At school, I copied and wrote in italics from the blackboard. The teacher gave me a big tick and good marks for nice writing but I was too scared to ask him what the story was about. I didn’t have the confidence. I did not understand the whole story – I didn’t understand most of what I had written.
We weren’t supposed to sign at school. Teaching was completely oral at the time. But language makes us. Facial expression and body language is really important too. Sometimes, we were slapped when we signed. Oralism ricocheted across to other schools and it was forbidden to sign in other schools set up in the country. The teachers thought that if we signed, we were a bit stupid.
Now at present, looking at the Victorian College of the Deaf, there is a big difference compared with my school in 1940. I was shocked to see present students signing to any teacher with a lot of confidence. I would never have had that confidence in my wildest dreams. Now, every wall in the classroom is covered with posters etc. Our walls only had the Latin alphabet and numbers. We would try to copy them out but I wouldn’t understand.
There were no resources for my Mum to learn sign language. She only learned what I could teach her. What I taught my mum pales into insignificance compared to what parents can learn now. To be able to communicate with their children in so many ways – both oral and signing – is wonderful.
I think cochlear implants are like glasses. They can help if you’re deaf like glasses can help if you can’t see well. But if your child is born totally deaf, it’s important to provide options for the hearing culture and the Deaf culture. Perhaps parents are wary of sign language but see what your child is comfortable with.
The babies now are lucky. They have resources to help their parents learn how to sign with them. I was so nervous and missed out on so much as a boy.
It’s great to give parents the responsibility for teaching their child to communicate well. Simple signs like aunty, grandma etc. To be able to learn to sign at an early age is very good. They can learn oralism and sign language. It is every child’s right to decide.
When I was growing up, Sign Languages were not widely recognised as proper languages with their own grammar and syntax. Deaf culture and deaf history were not talked about.
Later, I thought ‘Where are my rights to use my language? I want to instil pride in Deaf culture.” Now, I have four children and grandchildren. The next generations are all hearing but they all sign too. They can’t understand me when I use oralism but they can understand sign.
In 1987, The Federal Government finally recognised AUSLAN (Australian Sign Language) as the true language for born-deaf people.
I did not even know that AUSLAN is Deaf`s first language till when I was 56 years old.
“Language we make also makes us”is a well known motto in the Deaf world.
I must admit that Auslan plus a huge number of technical gadgets are already there and notice a big diversity in the Deaf world is about “famous” attitude which we can feel comfortable to share with my favourite motto:
“To your own self you must be true… Be who you are and be proud of it.”
– Stan Batson