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Deaf Australia and affiliated organisations express profound disappointment in Disability Royal Commission recommendations


The final reports of the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation of People with Disabilities, handed down on September 29 2023, have left the Deaf community disappointed. Despite extensive submissions by Deaf Australia and numerous other deaf organisations and individuals detailing the lived experiences of the Deaf community, not one of the 222 recommendations explicitly addresses the unique challenges faced by Deaf, Deafblind, hard of hearing and Deaf+Disabled people.

While recognising our identity as a disability group, we primarily identify as a culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) community, embracing the proud language of Auslan, culture, values, arts, and shared heritage. The barriers we encounter in every aspect of our lives do not stem from our deafness but are imposed by societal expectations, even from within other disability cohorts, dictating how we should be, communicate, act, and live.

Our disappointment in the recommendations of the Disability Royal Commission (DRC) is an understatement; we are profoundly disillusioned with the disparity between the promised potential of the DRC and its actual delivery. The broad and sweeping recommendations run counter to our advocacy, particularly during public hearings including Public Hearing 29, where the experiences of violence against Deaf and Deafblind people were discussed. We question the absence of focus on critical issues such as early intervention, language deprivation, Auslan as a human right, and the utmost necessity of a bilingual and bicultural model for deaf babies and children.

Of particular concern is the recommendation for the closure of special schools, a direct contradiction to the Deaf community's consistent call for more bilingual and bicultural schools. Institutions like Toowong State School in Queensland, where both deaf and hearing children learn in two languages—Auslan and English—are emblematic of the inclusive educational environments we champion. The closure of Deaf schools across Australia, despite our community’s pleas, has resulted in deaf children struggling in mainstream settings without adequate support and the presence of other deaf peers. What hearing people see as inclusion of deaf children is integration: a physical placement with an Auslan interpreter IF they are lucky with no other deaf peers, deaf mentors and deaf teachers of the deaf fluent in Auslan. This has failed spectacularly for deaf children. The International Disability Alliance’s Inclusive Education Report (2020) has explicitly stated: -

“...sign language access for learners who are deaf... [is] essential for meeting the right to education; this access cannot always be provided in local settings...”

While acknowledging the DRC's recommendation on Auslan interpreting, it is crucial to recognise that it only addresses service provision and fails to dismantle social barriers hindering our community's full engagement with society. Utilising Auslan interpreters does not mean that there is a true and inclusive society at play where any Deaf person can interact with any person they meet, but instead asks that the Deaf person waits until a qualified non-Deaf person is available to act as an intermediary. This recommendation is more about providing jobs to hearing people than about empowering our community members to become full citizens in their own communities.

Further, this recommendation holds little meaning without the right and ability to use Auslan. Ignoring crucial statistics, such as the high percentage of deaf babies born into non-signing families (97%) and the resulting language deprivation (50-70%), demonstrates a careless disregard for the unique challenges faced by the Deaf community.

The stories that emerged from the DRC are not new to us, as the national peak advocacy body for all Deaf, Deafblind, hard of hearing, and Deaf+Disabled people who use Auslan, and as Deaf individuals ourselves. We acknowledge the bravery of those who shared their traumatic experiences during the proceedings. However, it is disappointing that none of the recommendations recognise these stories, from language deprivation and educational inadequacies to systemic denial of access and shocking experiences across all stages of life and did not translate these into genuine recommendations that would lead to real change.

We urgently call upon the Australian Government and state and territory governments to rethink a one-size-fits-all approach to disability, and to consider the vital need for bilingual and bicultural approaches in early intervention and educational settings for all children born or becoming deaf, deafblind, hard of hearing, and deaf+disabled. We expect their responses to reflect this consideration by March 31.

Visual description

Opening slide: Graphic features white Deaf Australia logo on a green and brown gradient background. Below this is a circle shape with Royal Commission logo on purple background. Title reads "Deaf Australia and affiliated organisations express profound disappointment in Disability Royal Commission recommendations. Published: 18th December 2023."

Video: Shirley is sitting in a black desk chair against a white wall. She is wearing a black t-shirt and signing in a professional and plain manner towards the camera.

Closing slide: Graphic features white Deaf Australia logo on a green and blue gradient background. Text reads “Deaf Australia is a Deaf-led advocacy and information organisation in Australia representing all Deaf, Deafblind, and hard-of-hearing people and others who use Auslan (Australian Sign Language) as their language of preference. Contact us: [email icon] [email protected], [website icon], [Instagram and X icons] @deafaustralia, [Facebook icon] DeafAustraliaInc”

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