Albury-Wodonga Auslan classes full in lead-up to Australian Deaf Games

NEXT year’s Australian Deaf Games on the Border has helped boost interest in learning Auslan, with full classes and waiting lists.

Nearly 90 people are taking part in weekend, morning and evening courses of the sign language, run by Vicdeaf in conjunction with Australia Post by invitation from Albury and Wodonga Councils. More lessons will be offered next term as well as deafness awareness workshops just before January’s games. 

Auslan teacher Will Taffe said the discounted classes had made Auslan easier to access while the games had also increased awareness.

A native Auslan user who’s lived in Wodonga most of his life, Mr Taffe teaches his classes non-verbally through power point presentations, the white board and signs as students progress.

“I make sure all students keep an open mind, have them realise that Auslan is a new and different language and that, like with any other academic subject, practising is vital,” he said.

Deaf Sports Australia general manager Garry West-Bail said the level of interest in learning Auslan demonstrated a wonderful commitment by the community.

“The great thing about it is the legacy of the games, it means learning for life,” he said.

The 18th Australian Deaf Games will be held in Albury and Wodonga between January 20 and 27, featuring up to 20 sports.

As of last week, 248 people had registered to compete in the games, with another 41 applying to be volunteers.

Mr West-Bail said more than 60 athletes from Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Fiji had confirmed attendance, with about 45 coming from New Zealand.

Yackandandah’s Anne Corcoran, a member of Mr Taffe’s class, hoped to join the lawn bowls competition.

“I thought when it was so close I’d have a go,” she said.

Hearing-impaired all her life, Ms Corcoran lip read, but had never learned Auslan so grabbed her chance.

Albury Visitor Information Centre worker Lier Yao wanted to be ready for an influx of deaf and hearing-impaired visitors during the games.

“We can help them, give them a familiar language, a familiar way to communicate,” she said.

Other students included two audiologists, a financial planner and a teacher who could all see the professional benefits of knowing Auslan. 

One mother was sharing the class with her four children.

Thurgoona’s Katie Vernon said sign language had always interested her.

“But I’m also with NSW Rural Fire Service, so it would be nice to have somebody on board who can sign in cases of emergency,” she said.

“To assist somebody in that manner if necessary.”