September 20-26 is the National Week of Deaf People and across Australia celebrations will involve sharing awareness of local, State and National Deaf communities, recognising their achievements and spreading the word about language culture history.
The week coincides with the International Week of Deaf People and International Day of Sign Languages on September 23, run by the World Federation of the Deaf.
Both the National and International weeks this year have the theme ‘Celebrating thriving Deaf Communities’.
Chief Executive of Deaf Australia Jen Blyth says this year’s theme recognises that Deaf communities have been expanding and thriving.
“Traditionally, we take this opportunity to promote awareness of Deaf people and our communities through a social and rights-based model – as an opportunity to get the wider hearing community to see us, our community, language and culture as something to be celebrated and not as a medical or charity-oriented disability group,” she says.
For people who are Deaf, Deafblind or hard of hearing, Ms Blyth says the National Week of Deaf People is “no different to Latin music festivals or Chinese New Year” and gives them an opportunity to “go home” to their community by being involved in celebrating and sharing experiences together.
“This is a week full of accessible events – for a change there are zero barriers for us in accessing anything,” she says.
“Everything is in Auslan, has captions or is very visual.
“There is no reliance on audio quality, although this is present too, but if something is on mute, that’s okay too because it is still accessible to us.”
The week began with the online Flow Festival of Auslan storytelling, Deaf Slam Poetry, dance, theatre, short films, children’s art activities, workshops, artist talks, Deaf Indigenous storytelling and art workshops, Queer Arts and Deafblind Arts, which continues today.
Deaf Australia is also sharing a different video each day this week as a COVID-safe way to engage and spread awareness.
The topics for the videos range from ‘cherishing deaf history’ and ‘human rights in times of crisis’ to ‘deaf culture and arts’.
“Hearing people or deaf, deafblind and hard of hearing people are invited to learn and celebrate alongside us,” Ms Blyth says.
“Most of all, listen to us when we celebrate our language, community and culture.
“We are a very proud bunch!”
The International Day of Sign Languages is also important to integrate into the week of celebrations, as Ms Blyth says Auslan (Australian Sign Language) is an integral part of culture.
“Auslan is at the very heart of our community and culture; and is an unifying characteristic.
“We identify more as a Cultural and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) group than a disability cohort.
“When you are Deaf, you see the world in a different way. You communicate differently. You seek out others who are Deaf because they understand you. You don’t believe you have a disability—and you don’t want to be fixed.”
Auslan is yet to be recognised as an official language in Australia but the advocacy of organisations and communities did achieve an important change to the Australian Census in 20201, with Auslan included as a prompt under the ‘other’ category for languages spoken at home.
Deaf Australia hopes the change to the question will help to collect more accurate data on the number of people using Auslan to communicate.