Catherine Bouris


Perrottet criticised for failing to provide Auslan interpreters

Perrottet criticised for failing to provide Auslan interpreters

Dominic Perrottet is facing criticism after it was pointed out he has made multiple appearances in his official capacity as Premier of NSW without making use of an Auslan interpreter for deaf and hard-of-hearing members of the community. This includes Monday’s ‘Freedom Day’ press conference from Watson’s Pub in Moore Park.

The absence of an interpreter was first noted by deaf activist Sherrie Beaver on Twitter, who said a source had told her Perrottet had cancelled Auslan interpreters for all NSW press conferences. She also stressed the importance of COVID-19 information being readily accessible to all, writing, “By being able to access information about changing COVID-19 restrictions in Auslan, Deaf people will be able to acclimate to the new COVID normal. Without access to information in Auslan, how will they be able to adjust life post-lockdown? Huge impact on their mental health!”

Speaking to the Australian, Beaver said, “Having Auslan interpreters present at press conferences gives deaf people access to important information, so they are able to make informed decisions and lead full lives, especially during the pandemic and being able to adhere to changing Covid-19 restrictions. Captions are not wholly reliable due to several reasons, but mainly technical because captions can fail and often lags. 

“Deaf people are often not familiar with jargons and terminology used in pressers, which is another reason why Auslan interpreters are important.”

Auslan is its own language with its own jargon and slang, and its grammar and vocabulary are quite different from English. According to the 2016 census, there are 10,000 native speakers in Australia, with many more speaking it as a second language. While not all deaf or hard-of-hearing people speak Auslan, providing an interpreter at government press conferences for those who do is an important way to ensure they feel like included and respected members of the community, and to ensure they have access to the same information at the same time as everyone else.

An ABC journalist then reached out to NSW Health, and was told by a spokesperson that as NSW starts to return to normal, there will be a range of media events, some of which may include the services of an Auslan interpreter, and some which may not. The spokesperson emphasised that when Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant would be speaking, an Auslan interpreter would always be requested.

The group Australian Lawyers for Human Rights echoed Beaver’s sentiments, tweeting, “COVID-19 Press conferences are a fundamental source of information in an ever-shifting environment. Failure to provide real-time information in an accessible manner violates the human rights of people with disability”. 

In addition to not using Auslan interpreters at media events on Sunday and Monday, Perrottet did not utilise the services of one at an event on Tuesday morning about his government’s plan to support small businesses impacted by lockdowns.

Image: Brook Mitchell/Getty Images

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