On the witness stand, Doctor Damien Howard said high rates of hearing impairments in Aboriginal communities could be behind the high rates of Indigenous incarceration in the Northern Territory.
“It affects their ability to participate in a police interview, give instructions and take advice from legal representatives, and those types of things,” Dr Howard said.
“Particularly in terms of their ability to understand questions that are put to them in court in an often unfamiliar language and through a relatively unfamiliar person…and so immediate contact in that context is compromised.”
A study found 94 per cent of inmates in both Darwin and Alice Springs prison suffer from significant hearing loss.
An Indigenous Community Consultant, who is hearing impaired herself, said it’s extremely concerning children in detention are being hooded and restrained when they are likely to be hearing impaired.
“Taking away another sense from a person who already has a limited sensory is frightening. And that fear stays forever, the fear of having that happen again,” Indigenous Community Consultant Jodi Barney said.
“It distresses me that a process of such a form of discipline is used on children who can’t hear…their form of communication is lost in every sense...so they are no longer aware of their environment or are able to respond to anything that’s happening or predict anything that could happen.
“That trauma stays with them long after their sentence.”
Dr Damien Howard agreed.
“Because visual communication for these kids is so important, the spit hoods that have been used in the Northern Territory are not only just spit hoods, but they are vision hoods as well,” he said.
“The child is unable to do the face watching, the reading the body language to help them understand.”
The commission heard Aboriginal children with hearing loss are often mistaken as having behavioural problems.
“So they might wander around the classroom because they don’t understand what’s going on, or try to observe other children’s work to know what to do. But that’s seen as breaking school rules,” Dr Damien Howard said.
The study referred to at the commission indicated 30-45 per cent of Aboriginal adults are likely to have a significant level of hearing loss.
The commission also heard studies relating to hearing impairments have been largely ignored.