3.6 Language


Welcome to the vital part of this Toolkit – about language use with deaf people. 

Language access and language rights are critical issues for Deaf people, as they are fundamental to our ability to access the information and the interpersonal and organisational communication necessary to flourish as individuals and as a community and to be fully included in society.

It is a basic human right that deaf children and adults should have access to sign language from early age, to interact with their family at home, in the community, and with professionals in sign language, and access to education in sign language.  It is particularly crucial for Deaf babies and children to have access to Auslan from day one to prevent language deprivation which is a cognitive developmental issue with lifelong cognitive, social, and economic consequences.  It is also a human right for deaf adults to have access to their preferred sign language interpreters, and to using sign language in contexts they need to without being forced to use other languages they are not comfortable with, or that they are disadvantaged by.

It is important to note that while providing visual access to spoken English in various contexts through the use of captions or visual signage or transcripts etc is generally encouraged, this should not be regarded as an equivalent substitute to providing access through Auslan.

Auslan is recognised as a true, natural, and accessible sign language that deaf people in Australia use as their main community language. For some deaf people, it is their first language, however many would have been introduced to Auslan post-schooling years.  There are also other signing communities with people who may or may not identify with Deaf community. It is therefore important when providing access to information through Auslan to consult with the intended audience about their language and communication access preferences and work with their preferred choice of professional interpreters.

In the last 5 years, a number of events have necessitated the inclusion of Auslan interpreters in key public news broadcasts, thus greatly increasing the exposure of Auslan to the broader public and the awareness amongst various organisations of the importance and value of providing access to Auslan to ensure inclusion for Deaf people.  In the same timeframe, the advent of the NDIS has empowered Deaf people with funding to facilitate their own inclusion and communication goals.  These two factors have driven a critical imbalance in demand and supply of Auslan interpreting.  Simply put, there is not enough Auslan interpreters to go around for deaf people in Australia.  This makes it important to consult with the Deaf community before assuming the provision of interpreters is appropriate for a particular event, lest they inadvertently exacerbate the shortage for something the Deaf community would not choose to prioritise or would recommend a different approach to accessibility.

When an organisation has established that providing access to Auslan interpreters for an event or setting is appropriate, it is also important that they not leave responsibility for finding interpreters to individual deaf people or expect them to use their individual NDIS allocation.  Instead, event organisers should take responsibility for booking interpreters themselves, or where the event has multiple sessions, organise an interpreted session and publicise this to the Deaf community with plenty of advance notice.

You will find three downloadables to aid you with this area:

  • Snapshot of Language Rights of deaf people pdf
  • Language Rights Guideline pdf
  • Language Rights Checklist pdf

Visual description

Deaf interpreter has long curly blonde hair and is wearing a grey plain long-sleeved shirt. She is signing in a friendly and informative manner towards the camera.

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