On an island named Martha’s Vineyard, off the coast of Massachusetts, United States of America, in the 18th Century, almost everyone could sign. In the island’s history, there was an unusually high proportion of its population who were deaf.

The other islanders who could hear learnt to sign so they could communicate with the deaf in the community. My utopian wish is to have this replicated on some scale in Toowoomba and the rest of the Downs. With more in the general public using sign, the communication barriers between deaf and hearing people will be broken. We would then be able to communicate more freely with each other at school, work and play, and in business. Deaf people go to school, shop and use services just like anyone else. It is heartening to see that some people in businesses have learnt a few basic signs. This communication with deaf customers is much welcomed by the deaf and so proprietors gain the repeated patronage of happy deaf customers! In fact, there is a cafe in Paris called Cafe Signes, as seen on Nine Network’s Getaway. This cafe is run by deaf people who use French Sign Language (FSL) and their (hearing) customers come in and order their choice of coffee in sign!

I was born profoundly deaf. My deafness was caused by rubella when my mother was pregnant. In the 1960s, there was an epidemic of rubella and with no vaccinations at the time, there were a lot of babies born with some form of deafness or blindness or other disabilities. In November 2012, I graduated from University of Southern Queensland with a Graduate Diploma of Learning and Teaching. I have been teaching at a special education unit in Brisbane this year replacing a teacher on leave until September. My desire is to live and work in Toowoomba as I truly love this region. I have begun a business teaching Auslan (Australian Sign Language). Classes are conducted in my home in Toowoomba, for people of all ages. I know that there are people who want to learn sign language and I am passionate about making that happen.

I am also passionate about language development for young deaf children. The early years are so crucial for language development. Hearing children learn from constant exposure and continual use of language. Deaf children also learn from constant exposure and continual use of (sign) language but the majority of deaf children come from hearing parents who may not know sign language so the child’s language development suffers. I wish to help empower parents of young deaf children by teaching them to sign so that they and their deaf child communicate freely. I am also offering intensive language building lessons to the deaf child themselves. I will be very interested for Highlife readers to contact me and discuss what I can offer through my classes, by email kerwin.james@gmail.com or text, 0414 696 455

Words by James Kerwin