Frequently Asked Questions


1. What is Auslan?

Auslan (Australian Sign Language) was officially recognised as a language by the Australian Federal Government in 1987.

Auslan is based on two-handed signs and incorporates a two-handed alphabet (fingerspelling).

Auslan is a visual language using signs to create meaning via the hands, orientation, location, movement and expression (HOLME). Signs are related to concepts not words.

There are registered Auslan Interpreters by NAATI (National Accreditation Authority of Translators and Interpreters) which is the regulatory body for interpreting and translating. This was first incorporated in 1982 by NAATI and this gave a legitimate meaning to Auslan as a language.

The first Auslan dictionary was published in 1989 and now there are various resources to choose from, ranging from dictionaries, websites, interactive CD's and video/DVD programs. Auslan Signbank is a rich source of information and signs. Registration is required for full access to the Auslan Signbank database, at no cost.

2. Where do I go to learn Auslan?

The WA Deaf Society offers Basic and Intermediate Auslan classes. These are community based courses designed to give you a taste of what Auslan and the Deaf community is about.

Central Institute of Technology (CIT) in Northbridge conducts accredited Auslan courses from Certificate II through to Diploma level. Study options include full-time and part-time in order to suit your needs. CIT regularly runs the Diploma of Interpreting course for aspiring Interpreters.

Occasionally other institutions will run Auslan courses if there is sufficient demand from interested parties, so feel free to contact your closest TAFE for more information.

3. What are the statistics of Deaf population?

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 1993 there were 93,600 people in WA with some form of hearing loss and 1,200 of those people use Auslan as their main mode of communication.

In the 2001 Census, people were asked what was their primary language used at home. There was no option to identify Auslan users and most people marked English. The majority of Deaf and hard of hearing people communicate with their families in English and communicate with their friends and some family members using Auslan.

95% of Deaf babies are born to non-Deaf families.

Contact the Australian Bureau of Statistics for updated information.

4. How do Deaf people get their Drivers Licence?

Deaf and hard of hearing people go through the same process as anyone in Australia to obtain a drivers licence. They do not have any exemptions or exclusions, and are required to pass every stage of the testing process. However there is an opportunity for Deaf people to access the written tests in their preferred language via an Auslan interpreter. For more information please see the Department of Transport’s website. 

5. What to do if you have been refused an interpreter?

In WA if you have been refused an Auslan interpreter by government agency (including public hospitals), this is against the WA Language Services Policy where it states that all state government departments are required to provide equal access to their service.

The WA Deaf Society advocates for a Deaf person’s right to have their preferred interpreter at all appointments.

If you have been refused an interpreter and feel that you have been discriminated against, please contact Sign Language Communications WA who can assist you to resolve the issue.

6. What is the difference between Auslan, Key word sign and Signed English?

Auslan is a true language, recognised by the Australian Government in 1987 in the Languages Policy. Auslan has its own structure and grammar with five linguistic aspects which are the phonemes of our language; handshape, orientation, location, movement and expression.

Key word sign (formerly Makaton) is a method commonly used for people with intellectual disabilities, autism or others with limited communication. Key word sign borrows the signs from Auslan, it is not considered a language as it does not have a grammatical structure.

Signed English is a sign system which was established to match word-for-word to spoken English. Signed English is entirely different from Auslan, however it borrows many signs from Auslan and this is where some confusion occurs between the two. 

7. What is the National Relay Service (NRS)?

The National Relay Service (NRS) is a telephone solution for people who are Deaf, hard of hearing or have a speech impairment.

All calls through the NRS have a relay officer to assist. The Deaf person may type, speak or sign, and the Relay Officer will speak their words to the hearing person.  Then the Relay Officer will listen to the response from the hearing person and type or sign it back to the Deaf person.

The Deaf person can use a computer, mobile phone, smartphone, tablet computer or TTY telephone to make calls.

The hearing person only needs to use a regular telephone.

  • Most calls are available 24 hours a day (except Video Relay).
  • The NRS relays your calls at no extra cost - all you pay is about the cost of a local call to connect to the NRS.  Costs vary depending on the equipment you are using and the type of call you are making.
  • All calls through the NRS are private.  No record of your call content is kept, except where this is required by law (eg. emergency calls).
  • Free support and training is available for individuals or groups.

For more information:

8. Where do I go to have my hearing aids/implant fixed?

It is preferable that you are to go back to where you obtained your hearing aids or cochlear implants from. They will be the most suited people to conduct repairs on your hearing aids or cochlear implants.

Australian Hearing are a government agency that provide audiology services to a variety of customers. Reduced rates on services are applicable to children and people with a pension card.

 There are many private audiologists and hearing aid suppliers. Costs for services vary from business to business, so shop around.

9. What is lip-reading and where do I learn lip-reading?

Lip-reading is something that has to be learnt, it is not simple as riding a bike. It is not a natural instinct, and can be complicated. It is known that in an ordinary sentence, only 30% of the sentence can be understood and 70% is guesswork.

Lip-reading requires persistence, patience and practice. It takes time to learn the skill and may take years to master, some people pick it up quickly and become competent, whilst others do not.

There are many words in spoken English that sound different but have the same lip pattern such as mind & bind, job & shop. It also depends on the person’s speech & mouth movements. If someone mumbles, has thin lips or has obstructions blocking a clear view of the mouth such as a beard or long moustache this can create further difficulties for the person doing the lip-reading.

Some things you should remember when communicating with a Deaf or hard of hearing person who is attempting to lip-read you:

  • Don’t exaggerate your speech
  • Speak normally (not too slow or too fast)
  • Don’t shout
  • Make eye contact with the Deaf or hard of hearing person
  • Keep your hands or any obstruction away from the face
  • Be aware of lighting in certain areas
  • If a sentence is not understood the first time, do not repeat – modify the sentence.

For information on lip-reading classes please contact Better Hearing Australia (WA).

10. What are captions/subtitles and how do I put them on my tv?

Captions are available on all digital TV programs shown between 6.00am-midnight, and all news and current affairs programs, on the primary channels of all free-to-air networks (ABC1, SBS1, Seven, Nine and Ten and regional channels).

There are different rules for the 'digital multichannels' which include ABC2, ABC3, ABCNews24, SBS2, 7Two, 7Mate, GO!, Gem, One HD and 11. These are not subject to the same caption content rules as the networks' primary or 'core' channels. The only programs which must be captioned on the multichannels are repeats which were originally captioned for screening on the same network's primary channel.

For more information on captioning and how to make a complaint please see the Australian Communications and Media Authority

For information on how to turn the captions on please see Media Access Australia’s video.

11. What technology is available for the Deaf?

Deaf and hard of hearing people use a variety of technologies; however, what is suitable for one person may not be suitable for another. Examples of technologies include:

For example:

  • Telephone Typewriter (TTY) a device used by Deaf people for two way conversation
  • Captions/subtitles
  • Visual Signals - These are a variety of visual signals (i.e. flashing lights) available for the doorbell, baby cry alarm, smoke alarm, TTY and many more.
  • Alarm clock - There are two different sorts of alarms - one is visual with a flashing light, whilst the other is a vibrating device that goes under the pillow and shakes to wake up the user
  • Mobile Phones – SMS and video-calling
  • Computers - Email, Skype etc.
  • Fax machines (predominantly used by Deaf seniors)

12. Government assistance for technology?

Currently there are no subsidies for the purchasing of technological devices.

The Independent Living Centre of WA provides some financial assistance to purchase some forms of equipment, however, the grant is means tested. For more information please speak to one of our Community Services officers. 

13. What are hearing dogs?

Hearing Dogs are specially trained dogs for the Deaf or hard of hearing. Hearing Dogs are trained in sound awareness, alerting the Deaf owner to any noises such as alarms, door knocks, mobile phone beeps, baby crying etc.

In Australia, Lions Hearing Dogs, who are based in Adelaide, are the main supplier of Hearing Dogs in Australia.

The Hearing Dogs are trained in simple sign language as well as verbal commands. Hearing Dogs are accredited professional working dogs which are legally accepted as 'guide' dogs in Australia. For further information visit Lions Hearing Dogs.

14. Where are the schools for the Deaf?

In WA there are two independent schools for Deaf children, Shenton College Deaf Education Centre and Mosman Park School for Deaf Children. There are also other schools that contain Deaf units within the main school such as Belmont City College.

The School of Special Educational Needs: Sensory provide a Visiting Teacher program for students who are in schools without Deaf units and ensures that the Deaf or hard of hearing student continues to receive support where needed.

15. I provide a service; how do I make it accessible?

There are many options available to ensure that you provide a fully accessible service:

  • Face to face customer contacts - Deafness Awareness Training may be suitable
  • Telephone/Internet information - Provision of TTY access, or online enquiries that are effective and quick
  • Quality/Quantity of information readily available
  • Location/Event accessible
  • Auslan translation of information on your website

16. Can I learn Auslan and then teach it?

Auslan is a complex and rich language with cultural and linguistic aspects. To simply learn it and teach it is not recommended as it will distort and destabilise the authenticity and integrity of the language.

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