There are about 3000 profoundly deaf children in Australia. Many of these are teenagers who must one day make their way into the hearing world.
Of these about 1300 kids are like Scott and Bethany who have hearing under 90db and another 1500 between 60-90db.
They said Scott would never do VCE and would end up pushing super market trolleys. I said no. I think he'd make a great teacher but he wants money. Scott wants a- $60,000 job and 49 square house now, so he'll have to do something...
- Judy (Scott's Mother)
Scott Masterson is 19 years old and like most teenage boys loves, cars, girls and football. According to his mother Judy, Scott was born hearing, but became deaf following an illness as a baby. 'It was the antibiotics that did it', says Judy. She has always wanted 'normality' for Scott, but there's nothing normal about being deaf.
Scott attended primary schools for the deaf, and then went to the same high school as his older hearing siblings where an interpreter was provided four days a week. Scott wore hearing aids, and tried his best to cope in an oral environment, learning to lipread and 'talk'. It was tough and by year 9, he was way behind in his studies and so was shifted to the Victorian College for the Deaf. Scott is much happier and to his mother's horror has tossed away his hearing aids, preferring now to sign. Mum Judy just can't understand her son's reckless behaviour - why not try to be hearing if you can? She has learnt a little finger spelling but with five kids there just wasn't the time. She and the rest of the family have their own way of communicating to Scott and have never learnt Auslan seriously. As far as the family is concerned Scott talks, they can understand him even if no one else can. One of her frustrations with the Victorian College for the Deaf is the sense that Scott has disappeared more and more into a deaf world.
Scott has a driving licence, but without a car must spend nearly 4 hours a day getting from his home in Hastings on the Mornington Peninsula, to VCD in Prahran. He studies VCE English at the private school next door Wesley, and does other subjects at VCD. Judy has high hopes for her son, hoping he will go to university to become a teacher, but Scott has his eyes on money and an apprenticeship. Judy's expectations for her son are not real - maybe she is trying to get him to go beyond being a kitchen hand like herself.
Hearing people don't know how lucky they are to have a full complement of senses. Because I'm very friendly, I wish I could just go up to new people and make conversation, like "hi, how are you, where are you from?" and so on. But my hearing friends just don't do that. I tell them "if I was you, I'd be doing that".
Bethany is a feisty adventurous 17 year old who is determined to live life to the fullest. Her deafness is no barrier and she insists that hearing people will be her friends. Her recent experience at a hearing school has opened the door to a new and exciting social world beyond the constraints of the tiny deaf community. But her education there was failing her and so she has left her family behind in the country to return to the school of her youth. Bethany has dreams of being a photographer or a fashion designer and loves walking and breathing the city air. The future is rosy and the world is her oyster. If only she didn't miss her mum so much.
Almost every deaf adult in Melbourne has a story or connection with the Victorian College for the Deaf. Right down to the school's gardener who was taken to the school one day as a four-year old by his parents. They never returned and he never saw them again. The school raised him - and unlike his parents they were proud of his deafness.
Melbourne's historic Victorian College for the Deaf (VCD) was established in the 1860's as Australia's first school for deaf kids. In its heyday more than 300 students filled the corridors. Today there are less than 80. Government funding to special schools for the deaf has shrunk to the point where few remain - forcing deaf students to be 'accommodated' within the standard education system. Many hearing parents prefer their child to go to a normal school but sadly many deaf students miss out as interpreters and mainstream culture often leaves them behind in learning. The VCD has defiantly resisted this trend to assimilate and despite ongoing threats of closure has remained as one of the last bastions of deaf culture still catering for profoundly deaf as well as partially deaf kids. It also has a program for deaf students with disabilities and a limited number of hearing students who experience communication problems (eg. autism, stuttering).
VCD functions more or less like any normal school. There is sport, school camps, theatre, driver education programs, parent-teacher nights and discipline issues. Yet everything is remarkably different because the students and teachers communicate through Sign Language. It is the only school in Australia that teaches in Auslan from prep to year 12. The school has flashing lights in all classrooms instead of a school bell and TV monitors broadcast text messages and signed announcements to students. The principal Dr Therese Pierce is deaf.
The Deaf Community
With the school as a back-drop, the film had the opportunity to provide some insights into the bigger picture of the centuries old struggle of the deaf community for control over their own voice. How does a minority culture, whose expression has been often regarded as freakish and indicative of intellectual deficiency, survive and actually receive respect and understanding? WELCOME 2 MY DEAF WORLD explores the prejudices within all of us against those we don't understand or can't communicate with. By understanding more about deaf culture, WELCOME 2 MY DEAF WORLD is a great vehicle for understanding more about our own backyard.
As a backdrop to this personal story is a portrait of the Victorian College for the Deaf - a school that is defiantly swimming upstream against a tide that is turning against deaf culture. As medical technology strives to eradicate all human 'imperfection' WELCOME 2 MY DEAF WORLD provides a window into this rich subculture and the challenges of learning in and transcending an 'all deaf' environment.