Connecting through Auslan

Published: 20 June 2024
Author: Training, Skills and Higher Education

Becoming fluent in Auslan has given Bianca Oldham a way to support her Deaf son.

Bianca Oldham’s journey in Auslan began because of her son, who is Deaf. She wanted to communicate fluently with him, so she started to learn the language and then fell in love with it.

‘We enrolled my son into a school that had a Deaf facility. At a Deaf basketball event, my son was signing with some Deaf adults, and I only knew the very basics of signing, like finger spelling,’ Bianca said.

‘I thought to myself, this is probably how my son has felt all of his life, missing out on the conversations that are happening in the hearing world, and it really made me think that I need to do more.’

She started to learn through one-on-one sessions with Deaf people, which gave her the confidence to train for her Diploma of Auslan at Melbourne Polytechnic.

TAFE provided the pathway

Bianca loved being a part of the Melbourne Polytechnic courses, where the teaching is delivered by Deaf staff who share their personal experiences.

‘Each of those teachers really brought something new to us in their own life experience because they've all grown up in different scenarios,’ she said.

‘Also, seeing the students training with me having the same passion for Auslan and knowing that there's people out there interested to learn, it's really heartfelt.’

Bianca managed her study part-time while also working at Expression Australia which is a Deaf organisation. Working alongside Deaf and hard-of-hearing colleagues immersed her in the culture and helped her become more fluent in Auslan.

‘Working within a Deaf organisation as well as studying Auslan, it really helped me have a better understanding and really deep dive into that language and culture,’ she said.

Bianca now works as Manager of Community Engagement at Expression Australia, which is a not-for-profit organisation created by and for the Deaf community.

Expression Australia provides services for Deaf and hard-of-hearing people such as interpreting, translation, captioning, support coordination and other NDIS services as well as audiology.

The organisation has strong links with Melbourne Polytechnic, giving students a chance to gain real-world experience through the Student Immersion Program and being the go-to organisation for interpreter bookings.

‘We love the opportunity to network with Melbourne Polytechnic to support their students into job pathways as well as having them coming to visit us to learn about the organisation,’ Bianca said.

The career options are wider than you think

When most people think about Auslan and sign language, they probably think of the interpreters signing at concerts or on television. But Bianca explains that there is a wide range of roles for people with Auslan skills.

‘Many people have the goal of becoming a qualified interpreter, which is what you would see on stage and on news reports and things like that, but there’s certainly many other roles.’

‘There are roles as note takers and support workers, or working within a school that has a Deaf facility to provide support for children.’

‘Or you could work for a Deaf organisation. Here at Expression Australia, we have many different teams within our areas that you could work within and work alongside Deaf and hard-of-hearing people.’

Bianca is excited to be a part of the Deaf community, engaging with them and getting their feedback, organising events, building relationships and creating awareness.

‘One of the things that we do is to provide Deaf awareness training to organisations and businesses, as well as our Auslan Community courses, which can be tailored.’

‘There are a lot of different ways that we can connect and support the process of building understanding.’

Valuable training that’s free from fees

The Victorian Government is giving more Victorians access to Auslan skills and qualifications at TAFE without the cost of tuition fees through the Free TAFE program.

The Diploma of Auslan, Diploma of Interpreting (Auslan) and Advanced Diploma of Interpreting (Auslan) were added to Victoria’s Free TAFE course list last year, joining more than 80 courses and short courses in priority areas.

Bianca wouldn’t hesitate to recommend studying Auslan at TAFE to anyone who is interested.

‘I would 100% recommend it for the pathway that it can give you within your career or making your business Deaf aware and friendly. Wherever you work, you make a difference by being someone who knows Auslan,’ she said.

‘For me, it's given me the best approach to support my child throughout his journey and to have a better understanding of his life as well.’

Read more about Free TAFE.