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Free sign language service to be made available in aged care

The Australian deaf community has scored a win with the announcement that a free sign language interpreting service will soon be available for senior Australians in aged care.

The minister for aged care and senior Australians, Richard Colbeck, said the service will make the aged care system more accessible for people who are deaf, deafblind or hard of hearing.

“It will ensure that these people can participate in the assessment, planning, and review of their care – something which may have been more difficult in the past,” he said.

As it stands, the deaf community struggles to find help within the aged care system, and any deaf Australian over 65 misses out on NDIS funding, which effectively leaves them out in the cold.

The MyAgedCare website currently lists 22 languages which can be interpreted, but no Auslan interpreters are offered.

This was described as “distressing” by members of the Australian deaf community, who spoke to Aged Care Insite last year.

The Australian Deaf Elders are an advocacy group whose members have spoken at community events organised by the royal commission into aged care as well as at the Melbourne hearing last October. They say that they are “extremely worried” at the prospect of entering the aged care system in its current form.

The lack of access to interpreters can make life difficult for the deaf community, especially as they age. End-of-life plans and managing superannuation can be near impossible, and hiring their own interpreters to come with them to the doctor or legal meetings can set them back $240 for two hours, and that’s when they can manage to find an interpreter.

There are some government-funded services for interpreters for the deaf, but these only cover medical trips.

Without interpreters, the deaf often have to rely on pen and paper, which, for someone who has Auslan as their first language, is problematic.

“Auslan has limited vocab. The gestures, the words, are very different to a hearing person. To write with pen and paper is really difficult to get the message across,” said Elizabeth Karn.

Group member Barry Moore said that, with pen and paper, he might try to communicate with someone and write a paragraph, only to receive a two-word answer.

“How do I understand these two words? With an interpreter life would be easier,” he said.

Jennifer Moore said she is frustrated as she struggles to afford an interpreter on retirement money and a pension and wants to join an exercise group and live her life to the full. She feels that she is “missing out”, and she and husband Barry are quite lonely.

“Jennifer says this really affects their quality of life. To live a full life of what life they have left, and to have the opportunity to fully communicate with everyone, is so important to them, to anybody … It’s affecting their mental health,” Tina Karn ,the group interpreter and a child of a deaf Australian (CODA), says.

The new service, starting this month, will provide appropriate sign language assistance to people who are receiving or want to access aged care services.

Both face-to-face and online interpreting, including on-demand video remote interpreting, will be on offer nationally, seven days a week and after business hours when required.

Colbeck said that bookings for the sign language service can be made online or by phone, email or fax, and the government will also commission translation of key aged care documents and information into Auslan videos and other materials that are suitable for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

“This is another step towards ensuring the needs of Senior Australians are met,” Colbeck said.

The service will be delivered through Deaf Service’s Auslan Connections, and they say this is a major step in addressing the gap in funding created by the NDIS.

Deaf Services CEO Brett Casey said this was a major accessibility milestone for deaf seniors, many of whom have not had regular access to information in their primary language.

“This commitment by the federal government creates a sustainable model for this support, ensuring agency and access for seniors to live the life they want, and to gain equitable access to the existing services provided to them.

“Deaf Services is proud to have been selected to deliver this program through Auslan Connections – continuing our support for deaf seniors.”

Elizabeth Karn told Aged Care Insite that she is happy that Auslan is finally to be recognised as an Australian Language through MyAgedCare.

“We would also like to encourage Minister Colbeck to recognise that deaf elders who will use this now accessible service still desperately need this service to accommodate their needs other than aged care services and medical appointments,” she said.

Tina Karn stresses the need for interpreters to be available to allow elder Australians to have an active social life.

“I would like for Minister Colbeck to see that our deaf elder community, who are a vulnerable group, need to be included equal to those under the age of 65 who are receiving NDIS interpreter funding for any matters. This would be closing the gap of exclusion for Australians with a disability,” she said.

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One comment

  1. Hi. This is great have interpreters for age care as we both are with age care as we did ask for Intrepreter for our needs for years as we both are 79 & my husband is 80 as we need activities & outing as we are lonely stay home too long since cv19 as we did fight for it with deaf Services as we want go day trip need more outdoor plus activities too
    The problem is my husband is join with oz care try get staff who can sign language for him still waiting for 3 months
    Long waiting is terrible. We need it now.
    Thank you
    Thank you to Liz Karn doing great job plus Jennifer Moore we are same with them too