Sixteen year old Ketina has been accessing VidKids for over a year now. Ketina’s Kintore Street Special School teacher Janine Morrow explains why Ketina has been benefiting so much from VidKids:
“Ketina comes from a remote community and she has been deaf since contracting meningitis at an early age. Ketina appears to have developed a type of signed communication with her close family and seemed able to get her message through to them. She has a number of additional health and learning needs.
“Ketina used to get very frustrated trying to communicate with other people as she usually could not tell them what she wanted. She was very isolated in her mainstream classroom and as such, her education has been very limited. She started at Kintore Street Special School in June 2013 and in October, she moved into Katherine. She has made significant progress since then. She has really only started reading this year.”
VidKids Officer Vanessa Adzaip adds, “Ketina didn’t have much language skills or confidence when I first met her last August. It was hard for her to make friends. She would look down a lot when I would try to sign to her and it was hard to get Ketina to maintain eye contact which is so important when you are signing.
“Ketina has come a long way since I started working with her. Ketina had begun learning Auslan with the Talking Hands E-School program offered by the NT Department of Education a couple of years ago. Since I have met her I can’t believe how much more Auslan she has learned in that time and how much she has changed her life. She has really matured and become more independent. She is now looking after other students that have disabilities or problems or who have hurt themselves.
“Through VidKids, we encourage personal growth, independence and self-esteem. We teach the children about health issues and encourage their development across all areas including education so they can have greater opportunities in the future. We have a family centred approach and work collaboratively with healthcare professionals, teachers and other community members.”
Janine explains how Ketina feels her life has changed recently: “Since moving to a local hostel in Katherine and attending Kintore Street Special School daily, Ketina’s signing has really improved. She now feels a lot more confident with signing and so she tries to do it more often.
“Working with Vanessa helps her develop confidence in communicating with other people. It also helps her to learn new words and how to sign them. It helps us as teachers to learn signs too. It is good that Ketina is better able to tell people what she wants and they now understand her a lot better. Her school friends are learning to sign with her too.
“Ketina’s schoolwork has really improved and we are very happy with her progress. She really enjoys reading books now and is learning about adding in Maths. We are able to extend her learning more now. VidKids has provided Ketina with a laptop to use to access Video-Conferencing sessions and to support her education program. She is currently using it to learn how to send emails so that she can complete a Certificate 1 in Work Preparation.
“Ketina really enjoys helping to look after the younger children here at school. They see her as their big helper. She has indicated she would like to move back to her community and work in childcare when she leaves school.”
Many severe to profoundly deaf indigenous children rely on a mixture of local community signs, home signs, gestures, key lip patterns, a few words and physical demonstration to communicate. Students may be isolated and frustrated due to communication issues. However, it is important to note that some children have highly developed communication skills using Indigenous Sign Languages. For example, those who use Yolgnu Sign Language have well developed communication skills.
Roughly two thirds of indigenous speakers in remote Australia do not use English in the home and English is generally the primary language in schools. Deaf signing mentors can help break down these and other barriers. They offer the child and family the opportunity to see the accomplishments of adult deaf role models; and open the door to the broader community of Deaf people in Australia.
Aboriginal people experience ten times the level of hearing loss (Conductive Hearing Loss) and ear disease compared to non-indigenous Australians. Approximately 50 to 90 percent of Aboriginal children living in remote communities will suffer from recurring episodes of Otitis Media (middle ear infection) before the age of five.1 If deaf children are not well supported they can be isolated by lack of communication and experience reduced educational opportunities which in turn leads to lower levels of employment, poorer living conditions, poorer health outcomes and increased social isolation as adults. Devastatingly, 95 per cent of Aboriginal inmates at Alice Springs Prison have a hearing loss.2 Yet with the right supports, deaf children can reach their potential and achieve their own wellbeing.
1 First Peoples Child & Family Review, Vol. 3, Number 4, 2007, pp 96 – 105