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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2019 Week 11 Hansard (Wednesday, 25 September 2019) . . Page.. 3835 ..

I am calling for the reinstatement of a previously government contracted psychologist with Auslan skills to serve the needs of the Canberra deaf community. I am calling on the government to examine how deaf, deafblind and hard of hearing people in the ACT are provided with health and mental health assistance, and how their needs can and will be better addressed in the future. I am calling on them to investigate other ways to support our deaf community in the ACT to ensure their mental wellbeing.

The reason for this motion is that I have been approached by members of the deaf community about gaps in service provision, especially relating to mental health. Mental health is an issue for everyone in Canberra. It appears to be a growing problem, and our deaf community are no different. They deserve appropriate support.

Just last month in the chamber, we on this side were calling for the reinstatement of funding for legal services for victims of domestic violence. Today we are calling for the reinstatement of psychological and psychiatric services for deaf Canberrans. The government seems to be abandoning vulnerable people throughout Canberra.

It may be worth talking a little about the issue of language for deaf people. For many deaf people, English is not their first language; they use Australian sign language, Auslan, as their first language. Some people then go on to acquire English using Auslan. Gaining a language is where you start the process of understanding and communicating with your world. If you are sick, physically or mentally, being able to communicate is vital, and being able to communicate in your first language when you are at your most vulnerable—for example, when you are experiencing mental health issues—is paramount. That is why having Auslan interpreters is so important. Over the years, I have spoken in this place about structural changes that I think are leading towards a shortage of Auslan interpreters here in the ACT.

Unfortunately, generally speaking, health professionals do not have an understanding of the cultural needs of deaf people. This can leave them feeling vulnerable, misunderstood, isolated and even inferior to their hearing counterparts. This is a pretty sad state to be in: simply because of your communication style and needs, other people may inadvertently, or on purpose, make you feel inferior. As well as the language differences, deaf people see the world from a very different perspective and their life experiences are not the same as the hearing population. In mental health matters, working through an interpreter is not ideal, as the process of interpreting can often mask the real symptoms. And that is if you can get an interpreter when you need one, on top of other issues.

Between 2009 and 2017, Canberra health agencies engaged with a specialist with expertise in working with deaf people to provide specialist psychological services. A psychologist called Dr Rodrigues, based in Wollongong, worked part time in Canberra. She is not only a health professional but a qualified Auslan interpreter. She had a significant client base here in Canberra and was greatly appreciated by her clients. How do I know that? Because I have spoken to some of her clients. Dr Rodrigues no longer sees deaf patients in Canberra, and many of her patients cannot travel to Wollongong to attend her practice there. Some patients may be able to engage via Skype with her, but that is not suitable for all patients.

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