The simple measure — all in a sign — opening up tourism to the deaf community

Danni Wright has travelled all corners of the world but has always felt there was something missing.

The Sydney woman always struggled as the only deaf person on holiday tours, but her recent experience on an Auslan-interpreted trip to the Blue Mountains turned that around.

“Normally, [on a bus tour] I wouldn’t pay a lot of attention to what was happening around me,” Ms Wright said.

“Having the interpreter this time meant I was able to get so much more of the information.”

Ms Wright, who returned to Australia last year after living abroad, said the interpreted tour was a chance to introduce her Swiss-born husband Salomon, who is also deaf, to an area impacted by last summer’s bushfires.

Play Video. Duration: 48 seconds

Danni Wright says it was hard to escape the imagery of the bushfires

“My husband of two years only arrived here three months ago,” she said.

“We’re both passionate sign language users.

“I haven’t been to the Blue Mountains since before I moved overseas, and this will be Salomon’s first time.”

Interpreter Georgia Vinals Vega has been working with Sensory Tourism Australia, accompanying groups to bushfire-affected areas like the Blue Mountains and the Shoalhaven.

A woman AUSLAN signing in front of a group
Interpreter Georgia Vinals Vega, second right, at Wynnes Rocks Lookout explaining the impact of the bushfires.(ABC News: Brendan Esposito)

She normally works in the healthcare sector, but jumped at the chance to interpret the tours.

“There’s a lot more social interaction and it’s about building those relationships,” Ms Vinals Vega said.

“The interpreting is very different to doctors’ appointments or parent-teacher meetings.”

The tour was guided by Buck McFarlane and Ms Vinals Vega interpreted his commentary throughout the day.

A tour group being led through a garden.
The tour group being led by Mr McFarlane.(ABC News: Brendan Esposito)

“It’s a language, it’s communication that the community should broadly share,” he said. “We can create that environment through travel.”

Mr McFarlane launched the business two years ago, providing tours across the country for people with vision impairments.

But when the pandemic shut the borders, he had to concentrate on New South Wales and decided to expand to cater for the deaf community too.

“I wanted to develop a tour company that provided group interaction but also provided support,” Mr McFarlane said.

“It’s very important that I have a group of people with a specific need so that I can tailor a trip that’s totally engaging for them.”

A man and a woman touching a plant
The COVID pandemic led Mr McFarlane to expand his business to cater for the deaf community.(ABC News: Brendan Esposito)

Mr McFarlane said accessible travel options for people living with disability had been limited in the past.

“The social interaction is important especially if you’re with like-minded people,” said Mr McFarlane. “It’s a great opportunity to not only share the destination, but share it together.”

Mr McFarlane led the group through Windyridge Garden, a 5-hectare property at the well-known tourist spot of Mt Wilson which showcases thousands of cold-climate plants.

He shared stories and facts that were interpreted for the group, as they experienced the smells and sights of the blooming camellias, azaleas and maples.

Deaf woman Suti Desai, who migrated to Australia from India in 2004, was buoyed by how well the bush was regenerating.

A woman looking away from the camera.
Deaf woman Suti Desai said she was happy to visit tourist spots with an interpreter.(ABC News: Brendan Esposito)

“It was just devastating to see how [the fires] would have been,” she said.

“How the animals and insects, everybody would have suffered when it happened.”

Ms Desai was delighted to meet other deaf people and experience the interpreted tour together.

“I enjoyed being out of the house after so many months sitting at home feeling depressed,” she said.

Suti Desai having a conversation during the cider tasting in the Blue Mountains
Suti Desai having a conversation during the cider tasting in the Blue Mountains.(ABC News: Brendan Esposito)

In nearby Bilpin, Ms Vinals Vega interpreted a cider tasting for the group.

Ms Wright said having access to an Auslan interpreter made travel less of an isolating experience.

“It means you can talk to the person next to you, it’s not just you getting the information as if you were one deaf person in a tour with all these hearing people,” she said.

“You’d get the information, but you wouldn’t be able to share it.”

ABC News Disability Direct

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