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July 12, 2003

Protest heard loud and clear

From: South Australia Advertiser, Australia - Jul 12, 2003

By Health Reporter JILL PENGELLEY

DEAF people are protesting loudly against the Federal Government's refusal to provide them with interpreters.

On Monday, deaf South Australians who rely on sign language will march on Family and Community Services Minister Amanda Vanstone's Adelaide office.

Since July 1, doctors in surgeries around the state have had to resort to gestures and drawings because interpreters no longer accompany the deaf to appointments.

The Royal SA Deaf Society had appealed unsuccessfully for the Federal Government to take over provision of interpreter services, which were costing Deaf SA $180,000 a year to provide.

The State Government injected a one-off payment of $85,000 in February but the service could not continue without federal help.

Deaf SA chief executive Barry Mackie said the deaf were being discriminated against because the Federal Government provided interpreters for other non-English speakers.

"Auslan is not English," he said.

"English to a deaf person is like English to a Greek person."

The Federal Government has announced it will study the problem but has not agreed to pay for interpreters from July 1.

Profoundly deaf from birth, Lina Furley, 38, of Magill, will go to her regular specialist appointments without an interpreter.

Speaking through a sign language interpreter, Mrs Furley said her doctor was worried about how to communicate with her. She had no close family who could sign, her husband was also deaf and she could not afford to pay $114 to have an interpreter accompany her on each clinic visit.

"I don't think it's fair that deaf people, as Australian citizens, are unable to access services like that," Mrs Furley said.

"Immigrants who come from overseas and indigenous people can have interpreters paid for.

"My doctor felt that was discrimination and said: `How am I going to communicate with you?'."

Mrs Furley said the deaf should not have to rely on family members to accompany them to the doctor's surgery.

Australian Medical Association state president Bill Heddle said communication was critical to quality care."Breakdown in communication leads to lower standards of health care," he said.

Senator Vanstone said the deaf community would be involved in a study of issues surrounding interpreters.

"Even though these services have not been funded by the Commonwealth for a number of years, an independent researcher will be engaged to undertake a study to examine the supply and demand of interpreters," Ms Vanstone said.

"Once we have this information the Government will be better placed to respond to this important issue."

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