Craig Maynard lives in two worlds. One is filled with miscommunications and frustrations while the second is completely silent, but rich with meaning. He dreams of merging the two.
Next year, Craig is inviting Inverell’s hearing community to learn to communicate with deaf people through free Australian Sign Language (Auslan) workshops at Inverell Accommodation Services.
“Australia is really backwards when it comes to sign language. It’s usually the last we’re taught. In America, it’s the first,” Craig said. He said any effort from hearing people to sign was deeply appreciated.
He remembered when a barista’s small gesture turned his bad day around.
“I was so depressed, I was so upset, and I had things going on in the background. I ordered what I wanted and she actually got what I actually ordered, and it was an amazing feat on its own, because usually people don’t hear what I say,” he said. When he thanked her, the barista signed the words ‘thank you’ to Craig.
“Well that was it. My day was good. Because someone actually took the effort to sign one sign for ‘thank you’, and it just snapped me out of my depression. Whatever was happening, it shifted. Because it’s a visual language for me,” he said.
He said any attempt from the hearing population to communicate through signs was deeply valued – even swear words during a traffic jam.
Craig’s dream is for Australia to follow in the footsteps of Martha’s Vineyard, an American island with a large deaf population in which, at one time, everyone spoke in sign language.
“Only a quarter of them were deaf, but they all signed to each other. And so it was a natural thing for them to communicate. And it was great, because the guys on the lighthouse could say (signing) ‘Can you bring me some milk? I need a cup of tea’,” he said.
Craig pointed out that there many uses for signs for hearing people, including talking over distances, through windows and warning each other about sharks during scuba dives.
Local speech pathologist Lisa Foskey is excited to take part in the workshop. She uses a version of Auslan called key word signs to help many of her clients communicate.
“The key word sign uses only the key words as a sign, and it’s used as a spoken version of language rather than just signing,” Linda explained.
“Lots of the children and adults I work with who have difficulty communicating end up quite frustrated that people don’t understand what they’re saying,” she said.
“Any kind of gestural communication can be of great benefit to someone who has communication difficulties.”
With the first national curriculum for Auslan set to roll out in schools next year, Linda was pleased to see Australia’s attitude toward the language changing.
“Up until now, Auslan has been taught in various school systems like a second language. We have to remember that Auslan, for our deaf community is their first language. So it should never be treated as a second language,” she said.
To learn more about Craig’s workshops, contact Pathfinders Ability Links on 6720 8813.