A Quick Peek Down Under

An Interview with Damian Lacey,
Executive Director of Deaf Children Australia (DCA)


HV: Tell us what's been happening with DCA since Hands & Voices visited your lovely country last March?

DL: What H&V did was excite a new breed of parents who are interested in finding the things they have in common. They see DCA as an organization that can facilitate that. We want to continue to support families locally, but we also need to strengthen the capacity of parents to participate in state and national forums.

HV: To what extent is that happening now in Australia ?

DL: We're encouraged by new energy amongst parent groups-with whom we have very positive relationships-and by parents across the country coming to us and asking for help and support from DCA. We intend to create a national voice for families.

HV: What kind of support can DCA offer parents?

DL: One of the things we can do for parent organizations is give them technical support for business planning, governance policies, training and development, and in profiling-fundraising and raising exposure of parent issues. Financially, we can offer the support and in-kind assistance of our staff to help parent groups grow. We're dealing with the same themes that are common in all countries:

  • Newborn hearing screening systems
  • Lack of available family support
  • Lack of appropriate educational outcomes
  • Lack of federal funds.

HV: Your country has recently been through special education litigation that explored the same themes as the "Rowley" case in the U.S. Has there been an impact yet from the Hurst case, in which Australian courts decided that a deaf student using native Auslan (Australian Sign Language) wasn't eligible for an interpreter in school because she wasn't failing?

DL: Well, there is some good news. The Australian government has recently published Education Standards in relation to the Disability Discrimination Act. Education authorities around the country will need to seriously consider the extent to which they comply with legislation in the provision of access and equity to deaf students.

We were happy for the Devlin family, who joined the class action suit along with Tiahna Hurst's family, because they did receive satisfaction from the courts for their son's educational delays. But now Tiahna's family will have to appeal to the Australian Supreme Court to prove that their daughter's advantage was her mother's willingness to voluntarily serve as Auslan interpreter in the classroom. DCA has been following this case closely and working to help educate decision makers about the individual needs of all students who are deaf or hard of hearing and what schools need to do to make sure those needs are being met.

In a separate case, a Victorian deaf family who are users of Australian Sign Language (Auslan) have recently won their case against the Department of Education, with a finding of both direct and indirect discrimination when the school that their profoundly deaf son was attending failed to provide instruction in Auslan.

Our strong message, however, is that families should not need to go to such lengths to secure access to quality education for their children. The DDA specifies that the needs of individual children must be accommodated within education settings, and we are looking to education authorities to take a lead in policy development and implementation, rather than reacting to the outcomes of these cases. We hope the future for Australian deaf children will hold a stronger and more empowered parent community and a responsible and responsive education system.

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