Sign language awareness builds in Eyre Peninsula

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By Kaia Wallis

A community group in Port Lincoln is working to make the region more inclusive for those with hearing impairments by offering free sign language classes.

For the last year around 20 Eyre Peninsula locals have each week come together for the classes, which are run by Auslan Eyre Peninsula and taught by local Bronwyn Warland, who first learnt sign language to communicate with her son Lakota who relies on the language.

The community group is now looking to bring in an experienced teacher to upskill Bronwyn in Auslan – also known as Australian sign language – and has set up a GoFundMe page to raise money for the cause.

“We want to keep raising awareness of the language and make the community more inclusive for everyone. We have all our donations building up in a bank account and everyone’s been very supportive of what we’re doing,” Bronwyn says.

The group hopes the teacher will provide Bronwyn with the skills to teach more advanced signs to the broader community, including emergency services, SA police and the CFS.

“There are so many people in our community who rely on sign language as their form of communication through deafness or disability; so we think it’s really important for emergency services to know them and we’d love to eventually offer it to them,” Bronwyn says.

Right to left: teacher Bronwyn, son Lakota and mother-in-law Faye Austin, who helped create the group. Image: Port Lincoln Times

Right to left: teacher Bronwyn, son Lakota and mother-in-law Faye, who helped create the group. Image: Port Lincoln Times

For many regional Australians learning sign language is an often-difficult task only able to be done through online courses, leaving those with hearing impairments and disability unable to communicate with their family, friends and local community.

Auslan Eyre Peninsula provides the only free sign language class in the region, with the only other option being online courses that cannot provide the same level of interaction and may not teach the correct Auslan dialect.

“There are many different dialects of sign language within Australia so someone in SA might sign up to a course and end up learning the northern dialect, which is a completely different language,” Bronwyn says.

Her connection to the cause is personal. Her son Lakota was born with a disability and relies on sign language as his primary form of communication.

“It’s a beautiful language and it makes our community so inclusive. Learning to sign, it opened up a whole new world for him,” Bronwyn says.

“He wasn’t able to communicate with many people before but now the language is spreading across the community. It’s spreading right across the Eyre Peninsula, it’s amazing and so inclusive.”

Awareness raised by the group has even stretched across borders, with people in Victoria reaching out to Bronwyn with questions about the language and group.

Bronwyn says many in her local community have felt the impact, including an elderly woman named Rosalie who has been deaf since she was five years old and enjoys teaching students light-hearted signs they might otherwise not learn.

Another woman from a remote community has travelled down to a number of classes to improve her signing confidence, which has led her to start teaching the language to children at her local school.

“We’ve had people from all walks of life come to classes. Some have family members, and some are starting to lose their hearing and want to learn signs so they can communicate when they go deaf,” Bronwyn says.

“There are all kinds of different people wanting to learn, for all kinds of reasons.”

More information can be found on the Auslan Eyre Peninsula Facebook page.

Header image courtesy of Port Lincoln Times.

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