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Engage with Deaf Consumers

English is a second or non-preferred language for most Deaf people. Communicating via lip-reading or written notes is therefore inappropriate for most Deaf people.

The need for an interpreter should be considered even if the person has good speech skills. 

Languages Deaf People May Use

If born in Australia, Deaf people are likely to use Australian Sign Language (Auslan) as a first or preferred language. 

If born overseas, they may use a foreign sign language. For example, American Sign Language (ASL) is quite different from British Sign Language (BSL), even though English is the spoken language of both countries.  

Before Booking an Interpreter

Appropriate terminology should be used to refer to Deaf patients – for example, the term ‘signing Deaf’ is preferable to ‘Deaf and dumb’ or ‘Deaf-mute’, which are considered offensive. 

Before booking a health care interpreter for a Deaf person, health care providers need to ascertain a patient’s preferred mode of communication, which may be Auslan, Signed English (usually used by Deaf children and adolescents only), or Fingerspelling only (usually only used by elderly Deaf people).

Deaf or Blind patients may use: 

  • Hand over hand (adaptation of Auslan)
  • Visual frame (adaptation of Auslan), or 
  • Tactile fingerspelling

If a Deaf patient lacks fluency in Auslan, Signed English or fingerspelling, a Deaf relay interpreter may also be required to work in a team with an Auslan interpreter. In this situation, the relay interpreter is a Deaf person who transfers meaning between Auslan and a highly visual form of communication that can be understood by the patient. For information on booking interpreters for patients, carers and families who are Deaf and from a culturally and linguistically diverse background, for example a deaf child who uses sign language (Auslan or another sign language) and their family does not speak English, please contact us for assistance.

Tips for Working With Auslan Interpreters

Auslan is the language of the deaf community in Australia, and has its own distinct structure, which differs from English. For example, in English the sentence construction will be I saw a beautiful black cat this morning while in Auslan the sentence structure will be Cat, black, I saw this morning, beautiful.   

When working with an Auslan interpreter for face-to-face or video interpreting for a patient who is deaf: 

  • Ensure lighting and seating arrangements allow for clear communication to take place. It is best if the interpreter is seated next to the main speaker, with the client seated at the front.
  • The interpreter does not give a literal word for word interpretation, but an abridged version - this may take more or less time, depending on the differences between languages.
  • The patient will look at the interpreter as well as at the person speaking. Therefore, when appropriate the speaker should look at the patient, not the interpreter.