Language and communication are vital. Let me give you an example: Many years ago, I was asked to work with a Deaf person who had been on remand for a long time. This person was worried about his family and his family were worried that he was going to be on remand indefinitely. He was totally neglected.
When I arrived to work with him, I thought there was something that just didn’t gel. So I went to his community on Country, sat down, and listened to the senior men and women of that community. I looked at the environment he was in, got information from a whole number of people there, and then I went to work with this man, his barrister, lawyers, and the judge.
What we had here was a person using an Aboriginal sign language system, not Auslan. I had to try to bridge that language gap from the Western law system to the cultural lore and practice; using spoken language interpreters from the community and from the family because I needed to understand that family and that gentleman’s case. We needed to ensure that we facilitated both languages and cultures in the most appropriate way.
To be able to understand language, culture, cultural lore and protocols, and the justice system took a lot of communication that sometimes went way over people’s heads. This case took a long time, but the outcome was positive. In the end, we all had an appreciation of this Deaf person and his family’s language, culture, cultural knowledge, and what it meant for them.
I am also very fortunate to let you know that this gentleman was able to go back on to Country. He is currently on Country, living with his family, and he is leading his hard of hearing nephew, teaching him cultural lore and practices. He has been able to take on that knowledge and pass it down to the next generation.
Communication is important. I often don’t have interpreters with me, but I can use pen and paper. I can use visual gestures. I can use Aboriginal sign language. I can get family members to help me in that process of communication. I am very fortunate. My cultural obligation is to make sure that access is there for Deaf and hard of hearing people on Country that have no spoken language and may have no Auslan. I think I have an important role as an Indigenous Deaf woman to make sure these people have access to their preferred way of communicating.