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News / City Life

Things you only know if you're an Auslan interpreter

Julie Judd Auslan Interpreter
Photograph: Graham Denholm

... according to Julie Judd, chair of the Australian Sign Language Interpreters’ Association and Auslan interpreter for 34 years

There is no such thing as a typical day.

“[I interpret for] everything from conferences to court, police interviews, counselling, mental health, medical appointments and the births of babies. The only thing I haven't done is a bar mitzvah.”

The National Disability Insurance Scheme has changed deaf people’s lives in a big way.

“With the advent of the NDIS deaf people now are able to receive funding to participate in things that they perhaps wouldn't have been able to participate in in the past because there's never been any funding for social activities. If they have a goal such as they might want to learn sewing or have a hobby that they've always wanted to participate in, they can now have funding in their package to have an interpreter go along with them.”

TV stations sometimes don’t broadcast vision of an interpreter in an emergency.

“We negotiated with the broadcasters to stop cutting the interpreter out of the screen. [Broadcasters think] we just don't look good on the commercial television channels. They don't like it, but we negotiated with industry body for free to air and pay TV bodies to agree that when there's an emergency they will not cut out the interpreter.” 

Not every deaf person can read English.

“People think that if we put captions on the screen then deaf people are going to understand. But that's a fallacy, because not all deaf people are fluent in English because you can't hear it. It's a bit like me saying to you, ‘OK, I'm going to cover your ears. You go to Japan and you to learn Japanese.’ You're not going to learn it just by reading it on your screen.” 

Signing is sometimes faster than speaking, but not always.

It's not always a word-for-word equivalent. So like in English would say, ‘How are you today?’ That’s four words. In Auslan there is one sign for that. But for example, a concept like photosynthesis. There are a lot of parts to say ‘photosynthesis’. I could finger spell the word, but if the deaf person didn't know what that was then I might have to unpack that. So sometimes there's not that direct equivalent.” 

Countries that share a spoken language might have totally different sign language.

“The sign language is completely different in Australia and America, because of the history of sign language [ASL] being brought to America from France and [Auslan] being brought to Australia from Britain, so they’re totally different systems.” 

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