Originally from Colac, Pantelic moved to Melbourne when Zveki was one, as her hometown lacked child care centers and schools that provided proper education for the deaf. Zveki is now seven and uses Auslan.
“There’s a real lack of knowledge about the needs of the deaf and what it takes for a child to thrive,” she said.
Ross Joyce, CEO of the Australian Federation of Disability Organizations, said there needs to be a complete rethink of the way education is delivered to people with special support needs.
“Young people with disabilities are not encouraged to pursue tertiary education and at the end of secondary school are forced to go to work or to sheltered workshops or become unemployed. We have to do better,” he said.
Victoria’s deaf managing director, Philip Waters, said: “Can you imagine being a 10-year-old who can’t communicate in different scenarios waiting two weeks at school for a teacher who can understand them? It is too little and does not matter much.”
Waters said 97 percent of deaf and hard of hearing babies were born to parents who had no hearing problems, and 80 percent of them didn’t know Auslan, which has proven to help deaf children read and write.
According to the 2021 census, 16,242 Australians use Auslan at home, but Deaf Australia believes this number underestimates the true number.
“The (education) department doesn’t recognize that deaf students are at the twin intersections of both a cultural and language group and some kind of disability,” Waters said.
Skye Kakoschke-Moore, managing director of Children and Young People with Disability Australia, said there was a lack of data on the funding given to deaf students in regional and remote areas and how it was used.
A lack of Auslan interpreters or teachers of the deaf, especially in rural and regional areas, also creates a gap in accessibility.
According to Deaf Australia’s submission to the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability, there were only about 10 to 15 Auslan interpreting students per year in Victoria. Of these, a maximum of five would pass the certification test.
“This means that the interpreting industry is stagnant with only about seven to ten new interpreters per year at the national level,” the report said.
Bianca Oldham, whose 16-year-old son is deaf, said qualified Auslan interpreters often choose well-paid freelance work over teaching, a role that wouldn’t pay as much.
“The teachers of the deaf ask my children what the sign is for things. It shouldn’t be. They should be fluid,” she said.
A three-year research project has been launched to connect services, collect national data, identify funding gaps and assess outcomes for deaf and hard-of-hearing children.
Valerie Sung, an associate professor at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, launched a national register of children’s hearing outcomes last month, which will first target students in Victoria and Queensland.
“Everyone who works with these children has recognized that there are disparities in outcomes; that is why there is so much work to be done in this area.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Education said the government is spending $1.6 billion on disability integration reforms in public schools to increase support for students. The funding is part of a $3 billion investment in inclusive education for students with disabilities.
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