The Auslan interpreter everyone’s been seeing during the bushfire press conferences 

When NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons delivered the news that another volunteer firefighter had died during the Australian bushfire crisis, Sean Sweeney was standing next to him.

When NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian spoke about the catastrophic conditions and total fire ban in place across the state, Sean Sweeney was hard at work.

He is the bearded interpreter Australians have come to see on their TV screens over the summer months, providing meaning through Auslan, or Australian sign language.

He is the bearded interpreter (Sean Sweeney left) Australians have come to see on their TV screens over the summer months, providing meaning through Auslan, or Australian sign language

He is the bearded interpreter (Sean Sweeney left) Australians have come to see on their TV screens over the summer months, providing meaning through Auslan, or Australian sign language

He is the bearded interpreter (Sean Sweeney left) Australians have come to see on their TV screens over the summer months, providing meaning through Auslan, or Australian sign language

Sean, who translates the RFS' emergency announcements, is the first person in his family to be born with hearing (pictured with his wife)

Sean, who translates the RFS' emergency announcements, is the first person in his family to be born with hearing (pictured with his wife)

Sean, who translates the RFS’ emergency announcements, is the first person in his family to be born with hearing (pictured with his wife)

Sean, who translates RFS emergency announcements, is the first person in his family to be born with hearing.

‘My great-grandparents, my grandparents, my mum and dad are deaf… aunties, uncles, cousins, second cousins – they’re all deaf,’ he told the ABC.

This means Auslan is Sean’s first language, and is how he got into interpreting.

But his role is not to provide a literal translation of what is being said during the press conferences.

'My great-grandparents, my grandparents, my mum and dad are deaf... aunties, uncles, cousins, second cousins - they're all deaf,' he told ABC

'My great-grandparents, my grandparents, my mum and dad are deaf... aunties, uncles, cousins, second cousins - they're all deaf,' he told ABC

‘My great-grandparents, my grandparents, my mum and dad are deaf… aunties, uncles, cousins, second cousins – they’re all deaf,’ he told ABC

His role is not to provide a literal translation of what is being said during the press conferences

His role is not to provide a literal translation of what is being said during the press conferences

His role is not to provide a literal translation of what is being said during the press conferences

WHAT IS AUSLAN?

Auslan is uniquely Australian. Just like different languages are spoken around the world, people who are deaf use different sign languages depending on where they come from (it’s estimated there are 130 sign languages). 

Due to historical similarities, Auslan is more like British Sign Language (BSL) than American Sign Language (ASL), which means Australians can often understand BSL and vice versa.

Source: NDP 

‘We’re delivering the meaning and the intent and the tone of the speaker. That’s our job.’ 

And in times of national tragedy, spreading that message to the deaf community can be a matter of life or death.

‘Sean has been doing a fantastic job interpreting. His skill is obvious and he has been an absolute saviour for ALL of the deaf and hard of hearing in the communities affected by bushfires,’ a social media commentator said.

‘I too come from a family with deaf siblings and my Auslan is nowhere near his level of expertise.’

'We're delivering the meaning and the intent and the tone of the speaker. That's our job,' he said (pictured with his wife)

'We're delivering the meaning and the intent and the tone of the speaker. That's our job,' he said (pictured with his wife)

‘We’re delivering the meaning and the intent and the tone of the speaker. That’s our job,’ he said (pictured with his wife)

Another said: ‘Congratulations Sean. Well deserved to get a great big pat on his back. It is a very hard work listening and thinking what to interpret for the whole deaf community to watch and passing on the information especially when in a emergencies situations.’

Deaf advocate and founder of Auslan Media Access, Shirley Liu, said our country still has a long way to go when it comes to supporting the interpreters.

Oftentimes the news crew will zoom in on the speaker so people aren’t able to see Sean’s hands moving, making it near impossible for deaf people to follow along.   

In future the scope of the screen should always include the Auslan interpreter.

Source

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