into Deaf advocacy and Deaf organisations?

MS BLYTH:  Well, I think I was a born advocate.  I have stories from my mother at a young age that I was very firm about what I knew I had access to, and I'm sure many people that know me wouldn't be surprised with me sharing that.  But at the same time I was studying, I also was working in a social role with the Deaf community, working in a variety of Deaf organisations. So, I was always working as an advocate in that space and I continued with that role after not being able to pursue psychology.

MS MAHONY:   The Royal Commission has been informed of different concepts, so you had the concept of culturally Deaf, of the Deaf community, Deaf identity, and Deafhood.  First of all, turning to you, Jen, can you just explain what is Deaf identity and being culturally Deaf?

MS BLYTH:  Sure.  Well, really, as many people would know, I identify - your identity is very subjective.  It depends on the individual.  There is no right or wrong way to identify.  There are different forms of identity when we think of the Deaf community. There is capital D, which means culturally Deaf.  You are an active member of the Deaf community and regularly use Auslan as your preferred language and are part of the community, whether you attend events or are involved in Deaf sporting teams. 

That's usually the approach. Not always, but that's what capital D Deaf stands for.  Little d deaf, are usually people who are deaf, but they might not use Auslan.  They might not prefer to identify as culturally Deaf.  They may operate in both the hearing and Deaf world.  And we also use capital D, Deaf to identify children at the point where they haven't formed their own identity. Often when referring to children, it is small d, deaf.

When we talk about hard of hearing, usually that refers to people who don't use Auslan.  They may know Auslan, but they don't want to use it as their preferred language or their preferred communication tool.  They might at times use Auslan, but they are more comfortable using spoken language.  They may use interpreters at times as well.  When we think of people that communicate orally, or people that communicate in sign language, orally means - is quite a blanket term to mean people that are comfortable communicating in spoken language, whereas those that sign prefer to use Auslan.  And the next part of the question, was it about the Deaf community that I - 

MS MAHONY:   Yes, that's right.

MS BLYTH:  So the Deaf community - as you can see there are a lot of Deaf people in the hearing room.  I'm quite proud to say I'm a part of that community.  I'm able to communicate directly with people that are part of that community.  The Deaf community choose to be together.  They feel a sense of shared purpose no matter who you are, no matter what background you have, where you come from, there is that shared experience and connection through language.  And that's what the Deaf community essentially is about.

MS MAHONY:   And so in terms of language, we are referencing directly Auslan here, and that's a necessary part of Deaf identity, Deaf capital D identity, and Deaf culture.

MS BLYTH:  Yes. Yes.

MS MAHONY:   Brett, in the submissions that Deaf Connect have made, there's a reference to Deafhood.  Can you just explain what Deafhood is and if or how it is different from Deaf identity, for example.

MR CASEY:  Okay.  It is also good to understand the context of Deafhood, and if you think of childhood, motherhood, fatherhood, it's a category of people and the experience that they have, whether that be their childhood, or being a parent. So, Deafhood is about a journey for a Deaf individual to embrace culture, language, and it might be a little bit opposite to the term deafness. So, deafness is usually defined by a deficit model.  Something that's wrong.  But Deafhood is about, "I accept me for who I am.  I am a whole person.  I connect with a whole community, and I use sign language to communicate with my colleagues and peers as well as my friends and the broader community." 

Like you are accessing me today through interpreters.  I get to be the whole person that I am.  And every journey is a personal one.  Jen's experience growing up is very different to my own.  However, we have arrived at the same point of connection within the Deaf community and accepting our identity as a Deaf individual.

MS MAHONY:   How does the acquisition of Deaf identity, the Deafhood journey, does it help shape the life of a person to mitigate against the risk of neglect or abuse or exploitation?

MR CASEY:  It can.  It's a very challenging question you are asking and it's not easy to answer.  I think Deafhood is the journey that a person takes to give themselves and empower themselves with skills to navigate different avenues.  But, again, that depends on your own skill set that you have received through your education, and other aspects of your life. So, it's not - what I'm trying to say is Deafhood is arriving at a point in your life, but it's not an end point.  It's an ongoing journey.  It's a life-long journey.  But it gives you more opportunity to understand skills, and you might still be vulnerable to the ability of abuse, but you have a better understanding of what that could mean.

MS BLYTH:  And to add to that, it is very much a positive experience, but there are some people that are yet to find their Deaf identity and feel a sense of confusion and see the word "deafness" as a problem, that it has caused an issue, that you take up too much resources or you don't understand, spoken language and spoken communication is far superior.  Deafhood is about being like, yes, I'm Deaf, there's nothing wrong with being Deaf.  There is no problems.  There's no worry.  It's not an issue.  That's very much what it's about and that healthy development of a Deaf identity, and it may reduce, possibly, your experience of abuse, neglect and exploitation.  But it's about having the confidence to have certain conversations rather than navigating the world on your own, being unsure who you are and what you are doing.

MS MAHONY:   Within - within the Deaf community, is there an intersect between language deprivation and the risk of abuse and neglect for a Deaf person?

MS BLYTH:  Could you ask that question again, sorry.  Thank you. 

MS MAHONY:   Absolutely. So, within the Deaf community, what role does language deprivation play in creating a risk of neglect or abuse or violence?

MS BLYTH:  Well, if you have no language, you don't know what's right and what's wrong.  Language - if having no language means you might be more willing to accept things as normal, that neglect is an experience that everybody experiences.  Those that have language and have access to information, if you're hearing, you can, say, listen to the radio, you can have access to information and know what's right or wrong.

Deaf people that have language can have conversations and know what's okay and how you should be treated and how you should not be treated and understand what neglect means.  Is it that an interpreter doesn't interpret everything for you?  Or they see you as not important and decide to make certain decisions?  And that's not okay.  If you don't have the language or you don't have a language, you don't understand what is right or what's wrong. So, language deprivation does have impacts, but that's just a very small example of that.

MR CASEY:  If I could add, it's really important for the Commissioners to know having a language itself doesn't put you in a strong position to say that abuse will never occur.  A lot of grassroots Deaf community members haven't been given the educational access to have those life skills. They were not equipped with the right skills to navigate life in different ways and, from that, are at a higher risk of vulnerability to abuse, neglect or exploitation.

MS BLYTH:  And I just wanted to add, language deprivation is not only about the deprivation of English but also Auslan. So, if you have skills in English but not in Auslan, it doesn't mean you have better success in the community.  You might understand English, but you may not understand appropriate relationships with people. So, when we talk about language deprivation, we are specifically talking about deaf people that don't have any language, not about having Auslan and not English or vice versa 

MS MAHONY:   Just going back to, Brett, what were you talking about, not having access to education, what role does education play for Deaf people in terms of mitigating the risk of neglect and abuse and violence?

MR CASEY:  I feel again it's about the capacity of providing appropriate education and curriculum to deaf children in the same way that their hearing peers would, to give them a better start in life to what they have had and to what some of the Deaf community experience right now. So, education has a role in many ways.  Like we heard this morning, education is not just what's happening inside the classroom.  It's about the social environment, it's about the playground and interacting with other students and learning from your peers.

If you don't have access to that component then how does a deaf child understand right from wrong?  The rules of play?  And things that are happening around them which has further consequences on their life.  And potential language deprivation or lack of access to education can lead to a heightened sense of abuse.

MS MAHONY:   That - just going into the childhood experience and having that early identification and early supports, the Royal Commission has been informed - and I think you were both listening to the evidence today - where there's a dominant model of a medical deficit approach to when a child is identified as being deaf.  Can you just explain what that model is and what the other the model is, being a cultural linguistic model.  And, Jen, I might get you to address that first.

MS BLYTH:  I've personally experienced navigating those services, and many people who have had children have been through the newborn screening hearing test. So, when my son was born, I experienced - and I said before you do the test, I don't want any negative language such as "we are sorry" or "unfortunately".  I want it to be phrased positively.  Because I have seen other people experience that.  Regardless if their child was deaf or hearing, when they have the screening, the language is framed in a way they say they are sorry, unfortunately, you know, or we need to navigate now particular surgeries for your child.

And they are yet to really even experience being a parent.  98 per cent of babies that are born deaf are born into families that are hearing and the first time they meet a deaf person is their child and they have already failed at some within that 24, 48-hour window.  There's no opportunity to meet a Deaf person in that situation and understand the broader picture.  The information is often very much that medical perspective.  There's not enough information that is provided that is positive or powerful in terms of the representation of what it means to be Deaf. 

And that's what's happening now.  Things could have changed, and things may have changed slightly, but that's what we hear.  A great alternative is quite similar to what the witness shared this morning.  When a child is born and they are diagnosed as deaf, the first person the parents meet should be a Deaf person who might sign, who might use spoken language, that can come in and meet the parents as another Deaf person and provide them the options in a neutral way.  And go through what that might be, access to Auslan, access to spoken language, access to medical devices.  There's no bias presented in that information.  And the parents can feel comfortable to ask questions of another Deaf person to help them be informed and make the right decision for them and their child.

MS MAHONY:   Does Deaf Australia have a view about whether the medical deficit model and whether the cultural linguistic model are competing models or whether they can travel harmoniously together?

MS BLYTH:  Well, the CRPD says we should be looking at it through a social model of disability.  I feel as though, for things like deafness, still predominantly a view that is medical.  There is such a focus on fixing or solving this issue, making the child hear, making the child speak, assimilating them into the world.  There's yet to be a shift in the approach or thinking of that social model and thinking about human diversity.

I don't see it as competing but I see the medical world see it as a competing thought or approach.  It doesn't need to be.  When a child is diagnosed as deaf, this can be celebrated.  You are going to be part of an amazing community.  You can be part of this amazing world with a language, a culture, your own norms, etcetera.  There's nothing wrong with our community at all. So, it can be phrased in that way rather than that deafness is a problem that we need to fix and decisions immediate need to be made immediately about certain surgeries. It doesn't need to be looked at in that way.

MS MAHONY:   And, Brett, do you have a different view?

MR CASEY:  No.  No.  I would have to agree with my colleague here.  We all have different experiences, and perhaps if I could share an example.  When my eldest child was born, he was born hearing and I knew that because, as I held him, all of a sudden he jumped.  And I was like, "What is going on?" and then we realised that the bathroom door within the room closed and it made a noise and he reacted to that sound. So, I was like, okay, well you're hearing.  We will send you for your hearing test, but I know you are going to "pass", which is the terminology they use. And that it's good that he passed.

But then two days later I got this text - I was at work. My wife at the time texted me on a strange number, which was the doctor's phone, asking me to come to the hospital now. So, I travelled into the hospital, and they said, "You need to sit down.  We need to let you know that your son is blind." And I was shocked.  Blind?  And I could see that he did have a white pupil and that he might not be able to see through that.  But it's how the doctor informed me and shared that information.

"I am so sorry, you need to sit down, I've got news to share with you.  Your son is blind, but we will provide you with supports.  You're going to stay in hospital longer so you can see the specialist."  And the experience was definitely of a deficit model.  He was born.  It's the happiest time in your life, having a child, and then to have that reaction.  And the specialist came and the specialist was brilliant and said, "Your son is great.  Go home, enjoy your baby and I will see you in three months’ time for your first check-up."

And it was.  It should be the best time in our life.  Regardless of whether the child is born deaf.  You have got a new baby.  You don't teach it speech straightaway. So - my son is okay.  He is not completely blind.  He does have a cloud -  that's what he likes to call it - in his left eye. So, he doesn't see completely in his left eye, but he is fine.  It's just how the doctor shared the information with me.

You know, if you've got a Deaf person that can meet with parents, as their child is diagnosed, they can see the opportunities and the possibilities that their child can have.  My first question to the doctor is how am I going to communicate with my blind baby, being that I'm Deaf?  That was my first concern and question.  That was something that - that was playing on my mind but then I realised, it's my baby. We are going to work out ways to communicate together.

MS MAHONY:   You heard the evidence earlier of Natalie, and she spoke about having that positive person in the room, the Deaf person, the Deaf professional. So, I take it from each of your experiences and your evidence now that is something that you would support?

MS BLYTH:  Yes.  I think there should be a Deaf peer role where parents can feel comfortable enough to have some of these conversations with and ask questions about how did you manage this situation?  What was your experience as a child?  Rather than being surrounded by hearing professionals.

MS MAHONY:   Brett, as you indicated, a child doesn't learn language immediately.  If one goes down the medical path and has, for example, the cochlear implant, what happens if a cochlear doesn't work for that child?  When is that likely to be found out and what are the impact of that?

MR CASEY:  That's another good question.  Usually with cochlear implants, prior to the surgery the child may have some residual hearing if they have hearing aids.  But the cochlear will take any residual hearing that a person has. So, if the cochlear doesn't work, then the hearing aids are no longer going to work for that child. So, that option for auditory assistance is no longer going to help.  The options would then be pushed to the sign language pathway which, in the medical model, is the last resort.

MS MAHONY:   When - do you have experience or can you speak to when that usually happens?  When do they realise a cochlear is not working for a child and they shift to Auslan?

MR CASEY:  Sometimes it can be two or three years.  I can't talk with complete experience and knowledge in this area, but generally they try for one or two years and when that doesn't work, they will move them to sign language. So, their opportunity - as we know, people acquire language from 0 to 3 or 4.  They are the really critical times for language acquisition.  And that period has passed. So, they are already starting on the back foot.  And earlier, the witness spoke about deaf kids at school already being behind and having to have intensive support, because they didn't have foundations in language at all.

MS BLYTH:  Yes, I wanted to add to that as well, that often parents and medical professionals will say, yes, we need to make the child work hard.  They need to listen more.  They need to be attentive more.  They need to wear their implants more hours of the day.  It's never that, "Maybe we should be the ones trying things differently." There is such a focus on the child having to work as hard as possible to hear and be able to speak well. 

So, it can be three years.  It might be until they start school, or it might be later in life.  We have seen a few deaf people in the community who had an implant, a cochlear implant, and still don't have good language, either English or Auslan.

MS MAHONY:  Jen, just asking you a question, in terms of a model of language following or travelling with a medical model - so where a child has hearing aids or a cochlear implant, is Deaf Australia aware of any deficit to the child of having Auslan travel during that journey as well?

MS BLYTH:  Well, it's never - there has been no studies that show it is a negative thing to provide both languages for a child.  There's many studies that show a negative when they are just focusing on the approach of fixing a child and only providing access to English.  Auslan should not be a language of last resort.  It should be something that's provided at the same time as all other interventions.

MS MAHONY:   In terms, then, of recommendations for that early intervention - I will turn first to you, Jen - what does Deaf as you say that they would like to see occur when a parent is first informed that their child has been identified as deaf?

MS BLYTH:  Ideally, when the early newborn screening occurs, there should be a Deaf person there in the room and they have that comfortability right from the start rather than them having that experience after that diagnosis.  But that person can have a conversation with them about the options and that relationship exists for a long period of time. So, it's part of a program that might be well funded by government that allows parents to have that point of contact.

They can talk to this person at any time when they have a question or they face an issue, whether it's at school or childcare or what's happening with their child. Maybe they are not looking at the parent when they are trying to communicate with them and they, at that point, don't have the strategies in how to deal with that.   But they - as a party part of their journey have a person they can make that contact with, a Deaf person, to get that advice and perspectives rather than navigating on their own and relying on the internet or Google and hearing from professionals who don't have the lived experience. So, it's the perspective of Deaf Australia that a Deaf person should work with families regularly.

MS MAHONY:   And, Brett, Deaf Connect do they have a particular view about what should be happening with early intervention?  I note one of the programs you spoke about was an early intervention program for ages 0 to 7 years.

MR CASEY:  Yes, we do as an organisation provide direct services to the community, including early intervention.  And our practice is multi-disciplinary in approach. So, we include all options to our families:  Auslan, speech, teachers of the deaf, physio and OT. So, parents can choose from our suite of services for their child.  Obviously, we have some spaces where there's a classroom environment for the kids to access prior to going to school, so they are exposed to Auslan through the teachers of the deaf, through the therapists there.  Everyone is able to use Auslan with the children.

The approach is to provide options but at the same time provide exposure to the language.  And that's where we see kids get immersed into both Auslan and spoken language.  And Jen's right in her earlier comment about the studies, that you can provide a bilingual approach which provides a better outcome rather than sticking to one language over the other.  And children who have developed sign language as a first language gives a better aptitude to picking up English, because they have got a solid foundation in their first language.

And Auslan being a visual, natural aptitude for these children to learn because they can see they don't have any auditory processing at that point in time, so they can see the information and learn to hear and learn to speak and everything after having their naturally acquired language, which is in sign language. So, that's what I think.  Providing both options is the best option.

MS MAHONY:   Commissioners and - Chair, and Commissioners I'm about to have a - move on to a topic but have a short interpreter break.  Before we do that, are there any questions that, Chair, you have or Commissioners you have of Brett and Jen?

CHAIR:  Commissioner McEwin?

COMMISSIONER McEWIN:  At the moment, I have no questions.  Thank you, Chair.

CHAIR:  Commissioner Galbally?

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY:  This might be to Brett perhaps, with the early intervention.  Is there value in having non-disabled children come into the early intervention program at well to mix with the deaf children?

MR CASEY:  I think there is some value, and I think Natalie was talking to that this morning about how mixing the school and creating a bilingual environment for Deaf Auslan users as well as other children, the benefit of them learning Auslan in a natural environment is quite lovely.  I definitely see value in that approach.  As long as Auslan is available in that early intervention environment.  It means that there is more people that the child can communicate with, and those other children without a disability will then be more accepting of the Deaf community more broadly.

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY:  I do have other questions, but I think I might wait and see where - the end for Jen. So, I will come to that later.

CHAIR:  Brett, may I ask you, if you don't mind, where did you study law and what support, if any, did you receive during your studies of law?

MR CASEY:  Okay. So, I did my LLP at the University of Sydney.

CHAIR:  You have my sympathy on that.  Go on.

MR CASEY:  Thank you, Chair.  I had a full-time interpreter and a note taker.  But I only had one interpreter for a three-hour lecture, which is a very long point, and tutorials without a break, so that when there was a break time they left. So, I didn't get a chance to interact with any of the other students or my peers.  Now, this was quite a while ago.  I believe time has changed and that there would be two interpreters in that environment, which is a better outcome. And then once I finished that, I started at - I finished my course at QUT. So, it was cross studies across the two universities.

CHAIR:  Thank you.  Can I put a hypothetical to each of you based on some issues that I have seen written about.  Can we assume a child is born Deaf to parents, both of whom are Deaf.  Medical intervention presents a good chance that the child will be able to hear.  I would like to know what your view is about the range of parental choice and, in particular, whether it is a valid choice for the parent not to have the medical intervention because the parents value the child's identity as a Deaf person.  Is that something that your organisations have considered or have a view about?

MS BLYTH:  My parents both are Deaf and I was born Deaf.  I wore hearing aids as a child, and my parents encouraged me to develop spoken language.  I attended speech therapy quite regularly.  That was a lot of work.  Many Deaf parents will choose different things for their Deaf child, whether it's hearing aids or cochlear implants.  We see that diversity amongst that population.  I think your question perhaps is possibly dangerous, if I can say that word.  It almost looks - there's an assumption there, perhaps, that Deaf people would not want any technical or technology interventions, and that's not necessarily the problem.

What we see the problem being is hearing people telling lots of parents that their child must assimilate with the hearing world.  They must speak, otherwise they won't be successful, they won't be successful citizens of the world. So, I think your question perhaps isn't necessarily identifying a problem; the problem exists elsewhere.

CHAIR:  Yes.  Well, all I can say is that, from what I've read, that is a choice that some parents make.  Perhaps not necessarily in Australia, but you may be right.  Brett, do you have a view about that?

MR CASEY:  I am a little opposite. So, I was born to hearing parents who were told about the medical interventions. So, I had hearing aids to the point at school I would throw them and try and get rid of them.  So my parents were constantly having to replace my hearing aids.  Because I was different to everyone else; I didn't fit in with my peers.  I was very obviously different.  I was the only deaf kid who stood out at my school. 

So, your hypothetical question, if I come back to that, I tend to agree with Jen in regards to there's nothing wrong with choosing the Deaf way or sign language, but why are we always akin towards the hearing notion of needing devices to hear?  And hearing aids are great for some kids, as are cochlears.  And many Deaf peoples in room here today have listening devices, and that's a great thing.  But they also have gone through their Deafhood journey and found a connection to the community.

Because at the end of the day I want to be able to talk freely to someone without the effort of trying to lip read and understand what they are trying to tell me.  I hope that kind of answers your question, Chair.

CHAIR:  Yes.  Thank you very much.  By the way I wasn't indicating anything was a problem; I was just trying to elucidate the concept of identity.  Yes.  Go ahead.

MS MAHONY:   Chair, we may take a five-minute break now.  I'm sorry, Commissioner McEwin has one more question.

COMMISSIONER McEWIN:  Just a follow-up question, if I may, from Commissioner Galbally's question.  Just asking the pair of you about the value of deaf children integrating with non-disabled children.  Do you know any programs that exist in Australia where that does happen?

MS BLYTH:  I am aware of some, Commissioner.  But it is similar to like a mainstream school with a Deaf facility, but in terms of early intervention services, I'm aware in America that those do exist.  But it is important to have a mix of children together, not only for hearing children, but also for hearing children that might have Deaf parents - we tend to refer to them as CODAs - and the development of their own identity.  I know that can be quite a journey, growing up in a Deaf environment but being able to hear, so it might - is more comfortable for them to be part of that Deaf environment.  Many of the interpreters working at the hearing today are CODAs.

MR CASEY:  I'm aligned to Jen's thinking.  I think it would be very rarely that people would say that a mix of non-deaf students with Deaf students would be a bad thing.  I think it's about a community and it comes back to the language that defines and connects us.

COMMISSIONER McEWIN:  Thank you for that.

CHAIR:  It's now 12 minutes or so to 3.  Shall we resume at 5 to 3?

MS MAHONY:   Yes, thank you.

CHAIR:  We will just take a short adjournment.

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY:  Excuse me, Chair, could we make it 3 pm.

CHAIR:  We shall make it 3 pm.

MS MAHONY:  May it please.



CHAIR:  Yes, Ms Mahony.

MS MAHONY:   Just turning to the topic of education.  The Royal Commission has heard that approximately 83 per cent of deaf students are educated in mainstream schools.  What is the current modalities of education available for deaf students in Australia?

MR CASEY:  I'm happy to start on this one.  I think it's very different.  There is no consistent nationalised approach to the education of deaf children.  Most are state-based education systems so one state might decide to do signed English, whereas the next state will have Auslan with the support of an Auslan language model and an EI, an educational interpreter.  Another state might not have any formal supports. So, it is varied and it is unconsistent. So, we are seeing children leaving schools with very different skill sets and education and levels of education they have received.

MS BLYTH:  There is also Deaf schools as a part of that mix, but they are not always staffed by Deaf teachers.  It might be interpreters working with hearing staff in Deaf schools.

MS MAHONY:   So, Jen, just exploring what you just spoke about, so having a Deaf school, but staffed by interpreters. So, what educational model drives a Deaf school where there is no teachers there? 

MS BLYTH:  Well, that's a great question.  I don't think there are enough teach that are Deaf or environments that are good for Deaf teachers to work in.  They might suit some but not all people.  And teachers should have an option to work at whatever school they would like.  But often Deaf schools have hearing teachers working with interpreters.  You have - I'm not entirely sure as to the reasoning behind that, so I'm not qualified to answer that question in a fair way.

MS MAHONY:   Brett, if I could just ask you a question, you spoke about having interpreters and also an Auslan language model. Can you just explain what an Auslan language model is?

MR CASEY:  Sure.  There is one state that has a hearing teacher, an educational interpreter, so an EI, and an ALM, an Auslan language model.  Primarily that would be a Deaf person coming into a school environment to assist with the development of language for the deaf child, to help them go through their schooling years, working through the interpreter that they might not understand the concept, the ALM will further assist.

Now, I'm not an experienced educator.  I do not work in a school setting, but from what I hear - and the stories I hear from the Deaf communities, ALMs kind of work as a teacher aide.  They tend to do photocopying, assist the teachers to prep rather than focus on the language development of these young deaf children.  I have seen some ALMs who are very skilled at their jobs.

MS MAHONY:   One of matters you just spoke about were educational interpreters.  As a support, can you just explain what an educational interpreter is and what their qualifications are. 

MR CASEY:  I will start, if you don't mind, Jen.  So, in our submission, we talk about EIs, educational interpreters.  We have noticed that people are being brought into the schooling environment as an EI with no formal qualifications as an interpreter.  They might be able to sign, they might be fluent, they might not be fluent.  And it's based on the demand to get an interpreter in that school setting.

The demand is quite high, so they are just picking people off the street and the EIs are listening to the information and signing it, but the teacher doesn't know the quality of the person signing the information.  The ALM can't hear the teacher's instructions, so don't know the quality of the interpretation, and they are not necessarily providing the service they are employed to do.  I can quite confidently say that deaf children's education is only as good as their educational interpreter's signing skill set.

MS MAHONY:   When you - you just said about having the educational interpreter, but also the ALM.  Does an ALM always travel with an educational interpreter or are there occasions where an educational interpreter will be alone in the classroom?

MR CASEY:  I'm not sure of the exact situation.  I think both of them tend to be in the classroom.  Sometimes ALM is there but they might be out doing other tasks and the EI might be working with the student.  But the principle of the approach is for the teacher, the interpreter and the ALM to work within the classroom setting.

MS MAHONY:   Jen. 

MS BLYTH:  Yes, I want to clarify ALMs only exist in one particular state, not across the country.  In Queensland, in fact.  I did want to add about the role of the educational interpreter.  Sometimes some of them are NAATI certified.  Some might be newly certified and some aren't certified, but often they are not trained to work with children.  They don't necessarily have the skills of how to navigate that situation, and children don't often know how to work with educational interpreters. 

Other adults might know how to adjust their language to communicate with this child, but if a child has no experience of accessing an interpreter, often they don't understand how to use that.  Often the interpreter is their language model, but the interpreter is in a position of power, and as Brett said, their education is only as good as the skills of the educational interpreter.  We have heard about how teachers see the interpreter as the Deaf student's teacher rather than the classroom teacher taking on the responsibility of the education of that child.

Often if the child asks a question or gives an answer, the interpreter will repair that language. So, it's not presented authentically to the teacher for the teacher to identify the language skills of that child.  So the teacher makes suggestions of their knowledge, of their language and doesn't realise certain interventions need to be put in place.  It's quite dangerous.  How can a child properly learn in that environment?

MS MAHONY:   Where you have an educational interpreter that has minimal Auslan skills, what benefit is there to a deaf student having that as a language model in person?

MS BLYTH:  Sorry, what do you mean by benefit? Could you just repeat that, please.

MS MAHONY:   Certainly.  In terms of language acquisition.  Yes, so in terms of language acquisition, what is the benefit to a deaf child of having an educational interpreter who may not sign?  Does that assist them in language development?

MS BLYTH:  Well, we often see some Deaf people as they age and they don't have a fluent level of sign language.  When you investigate that further, often it's a result of that language model in their life which is often the interpreter.  It is a hearing person where Auslan isn't a native language for them.  They learnt it as an adult and all of a sudden in the role of being a language model for a child developing their language, and that is not appropriate.

MR CASEY:  And from what I have seen - and I can talk for Queensland; there is the ALM model in that environment -  that's usually a Deaf person working in that role.  But that Deaf person might be quite young.  They might have graduated year 12, and the following year they are working in the school as an ALM. So, they have got limited life experience.  And so they were a student last year, and they are now providing support to a student in a teaching environment the following year.

For some Deaf people from Deaf people families who have a strong language the benefit of an ALM is probably little to them.  They probably have better language than the ALM that they are working with, potentially.  For other Deaf kids who are still learning and acquiring the language, it certainly provides a beneficial outcome if they are appropriately used within the classroom.

MS MAHONY:   In terms of the supports, then, this class, Jen, what does Deaf Australia you say are the necessary supports for children, deaf children in the primary school environment. 

MS BLYTH:  Deaf children should have access to Deaf peers. They should be taught by people who are fluent in Auslan.  They shouldn't be operating in environments where they are the only Deaf person, that they can't relate to others whether that's people to the same age as them or adults. That's not necessarily realistic or possible, mind you, so in terms of what deaf children should get at school is training or understanding of how to work with interpreters.  They should understand their right to accessing interpreters.

That if the interpreter is signing something that they are unsure of - children can see when an interpreter is not signing something appropriately or authentically, but they are not sure of how to navigate that.  They need additional training - age-appropriate training, and their parents as well, to understand what it means when you are navigating experiences like that.  And teachers need to have that understanding as well.

Children at the age of 5 have the right to complain about their interpreter but people and adults often have the control in those environments and often making the decisions about which interpreter is selected for which child, and that child doesn't have the opportunity to have their say.

MS MAHONY:   Is there any - 

MR CASEY:  If I - 

MS MAHONY:   Sorry, yes.

MR CASEY:  I just wanted to respond to the same question, if I may.  Deaf kids through primary school, an interpreting model is not really appropriate in primary school.  They should be taught by a Deaf teacher in direct instruction.  There is so many Deaf teachers out there or teachers who are native signers, and native to the language.  They should be able to receive direct instruction just as their hearing peers are taught from English to English.

Now, I understand high school is a different ball game; they have multiple classes that they have options to attend, so, it's not practical to have a Deaf teacher in every single classroom.  So an interpreted model may be appropriate in high school, but in primary school, a time of learning, a time of learning through play and developing language, working with an interpreter at the age of 5 or 6, it's too young.

MS MAHONY:   Does that - in terms, though - you talk about moving to high school where an interpreter model may be appropriate, does that tie back in, though, with, Jen, what you were talking about, that a child in their primary years school, regardless of how they are being taught needs to understand or needs learning to use an interpreter so when they do arrive at high school, it is a benefit to their educational experience?


MS MAHONY:   And is there currently any training available of the nature that you've talked about, training young children how to use an interpreter?

MS BLYTH:  No.  There's no program even for adults on how to use an interpreter.

MS MAHONY:   And, Brett, are you aware of any difference in Queensland, seeing there seems to be a few different models that are operating in Queensland?

MR CASEY:  I think the outcomes for deaf children and education is providing support services, whether that's a private school - although I haven't heard of any - there is - sorry - a bilingual school in Brisbane that utilises hearing teachers and hearing teachers in the same classroom so teaching the children.  So the children are acquiring and learning the language, and those children very, very fluent, regardless if they are Deaf or hearing.  It is hard to pick which is which in that classroom because everyone is fluent in that language. So that's a great outcome, the bilingual program in Queensland, because they can communicate effectively with their peers 

MS MAHONY:   So you are aware of one school that does that throughout all of Australia; is that correct?

MR CASEY:  I think there may also be a bilingual approach in Sydney, but that's a private school, not a state-run school.  They are the two programming I'm aware of.  I think Melbourne may also have a bilingual approach to one of the schools here.

MS MAHONY:   In terms of interpreters in school, just on the matter that you were speaking about before high schools or even for primary schools - and I'm sure you heard the evidence today of a parent having to really advocate and lobby to have interpreters in the classroom for their Deaf child - are you aware through your work whether that is a common experience for people with deaf children?

MS BLYTH:  Yes, it is a very common experience.  There is no deaf child that's been unscathed by the education system in Australia.  No family with a deaf child hasn't experienced horrible experiences when it comes to their access to education. There is often instances of needing to advocate for your child, compromising, if that's the case.

MS MAHONY:   Should it be the role of parents to have to hold that position and secure those supports?

MS BLYTH:  No.  And I emphasise that.  No.  We see deaf children being encouraged to be educated through mainstream schools, we see governments making decisions of closing Deaf schools, not allowing children to sign and communicate with each other.  Punishing them and not allowing them to have access to sign language or any of their peers or each other or Deaf adults or Deaf teachers.  We see over many years these being the perspectives and suffering through inappropriate education without appropriate access to information. That is disgraceful.  It is awful.

And I can't believe that this has been happening over many decades.  Years and years and years.  And it's still happening now.  And there's no foreseeable change.  Deaf people will have children where we want to see a future where Deaf people don't have to worry about the future of their deaf children or parents having to worry about the future of their deaf child.  That's not the case, and it's really appalling.

MS MAHONY:   So who does Deaf Australia see the role it is to organise interpret o noise interpreters and the need for consistency across schools?

MS BLYTH:  It is the government, the Education Department.  They should be the ones to provide the appropriate levels of funding to enable the access that's required for each deaf child to have whatever choice this is they like, whether it is access to interpreters, note takers, captioning, whatever it may be without any argument, without any need to justify your case, that you can choose whatever option you like and we will have the most appropriate interpreter who is trained to work with deaf children, not just any interpreter, but interpreter that's trained and qualified to work with deaf children, that can meet the needs of that individual child and interpret for them in that environment.

It should come without question, without argument, without the need to advocate.  Each parent should be able to make a decision about where they want their child to go, whether it's the local school or they want them to go to another school down the road, or whatever it may be.  But they should not need to worry about where, how much they have to pay. They should not have to pay for private tuition, as we have heard other witnesses talk about.  It's not okay.  It's not okay.

MS MAHONY:   In terms - particularly, I will address this to you, Brett, given your role as CEO of Deaf Connect and the services they provide in including an RTO, what are you seeing for the - on the impact of students who are not getting the supports that have been discussed in their education?

MR CASEY:  If they are not getting the supports they need, they are leaving school without great prospects.  They don't understand systems, they don't understand the transition to work, to further studies, and we see them lining up at Deaf societies nationally seeking assistance. So, part of our work is trying to fix issues that come up for those individuals that have occurred out of the Education Department, that they haven't understood how to be referred to other organisations and receive supports that they have the right to access.

And what we have seen time and time again in the grassroots community is people who can sign, but don't have that understanding and knowledge of how to navigate different things in their own individual lives, whether that be buying a house, to book a doctor's appointment, to ask the right questions around their medication.  They get told, "You need to take these two tablets", but they don't know they have the right to ask the question why.  It has an impact because of their access to education.  Now, I'm not saying that this is for all Deaf people, but we certainly experience some of them.

MS MAHONY:   Is the experience of what you're describing now, though, an older generational divide or is it something that you are still currently seeing for - with students graduating high school now?

MR CASEY:  I think there's a lot more opportunity for young people, given the technology that's now available. So, we are seeing a little bit of a change in that space.  But it's not just the older generation.  People are turning up at Deaf societies with a letter saying, "What does this mean?  I don't understand what it says."  That might be from Services Australia.  It might be from Medibank or Medicare.  They don't understand the letter.  And they are seeking assistance for that.  But that's not just the older Deaf community, it's deaf kids, Deaf people of all generations and ages. There's a lot to unpack in that concept, I'm sorry.

MS MAHONY:   Well, just going a little bit deeper into that concept, where you're not getting the relevant supports for a deaf child in education, how does that impact on their social development as well, and their own mental health and wellbeing?

MR CASEY:  Maybe I can give myself as an example here if I may. So, during my schooling, I attended a hearing school.  I was mainstreamed.  I had no supports.  There was a teacher of the deaf that would come from time to time, and I certainly valued that teacher of the Deaf to help me with my English and my maths.  And it was great because I got out of religion class at school.  That was a great excuse to get out of religion.  That's when the teacher of the deaf came.

But I had a very different experience.  I was the only deaf person at my school.  And I remember - I might have been in year 7, 8 or 9, but there was a camp.  It was a three or four-day camp, and people were to get into groups.  And I think it was between five and eight to fit in a cabin. So, everyone moved into the groups.  I didn't know what was happening, and I was the one kid left standing there.  Everyone else had moved into groups.

I didn't have any friends at school.  My social opportunities were limited at school and I remember the teacher saying, "Well, who wants to take him? Someone needs to put him in a group." And that was confronting and one said, "Yes, yes, he can come with us." But at lunchtime, I never spoke to any of the kids.  I would sit in the library, and the librarian would help me read.  But I really didn't have an opportunity to socialise and make friends at school. 

So, it's very different to people I'm aware of that went to a Deaf school and like Natalie was sharing today, they helped each other under the table while the teacher wasn't looking.  I didn't have that experience.  And it really did have an impact on my ability to socialise.

MS MAHONY:   And how did it impact your mental health and your overall wellbeing?

MR CASEY:  Well, I'm resilient in many ways, but at the time I didn't know that I could tell my parents about what was happening.  I was a teenager.  I didn't really tend to do much with my parents.  But it did have an impact on me.  I didn't understand why I was different, why I had to wear hearing aids, and why I was different to everyone around me.  Everyone in my family is hearing, so I was different at home.  They didn't sign with me.  I had limited opportunities to communicate with anyone.

And I struggled in my own way to communicate.  I was okay, and my parents are great people. I'm not opposed to what happened, and this is a long time ago.  I'm a little older than some of my colleagues in the room.  But the information at the time for parents was very limited, as were choices.

MS MAHONY:   You say that was your experience from some time ago, but, Jen and Brett, are you witnessing young people today still having the same experience in schools where they are isolated and have that limited social connection with others?

MS BLYTH:  Yes.  I do know of some families who have decided to withdraw their child from a school and decided to home-school them.  Because they were isolated in school without access to appropriate interpreters, they decided to withdraw them and home-school them.  Others have moved states, even, to put their deaf child into a particular school where there are other deaf peers attending.

Still there are instances of these experiences that Brett shares, and some people are very lucky where there might be a classroom or they attend a school with their peers who are equivalent to them in their language abilities, but that's not something we hear of often.  But I wanted to add to a question you asked before about the mental health impacts.  We do know there's a high percentage of the Deaf community that have mental health conditions, whether it's anxiety - Deaf anxiety is a big concept and a big topic often discussed, but depression, these things are very prevalent within the Deaf community due to these experiences.

MS MAHONY:   The World Federation of the Deaf have put out information where they say they don't see Deaf schools as a special school, but rather as a school based in language and culture.  Does that tie into the type of schools that, Brett, you were describing, the bilingual schools, and also, Brett, what's your view on that expression of World Federation of the Deaf?

MR CASEY:  I think sometimes what's viewed as segregation - so having a Deaf school at the exclusion of others, to me, that's actually inclusion.  It gives an environment that is inclusive.  The reason I say this is sign language is all around them.  They have the ability to communicate.  They have deaf peers, people they identify with.  And if I could share an example, in America, there's a Deaf university.  It's the only liberal arts university in the world, and in that university your entry is based on being Deaf.

That's what qualifies you to attend there.  And that you use American sign language, ASL.  All classes are provided in ASL.  All of the teachers and professors teach in ASL.  They have an appropriate space where people can see each other - and I've had the opportunity to attend three times.  I haven't studies there, but I have been there for a guest lecture.  And it's outstanding.  The ability to communicate and connects with everyone that you walk past - even in the cafeteria, everyone can sign.  The bookshop, the staff can sign.  There is no barrier to access at all. 

So, the Gallaudet experience, that's what it is known as, it would be marvellous to have a model replicated here in Australia.  If we could have a school or a university for Deaf people - and, again, it is very difficult for people to understand, because they think that is segregation.  But for socialisation and language opportunities to develop knowledge and access education, it is actually inclusion.  It's all there for you in one space.

MS MAHONY:   Jen, do you have a different perspective to that?

MS BLYTH:  No.  I agree.  I can't imagine what it would be like to be able to talk to anyone I like, no matter who that person is, and be able to access everything 100 per cent.  I think that would be wonderful.  Deaf schools, when you think about how they operate, they are inclusive.  This sign I'm using now refers to the sense of feeling like other people, being the same as others.  It is quite powerful.  I think it's quite an amazing experience.

MR CASEY:  And if I can add to that, people that finish at Gallaudet, go out and are part of the global community.  They don't stay within the Deaf community.  They mix with the world.  They have just received an educational outcome that was completely accessible.  That's the point of difference that Gallaudet provides.

MS MAHONY:  I want to divert to a discrete topic for one moment.  So, where you have a deaf child that may have a co morbidity, for example, they may have an intellectual disability, and they go to a school that is not mainstream, that is designed for that particular child with that particular disability, are you aware whether Auslan for those deaf students is involved in delivery of education in those schools?

MS BLYTH:  I am aware of one school that has started to include students that are deaf with other disabilities. So, deaf children that don't have any other disability are then excluded from that school because educational environment has been about providing education to those that are deaf with additional disabilities.  I think they can be all taught in the one school, but it seems like there's a lot of division between those that are deaf and those that are deaf with other disabilities. 

I think the Deaf world sometimes can be a bit dismissive of other people with disabilities, unfortunately, and we see that resulting in that school, but they should have the right to education in Auslan and be with other deaf peers.  I think deafness is what they all experience commonly, and that should be promoted.

MS MAHONY:   In terms of education for deaf students, what does Deaf Australia and then, Brett, to you, Deaf Connect want to see or what recommendations do they have to this Royal Commission to improve education to reduce the risk of neglect and violence and exploitation of Deaf people?

MS BLYTH:  I think earlier I talked about Deaf peers for parents to have access to that.  Whether - at what age that child is diagnosed.  But that would help parents make informed choices and decisions about the future of their child and what pathway and avenues they decide to go down.  I didn't go to a Deaf school myself.  I was isolated in a school without any deaf peers until in high school, I was with other deaf students and other Deaf people.

I sometimes had access to interpreters, not regularly.  In terms of that experience, I think what works best when we think of Deaf education is thinking about the individual needs of that deaf child rather than forcing that child to fit into a system or a school that doesn't provide them access.  I think the system currently is failing and very much neglecting deaf children.

MR CASEY:   And I agree with that. I think where the education system could fit the child - and we heard that this morning about ensuring that that decision-making includes a person who is deaf where are experience to value those Deaf teachers who are out there, to make them a part of the decision-making process, and the Gallaudet experience is a valuable one we could learn from.  That type of environment is something I would advocate for the future here.  Providing access with none of the barriers they have now.  They shouldn't be facing these barriers.

MS MAHONY:   Chair and Commissioners, I'm about to move on to a new topic, and I'm curious if you have any questions on the topic of education.

CHAIR:  Thank you.  Commissioner McEwin, do you have any questions.

COMMISSIONER McEWIN:  Yes, I do.  Thank you, Chair.  I would like to ask both of you, perhaps Brett in particular, if you could tell us a little about the Brisbane school which is bilingual.  Have there been any evaluations conducted? Have there been any learning outcomes recorded as a result of what's happening in that school?

MR CASEY:  I'm sorry, I'm not aware of any. There may be, but I'm not aware personally.

CHAIR:  And I'm assuming - I'm not sure of the answer, but I'm sure that there might be equal numbers of deaf and hearing students mainstreamed with each other, they learn from each other.  And that looks like a good model if that’s the case, that you may have deaf peers and hearing peers learning alongside each other.

MS BLYTH:  I think it seems like a good model.  I haven't seen it myself, but I think it will be good if all the teachers were Deaf.  If there is a hearing teacher working with an interpreter - WFD in their statement paper, it talks about inclusive education which isn't about accessing education through an interpreter, it's about including the child, and it's not just about thinking of having an interpreter. And I think we should really value the opportunity of having Deaf teachers working with deaf children.  I'm not too sure if some bilingual programs are authentically bilingual programs. 


COMMISSIONER BENNETT:  Hi, I'm Barbara Bennett. One of the key bits of the Royal Commission's Terms of Reference is about an inclusive society, and I'm going to take a slight leaf from the Chair on hypothetical.  If children don't see and go to school with the diversity of what our community is, then they don't see that Deaf or autism or other diversities aren't the completeness of what our community is. So, the question that I want to go to is you've talked about the benefits of Deaf schools and what they offer a deaf child.  Is the other question instead that the universal benefits for all children by that inclusive education, could they be the same without having separate schools?

Schools for - specialist schools, we call them, schools for children with autism, children that are deaf or children that are blind.  Could the changes - could the benefits that you are talking about by having Deaf-specific school, could schools actually be the schools that all children could go to get the outcomes, the support, the peer groups across diversity?

MS BLYTH:  I - to start with, I've got two responses to that question.  Firstly, we are not here to be learning instruments for others.  We deserve to have a good education.  We deserve to be with our peers. We don't exist to be something for hearing pool to understand our diversity and understand what inclusion means. And the other part of my response is I think nearly all Deaf people have been bullied by their hearing peers throughout their educational experience. So, even though we are there, it doesn't make people more tolerant of us and diversity.

MR CASEY:  If I may.  Your question is an important one, and having the opportunity for diversity is also important.  But can we say now that deaf children getting access to diversity, if they are not having genuine access in their education and their schooling, that would be my response to your question.

Definitely the idea of not having necessarily a mainstream education, but a bilingual approach where hearing and deaf peers can be together can certainly create those conversations around diversity.

MS BLYTH:  And I think also we do exist in a hearing world.  That's a fact.  We don't only exist in that one bubble. We go to the shops.  We exist in the hearing world.  We work in the hearing world. So, by attending a school where you are with your deaf peers, it doesn't mean that's representative of your whole life.  I think the point here is about making sure Deaf people have appropriate levels of education and access to that in a real language that is comfortable to them and they're able to achieve and thrive and have positive educational outcomes. If - yes, I will stop there.

CHAIR:  We have had a wonderful senior advisor Professor Ron McCallum, who is not active with us at this moment, but continues to be involved with - Professor McCallum was blind from birth, and I often reflect on the differences between the barriers that he faced and young people who might be born blind today or vision impaired.  Having regard to technology, the world is so totally different from what my colleague Ron McCallum experienced.  You have mentioned technology.

I'm just wondering what opportunities there are with technology to address some of the issues that you have identified?  I appreciate, obviously, that voice recognition technology can only help in one way, that is to say, recognise a voice.  It doesn't help in the other direction.  But are we moving towards systems that can recognise Auslan, for example?  And translate it without the intervention of a human being?

MS BLYTH:  Yes, I appreciate where you are coming from with that question, Chair, and I understand the intention there.  A lot of research when it talks about technology for Deaf people is often driven by people that aren't Deaf, by hearing people who think they want better for that Deaf person without actually asking for Deaf people's opinions.  I understand why people are doing it.  But often Deaf people aren't asking for that.  Deaf people are asking for a more accessible world, and it's not necessarily technology that will provide that.

Language is so complex.  I will give you an example - a recent example, actually.  The nuances and tones in voice can be interpreted differently in Auslan based on how that tone is presented and based on the context of how that tone is presented in a spoken language.  So you might in English say, "I'm running fast" but in Auslan, you will present that in a particular way that's very visual, and you will use your face, you will use your hands differently to provide those nuances.  And technology can't necessarily identify those nuances and understand those complexities in Auslan.

When we are dealing particularly with language deprivation, how can any language avatar or technology understand someone who might not be printing language fluently and have that diversity in how they understand the world and present that information.  If we think about people who have recently arrived in Australia and the language they use, technology will never replace the human understanding of language and sign language.

We see particular technologies being developed but Deaf people are the first ones to say we are not asking for this.  But every year we see new technologies being introduced and people think they are fixing a solution, but some language is so complex it will never be represented by a piece of technology --

CHAIR:  Are we talking the difference between good and perfect?

MS BLYTH:  No.  Well, the technology just doesn't work.  There is nothing that has been developed that actually works.  At all.

CHAIR:  Brett, did you want to add to that?

MR CASEY:  No, I think Jen has been quite clear in articulating that.  There is some technologies that are available.  We all have smartphones these days.  There is iPads.  But it's all based on the written English.  And if you can't access English, then what use is it to you?  And Jen is right, with the technology advancements, it needs to be co-designed with the community that it's designed for.

CHAIR:  Thank you. 

MS MAHONY:   Chair, I believe that Commissioner Galbally has a question.

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY:  My question might not be appropriate, but maybe it is - but it was about learning outcomes and how it's so striking that the witnesses we have heard today, including in this session, had excellent learning outcomes from their schooling, even though it was socially tricky and hard. So, is there material we could get about the learning outcomes from Deaf schools compared with students who go to bilingual - and taking your point that your education wasn't bilingual at all, but could have been and should have been.  But just wondering about that, whether you have indicators of that research.

MS BLYTH:  I can't necessarily speak to that.  I don't know necessarily.  But what we talk about Deaf education, there are some witnesses that will speak further on that tomorrow that might be able to respond to that specific question.

MR CASEY:  All I can do is talk about my lived experience.  So, I was mainstreamed.  I didn't have a bilingual school, and didn't have a successful outcome at school.  Like Nat, it wasn't until I was later in life - I was a mature aged student and I went to university.  I didn't have the results I required to get into university and further education because school was just a bit lost on me.

MS BLYTH:  A question to get people thinking.  There are three witnesses today that didn't have great education.  But imagine if we did.  Imagine where would we be?  What we would be doing right now?  Would I be the CEO of a particular organisation?  Would Natalie be working as a Deaf interpreter or would we be the next Bill Gates?  Who knows where we could have been if we did have a good education, and we are here despite our experiences of having poor education.

MS MAHONY:   Chair, I note we have about half an hour left.  Is it an appropriate time to have a short break for interpreters?

CHAIR:  I'm sure it is an appropriate time.  How long should we take?

MS MAHONY:   Five minutes.

CHAIR:  Alright, it is nearly quarter to. Let's resume at 3.50.  Thank you.



CHAIR:  Yes, Ms Mahony.  I understand you are going to be on the speed track for the next 20, 25 minutes?

MS MAHONY:   That is the plan, Chair.  The Chair raised just before matters relating to technologies, and there's often the question asked why do Deaf people need interpreters when there is captioning available.  Is captioning sufficient for the Deaf people and why, why not?

MS BLYTH:  Well, captions absolutely have a place.  It is important to have access to captions.  And many Deaf people who do rely on captions. So, we would never say do not provide that.  But captions don't substitute access to an interpreter.  Because they can represent the nuances, the tone, and the meaning present in spoken language.  If we think of COVID, everyone was very familiar with the COVID experience, when we had access to interpreters on TV, they were quite firm in terms of how they conveyed messages such as you have to stay home.

When you are reading that in a caption form, it is very flat.  It's just stay home.  As two words.  Whereas you can see and understand the intent when that's present to you in Auslan through an interpreter. So, captions provide some level of access, but not a lot.  And when you think about Deaf people that have language deprivation and have lower levels of understanding of English, they can find it difficult accessing captions.  Captions can sometimes be delayed as well, include a lot of spelling errors when it comes to specific names of locations, say.

MR CASEY:  A good example I can share is the 2011 floods in Queensland.  There was no interpreter until we negotiated with the state to provide an interpreter.  And the reason being is we were watching the captioning and the mistakes - which could have been human error; it could be a person typing it from Sydney - talking about Queensland towns that needed to be evacuated.  They're not spelt phonetically.  It didn't make sense, so the message was distorted. So, people didn't know that they needed to evacuate.  Their town was mentioned but they didn't read that on the captions.

And captioning is beneficial. It is beneficial to the CaLD community to others, to acquire written English, and it is beneficial for the Deaf community to aid in the learning of written English, but it is limited and would not ever replace an interpreter, as Jen, was saying.

MS MAHONY:   We will start moving to the - a new topic of the underemployment of Deaf people.  The Commission has heard there are significant barriers to Deaf employees succeeding in the workplace.  What is the cause of Deaf people not succeeding?

MR CASEY:  Well, who goes first.  I think there is so many different reasons.  One comes back to access.  Two, Deaf people are overlooked for roles and positions.  They may apply, they may get the job, but their promotional opportunities are overlooked.  At work, how do they communicate?  Do they bring in an interpreter?  Just like school, if they don't have access at school and they don't have access in the work environment what's the impact of that?  I talked about my career, moving down the avenue of working within a Deaf organisation because I had access and knowing that it would be less likely working in a legal firm.

And there is the Employment Assistance Fund, as I mentioned earlier, the Commonwealth fund that provides $6000 worth of interpreting.  And over the life of the 15 years the fund has been in existence, that amount has remained the same.  But the cost of interpreting has more than doubled. So, really, our access is half than what it was 15 years ago when the program was implemented. So, those opportunities are overlooked.  If you don't have a chance to talk and network within your workplace to develop relationships with others, people aren't going to see you. People aren't going to know you.  So you are not going to be considered for those roles.  And you are also not included in your own workplace.

MS MAHONY:   So in terms of interpreters, having an interpreter available for a meeting is not going to be sufficient when you are talking about those - you know, THE coffee room conversations that may not be there.

MR CASEY:   Yes.

MS BLYTH:  Yes, and I think there aren't enough interpreters in Australia for that as well. So, you - and too, when we think of the $6000 cap for the EAF funding, that is quite limited. So, you have to be very careful about how you use interpreters.  Your workplace often has to subsidise the additional cost, and that's why then they are not wanting to employ Deaf people because they have to think and evaluate how much additional funds they will have to spend on interpreting costs. 

We have to be careful when we think about the selection of interpreters.  Sometimes we will miss meeting us because we know we wouldn't have enough funds and you wouldn't use an interpreter to socialise.  The organisation won't see that as value for money.  So often many people experience things in the workplace.

MS MAHONY:   In terms of the lack of supports for Deaf people in employment, are you able to provide examples through either your own work or experience in your roles of where there has been those types of missed opportunities and the outcome for Deaf people?

MS BLYTH:  I've had one positive experience in terms of an inclusive workplace, but it's a bit opposite to the experience of many other Deaf people.  Often, people see the Deaf person as unapproachable.  They are not comfortable to approach their Deaf colleagues so they often avoid them, they will speak to other people rather than talk directly to the Deaf person.  The Deaf person is invisible until an interpreter is there. So, workplaces are very neglectful, often, of Deaf employees.  I will share my positive experience a bit later on when the time is right.

MS MAHONY:   I would invite to you share it now.

MS BLYTH:  Sure. So, as I said before, workplaces aren't necessarily accessible or inclusive when it comes to communicating in Auslan.  My last workplace, I worked in a hearing organisation.  I was the only Deaf person that worked at this organisation.  During COVID, I'm from Melbourne, so we had a significant period of being in lockdown and working from home.  Eventually at one point, people were able to return to work in the office, minimum numbers, etcetera, based on the COVID rules at the time.  The usual number of employees that can work in one space.  But the requirement was still to wear a mask.

And I said, "I'm not going to work.  You can all go, but I'm not.  I can't communicate to you all when you are wearing a mask." My whole department then made the universal decision to keep working from home, whilst the rest of the organisation continued with a return to work practices because my department didn't see it as inclusive, or accessible for me. So, that continued until we were able to return to the workplace without masks.

And that was a great representation of what inclusion means.  Not everything but it was one example of how they approached that situation.  And I think that was quite unique.  I don't think many other people would have a similar experience like that.

MS MAHONY:   In terms of recommendations for changes to workplaces or workplace culture, to ensure barriers do not result in neglect or underemployment of Deaf persons, what recommendations do each of you have either personally or through your organisations? 

MS BLYTH:  I think the EAF cap of $6000 needs to be removed or lifted.  It has to be unlimited in terms of the access you require in a workplace.  That would be a good place to start.  That you can have access to an interpreter for whatever job you have.  The criteria is quite limited.  You have to work a minimum of - work a minimum of 13 weeks, certain amount of hours a week, you have to be an Australian citizen.  So all people that don't fit that criteria miss out on that funding. So, lifting EAF cap and the particular criteria there, I think, would provide great benefit to many Deaf people so I think that would be a good place to start.

MR CASEY:  I think another example that we could share is Deaf awareness training.  Make it mandatory training for all workplaces, not just if they have a Deaf employee, but just general induction into organisations.  There's also employment services now that work specifically for Deaf people and others that don't.  But they are assessed on a set of standards. So, why can't we apply those similar standards for Deaf employees to ensure that there are Deaf people in the workplace. You consider who is in your workplace, not to the exclusion of others but to include people.  It's about a perception of attitude.

If I could just put in one word, a new concept that's emerging in the Deaf community, and it's Deaf gain. So, it's about seeing the world through the Deaf lens. So, I can provide you with an opportunity, which is why we are here today.  We are providing the Commission with a different perspective on the world based on our lived experience, and how valuable could that be for other people's learnings?  If they could take on that philosophy and principle in a workplace about the benefit a Deaf lens could bring and how much better that workplace could be due to our contribution in conversations in the lunchroom, due to our contribution to the workplace, how we are finding more efficient ways and better work outcomes and systems over whatever that may be that we can provide uniquely.

MS BLYTH:  I will add an example of Deaf gain when we think of the workplace.  Again, it comes back to the time of COVID when people had to work from home and all meetings being on Zoom and online. Initially, I had to let people know that this wasn't working and we need to try a different way.  We had - we would go around the room and people would talk on top of each other and no one would know who was talking.  So we set up an approach where people would say their name or they would say the person that they wanted to speak after them, they would say their name, that person would speak, they would identify someone else and say their name and then it would move to the next person.

And that's an example where my access needs provided a benefit to everybody else because everyone else was feeling overwhelmed by multiple people talking at the same time and not knowing who was talking.  So for them to understand the needs of us, that was a gain for everybody else as well.

MS MAHONY:   That is very much about resetting the lens of Deaf people have - you know, create needs, as opposed to Deaf people bring benefits, which is a cultural shift that's required.

MS BLYTH:  Yes.  Exactly.

MS MAHONY:   We are very close to the end.  I - just asking now, Jen, whether or not there's a couple of matters that you wanted to raise before we finish up today?

MS BLYTH:  There was, thank you.  I wanted to recognise that most - most importantly, people who are talking today and tomorrow are from a predominant culture background.  We don't have necessarily representation of queer people, those over the age of 65, young people, people from an ethnic background, young children, Deaf people with a disability.  I know we have a Deafblind witness, but a Deaf person with other types of disability.  And we don't have necessarily First Nations Deaf people.

I have taken note of it to refer to, but when we think of people who acquire deafness late in life, those that live regionally, we are not necessarily hearing their perspective and voices, and people who are talking are those who have advocated in many ways, and we aren't hearing from Deaf people, those grassroots Deaf people who haven't necessarily had the opportunity to advocate for themselves.  We are talking on behalf of them.  We may have represented some of the information incorrectly or not heard certain perspectives. 

So, I do want to recognise we are trying our best to represent the diversity of the community, but two days, two hours isn't necessarily enough time to represent that diversity, and we do need to consider the need to hear those perspectives beyond just today and tomorrow.  Deaf people are seen as a CaLD community, because we have our own language, our own community.  We marry each other.  We choose to socialise with each other.  We want to share experiences with each other, and that's very much part of our community and cultural experience.

But we are not seen as a CaLD cohort.  We are seen through the lens of disability.  And we need to have solutions present to fix us, but we sit in the middle of - we straddle these two worlds, whether we are CaLD or whether we are disability, and many things overlap, and there are many gaps that are faced because of us being within these two systems.

The two days to cover the themes and experiences of Deaf people is limited.  We haven't talked about the experiences of Deaf people accessing the health system, the judicial system, those people that don't have access to the NDIS or EAF.  Those people that have additional disabilities as I've said.  There are so many other issues that are important for us to cover, that are different to those people that are just - that have just a disability.

We are yet to talk about - we are talking here specifically about the CaLD lens, but there are Deaf people that do come from a variety of backgrounds that represent them being from other countries, say, and that's not necessarily being represented today or tomorrow.  So I would like to just make that point.

MS MAHONY:   Thank you.  Chair and Commissioner, that is the conclusion of the questions that I have for these witnesses.  Are there any questions that each of you has?

CHAIR:  Commissioner McEwin? 

COMMISSIONER McEWIN:  I have no further questions, thank you, Chair, but I would like to offer my tremendous thanks to the two witnesses.

CHAIR:  Commissioner Galbally?

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY:  No, thank you very much.  No questions.

CHAIR:  Commissioner Bennett?

COMMISSIONER BENNETT:  No questions and thank you.

CHAIR:  We live in a world where resources are limited.  As I have been listening to your evidence, which has been extraordinarily valuable and interesting, the argument, for example, that Deaf people in employment should have the supports they require which include Auslan interpretation, Auslan interpreters, to enable them to do all the things that need to be done so that they can perform whatever tasks are required not only to the maximum of their capability, but in accordance with the requirements of the employer.

If you are talking about that on a one-to-one basis, without going into dollar figures, the costs are enormous.  How do we deal with that?   Is there some way as an interim solution, excepting the ideal, that we can do better with employers and the supports that are provided to Deaf people, to increase their chances of getting employment, their chances of succeeding in employment, their chances of promotion?  Is there something that we can do, pending the ideal world where resources are sufficient in every sense to enable every Deaf person to have the supports they need?

MR CASEY:  If I may start.  Thank you for your question, Chair.  It was quite a lengthy one and I will try - 

CHAIR:  It is.  I apologise for the length.

MR CASEY:  - and provide a synthesised answer for you. I really appreciate your question, Chair.  I think you're right.  It is a very difficult situation we find ourselves in.  I think the employment space for Deaf people to be included, there's a range of different resources that could be available.  And now I've lost my train of thought.

CHAIR:  It's because the question was very long. 

MS BLYTH:  I'm happy to respond whilst you think, Brett.  I think in an ideal world, of course, workplaces would be accessible and your colleagues would be able to communicate to you in Auslan, but we live in the real world - you are right - and that is not necessarily possible.  There have been studies done where they have found when you provide access to children from a very young age, that then provides a $380 million benefit to the community.  I can share that report that was completed here in Australia.  It was commissioned by Deaf Australia and Deaf Connect.

If workplaces are more inclusive and Deaf people are able to interact and be involved with their colleagues in a variety of ways, and it meets the needs of the Deaf person, that's perfect.  But what we need - we should not have to necessarily apologise or come up with ways to navigate that.  I mean, it's a human issue.  We do need a human lens when we are thinking about how these things can be resolved.  But at this point in time, those impacts still exist but I'm perhaps - am a little bit more matter of fact in my thinking, but, yes, I'm curious to see what Brett's answer may be to this.

MR CASEY:  I agree.  I think a bit of blue sky thinking about what is possible - there's so many possibilities and we shouldn't be limited by resources about how much money should be invested.  We should showcase what are the possibilities and how can we get to that point and find a way to get there.  I'm in agreeance with Jen in regards to Deaf people are underemployed and unemployed in majority of workplaces.

Deaf people are also employed in very low minimum wage roles.  They are in labour roles because of communication barriers. So, there's so much missed opportunity for so many people out there who could be working in different environments.  45 per cent of my workforce identify as Deaf, which is a large number of Deaf employees that we have within our organisation.  My executive team, over half of the executive identify as Deaf.  There is opportunities out there, and we just need to change the way we think, to create a shift, because a solution is out there.

MS BLYTH:  I think as well, if a person is born deaf and they are provided access to whatever is required - bilingual approaches, Auslan - and they navigate the world and arrive at the time for employment, there is less access needs for them.  When we think of the current situation, it's a lot more costly.  Whereas if children are provided better access to their education, and their social needs are met, their future is endless, and there's a lot more opportunity for them, and the benefit is there in terms of what our report identifies financially to the economy.  Which is $380 million.

CHAIR:  Sorry.  Thank you very much again for giving your evidence.  It's been a very, very interesting session, and you have put forward some very thoughtful and challenging ideas, I think, for us to consider.  On behalf of the Commissioners, I do want to thank you for your contributions to our work today in particular. So, thank you very much.  And we shall give a lot of thought to the things that you have raised in the course of the afternoon. So, thank you, Jen, and thank you, Brett.

MS MAHONY:   Chair, before we - 

MR CASEY:  Thank you for having us and hearing us.

MS BLYTH:  Thank you.


MS MAHONY:   Chair, before we close there are two documents that are to be tendered. 

CHAIR:  Yes.

MS MAHONY:   The first one is a submission into Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability, Deaf Connect organisation submission, dated May 2022.

CHAIR:  Yes.

MS MAHONY:   And that will be Exhibit 29-01.  The second document is - 

CHAIR:  Can you just indicate the purpose of the tender of a submission?  Because we don't normally tender the submissions.

MS MAHONY:  Certainly.  Chair, it goes into significant information that is relevant to the details about understanding the context of matters as well as providing figures as well.

CHAIR:  It provides some statistical data, does it?

MS MAHONY:   Yes. 

CHAIR:  Alright well that submission may be admitted into evidence and will get the marking of Exhibit 29-01.


MS MAHONY:   Yes.  And I also note, as I'm reminded by Ms Eastman, that the witnesses have referred to these submissions as well in their evidence.

CHAIR:  Okay.

MS MAHONY:   The second document is a document titled Auslan Interpreting Issues - Disability Royal Commission submission, July 2022 prepared by Deaf Australia.  And that will be Exhibit 29-02.

CHAIR:  And that falls into the same category, does it?

MS MAHONY:   Yes, it does.

CHAIR:  Alright. Well, that submission can be admitted into evidence and given the marking of 29-02. 


CHAIR:  Thank you very much.  Does that conclude the hearing for today?

MS MAHONY:   Yes, it does.

CHAIR:  And we shall resume, then, at 10 am tomorrow, Tuesday.  Thank you very much.  And thank you again for your evidence.