When Calie Green was 19 years old, she moved hundreds of kilometres away from her family in central Queensland in search of a better, more accessible life.

The then-teenager was studying at a regional university in Rockhampton, but was struggling because there wasn’t enough supports in place to help her study while also being deaf.

But 20 years later, Ms Green, who now works as an Auslan teacher aide in schools, said she was shocked when she returned to her hometown to live.

Ms Green at a local catch-up for the Deaf community in Rockhampton. (ABC Capricornia: Jasmine Hines)

“In Brisbane, there’s a huge Deaf community … there’s already those relationships between the deaf and the hearing, a lot more access to interpreters and deaf education,” she said.

“I was so surprised by how behind Rockhampton still is, there is no real improvement with deaf access.

“You don’t see much equality.”

In Rockhampton, there is only one nationally accredited Auslan interpreter available for the Deaf community, and experts are calling for greater investment in the workforce amid a national shortage of interpreters.

The city’s only interpreter

Samantha Cranston is the only professional interpreter in the city, which, according to the Census’s latest 2021 data, had a population of more than 81,000 people.

Auslan is her first language, as she was born to parents who are both deaf.

Samantha Cranston hosts monthly dinners for the Deaf community in Rockhampton.(ABC Capricornia: Jasmine Hines)

Ms Cranston said the city is desperate for more interpreters, not only to improve access, but to give people a choice in who represents them.

“When it comes to the work for the Deaf community, I’ll basically put them first above everyone else because I’m it, there’s no other interpreter here,” she said.

If Ms Cranston is sick or unavailable, the Deaf community relies on family or friends to interpret, or a virtual video service, which can glitch, or drop out from poor internet reception.

Ms Green said the lack of accessibility could cause deaf people to lose their sense of independence and privacy.

“If we end up in a situation outside of normal hours, such as needing to be rushed to hospital early in the morning or late at night, an interpreter is not always available,” she said.

“In some situations it can be deadly, especially if it is the wrong medication or dosage information being told, or [there is a] misunderstanding over some health or personal issue.”

Ms Green appealed for more people to learn Auslan and to consider interpreting as a career.

“We need more deaf allies,” she said.

National shortage

Deaf Connect is Australia’s largest service provider for deaf and hard-of-hearing people.

Deaf Connect spokesperson Brent Phillips. 

Chief impact officer Brent Phillips said there was a national shortage of interpreters, but the issue was worse in regional and rural locations.

“It really limits people’s ability to thrive, to contribute to society, and to be a parent, to be an employer,” he said.

Mr Phillips said more investment was needed to improve the pathways to learn Auslan, become a professional interpreter and teach the language.

The Australian government’s Disability Royal Commission report, released last year, recommended federal and state governments develop a workforce strategy to increase the number of skilled Auslan interpreters.

Queensland Minister for Seniors and Disability Services Charis Mullen said the government, alongside other states and territories and the commonwealth, would respond to the recommendations after March 31 this year.

“We have committed to considering all relevant recommendations from the Disability Royal Commission,” Ms Mullen said.

‘Auslan and friends’

Ms Cranston organises “Auslan and friends” dinners locally once a month for the Deaf community to catch up, but also to break down barriers between the hearing and deaf world.

“It’s showing people that they don’t have to be scared to just approach a deaf person and say, ‘hey, how are you?'” she said.

Rockhampton local Karon Robertson (far right) at an “Auslan and friends” gathering.(ABC Capricornia: Jasmine Hines)

Karon Robertson has attended almost every dinner Ms Cranston has hosted.

The 66-year-old says that while a lack of interpreters is still a big issue, the region is slowly getting more accommodating for people who are deaf.

“I moved to Rocky about 20 years ago and … there’s more things to do, it’s starting to become a bit more accessible and starting to change with the times which is great, that’s what I love about this area,” Ms Robertson said.

Ms Green said her experience living in Brisbane made her realise how important Deaf culture is, and she wants to share that with future generations of people in Rockhampton.

“It’s important to me to educate other people and teach them what being deaf is, it’s not quite a disability,” she said.

“We’ve got our own culture, our own history, and I’d like people to understand that as well.”

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