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Thursday, 15 September 1983
Page: 954

Ms McHUGH(10.5) —I want to bring to the attention of the House tonight the fact that in our country, where the right of every child to gain access to a decent education is taken for granted, that basic right is denied to deaf students wishing to continue their education beyond secondary level. I think it is immoral that in Australia we do not meet the educational needs of the deaf. Indeed we give a low priority to educational programs for the deaf and at tertiary level ignore completely their special needs on the basis that there is not sufficient demand. I believe there is no demand because the services are not available. Deaf persons wishing to go to university have their dreams shattered because they are denied equal access to information.

No one in this House would disagree that the opportunity to learn is our birthright and society has a responsibility to provide a setting in which a student can achieve educational goals. No student should be induced into accepting an educational environment in which he or she has limited services, gross disadvantages and little possibility of realising the central academic objectives of schooling. America, for instance, is far in advance of us in the education of the deaf. There is legislation in the form of the Education for all Handicapped Children Act 1975 which provides educational assistance to all handicapped children. In addition, assistance is provided for deaf students at many of the major universities. In Rochester, for instance, there is the National Technical Institute for the Deaf attached to the university and funded by Federal funds. This innovation has been highly successful and is a model for Australia to examine and to consider.

Here in Australia when students reach tertiary level they can do one of two things. If they have financial means they can go to America and study for a degree. If they have no financial means they can just forget tertiary education because their chance of getting a degree at a university in Australia is nil. I first became aware of this problem when constituents in my electorate, which contains the largest university in Australia, came to see me for assistance for their son who is studying for a science degree by correspondence at Macquarie University on the other side of Sydney. He needs to attend the University for laboratory work and for some class work but finds himself at a complete disadvantage because of the non-existence of interpreter and note-taking services. Like so many other deaf students who are keen enough, their son left Australia to go to America where the facilities are available but came home because the alienation from his family and friends was overwhelming.

This discrimination against the deaf cannot be rectified overnight but, as our Labor Government cares about equality of opportunity for all Australians, we should attempt to make the education of all handicapped persons a higher priority than it is at present. I will present to the House some figures given to me by the Adult Deaf Society of New South Wales. In Australia between the years 1964 and 1976, 4,600 deaf children were born. In the next few years most of them will be adults. In Australia at the moment there are one million Australians with varying degrees of deafness. In New South Wales there are 2,000 school-age children who are deaf. These people are a minority but they should not for that reason be made inferior.

Deafness Awareness Week will be held around Australia at the end of September. What an excellent opportunity for our Government to begin to look seriously at what measures we can introduce to protect the universal rights of the deaf, for example, the right to the same educational opportunities as the majority of Australians. The goal to aim for is to set up a model like the National Technical Institute for the Deaf in America attached to one of our major universities, perhaps even the University of New South Wales. This would be the most ideal concept to begin with, one which will bring some hope and purpose to the lives of deaf people wishing to complete their education and to take their rightful place in society. I believe that once the model exists and the facility is there the demand for its services will be evident.