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National Indigenous Health Conference (2013): a presentation by Liz Temple, NABS Interpreter

Posted by Communications@NABS on 28 April 2014

NABS Interpreter Liz Temple presented at the National Indigenous Health Conference (NIHC) in Cairns on the challenges faced in the Northern Territory by Deaf Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and how NABS is working with the community, hearing services, hospitals and health networks to improve to the health outcomes of Indigenous Deaf people by providing free sign language interpreters for medical and health care appointments.

Figures show that in 2010, eight out of 10 Indigenous children in the NT were affected by hearing loss, while in 2012; nine out of 10 indigenous inmates in the NT had a hearing loss.

Liz said that while many people understand hearing loss in medical terms – glue ear, otitis media (middle ear infection), ruptured ear drums – people often forget the impact of hearing loss in regards to communication which impacts social and family interaction, engagement with the community, learning and access to services.

Liz noted that “if we want to take ‘Closing the Gap/Stronger Futures Policy’ seriously we need to consider how important communication is in this process for Deaf people in achieving better health outcomes”.

She said that Western medical approaches do not tend to incorporate an Indigenous health philosophy.

“When compounded with deafness or hearing loss, this could easily explain why clients who are Deaf and Indigenous are not readily accessing services.”


The Northern Terrritory is known for its rich cultural and linguistic diversity. More than 100 Aboriginal languages and dialects are spoken in the Territory.

“Many Aboriginal Deaf people do not use Auslan (Australian Sign Language) so as interpreters we have adopted a number of strategies to work with clients who use hand talk, community sign or sign language developed within the family – or a mixture of Auslan and community hand talk,” Liz said.

In addition to this, sectors of the Aboriginal population encounter a number of medical challenges such as Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder that impact on their processing of language.

During her presentation, Liz outlined some key approaches for enhancing cultural and linguistic awareness:

• The importance of respect and relationship building
• Encouraging the value of Aboriginal sign languages
• Cross-cultural awareness training
• Indigenous sign/language dictionaries and research

One of the key ways NABS improves its delivery of service is by its close association with the Aboriginal Interpreter Service (AIS).

Other important relationships include: the Department of Health; Hearing Services like Australian Hearing and NT Hearing; Public and Private Hospitals; and Allied Health Networks, such as the Chronic Disease Network, Mental Health Network and Aged and Disability Network.


Liz said that the optimal situation is for Country men and women to become Sign Language Interpreters for Deaf people in their own language group.

“This would be a move toward true meaning based interpreting for Indigenous Deaf people.”

In the meantime, Liz is working closely with Aboriginal interpreters where possible in efforts to match the linguistic and cultural needs of clients.

“Language fluency and cultural knowledge are needed from both perspectives” said Liz in closing.

The NIHC was held at the Cairns Pullman International Hotel on November 25-27, 2013.

Valuable information was shared, including a keynote speech by Paul Higginbotham, CEO of Earbus Foundation WA.

Over 200 people attended the three-day event, many of whom visited the NABS stand.


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