Radio Inspire

How To Learn Sign Language

Deaf children need sign language | Drisana Levitzke-Gray | TEDxSouthBank

Translator: Jade Demnar
Reviewer: Rhonda Jacobs Hi everybody. How are you? Learning Auslan is an awesome thing to do. Hands up if you’ve learnt some Auslan
in your life so far. Some of you have. For those of you who don’t know Auslan, Auslan is an acronym
that represents Australian Sign Language. It’s a real language. It has its own grammar, its own structure, and its own syntax, just like every other
language in the world. The name Australian Sign Language
means it belongs to Australia, it’s our unique language,
a beautiful language. Many people look on Auslan and say, ‘Well, that’s something
just for Deaf people, it’s just specifically for them’,
and that is true, it’s the language that Deaf people use
as our natural language. But it’s not just for Deaf people. Members of their family, their friends,
and their work colleagues can also use Auslan. People who are keen to learn Auslan
can become interpreters and so forth and work within the Deaf community. I’ve seen lots of people in Australia
really keen now to learn Auslan because it means they can
communicate with people – those people who are Deaf, and to form a relationship with them, and those sorts of interactions
are then possible. There’s been a negative
stigma about Auslan and about Deaf people in general. And that negativity about Auslan is that it’s not considered
to be a real language, you know? It’s just a communication system
that Deaf people use as a last resort. I’d like to talk
a little bit about something which is a process of what happens
when deaf babies are born and grow up, what it is that happens to them. I’d like to talk about something
that we refer to as the greatest irony that’s actually happening
in Australia and worldwide. This is the greatest irony
that’s happening all around the world for all of our deaf children, the majority of them certainly. I’ll talk to you about the process
of what happens when a deaf child is born. Two parents are there
happily expecting the birth of their baby. They give birth to the baby, and they have a whole range
of dreams and aspirations for that child’s future. And then the baby’s born, and there are a lot of tests that lots
of newborns have to go through, of course, and one of those is a hearing test. The baby might be less than 24 hours old,
or 24 or 48 hours old – not even a day old before
the hearing test is administered. And the doctors will then
meet the parents and say, ‘Well, your baby failed its hearing test.’ They use the word ‘fail’. The first test in this child’s life
and they’ve failed it; wow. Imagine what that
feels like for the parents. They’re overwhelmed,
they’re grieving, they’re shocked. And that grieving process happens because many people
have never actually encountered a Deaf person ever in their lives
until they give birth to a deaf baby. It’s the first Deaf person they meet,
and that’s quite profound. The process is then that doctors
will come and talk to the parents, and they refer to this as ‘intervention’. They talk to the parents and say,
‘You need to do this, this and this. There are a number of tools you will need
like a cochlear implant or a hearing aid. And your child really has to learn
to speak and hear, It’s the only way that he or she
will fit into society. And if they don’t do that
they just won’t be successful. If they use sign language,
well, yeah, it’s an option, but it’s really not something
we’d encourage.’ Doctors focus on
a medical view of deafness. They see the child as a medical problem, something that’s broken
and needs to be fixed and repaired, and then the problem is solved
and they can then join society. But parents don’t have an option
to meet Deaf role models, or Deaf adults that they
can ask questions of; that just doesn’t happen for them. And the consequence of that is
that the outcomes are dreadful, and there we have this irony. Deaf children need language. They need to acquire
a language to be successful. It’s common sense anyway. You’d expect that all children, regardless
of whether they’re deaf or hearing, would have the ability
to be able to acquire a language. Statistics say that 95% of deaf babies
are born to parents who can hear. I’m one of the odd ones; I’m part of the 5% that’s born
to parents who are Deaf. Those children who are born
to parents who can hear don’t have access to language
acquisition, a culture, and a community. It’s not their fault. But it’s our role then to be part
of the advocacy and support for [hearing] parents to reassure them
that everything is going to be okay. For many parents, they avoid sign language because doctors, and audiologists,
and speech pathologists influence their way of thinking
and they say to them, ‘If your child learns to sign
they won’t be successful. You don’t really want to meet Deaf people,
that’s not a good idea. You need to learn to speak
and to use the hearing that you have.’ There are two reasons why parents
are reluctant to learn to sign. The first is, they don’t really
want to accept that their child is actually deaf. They say things like
‘Well, he or she isn’t deaf, they just can’t hear a little bit.’ And secondly, they want
to change the child to become ‘normal’. And in their mind, normal means hearing. But the child will always be deaf. It doesn’t matter what kind of tools, whether they be cochlear implants
or hearing aids that you use, they’re not a cure. They are a tool. Children need language acquisition. That’s the foundation
for their growth and development. Research has proven
that auditory deprivation doesn’t affect cognitive ability;
it’s language acquisition. If you don’t have access to a language,
if you have language deprivation, that affects your cognitive development. Many children grow up
having social and emotional issues because they don’t have language. They have linguistic delay,
and unfortunately, deaf people are four times
more likely to have mental health issues than other members
of the broader community. They have mental health issues
because of isolation and also lack of communication. The isolation happens, for example, because the deaf child grows up
never meeting a Deaf person, never learning how to sign. They don’t grow up with peers
who are deaf like them. They never grow up
seeing a Deaf role model thinking, ‘Okay, well, you have a job,
you get married, you’ve got a house; well, I can do the same thing.’ They don’t see that. How do you expect a child to grow up
feeling positive about themselves and feeling confident, without role models
who are just like them? And secondly, communication: if you have no language,
it means you can’t express yourself, you can’t communicate with others,
you can’t think, you can’t develop relationships –
that’s dreadful! Not being able to communicate
is such a profound negative effect for a deaf child
who doesn’t have access to language. This quote talks about,
the involvement of people in the process of diagnosing
the deaf child and so forth. I talked about the medical model, and that they’re very heavily
involved in the early days, but all of those people
are people who can hear. In fact, the majority of them are. But there aren’t any Deaf people involved
in the early stages of a child’s life. I was born deaf, I’m soon going to marry,
I’m still going to be Deaf, you know? My partner is Deaf, my life experience, my employment and paying off a mortgage
happens to me as a Deaf person. I’m the one who’s the expert. Deaf people know what works
and what doesn’t. We have to be involved in that process
of supporting the parents and supporting the deaf child. In Australia and all over the world,
there are many successful Deaf people, successful Deaf adult role models
who are amazing! Last year, in fact, myself, I became
Young Australian of the Year. It was a huge honour for me
and for the Deaf community. We’re everywhere and we have lots
of successful Deaf people all over the world. Currently, research on children,
and pediatricians are saying things like, ‘Well, okay, deaf children
who have a cochlear implant, who learn to speak or use sign language,
it doesn’t matter which one they pick, it’s most important
to have access to both.’ My first language was Auslan;
I grew up using it from birth. I produced my first sign
when I was nine months old. English is my second language. And now, I’m a multilingual person. So research is saying:
children need to be bilingual. They can be trilingual! Or multilingual! We know that the more languages
that any child learns, the better they are. For example, if we’re talking about people being successful
and achieving things, last year I was invited
by the Governor-General to a dinner with Prince Charles. Can you imagine? I don’t know there
are many Australian people who can say that they did the same. (Laughter) I was in a photo shoot for Marie Claire. And what about this? I’m in a TV advertisement for Woolworths. (Laughter) All over the country I’ve been broadcast. We need this for our deaf kids. Deaf people are here. Our deaf children have a right
to grow up feeling confident and having good self-esteem as a person. The truth is that society
says it’s convenient for them rather than focusing
on the well-being of the child. They get on with their lives, and if they can modify the deaf child
to fit in with them, then it makes their life easier. And they think to themselves, ‘Well if I learn sign language,
that’s such an effort. I don’t really want to do that
to communicate with a deaf child.’ But Australia has signed and ratified
the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People
with [Disabilities]. Within that Convention there’s Article 24
which relates to education. It specifically says that
we must encourage sign language and facilitate its use to encourage young deaf children
to have a linguistic identity with the Deaf community. The Australian government has signed
and ratified that Convention, and now they’re disregarding it. We need to put it back on the table. It’s all of our responsibility; it’s our social responsibility
to make sure that happens. It’s our responsibility to recognise,
support, and facilitate the human rights of deaf children. I’m very fortunate, my human rights
have been recognised as I was growing up, but for so many deaf kids
they’re denied those rights. Deaf children have a right to know
they belong to a beautiful community that has a wonderful culture,
a rich history and traditions, and it has a language. To be part of a community where they have
people they can go to, to ask questions, to have role models,
and to have a support system. We are responsible to make sure
that they don’t feel like they’re lesser, or they’re inferior than other people just because they can’t hear. We need to get rid of that idea. They have a language! They have a community! They have a culture! They have Deaf Gain.
And they are fortunate. We want all of you
to be part of our journey, all of you in the audience. You can make the social change happen. So together, you, and me, and everybody can ensure that this irony
I talked about before will no longer happen. And we’re going to start that how? Well, I think I’m going
to teach you some Auslan. Who’s keen? Who wants to learn some signs? Fantastic, that’s wonderful. Okay. The first one’s ‘Hello’. Okay, ‘Hello!’ Secondly, ‘How are you?’ So you place the fingertips
of both hands on your chest and then move forward
and move out to a fist. So when you say to a Deaf person,
you can say ‘Hi. How are you?’ And that will make
the Deaf person feel really good that you’ve made the effort
to learn their language. The third one’s very important. It’s ‘challenge accepted’. ‘Challenge’ ‘accepted’. So today, will you accept your challenge to learn Auslan, our beautiful
Australian Sign Language? Yes? Fantastic. Challenge accepted. Thank you very much. (Applause)

21 Replies to “Deaf children need sign language | Drisana Levitzke-Gray | TEDxSouthBank”

  • Beautiful presentation! Powerful and truthful straight from the heart! Keep up with your important work spreading awareness about the importance of giving all Deaf children signed language(s).

  • So interesting, some signs were the same as American Sign Language, and some were so foreign looking. I love watching other counties sign languages!!

  • Thank you, Drisana Levitzke-Gray, for being an amazing Deaf role model to encourage the hearing society to enable sign language be used for our future Deaf children!

  • At first I didn't realize this was Australian Sign Language, (I hated muted the volume), and was like uhhh, I'm only understanding a few signs here and there, and they don't match what's on her mouth. lol

  • Yes this message! Keep spreading awareness! AND I understood 98% without volume.. but I also have friends in Sydney 🙂 I need to keep up on my AUSLAN!!

  • She's very very right. Deaf children who are given a cochlear implant, sent to speech therapy, told they need to speak, they need to be normal, it's usually a struggle for them. They grow up feeling left out, feeling different, afraid to speak because other kids will laugh or not understand them. With Sign Language they can express themselves a lot better and meeting other deaf kids they will not feel left out. It's simply much better for their own well being.

  • I, can understand her. I know, American Sign Language.

  • XD. I got sooooo frustrated not understanding this TED Talk until I realized that this is not American Sign Language. Forgive me, Australian folks, for my ignorance.

  • Right, My wife is deaf since born her mother and father don't know how to communicate with her grow up confused her life awful, now little better by me deaf I fix her better so hard.

  • Not even just deaf people. People with severe learning disabilities or disabilities in general. I volunteer with kids with special needs as a teachers aide at a special needs school. None of the kids are deaf, yet we use sign language on a daily basis with them. They all either have autism or Down syndrome. There are several that do not speak at all, and their form of communicating with us is to sign. It’s also a lot easier for us to sign to them what we want 🙂
    Things such as hungry, toilet, finished, thirsty, stand up, sit down, walking, and them expressing how they’re feeling eg excited, sad, happy

    This was a beautiful talk though, loved all of it!

  • Drisana you are an amazing Deaf role model for the deaf community – you continue to inspire and challenge! – Well Done!

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