Our Position Papers
The Deaf Society has written three position papers on the three areas where we are focusing our advocacy efforts;
The position papers explain what we think are current problems for deaf people and what we think should change. You can help us by reading the papers and telling other people about them. The more people are aware of the inequalities deaf people have, the more we can try and do something about it.
In NSW and to varying degrees in other states, deaf and hard of hearing children are at risk of delayed language acquisition. For those who would benefit from instruction in Auslan (Australian Sign Language) access is often difficult and/or substandard.
Auslan in Early Intervention Programs
Early intervention programs for children 0 – 5 years old in NSW do not uniformly support the use of Auslan by families. The lack of access to Auslan results in deaf and hard of hearing children being at risk of delayed language acquisition, detrimentally effecting their basic education. Often programs actively discourage the use of Auslan or present signing and speaking as mutually exclusive options, yet introduce Auslan when all other options have ‘failed’. This mindset does not support families who already struggle in acquiring Auslan for themselves and for their deaf or hard of hearing child.
Auslan in Schools
The most common method of educating deaf and hard of hearing children within the public school system is using spoken English. While this is beneficial for some, a significant percentage of deaf and hard of hearing children find it difficult to access information via spoken language. Auslan is the optimal language to access the curriculum for this group. For others, Auslan is an excellent complementary language to increase access and broaden individual choices.
However, the use of Auslan in schools is of varying quality, as no national benchmark in Auslan competency for staff employed to work with deaf and hard of hearing students, exists. This allows students to be taught or have interaction with staff who have little or no competence in Auslan.
Signed English and Total Communication
The use of Signed English and Total Communication rather than Auslan in schools makes it unnecessarily difficult for young deaf and hard of hearing people to transition from school to work, TAFE and University.
Supported by the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (Article 24.3.b), Auslan is the language of the Deaf Community in Australia. It is the language used by NAATI-accredited1 Auslan interpreters who work for deaf and hard of hearing people to provide access in the workplace and in tertiary education.
We call for the introduction of measures to reduce the delayed language acquisition of deaf and hard of hearing children:
A language acquisition “Bilingual Safety Net” policy for early intervention programs for deaf or hard of hearing children, where Auslan programs for parents and children would be provided as part of all early intervention programs.
Under the Better Start program, family-friendly Auslan learning options for parents and children need to be developed further, to ensure that no family is forced to make a premature choice between Auslan and auditory-verbal approaches, so that no child misses out on access to early language.
Auslan is used as the national sign language of instruction in schools.
A benchmark of fluency for staff using Auslan with deaf and hard of hearing children in education settings is created where NAATI Paraprofessional accreditation or a recognised Deaf Relay Interpreter training or accreditation is the minimum requirement.
WHO WE ARE
The Deaf Society of NSW provides a range of services for deaf and hard of hearing people and their families. We work in partnership with the Deaf Community to enhance the quality of life of deaf and hard of hearing people, strengthen the community and advocate for changes to ensure fundamental rights and freedoms.
1 NAATI, the National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters
The Employment Assistance Fund (EAF) helps people with disability and their employers through financial assistance to purchase work modifications and work-related services. The inflexibility of the (EAF) for work-related Australian Sign Language (Auslan) interpreting assistance, reimbursement of interpreter travel costs, co-workers training funding and provision of Deaf Awareness Training affects the sustainability of deaf and hard of hearing people’s employment as does the lack of access to Registered Training Organisation (RTO) courses.
Work Related Auslan interpreting assistance
Under the “Auslan Level 1” stream of the EAF, assistance can be provided for work-related Auslan interpreting. Funding for this is capped at $6,000 per employee per year. This funding is not adequate if an employee needs to undertake induction training and requires interpreting on a regular basis throughout the year1.
Reimbursement of interpreter travel costs
Interpreters are paid for travel time when significant distances are involved. There is a gap between what EAF will pay and what interpreting agencies charge leaving the Disability Employment Service (DES) to pay the difference2 or take the risk that the employer will bear the costs and not claim unjustifiable hardship.
Co-workers training funding through the EAF
Under the “Auslan Level 3” stream of the EAF, employers of deaf and hard of hearing people can be reimbursed up to $810 for Auslan training. However, this training is limited to Certificate II in Auslan which is a high-level and time-consuming course requiring a level of commitment that co-workers are unable to give. This then means that deaf and hard of hearing people remain disadvantaged in the workplace and have limited communication with their co-workers.
Deaf Awareness Training
Employers of deaf and hard of hearing people can be reimbursed for up to $1,500 for Deaf Awareness Training. This is restricted to the provision of one session per year. New staff have to wait a year for the next session and a large organisation cannot enable all staff to have the training. This leaves the deaf and hard of hearing employee at risk of lack of awareness and understanding of their disability by their co-workers.
Access to RTO courses
Disability Employment Services try to use courses designed for jobseekers who wish to build on their qualifications by enrolling into courses provided by RTOs. Requests for the RTO to provide Auslan interpreters for a course are often denied with the RTO citing the cost of Auslan interpreters as too expensive, thus effectively barring deaf and hard of hearing people from entry into the workforce and progression in a chosen career.
We propose that:
The EAF be modified so that Auslan interpreting under “Auslan level 1” is uncapped or significantly increased.
The EAF be modified to incorporate travel payment for kilometres in line with interpreting agencies.
The EAF be modified to decrease the distance to travel for interpreters to incur travel fees and increase the
1. A three day induction session: $99 per hour x two interpreters x eight hours a day x three days = $4,752
2. Agency Distance to travel to incur travel fees
3. Hourly rate for travel time Kilometres charge;
Sign Language Communications NSW/ACT 100 km return $99 per hr 75c per km
Auslan Services Anything over 40 km from the CBD $83.50 per hr 50c per km
EAF reimbursement must be in excess of 200 km return $53 per hr. Nil hourly rate for interpreter travel time to be in line with interpreting agencies’ fee structure.
4. The EAF be modified to allow the “Auslan Level 3” stream Auslan training funding to be expended on Community (introductory) Auslan courses as well as Certificate II in Auslan.
5. Increase funding for Deaf Awareness Training to allow up to three sessions per deaf employee per year.
6. Any government funding provided to RTOs retains a fund to cover interpreting costs incurred by contractor organisations providing courses to deaf students.
7. Future government contracts for RTOs to provide courses specify the right of deaf and hard of hearing people to access them using qualified Auslan interpreters.
James was successful in obtaining employment within an international transport company as an apprentice heavy vehicle mechanic. The company required two week’s worth of induction training. James required Auslan interpreters to access the training. For ten eight-hour days of training the cost of Auslan interpreters amounted to over $17,000. The current capped $6,000 EAF allocation is not enough for intensive training such as James’. Without completing the training he would not have been offered a job.
Donna works in Singleton. She requires Auslan interpreters to access meetings and training. The nearest suburb where interpreters are available is Newcastle which is a 160 km return trip away. EAF will not reimburse for the cost of travel unless it is over 200 km for a return trip. The DES provider has been absorbing the cost of travel since there is a risk that if the cost was passed to the employer she might lose her job due to unjustifiable hardship. Due to a skills shortage of Auslan interpreters, sometimes an interpreter is required to travel from Sydney when none are available in Newcastle. This is a 376 km return trip. EAF will cover the cost of travel but the hourly rate is less than what interpreting agencies charge and they do not pay a kilometre rate of travel leaving the DES provider to pay the difference.
WHO WE ARE
The Deaf Society of NSW provides a range of services for deaf and hard of hearing people and their families, including Auslan and deafblind interpreting. We work in partnership with the Deaf Community to enhance the quality of life of deaf people, strengthen the community and advocate for changes, to ensure fundamental rights and freedoms.
Under a Disability Employment Services contract, the Deaf Society of NSW provides employment services to deaf and hard of hearing jobseekers and creates pathways into sustainable employment for them.
Without access to Auslan (Australian Sign Language) interpreters, deaf and hard of hearing people are in the same situation as a wheelchair user who faces a flight of stairs with no ramp or lift access. In certain areas of education, employment, volunteering and cultural and sporting events, deaf and hard of hearing people currently lack access to appropriately accredited Auslan interpreters1.
Access to Employment
The Commonwealth Employment Assistance Fund (EAF) provides funding to purchase work-related modifications and interpreting services with the current annual funding allocation for interpreting being $6,000. This is inadequate for many deaf and hard of hearing employees. Regulations dictate that the EAF does not fund interpreters unless a deaf or hard of hearing person is working for a required number of weeks and required hours per week. These restrictions limit opportunities available for deaf and hard of hearing people in their workplace, potentially being detrimental to their careers and professional development.
Access to Education
Current policy frameworks and insufficient funding combine to prevent deaf and hard of hearing students from accessing school curriculums. Federal and State education departments do not require NAATI2 accreditation for interpreters working in schools. When a special needs funding allocation is made to a school, it may be used to purchase interpreting services, but rarely covers full-time interpreting. As pay for educational interpreters is the lowest in the interpreting industry, schools struggle to retain their workforce. This results in accredited interpreters rarely being employed with schools opting for learning support officers who are often not trained to support deaf and hard of hearing students.
Access to Community Life
In areas of community life such as educational courses run by private providers, volunteering, sport and recreation opportunities, arts and cultural programs and events, access is minimal at best, so deaf and hard of hearing people find these generally difficult to access. Deaf and hard of hearing mothers of newborn babies have difficulty accessing a mother’s group and deaf and hard of hearing children wishing to participate in extra-curricular activities run by their school or sporting groups, must often do so without access to communication.
Interpreting Skills Shortage
Recognition of Auslan Interpreting as a national skills shortage area, as well as funding for training pathways are urgently needed, if the current shortage of qualified available interpreters is to be rectified. Without qualified interpreters, access to employment, education and community life will continue being out of reach to Australia’s deaf and hard of hearing people.
We call for the Federal government to work with its partner agencies and key stakeholders including deaf and hard of hearing people to ensure:
Tier 3 of the NDIS includes accredited Auslan interpreters as one of the supports, to remove gaps in access to employment, education and community life.
National standards are developed ensuring only NAATI-accredited interpreters are employed in ALL interpreting settings including school education.
Auslan interpreting is recognised as a National skills shortage area, where funding is set aside to invest in the creation of interpreting as a viable industry.
WHO WE ARE
The Deaf Society of NSW provides a range of services for deaf and hard of hearing people and their families, including Auslan (Australian Sign Language) and deafblind interpreting. We work in partnership with the Deaf Community to enhance the quality of life of deaf people, strengthen the community and advocate for changes, to ensure fundamental rights and freedoms.
1 An appropriate qualification would be one from NAATI, the National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters
2 NAATI is the National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters