Breaking barriers: Australian Sign Language on the rise

Laura Peppas

When Maddeline Mooney was working at a local supermarket, a deaf customer approached her one day to ask a question.

“I could understand what they were asking, but I had absolutely no way of answering,” Maddeline says.

“The communication barrier was purely my fault, and it sort of dawned on me that it’s not that it’s necessarily a disability on their part, it’s more of a communication problem that’s largely caused by people not knowing sign language.”

The experience prompted the 28 year old to enrol in the Certificate II and III in Auslan (Australian Sign Language) courses at Canberra delivered by The Deaf Society; with the hope to eventually help create services in suicide prevention suitable for deaf people.


Evolving from sign languages brought to Australia during the nineteenth century from Britain, Scotland and Ireland, Auslan is a visual and natural language with its own grammar – rather than being word-for-word English – and is just one of many sign languages around the world; with each country having its own sign language.

Over the years, sign language has been steadily rising in prominence in popular culture, sparking a boost in enrolments in courses.

Recently, deaf American model and actor Nyle DiMarco has been breaking all sorts of barriers, raising public awareness of deaf people and sign language.

Last year, DiMarco won the America’s Next Top Model competition and this year he took out first place on America’s Dancing with the Stars; showing that being a deaf person is not a barrier to achieving your dreams and that sign language is a point of pride for many deaf people.


Model and actor Nyle DiMarco.

Australia’s own Yellow Wiggle Emma Watkins has also been an advocate for communication access, continuing her sign language study this year.

“I’ve always been involved in some way with the Deaf Community and my deaf friends,” Emma says.

“And now being a Wiggle, [I’ve been] trying to include a lot of signing in the show. I meet deaf children and children that use sign language, whether they’re autistic or non-verbal, all the time, so that’s been really helpful to me to be able to connect with them.”

Maddeline says Auslan is a really fascinating language because it “can do a lot of things that English and other spoken language can’t do.”

“You can actually set up stories and tell them almost in 3D – good Auslan storytellers can tell their stories just as vividly as when it was happening to them,” she says.

“You also get the chance to become involved in the Deaf Community, who are really supportive and so appreciative of us learning their language and culture. Even in the classroom there’s a real team atmosphere, as you try and work out with your classmates what a sign might be, and you ponder and work it out together. You just get to see the world from a whole new perspective, and it’s things you never really think about as a hearing person.”

the essentials

 What: Certificate II in Auslan
Where: Canberra Institute of Technology
When: Enrolments close Friday, 8 July
Phone: 1800 893 855


Laura Peppas

Laura Peppas is HerCanberra's senior journalist and communications manager and is the Editor of Unveiled, HerCanberra's wedding magazine. She is enjoying uncovering all that Canberra has to offer, meeting some intriguing locals and working with a pretty awesome bunch of women. Laura has lived in Canberra for most of her life and when she's not writing fervently she enjoys pursuing her passion for travel, reading, online shopping and chai tea. More about the Author

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