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July 14, 2003

Deaf community protests erosion of interpreter services

From: ABC Online, Australia - Jul 14, 2003

Reporter: Nance Haxton

TANYA NOLAN: In South Australia, the hearing impaired have taken to the streets to protest at what they see as the erosion of services that guarantee them their quality of life.

Today around 200 deaf people marched on the office of Community Services Minister, Senator Amanda Vanstone, because of the Federal Government's decision to cut funding to interpreter services.

Nance Haxton reports from Adelaide.

BARBARA ELSDEN: We were born here in Australia, and they support people from overseas with interpreting services, but why do the deaf have to wait? It's not fair.

NANCE HAXTON: It may not have been the vocal protest that Federal ministers are used to, but it was rowdy just the same. More than 200 deaf people gathered on the steps of Senator Vanstone's office in Adelaide, carrying placards including "are you listening Mr Howard?" and "Mrs Vanstone – the deaf need interpreters too!"

BARBARA ELSDEN: You can see that the people here today are showing Senator Vanstone that we're angry. This is deaf applause, that is happening now, shaking of hands above the head, waving of hands. It really shows that we need to have support.

NANCE HAXTON: The Federal Government has traditionally provided funding for the services through the Department of Immigration, but that was cut seven years ago, as signing was not deemed to be a language of settlement.

Deaf SA CEO, Barry Mackie says his organisation has picked up the funding shortfall ever since, but can no longer provide translation services.

BARRY MACKIE: The Commonwealth already provide that interpreting for other non-English speaking people. But for some reason they exclude the deaf. And Auslan, which is the language of the deaf, is not English.

NANCE HAXTON: Barbara Elsden started interpreting for Deaf SA in the hope of saving someone else the same pain she went through. The daughter of deaf parents, she had to tell her father he had only a few days to live because he could not understand what the doctor was saying.

She says her situation highlights the need for professional independent interpreters for deaf people.

BARBARA ELSDEN: You also tend to want to protect your parents from bad news, so sometimes you leave out stuff that you don't want to hurt them with, so that of course makes it… it cuts off their independence and their right to know, too.

NANCE HAXTON: Senator Vanstone says the Federal Government is doing a study on the need for translation services for the deaf, which should be finished by October. She says there are no plans to provide replacement services before the study is completed.

AMANDA VANSTONE: Well, the Commonwealth does provide interpreting for deaf people in the use of Commonwealth services, but that's not what's being sought here. What's being sought is additional interpreters for other services, and as I say, the Commonwealth is engaging in a scoping study to look at where the needs are, where the services are, and how best to find a Commonwealth role to do this.

NANCE HAXTON: However, deaf person Marina Maggs, speaking through an interpreter, says in the meantime, the lack of free translation services means she cannot live a normal life.

MARINA MAGGS (translated): It's caused a lot of stress in my family because I have three deaf children and a deaf husband, and deaf people require interpreters' services so that we can live the same life as our hearing peers.

TANYA NOLAN: Marina Maggs there, speaking through an interpreter to Nance Haxton.

©2003 ABC