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Thursday, 21 May 1970

Mr IRWIN (Mitchell) - 1 addressed this House only recently on the subject of profoundly deaf children and return to it for 2 reasons: firstly, because of the general unawareness and ignorance that abound on the problem of deafness and secondly, because of the widespread, long-standing neglect of deaf children by Federal and State governments, and I might add, by society generally. I am more or less an amateur in this field, although a good deal better informed than I was. Most outsiders look upon deafness as simply one of a number of afflictions that are classified loosely as a handicap. They imagine that one is just as unfortunate as the other. Most outsiders, quite incorrectly, consider deafness as a case of gradual and partial loss that comes on with agc. They would, I am sure, be stunned, as I was, by the realisation of the fact that the child born totally deaf - and otherwise normal - comes into the world with a burden of staggering proportions.

Consider this single fact: A child with normal hearing at the age of 4 or 5 years has all the basic structure of his native language without ever having been taught, solely by being communicated with. How can a child who is born profoundly deaf learn his native language? The answer is: He does not. Further enlightenment might come to an outsider by considering that what 1 might term 'the old fashioned deafness' - cases when deafness was a single handicap - is giving way to the more complex problem of the growing population of the multiple handicapped deaf children.

I mentioned as my second reason for addressing honourable members on the problem of the profoundly deaf child the widespread and long-standing neglect by both Federal and State government We are, all of us, familiar with the thinking of not so many years ago that put ali these human problems into the dark backwaters of institutionalisation. We have hidden the mentally retarded, the afflicted, behind the walls of protective custody. We kidded ourselves they did not exist.

Deafness too has shared this treatment. We will profit nothing by submerging any social problem. Perhaps the following statements will answer the question: Are we guilty today in 1970 of studiously and deliberately submerging a critical social problem? There has never been a Commonwealth or State inquiry into the needs crf deaf children. In no State of Australia is the person in charge of the education of the deaf an educator of the deaf. Imagine the chaos if this was the case in the area of science and mathematics. States do not even have comprehensive State plans for the education of their deaf. There is no single authority to co-ordinate educational and para-educational facilties within most States. Supervision of the work of teachers and of the children themselves is almost nonexistent. Obsolete, defective aud inadequate auditory training equipment is apparent. The increase in the number of day classes for the deaf is not accompanied by a concomitant increase in the number of supervisory personnel. In an era characterised by sophisticated teaching methods and well prepared books, most schools for the deaf in this country are fumbling still with unprofessional, ill prepared guidelines and syllabi.

Much more could be said. However, the central issues are: Urgent need for teachers of the deaf and adequate facilities for diagnosis, assessment and parent gu:dance. Although speaking as an outsider in this field I hope I am speaking for a society that is ashamed that it has looked the other way for so long when the problem of the profoundly deaf child has been mentioned. I was one of that society. I hope, too, that I am speaking for a Government that is at least, after long years of looking the other way, prepared to come to grips with the problem. In my electorate at St Gabriel's School for the Deaf we have a wonderful, dedicated man in Brother Jerry McGrath.

Mr James - Is he a good fellow?

Mr IRWIN - He is a wonderful man and he is assisted by other wonderful men. He has been invited to Stockholm to participate in a very scientific symposium for the teaching of the deaf. Of course, the school I am most interested in is not blessed with great amounts of money. I appeal to all honourable members and to anyone who may be listening to assist us to send Brother McGrath to Stockholm. He is a man of great learning, a man that can assimilate, but above all a man who can disseminate what he has learned. In 1965 or 1966 there were about 150 children born who are profoundly deaf. If we could have had them brought to this school when they were about 1 year old they now would be able to speak their native language. So this is a wonderful opportunity for people of goodwill to assist us in this regard. I appeal to anyone, especially honourable members who can help us, to send a donation to St Gabriel's School for the Deaf, Old Northern Road. Castle Hill. People who make such donations will be doing a magnificent work of charity, assisting people who cannot assist themselves, and helping Brother McGrath and his staff in the great and wonderful work that they are carrying out.

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