Rebekah Rose-Mundy: We are nothing without our sign language interpreters

Posted on March 18, 2015

Growing up I had to either try and understand by lipreading or rely on my mother to re-mouth someone’s comment. I never realised how much I missed.

I thought I could ‘lipread’ everything and that I missed nothing. Even though there were countless times when I stood there baffled thinking ‘that doesn’t make sense…’  I thought I was just plain dumb and I had to learn more.

Lipreading is the most hardest thing ever. I was so tired every single day, I was tired before I had morning tea, my eyes watered so much, my mouth stayed open, dried all the time because I had to focus and focus

My mind, so often would wander away half way through lipreading then I was lost and couldn’t get back into the pattern again.

So often I am tapped roughly on my arm, people saying “Rebekah, LISTEN!” If only they knew I was just lipreading and not ‘listening.’

I pretend to understand, I use the ‘Deaf Nod’ all the time and follow others for cues as to what we were supposed to do, yet most of the time I did the wrong thing.

I thought I heard ‘everything’. I practiced so hard to listen on the phone and to understand music.

I went through a ‘phase’ – of thinking I hate being deaf, I hate being like this. Except it lasted years. I blamed my parents and told them “I hate you for making me deaf”… and it wasn’t their fault.

I sat on the couch every Friday night at House Church holding the children’s bible and rolled my eyes. I tried to read the bible but nothing made sense. I prayed with my hands because I was poked roughly “Rebekah, PRAY!” and I had no idea what is ‘pray’. I sat there so bored, one eye watching other children and the other eye trying to lipread the leader who sat so far away, facing away from me in the dim light.

Let me tell you… I hate, truly HATE lipreading because I don’t understand ‘words’ and I cannot lipread more than 3 words put together.


When I was 17, I had my first encounter with a signing interpreter. I remembered watching in awe, I had no idea what were signing interpreters. I honestly thought there was no such thing as a signing interpreter. I didn’t know they existed.

I remembered standing at Deaf Club and watching the interpreters socialising with deaf people. I used to think “If only if I could sign like that and they were my friends”. I remembered imagining I was buddies with high profile Deaf people because they knew so much about life and they were friends with everyone.

I used to be ashamed of myself as an oral deaf person. I didn’t like that I was taken away from my signing world and put into an oral, verbal and auditory world. I didn’t like that I was deprived of communication.

I was never proud that I assumedly could ‘hear’ a lot and have brilliant speech…..

However today I have learnt to accept the difference and no longer resent that.

Then I discovered Theatre of the Deaf and I was so immersed in their creative style and language, I was so in love with ATOD. Every show I would go to with glee and watch with pride. I would watch the interpreters introducing and voicing for the actors. I thought ‘wow that’s amazing’.

I learnt how to use an interpreter when I was in my mid 20s. I wished I knew I could access them years before that…. I had a baby when I was 21 and my baby was born with a heart defect. She needed major surgery and stayed in hospital for a long time. I relied on my mother to ‘interpret’ for me.

I wished I knew my rights as a Deaf person then.

But interpreters were not common that time… it was a new thing.

When I first had an interpreter for a mental health appointment, I realised how much I understood and how I could express my emotions. It was the most fulfilling appointment I ever had.

Then I was taught that I am allowed to have interpreters and encouraged to use them.

From that moment onwards, I made sure I had interpreters all the time. I learnt so much more than I ever learnt by lipreading. I gained all this wisdom, knowledge, skill, feelings, social awareness and so much more…. things that I thought I would never thought I could obtain.

I was able to go for job interviews, get a job, go to TAFE and University, attend  workshops and conferences, have appointments with specialists, see a dentist without fear, have surgery with full knowledge, give birth in the way I wanted to and with confidence, attend weddings and funerals, participate in playgroup and mother’s groups, interact with my children’s school, attend Church and so much more.

I gained confidence, my identity and became sure of who I am as a person.

I stood up for myself. I was able to represent myself as a career woman with a passion for human rights and access for the Deaf Community. I was able to present at many presentations because I had the ability to use interpreters to share my knowledge and express in my language.

That’s a gift I wanted for so long and I no longer had to try hard… all I do is just be myself, as I am.

Once I was told by somebody “You do not have any right to sign language interpreters”. 

“I hate using the national relay service because they are nosy and it is none of their business”.

“Rebekah, you do not need to use an interpreter with me, you can understand me perfectly clearly”.

“But you speak so well, surely you can hear me and understand what I am saying, don’t you?”.

It only a ten minute meeting, it’s a waste of time so just read the minutes”.

It’s not your funeral” or “It’s not your wedding”.

You can imagine how I felt…. Thankfully I had a passion for teaching. I started to teach and encourage every student I met to be a member of the Deaf Community.

I encouraged those with the potential to become an interpreter or to be a member of the Deaf Community.

I did some volunteering for a university to help with their training and research for interpreters. Often I would take on a newbie and help them develop their skills while interpreting for me.

I became so passionate about interpreters and wanted to be their supporter, not just for me but for the future of deaf people.

When my children were born I booked interpreters for them. I exposed them to interpreters from birth.

Over the years I have been privileged to see more and more interpreters within our community and better access for Deaf people. Interpreters are now taking part in community events, media, conferences, expos, government settings, schools and much more.

I went to my first comedy night two years ago and I laughed so hard, I was in tears. It was the most brilliant and funniest show I have ever seen… I never thought I would attend a comedy show by a non-deaf person.

I had an interpreter.

I went to see Wicked Witch of the East, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and other performances and it was interpreted…  the music came alive! Oh how I loved music… to understand ‘music’ and to ‘sing’ it was like Heaven opened its doors and the ray of lights beamed down.

Lately, TV emergency natural disaster situations are being interpreted. I would watched with deep concerns and take the warnings seriously… Knowing my community is fully aware of the warnings because it is interpreted. How wonderful it is to access that?…

I feel sad for those who mocked the interpreters because they do not have the rich life experiences like I do, nor have the understanding of real human beings…. and unfortunately they are small minded.

However we have learnt from them because they give us the fire and the desire to continue fighting for our interpreters.

I used to think that I know all the interpreters but now I don’t know many of them, there are many new faces. I am so fortunate for those I have met on my journey.

There are TAFE and university courses for interpreters… And there is a NAATI level 4 accreditation.

BUT we need to keep fighting for them to fight for fundings so they can continue to develop the skills they need.

I have a favourite interpreter… that is every single signing interpreter there is in the world.

I studied to become a Deaf Interpreter because I want to share the passion and give back to my community.

I am a member of ASLIA – Australian Sign Language Interpreters Association because I want to support my peers.

I had interpreters who sacrificed their time for me at a period of time I needed them and knowing they expected nothing in return.

I have been so inspired by interpreters and those who educated interpreters.

I have the upmost respect every interpreter and have learnt to empathise with them… because their job is not always a bed of roses.

With pride, I am proud to say that today, I have worked with many amazing wonderful interpreters, I am proud to see them being acknowledged for their work.

We need to show that we appreciate interpreters by letting the Australian Government, Queensland’s Premier, Deaf Organisations, Interpreters and Media know how grateful we are to have this access to OUR language.

It is time that we all take a bow to every single signing interpreter who follows the policies and ethics whether they are NAATI accredited or not and show how much they are valued to us and our people.

For we cannot survive in this world without them… impossible… honestly, it is impossible. DB xoxoxo

I am a Deaf mother of three Deaf and one hard of hearing child. My children define me as a human being and enable me to fight for what is right. I am a passionate writer and artist, and I write with my heart and soul. I have spent the past 23 years working with deaf children and teaching Auslan/Deaf Studies to many adults. My world is the Deaf Community, without them I am nothing.
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