People in the deaf community identify themselves as Deaf, much like someone from Australia would define themselves as part of the Australian community. The deaf community is Australian, but they have their own culture. Let’s dive deeper to understand the cultural impact of being deaf in Australia.
Sign Language in Australia
Auslan (Australian Sign Language) was officially recognized by the Australian government in 1987.
The history of Australia started with the Aboriginals. In the 19th, British, Scottish, and Irish prisoners came to Australia. That’s when Auslan developed. Deaf prisoners used signs from their home country. When they settled, their community formed, and Auslan evolved into a present-day language.
As with other sign languages around the world, Auslan uses movements and gestures with the fingers to communicate. It doesn’t follow English in terms of grammar or sentence structure. Auslan developed in an organic way amongst the community that used it.
Because of the history of immigration to Australia, the roots of Auslan are more closely related to British Sign Language. Auslan also differs depending on the region in Australia. There are two main dialects:
- The Southern dialect used in places like Victoria and Tasmania
- The Northern dialect used in places like Queensland and Darwin
Based on these regions in Australia, signers could use different finger gestures for words like eleven and blue.
Language as a Rite of Passage
The most interesting thing about Auslan is that it seems to be a rite of passage into the Deaf community in Australia. According to anthropologist Ingrid van Steenwyk, learning to use sign language is a way of respecting this community because Deaf people who learn to lipread can be looked down upon. It makes others in the community feel almost resentful because of the efforts to exist in Australia as their own culture.
Protections for Deaf People
Photo by Ben Mack: https://www.pexels.com/photo/stylish-modern-building-and-arch-bridge-crossing-harbor-against-cloudy-sundown-sky-5707602/
The deaf community is protected by the Disability Discrimination Law. However, the law has loopholes. A deaf person can be discriminated against by an employer if they cannot perform job duties. Adjustments can be made in this case.
Because being deaf is considered a minority in Australia, technology companies are trying to find innovative ways to improve their lives. It starts with advanced hearing aids and devices with assistive technology, like using voice-to-text to communicate. Yet, something is disturbing about these advancements for the deaf community.
They open the deaf community to mainstream culture. Therefore, losing some aspect of their togetherness through the language that unites them. It should be a good thing, but some of the deaf community feels their identity is overlooked by the rest of society because they defined their place.
Australian Culture Towards Minorities
Many people know the native people of Australia as the Aboriginals. They are considered a minority culture in the country, alongside the deaf community. The Australian government also makes a distinction between the deaf and the Deaf. The lowercase deaf means that someone grew up in the deaf community and became deaf early in life, versus the people born Deaf.
Deaf Culture in Australia
The Deaf community has been seen as helpless and needing a cure. However, Deaf people flip this narrative and advocate for themselves with what they can do rather than how outsiders see what they can’t do. That’s why Auslan became at the center of their culture. They seized the opportunity and created a rich community linguistically and culturally, apart from mainstream Australians. Auslan emphasizes their unique culture and shows that they can communicate, if not more effectively, than hearing people.
The deaf has their community because they exclusively use Auslan. As with hearing people, they gather together to share common interests in hobbies and politics.
It starts with Auslan being at the center of the deaf culture in Australia. Learning the language can help people make a real connection with the deaf community. They use a lot of complex gestures and body movements to express ideas leaving room for more listening and deeper relationships.
Directness and Physical Proximity
The thing about deaf culture is how communication shapes the culture. It comes down to concepts like physical proximity and being direct. The signer tends to stand away to express their ideas in a conversation. Having so much space between people in other cultures can be seen as cold and unfriendly. In the deaf community, it’s normal. What also takes people by surprise is the directness of sign language. Hearing people like to give ambiguous answers, but in sign language, it is harder to do that.
Eye contact and touching are other aspects of communication among the Deaf in Australia. They use touch to get attention, but that makes some people uncomfortable. They also depend on a lot of eye contact to stay focused on what is said. Anyone with a lack of eye contact and unwelcoming towards touching will have a hard time with acceptance into the deaf community.
The Cultural Impact
Even though the world is changing and cultures are evolving with it, it’s important to keep the foundation intact. For the Deaf community in Australia, this means preserving Auslan. This form of sign language is what keeps the unique culture present in the world of spoken language. Culture is a reflection of a community. The Deaf community in Australia and other communities worldwide are making a point that they don’t need to be cured. The reason the Deaf have an impact is because of their ability to communicate in an unconventional way.
To learn more about Deaf communities all over the world and how Unspoken Language Services is taking part to connect with the community, visit https://www.unspokenasl.com/