This year marks the 40th anniversary of the John Pierce Centre (JPC), a place where deaf and hard of hearing Catholics and their families are supported and encouraged in their personal and spiritual growth.
‘The Deaf community has a unique bond through their language of Auslan, and having a space to come to at the JPC is vital for people’s sense of identity,’ says Teresa Paulet, Communications Coordinator at JPC.
‘JPC is a comfortable space where people can communicate effortlessly and where others have a shared understanding of Deaf life. JPC is like a home for many and it is where their “cultural family” is.’
During this time of COVID-19, Teresa says JPC has stepped up its efforts to remain connected to members of the Deaf community. ‘We are putting lots of videos online of prayer and faith and providing interpreters at Mass,’ she says.
‘All of these small things build connection and we will continue to do everything we can at JPC throughout this time. It is, unfortunately, a difficult time for many Deaf people who are isolated and there is concern for the mental health impacts.’
Even seemingly small things can have a major impact on members of the Deaf community, Teresa says, such as the mandatory use of masks.
‘For others, it may be an inconvenience – it’s not comfortable or our glasses fog up; but for a Deaf person who relies on lip-reading when they go the shops, they will not even know if someone is trying to speak to them because they can’t see anyone’s lips moving. They can’t see the expression on people’s faces as easily.’
One of the graces of this time of physical isolation due to COVID-19 has been a closer collaboration between the Archdiocese and JPC, whose Auslan interpreters – including Teresa – have become an onscreen fixture at Sunday Masses live-streamed from St Patrick’s Cathedral.
We recently spoke with Teresa about her experiences as an Auslan interpreter and what she’s learned during this time of COVID-19.
What motivated you to become an interpreter? How long have you been working in this space?
As a teenager, I was interested in learning a language other than English and found a local course in Auslan. I had never even met a deaf signing person until I started the course and the teacher was a deaf man. I was inspired to continue learning the language and took the natural step into a career as an Auslan Interpreter. I have been working as an Auslan Interpreter for over 15 years and what I love most about it is the challenges and learnings that it constantly provides. You never know where you will be working next, or who you’ll be working with.
How long have you been involved with the John Pierce Centre?
I found out about the John Pierce Centre when I became an interpreter. I first met Sr Janette (Murphy) when I was working in Gippsland where I was coordinating a Deafness Expo with the local Deaf community. Years later when I moved to Melbourne, I reconnected with Sr Janette and began interpreting for Mass at JPC as well as the Channel 10 Mass for You at Home. It was a big learning curve in the specific language of religious interpreting, which I really enjoyed. And even though I have not mastered the old Irish Sign that a lot of the older generation of the Deaf community use, it is a great connection to the roots of the Deaf community which is so valuable for interpreters and allies of the Deaf.
This year I took on a role in the office at JPC as the Communications Coordinator and In-house Interpreter. It has been an interesting year to move into a new role but I am enjoying the work and connecting with the community (albeit, mostly online for now).
How long did it take you to become fluent in Auslan?
I completed a two-year Auslan course, followed by a Diploma in Interpreting. I have now been working in the industry of Interpreting for over 15 years. It takes quite a few years to feel comfortably fluent and I am still learning to this day. Language is constantly evolving, and interpreting is a practice profession that requires continuous dedication to improvement through professional development. There is always something more to learn!
What are some of the other common myths and misconceptions you've encountered about disability in the wider community? How can we address these?
This is always an interesting topic within the Deaf community because whilst the legislation and funding for the deaf comes under the disability category, the Deaf identity aligns with the culturally and linguistically diverse communities’ sector. I think the most important thing for anyone to remember is really that all people have their own values, identity and language preferences for communication; so just being open to asking how a Deaf person wants to communicate can go a long way to bridging the gaps in social cohesion.
Where have you found ‘energy’ during this time of the COVID-19 lockdown?
I’m sure that everyone is feeling the exhaustion this year. It has definitely been a challenge at times to get on with work as well as supporting my five-year-old daughter with schooling and providing entertainment for my three-year-old son. I have found it really important to go outside each day for a walk, run or bike ride. The fresh air and exercise are really rejuvenating. Also taking time to acknowledge the challenges as a natural part of this situation and sharing the mental burden with those around us. Community and friends are vital to keeping my energy up.
What’s something new you’ve learned about yourself during this time of COVID-19?
What I have learned about myself during this time is that I am more capable with technology than I would have thought and that there is so much out there to tap into in order to connect with people.
How has COVID-19 impacted 'operations' at the Centre and how has it adapted to continue serving the Deaf community?
Due to the global pandemic, people cannot attend the centre so the staff have adapted quickly to ensure the community is reached in different ways. Technology has been critical as we can use online video meetings to chat to people in Auslan. We have activity groups still connecting through email and video, and we even use texting for those that cannot access video chat. It is not easy and the team has been working over and above the usual expectations (especially in the area of teaching people how to use technology) to try and ensure connections are maintained.
It is, unfortunately, a difficult time for many Deaf people who are isolated and there is concern for the mental health impacts. Even seemingly small things can have an impact. For example, the mask-wearing rule. For others it may be an inconvenience – it’s not comfortable or our glasses fog up; but for a Deaf person who relies on lip reading when they go the shops, they will not even know if someone is trying to speak to them because they can’t see anyone’s lips moving. They can’t see the expression on people’s faces as easily. JPC is working hard to get information out to the Deaf community to support them through this time. We are putting lots of videos online of prayer and faith and providing interpreters at Mass. All of these small things build connection and we will continue to do everything we can at JPC throughout this time.
What’s the first thing you’re going to do (or first place you’ll visit) when Victoria emerges from its current lockdown restrictions?
It’s hard to think about ‘after the pandemic’ as we are living in such an unknown timeframe but I will be heading to see my family first: mum, dad, sisters, brothers, nieces, nephews. Reconnecting with people face to face is the most important thing for me. Here’s hoping it happens sooner rather than later!
Last week we met Katrina Mynard, Pastoral Care Coordinator at JPC. Missed it? Read here