The deaf community

Only a very small percentage of the Australian population is severely or profoundly deaf and not all of these use know and use Auslan. Though the precise number of signing deaf people in Australia is unknown, recent research suggests that there may only be about 6,500. You could, however, more than double this number if you included all the hearing people, such as hearing children who learn Auslan from their parents or other family members, who also know and use Auslan.

Of course, a much larger proportion of the population has various types and degrees of hearing impairment. For example, there are over one million people in Australia who have some form of hearing loss, mostly associated with aging. Very few of these people, however, would know or use Auslan.

In contrast, people who have been deaf from early childhood know and use Auslan and form the core of the signing deaf community. Interestingly, Auslan is the native language (i.e., the language acquired from birth) of only a minority of deaf signers, as most deaf people have hearing parents. Auslan is thus not usually passed on to deaf children from their hearing parents, but is instead learned by deaf children from adults outside the family, such as at pre-school or school.

Overall, the deaf community resembles other ethic and linguistic minority communities in that it forms a distinct subculture within the Australian community. Deaf people value membership in the signing community, and participation in its organisational networks.

The peak organization of the Auslan-using deaf community in Australia is Deaf Australia.

Interested readers will find much more information about Auslan and the deaf community in Johnston, T., & Schembri, A. (2007). Australian Sign Language: An introduction to sign language linguistics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.