Comment: Auslan and the new world of communication for the deaf

Eddie was born deaf and grew up missing out on a lot of information due to communication barriers. Yet now a whole new world has been opened up to him after learning the national sign language Auslan.


For Paul 'Eddie' Nordheim - who was born deaf - Australian sign language Auslan has opened up a new world of communication for him. Source: SBS

I was born deaf due to German measles or rubella, as it was known. When my mother was pregnant, she contracted rubella and so I was born deaf.

I went to a deaf school where they taught what was called cued speech; it's pretty much a communication tool that helps with lip reading.

That's the way I communicated growing up until I was 17 or 18 when I started learning Auslan. I finally felt very much a part of the community and at ease communicating with people in a group because often in groups of hearing people I found it really difficult to communicate.

But with other deaf people it felt very natural as I could participate, I could understand what was going on at a group level and it was nice to feel a part of that.

In the hearing community when there's a big group, that sort of communication can be difficult. When there are just two or three people, that's fine but I really struggled in a bigger group.

Growing up was quite hard because I grew up in a family that could all hear, my parents and my brother are all hearing and none of them sign, they'd all be talking and often I'd say you know, “what's happened?” and I would get a really brief summary.

"The handicap of deafness is not in the ear; it is in the mind." - Marlee Matlin
So I'd always get the brief summary of information whereas my brother had full understanding of what was going on in the house.

That's not their fault, it's just they are hearing, though it would’ve be great if I was able to sign and was bilingual growing up as I missed out on a lot of information.

Because of this experience I have a really strong belief that deaf children these days should be bilingual; they should have access to both speech and Auslan so that later in life they're able to feel where they best identify, and for me that's with the deaf community and using Auslan.

I think it's great that more people are learning Auslan. Every day the deaf community is looking for more Auslan interpreters.

Deaf children miss out on having Auslan as part of their lives because there are no professionals or family members with the skills to communicate with them in Auslan. We need to really drive Auslan being available in schools.

Note: If you want to learn Auslan, contact your local deaf society.

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3 min read
Published 5 July 2016 at 6:04pm
By Paul 'Eddie' Nordheim
Source: SBS