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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 2

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CHAIR:  Good morning, everybody, and welcome to the second day of Public hearing 29, which is addressing the experiences of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation of people with disability from culturally and linguistically diverse communities.  We begin with an Acknowledgment of Country.  This Public hearing is being held on the lands of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation, and we wish to acknowledge them as the traditional owners of the land upon which the hearing is taking place and pay our respects to their elders past, present and emerging.  We would also like to pay our respects to Aboriginal Elders of other communities who may be here today, or who are following the hearing via the live webcast.

Just give me one moment.  Yes, Ms Mahony.

MS MAHONY:   Chair, I call the next witnesses.  Joe Monteleone and Ben McAtamney.

CHAIR:  Good morning and thank you very much for coming to the Royal Commission to give evidence today.  We appreciate assistance and look forward to your evidence this morning.  If you would be very kind enough to follow the instructions of my associate, who is located on the extremity of the room, she will administer respectively the oath and the affirmation.  Thank you very much.

ASSOCIATE:  Mr Monteleone, I will now read you the oath.  At the end, please say yes or I do.  Do you swear by Almighty God that the evidence which you shall give will be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?



ASSOCIATE:  Mr McAtamney, 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:  Mr Monteleone and Mr McAtamney, thank you very much, and I will now ask Ms Mahony to ask you some questions.


MS MAHONY:   Thank you for both joining us today.  Just turning first of all to you, Mr Monteleone.  Your name is Joe Monteleone?

MR MONTELEONE:  Yes.  And I'm pleased to be here today.

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


MS MAHONY:   You're happy to be identified by your first name, Joe?


MS MAHONY:   And you're also happy for me to address you by your first name; is that correct?

MR MONTELEONE:  Yes, sure.  That's fine.

MS MAHONY:   And, Mr McAtamney, your name is Ben McAtamney?

MR McATAMNEY:  Yes, it is.

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


MS MAHONY:   Are you also happy to be known by your first name and for me to refer to you by your name, Ben?

MR McATAMNEY:  Yes, I am.

MS MAHONY:   Commissioners, we have had a discussion today about the topics that Joe in particular and Ben will be speaking about, and they agree they are not going to refer to the names or identities of any people or service providers or locations.

CHAIR:  Yes, thank you.

MS MAHONY:   Joe, just turning to you first, were you born deaf?


MS MAHONY:   And in terms of your family, were they deaf or hearing or do you have a mixture of both?

MR MONTELEONE:  Okay. So, my father first migrated out to Australia from Italy around 1952.  He sought employment opportunities and raised funds to support the family to come over. So, it was my mother and her first son, my eldest brother, who also migrated out on the ship in 1954 or 1955.  And then I also have three sisters who can hear and my other brother who is deaf. So, there's three girls and three boys that form part of the family.

MS MAHONY:   And so the three boys are each deaf in your family?

MR MONTELEONE:  Yes.  We were all born deaf, yes.

MS MAHONY:   And your mum and dad, are they hearing?

MR MONTELEONE:  They both have hearing, yes.

MS MAHONY:   And Italian was their first language?

MR MONTELEONE:  Yes, that's right.  They spoke Italian in the home.  They used, of course, a lot of gesture.  As you know, Italians, it's part of our culture, using facial expressions and gesture, and that's how I communicated with my parents.

MS MAHONY:   Did you learn Auslan at some time?

MR MONTELEONE:  It was incredible, really, because my older brother, he was my mentor, and I learnt sign language from him. So, I think I had exposure to the language at about the age of 2 or 3.  I mean, it wasn't specifically taught, I just took it on naturally, having my older brother as a role model. So, it was wonderful.  And that's how I learnt Auslan.

MS MAHONY:  So, growing up in that household with deaf siblings and hearing siblings, did that provide you with a good language base?

MR MONTELEONE:  Yes, and, I mean, of course, having family members who could sign, it was wonderful having the three of us boys together.  I didn't have any frustrations whatsoever.  The girls, of course, did speak to one another because they could hear and speak, and they would speak Italian with our parents, but the boys got along like a house on fire, being able to sign to each other.  We were always happy.  It was a happy family.  We had no frustrations because we had access to Auslan.

I could imagine if I was the only one who was deaf and had limited communication, it would be quite frustrating, but I was very fortunate to have my two brothers to be able to share our life experiences together through our first language, and often my parents would have to try and get our attention, because we were caught up somewhere chatting separately to the rest of the family.  They would finish their dinner and ours went cold because we were too busy chatting to each other.  And I guess that meant that our parents knew that we were happy, because we could actually express ourselves in our own culture and in our own language.

MS MAHONY:   Joe, some time later in life you became blind or at least were diagnosed with Usher type 1.  Is that correct?


MS MAHONY:   How old were you when that happened?

MR MONTELEONE:  If I could give you a little anecdote.  I remember at the age of about 7 or 8, getting off the train at the train station.  I didn't want to miss the bus because I was going to the Deaf school at the time, and I ran into a light pole on the platform.  At the time, I didn't understand why that had happened.  Over time, as I got older, at 15 or 16, I joined a rugby union boys team.  And we had rugby training at night, and the coach and I came to heads because I couldn't see the ball at night, and I had no idea why I couldn't see the ball during training and practice.

And the coach accused me of being drunk, and it wasn't the case.  And often they would sit me on the bench and never got to play a game as a result, because I couldn't see the ball at practice at night time.  I enjoyed rugby union and that was different later on where I was able to participate for 10 years in a different team.  They were much more welcoming and engaging.  I had a much more positive experience later on compared to the formative years of my sports practice.

But I must say, when I left school, I received my driver's licence, and I had a number of car accidents.  Like, we are not talking one or two: five, six, seven, eight.  This occurred time and time again and I didn't know what was happening.  My father would speak to me and say, look, Joe you are being careless, what's happening here.  Oblivious to what was going on with my vision, and that was up in Sydney.

And then I met this lovely young Deaf woman from Melbourne, who I eventually married.  We moved down to Victoria, and, again, I experienced several car accidents not knowing why.  And after the third one, I was going around a corner, a pedestrian was crossing the road, and I had run into that person.  I had no idea why the accident occurred.  And then down the track the Victorian Deaf Society at the time made contact with me and asked me to come in and see somebody urgently because they had heard about this incident.

And back then we used to communicate using the TTY, the telephone typewriter. So, I went to see the support workers at the Victorian Deaf Society, Vic Deaf, and they provided services specifically for those with Usher syndrome, and she talked to me about this vision loss and so forth, and I was quite confused and encouraged to go and have a test at the eye and ear hospital.  And at the time, I didn't think I had any problem with my vision.  And I discovered and received a diagnosis of Usher syndrome type 1.

And, of course, I was extremely upset.  I understood there was no cure for this.  It was quite a shock to the system.  I strongly identified as a Deaf person, not having a vision loss or a vision impairment.  And I refused to accept that diagnosis for a long time.  And then after that, I had a lovely Deaf woman who was working with me providing services around deafblindness and counselled me through that process and I required total communication, and she was wonderful in terms of fitting in with me and my needs and I slowly had to accept my vision loss.

But for a long time I didn't want to accept that diagnosis because I strongly identified as a signing Deaf boy.  But that's how I discovered that I did actually have Usher syndrome type 1.

MS MAHONY:   Joe, in terms of   you said you had trouble accepting that diagnosis and accepting the change of your identity.  How do you feel about being a Deaf man with Usher syndrome now?

MR MONTELEONE:  Well, during that time after I was diagnosed, as I mentioned, I didn't want to accept the label.  But over time through counselling that was provided and further supports, it took me several years to accept that fact. So, I didn't take it on board immediately, but it was a   a period of time where I eventually accepted that, and now I do accept my deafblindness.  It hasn't been easy.

MS MAHONY:   Do you have any siblings   I withdraw that it. Do your brothers also have a diagnosis of Usher Syndrome type 1?

MR MONTELEONE:  That's a really great question. So, I went up to Sydney and I actually spoke to my two brothers about this and said, "I think you should go and get tested just to see it might be genetic." And both my brothers, they resisted and they identified as proud Auslan signers growing up, and they didn't want to know whether there was any vision impairment or issues. And they were still driving at the time, and I said, look, you know, I have had these accidents.  I think it would be worthwhile of you guys being tested.  And then they were tested and we discovered they were diagnosed with the same vision loss that I have.

MS MAHONY:   Joe, you just briefly spoke before about receiving counselling to help you accept your diagnosis.  Was counselling provided in Auslan or through an English interpreter?

MR MONTELEONE:  Thanks for that question. So, Vic Deaf had a hearing staff member who could sign, and they did provide me with an interpreter there. And then later, I had a Deaf support person who was counselling me, who was wonderful.  This wonderful Deaf lady.  We had a complete communication, if you understand, so we could communicate directly to one another in Auslan, and I felt that level of comfort with that person, which was fantastic.

It was extremely valuable.  Yes, whilst the former person I saw was hearing and could sign, that was great, but being with another Deaf person meant that I could fully express myself and not have to hold anything back at all, which was great.

MS MAHONY:   Turning to you, Ben, you are qualified as an Auslan interpreter?


MS MAHONY:   You are currently employed with Deafblind Australia?


MS MAHONY:  And the role is the Project Officer, National Advocacy Officer for the Disability Royal Commission?

MR McATAMNEY:  That's correct.

MS MAHONY:   Did Deafblind Australia see this Commission as a priority to create that particular role?

MR McATAMNEY:  Yes. That role didn't exist prior to the Commission coming about. 

MS MAHONY:   What was the purpose for creating that role?

MR McATAMNEY:  Something that we hear pretty consistently from Deafblind people is that there is a really endemic lack of awareness across all levels of service provision and government about the Deafblind experience and about what Deafblind people's needs are. So, we as an organisation really saw this Commission as an opportunity to ensure that we could get some of those lost perspectives and those missed experiences on to the table of people who are in a position to make recommendations and to push for change.

MS MAHONY:   And in terms of Deafblind Australia, what services does it provide or what is its role?

MR McATAMNEY:  So, Deafblind Australia is a Deafblind led community representative organisation.  We work primarily in the information and advocacy space. So, we see ourselves as a conduit for information going to and coming from the Deafblind community, and we operate with a National Reference Group of Deafblind people whose feedback on their experiences informs our work and our priorities, especially in advocacy.

MS MAHONY:   You have just heard Joe's evidence about really the delay in his diagnosis with Usher syndrome type 1.  Is Deafblind Australia aware of delays in such diagnoses?

MR McATAMNEY:  Certainly Joe's experience as he described it is something that we hear a lot from people with Usher type 1.  Usher syndrome type 1 traditionally presents as a person who is Deaf from birth and has a hearing loss later in life, and we hear a lot of stories about people being written off as clumsy or absent minded throughout their youth because they might be getting in a lot of accidents or falling over things or bumping into things as Joe described.

And a lot of that is again just sort of written off or put down to a personality trait.  Usher syndrome is not the only condition that results in a dual sensory loss, but primarily, yes, we hear a lot of stories about the full extent of a person's sensory needs not really being picked up or recognised in the early stages of their life.

MS MAHONY:   And that's regardless of how the person comes to be deaf and blind?

MR McATAMNEY:  Yes.  Generally the only time we would say that that sort of holistic approach to deafblindness happens from the start of the diagnostic journey is when somebody becomes deafblind later in life, either due to an illness or an injury, and they experience a profound dual sensory loss all at once later in their life.

MS MAHONY:   Joe, if I can ask you some questions about your education.  You attended a Deaf school; is that correct?

MR MONTELEONE:  Yes.  That was in Sydney.

MS MAHONY:   And in terms of that Deaf school, can you just describe, was it just for deaf students?

MR MONTELEONE:  Yes, it was. So, I attended the Deaf school in Sydney growing up as a young child.  I travelled quite a distance, and I left school finally in year 10 and I couldn't actually read and write at the end of it all. So, I had an extremely poor education because there was so much communication breakdown between the teachers and the students.  A lot of us were actually just copying what was on the blackboard.  We didn't understand the grammar or structure of English, and I felt as though I wasted a lot of my formative years going to school and didn't actually gain a proper education.

I came out in the end with nothing.  I left school, and I mentioned my brother before as my role model or mentor, and he was amazing and he basically said, "Joe, I think you should go and learn English" and I thought, "Oh, why should I?  It's probably not that important."  But he said, "How are you going to be able to communicate with hearing people out there in the real world, Joe?" And four years I paid for a private tutor to actually work with me.

We didn't have access to too many interpreters back then.  It was 1978.  I had a tutor and worked with them using paper and pen and spent quite a lot of my own funds over four years to get a proper education because I didn't receive a proper education at school.  But four years of my own time and money and eventually learnt how to read and write in English.  And I wouldn't say my fluency is standard to everybody else, but it is certainly above scratch.

MS MAHONY:   In terms of your education, so it was a Deaf school.  Was it taught in Auslan or was it taught in English spoken language?

MR MONTELEONE:  I mean, it's going back quite a while.  It's 50 years.  I remember some of us using a lot of finger spelling, not a lot of signing, per se.  So, many of the kids didn't understand what the instruction was.  And, like I said, they were just writing down what they saw on the blackboard and doing a lot of copying and pasting, if you like.  They didn't really understand the instruction because it was terrible communication going on between the teachers and the students.  We had such a poor education back then.

MS MAHONY:   In terms of after you have done your private tutoring   so you've just said you paid for that yourself?

MR MONTELEONE:  Yes.  That's right.

MS MAHONY:   How did you   

MR MONTELEONE:  It was extremely valuable.  It was the most valuable thing I could have done for myself because it meant that eventually I could communicate using paper and pen and understand people in the hearing community.

MS MAHONY:   And how did you manage to pay for that?  Were you working at the time or were you receiving benefits?

MR MONTELEONE:  No, I wasn't.  I was very fortunate; I had supportive parents.  I really thank my parents.  Being Italian parents, they were very supportive.  It is part of our culture.  They had three Deaf boys.  They always made sure we were part of the family, and I had such incredible support from my parents.  I'm really grateful to them.  And they spent a lot of those funds on that tuition. So, I do thank them dearly.

MS MAHONY:   You later went to TAFE.


MS MAHONY:   What did you study there?

MR MONTELEONE:  Well, first of all, when I left school at the age of 16   and I talked about year 10, so I had four days a week at school and one day a week where I was going off to TAFE.  And I was studying sheet metal at the time.  Learning how to do sheet metal work.  I didn't have access to Auslan interpreters because, as I said, it was 1978.  It wasn't established as a profession back then. So, I wanted to do some tactile work with my hands, do some manual work, and I had a great teacher who took me on board and didn't brush me aside because I was Deaf.

And again, it was a case of just copying what I was seeing in front of me, not quite understanding why I was doing things.  And it was fantastic because my brother would help me with the reading material, with the manuals, and provide me with support to read the   the reading material and manuals to understand what I was doing.  And eventually I left school and I went back to the TAFE and said, look, I would like to do a second-year apprentice doing sheetmetal, and my teacher said, "First of all, Joe, I think you need to find a job" because back then you might work four days a week and do one day at a technical college or TAFE.

That was a barrier because it was going to be difficult for me to get a job.  And my father said, "Look, Joe I would like you to be a cabinet maker." And I thought, brilliant, okay, I will try and do this.  And he knew some Italians through the Italian community in Sydney at the time who had their own businesses, sought work for me, and I got a job but then I was told I couldn't do the TAFE component because there were no Auslan interpreters at the time.

Again, I faced another barrier, and my father was truly broken hearted because he had many nephews or my cousins who were all working as cabinet makers or had degrees working in accountancy, various forms, and he thought, all the other families and their kids were successful, what am I going to do about my three boys if people don't give them an opportunity?  So it was really tough for him.  And he did grieve, kind of in a way, like he had a loss, having three Deaf boys.  And because of the educational system and how that failed us, it let us off a cliff. That was another barrier.

MS MAHONY:   So, Joe, later on, though, did you do a TAFE course related to commerce?

MR MONTELEONE:  Yes.  That was much later.  I've experienced all these barriers.  I couldn't find employment, and my brother sat down with me and said, what's your dream job?  What would you like to study?  I wasn't really sure, and he said look, you are really good at maths, Joe, so why don't you think about doing   your English is not great, but we can do something with maths.  And he suggested I go to TAFE and do a bookkeeping course for eight weeks.  And I really enjoyed that.

My older brother did encourage me in my pursuits, and he gave my such wonderful advice.  And then I got into doing the Diploma of Commerce.  And usually most people do that over four years.  It took me seven years because I already was trying to catch up behind the 8 ball.  But eventually I did succeed in that outcome, with having the Diploma in Commerce, but employers still refused to employ me.  It was heartbreaking.

I would get home, I was frustrated, I would lose my temper.  I was   my brothers felt guilty that they told me and suggested that I go and do further study when there was no satisfactory outcome as a result.  Because I was Deaf, people discriminated against me and would not employ me, and no matter where I went nobody would give me a job even though I had the qualification.  I was just   yes, it was so disappointing and disheartening.

MS MAHONY:   Ben, I might ask you some questions on a couple of topics that Joe's just talked about.  First of all, education for Deafblind people in Australia, what are the models available to deafblind children and also are those children mostly congenitally deafblind, that they are born deafblind?

MR McATAMNEY:  So, we hear of children with dual sensory loss being in all sorts of different schooling environments, from sort of local mainstream schools to specialist schools for deaf or blind children.  Just a note about the congenital deafblindness or born with deafblindness, most Deafblind people, unless it comes through accident or injury, are born with the condition that leads to the sensory loss, but it's about the time at which that loss becomes significant and whether it is pre  or post learning a language or developing a communication system. 

So, there may be children, such as Joe, for example, who Joe was born with Usher syndrome, but his vision was functional enough that he could acquire a language in the way that most Deaf people do when they are in a signing environment.  For children who are   have a profound dual sensory loss before they have acquired any language, it's a much more intensive educational approach, and it's a whole different suite of approaches and techniques that need to be brought into that situation.  Which is one of the issues in even speaking about the Deafblind community as a total unit, is that it is so incredibly diverse.

MS MAHONY:   You refer to it as dual sensory loss.  Is that the preferred terminology as opposed to Deafblindness?

MR McATAMNEY:  Deafblindness tends to be an identity that people adopt later in life that comes from being around communities of shared experience.  At the earlier end of life, it is much more likely that children are identified and put into communities of diagnosis. So, labelled around their particular condition rather than a Deafblind identity.  That tends to happen later in people's lives.

MS MAHONY:   And in terms of the expectations for deafblind children   I withdraw that.  I will start that again. So, in terms of expectations of parents of children with either dual sensory loss or who are identified or identify themselves as deafblind, what are the expectations that you see being set for those children?

MR McATAMNEY:  We have heard stories from people working particularly in the congenital space that one of the biggest questions that comes up early is can the child be educated.  And oftentimes, that assessment is being done by a person who, despite being in a professional position, doesn't really have the knowledge or the experience to holistically assess that and in a deafblind context.  So we hear stories of a very firm ceiling being put on children's potential very early on in age.  And that can lead to all sorts of issues around   

MS MAHONY:   Sorry, can I just stop you there and  

MR McATAMNEY:  Of course.

MS MAHONY:     we will continue.  Chair, I am sorry to interrupt.  I just understand there is a technical issue and we need a short break.  We need a break of 10 minutes.

CHAIR:  I'm very sorry to interrupt the flow, but this is just part of the rich experience of the Royal Commission.  Interruptions are caused variously by earthquakes and all sorts of things.  Today it's a technical matter.  We shall adjourn for 10 minutes.

MS MAHONY:  Thank you.



CHAIR:  Yes, Ms Mahony.

MS MAHONY:   Thank you.  Ben, you were just providing before the break some   an answer to a question about education and the expectations for children with dual sensory loss, and you were speaking about the dynamics of sensory loss within the education sphere.  What else would you like to add to that answer?

MR McATAMNEY:  I guess just to add that what we hear overwhelmingly from all sorts of different Deafblind people is limitations being placed on their expectations around their capability that are generally the result and of the things that are happening because the correct support is not being provided or because the correct support hasn't been identified.  That, over the life of somebody's experience in school, can have really profound impacts on their self conception around their own abilities and their own capacities as a learner, which can have life long impacts well into adulthood.

And with conditions that are often times degenerative in nature, it means that Deafblind individuals out of necessity have to learn and acquire new skills throughout their lives. So, having that sort of damage done to your identity and your own sense of what you're capable of at such a young age can then prevent you from jumping in and pursuing learning opportunities later in life, which are oftentimes essential.

MS MAHONY:   You just spoke about some sensory loss as being degenerative.  Looking at Usher type 1 Syndrome, what does vision loss look like for people who have that sensory loss?

MR McATAMNEY:  So for people with Usher type 1, it's primarily an experience of being born deaf and then the vision loss is something that happens progressively later in life.  It's different for everybody.  Not even all people with a diagnosis of Usher 1 have the same experience of their vision loss.  Quite commonly, it comes with a condition called retinitis pigmentosa, or RP in the community, and the way that the visual field is described by a lot of people can either be what we call a visual frame where it's a very limited space in front of the person that can be seen and it's the peripheral vision that's not quite as broad as it typically would be.

Some people also describe, you know, total vision loss in one eye and then very restricted vision, such as looking through a straw, in another eye.  And for other people it can be sort of more of a glaucoma type of presentation where it's dots or clouds or some sort of obscuring of the vision that's not necessarily just restricted to the peripheral.

MS MAHONY:   And, Joe, how do you describe your vision loss and has that changed over time since your diagnosis?

MR MONTELEONE:  It's a good question.  Growing up, I talked about not being aware of my deafblindness and then I was diagnosed.  During the day, I can see through kind of a circle in front of me, but at night time I have complete vision loss. So, everything is black around me, and there is a difference between what I can see at daytime and what I see at night.  My eldest brother has a similar experience with Usher type 1, although now he's lost complete vision in his right eye and he has blurred vision in his left eye.  My other brother has similar vision to myself, so he has visual frame during the day but is totally blind at night.

MS MAHONY:   And so your experience is similar to what Ben described about having a frame and a limited frame?

MR MONTELEONE:  Yes.  That's right. So, almost like tunnel vision and everything else around that is black.

MS MAHONY:   So does that allow you to still engage in activities such as art and design?

MR MONTELEONE:  Yes, it does.  For a long time, I thought I can't do things, but, you know what, I can do anything.  I'm not going to let anybody stop me, and I'm always willing to give anything a go and participate.  After I left the workplace, my wife and I had a conversation about me going to TAFE and not just being stuck at home every day, between four walls. So, I thought it will be good to take up a new hobby and I did some artwork, painting, just out of fun and interest.

And then I realised I wasn't doing anything tactile, and then over time I decided to do some print making, and I've absolutely loved it.  It's taken up a lot of my time and I can engage using my hands.  Being a tactile person, it's just wonderful.  I really enjoy doing the lino cut work that I do, as part of the print making work.

MS MAHONY:   Joe   sorry, I mean, Ben, you were just giving some evidence before about whether or not there's the correct support being given to children with dual sensory loss.  What is the impact where parents of children who are diagnosed have no contact with other parents or other families with children in a similar situation?

MR McATAMNEY:  I think again it comes back to, at a young age, we hear that it's overwhelmingly children being grouped into communities of diagnosis. So, if you are a parent of a child who is diagnosed with Norrie's disease, you might not necessarily be on the lookout to connect with patients who have children with Charge syndrome, despite the fact there may be similarities, at least in terms of supports that can be brought in to assist those children. 

So, we hear a lot about stories of disconnection of families feeling very isolated from one another.  And the way it was described to me by a professional working in that space is that often times parents feel that to acknowledge that their child who has Norrie's or Usher or whatever the diagnosis is, also has this identity as a deafblind child feels akin to kind of giving the child extra disabilities in the same way that we have heard evidence that parents are reluctant sometimes to acknowledge a child's deafness as anything other than a flaw that needs a curative approach.

I think a similar thing happens in the deafblind space and because of that children are cut off not only from each other and families cut off from families having similar experiences, but there's a whole raft of approaches and techniques and strategies that might be really beneficial for that child that aren't even put on the table because they are not recognised as somebody who might benefit from something like a visual language.

MS MAHONY:   In terms of   you have mentioned Norrie's a couple of times. We have heard about Usher's.  What's Norrie's?

MR McATAMNEY:  So, I would be remiss if I said I can remember the diagnostic categories completely, but, basically, Norrie's and Charge Syndrome are the two that we hear of fairly regularly around congenital deafblindness. So, that's where the dual sensory loss is occurring much, much earlier in life.

MS MAHONY:   And you mentioned about the   not being aware of supports or what's   not being aware of connections that could be available.  Does Deafblind Australia have recommendations or suggestions as to how that barrier can be reduced moving forward?

MR McATAMNEY:  Unfortunately, there's a little bit of a two pronged answer there, I think. One is I think we need better distribution about the information about services and particularly about peer groups and about opportunities to meet other Deafblind that are out there.  That information doesn't always make it to families or make it to people that would benefit from it, rather.

But unfortunately, we have also heard stories that now, in the NDIS landscape, certain service providers are very protective of their client base or of wanting to ensure that, because they are operating as fee-for-service organisations, that they have the largest number of clients on their books possible. So, unfortunately, we have heard stories of services being contacted in major cities by parents of deafblind children and those services being very reluctant to refer those families on to other groups or other organisations that operate in the space, despite the fact that they know they are there.  Because they see that as, on some level, the loss of a customer, and they are very reticent to do that.

MS MAHONY:   So in terms of what could be achieved from this Royal Commission, do you have a suggestion about a way forward for that from the perspective of Deafblind Australia?

MR McATAMNEY:  For that particular issue, as it is with a lot of the issues we advocate around, it is really about awareness.  It's about awareness not only of the professionals that are involved with children early in their life so that their suite of options that are presented to a family are as holistic as possible, but also making sure there is more awareness, just across the broader disability landscape, of the really great peer networks and peer groups that are operating in various states where the Deafblind community is organising to come together and support each other.  And we would love to see people much better connected with the great work that Deafblind people are doing in that space.

MS MAHONY:   Joe, do you have an experience of having family members and/or Deafblind people coming into your local Deafblind community and the benefits accrued to them?

MR MONTELEONE:  I wasn't directly approached by a new Deafblind person recently that I can think of.

MS MAHONY:   Have you ever had   for example, I recall you talking about a Deafblind person coming in with their mother and number of years ago.

MR MONTELEONE:  Oh, yes.  Thank you for reminding me.  Now I do recall.  There was a group of Deafblind people here in Victoria, Deafblind Victoria.  We have a group that meets in the city, and it just so happened this person had Italian heritage and that person was deafblind and came along with their mother, and their mother was really pleased to see that our group existed.  They were a new member to our group, and we were really pleased to be able to support them to be part of that.

MS MAHONY:   And in terms of the mother's reaction, how did that make the mother feel?

MR MONTELEONE:  Well, you know, Italians like to express themselves.  She burst into tears.  There was an immediate connection to myself, being Deafblind and also being Italian, but also finding other people who existed that were like her son. So, the mother was very emotional, and she actually reminded me of my mother up in Sydney. So, I got teary-eyed and upset for them as well, because I knew what he had been through.  It was lovely to get to know him.

MS MAHONY:   I just now want to return to, Joe, your employment.  And then ask   I might ask Ben first.  Ben, what are   does Deafblind Australia consider the major hurdles to gaining and maintaining employment for Deafblind people?

MR McATAMNEY:  I think one of the biggest barriers we observe   and I would be shocked if this isn't consistent across other communities of people with disability, but I think the biggest barrier is the mainstream community and employers at large conceiving of a hire with a disability as actually being something that could be advantageous to their organisation.  I think we are still very much tied to a mentality in the workforce where employing people with disability is seen as kind of a philanthropic act or an act of social service, to be pursued as and when that organisation wants to enjoy the social credit that comes from doing that.

There was a concept raised in the hearing yesterday about Deaf gain.  The idea that there might actually be a competitive advantage, not in spite of but because of that person's, disability, is something that we still haven't quite wrapped our heads around as a society, I don't think, and in the Deafblind space, that's something where we see people's skills and experiences, especially in the area of consulting around accessibility and inclusive practices and inclusive design, it's still very under utilised.

Because the most Deafblind people by virtue of their lived experience have an incredible perspective to contribute.  Joe in particular has worked for us in the past as a language consultant reviewing materials that we are producing, and we have benefitted enormously from that.  And we have got that benefit because Joe is Deafblind, not in spite of his deafblindness.

MS MAHONY:   Is   

MR MONTELEONE:  Thank you.

MS MAHONY:   Is there   is there a situation where, for example, in that consultancy space where external organisations want to get feedback or use the skills and expertise of Deafblind people, for example, but are not willing to remunerate them in the usual way?

MR McATAMNEY:  Unfortunately, the remuneration that they bring to the table is pretty usual in that it's tokenistic and is often kind of a   a recognition of your participation rather than actually paying somebody as a subject matter expert.  We get contacted at DBA relatively regularly by organisations that have been tasked with consultation, either from government or private industry.  Not only are they frequently only offering sort of a token remuneration for that, but the timelines, the KPIs that are set up, the way that they want to go about doing that consultation demonstrates a complete lack of understanding or awareness of the lived reality of Deafblind people and what it actually takes to engage Deafblind people, especially en masse in a way that is going to be effective and that is going to get comprehensive and useful information.

MS MAHONY:   Joe, just in terms of your employment, you mentioned before that you have retired now.


MS MAHONY:   But you also talked about not being able to get employment within the field of study. So, within your Diploma of Commerce.  Is it the case, though, that you did work for a considerable period of time for one organisation?

MR MONTELEONE:  Yes, that's right.  In 1978, I talked about my experience there working for different employers doing panel beating, various manual jobs, and often I was exploited by those individuals who took advantage of my disability.  Even with interpreters provided occasionally, they weren't conducive to that environment in terms of allowing for time lag and interpretation and so forth.  That was a negative experience, similar to what you've heard yesterday.  Again, having barriers that I face from employers even with my qualification.

And then for about 32 years I worked for one organisation and had different experiences.  I was very proud of my Deaf identity, as my brothers were, and I often kept my deafblindness to myself because I knew that there was a stigma attached in the workplace, and I didn't reveal that to other people where I worked.  People discovered over time that something was going on apart from my deafness, and I did disclose my Usher syndrome.

I had a number of issues with not getting interpreters in meetings and so forth, but it came to a head about eight years ago when my manager approached me and said, "Joe, would you like to take a redundancy package." And, to be honest, I wasn't ready to retire.  I was still quite young.  I was only 52 years of age.  And I said, "Look, you know, I'm not really ready to take a redundancy package at this point or retire." But the issue was where I was working, I was running into things in the office and tripping over.

It wasn't an ideal environment for somebody with me with a vision impairment. So, they considered me vulnerable or at risk to other people who were coming into the office.  And then they wanted me to be assessed by an independent assessor, which was news to me.  So, I went and saw the independent doctor or assessor, and they declared me unfit for work in that workplace, which was really extraordinary.  I was quite shocked.

I had worked in that organisation for 32 years.  I never used my sick pay.  I was a loyal staff member.  I had wonderful work ethic.  And still they treated me like this. So, in 2012, I left that organisation after being there for 32 years, and it was such a shock to find that they wanted to treat me like that.  I still feel upset about that today, and I feel as though that discrimination occurred.  Because of my Usher syndrome, I was running into objects and furniture in the office.  But even having been through that, whether it was discrimination or some other reason that they treated me like that, I wasn't really ready to retire.  I could have probably worked until 70 years of age, you know.  But as a result, I finished work at 52, and, yes, it was difficult to go through that.

MS MAHONY:   Joe, were they aware that you were running into   you know, different holes or tripping over trip hazards on the floor?  Were they aware of that?

MR MONTELEONE:  The manager, yes.  They could see me falling over.  It was very visible to everybody in the office, and they felt I wasn't appropriate to be in the workplace because I was producing   or I was a risk for other people in that environment, hence why they suggested I go and see the independent assessor.  And they declared me unfit to be in that workplace.

MS MAHONY:   Did they consider that maybe a different approach was to make sure the environment was a safe environment for all people?

MR MONTELEONE:  Yes.  Absolutely.  You would think that.  You would think they would give me options and opportunities to plans transfer to another office that was more appropriate.  Consider workplace modifications.  If I was a person who could hear, I would have been given those alternatives.  But, of course, because I'm Deaf and I've got Usher syndrome they didn't.  I feel in the end they were actually pleased to see me go because I was disabled, and they considered me a burden. Do you see what I'm getting at?

MS MAHONY:   And that was after 32 years of employment with that same organisation?

MR MONTELEONE:  Yes.  Yes, that's right. And I   yes.  I was fine, fair enough.  It was my identity, but at the same time I thought, shit, maybe I shouldn't have identified as being Deafblind.  I was a prolific signer growing up.  There have been times in my life where I've thought, why did I disclose?  This is such a shit, telling people, because they treat me like this.  It's so upsetting.

MS MAHONY:   Ben, turning to you, is Joe's experience a known experience in the Deafblind community or people having dual sensory loss?

MR McATAMNEY:  Certainly we hear from people, Deafblind people in the workforce, that, really, regardless of how long they are in a position or how high performing they are in a position, their experience is still one that they are primarily seeing through the lens of their disability and primarily seen as burdensome.

MS MAHONY:   I just want to move to a new topic.  Before I do so, are there any questions from yourself, Chair, or the Commissioners?

CHAIR:  Yes, I will ask the Commissioners.  Commissioner McEwin, do you have any questions?

COMMISSIONER McEWIN:  I do have one, thank you, Chair.  I have one question.  I am wondering should I place myself in front of Joe to be able to sign the question to him or will my question be interpreted?

MR MONTELEONE:  I can see you fine, Commissioner, yes.

COMMISSIONER McEWIN:  So I can sign from my chair.  Thank you very much for your testimony today.  I have one question.  You were talking about your qualifications, and that you were working as a bookkeeper, and you were inquiring in many places for employment, and you failed.  And the answer you received all of the time was a "no." Can you tell us how you dealt with that, please?

MR MONTELEONE:  That's a great question.  Thank you.  I did ask my manager what their reasons were.  They said it was the cost of employing interpreters.  They said also they didn't have the time to deal with my issues.  They were concerned about business.  As far as he was concerned, business is business.  I mean, they are a huge organisation, but they weren't short of funds, let me tell you that.  And they kept on saying, "You're taking up much too much time.  We don't have time to invest in you to talk about these issues."  So these were the barriers.

COMMISSIONER McEWIN:  Right, okay. So, just a follow-up question then.  Do you feel that currently attitudes have changed, or do you feel as though the barriers are still in existence for those people who are deaf and blind when they are seeking employment?

MR MONTELEONE:  I feel they still experience those barriers.  I'm not sure how they can be resolved.  It's the perception I'm Deafblind, I'm a risk to everybody else, particularly in the workplace environment or context.  I don't know.  It is really disappointing.

COMMISSIONER McEWIN:  Yes, indeed.  Thank you.

MR MONTELEONE:  Thank you.

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY:  I would just like to ask whether you were a union member and whether the union supported you when   when they were giving you a redundancy payment?

MR MONTELEONE:  It's a really good point you raise, Commissioner.  For 32 years I paid my union membership, what did they do for me?  Absolutely nothing.  I did ask them and they weren't willing to help me.  Thanks a lot.  It was absolute rubbish.  They didn't provide me with any support whatsoever.

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY:  What union was it?

CHAIR:  I think we will   

MS MAHONY:   If I can just interrupt at this point.

CHAIR:  Yes, no, we won't allow that question for procedural fairness reasons.  I'm sorry.

MS MAHONY:  Thank you.

MR MONTELEONE:  Thank you.

MS MAHONY:   Are there any other questions?

CHAIR:  Are you able to help with a number of Deafblind people, both adults and children, in the Australian community?

MR McATAMNEY:  Certainly, Chair.  It's something that's very difficult to get specific numbers on because of the range of conditions that will affect vision and hearing.  The numbers that I do have here today are from an organisation called Deafblind Information Australia.  The three figures that they quote on their website is it's estimated anywhere from 0.2 to 2 per cent of the population, which I believe is globally.  In Australia, they quote nearly 100,000 people are reported as Deafblind, with two-thirds of that number being aged over 65.

CHAIR:  That's 100,000.


CHAIR:  Are Deafblind.  Two thirds over the age of 65.

MR McATAMNEY:  Yes.  And there is another study that reported 36 per cent of individuals aged over 85 are Deafblind as well.

CHAIR:  And are people of that age, over the age of 65 going up over the age of 85, members of the organisation?

MR McATAMNEY:  Some, yes.  Others, no.

CHAIR:  How many members are there altogether?

MR McATAMNEY:  I would have to get back to you on that one, Chair.  I don't have the specific figure with me today.

CHAIR:  Thank you.  Yes, Ms Mahony 

MS MAHONY:   I just want to move now to the topic of interpreters for Deafblind persons.  First of all, Ben, you are a qualified interpreter.


MS MAHONY:   Can you just explain the role generally of an interpreter for a Deafblind person and how it is different or what else is needed in addition to interpreting to a person without the dual sensory loss?

MR McATAMNEY:  So there's a few areas where the practice differs in a Deafblind context.  I guess the most obvious and significant one is that it requires modification of the language in terms of the mode in which it's presented, and that is dependent upon the person's specific vision needs. So that could be a proximity issue.  It could be that I need the person to be closer to me.

As people's vision worsens over time, it tends to a trajectory from what we call visual frame interpreting, which is about close proximity but also keeping signs within a limited space in front of the body, through to something known as tracking, which is a version of visual frame interpreting where the Deafblind person holds the interpreter's wrists, and that's when there is a very limited signing space so that the signing can be kept in an area where the person can see it.

That, then, if there is a total vision loss, progresses into what's called hand over hand or tactile Auslan interpreting, in which the Deafblind person and the interpreter usually sit on opposite sides of a special table and the signs are felt by the Deafblind person.  There is also a tactile modified version of the Auslan alphabet which some people use. So, they rely on words to be spelt into their hand.

There is also an additional emphasis placed on interpreting the environmental information when working in a Deafblind context.  Things such as what we've got happening here, the reactions of audience members, the reactions of the Commissioners, various, I guess, cues that come from the environment that may not need to be explicitly articulated when someone has full visual access, they then become part of the interpreter's responsibility or part of the what the Deafblind person is expecting from their interpreters.

MS MAHONY:   And, Joe, for you, when your vision started to change, how did you find your needs for an interpreter changed, if at all?

MR MONTELEONE:  Okay.  Well, as I said, I was fortunate to have good interpreters growing up, and I had used hearing interpreters and Deaf interpreters.  With Usher syndrome type 1, it was very difficult to get interpreters who were appropriate for somebody like me, because they have adjusted their signing, as you've heard.  It is very difficult to get an interpreter who has got the skills of working with somebody like myself or somebody who uses tactile signing or visual frame.  I found it very difficult.

And probably only 5 per cent of interpreters are familiar with working with a person such as myself, working with Deafblind clients.  And they are very difficult to book. So, I have struggled in that respect.  Sometimes I do utilise interpreters who don't have experience with working with somebody like myself with a vision loss, and I need to adapt my communication for them.  Often I might have scenarios where I have a comm guide, a communication guide, who works with me while the interpreters is there, and I might use somebody who is inexperienced   because it's better than having nothing.

And I have had the comm guide, I guess, come at loggerheads with the interpreter because they don't agree with the interpretation.  And of course being Deaf, I wouldn't know what the interpretation is into English, and that's come as quite a surprise. So, the comm guide telling me the interpreter is not always necessarily interpreting me appropriately, because they are picking up the errors in the interpretation.

And I've had them have conflicts in front of me in meetings, so that   for me was a recognition that I need to have a conversation with the interpreter to ensure that they do understand my requirements and they can fit in with my needs and vice versa before we start off in meetings or workshops, so they can interpret me appropriately.  That's really important.

MS MAHONY:   You just made mention of the comm guide.  Can you just explain the role of the comm guide and whether they are Deaf or they are a hearing person?

MR MONTELEONE:  Great question. So, a comm guide can either be a hearing person or a Deaf person, and in their role, they shouldn't be interpreting.  Their role is to provide support and guide the person in the environmental space, and basically the sign for comm guide talks about how they guide you and provide communication support.  They need to be qualified in Auslan at a TAFE level, such as Hearing Victoria.  They have Certificates I, II and III or Diploma level at Melbourne Polytechnic, but they shouldn't be there in a dual capacity interpreting at the same time because some of them don't have NAATI accreditation.

They are qualified to be a comm guide, provide conversational support or social interactive support in the community, and that is appropriate, but they shouldn't be working in an interpreting capacity, particularly in this a medical appointment or a legal appointment.  They are prohibited to do that.  We need to have professional interpreters doing that, interpreting legal and medical context.  Higher qualified interpreters, if you like.

MS MAHONY:   Ben, in terms of the challenges that Joe's just spoken about in obtaining the correct skilled interpreter, what challenges do Deafblind Australia hear about their clients and being able to get access to appropriate interpreting?

MR McATAMNEY:  We hear from people a lot that they are experiencing, I guess, a double whammy of undersupply. So, I'm sure it's not news to the Commission that there's nowhere near enough Auslan interpreters nationally to provide for current demand.  And unfortunately for Deafblind people, their options are further limited by the fact that that already small pool of people is not in full possession of the skills and knowledge to provide for their needs.

Across regional areas, metropolitan areas, the way it was described to me by one professional working in the space is that there's pockets of better, but nothing is really good.  People report serious issues getting an interpreter or a comm guide.  There's parts of the country where, you know, there literally might be one person trying to provide that service for an entire community of Deaf and Deafblind people.  But then overwhelmingly the experience is compounded by, when they can get an interpreter, there is still no guarantee that the person who shows up is going to be able to do the job that they have been hired to do.

Unfortunately, it's still, I think, largely conceived of as an optional specialisation within the interpreting sector, as opposed to something that should be a part of every certified provisional interpreter's skill set once they are qualified. So, it really is luck of the draw, and people overwhelmingly are forced to structure their lives around what and when the support is available, as opposed to any other goal that they might have.

MS MAHONY:   In terms of the supports, Joe, you spoke about your older brother who has now lost his vision in one eye entirely and limited vision in his other eye.  Does he have supports   just going back a step first, does he live independently?

MR MONTELEONE:  Okay.  Good question. So, my parents have since passed away.  We have got a farm in Sydney where we have lived as a family for 60 years.  My two brothers still live there together.  They have never married.  They live together in the family house.  It's been on the farm for 60 years.  Their supports have been limited, and our sisters   we are very fortunate to have them on a daily basis go and cook for them and support them.  The three sisters support them.

But I must say, I have been very fortunate living in Melbourne because we have Able Australia as a service who has provided wonderful supports for me.  My brothers in Sydney, unfortunately, don't have the same provision of service.  They don't have access to Able Australia, so I do feel sorry for them in the fact that they don't have access to a service like that.  We also have Deafblind Victoria, where we have a support group.  We all get together, we do art therapy and various other activities for people like myself, and we are very fortunate we have that service here in Melbourne but nothing like that exists in Sydney. So, I do feel sorry for my two brothers because of that.

MS MAHONY:   You just talked about your sisters providing daily assistance and supports to your brothers.  What would happen to the supports or what would happen to your brothers' lives if your sisters weren't there to provide that support?

MR MONTELEONE:  I would hate to think.  I don't think they   they would probably be in a nursing home or somewhere much worse.  We are very grateful for our three sisters and all the support they provide.  They are such wonderful siblings, looking after and caring for their Deafblind brothers.  And we often suggest that they have respite or time out, but they still insist on supporting two brothers all the time. So, this is on a daily occurrence, and I get emotional thinking about it.  My sisters have been absolutely wonderful.  They have been so supportive.

MS MAHONY:   Ben, is that a similar scenario that you hear from other older Deafblind members of the community?

MR McATAMNEY:  Certainly something we hear a lot, and not just older Deafblind people.  I recently met with a family who have two siblings who are both Deafblind, and in the area in which they live, there is an overwhelming reliance on their parents to provide not just the informal support, but often de facto formal support for them because there are no interpreters or communication guides available for them in the area.  That is something that comes as an incredible, physical, emotional and financial cost to the family.

And we also hear a lot of people relying on sourcing supports through, you know, independent contractors, or various labour hire agencies like   that are existing in the space at the moment.  And then providing all of the necessary instruction on Auslan, Deafblind awareness and their particular needs themselves. So, whilst people are paying to be supported, they are expending some of that support time to actually educate the people they have hired and fill in the gaps in their knowledge and experience. So, the Deafblind person themselves becomes the de facto trainer as well.

There's a lot of that reallocation of responsibility across family members and across deafblind individuals themselves just to manage the really dire situation in terms of interpreting and comm guide support.

MS MAHONY:   And does Deafblind Australia have any suggestions how to mitigate those matters?

MR McATAMNEY:  From our perspective as an organisation and what we are hearing from the community, we really feel that the lack of workforce growth, the lack of people both in interpreting and in the comm guide workforce, is a national skills emergency.  It's a problem that happens everywhere, and it's a problem that's putting people at risk.  It's endangering their safety.  But it also completely limits the reach and the efficacy of all those larger policy operations that are happening at the moment. 

So, the reviews of the Australian Disability Strategy, the goals of the NDIS as a scheme, as well as people's individual's goals in their plan, all of these things are severely limited by the fact that that on-the-ground support just doesn't exist. So, that workforce development is a huge priority, but then also it's about information distribution and awareness. 

So, it's about getting into these qualifications as they are being taught where that person in their professional capacity is likely to, you know, or even has the possibility of engaging with a Deafblind person, making sure that that knowledge and those skills and that awareness is imparted in the training, not only to reduce some of what we are talking about here, but because there is a potential benefit to people with a very, very wide range of disability to have their community and allied health practitioners more aware of things like alternative communication and adapted communication.

MS MAHONY:   Just on that issue of health practitioners, what does the role of co morbidities for Deafblind people play into risk of neglect, abuse, exploitation, etcetera, for Deafblind members?

MR McATAMNEY:  Particularly for Deafblind people that are low language and are living in supported accommodation settings, and there is a specific cohort of people that were not long ago transitioned out of large institutions into community supported accommodation, the stories we hear from those areas and the people supporting those communities is that the lack of awareness and knowledge among the staff that are tasked for caring with that population leads to quite egregious and extreme neglect. 

So, it's   you know, we see everything from people's attempts communication not being recognised, right through to people being diagnosed with mental health issues or additional disabilities because they   frankly, an ignorant professional has observed a behaviour that they don't understand the function of or the origin of in a Deafblind context and then has misattributed another disability or a presence of a mental health issue to explain that behaviour. 

So, a specific example that was given to me was a person was diagnosed as being autistic because of their desire to have very strict control over the way things were set up in their living space.  Now, that's something, when somebody is living with dual sensory loss, that has a very clear functional purpose, and it's also something that we see a lot in the Deafblind community.  A person with Usher syndrome wanting their home set up a particular way is not something to write home about, really.

But unfortunately in these contexts where there is not that holistic understanding of deafblindness, it can lead to things like that, and we also hear reports of, you know, people being diagnosed with things like psychosis, things requiring medication when, realistically, there is not much confidence that the person making that assessment has a really clear and comprehensive understanding of deafblindness.

MS MAHONY:   And does that also drive home too the importance of language acquisition and the lack of available appropriate communication?

MR McATAMNEY:  Absolutely.

MS MAHONY:   You just made reference there to a number of members have been transferred from institutions to supported community settings.  Has there been an observed change in terms of the environment and positive experiences from what was happening before?

MR McATAMNEY:  Unfortunately, the changes that we have been told about are that for many people that were in that situation, it's actually gotten worse.  Unfortunately, a lot of staff that were working within these large   this particular institution have transitioned out into working in the community after its closure, and so with that has come the attitudes and the practices that caused so much destruction and so much harm during that institute's operation.

They have just kind of been brought wholesale over into the supported accommodation space.  We also hear that it's very easy to gain a job in a support work capacity, particularly through these general providers now, and that with that, the quality and level of knowledge among staff has gone downhill.  And we also hear that the   the gatekeeping and the restriction on information and the restriction on contact and the development of broader networks for people living in those settings is, in some cases, worse than it's ever been.

MS MAHONY:   Chair and Commissioners, I'm at the end of my questions.  Before I ask if any   Chair or Commissioners, you have any questions, I just wanted to ask Joe to share some photos with you, which I believe that you now have copies of.  And, Joe, if you can just briefly explain to the Commissioners and to the Chair about the context of those photos that they have now got the opportunity to look at.

CHAIR:  Sorry, are they going to come up on the screen?

MS MAHONY:   Hopefully.

MR MONTELEONE:  Well, as you all know, I left work eight years ago.  During that time I didn't have access to NDIS funds.

MS MAHONY:   Can I just interrupt for one moment.  Chair, it appears that the photos are on the screen.

CHAIR:  Yes, we can see them, thank you.

MS MAHONY:   Thank you.

MR MONTELEONE:  Okay. I will just continue where I left off on. So, with the NDIS, prior to that, I only received comm guide support two hours a fortnight. So, I did want to acknowledge the former Prime Minister Julia Gillard, and her colleagues for establishing the NDIS organisation.  That has been of incredible support.  Prior to COVID, I was provided with five or six days a week support from a comm guide, which was wonderful.

Unfortunately, after COVID, I was only receiving two or three days a week of support through the agency. So, a lot has changed throughout that time and the COVID pandemic. But in terms of thinking about my achievements, I managed to walk the Kokoda trail.  I had an interpreter and a comm guide come with me to Papua New Guinea.  I also have artwork that I exhibit, and I produced artworks last year, and they were on show at the Gasworks venue at South Melbourne.  And also I have got another exhibit coming up with my print work, in Federation Square in January. 

So, they are a number of my achievements because of the NDIS access and support that I've had, through my visual artworks. So I want to thank and acknowledge those people for providing the funding through the NDIS, and also recently with my comm guide I have watched the Deaf rugby team who have been playing down here in Melbourne. So, they had a Victorian Masters event over the age of 40 who were playing, and as a spectator I got to watch the competition and there was a gentleman there who asked me if I would like to go out on the field and have a run.

And I wasn't really sure what he meant.  And he was offering me to participate.  I was conscious of my vision and he said, look, this doesn't matter, we want to get you involved and be inclusive, because I told him my story of playing rugby 40 years ago.  And hence why he asked me the question. So, I didn't have shorts and boots, but they took them off the ref and got me all dressed up for the occasion.  And even though I couldn't necessarily see everything, they modified the rules in term of how we tackle, and people couldn't approach me side on. So, we were able to play the game with the modifications and people had to approach me front on so that I could see them.  And tackle me that way.

CHAIR:  Can we just hold the photo that's on the screen now.  Is that what you looked like when you were on the   when you were on the field?

MS MAHONY:   Chair, if I can just describe the photo.


CHAIR:  It's pretty scary, actually.

MS MAHONY:   The photo is of you with your legs in a lunge position  

MR MONTELEONE:  It is scary   

MS MAHONY:     holding a football with a pretty scary face.

MR MONTELEONE:  Yes.  But I must say, they were all over 40 years of age, so we run a little bit slower nowadays.  But, yes, as you can imagine it's quite a   a deeply intensive contact sport, and I thank my brothers for getting me involved in that.  It was so wonderful having the interpreter and the comm guide, but that was because of the NDIS supports.  If I didn't have that, I don't know what I would be doing.  I think I would be bored out of my mind and not participating society whatsoever. So, the access and inclusion it provides is wonderful.  I couldn't thank the NDIS enough for those funds.  It's made such a difference to my life.

MS MAHONY:   Chair, they are all the questions that I have.  Is there anything from yourself or other Commissioners?

CHAIR:  Commissioner McEwin?

COMMISSIONER McEWIN:  Thank you, Chair.  I do have one further question, if that's okay with you, Joe.  Previously, you were talking about a situation where your two brothers were living in Sydney, and you live here in Melbourne with the supports you have in place.  But your sisters support your brothers in Sydney.  I am wondering if we could go back in time somewhat and describe a perfect world.  And if we could do that, what do you think would be sorts of effective supports your brothers might need?

MR MONTELEONE:  In Sydney, I guess more awareness around their rights to have access to comm guides or interpreting support.  They are very reluctant to do that.  The sisters often talk to me about it, and I fly back and forth to New South Wales to teach them about using comm guides, using tactile signing, and my family weren't aware of that.  Because of my older brother losing his eyesight, they needed to be aware how to better communicate, holding each other's wrists and hands, and I've kind of been providing that education and support to the rest of the family members.

And previously my eldest brother refused to book comm guides, but now he does. So, now they have comm guides support because I've coached them up.  And it's been great because it's been less of a drain on the sisters, and they've been able to delegate the task to comm guides coming in.  But I still coach them up to those types of things. 

COMMISSIONER McEWIN:  So you said you were supply flying to Sydney to help them and encourage them and teach them what to do.

MR MONTELEONE:  Yes, because the sisters needed a break and they needed time out. So, I would go fly back and forth and give them support.

COMMISSIONER McEWIN:  So, that means, in effect, they need more support from organisations?  They need greater number of organisations in order to provide them support and take the responsibility away from you?

MR MONTELEONE:  Yes, that's right.  Thank you.

CHAIR:  Yes.  Commissioner Galbally?

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY:  Thank you.  Mr McAtamney, you mentioned gatekeeping, keeping people away from networks when they are in supported accommodation.  Could you expand on that and explain exactly what   yes.

MR McATAMNEY:  So, unfortunately, we have heard stories of, I guess, gatekeeping being used as a way to perpetuate a culture of silence and a culture of inaction around instances of abuse and neglect.  Unfortunately, there seems to be a culture in a lot of supported accommodation where the house manager is the gatekeeper for not only information, but also for people coming in and out of the specific house.

And people that are working as part of Deafblind peer groups or working as part of other supportive groups, when they are visiting people and working with them in these situations may observe behaviours or practices that are perhaps at best inappropriate and at worst abusive or neglectful.  And those people tell us that their experience often is that when they raise that with the house manager, it all of a sudden becomes very difficult for them to gain access to the premises. 

So, they go from being   having a very casual   where they come, they visit, it's a very peer support model, through to, "Well, now, you've got to book.  We need at least a weeks’ notice for you to book before you come here" and then magically a day or two before the appointment time is supposed to occur, there is an "incident" at the house and nobody is allowed to come. So, it's mostly about limiting people's contact with other people, limiting their contact with those who are seen, I guess, through the eyes of the house manager to be causing trouble or creating problems.


CHAIR:  Commissioner Bennett?  Ben and Joe, thank you very much indeed for giving evidence today.  It's been a very interesting and enlightening session.  We are very grateful to you for coming to the Commission and telling us of your respective experiences, and so we express our deep gratitude to you.  Thank you very much.

MR MONTELEONE:  Thank you.

MR McATAMNEY:  Thank you, Chair.


CHAIR:  Ms Mahony, do we now take a break?

MS MAHONY:   Yes, Chair.  I was going to suggest a 20 minute break, if that's appropriate.

CHAIR:  Yes, it's 11.40 now. We will resume at 12 noon.

MS MAHONY:  May it please.

CHAIR:  Thank you.


<RESUMED 12:01 PM 

CHAIR:  Yes, Ms Mahony.

MS MAHONY:   Chair, I call the next witness, Bridget Mary Carty.

CHAIR:  Dr Carty, thank you very much for coming to the Royal Commission to give evidence today.  Thank you also for providing the statement which we have and which each of us has read.  We very much appreciate the assistance that you have provided to the Royal Commission and no doubt will provide in the course of the next hour or so.  If you would be good enough, please, to follow the instructions of my associate, who is located at the far end of the room, she will administer the affirmation to you.  Thank you.

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?

DR CARTY:  Yes, I do. 


CHAIR:  Thank you very much, Dr Carty. I will now ask Ms Mahony to ask you some questions.


MS MAHONY:   Dr Carty, thank you for joining us today.  I just need to do some formalities first.  Your full name is Bridget Mary Carty?


MS MAHONY:   But you're known to friends and the community as Breda?

DR CARTY:  That's correct.

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


MS MAHONY:   Dr Carty, you have been conferred a Doctorate of Philosophy that allows you to be addressed as Dr Carty.


MS MAHONY:   For the purposes of this hearing, are you content for me to refer to you or address you as Breda?

DR CARTY:  Yes, I would actually prefer that.

MS MAHONY:   And, Breda, in 2021, you were made an Officer of the Order of Australia for distinguished service to people who are Deaf or heard of hearing to education and research and to the community

DR CARTY:  Yes, indeed.

MS MAHONY:   And for the purpose of this hearing, you've prepared a statement dated 21 October 2022?

DR CARTY:  Yes, I did.  That's correct.

MS MAHONY:   And that statement is 23 pages long?

DR CARTY:  It is.

MS MAHONY:   And do you say that that statement is true and correct?

DR CARTY:  Yes.  It is.  It is a true statement.

MS MAHONY:   Chair, that statement will be tendered in due course.

CHAIR:  Thank you.

MS MAHONY:   Breda, could you just briefly outline your professional achievements and your background which leads you to your current work as an adjunct fellow at Macquarie University?

DR CARTY:  Yes. I trained as a teacher of the deaf, which was not a straightforward process as I will speak about later.  I worked as a teacher for a number of years.  I moved into different areas of Deaf education.  I spent a long time in teacher training programs at Macquarie University, and I retired from that sphere of work four years ago.  I continued to work, however, as freelance, part time, and I currently work as a Coordinator of a Deaf history project for Deaf Connect.  I'm involved in a number of spheres of activity in Deaf education predominantly, and that's been the case for the last 35 years.

MS MAHONY:   In terms of your personal background, you were born into a hearing family; is that correct?

DR CARTY:  Yes, that's right.

MS MAHONY:   And were you born deaf or hearing?

DR CARTY:  I was born with the ability to hear and I developed a deteriorating hearing loss.  It was referred to as a progressive hearing loss from the age of approximately 3 or 4.  It's not precisely clear when that happened, and until the age of 17 or 18, my hearing further deteriorated until I became profoundly deaf.

MS MAHONY:   Given you had hearing for the first few years of your life up to at least age 3 or 4 when it started to deteriorate, what did that mean for your experience of language acquisition?

DR CARTY:  It meant that, for me, I acquired English, spoken English, the same as many other people do.  I could hear well enough to be able to acquire English as my first language.  I had different experiences of negotiating language acquisition than do people who were born deaf who may struggle with that process.  I did acquire a first language.  I still encountered barriers as my hearing deteriorated, and I became a profoundly deaf person, but I did experience language acquisition of one language. So, in that regard I was quite fortunate.

MS MAHONY:   In terms, though, of experiencing a hearing loss as you were growing up, did that impact on your ability to communicate and engage with people?

DR CARTY:  Yes.  It certainly did. I could speak well enough to interact on a one-to-one basis in small group settings, but if there were a large number of people, it was extremely difficult for me.  I would miss multiple conversations, I missed a lot of incidental learning that might happen around me, information that happens in the background and so forth which becomes extremely important, and it's not always acknowledged that a lot of Deaf people miss out on that type of information.  As I said before, I could hear well enough for one-to-one communication, but I did, however, miss a lot of incidental information.

MS MAHONY:   In terms of your education, did you attend a mainstream school?

DR CARTY:  Yes, I did.  That's correct.  Throughout my entire education.

MS MAHONY:  Were you provided with supports in that school by reason of your hearing loss and the deterioration of your hearing?

DR CARTY:  No.  There were no formal supports in place, no visits from anyone in the field of Deaf education.  Some, not all, of the good teachers went the extra mile for me.  My mother actually was a previous teacher, and my mother was extremely supportive of me.

MS MAHONY:   In terms of having your mother being supportive, did that assist you really achieving at school, including high school?

DR CARTY:  Yes.  I think that my mother's support was mostly when I was quite young.  She was instrumental in ensuring that I was following what was going on.  At first, no one had any idea that I was deaf.  I was only diagnosed at my first year at school.  My mother was also a very strong advocate, as is often the case for many parents.  Every time I was given a new teacher, she would write extensive notes to make sure that the teacher understood what my needs were and would hover somewhat in the background.  She had very high expectations for me. So, my parents and my family in general were extremely supportive of me.

MS MAHONY:   You've just spoken about your mother having high expectation of you.  Did you have specific career ambitions yourself?

DR CARTY:  As I was growing up, there was not one particular career goal that I had in mind.  As is the case for many young people, I would change my mind.  Sometimes I wanted to be a nurse or a teacher.  Or an air hostess.  However, I should add that in my dreams, in my future dream, I always saw myself as a hearing person.  I could not imagine myself doing those various professions as a deaf person. 

So, I imagined that when I grew up, at some point   perhaps I knew as a gut feeling it might not happen, but I did think that when I grew up I would become a hearing person and I could do all of these other things that other people could do.  There were no deaf people doing those kinds of things, and I wouldn't have been able to do that as a deaf person.

MS MAHONY:   At that point in your life, had you met other deaf people?

DR CARTY:  No.  None at all.

MS MAHONY:   When you finished high school, you say in your statement that you had a gap year.

DR CARTY:  That's right, yes.

MS MAHONY:   And you had a choice between a couple of employers or potential employers. Can you just explain what happened in that experience after finishing your HSC or your year 12 equivalent?

DR CARTY:  Yes, certainly.  My mother went with me to visit a Deaf school for the first time, and we visited the school.  I didn't see any children there because it was during the Christmas holidays.  And my mother thought that she could ring up and maybe help me support me get a job in a bank or within the public service.  I couldn't lip read the words Public Service, and I was quite passive in the meeting, and I did have to say, "What did you mean?" And my response was, where I wanted to work was a bank because it was the only word that I could lip read on the mouth of the teacher.  I couldn't lip read "public service".

MS MAHONY:   At paragraph 30 of your statement, you refer to a fake nodding.  Being a concept that  


MS MAHONY:    that Deaf people engage with.  Can you first explain what is Deaf nodding?

DR CARTY:  Right, okay.  I think that for many Deaf people who grow up unsure of what's going on, they don't know what it's like to completely understand everything that's happening.  We don't realise that we have the right to completely understand everything that's going on.  If we ask a lot of questions, sometimes people will say, "Look, I will tell you later.  Please don't interrupt me."  And so often what we do is become quite passive and just nod, and it means something like   well, it looks as though we understand because we don't want to draw attention to ourselves.

We don't want to ask people to repeat themselves and, in many ways, it makes life easy for us to just nod and pretend that we understand and go along with what's happening when, really, we do not.  And it's a very common experience for Deaf people.

MS MAHONY:   So when you are with your mother at that school talking about public service or the bank, given that you couldn't understand or lip-read public service, was you   were you going to the bank a form of Deaf nodding?

DR CARTY:  You could probably say that, yes.  It impacted my employment choice, yes.

MS MAHONY:   Following your gap year, though, you enrolled in a Bachelor of Arts.  Is that correct?


MS MAHONY:   And what   

DR CARTY:  I went to university, yes, that's correct.

MS MAHONY:  What were your career aspirations at that time?

DR CARTY:  When I commenced a study I didn't have a specific goal in mind as to what my employment would be.  I thought for a while I might work in a library, because I imagined that I wouldn't have to talk to people very often, and I know that that's not true   sorry to any librarians in the audience with us today.  I know that's not true now, but I thought that at the time.  Certainly, it would be a quiet job and I certainly adored books.  I thought that would be a suitable job for me.  I didn't have a clear career goal, I must say.

MS MAHONY:   You do say, though, that at some point in time   well, I will go back a step.  When you got to university, what was your engagement like in society, given your deafness at that point?  You say you had progressed to a profound level of deafness? 

DR CARTY:  Yes. Incidentally at the same time I commenced university, I was in the last stage of losing my remaining hearing, and it deteriorated quite rapidly, which was a very disorienting time for me.  I, as yet, had not met any other Deaf people.  I had no idea where to go in order to obtain support.  I talked with audiologists and got hearing aids, but it was a very emotional time.  I didn't have any social or emotional support, and I was quite depressed and disoriented and confused.  I couldn't imagine what type of future I might have.

MS MAHONY:   But at that same time, did you first come in contact with members of the Deaf community?

DR CARTY:  Yes.  Soon after that, just by complete coincidence, I wasn't looking, but a friend of mine, fortunately, knew that I needed this experience and so took me along to meet a number of other Deaf people, and that's where I started to learn sign language. You could say it changed my life, but I could also say it probably saved my life.

MS MAHONY:   Can you just expand on that a little bit.  What do you mean it changed your life?  How?  And what do you mean by it probably saved your life?

DR CARTY:  Well, all of the things that I was really anxious about and concerned about for my future I found were not true, and I was not the only person who felt that way.  Many Deaf people have the experience of growing up thinking that they are the only deaf person in the world.  They can't envisage what it would be like to grow as a deaf person because they have never seen enough   another deaf individual.  They have never seen that they are happy, they have friends, they have jobs   perhaps not very good jobs, but they can drive a car, they have a family and so forth.  That their lives are very much okay.

But also the really significant thing for me   well, that certainly was important to my life   but the ease of communication was amazing.  At that time, communication was a struggle for me, and I would engage in the Deaf nod.  It would be a very stressful experience worrying about what I might miss.  But with Deaf people, communication was fluid, smooth.  We could laugh at the same time and share a joke.  Because with hearing people, I would pretend to laugh at jokes and I wouldn't get the punch line.  But with Deaf people, the level of comfort and enjoyment was extraordinary.  It was easy to make new friends and to socialise with people.  It was a really profound experience of this new world for me.

MS MAHONY:   Was that your first exposure to Auslan?

DR CARTY:  Yes, it was.

MS MAHONY:   That experience of meeting the Deaf community, of learning Auslan, did that impact on your career aspirations?

DR CARTY:  It definitely did.  Because all of these amazing extraordinary new friends who were smart and funny and creative all had jobs that were really beneath them.  They had very similar types of jobs, and I thought to myself, why would this be the case?  Like, other people have a diversity of jobs and they just say, "Well, my school wasn't great.  I had a really lousy education." At that time, most Deaf people didn't proceed past year 10 in education.  They didn't go on to further study.

And just as I had this experience, often after school, the school and the teacher would organise jobs for people, and I was astounded that all of these extraordinary Deaf people were stuck in low paying kind of menial jobs, and that gave me the determination to become a teacher of the deaf and to   well, you know, change things possibly.

MS MAHONY:   And you ultimately achieved your teacher of the deaf qualifications?

DR CARTY:  Yes.  I did.

MS MAHONY:   Was that a journey of itself?

DR CARTY:  It certainly was.  Indeed.  At that time when I decided I wanted to become a teacher of the deaf, any professional that I spoke to said, "Oh, no, that's not possible.  There are no deaf teachers.  It's not something that's happened before", which was incorrect, I later found out.  Some people actually laughed at me for having that aspiration, and I felt terribly depressed.

It was only one professional person who said to me, "Of course you should.  It's worth pursuing that course of study." Otherwise, I wasn't given any encouragement.  I applied to enter into a teaching program in one state and received a rejection.  I enrolled in an MA, a Diploma of Education as well.  I needed to acquire that accreditation first before I could become a teacher of the deaf.  And all the way through the BA, the DipEd at university, there was no support provided.

I didn't know what type of support I actually needed because I had never seen what good support looked like.  I couldn't actually articulate what I needed.  With the DipEd, I thought to myself, well, it was probably potentially the worst educational experience I had, because it wasn't acknowledged that what I was studying wasn't something I could actually do as a job without further support.  I had to do practice teaching in a regular school.  I had to find some kind of way to teach the students in the class.

I didn't hide the fact that I was Deaf but trying to negotiate a way to help the students learn   while I was writing on the board, I wasn't able to hear the students, and so I needed to negotiate other ways for me to understand what was going on without making it too obvious that I needed to do so.  My education to how to become a teacher was actually an education in how to navigate a system that didn't fit me and how to pretend that I knew what was going on.

MS MAHONY:   Following you obtaining your qualifications, you attended what is now a university in the United States of America:  Gallaudet College, it was then;  correct?

DR CARTY:  That's right.

MS MAHONY:   And that was in 1981?


MS MAHONY:   What was your experience of Gallaudet as a learning environment?

DR CARTY:  It was completely different.  I believe that yesterday Brett was talking about Gallaudet University.  A lot of Deaf people have visited the campus.  It was amazing.  Extraordinary.  All of the students were Deaf at undergraduate level.  I was a postgraduate student at that time, and there were many hearing people in my classes.  I was studying Deaf education, and my lecturers were hearing and Deaf.  The Deaf ones were the best, I have to say.  And everything was completely accessible. All of the communication was on campus was in American sign language, so I had to learn American sign language, which was fine.

MS MAHONY:  Can I just stop you there briefly, the fact that you knew English, the fact that you knew Auslan by that time, how difficult was it to acquire a third language, American sign language?

DR CARTY:  Well, I wouldn't say it was extremely difficult.  However, it might be relevant to other things that I will say later on, when you have a strong language base, your brain is established to be able to learn a language, it's not incredibly difficult to learn multiple other languages after that.  In different countries, of course, they have different sign languages, but Deaf people are very experienced and adept at being visual communicators.  And relatively quickly, we can pick up other sign languages. 

So, I think probably after I arrived in America, knowing absolutely no ASL or American sign language, probably within a period of six months, I was reasonably fluent.  Certainly fluent enough to proceed with my studies.

MS MAHONY:   So going back to what you were giving some evidence before about the experience of being a student on campus, were there any role models in that?  You have spoken of lecturers who were Deaf.  Were there other role models available to you?

DR CARTY:  I think probably my role models were two Deaf women in particular who were lecturers.  Both of them had a profound influence on me.  I still remember them.  As for the learning experience, what was extremely important for me was it was the first time in my life that I had experienced complete comprehension of what was being taught.  I was able to raise my hand and ask questions.  I had never done that before.  I was extremely passive in class, and never asked questions.  Other Deaf people may have had a similar experience.

But there at Gallaudet, I asked a lot of questions.  I was able to interact with my classmates in group discussions for the first time, all of those important educational experiences that one should have.  We need that to become good learners.  I finally had that experience and realised what it felt like. That was extremely important for me, because you can't advocate for what you need if you don't know what it feels like.  You can't advocate for access if you don't know what access feels like. 

So, that, for me, was my light bulb moment.  I thought, this is what access to communication and learning looks like.  That's what it feels like.  And I really kept that in the back of my mind after that point.  It was extremely important to me.

MS MAHONY:   Gallaudet is in Washington state; is that correct?

DR CARTY:  Washington DC.

MS MAHONY:   By reference to Gallaudet being in that area and it being a full signing environment, did you observe any influences to the broader community because of that learning environment?

DR CARTY:  Absolutely.  Yes.  Gallaudet is quite central in Washington DC.  Other people may say it's very deaf friendly.  It's very deaf aware as an institution.  It's the same in a few other cities in US.  The cities are very deaf aware.  When they have a central university in the city or another large Deaf educational program, the entire city became much more deaf aware and deaf friendly as a result of that. So, for example, if you visit Washington DC now   and I have been to Gallaudet several times   if I go to a shop or visit a museum, for example, people will straightaway recognise me as a deaf person, and they will modify the way they communicate with me.

They may finger spell or write using pen and paper, automatically.  That's the experience I enjoy.  When I walk around Washington DC, I feel kind of cool as a Deaf person, you know.  I feel quite positive about myself, have a great sense of my identity.  Not only within the Gallaudet campus, but certainly the city broadly.  I certainly feel that way. 

MS MAHONY:   And do you link the connection between broader understanding to the environment at Gallaudet and its influence more broadly?

DR CARTY:  Definitely, yes.  Because they are aware that there are Deaf people in the city, and most of the Deaf people from Gallaudet are very confident individuals. They are assertive people, they communicate with each other quite easily, and people can see   people in the city can say, well, Deaf people are absolutely okay.  They are fine, they can obtain a university education.  They can get good jobs.  They can talk to each other.  So, in a sense, it's no really unusual experience, and the entire thing is very positive. 

MS MAHONY:  The World Federation of Deaf   and it's not talking about universities, as I understand it, but it's just talking about Deaf schools generally.  They talk about schools   Deaf schools not being a special school, but really a school based in language and culture.  Is   


MS MAHONY:   Is that a concept you're aware of from the World Federation of Deaf?


MS MAHONY:   And first   and, secondly, is the Gallaudet university experience an example of a school based in language and culture?

DR CARTY:  Yes, it is.  Yes.  It's an excellent example.  It's a university, which is not exactly the same as a school, but certainly it is, in terms of its sign language use, very strong.  It's a signing environment.  The impact on the city was very interesting to see.  For people who go through the university and move out into the broader community, it's quite profound.  It's very clear the kind of impact they have.

I think a lot of people might believe that it's a special school or a special centre like Gallaudet means that individuals are very insular and isolated.  But it's certainly not the case.  It gives people confidence.  Studying at Gallaudet means that people know themselves well and they can feel quite comfortable knowing that they are completely accepted.  Perhaps not everywhere, but, here, I'm okay as an individual.  I'm fine, I'm confident, and I can make my way in the world.  And it's extremely important to have that experience.

MS MAHONY:   Did you see that impact on the types of professional roles graduates moved into?

DR CARTY:  Could you just repeat that question, please?

MS MAHONY:   Certainly.  In terms of the cultural language environment that education is delivered at Gallaudet, and the confidence and acceptance of individual identities being Deaf, did that   were you able to observe whether or not that resulted in how people gained employment after university and the environments they were able to work in?

DR CARTY:  Yes.  Definitely.  I want to make it clear that Gallaudet and other places that are similar are not Utopian.  Deaf people do still need to struggle with the poor education they have received at primary and secondary level.  Deaf people at Gallaudet   and don't necessarily go into great jobs with when they leave Gallaudet, but their options, however, are much broader.

For example, in my first experience of missing   mixing with these wonderful Deaf people and knowing that they had low-paid jobs and low status here in Australia, I had a completely different experience in Gallaudet where I met people from a wide range of diverse backgrounds.  And Gallaudet actively pursues internships with other workplaces and places graduates and students.  It's an active program to demonstrate to the broader community what Deaf people can achieve.  What they can do.

MS MAHONY:   Chair, I'm just about to move to another area.  Is it a convenient time to see if there's any questions from yourself or the Commissioners?

CHAIR:  Yes.  Commissioner McEwin?

COMMISSIONER McEWIN:  Yes, one question.  Breda, you were talking about Gallaudet University having teachers who are both Deaf and hearing.  I was curious to know are they Deaf and hearing students or only Deaf students that attend the university?

DR CARTY:  Very well. For the undergraduate programs   there are a range of them, Bachelor of Science, Bachelor of Arts   they are all Deaf students that enrol in the programs at Masters level and at PhD level, there is a combination of Deaf and hearing students who can enrol. I was in the MA level program.  There were Deaf and hearing students in my classes.  The hearing students all were required to demonstrate signing skill.  If they couldn't pass an American sign language test at the end of their first year, they were asked to leave the university.  With no question.  They were required to leave the university.

COMMISSIONER McEWIN:  Just a follow up question, in terms of the diversity or mix of deaf and hearing individuals, is that a wonderful example of people who use sign language?

DR CARTY:  Indeed, yes.  It makes sign language feel like a normal language and a normal environment.  When my parents visited me, when I was attending Gallaudet University, my parents were really disoriented and they never left my side because I could sign in a post office, I could order a cup of tea using sign language, and my parents were overwhelmed.  It was nice to see that the tables were turned for them so that they could understand what it felt like and to know that spoken language doesn't have to be the default language.


MS MAHONY:  Any other questions?

CHAIR:  That university, is that a privately funded university?

DR CARTY:  No, it is not.  It's government funded.  I think it was one of the few universities in America that is predominantly government-funded.  They certainly have some private funding as well.  I couldn't give you the full answer to that question, but I am aware that they do receive government funding, yes.

CHAIR:  Presumably from the United States government, if it's in Washington DC.

DR CARTY:  Yes.  That's correct.

CHAIR:  And you said it was near the centre of Washington DC.  Where is it precisely?

DR CARTY:  Let me think.  In Washington DC   where in Washington DC, are you saying?

CHAIR:  Yes, Washington DC is a very divided city.  I'm just wondering where it's placed in that division?

DR CARTY:  I think perhaps we are confused between Washington State and Washington DC.  Is that the case?

CHAIR:  I thought you said   I'm sorry.

DR CARTY:  Gallaudet is in Washington DC.

CHAIR:  Is the university in Washington DC or Washington State?

DR CARTY:  They are two different places, yes.  Washington State is actually on the opposite side of the country from Washington DC.  I know it's crazy.  But   

CHAIR:  I do understand that.   I'm just trying to locate the university, that's all.  Is it in Washington DC or Washington State?

DR CARTY:  Yes, it's in the city.  You can actually see the Capitol building from Gallaudet campus.

CHAIR:  Right. So, it's very close to the centre of Washington DC, yes.

DR CARTY:  Yes, it is.  Yes.

CHAIR:  Alright.  I understand.  Thank you.  Yes, Ms Mahony.

MS MAHONY:   Thank you, Chair.  Breda, in 1991, Auslan was formally recognised as a language within Australia.


MS MAHONY:   What did that recognition do for the Deaf community?

DR CARTY:  Alright.  I should say that it was recognised in policy only, not in legislation.  You are probably aware of that.  It was part of a government language and literacy policy that made Deaf people feel quite confident and happy and, in fact, quite proud of their language.  When Deaf people grow up in the education system in, Australia, Deaf people internalise the neglect and the disregard for their culture.  They feel embarrassed about using their language.  But to see the government recognise their language as a real community language was profound.  It created a lot of very positive effects in many areas.

MS MAHONY:   Can you give an example of one of those positive effects?

DR CARTY:  Okay.  Let's see.  Throughout the 1990s, when Auslan was recognised as a community language in the government policy, it became easier for Deaf people to advocate for an interpreter, to secure an interpreter.  They could say, because my language is recognised in government policy, it's a community language, other community languages have the services of interpreters, and so it should be the same for us.

I would say that in Deaf education, which I will talk about in more depth later on, I think that in that sphere of Deaf education, even Deaf people who didn't want to include Auslan in Deaf education found that it was treated with more respect because of recognition by the government.  They could say, "Well, we can't say to parents now, 'This isn't a real language, you shouldn't use it.'"  So that was very profound.  I think it provided a lot of support to organisations and service providers to lobby for more funding for service provision when they could say that Auslan was recognised as a community language and that we need to provide community language as a support in the way that spoken languages have those same kinds of supports. So I would say it made a very big difference.

MS MAHONY:  You say in your statement at paragraph 43 that research states that many Deaf Australians are keen to see better recognitions and protections of their language, especially as increasing number of countries legally increase their national sign languages.  What are the type of changes that you're referring to?

DR CARTY:  I think it's a little complicated in Australia to do that.  Because, as you say, in more and more countries around the world now, there is a recognition of the national sign language as an official language of the country.  It appears in legal documents, and an excellent example is New Zealand, Aotearoa, they have accepted English, Maori   Te Reo Maori   and sign language   New Zealand sign language   as official languages. 

And many countries more often now are doing that.  It gives very powerful protection to the languages, to have that kind of recognition.  In Australia and in many other countries, we do not enjoy official recognition of our language.  It is the de facto official language, and we can't really recognise it in that kind of way, but I think a worthwhile option for us to explore might be the recent BSL Act, British sign language in the UK.

In the United Kingdom, they also do not enjoy official recognition of British sign language.  They had to make an Act in order to officially recognise the language and to protect it and to ensure that British sign language, BSL, was acknowledged as important, an important part of the language environment of that country and to protect it and support it in the same level as other languages have that protection.  I think it might be worthwhile here in Australia for us to consider similar kinds of actions.

Now, the policy you were talking about back in 1991 is old now.  It's out of date.  It's not a very robust policy, and I think the time has come now for a more modern and sophisticated document to be produced.

MS MAHONY:   In terms of Deaf education, which a lot of your topics keep linking back to, in your statement, you do helpfully set out the history of education of deaf students in Australia.  Can you describe what the current models are that are operating in Australia? 

DR CARTY:  Yes.  Okay.  I think the current options or models, whichever way we would like to refer to them, those that are available for deaf children going through school in Australia we would have to say that most deaf children now are mainstreamed.  Most of them on their own as the only deaf child in the school.  Children may have some types of support in place, perhaps teacher support, interpreters occasionally, note takers, captioning and so forth.

Occasionally they will do okay, relying on hearing devices such as cochlear implants, loop systems, hearing aids and the like.  If they are in that kind of environment, they can enjoy that kind of support.  Some children are educated in small groups, cluster groups within a regular school.  The Deaf school model in every state was that there would be a large Deaf school previously and some other smaller Deaf schools.  However, most of those have disappeared from the landscape, and we only have three Deaf schools remaining.

They are very important for many students, I believe.  Some programs are more focused on, shall I say, on a hybrid or co enrolment program.  They look like units within regular schools, but they are much more committed to ensuring that there's complete access in the environment for all of the students.  Usually, they are taught in Auslan, the students.  They include the teaching of Auslan as the LOTE for all students within the school.  There are very few schools like that around the country, but they have demonstrated a strong commitment to being very deaf friendly environments.  Some deaf children are also home schooled.

MS MAHONY:  Can I just take you back to your comment about Deaf schools, and you said that it is very important for some deaf students.  Why is it very important for some deaf students and can you just unpack that a little bit for the Commissioners and the Chair?

DR CARTY:  Very well.  Perhaps I should tweak that statement.  I would say it's very important for many people   many Deaf people.  Because Deaf people are so diverse.  We have heard from many witnesses previously, both yesterday and today, those comments about the diversity of the Deaf community.  And because of that, there will never be one setting that is perfect and that suits all Deaf people.  That simply will never be the case.

Deaf people often will move through different programs, different types of settings throughout their educational experience.  Occasionally, if they obtain a lot of good support in one environment, they will say, "Well, I can do quite well in another more challenging environment." I was talking about Gallaudet previously, saying that I could develop a sense of confidence that I could manage anything in my life.

I think those sorts of settings are a way to concentrate experience, to focus on the needs of these diverse deaf children, and to provide a safe space for many of them.  They can provide a very welcoming space, for example, for refugees who have recently arrived in Australia who have no language skills.  These types of schools are incredibly important.  Those children wouldn't survive in a mainstream education setting.

Deaf schools also develop incredibly creative partnerships with other neighbouring schools. So, I would just like to repeat that having a Deaf school doesn't mean that it's isolated or in a silo.  It's a safe space where you can then focus services on the needs of the deaf students and to meet the needs of Deaf people who come from diverse backgrounds. They are also an excellent launching pad for a lot of other excellent programs and other support services in other environments and neighbouring school, for example. 

Some Deaf schools provide Auslan courses for hearing students in neighbouring schools.  They become like a resource centre.  They can adopt a lot of roles, and I think in the Australian Deaf community, Deaf schools are regarded as extremely important historical and cultural sites for the Deaf community.  Because in the Deaf school, that's where Auslan is transmitted through generations, from child to child.  And the strength of our language today is because of the existence of those schools.  It wasn't something that was deliberately planned, but it's a really positive outcome.

MS MAHONY:   We have heard evidence from Joe this morning that he went to a Deaf school and it was socially a great experience, but, educationally, he came out illiterate, for want of a better word.  Is that the experience today with Deaf schools?

DR CARTY:  You are right.  Deaf schools have not always provided a high standard of education.  It's varied a great deal.  But I would say that now, in the current environment that we have, what Joe described is probably more likely to happen in a mainstream setting than a Deaf school.  Deaf schools, because they are by nature smaller, they can cater for the diverse needs of deaf students.  They are more likely now to have a strong tiered program with lots of support.  That's what often happens in Deaf schools now.

MS MAHONY:   Is there any one model that is appropriate for all deaf students?

DR CARTY:  No.  Not at all.

MS MAHONY:   So an inclusionary approach, including, for example, a co-enrolment approach, is that a solution, given that hybrid kind of environment?

DR CARTY:  I think that I would say that that type of model is a very positive one because it includes a range of options and so many of them.  As Brett was saying yesterday, in talking about the early childhood program provided by Deaf Connect, he was saying that they offer all choice, all options, which enables the child and their family to choose what they prefer, but they are presented with all of the options.  They are presented with good Auslan models, with audiological support.  Everything is on the table.  And that's what we would consider to be normal.

Nothing is considered to be inferior to anything else, but all of the options are presented to families.  And I would say that that's the ideal model in an educational environment, that all the options are put on the table for families to consider.  Educational options, social options, I think that would be fantastic.  But, again, I would say that not any one model is out there that would meet the needs of all deaf children that we have in Australia currently.  We need to have a range of models available.  There's not one size fits all.

MS MAHONY:  Chair and Commissioners, I'm about to go on to a new topic.  Are there any questions for Dr Carty?

CHAIR:  We shall ascertain.  Commissioner McEwin?

COMMISSIONER McEWIN:  Yes, one question, if I may.  Breda, you were talking about some deaf individuals who have been home schooled.  I'm curious as to know why.  Are you able to elaborate on that and why that actually occurred for these particular deaf children?

DR CARTY:  Yes.  In my experience, deaf children who are home schooled are usually schooled at home because their parents are so frustrated and exasperated by lobbying for support services.  They just give up and resort to home schooling.  That's certainly my observation of what's happening currently.

COMMISSIONER McEWIN:  And are those parents mostly Deaf or hearing?  Can I ask?

DR CARTY:  I think most of the parents that I'm aware of who home school are hearing.  But I have heard some examples of Deaf parents home schooling.  But I think it's more likely that they would be people who could hear.  Hearing parents.  But there are examples of both.

COMMISSIONER McEWIN:  Okay.  Just one more question. So, have those parents talked about the various options in terms of language acquisition that they are requiring as similar to what we heard yesterday?

DR CARTY:  Yes.  Those parents lobby quite hard to place their child in the local school, and they then say we would like to have an interpreter for our child, please.  The local Education Department might not know how to respond and they say they don't have sufficient funding, and they might provide someone who doesn't sign appropriately, who doesn't provide the right level of support.  And the parents just become completely overwhelmed and fed up and frustrated with trying to constantly lobby in that kind of environment and so they eventually give up and home school.

COMMISSIONER McEWIN:  My final, final question, so is this experience common across the country or is it quite varied?

DR CARTY:  It varies state by state.  A great deal.  I won't name names, but I can say that some states provide much more superior supports than others.


MS MAHONY:   Commissioner Galbally?

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY:  Thank you. So, did I understand that you think that Auslan has survived and flourished in part because of Deaf schools and that that's really contributed?

DR CARTY:  I think it was extremely important.  Deaf schools are a very important part of the ongoing use of Auslan.  They are not the only factor, but you will find that there are many Deaf people who will say that they first learned Auslan by attending a Deaf school.

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY:  So in terms of the World Federation of Deaf definitions and, you know, separations of Deaf schools from special schools, would you say Deaf schools have more in common with other cultural schools?  You know, even Islamic schools or other schools of that kind?

DR CARTY:  Yes, I think I would.  They have a lot of similarities, yes.  They are not entirely the same, because as I was saying previously, in regard to Deaf schools, sometimes it seems to be that   how shall I say this   Deaf schools receive the failures from many other programs.  And so a program may try to encourage deaf children to use spoken language or survive in a mainstream and they fail, and when they realise   often too late   that this hasn't worked, then they will place the child in a Deaf school. 

So, you will find, therefore, that Deaf schools often have to provide resources to encourage deaf children who have been damaged by other educational approaches and models that haven't worked for them.  And so Deaf schools then are faced with this problem.  They do a fantastic job.  They don't receive sufficient resources to do that job, but they often have a very specific educational responsibility.  And I think we then can't compare them exactly or precisely with schools from other cultures.

But there are certainly a lot of similarities.  We say that they are safe and encouraging spaces for children to interact with each other and to understand that they are not alone, they get support for the development of their identity, they form friendships, and then have a broader understanding of their community.  And so, yes, I would say again there are a lot of similarities, but also some differences.


CHAIR:  Yes, please continue, Ms Mahony.

MS MAHONY:   Thank you.  I just want to speak to you now about language deprivation.  You speak about the connection between language acquisition and the development of cognition and development of neural pathways.  Now, I appreciate that you're not an expert in neurology or that area, but are you able to explain to the Commission from an educational viewpoint the link between language acquisition and the development of cognition?

DR CARTY:  Yes.  Most people in the general community acquire a language in the first few years of life.  I wouldn't say a specific number or a specific age, but certainly the first few years of life.  And their exposure to language in those years is extremely important for the brain to build up those neural pathways, specifically in the area related to language.  The brain needs, therefore, to hear language for all of those neural pathways to be developed and be strong.

That helps a person to then continually develop their language skills throughout their life.  It helps them to learn multiple other languages.  And because language and communication are so central to learning, if those pathways are not robust and not well developed within that critical language learning period, then, in a sense, it puts the brakes on a lot of other areas of human development, like learning new information, developing cognition, thinking skills, the abilities to work things out and problem solve independently, and a range of other areas. 

So, therefore if you don't have strong early language base   it doesn't matter what language it is, I must say, spoken English or Auslan, this development works exactly the same way.  If you don't have strong early language exposure and a base, it creates ongoing problems throughout life.  You can try to repair that damage later on, but there will be continuing impacts on a person's life.

MS MAHONY:   I wanted to ask you about whether sign languages bring the same positive neurological benefits as a spoken language, because I think your evidence was that the brain needs to hear a language. So, is it that it needs to be an auditory experience, or can a visual language bring the same benefit?

DR CARTY:  Absolutely.  There is very strong evidence.  The brain, in effect, does not care.  The brain sees language as language.  A functioning language.  That's what's important to understand.  The brain simply needs language out there in accessible form   and that's an important word to say   in an accessible form so that neural pathways can be formed.  And then information about how language works is then acquired.  The structure of a language, the grammar of a language, how to communicate by using the language, how to ask questions, how to answer questions, how people work with the language.  It can happen in spoken languages in the same way as signed languages.  The brain will then make those neural connections, regardless of the type of language.

MS MAHONY:   Is there anything preventing a child from learning simultaneously a spoken language and a visual language?  Does the brain have the capacity to do that at a young age?

DR CARTY:  Yes.  Definitely.  Most people in the world can learn more than one language.  Yes, definitely.  In Australia, we are not quite used to that.  It's a bit difficult for most Australian peoples to get their head around that, if you like.  We are a very monolingual country, if you like.  But in many other countries in the world, being multilingual is quite a common phenomenon.

MS MAHONY:  And are there any known benefits to a child growing up bilingual, whether it's bilingual in two spoken languages or in spoken, visual or in multiple visual languages? 

DR CARTY:  There are known benefits.  We are aware of them.  If you grow up with more than   two or more languages   I may not be the right person to give all of the information about this. However, I think there are benefits, certainly, for learning.  There are benefits for being able to manage information, from multiple sources.  Being able to organise information.  I can't explain it, what cognition is about, but there have been long-established benefits to being bilingual.

Deaf children who acquire two languages certainly enjoy a benefit because what they are able to do is to compare them.  There have been a lot of very strong studies looking at Deaf bilinguals and hearing bilinguals.  But I can say to you clearly it definitely does not disadvantage a deaf child to acquire two languages.  We have seen here over the last several days what those benefits can look like.  There is no disadvantage to doing that.

MS MAHONY:   In terms of technologies, technologies have clearly improved over the last 20 or so years.  You have cochlear implants now.  Do those technologies, though, provide perfect access to spoken languages?

DR CARTY:  No.  They do not.

MS MAHONY:   And why is that?  Can you just explain that?

DR CARTY:  Well, the easiest explanation I can offer is that the human ear is a very delicate mechanism connected to the brain.  It's very complex, and I can't give you an example of any more than that.  But technology certainly can't replicate that connection.  Technology certainly can be beneficial to many people who use hearing aids, digital hearing aids and cochlear implants.  They can say, after receiving the implant, "Yes, I can hear better, I can speak a little better." 

However, in auditory environments where spoken language is happening, there are certain parts of that which technology can't detect.  In order to benefit from a cochlear implant, you need intensive training, rehabilitation, and not all people get that training and rehabilitation.  And it may not be appropriate.  Deaf children who use a cochlear implant and a hearing aid may still struggle to understand what's going on in the auditory environment.  It offers limited benefit.

It works for some people, but I don't think that we have any information about whether there is an ongoing benefit throughout life for a child who has a cochlear implant early in life.  That's not been made clear yet.  If we rely solely upon technology, I think there's a risk for a deaf child in being able to acquire a language completely.  You need a safety net and a provision of a range of options for a deaf child, not solely relying upon a technological solution.

MS MAHONY:   Particularly in yesterday's evidence there were a number of witnesses who spoke about a choice of information upon a child being identified as deaf and not still having a medical deficit model but also including a cultural-linguistic model.  Based on your experience and as an educator, what's your view about the type of information that's required to ensure language deprivation does not occur at that crucial initial stage of learning?

DR CARTY:  Okay.  Well, I would say one of the things that's very consistent in a lot of families who have a deaf child, they certainly obtain the diagnosis early on.  That's made a positive difference in some ways but not all.  Parents are usually told, "Well, you have a choice of a pathway. You can either go on this pathway and choose to have a cochlear implant and focus on spoken language, or you can choose Auslan as a different pathway." And that's ridiculous.  It is completely ridiculous to be given that kind of choice.

Often it's because it makes life easy for service providers and professionals.  It doesn't meet the needs of deaf children.  It's a very damaging practice.  Lots of families will say that they felt an incredible burden at having to choose a pathway and feeling as though they can't explore another pathway.  And that one is better than the other.  It feeds into a lot of other terrible feelings. 

So, if NDIS supports one pathway but not another, it's just crazy for that to happen.  It's ridiculous and unconscionable.  I think as Brett was saying yesterday, parents need to have access to a range of choices.  They may choose a number of options, but it's not appropriate to ask a family to commit to a pathway so early in life.  I think it causes a lot of damage.

MS MAHONY:   In terms of the question of early intervention and information, what would you be supporting or recommending should be made available to parents and the   and how is that messaging delivered?

DR CARTY:  Okay.  Firstly, I would support what Jen Blyth was talking about yesterday, about the importance of Deaf people being around in the environment early on.  Some families may not yet be ready to meet a Deaf person so early after diagnosis, but there should be Deaf people available from an early stage, because parents need to see that Deaf people can grow up and be successful and have a good life and be able to use a language.  It's not the end of the world to have a deaf baby, if you have options.  Deaf people should be there in the early stages of a child's education.

Secondly, as I've said previously and as Brett said yesterday, all of the options need to be visible and available.  Without judgment.  If you want to have a cochlear implant for your child and explore speech therapy, it shouldn't be that Auslan is seen as the last resort.  Even now with newborn hearing screening, the people doing the test will speak in terms of failure and passing.  The early education environment is very judgmental, in my view.

It gives parents a lot of confusion and mixed feelings and if they choose one pathway, it might be viewed quite negatively.  It very stressful for them.  Everything should be available for them.  Deaf people should be part of that offering so the families can see and say to themselves, "Okay, this is what Deaf people look like when they grow up.  These are the options that I have in order to get there. And that these Deaf people will support my deaf child."  They need to have that experience.

MS MAHONY:   Chair, I note that those are my questions.  Dr Carty has provided a comprehensive statement that also includes information on other topics, including Auslan as a language other than English in schools.  And there will be a paper tendered that Dr Carty drafted on that   on that particular issue.  But I propose to finish now, subject to any questions that you or the Commissioners may have.

CHAIR:  Yes.  Thank you very much, Dr Carty.  We have your statement.  I always find an interesting part of statements the footnotes, and I see that there are a couple of articles of yours referred to in the footnotes.  I look forward to reading those in due course.  I shall ask Commissioner McEwin if he has any further questions?

COMMISSIONER McEWIN:  Just one further question, Breda.  You talked a little bit about interpreting access, and we heard a lot more about that yesterday, about the shortage of interpreters nationally.  Do you have any perspective on how we can grow that cohort and make more interpreters available to the Deaf community?  For example, thinking about the Gallaudet model, were there examples of interpreters in that cop text that you can perhaps reflect upon?

DR CARTY:  Okay.  I can see that Counsel Assisting is looking at her watch, so I'm aware we have a time limit.  I think one important thing is that state   the status of the language.  A few people have recently said, as we have seen more interpreters appearing on television broadcasts, then hearing people think that they are quite enthusiastic about learning the language.  I think that, in general, the broader community has a positive attitude towards sign language. 

They have more motivation to learn when they see interpreters.  They see it as a potential career.  Training programs for interpreters are extremely important.  They need to be better resourced.  And it can make a difference, I think, if one includes Auslan as a language of choice as a LOTE.  It won't necessarily solve all of the problems but I think it can be part of the solution, certainly. There are a mixture of things that I could recommend, but I would also like to say that if Deaf education could produce confident Deaf people who receive the support they need to be able to use whatever options are made available to them, you don't necessarily have to have an interpreter with a Deaf person all the time.

Most of us survive perfectly well most of the time on our own.  We know when it's important to use an interpreter, and we know when we would be able to cope fairly well on our own, and I think it's important   that's an important part of the answer as well.


CHAIR:  Commissioner Galbally?

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY:  It may be more appropriate for me to ask this question at another stage, but I am very interested in Auslan other than English in schools, and especially the impact on hearing children in really grasping the value of Auslan and the culture and, you know, contributing.  Have you done it for long enough to have learnt much about that L2 stream?

DR CARTY:  If you have a really good well supported program with the correct teacher in the right environment, it can be fantastic.  I visited a class where people have told me there are two deaf children in the class and all of the other students are learning Auslan, and you know what, I couldn't tell who the deaf children were because everyone could sign well.  It happens, but rarely.  It doesn't happen everywhere.  And it certainly doesn't happen automatically. There is an awful lot of effort in the background to make it successful.  But it certainly is a possibility.

It doesn't mean that all of those hearing children who learn Auslan will grow up to become interpreters, but they will have a very positive attitude towards Deaf people and the use of sign language as just part of the normal human condition.  They may not become fluent, but they certainly are able to communicate, and it can be wonderful if it's well established and well supported.


MS MAHONY:   Chair, if I may add just one question from that.  Yesterday in evidence, we heard how a teacher of Auslan as a LOTE, a Deaf teacher, was told that he had to use his voice.  Do you have any views on that?

DR CARTY:  I think it's silly, frankly.  And it's discriminatory.  That's not how you teach as Auslan anyway.  It's a visual language.  It doesn't require the use of the voice.  It should be taught without the use of a voice.  And, again, that request was probably made in regard to the comfort of others.  It made for not a very positive teaching experience.  I think that was a dreadful thing to hear about.

MS MAHONY:   There is nothing further from me.

CHAIR:  If somebody wishes to learn Auslan, where do they go?

DR CARTY:  Okay.  Well, there are a variety of Deaf services providers around the country that have accredited certificate programs.  Some of the people who have given evidence over the last couple of days from Deaf Connect and Expression Australia here in Melbourne   I can't give you the complete list.  We don't have time for that.  But there are a number of providers around Australia in which people can access Auslan classes from Certificate I, II, III and IV level up to Diploma, the same as you can with many other community languages.

CHAIR:  Is it taught at universities?

DR CARTY:  At some universities, yes.  They include Auslan as a language, yes.

CHAIR:  That is taught just as any other second language.  That is, subject to curriculums?


CHAIR:  Subject to examinations and so on.

DR CARTY:  Yes, indeed.

CHAIR:  Right. In a world of limited resources, which we are operating in, presumably one of the advantages of a Deaf school is that one teacher skilled in Auslan can teach a number of students. If we are talking about mainstream schools with one or two deaf students, presumably, with a scarce resource, it's much more difficult to ensure that those students get the instruction and teaching that ideally they require.  Is that a fair assessment?

DR CARTY:  Could you possibly clarify the question, please, Chair?  I believe what you are asking is if we have insufficient resources and deaf students are mainstreamed in isolation in a variety of different schools, is that the best way to use resources?  Is that, in effect, what you are asking?

CHAIR:  Well, I'm asking whether the use of teachers with Auslan skills in a Deaf school is more ‘efficient’, in inverted commas, in the sense that more students can be taught by any given teacher rather than have students who are scattered throughout the mainstream system?

DR CARTY:  Well, I think that for many of those children, yes, I think they would have an extraordinary experience in a Deaf school.  It doesn't always mean that that should be their only option if there are insufficient teachers. So, I'm not entirely sure that answers your question.  I'm not saying we should put all deaf children in a Deaf school, not at all.  I think what it is important to say is that, in that space, the space of a Deaf school, some if not all of the learning experience through direct instruction can be a very inspiring experience for a deaf student in that context.  I still would maintain they need to have options made available to them, though.

CHAIR:  I'm not disputing that.  I'm just saying that in a world of limited resources, the options you can provide are limited.  It's just a question of what you do with the resources you have.

DR CARTY:  Yes, indeed.

CHAIR:  Yes.  Alright.  Well, thank you very much, Dr Carty.  Thank you for your statement again and for the evidence today.  It's been a very interesting session.  We appreciate the assistance that you have provided to the Royal Commission. So, thank you very much indeed.

DR CARTY:  Thank you very much.

CHAIR:  Ms Mahony, do we now take the lunch break?

DR CARTY:  Thank you for inviting me to join you here at the Commission.

CHAIR:  Thank you.


MS MAHONY:   Yes, Chair, would you prefer to have a one hour or less than one hour break?

CHAIR:  No, we will have one hour.  Definitely one hour.

MS MAHONY:   May it please the Commission.

CHAIR:  We will resume at 2.15.



CHAIR:  Yes, Ms Mahony.

MS MAHONY:   Chair, I now call the next two witnesses who will be on a panel, Michelle Stark and Della Goswell.  They will both take affirmations.

CHAIR:  Ms Stark and Ms Goswell, thank you very much for coming to the Royal Commission today in Melbourne to give evidence.  We are very grateful for the assistance that you have provided to date and no doubt will continue to provide.  If you would be good enough to follow the instructions of my associate, who is located at the far wall, 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?


MS STARK:  I do.



CHAIR:  Thank you very much.  I will ask Ms Mahony to ask you some questions.


MS MAHONY:   Thank you for joining us today.  I just need to do a couple of formalities with you.  Firstly, your names and address.  Starting with you, Michelle.  Your name is Michelle Stark.

MS STARK:  Correct.

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

MS STARK:  It is. 

MS MAHONY:   And your name is Della Goswell?  And your name is also known to this Commission?

MS GOSWELL:  Correct.

MS MAHONY:   Michelle and Della, are you both happy to be identified by your first names today?



MS MAHONY:   Before we also commence, I understand, Della, that have previously provided interpreting and consultancy services to the Disability Royal Commission?

MS GOSWELL:  That's correct.

MS MAHONY:   And, Della, you are an interpreter in one of your many roles?


MS MAHONY:  And your first language is Auslan; is that correct?

MS GOSWELL:   That's right.

MS MAHONY:  Can you provide today whether you will be giving your evidence in Auslan, English or a combination?  And when you're giving that explanation, if you wish to use Auslan, please feel free.

MS GOSWELL:  I will start in Auslan.  Auslan is my first language.  In saying that, I can hear and speak, and I don't have a lived experience as a deaf individual.  However, I am here as a hearing person who has grown up observing and understands a lot about the Deaf community and the barriers they face from my own personal experience working with the Deaf community.  In saying that, as a hearing person bringing a hearing perspective, my questions will be received in English so I will answer in English.  However, if any Auslan   any questions come in Auslan, I will respond in Auslan.  It's a difficult decision for me to make but I want to ensure that my position is very clear for the Commission here today.

MS MAHONY:   And, Michelle, likewise, you have worked as an interpreter and Auslan proficient.  How are you intending to give your evidence today?   And if you wish to use Auslan as well?

MS STARK:  Thank you.  I do plan on doing the same as Della, and I have to say I don't feel 100 per cent comfortable speaking when the community I work with and people in the audience are Deaf, who are my colleague, my friend and my communities, as well as a previous student of mine. So, I don't feel comfortable with my decision to use English, but I acknowledge that I was invited as an expert interpreter and teacher for the sake of the Commission, which is why I will be responding to questions asked in English with English.

MS MAHONY:   Della, just turning to you first, so you are a hearing child of Deaf adults?

MS GOSWELL:  That's right.

MS MAHONY:  And were both of your parents Deaf?


MS MAHONY:   And in terms of your parents, did they have any other   any other disabilities?

MS GOSWELL:  My father was profoundly Deaf.  Full stop.  My mother was born with what we heard this morning from Joe is the same condition.  She was born with Usher syndrome, so she had profound deafness and she also through her life became blind with retinitis pigmentosa, which is part of the syndrome. So, she was Deaf and then identified as Deafblind.

MS MAHONY:   So the household that you grew up in identified as a culturally Deaf household?

MS GOSWELL:  Absolutely.

MS MAHONY:   In those circumstances, how was the first   or what was the first language you acquired and how was it acquired?

MS GOSWELL:  The first language I acquired from my parents and from some Deaf relatives, because my father had some siblings who were also Deaf, was Auslan.  Just for no particular reason, but I wanted to share with you my first sign/word was that, which is cow.  Which was my favourite toy.

MS MAHONY:   And in terms of your English acquisition, at what point in time did you acquire English?

MS GOSWELL:  I was very lucky.  My mother's mother, so my maternal grandmother, was a hearing person, and she played a big part in the role of supporting our family, and I had a weekly session.  Every weekend, we stayed with my grandmother, so I got Auslan and English very close together, and I was lucky to be bilingual pretty early on.

MS MAHONY:   In terms of growing up as a child of Deaf adults, you identified or come within the category of a CODA that the Commission has heard?

MS GOSWELL:  That's right.

MS MAHONY:  Were you ever called upon to have to interpret as a young person?

MS GOSWELL:  Yes.  Like many children of minority groups, whether they are CaLD communities or the Deaf community, the child who speaks English often takes on what's called child language brokering. So, I   I remember doing all sorts of extra   what I thought were very grown-up things, like getting the car repairs sorted, interpreting for religious occasions, interpreting for school parent-teacher interviews, which was quite a controlling position.  There is some benefits to being the only one in the room who knows both languages.

MS MAHONY:   In terms of that experience, is that still a common experience of children of Deaf adults and other CaLD languages that they take on an early interpreting role for family members?

MS GOSWELL:  To some degree, yes.  I think some of the references that have been made to improved technology for Deaf people in particular mean that   like, we didn't even have a telephone. So, there are certainly means of communication available now that weren't before.  If you wouldn't mind, I would also like to add one thing that I'm very sad about, in terms of one of my language brokering roles was that my grandmother was told not to sign to my mother, so they never developed a relationship beyond very basic finger spelled random words. So, I was the interpreter between my mother and her own mother.  And I think   yes, that's the hardest thing.

MS MAHONY:   Was that, as a family dynamic, ever explored later in life? Or at least the effect of that recognised?

MS GOSWELL:  Interestingly, my grandmother and my mother and myself were asked to speak at a Deaf education conference once, and my grandmother told her story of doing what she thought was the right thing, even though it didn't work, because her attempts at getting my mother to speak rather than to learn weren't successful.  My mother's voice was never intelligible, unfortunately.

It was only until much later when she understood   when she could see how her   her child's own children bilingual, was so versatile and could explore anything and had relationships between parent and daughter.  She regretted that for the rest of her life.  She wished she could turn back time.

MS MAHONY:   You ultimately moved into professional interpreting, even though I believe your CV says that you did a Bachelor of Science in Architecture.  Is that right?

MS GOSWELL:  Everything is relevant to interpreting.

MS MAHONY:  When did the professional interpreting   professional interpreting emerge in Australia?

MS GOSWELL:  Well, I   it started becoming   it shifted from what was a welfare model   I think Brett yesterday mentioned that Deaf Society has had a strong mission context and platform.  But because of anti discrimination legislation and multicultural Australian shifts, interpreting across all languages became established as a service, and in the mid-80s when I was in my 30s and I had already pursued another career, that became an actual professional opportunity.  Which I didn't want to take at the time.

MS MAHONY:   Why did you end up taking it?

MS GOSWELL:  I fell over to the dark side because I had always done a little bit of interpreting on the side, and interpreting is a very rewarding profession to be in, and there has always been a limited supply and a huge demand.  And I realised that I could combine two things that I did love, which are teaching and interpreting. So, that I guess that's what's spurred me on to take that through to   to be in the position I am now, which is more of an interpreter trainer.

MS MAHONY:   And before we just explore your current position and your educational background for your current position, in terms of your NAATI accreditation, were you one of the first Auslan accredited interpreters?

MS GOSWELL:  Yes, you can tell by the colour of my hair I'm old enough to be one of the pioneer generation. So, people my age   some a bit older and some a bit younger   were the first to go through what NAATI accredited for the first time as a sign language, alongside all the other community languages, and so we were accredited in Deaf sign, which is   it didn't have a name at that time.  It was just Deaf sign.

MS MAHONY:   And so the term "Auslan", that was developed later.  I think the phrase is coined by Trevor Johnston?

MS GOSWELL:  That's right, yes.

MS MAHONY:   In terms of your current role, you are a lecturer in the Department of Linguistics and Translation and Interpreting program at Macquarie University?

MS GOSWELL:  That's right.

MS MAHONY:  Can you just explain what your role involves there?

MS GOSWELL:  I guess I'm an academic who does   although I specialise in the Auslan/English interpreting stream of our translation and interpreting program, I also teach across the other   some of the other LOTE languages and the other CaLD languages. So I   I get to work with interpreters across two different modalities:  Spoken language and sign language modalities.  And my specialist areas are medical and legal, which are relevant to all of the languages that we offer at Macquarie.

MS MAHONY:   And I think we will come to interpreter training later.  But certainly your role captures interpreter training now?

MS GOSWELL:  Absolutely.  Yes.

MS MAHONY:   You are also representing ASLIA, A S L I A, here today?

MS GOSWELL:  That's right. The   


MS GOSWELL:  Sorry. ASLIA is the Australian Sign Language Interpreters Association.  It has had a few different names over its lifetime, but basically it represents the interests of sign language interpreters, specifically.  There's a parallel organisation in Australia called AUSIT, which represents all the other languages combined.  But ASLIA has been quite a unique and powerful voice in the interpreting profession, and we are often seen to be ahead of the game because it's a very   as you can tell by a lot of the testimony yesterday and today, it's a very tight-knit community, and there's a lot of   a lot of energy that goes into fighting for people's rights and advocating, and that includes the right to have interpreters and have them employed appropriately.

MS MAHONY:   Michelle, just turning for your experience.  You are a qualified teacher of the deaf?

MS STARK:  I am, yes.

MS MAHONY:   An interpreter?

MS STARK:  Yes.  And also an Auslan educator?

MS STARK:  Interpreter educator, yes.

MS MAHONY:   Thank you.  Are you, like Della, a CODA?

MS STARK:  I'm not, no.

MS MAHONY:   What was your journey to these careers that you now have?

MS STARK:  Sure. So, my family is hearing, and the first encounter I had with a Deaf person was when I met my neighbour who was Deaf and was of the same age.  I met her when I was about 5, and I learnt the language through interacting with her.  I went to a high school that had a Deaf unit and so met more Deaf friends and saw teachers of the deaf at work.

MS MAHONY:   So your language acquisition for Auslan was a natural one through socialisation?

MS STARK:  It was, as a second language.

MS MAHONY:   You are currently the General Manager of Education at Deaf Connect?

MS STARK:  Correct.  And Brett Casey who gave evidence yesterday is the CEO of that organisation?

MS STARK:  He is, yes.

MS MAHONY:   In terms of your role as Deaf Connect, can you just explain what that entails?

MS STARK:  Yes. So, I manage the Education Service, which has a number of programs.  We are a registered training organisation, which means that we can offer the certificates in Auslan that lead to somebody being able to use the language, and then we of offer the Diploma of Interpreting, which is the first NAATI qualification once you sit the NAATI test, that you become an entry level interpreter.

MS MAHONY:  So we have heard, I think, in old terms it was a paraprofessional level 2.  Is that what the Diploma of Interpreting gives rise to if you pass the NAATI exam?

MS STARK:  Correct. So you have to learn the language, do the Diploma of Interpreting, sit the test, and then you become a entry-level interpreter.

MS MAHONY:   So in terms of the provision of the courses, that is something that Deaf Connect does as a registered training organisation?

MS STARK:  We do. So, we often the Certificate II through to the Diploma of Auslan and then the Diploma of Interpreting.

MS MAHONY:   How many people take up that course or the various levels of courses, and is there a drop off as you go   as you proceed through it?

MS STARK:  There is attrition as students move through the languages, and often that's because interpreters make the job look very easy.  People come to language learning and realise that the pathway to learning language can be quite long.  We have probably about 500 students a semester, but that's across Certificate II through Diploma of Auslan and the Diploma of Interpreting.

MS MAHONY:  And out of each 12-month period, how many people are qualifying with the Diploma of Interpreting and passing the NAATI exam 

MS STARK:  It varies, depending on where we are in the pathway, but probably about 20 per end of course.

MS MAHONY:   Is that throughout Australia or is that state-specific?

MS STARK:  No, we offer the course in New South Wales and Queensland at the moment 

MS MAHONY:   In   you just spoke about students not realising how long a pathway it can be to acquiring the skills to become an interpreter.  For a CODA such as Della and for a person such as yourself who grew up in a social environment of Auslan, as compared to a person who comes into it with no background, what are the timeframes for each of those groups to be competent at a sufficient level to get interpreting qualifications?

MS STARK:  That depends on a number of factors.  The capacity of the person, the pathway.  If you just do the qualifications, it's about two and a half years.  Some students take longer because they just need to have a break in that time.  That doesn't necessarily make you ready for the Diploma of Interpreting, so how proficient you become depends how much interaction you have with the community 

MS MAHONY:   In terms of outside of the course, what opportunities are there for those students to engage with native Auslan users to further their skills?

MS STARK:  Again that varies.  We try to make connections to community, but communities also want to have spaces that aren't inundated with Auslan students as well.  Yes. So, it varies.

MS MAHONY:   Della, just in terms of the role of the interpreter, can you just briefly summarise what the role of an interpreter is?

MS GOSWELL:  I'm going to refer to just a couple of notes so that I give you a concise version.  Interpreters are basically people who enable spoken or signed communication between two or more people who don't speak the same language or don't have the same culture so that they can understand each other in a whole range of different settings.  And that can be, for example, two spoken language interpreters, which we are more used to hearing about.  Say, I don't know, a Hindi person speaking to a Mandarin person via an interpreter that has that language combination.  Or as you see a lot of today, the Deaf Auslan user and an English speaker, and also as we saw this morning, a Deafblind person and an English speaker. So, it's any pairing of languages that don't normally understand each other is a moderated and mediated by an interpreter.

MS MAHONY:   Is that role the same for a Deaf interpreter? So, the Commission has heard about a Deaf interpreter, it being a new role.  I think it was 2020 was the first time it was NAATI accredited. The equivalent to the level 2 paraprofessional, I think a CPI role.  Is the role for a Deaf interpreter the same in   of the same terms as a   a spoken English to Auslan interpreter?

MS GOSWELL:  They can certainly   what the main task is to get meaning across to whichever clients you are working in between.  But the reason that we have Deaf interpreters is because of the great diversity of the Deaf community and their needs.  And as we heard earlier this morning, and yesterday as well, sometimes there are   the capacity of an Auslan English interpreter to bridge sometimes a huge gap between the knowledge and communications needs or skills of the Deaf person, they are not possible to bridge, basically. 

So, you need someone who   and I think Nat described it very nicely yesterday.  You need someone who actually understands from a Deaf person's point of view how to make something make sense in this person's world frame, and a Deaf person who knows how to connect with the visual world and perhaps the limited understanding of a client that we don't often get to practice working with means that Auslan English interpreters   and that's what we are accredited as, that's our language pair   often need to work with Deaf interpreters where the client for whom there is further disadvantage or is Deafblind or for a whole lot of the other reasons as particular communication needs.

MS MAHONY:   What are the environments that Auslan interpreters predominantly work in?

MS GOSWELL:  The big ones are medical, legal, education.  And by education, I mean school, TAFE, university, so the whole gamut - Employment, social and government services, and religious settings, and almost anything that the Deaf person wants to be involved in.  We tend to have a broader scope than for many spoken language interpreters.

MS MAHONY:   In terms of particular areas such as legal, and understanding that legal often require or place a lot of significance on particular words, does that   and those words being delivered to, for example, a witness, does that present challenges as an interpreter?

MS GOSWELL:  That's the   that's the topic of my PhD. So, the answer is yes.  For a whole lot of reasons.  When anything is mediated through a third person into another language, often in a court of law, people who have not had the experience of growing up with another language or who don't understand how two languages can be a long way apart, they just assume that everything marries up.  Like a zip.  Everything just lined up word for word.

Quite often the concepts don't exist in the other language, quite often the lexicon doesn't exist in the other language.  There might not be a specific sign or word in either direction. So, it means that all the strategy, or sometimes the strategy of someone, especially in cross examination in a courtroom, can often be blunted by what we have to do.  We have to bring things down to a meaning level rather than a form level.  And I know a lot of   certainly because I've had a chance to talk to a lot of counsel and people who don't like working with interpreters, basically, because their   their precision gets blunted by what we need to do to make meaning transfer across.

MS MAHONY:   So, in some regard, it's   it's really building also bridges, as opposed to just a linguistic word for word?

MS GOSWELL:  Absolutely.  You are trying to   we often get told, "Madam interpreter, just interpret word for word."  And we have to have ways of explaining that that's not going to actually achieve the intention of the person being questioned understanding what the question is and being able to answer it. So, it's more   there's a lot of dichotomies in interpreting theory around whether you go close to the source text   you know, word for word, very literal, or whether you give a more dynamic meaning sense based interpretation.  And I have to say, for the clients we work with, we - more often than not - we are absolutely working towards the meaning sense end of the spectrum.

MS MAHONY:   Does ASLIA have concerns about the person, Deaf persons, before the justice system in circumstances where they are not able to understand the direct questions being asked and there's concerns about the meaning transference that you were just talking about being used?

MS GOSWELL:  Could you   

MS MAHONY:   Certainly. So, for example, where there is a Deaf person who is having to give evidence, whether it's, for example, in a criminal trial and their understanding of the English language is suboptimal, and you're unable to do that word for word translation, where you are having the court say, "Madam Interpreter, please interpret", does ASLIA have concerns about the outcomes for that person within the concept of neglect and disadvantage?

MS GOSWELL:  Absolutely.  Because unless the interpreter is clear enough and assertive enough to explain when things are possible and are not possible, then it means the court is not aware that the actual intention of the whole process is actually falling down or hitting a barrier.  And quite often the Deaf person   was it   Breda, I think, this morning was talking about the Deaf nod.  It's often   it's often used by other language groups, especially Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as   it's called gratuitous concurrence.

And it's just   it's sort of a nodding to let you know that you can keep talking but it's not actually a "yes" in response to a question.  When Deaf people do that in police or court settings, it's often then seen to be an unreliable switch when the answer is negative, for example, and they have been nodding all the way through.  But half of the purpose of the nodding is, as Breda was saying this morning, to just let you know, "Okay, I'm here, I'm trying to do the right thing.  I'm being polite."  But it is not necessarily signifying understanding.

And as an interpreter we often have to do what's called cultural bridging.  If we know that that's happening and the court is not aware that that's happening, we have to let the judicial officer know that that's what we think is going on so that they can make decisions that are fair.

MS MAHONY:   In terms of NAATI, is there an expected   first of all, NAATI, its role, what is its role and does it operate for all languages outside of, like, Auslan, including First Nations signs?

MS GOSWELL:  NAATI, NAATI is a co-funded organisation, from the State and Commonwealth Governments.  It's not for profit and it was set up in the late 70s, early 80s, again, to do with that multicultural migration policies.  It certainly started off with a limited range of languages, and then they expanded.  I have to say, I'm sorry, it's a hundred and something languages that they cover at the moment.  That's not all of the languages that we have in Australia, but they certainly cover the major migrant languages.  What's called emerging languages. So, the new migrant communities that have a smaller coherent presently in Australia.  They certainly cover sign language now, Auslan specifically, and they also cover some of the more widely used Indigenous languages. 

MS MAHONY:   Does NAATI create specialist interpreting qualifications at the present time within Auslan?

MS GOSWELL:  Well, I guess what you referred to before, Deaf interpreters are specialised within, I guess, the Auslan stream.  No other spoken languages or spoken community languages have a role like that.

MS MAHONY:   So in terms of Auslan, does NAATI accredit people as specialist legal interpreters or specialist medical interpreters or specialist conference interpreters?

MS GOSWELL:  There is some   there is sort of four main levels that NAATT accredits across a lot of languages, but not all. So, the entry level that Michelle was talking about a second ago, certified provisional interpreter   and because the names keep changing, we all have to just stop and think what's the latest acronym.  So the CPI level and the certified interpreter, which was the professional   it used to be the professional level, both of those are offered across most languages that NAATI accredits or certifies, I should say.

They have just introduced   so it's only just rolling out   for a few languages but including Auslan, specialised health interpreter   sorry, a specialised certified health interpreter and specialised certified legal interpreter. So, they are new but they are starting to be made available.  And Auslan is a group of only about half a dozen languages that they are only going to offer those to because there is a need in major community languages and Auslan.  And, finally, we have had and are now re resurrecting, if you like, conference-level interpreting also in a limited range of languages.  But Auslan is one of those as well. So, we are represented across the whole spectrum of interpreter accreditation.

MS MAHONY:   You just mentioned about having specialist medical interpreter level, including for Auslan, because there is a need.  First of all, what is the importance of interpreters in the medical setting specifically?

MS GOSWELL:  I have to say that, unfortunately, there's not a lot of data, but anecdotally ever since I've been involved with interpreting, Deaf people have had issues in medical settings. Initially, there wasn't a requirement to have interpreters in medical settings.  Now there is more of a requirement under discrimination legislation.  Before the NDIS funding was available for people, there wasn't always a way to pay for interpreters.

But even so, all the way through, every week, there will be a story about a Deaf person who has had either no interpreter turn up or an interpreter turn up but not at the time needed and so they've had to go away, or an interpreter not be available for a procedure so there wasn't informed consent.  I guess, there's just a whole range of stories that people complain about regularly. So, it's one of the biggest areas of unsatisfied interpreting provision.

MS MAHONY:   And in terms of the importance of interpreters in education, Michelle, I might move to you on this question.  What's the importance, from your experiences as a teacher of the deaf, of having interpreters in education?

MS STARK:  Wow, that's a big question.  I think this morning Breda spoke about the kind of diverse options that are available in Deaf education.  Educational interpreters play a part.  They are one of the supports that can be provided to deaf children in schools. So, often in mainstream settings, you will have a child in a school with an educational interpreter, sometimes a Deaf language model, perhaps visiting teacher of the deaf support as well.

MS MAHONY:   Chair, I just note I've just been engaging with the witnesses and haven't been paying attention to the witnesses. So, my apologise for being a little bit fast with that interaction.  I will just discipline myself a little bit better moving forward.  In terms, then, of interpreters generally, what is the importance of interpreters generally?  So, you have got the school environment, and you have also got medical.  What about outside of that environment?

MS STARK:  I guess all the domains that Della just mentioned are situations where interpreters work and they provide access for the two parties that don't have a way of communicating with each other. So, they are vitally important to providing access for Deaf people in all parts of their lives.

MS MAHONY:   If there is, for example, poor   if there is poor or if there is no interpreting provided, what impact can that have on the perception of the Deaf person by the person that they are communicating with?

MS STARK:  So, there is research around that suggests that the perception of the Deaf person by a hearing person is based on the quality of the interpretation that is provided. So, if the interpretation is poor for somebody who   so say if today we heard   Breda's interpreter was very skilled, but if Breda was to do a lecture and the interpreter wasn't suited to her needs and um and ah and paused and used language that wasn't equivalent to the language that Breda used, then hearing people tend to make a judgment about the Deaf person based on their interpreter, even though they know that it's a mediated situation.

But also the converse is true.  That if a Deaf person who doesn't have good world knowledge and strong language skills, if the interpreter makes that person look more educated than they are, then that changes the perception, and that's often the case in courts sometimes.

MS GOSWELL:  That can be quite dangerous in a police or a legal setting where the   where the Deaf person who might be a very disadvantaged Deaf person is   sometimes interpreters mismatch the register and so the person can come across as being perfectly capable of reading the documentation they are going to be given or that their gratuitous concurrence actually shows   indicates they are understanding everything that's been said. So, it can work both ways.  The   the interpreter is often very influential on the perception of that Deaf person. So, you don't want to   you don't want to miss out in either negative or positive ways.

MS MAHONY:   Does the same happen in education where, for example, an interpreter is overpitching the understanding of a deaf student?  Can that have an adverse impact on that child's education?

MS STARK:  I think probably the bigger issue with interpreters in education is that a lot of them aren't qualified or don't have language skills necessary to do   to do the job.

MS MAHONY:   We might have a look at that topic now about education, seeing we have moved there.

MS STARK:  Sure.

MS MAHONY:   So the Royal Commission has heard that most deaf students receive their education in mainstream schools and that they use   there's the use of educational interpreters, particularly in primary schools.  Are they   that type of job, an educational interpreter, are they required to be NAATI accredited?


MS MAHONY:   Is that a concern to ASLIA or the Deaf community?

MS STARK:  I think it's a concern to everybody.  Yes. Yes.

MS GOSWELL:  Certainly in representing ASLIA's position on Deaf education in particular, it's a huge concern.  And it's not just an Australian concern.  It's a huge concern in Deaf communities around the world.  A very common issue of not having the skills needed to deliver at the most critical time in a child's life information in a clear and meaningful engaged way.

MS MAHONY:   Why is it the case that you have educational interpreters in the schools and not interpreters?  So whether it's CPI or PI accredited level interpreters.

MS STARK:  I think that certified interpreters aren't attracted to schools for a number of reasons.  Probably the scope of work.  The educational interpreters tend to be employed in teacher aide kind of positions where they are also doing other duties in the classroom like tutoring support, resource preparation.  The pay, certainly.  They are often working with one deaf student and so don't have the variety of work that community interpreters have.

MS GOSWELL:  And can I just add the pay differential is quite substantial.

MS MAHONY:   Between interpreting privately in the community and an educational interpreter role?

MS GOSWELL:  It's a huge disincentive.

MS MAHONY:   Just turning now to interpreter training, what are the   you have touched on the pathways, Michelle, to interpreter training.  What are the barriers to people coming into the courses?

MS STARK:  I think   well, most states now recognise the shortage of interpreters, and so the governments are subsidising fees for students in most states. So, that removes one of the biggest barriers.  Probably our next biggest barrier is workforce to deliver the courses. So, the Auslan qualifications are taught by Deaf people, and in order to be able to teach, they need to have a Certificate IV in Training and Assessment and also Language Skill.  And we just don't have enough Auslan trainers to provide those courses.  Once students get through the language courses and into the Diploma of Interpreting course, we have the same workforce shortage of interpreter trainers as well.

MS MAHONY:   Is there a planned pathway or is there a pathway currently existing to enable Deaf people with the language skills to move into the pathway of obtaining the Certificate IV for the training?

MS STARK:  So, typically what would happen would be a Deaf person would go to a private or a TAFE   private RTO or a TAFE to do that certificate, but what often happens is that they face access barriers. Again, private RTOs will say we can't afford to provide the interpreters.  Their resources aren't accessible, and so it becomes very difficult for a Deaf person to gain that qualification. Certainly in Queensland, the Queensland Government supported a group of Deaf people to obtain that qualification together, in partnership with Deaf Connect, so that interpreters could be provided in an environment where all of the students could study the course together.

MS MAHONY:   And does Deaf Connect and/or ASLIA have suggestions about how that barrier to delivering the courses and to attaining accredited interpreters can be overcome?

MS STARK:  We do, but I will refer to my notes on this.

MS MAHONY:   Sure.

MS STARK:  So to increase the CPI level   the number of CPI interpreters we have, we need more students to do the Diploma of Interpreting. So, continued funding support for that qualification.  To allow students who have language skill to fast track and do   so CODAs and native signers to get into the qualification.

MS GOSWELL:  There's been a couple of pilot versions of that program.  Typically in the past and across community languages, it's usually a native speaker of the language other than English, the CaLD language that gets to do the interpreting work.  That's just a typical pathway.  Ours is   ours started off that way, but now it's totally reversed. So, we get many more students enrolling in our courses who are interested in Auslan, but don't have a background in it. So, in terms of trying to encourage native signers who already have at least more fluency to start with, there's been some fast-track courses.  It's harder to learn any language from scratch, so I guess that's been one strategy to try and take advantage of people who already have fluency in both, to some degree 

MS MAHONY:   Are those fast-track courses showing any success?

MS GOSWELL:  Yes, yes.  They have been run in a couple of different states, and the pass rates to CPI level have been successful.

MS MAHONY:   Michelle, was there anything further that you wanted to add to those?

MS STARK:  Yes.  If we were to lose one of the interpreters in the room from the profession today, a CPI interpreter doesn't replace them. So, we have people who enter the profession, but moving them from there to this level of interpreter requires some ongoing development support as well, probably through mentoring programs, through paired work. So, often when CPI interpreters are newly certified, they are working by themselves.

If they are on jobs that are longer than two hours, all day jobs, they are often paired with another interpreter.  And they are valuable learning opportunities for new interpreters because they get to see more experienced interpreters working. So, trying to replicate some of those situations so that we can not only bring new interpreters in, but we can build CPI-level interpreters into CI-level interpreters.

MS MAHONY:   Della, in terms of your role at Macquarie University, that's just one university that provides education for interpreters that are already accredited.  Is that the case?

MS GOSWELL:  Yes, we offer a Postgraduate Diploma in Auslan English Interpreting, plus five or six other community languages.  It's very interesting.  It was set up   Macquarie is the   probably the longest running and continuous deliverer of professional-level training, but we have also had professional-level training at RMIT in Victoria, just not as constantly.  But Macquarie's brief was to   like, the biggest hurdle is to get from CPI level   it takes quite a while and a lot of experience and a range of different clients to develop your skills to be able to work   like, the interpreters in this room are all at least professional level, CI level, if not conference level. 

So, the sort of   there's quite a big gap between what you are at entry level compared to what you are expected to do at a professional level. So, even though we opened up the course   well, Jemina Napier opened up the course in 2002 at Macquarie, so we have running 20 years now, we get half of the students that come to us are already professional level interpreters that just never had any training before. So, only half of our cohort are CI level interpreters ready to attempt their professional level or CI level.

MS MAHONY:   And in terms of the types of courses that you   that Macquarie Uni offers and what RMIT offers when it has its courses, are they likely to help bridge those gaps that have been talked about today in the near future?  Or are they more long term outcomes?

MS GOSWELL:  Good question.  I think there needs to be more.  Because having one university course where students have to fly in, come for teaching, add that on top of all of their other responsibilities, work, family, whatever, that's a model that suits a lot of people, but it excludes a lot of people as well.  We do have Commonwealth supported funding for that, so that helps reduce fees.  But there is certainly potential for some more   like, it is such a big jump that we   we have potential for some more scaffolded stepping stones, short courses.

I mean, we would need to have funding for that, but I don't think it's realistic to expect someone to have got their CPI level done a couple of years and be ready to be passed or certified at the professional level.  What the interpreters are doing in this room and have for the DRC all the way through is highly skilled work. So   and it doesn't   development of those skills takes many years.

MS MAHONY:   And just in terms of being   those courses, can they be delivered remotely?  So we have seen Auslan   sorry, we have seen during Zoom a lot of training and education, meetings being put on to Zoom or other types of platforms.  Can Auslan training be readily adapted to that environment?

MS STARK:  I guess COVID forced us to adapt to the way we delivered courses to students. So, certainly at Deaf Connect during COVID, we had to convert all of our Auslan courses and interpreter training courses to online courses.  The demand for online courses is very high because the training tends to be centralised in capital cities. So, anyone in   say, for example, in Queensland, anyone outside of Brisbane finds it very hard to access courses. So, the demand is there.  We see higher attrition rates in online courses, because it is a visual spatial language, and learning on Zoom is   is more difficult but not impossible.

MS MAHONY:   As a visual language, it's very much a 3D language?  How does that translate into an online platform training environment?

MS GOSWELL:  From our experience   and we also, like every university, when COVID hit, we all locked down and went online.  But for our program, just like Michelle was saying, we have always had really high retention rates, but the attrition rates when we went online were shocking.  They were the worst we have ever had.  And it's because it's   when you are trying to learn and finesse a three-dimensional skill in two-dimensional space on a small square on a screen, it's much easier for spoken language interpreters to do that.

But even so, Macquarie, now that we are back on   we are not out of COVID, I know, but we are back into post COVID training again, all of our interpreting qualifications are on site.  It's just a recognition that whether or not it's a 3D language, which needs even more face-to-face   like, the information delivery, the fact that we work in three-dimensional spaces, as you were saying, it is so subtle and it's so hard to give feedback and be specific in developing a person's skills.  It just doesn't work very well on a 2D screen.  Especially when transmission can be variable.

MS MAHONY:   In terms of specifically Deafblind people who have their own specific needs when it comes to having an interpreter present, what training is   currently exists within existing courses to skill up interpreters or to provide the entry level interpreters with the capacity to work with Deafblind clients?

MS STARK:  Certainly at Diploma of Interpreting level, it's just about awareness that the demands of Deafblind interpreting are a specialised skill. So, we don't cover it, really, in the Diploma of Interpreter training, just to acknowledge that once you become a CPI interpreter and you gain some experience, this will be some more study that you will need to do in order to become a Deafblind interpreter.

MS MAHONY:   So where is that study located?  Where can that be found?

MS GOSWELL:  Well, I mean, I guess one thing that Nat was mentioning yesterday was the DI, the certified provisional Deaf interpreter qualification   because Deafblind interpreting is one of the big community areas that they work in, they have quite clear and intensive study working with Deafblind clients, dual sensory loss clients, but there is really only ad hoc professional development.  It's an absolute need for something that is more substantial than a weekend workshop to develop the skills.

But as Michelle said, you wouldn't want to throw someone who has got very limited, very wobbly entry level skills into that sort of work.  You need someone with a good base.  But that's an absolute gap that we need to fill.

MS MAHONY:   And is that something that this Commission ought to be considering when it's looking at all the issues to limit or limit barriers or potential for abuse and neglect for Deafblind people?

MS GOSWELL:  Yes.  Especially from the testimony that we heard this morning, there's just not enough people available to do it.  We absolutely need more people with the confidence and skills to   to understand the role, let alone be able to be trained in the role.

MS MAHONY:   That feeds very much into the interpreter demand and supply question.  And there's a constant theme:  There's just not enough interpreters. Michelle, you said there's 20 people a year coming into the profession.  Is that not causing a buffering of a lack of interpreters?   Or is there an attrition rate that is offsetting those coming in?

MS STARK:  Yes, there's not enough interpreters.  And this has been an   it's not a new issue.  I think it's   it's always been an issue, really.  There's very little research around the numbers or the lack of interpreting available.  A research project done by Paul Heuston and Dr Angela Dillon in 2017 said that agencies   only seven out of 12 agencies that were surveyed were collecting unable to service information, and on average in a month, about 11 per cent of jobs couldn't be filled.  But that went as high as 30 per cent of jobs, some months. So, averaged out to 11 per cent.

That was prior to the NDIS being rolled out, and what we saw when the NDIS rolled out was that people with packages could use their funds to engage interpreters in domains that they had never had access to interpreters before. So, the demand increased.

MS MAHONY:   In terms, then, of recommendations for   actually, I will go back a step.  In terms of matters that attract people to interpreting as a full-time career, what are some of the features of interpreting that make it not attractive?

MS GOSWELL:  It's interesting.  It hasn't changed much over the many years that interpreting as a profession has been available.  It's very difficult to work 40 hours straight, doing the work that we do. So, there's an O health and safety issue around not   like, you can see that interpreters are working in pairs.  We need breaks.  It's   it's an overuse injury issue.  It's also a cognitive problem, if you go for a certain period of time.

But also there's no   most interpreters are not working full time as interpreters.  It's very casualised.  A lot of the work dries up.  If you ran educational interpreter over Christmas or the breaks, there's no work there.  A lot of people end up doing a combination of interpreting plus other things.  It's very unusual for people to maintain their interpreting career for a long time.  There's quite a lot of drop out.

MS MAHONY:   I might just move on to the role of teachers of the deaf, and, Michelle, you were a qualified teacher of the deaf.

MS STARK:  Correct.

MS MAHONY:   Can you just explain what that role is and also a role called AVT?

MS STARK:  Okay. So, the teacher of the deaf role was a specialised one. So, teachers do their undergraduate training and then do postgraduate study to become a teacher of the deaf.  It's a specialised role in that teachers of the deaf understand the impacts of language or language deprivation for children.  They understand the role of language and literacy development, of the connections between Auslan and written language.  The teaching profession has standards that teachers have to meet.

The National Association of Teachers of the Deaf wrote an elaboration of those standards that specified the skills and knowledge that teachers of the deaf need to have, and that covers 25 pages. So, it is a very specialised role.  And AVT is an advisory visiting teacher role. So it's normally a teacher who visits a school where there is a mainstream   a child in a mainstream setting and gives advice to the classroom teacher and other supports in the school.

MS MAHONY:   How many   what is the presence of teachers of the deaf in schools today?

MS STARK:  I think over the years, the role has changed. So people used to become a teacher of the deaf and then they would go and work in a Deaf school.  But now the options for education have changed, the role has also changed. So, if there is a   a clustered site or a unit or a Deaf facility and a teacher of the deaf works there, it could be they do some direct teaching. It could be they do some interpreting work in classrooms. If they are an advisory visiting teacher, then they are visiting a number of schools where students are mainstreamed and working with support staff there.

MS MAHONY:   Is there still an undergraduate degree for teacher of the deaf now?


MS MAHONY:   How does one obtain qualifications for teacher of deaf today?

MS STARK:  Yes. So, you study to become a primary school teacher, and then you do a Master of Inclusion, I think it is called.  There's one course at University of   I can't tell you.  I've just drawn a blank but there are two courses.  One in New South Wales and one in Victoria.

MS MAHONY:   What is the   what is the benefit of having a teacher the deaf with a deaf student in their classroom?

MS STARK:  Well, it's somebody who is trained to understand the teaching strategies that the child needs.

MS MAHONY:   Is a teacher of the deaf necessarily Auslan fluent or proficient?

MS STARK:  No. So, those standards that I referred to before do say that if a teacher of the deaf is working with a student who has Auslan, that they should be proficient enough to deliver instruction in that language.  But if they are not, that they should work with an educational interpreter. So, it doesn't stipulate a standard, if you like, of proficiency.

MS MAHONY:   The Commission has heard, though, that educational interpreters may not necessarily be proficient in it Auslan either.

MS STARK:  Correct.

MS MAHONY:  So if you have a teacher of the deaf who is not proficient working with an educational interpreter who is not proficient, what is the benefit to the deaf child other than someone being able to inform the classroom teacher of better strategies?

MS STARK:  Well, it's a recipe for disaster if they don't   if a deaf child doesn't have the supports that they need.

MS MAHONY:   Michelle, what are the supports, as someone who has been a teacher of the deaf and has worked as an interpreter   and, Della, as well as an interpreter, what are the supports that are needed in schools for deaf students?

MS STARK:  I think it depends on the setting.  But if you have a child who is in a classes room with other hearing students or even if they are in a clustered environment, ideally, you would want a teacher of the deaf who is fluent in the language in the classroom.  There may also be an educational interpreter who is fluent in the language in the classroom.  A Deaf language model and a classroom teacher as well.

MS MAHONY:   As interpreters, what do you see the long-term outcomes are where children don't get the sufficient supports in education, deaf children don't get sufficient supports in education? What's your experience of that, putting on your interpreter caps?

MS STARK:  So Breda spoke earlier about the strong connection between language and cognition and how vitally important that is in the early years.  If a student has got   or if a child has got a strong first language base, that is the greatest predictor of success for a Deaf person.  If they then go through an education system   sorry, if they enter an education system and they don't have a strong first language base, if they don't then get the supports that they need, what we see is not only an impact on language but also cognitive development, which has impacts on literacy development.

It impacts on your ability to know about the world, to think and to learn on things like theory of mind, on executive functioning skills. So, if a person doesn't develop all of those skills and they come to a situation where they are needing an interpreter, the interpreter is not only dealing with someone who may not have strong language skills, but there will be gaps in their world knowledge as well.  And that's hard.

MS MAHONY:   So, finally, what recommendations or suggestions would you have to prevent that situation arising within the context of supports within schools?

MS GOSWELL:  I was   sorry, I'm a bit late jumping on to the end of the last question, just a little bit.  Thanks.  What we see in the field when we are interpreting with clients who are disadvantaged are   you can't look at the issue of the need for interpreters without seeing the whole cycle of their progression that Michelle was just referring to and everyone has talked about today.  Language acquisition, quality of the education they get, really impacts on how often they need an interpreter and the positions they are in as adults. 

So, the statistics show that Deaf people have much greater rates of mental health problems, they are underemployed, their literacy levels are often poor, and Deaf people vary greatly in terms of their degree of hearing, their family background or their experiences.  But that means that we are often dealing with people where we have to be very careful to bridge gaps or to identify the gaps that the person that is on the other end of the interpretation   the hearing professional usually   would not normally expect or understand.

So, we are often having to educate that piece of paper that's been given by a doctor or whoever the professional is, that the Deaf person is looking at that with fear because it's not something they are going to be able to read.  I think what Breda mentioned earlier on was if the pathway   and it is   it's an ongoing cycle that just keeps turning around   but if the pathway is more effective at the beginning, then the need for interpreters and the effectiveness of a Deaf adult's usage of interpreters would be very different for us, and we wouldn't need as many Deaf interpreters. I don't want to do Deaf interpreters out of a job, but a lot of the reason for them being in existence because there are very disadvantaged Deaf people as part of the client base.

MS MAHONY:  So, is it fair to say the recommendations that have been made that you have heard from the other witnesses over the last few days are recommendations that you would embrace as well?

MS GOSWELL:  Absolutely.

MS STARK:  Absolutely, that strong need for early language acquisition is vitally important for Deaf people.  There has been reference to environments in education that involve all of those key players that I mentioned before, teachers of the deaf, educational interpreters, Deaf language models.  But we have got good standards of what a good teacher of the deaf looks like, what a good educational interpreter looks like.  The DEI have produced a document that outlines the standards for educational interpreters ranging from emerging through to highly proficient.

They are documents that form the basis of quality assurance for us.  If we could standardise   accept those and mandate them and use them for employing people, then that would lift the quality of education considerably.

MS GOSWELL:  And, sorry, one of the thing that was raised, I think, in the last session, by   I think by the Chair, just in terms of having all of those individual deaf students now in mainstream settings without quality that they need to succeed means that there's a lot of support for   as you've heard, a lot of support for deaf children, even if it's not a complete Deaf school, even if it's a cohort within a mainstream school, but having a sense of the economies of scale that that creates for the limited good quality people that we have, but also for all of the social and other developmental benefits that that gives that group of students.

And one of the themes that is   you know, certainly through my life and all of the testimony so far for these two days, like isolation and loneliness are huge for Deaf people, and communication is the key.  And if you are not   you don't have access to being able to communicate with people around you, it's a very damaging place to be.

MS MAHONY:   They are the questions that I have.

CHAIR:  Yes, thank you very much.  Commissioner McEwin, do you have any further questions?

COMMISSIONER McEWIN:  Yes, I do. Thank you, Chair.  Thank you very much for the evidence you have given us this afternoon.  My question is the same question I asked Breda earlier about increasing the pool of interpreters that are available.  As we said earlier, in Breda's testimony, we saw people seeing interpreters now on television broadcasts, they become very interested in learning Auslan and sign up to courses, and then they realise later on it's very difficult to learn the language and withdraw from the program.  Withdraw from the course. So, how can we deal with that kind of situation?

MS GOSWELL:  From my experience with people withdrawing from these programs is a lot of that was during the online training phase.  It's much more successful and popular if it's face to face education.  But I think it is a fantastic opportunity now to have a bubble of new enrolments and take advantage of those new enrolments, to work out how can we keep them through the whole pathway.  And always there is going to be natural attrition as people continue in their studies, but if we can get more people entering the pathway at certificate II courses, the more you are going to have graduating through the end with a Diploma of Interpreting.

MS STARK:  If I could add to Della's point, I think the connection to community is a strong way to maintain people developing their language skills. So, if we can encourage students to engage in their local Deaf community, we will see them stick it through and become qualified interpreters.

COMMISSIONER McEWIN:  So a follow up question for the two of you, if I may.  Do you think things may change in the future, for example, if we know that online courses aren't successful in terms of completion rates, Macquarie is one of the few universities out there that delivers in person, and some students may be reluctant to fly back and forth to campus.  How might we be able to continue in those circumstances?

MS STARK:  I think we changed to online teaching through COVID without any real understanding of what we were doing.  Now we have had the time to investigate what is the best way to teach when it comes to language for people who can't be there in person.  Recently I was up in Darwin and I went to the Royal Flying Doctor Service, and they have got virtual reality.  It's amazing.  It's interesting to investigate the potential for our future, and I think technology will continue to change how we deliver interpreter training.

MS GOSWELL:  I'm hopeful that we can take benefit of those types of technologies, and when I say that we haven't had a lot of success at Macquarie delivering completely online, even with Auslan training and interpreter training, we can certainly do a lot of is online.  It just can't be the whole course content.  Because the skills of a 3D language it’s very difficult to provide the appropriate feedback and support without face to face interaction.  I think a mixed delivery model is really the answer to your question, Commissioner.

COMMISSIONER McEWIN:  Thank you both.

CHAIR:  Commissioner Galbally?

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY:  No questions, thank you.

CHAIR:  Commissioner Bennett?

COMMISSIONER BENNETT:  Just looking at where my speaker cross is.  I just would like to have ask a few questions about employment arrangements.  Are most interpreters sole operators?  Or, I mean, do they become accredited and then advertise or be on a list and receive their jobs in that way?

MS STARK:  Yes, so lots of interpreters register with interpreting agencies and then they take casualised work.

COMMISSIONER BENNETT:  They take casualised work. So   and there would be a rate of pay determined by the agency?  Or is there sort of a pay scale determined by Fair Work Australia or something like that?

MS STARK:  So agencies do set rates.  The NDIS space is a space where people can operate, I guess, as sole traders and that's a lot less regulated.

COMMISSIONER BENNETT:  So is there reforms that could be made to the industry, in a sense, making it a more stable and financially rewarding sector?  So, you know, things   are there examples like superannuation or leave portability which other industries have done where people will move between employers?  Has there been any work to thinking about the employment arrangements of interpreters to increase pay regularity, long term benefits that could also increase the attractiveness of it as a career? Has there been any work done to improve the status and conditions for interpreters?

MS GOSWELL:  I'm sorry, I can't speak for any interpreter agency, but just an observation, is that because it's so casualised, because the demand is so high, I am noticing that lots of interpreter employers   interpreting employment agencies are trying to work out what are the best incentives for keeping the people on their books, because the demand grows and they   one of the realities is that often it's the same group of interpreters on everybody's books.  Like, it's not even enough to have a lot of competition.

People are often registered with a lot of agencies.  But it's   the work is predominantly freelance, so there is very few contract positions or full time or even part time positions.  But that's one of the issues that's not attractive.

MS STARK:  Certainly Deaf Connect employ a number of permanent interpreters. I guess some interpreters like the choice and control they have of being freelance interpreters and taking the casualised work as well, though.

COMMISSIONER BENNETT:  Do you think some maybe younger people earlier in their career or something like that would actually like more stable, supported, proper superannuation, leave, holidays? Would that like that sort of employment arrangement and it could be more attractive to them if   if there was some way to work out an employment   a more permanent employment arrangement? 

MS STARK:  It was   so the survey I referred to before, it was one of the things that was raised by interpreters as being a concern, that they have got access to permanent.

COMMISSIONER BENNETT:  And are you aware of any governments or entities have thought about establishing different employment bodies for interpreters?

MS STARK:  No, they tend to contract to the agencies to provide interpreters.

COMMISSIONER BENNETT:  And these are just employment agencies in the sense, labour hire companies, in a way?

MS GOSWELL:  Very specialised.  I mean, they are often connected with what used to be Deaf societies. So, they are very community based.  Most of them are very familiar with and supportive of the Deaf community and the need they are trying to    there is no overarching.  There is no overarching government body responsible.  So, it's really hard to then try to figure out what the funding lines should be, where responsibility lies.

COMMISSIONER BENNETT:  And one last question. Is it   are more interpreters women than men or is it   yes.

MS STARK:  I think you can see that.


MS STARK:  Yes, it does tend to attract more females.

MS GOSWELL:  In most languages, not only Auslan.  Very frequently the women   and some of the research is the first born    pattern beyond   sorry.  It's because   yes.  Sorry.  Sorry to cut you off.  It's interesting, because we are very aware of sight lines.  So  

COMMISSIONER BENNETT:  It is odd seating anyway.

MS GOSWELL:  I think I was saying something like it's not unusual for   not just for sign language interpreters but for many community languages to have women as predominantly the   always the bulk of the practitioners, and that causes issues.  We are often searching for male interpreters.  There's a lot of   a lot of interpreting jobs, and certainly a lot of   you might have noticed today or yesterday in the Commission, even gender matching is important where you can.  If someone's presenting in Auslan, it's quite a   it can be a bit of a disconnect if the voice is a female voice instead of a male voice.

And you can imagine, if there is gynaecological versus male private sexual health issues, then we   yes, that's another gap we would like to encourage more men to come into the profession, but it's typically women more than men.


CHAIR:  This is an observation more than a question.  But if I were an economist, I probably would be in the budget lock up, but subject to that, there is a contradiction, that wherever there is demand, you would expect prices to go up and incentives to be there.  And yet you say there is a great deal of unmet demand, and yet it's very difficult to keep translators in business.  Strange. 

Maybe we will ask the odd features of this market.  Alright.  Thank you very much for your evidence and the insights you have given us to the training of Auslan interpreters. It has been a very interesting session.  Are we going to now have a short break before the last session?  Five minutes, I'm instructed?


CHAIR: Therefore, it's now just after 3.30 so we will resume at 3.36.



CHAIR:  Yes, Ms Mahony.

MS MAHONY:   Chair, I call the next witness, Rebecca Adam.  Ms Adam will give an affirmation.

CHAIR:  Ms Adam, thank you very much for coming to the Royal Commission today to give evidence.  Thank you also for the statement that you have prepared.  We each have a copy of that statement and have read it.  If you would be good enough to follow the instructions of my associate, who is located in the far corner, she will administer the affirmation to you.  Thank you.

ASSOCIATE:  I will read you the affirmation.  At the end, please say yes or do I.  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?

MS ADAM:  I do.


CHAIR:  Thank you very much, Ms Adam.  I shall now ask Ms Mahony to ask you some questions.


MS MAHONY:   Thank you for joining us today.  Your name is Rebecca Adam.

MS ADAM:  Yes, that's correct.

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

MS ADAM:  Yes.

MS MAHONY:   Are you content for me to address you by your first name, Rebecca, today in your evidence?

MS ADAM:  Yes, please do.

MS MAHONY:   As the Chair indicated, you prepared a statement dated 20 October 2022.

MS ADAM:  That's right.

MS MAHONY:   And that's a 13 page document.  Have you had a chance to read that recently, and, if so, do you say that it's true and correct? 

MS ADAM:  Yes, it is true and correct.

MS MAHONY:   Rebecca, you are the CEO of Access Plus.  Could you just provide for the Chair and the Commissioners the history of that organisation and what services it provides?

MS ADAM:  Sure.  Thank you. So, I'm the CEO of Access Plus, Western Australian Deaf Society, so providing support services to Deaf and hard of hearing individuals throughout Western Australia and in Perth. So, last year we celebrated 100 years of services to the community, and we service primarily Deaf and hard of hearing individuals who communicate using Auslan.  And we also provide numerous supports to sign language interpreters, support workers and sign language training. 

MS MAHONY:   So, when you talk about Deaf and also hard of hearing, is there a between those that identify as culturally Deaf and those who have, for example, a hearing loss of some form?

MS ADAM:  Absolutely.  So the requirements do differ between those who are Deaf and hard of hearing, and we provide support services to both cohorts, although the requirements are quite different.

MS MAHONY:   Just looking at your own personal experience, were you born deaf, or did you acquire hearing loss later in life? 

MS ADAM:  Yes, I was a born into a Deaf family. So, my mother and father and brother and myself were all Deaf.  We grew up using Auslan as our first language, and I learnt English as a second language throughout my schooling and education. So, yes, I identify as a culturally Deaf individual.

MS MAHONY:   In terms of growing up in a Deaf household, what was the benefit to you in terms of language acquisition as a child?

MS ADAM:  I think, looking back, I was extremely fortunate to be born into a Deaf family with Auslan, having access to my first language.  Because as you would have heard, many Deaf individuals, actually 95 per cent of Deaf people, are born into hearing families who don't have access to Auslan. So, I come from the minority, the 5 per cent, those who were born into Deaf families.  And what this means is I grow with a strong sense of identity, and understanding it's normal and okay to be Deaf and communicating in Auslan was part of the family dynamic. 

So, I had a strong family foundation from day one, if I could say.  And that assisted me in navigating life and the uncharted territories that forms one person's life. So, ideally, the world has been established for those who can hear, and being Deaf, we were able to support one another in terms of how we could navigate the world out there in the hearing world. So, I was fortunate to have access to those benefits, and that wasn't necessarily afforded to other Deaf people.

MS MAHONY:   You made mention just before that you learnt English as a second language later.  What were the circumstances of how you learnt English?

MS ADAM:  Yes.  My family understood that we co-existed in a hearing world and it wasn't a Deaf world. So, my family encouraged me to read books. My older brother, Robert, was an avid reader, so I learnt from him.  We often had conversations about books, Enid Blyton.  I had numbers of books that I used to read on a regular basis that helped me develop a strong English base, being able to communicate in Auslan, but also being literate in English.  And I went to a mainstream school and accessed books and English literature. So, I would say that provided me with a strong foundation and fluency bilingually both in Auslan and English.

MS MAHONY:   But when you went to the mainstream school, were you provided with supports in that schooling environment?

MS ADAM:  It's interesting that you ask that question, because reflecting on this time   it was a long time ago   I didn't have any supports.  The visiting teacher who came to visit me in the school once a month or every so often would drop by, come into the classroom and ask me to meet with them and ask how I was.  In terms of actual support, I would say that I received very little or if no support through my primary school education years.

MS MAHONY:   Just looking at your current role, you   as CEO, prior to that you have held roles in both Deaf and non-Deaf organisations, and also a senior level, including with the NDIS and Deaf Children Australia and also IBM.  You have also been conferred with a Bachelor of Laws in 1996.  You write that you were the first person admitted to practice as a solicitor of the Supreme Court of Victoria as the first signing Deaf person.  Is that right?

MS ADAM:  Yes, as far as I'm aware, yes.

MS MAHONY:   But when you did your law degree, what kind of supports did you have at that time?

MS ADAM:  So, we are now talking about more than 20 years ago, and at that time, interpreting was still developing as a profession.  It was in its infancy.  I remember talking to the local Deaf Society about interpreter provision, and there weren't interpreters who had the appropriate skills at that level to support me when I was attending universities. So, as a result, I attended university with very little interpreting support.

But I did have the assistance of a note taker who took notes, and at the end of the day, it kind of meant I didn't have to go to all the classes.  However, I generally would retrieve the notes from the note taker and read those notes in the library after the fact. So, I must admit, it was a very difficult situation, going through university and not attending many of those classes because there was a lack of support at that time.

MS MAHONY:   In 2020, you created a   completed a Graduate Certificate in Strategy?  What supports did you have in that degree?

MS ADAM:  That was a really interesting experience because those studies occurred 20 or 25 years after my first degree.  It was the same institute, at the University of Melbourne.  And I was quite pleasantly surprised because I was provided with two interpreters and note-takers who were working as a team providing access to information with other students and the teachers. So, there was quite a distinct contrast of the 20-year difference between the minimal or no supports that I had to the complete access I had provided, which was a wonderful experience, and I enjoyed that course because of the level of support I was receiving at the time.

MS MAHONY:   If we can go back to your law degree, you undertook Articles.  How was that supported?

MS ADAM:  Yes. So, that was before the days of NDIS.  I negotiated supports through a local organisation, and they sought funding over 12 months to employ a sign language interpreter to work with me.  And that interpreter worked with me full time attending court, discussions with legal counsel, conversations with clients, taking instructions with clients, presenting information to clients. So, that 12 months was an incredible experience, and I really enjoyed that year.

MS MAHONY:   So at the conclusion of those Articles, were you able to gain a job as a solicitor?

MS ADAM:  No, unfortunately not.

MS MAHONY:   What happened such that you couldn't attain a legal job?

MS ADAM:  Because after the first year, the funding had been depleted. So, I approached the law firm and asked if they could continue to assist me, because, at that time, legislation stated that they were to provide equal opportunity for all staff in terms of our requirements, regardless of what they were.  I didn't receive a response, and I asked if they would provide me with interpreting support because the funding we had only remains for 12 months.

And in the end I was told that I wasn't successful with continuing with the firm, which was extremely disappointing, because there were other people in the same cohort who came through the university, who continued on.  I was the only one who was not able, out of the five, to continue at that firm. So, it's an example of where the workplace certainly isn't equal for all individuals.

MS MAHONY:   Did you apply for jobs with other law firms? 

MS ADAM:  Yes, I did.  I applied for numerous roles and sought funding from interpreting.  And remember this was the days before NDIS.  And I was involved in a number of interviews.  I had lost count   probably 10 or 15.  And they were enthusiastic, but because I was Deaf they didn't know how to deal with me.  They were hesitant.  They didn't want to take the risk of employing somebody like myself. So, at the end of that year, I decided to change my direction in my career path as a result.

MS MAHONY:   And is that when you started working with IBM?

MS ADAM:  Yes.

MS MAHONY:   And I think you say that was a very positive experience?

MS ADAM:  Yes, absolutely extremely positive.  It was an American company, as you would be aware, and in the United States they have the Americans with Discrimination Act, and that's been around for longer than the Australian legislation, the DDA. So, they've had more experience and more awareness around dealing with equal opportunity issues, providing access, inclusion opportunities.  Because IBM was an American company, they had American values and ways of doing things. 

So, I felt extremely confident that I would have a fair and equal opportunity, and I ended up staying with that company for 17 years.  They provided me total access to interpreters whenever I needed them.  Sometimes I would have up to five interpreters working with me in my role at various stages within IBM in the company.  It was extremely positive and a wonderful company to work for.

MS MAHONY:   If we can just move, now, to some of the matters that impact on Access Plus as an organisation.  And the first one that I want to talk to you about is the information that's provided to parents when a child is identified as deaf shortly after birth.  And at page 33   I withdraw that.  Paragraph 33 of your statement you talk about Deaf Access's experiences of Deaf people's language acquisition where they come from non Deaf families.  What have you observed or been told by persons as to their childhood where they have grown up in a hearing environment?

MS ADAM:  The reoccurring themes that I have noticed from these families is the system is very much fragmented.  It's very distorted and confusing.  The families don't know where to go.  It's a very stressful time, as you can imagine.  And like I said, frustrating for those families because you attend one service, and they provide you with information.  A different agency will give you different information to what you've received. 

So, it's very confusing.  The   it's quite anxiety-driven for individuals, and it's quite a sad time because the family are wanting to do the best for their child, naturally, and they would like to see their child succeed in life, and then they are faced with a very confusing disaggregated system which unfortunately has a negative impact on those individuals. So, we do have a program in place for those families who are wanting to introduce their child to an Auslan role model, and we have a playgroup that's accessible. 

So, we provide that support.  And it's somewhat limited because of the funding, but we have   we don't necessarily have funding for early intervention in Auslan.  But it's part of the system that certainly isn't working well for families who do have newly diagnosed deaf children.

MS MAHONY:   In terms of the families that are coming to you, how do they become aware of that service within at least the   within Western Australia where you were based?

MS ADAM:  Well, that's a very good question because, historically, I felt that our reputation and brand probably wasn't so well known.  People didn't understand Auslan, and they often were approached with a medical model that was more attractive, because, naturally, there was more funding available and various professional supports. So, with the Deaf sector and Auslan, it wasn't as appealing, but after the COVID pandemic and seeing sign language interpretation on the news every day, people saw this as an alternative option, and also seeing deafness as part of a cultural and social model rather than through the lens of the medical model that had been portrayed. 

So, the families have shifted their focus to see that Auslan can be included in their family life, and through the shift over time, I've seen an increase in families wanting to come and learn Auslan and also introduce their children to learning sign language and hopefully older   later on in life not having those barriers that existed previously. So, that has been a shift that I've seen in the last few years.

MS MAHONY:   What information is provided to families when the child is identified?  Is it that medical model that you referred to or does it also include the cultural linguistic information?

MS ADAM:  No, the medical model that persists generally doesn't share any information in relation to   in relation to Auslan and sign language.  That information is limited. So, the resources we develop, we work with a local hospital, and we have managed to come to an agreement where people who have a newly diagnosed child have the option of learning Auslan and making them aware of the services we have available with the local hospitals, to get the staff to consider introducing the family to Auslan and a cultural social model around deafness.  And we have had to develop our own resources as a result, a last resort, if you like, because the medical model has not wanted to traditionally include us in their model.

MS MAHONY:   Have you had feedback from families who have deaf children newly identified about the positives your information brings to their experience?

MS ADAM:  Yes, nearly all the scenarios, after the introduction to learning Auslan being introduced to the community, the Deaf groups that do exist, those individuals and the families feel relieved that there is a world out there that does embrace and accept the child who is deaf regardless.  And it is seen as a positive.  There is no negative stigma, and there is an understanding of Deaf gain. So, it's not a problem that needs to be cured or fixed or focusing on the individual being changed through medical intervention. So, it decreases the stress and is extremely positive for all the family members, and you can see the level of stress and relief diminish.

MS MAHONY:   Given the success of the resources that Access Plus have created, is there anything more formal or anything that Access Plus would like to see being delivered across all families when a child is identified as being deaf?

MS ADAM:  Yes, absolutely.  Really, I think we need to start with the premise that the deaf child needs to be the centre of everything. So, we are working in collaboration with all the various organisations, the hospitals, government agencies and so forth to benefit the child.  The child being at the centre.  To ensure that they have all the resources they need, and their families, to lead a successful life.  And what that means for each deaf child will vary, naturally, because the Deaf community is made up of distinct groups, people who were Deaf, those who have additional disabilities.  So it is important to be able to work with the various organisations and agencies to have the child at the centre of our focus.

MS MAHONY:   And in terms of how that practically can be implemented, so where the child practically gets implemented as being the focus of the decisions, what does Access Plus say needs to happen within the medical setting where a child is being identified as deaf?

MS ADAM:  Well, it's interesting you ask that question, because like I was saying, in the beginning, the system is fragmented, the one that currently exists, and we have a disaggregated model.  Within our office at Access Plus, we only have enough space for staff and desks.  There's not enough room for families to come in and visit us or people to be able to come and ask questions about Auslan and seek further information about the benefits of Auslan for a deaf child.  Or working with other professionals to provide and share experiences.

The space physically is a limitation, and we are very limited in our ability to be able to work with other agencies.  We need to provide outreach, and there's nowhere currently for families to come and see us and to be able to have access to information and services that they do require for their child. So, ideally, that needs to change.  And we have approached the government and sought support, and this really needs to change if you want to improve the lives of Deaf people, children, their families and have spaces that are accessible, deaf friendly and working with other organisations, members of the community, Deaf community members, Deaf role models to put the child at the centre of everything and ensure the child receives all the supports they need.

MS MAHONY:   So it's not necessarily saying that Access Plus need to have designated space; it's about having a space where appropriate supports can be brought together for the benefit of the child?

MS ADAM:  Absolutely.  And what we do do is create partnerships with a number of organisations, hospitals, agencies, local councils in order to attempt to do that.  But, again, we don't have the space at Access Plus to be able to meet with the clients and their families and talk about various supports we can provide.  There simply isn't enough physical space. And that's what I mean by the system being fragmented.  The child and the family need to seek out various other services, so the onus is on them, and the burden is on them. So, it is quite a messy process to navigate.

MS MAHONY:   So at a systemic level, would Access Plus be advocating for a more singular cohesive model that brings all supports into one place?

MS ADAM:  Yes, absolutely.  I think that's a gap, and it's certainly an unmet need that we are burdened with in the Deaf sector.

MS MAHONY:   If I can just speak to you now about the effects of poor language acquisition.  Access Plus talk about the various services that they provide, and they include interpreters and communication guides.  Can you just explain what a communication guide is and what is driving the need for communication guides for your clients?

MS ADAM:  Okay. So, we actually refer to them as sign guides, but they are a form of communication guide, if you like. So, with the NDIS, you will be familiar that many Deaf and hard of hearing individuals, when they receive a package for support work, that is based on the notion, if you like, that Deaf and hard of hearing individuals require personal care. So, the support work reference is about personal care.  For example, hygiene support, showering, toileting;  things like that.

And Deaf people, as we know, don't really need that type of support, and many of our clients have said, "I don't want support work.  I need assistance with reading letters.  I have literacy issues.  How to conduct conversations with my tax agent or going to a government agency department and having support in reading this correspondence.  I don't need that type of support that is offered by the NDIS." So we have actually transferred that reference point to using sign guides and we probably provide 100 hours of support through sign guides on a regular basis so that our clients can read information or learn how to read information on a platform at a train station, or understand how to deal with the council, attend a police station, navigate various government systems that exist with the sign guide.

And the sign guide is qualified as a community language aide. So, often the clients we deal with don't have the literacy skills to understand general correspondence from government departments.  They may need assistance shopping, and various other activities that we do day to day and take for granted. So, there is an increasing understanding that many of our clients have limited communication and literacy skills.

MS MAHONY:   The clients that are approaching you for that assistance, what is their age range?

MS ADAM:  I would say the age bracket would be from the age of 20 up to 65 and in between.  And as we are aware, those individuals over the age of 65 don't have NDIS packages, and, unfortunately, they do approach us and have to pay for those services out of pocket.

MS MAHONY:   So your agency or your organisation, Access Plus, is finding recently   recent students finishing high school have poor language skills such that they need assistance in the kind of matters that you have been speaking about? 

MS ADAM:  Well, I think things are changing.  We do have a local school known as Shenton College in Perth which was established about five, 10 years ago, and a number of those students that graduated do come and work with us, and you can see that their language levels in Auslan and English have significantly increased compared to Deaf individuals who have been mainstreamed or attended other schools.  And there's a different   they're certainly a different cohort compared to the previous generation, yes.

MS MAHONY:  I was going to ask you some questions about Shenton College. So, that's an example of a good educational environment for deaf students? 

MS ADAM:  Yes, I believe so.  I've attended the school a few times and made a number of observations.  I've met the teachers and interpreters, and it seems like a wonderful program for deaf students. They have about 20 interpreters working internally at the school, so it's very well resourced and deaf friendly from a Deaf perspective, yes. 

MS MAHONY:   Is that a state or a private school? 

MS ADAM:  I believe it's a state school.

MS MAHONY:  In terms of education, is it delivered bilingually, in both English and Auslan?

MS ADAM:  Yes, I haven't been a student previously there but I understand that is their model, bilingual education, yes 

MS MAHONY:   And you mention about graduates from that school coming to work with Access Plus.  What have you observed about their language skills, as compared to members of your clients who didn't go to Shenton College?

MS ADAM:  I see a marked difference in their communication skills, their literacy skills.  There is a marked difference there.

MS MAHONY:   In terms of language skills and literacy skills, looking first at language skills, where you have a deaf child in a hearing environment   and you talk about this in your statement   there becomes a family disconnect at times?  And, for example, you give   you give the example of Christmas.  Why are events like Christmas difficult for children or family members where they are the only Deaf person?

MS ADAM:  Yes, well, from what I've seen, many Deaf people have conversations and share this commonality, and have throughout time.  It's different from my own experience.  I'm a little bit privileged with having Deaf parents.  But Christmas time can be the worst time of year for deaf individuals.  It should be a time of joy, celebration, and excitement, but for many Deaf people, at the end of the day, it can be the worst day of their lives throughout the year because families, cousins, aunts and uncles attend, but nobody communicates with them.

They are left to sit at the table on their own.  Everybody else is engaged except the Deaf person.  And Christmas admittedly is one busiest times of year.  We have the most interpreter bookings at that time, but many interpreters don't want to work on Christmas Day, as you can imagine, and the clients are frustrated because they cannot participate with family members who don't sign during this period and festive season.

MS MAHONY:   And is that a result of there just not being a language in the home that allows the child and the parents or siblings to communicate?  Or are there other factors driving that disconnect?

MS ADAM:  Yes, anecdotally, family members tend not to be fluent in Auslan.  They have never participated in Auslan training.  There is no engagement with the deaf individual.  It's limited to a few signs that might be used.  Or it may be limited to limited topics that the family can discuss. So, the deaf individual often feels very left out and isolated and very lonely. And they feel neglected, undervalued, and at the end of the day, they feel excluded and discriminated by their own families.

MS MAHONY:   Have you got examples of where a deaf child in that environment has had a longer term impact on their life in terms of disconnection within broader society?

MS ADAM:  Yes, and I think I might have touched on this before.  But many of our clients at Access Plus have mental health issues and mental health challenges, I must say.  Because growing up in families where there is no communication or Auslan access, they have been isolated for many years.  There is no meaningful relationships or understanding of loving relationships.  Often they feel undervalued.  "I'm not important as a person, in society."

They develop habits, and one particular individual was self medicating that I recall, and they did this to resolve their feelings of anger and despair, and then later on developed mental health issues as a result. So, we have observed a deterioration, if you like, and a vicious circle occurring for these individuals because the mental health system in Western Australia is overburdened.  I mean, naturally, we know that it's a difficult path to navigate, but then they are not even providing support to deaf individuals who are left out there in society and don't have a mental health service appropriate for them.

And often they are in and out of hospitals, clinics, and when they are drug addicted and run out of drugs, the doctor will prescribe them whatever else they need to fob them off because the doctor doesn't want to or isn't interested in communicating with the individual.  So the problem snowballs because people don't know what to do.  And this example of the person I was thinking of, has been diagnosed as having an intellectual disability, which is not the case.  It's because of the self-medication and the personal challenges and mental health issues of feeling frustrated and lonely, but the perception by professionals is that they have an intellectual disability, as we know is not the case.

MS MAHONY:   So Access Plus is seeing a direct link between poor mental health outcomes for its clients and a dislocation from family because of language deprivation?

MS ADAM:  Absolutely, yes.  Or the relationships and relationships that, you know, is part of the same narrative.  It is all interconnected.  And I think that is a result of the compounding model of the disaggregated services.  Hospitals are not communicating to us.  They are not communicating to the person who has got mental health issues.  Systems are cut off from one another.  The system is broken. So, the Deaf person suffers as a result of this, and they are falling through the cracks.  And I think this is certainly an emerging crisis in the Deaf community that we've seen.  In my particular community, the self-medicating, the loneliness, the mental health issues is becoming quite prolific.

MS MAHONY:   And is there, in your experience, any link between educational outcomes for Deaf people and those observations of clients?

MS ADAM:  Absolutely.  Because their access to Auslan has been stolen since childhood.  They have never had access to language from day one. So, there is no opportunity to develop loving relationships with family and know that you can lean on someone that you can trust when you are going through challenging times in life and have that support there.  Those individuals simply don't have it.  They are neglected, they don't feel supported, and naturally develop a habit to self medicate to soothe the pain.  But then it becomes a larger problem.  And they have done that because they needed to. So, it's all interrelated and certainly part of the larger problem.

MS MAHONY:   If I can just move now to the topic of supports in the workplace.  And you speak to that issue at paragraph 50 of your statement.  In terms of barriers, what are the barriers currently presenting to Deaf people being employed in the open market, from the perspective of Access Plus?

MS ADAM:  We are seeing many members of the Deaf community in Western Australia in jobs, but they have been in the same role for many years.  And one person working in a government job at the same level   very low level, mind you   for 30-plus years, and hearing that story really sent chills up my spine.  Seeing other people progress within their organisation but then not having the opportunity to progress and them wanting to learn, but they are not provided with the training necessary. So, there is systemic discrimination that is prevalent in these workplaces, and Deaf people have a different experience to other individuals who may have worked in these organisations for equal amounts of time.

MS MAHONY:   In terms of an example where the opposite has occurred, are you able to speak to where a person's life is changed or has been changed because of a shift in terms of their employment opportunities?  And how that looked for that person?

MS ADAM:  Yes, I had a person join our organisation who was hard of hearing, and they were dealing with a lot of bullying and oppression and negative attitudes, and this person was hard of hearing.  They came to Access Plus, and we have seen a significant increase in their work performance, their attitude, because this individual feels valued, they feel like they are an important member of the team.  They feel they have something to contribute.  They perform magnificently compared to some other staff members.  And this has certainly shifted because they came from a place where they weren't valued and now they are.  And they are seen as a valued member of the team.

MS MAHONY:   Do you have   well, does Access Plus or you as a CEO have any recommendations for the kind of supports that need to be or should be in workplaces to ensure the type of neglect that you described where people have been missed and overlooked for opportunities, to prevent that occurring in the future?

MS ADAM:  Yes, I think in the past, often quick fixes have been employed to resolve the issues of access.  We will provide them with an interpreter, and we can forget about the individual.  And that's not an all fix.  You need to understand the person's requirements.  Deaf people are not a homogenous group.  Neither are hard of hearing individuals. So, employers need to be able to work with the Deaf and hard of hearing person, ask them what their needs are, how they can support them, whether it's through interpreting access or captioning.

In the past we have had a habit of making decisions for the deaf individual thinking that they would resolve the problem.  And it's about asking the individual about their needs, giving them agency and a voice to be able to better participate in the workplace.

MS MAHONY:   One of the witnesses earlier today spoke about the value add of a Deaf employee being viewed as opposed to the employer saying we are doing social   we are making a social contribution by employing a Deaf person.  Is that a cultural shift that you consider is necessary for the advancement of Deaf people in employment?

MS ADAM:  Yes, and I hope and I should think that that is the case.  We have a unique expectative on problem solving as Deaf people.  Working in collaboration, how to overcome diverse challenges and experiences.  And these experiences are unique to Deaf and hard of hearing people. So, we certainly do have a specialised skill that we can offer, or resilience that others couldn't offer or put forward. So, yes, Deaf people and hard of hearing individuals certainly bring a lot of value to the workplace.

MS MAHONY:   In terms of recommendations to assist in those kind of cultural changes within workplaces generally, does Access Plus or you yourself have suggestions as to how that can be achieved?

MS ADAM:  Yes, I think it stems from a need to start from the top.  Culture, as we know, starts or comes from the top so when you have the right values, the right culture, it will trickle down throughout the organisation.  And also it starts with a position of respect and a deep understanding of Deaf and hard of hearing people and what their requirements are.  Their culture, their background, their history.  When you have that, then it becomes less rhetoric, so it's actually coming from a more genuine place.

We see a lot of equal opportunity claims out there in the workplace and employers claiming to an equal opportunity employer, employing people with disability.  We see that out there but, in fact, do they really understand and respect the Deaf community or people in the disabled community?  I don't think that's necessarily the case.  That needs to change, and it needs to start from a place of we have complete respect and understanding of Deaf and hard of hearing individuals, and then it becomes less rhetoric and much more genuine in terms of inclusion and empowerment.

MS MAHONY:   I just want to ask you some questions about the position of Deaf First Nations persons in Western Australia.  You say in your statement at paragraph 55 that you   that Access Plus has a number of Deaf First Nations clients.  What have you observed as to the experience of their specific disadvantage?

MS ADAM:  Yes, we do have a number of clients who are First Nations people, particularly in the north of Western Australia.  And we provide support services   somewhat limited.  Either via the Zoom platforms.  We can't always travel all that distance.  But when we do fly up there, often it's in a situation where they are incarcerated.  And we see time and time again situations where First Nations people are arrested, locked up in jail, and they may be there for two or three days at a time because the person doesn't even know what they are being charged for, nor provided with an interpreter.

If the interpreter explained to them why they were there, they would have some kind of understanding.  But they are often left there to linger.  They go into the justice system.  They don't have an interpreter, and they to and fro in the justice system from court and the police cells. So, it's a very negative experience for First Nations individuals in the north of Western Australia.

MS MAHONY:   Is there anything driving their specific disadvantage, beyond the broader community   the broader Deaf community experience?

MS ADAM:  As you know, Western Australia is a size of western Europe, if you look at it on a map. So, access to Auslan interpreting and so forth is a privilege for people in the west. It is not a human right and it's not something that comes naturally. If you live in Perth, you may be fortunate enough, sort of.  It's much better for a Deaf person living in Melbourne or Sydney, but if you live in the north of Western Australia you have got to roll the dice in terms of are you going to have access to Auslan.

Because the fact that you are deaf doesn't mean that you are entitled to or have access to Auslan.  And it really does depend geographically where you live in the country, who is around you that signs, whether they are deaf or hearing, and, again, that's compounded by the fact that those individuals don't sign, and the disadvantage unfortunately is quite extreme because of the geographical size of the state, and access to Auslan doesn't always happen. So, unfortunately, those who are privileged do have access to that.

MS MAHONY:   So even in terms, then, for our First Nations people in Western Australia who are Deaf, those living in more remote areas are even more disadvantaged for access because of their geography?

MS ADAM:  Absolutely.  Yes.  And their access to schooling, education is extremely limited. So, they have the double whammy, if you like, of these issues.  Indigenous people with glue ear and medical issues with hearing, are overrepresented with First Nations people who have a hearing loss and issues. So, the cultural appropriate services are generally not available for these individuals.  Access Plus, we don't have Indigenous staff or First Nations people who can work with these people, so it is an unmet need and we, again, can be burdened with this if the case arises.

MS MAHONY:   You have spoken just very recently about the geography of WA and the deficit of interpreters heightened by its expanse. What recommendations do you have specific to WA to bolster the interpreting population?

MS ADAM:  Well, I believe there needs to be a large investment in training in Auslan provision, also the training of interpreters throughout Western Australia, because at the moment, we are working with the same pool of interpreters across the state.  The government utilises them for emergency announcements, and that's fine, or for their services, but it means there's less interpreters for our clients who need them for daily appointments. So, it strips our community from their access to interpreting.

And, again, the system needs an overhaul and needs to be reshaped and there should be a large investment in training to enable to encourage individuals to learn Auslan, attend the interpreting courses, boost the numbers of interpreters so people everyone can access Auslan and various services and interpreters too.  I believe that various government departments, whether it's the police or hospitals, they should have Auslan as part of their job description when they employ people into those service organisations.

And they also should employ Deaf and hard of hearing people into those organisations or departments where they are able to assist the service in understanding Deaf clients better.  So there needs to be a multi-facetted model that's established to increase inclusion and empowerment for all.

MS MAHONY:   One of the things that you speak about at 64 of your statement is ICT, information and communication technology.  Yesterday, the Chair raised the benefit that technology can bring to mitigate against neglect and deprivation within the Deaf community.  Can you just describe what ICT is and, given you put it forward as a solution, how that ties in to mitigating against that neglect?

MS ADAM:  Yes, certainly.  There is no one shop front that exists in Western Australia.  If we look at the government, various healthcare services, there's not a one stop shop where we have the services available to Deaf people immediately. So, if somebody walks in off the street and they say, hello, I need to update my registration in a conference centre, no access is available there and then.  There's no shop front, if you like, or one stop shop for this type of service.  And I think this needs to be looked at.

Currently, there is video technology available.  We have voice to text technology and wonderful devices and technology that works, but we need to bring it together in its entirety to increase access to various platforms that can enable communication without needing to be there in person.  And really what this means is reviewing information and communication technology as a package and utilising that across government and organisations like ours so they can better service our clients and hard of hearing people.

MS MAHONY:   Chair, they are the questions that I have for Ms Adam.

CHAIR:  Thank you very much.  I shall ask my colleagues whether they have any questions.  Commissioner McEwin?

COMMISSIONER McEWIN:  Thank you, Chair.  Thank you, Rebecca, for your witness testimonial today and giving us that WA perspective.  I do have a couple of questions.  Earlier, you were speaking about deaf children and the deaf child centred approach.  Could you expand on that, please?

MS ADAM:  So what that means is wanting to see the deaf and hard of hearing child at the centre of everything.  A wraparound service, if you like.  We look at ourselves, healthcare, education, government departments, community all working together as a wraparound service to benefit that child who is at the centre.  At the moment, that currently doesn't exist. So, the system, as I mentioned, before is quite fragmented.  We are not communicating to one another. There's various services in place that we are not aware of.  And they may be seeking supports from the hospital, the hospital needs to do this, we are not aware of it, and how can we work better if we are not communicating together?  So that's something that that we need to improve that fragmentation.

COMMISSIONER McEWIN:  Can you identify the difference between a child with disability and a deaf child. What is the gap? Is it just that access to Auslan is missing?

MS ADAM:  Yes, ideally, the model will include a suite of options.  Auslan, access to speech therapy if that's required, access to interpreters, schools of choice, information that can be provided about what is available in terms of resources.  Options for participating in youth activities, for example, guides, scouts, wanting that information to be available to the child so that it's a possibility for everybody to have that option and also having communication supports in place like interpreting where they can benefit from the access to all these services.

COMMISSIONER McEWIN:  And a question on a different topic.  Regarding interpreters, we have heard today about interpreter training, the challenges   the challenges of online training for interpreters, and other difficulties.  We have heard that there is a course at Macquarie University, but people have to fly in and out, particularly from the west coast. So, are there similar challenges in WA?

MS ADAM:  Yes, interpreting in Western Australia, they are disadvantaged in terms of having access to professional development training programs that exist on the east coast.  We don't have that in Perth.  That is correct.

COMMISSIONER McEWIN:  So, what needs to change?

MS ADAM:  We need further investment in training.  Like I said before, Auslan training, investment in training of interpreters, both cohorts.

COMMISSIONER McEWIN:  Thank you, Rebecca.

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY:  No questions, thank you.

CHAIR:  When you were seeking employment as a solicitor in Victoria or were seeking to continue your employment at the firm where did you your Articles, did the Disability Discrimination Act ever come into the conversations or into your thinking, the thinking of respective employers?

MS ADAM:  Oh, well, that's a very good question.  I specialised in employment law, and I was in the employment department, if you like.  Employment law department, so, yes, they were very aware of the DDA.  However, I think rules exist for some but not necessarily others.

MS MAHONY:   Chair, if I can just correct something.  I indicated before that Rebecca is the first signing person admitted to the role of solicitors in Victoria.  She was, in fact, the first signing person to be admitted to the role in any Supreme Court in all of Australia.

CHAIR:  Very good.  Your answer was a little enigmatic.  What did you mean?

MS ADAM:  Well, I worked in the employment law department at my previous firm, and they were very familiar around the DDA, and we often did work for clients who brought forward DDA claims. So, the firm was very familiar with the structure of the DDA and what did exist.  So, I assumed it was their responsibility to be across all of that.  I decided not to pursue a claim against them because, at the time, I did think it would have an impact on my opportunities with potentially other firms who might consider employing me.

CHAIR:  Yes.  Alright.  Thank you very much.  Thank you, Ms Adam, for your evidence today and for the statement that you have provided to us.  Thank you for coming from Western Australia in order to give your evidence today.  We are grateful for your assistance.  Thank you so much.  Does that mean we have concluded today's proceedings?

MS MAHONY:   Yes, Chair.  We have.  And we have also you   save for tendering some documents later in the week, we have concluded the witnesses for the first part of the Deaf CaLD hearing.

CHAIR:  Alright.  Well, I would like to thank every witness who has given evidence, particularly, of course, the members of the Deaf community.  It has been a very unusual hearing, and I hope a hearing that has been of more than interest, perhaps of some comfort to members of the Deaf community that we are looking at the issues that you wish to raise.  I think that the issues that people think are important have been outlined very clearly, very persuasively, and we have heard some very compelling accounts of the experiences of people within the Deaf community.

And these are issues that we will have to examine within the final report, and I'm sure that, as Commissioner McEwin said in his opening remarks, that they will find a place in the final report, building on the work that advocates within the Deaf community, Deaf people themselves, have brought to attention and have agitated for in the past. So, I would like to thank all of the witnesses who have given evidence and, of course, other witnesses who have participated in the proceedings up to date, and a very big thank to you everybody who has facilitated the hearing that has been held over the last two days.

Of course, we have Ms Mahony playing the leading role, and thank you very much, but, of course, the interpreters who have done an heroic job.  It's actually quite fascinating to   for someone who is not a member of the Deaf community to watch the interaction between those who were giving evidence and the signing. And I wonder how do you it, actually.  We will have to   I mean, we have had interpreters, of course, throughout the life of the Commission, but there is something a little bit different when you are concentrating on people who are Deaf and giving evidence, and the process is extremely enlightening and impressive, if I may say so. 

So, we have had enormous assistance, as we always have, from interpreters, but this has been a very special couple of days.  And, of course, everybody else who has contributed to organising this hearing.  As we often say, these hearings are exceptionally difficult to organise.  There is a great deal that has to be done in order to bring everything together.  This is no exception and, indeed, this hearing presented more challenges than many others, and it's a great tribute to everybody who has participated in the process that it has gone so smoothly. 

So, thank you everybody.  Tomorrow, we will resume with a second part of the hearing, and we will open at 10 o'clock and Ms Eastman will give her opening at that point. So, thank you very much.