'Awe-inspiring': Police officer leads the way in using Auslan on the job

15 October 2020

When Surfers Paradise police officer Latisha Whalan was approached by Deaf Services and the Deaf Society to make a video teaching her colleagues basic Auslan, she jumped at the opportunity.

“I’ve got three beautiful deaf cousins and this was something I was absolutely honoured to be a part of. I’m like, yep, let me at it,” Constable Whalan said.

Growing up, her cousins taught her how to sign.

Constable Whalan approaches deaf people when she sees them signing in the community.

On one particular call-out her sign language skills diffused a tense situation with a troubled teenager.

“We were called to a job where this young person, the family was worried about their mental health and well being,” she said.

When police entered the unit it became clear the person was deaf, she said.

“It was really important for this particular person, because it wasn’t just a welfare check. I think they felt really isolated.”

Qld police Constable Latisha Whalan in uniform in police office doing sign languageQld police Constable Latisha Whalan in uniform in police office doing sign language
Constable Whalan says she has been able to use her sign language skills when carrying out policing duties.(ABC Gold Coast: Cathy Border)

‘Awe inspiring’ to see

The Auslan program started with Queensland Ambulance and had expanded to include police and fire services.

Brett Casey, chief executive officer of Deaf Services and the Deaf Society, praised the Queensland Government for agreeing to the scheme.

“It’s really great to connect to someone in a critical environment,” he said.

“They’re working in high-stress situations and these can really be compounded by communication issues.”

Via interpreter Mark Cave, Mr Casey said Constable Whalan was a perfect fit for getting her colleagues learning basic Auslan.

“We wanted to leverage their understanding and their abilities in the community to become representatives in their own emergency services — to help their colleagues understand that there is a variety of needs in a diverse community like deaf people,” he said.

“I went to a hospital recently. I fell and had an accident. When I spoke to the doctor at the hospital, there was no interpreter, but the doctor was able to sign a little bit and that made the world of difference to me.”

Deaf Services is hoping to expand the scheme to include information cards emergency workers can have on hand to highlight key information.

ABC News Disability Direct



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