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A sign of success: Cathy helps Deaf students with their study journeys

For TAFE Queensland Disability Coach, Cathy Harris, learning the unique and visual language of Australian Sign Language, Auslan, sparked a lengthy career for Cathy interpreting for and supporting Deaf students to achieve their learning goals at TAFE Queensland.

“I’m in love with sign language. I always have been,” Cathy responded when asked how she came to learn Auslan.

Cathy has worked with TAFE Queensland for more than 15 years, with an extensive career in community work prior.

“I've always enjoyed learning Auslan on and off over the years. But when I moved to Toowoomba, I got a job at the Queensland Deaf Society as an employment consultant for the Deaf. That's when I started learning seriously from the Deaf community.”

Cathy has supported students to complete a wide range of courses, from horticulture, engineering, hairdressing and individual support to migrant English skills, automotive, information technology and first aid.

Her assistance starts from day one, commencing with signing the online study orientation sessions at the commencement of Semester 1 and 2, before working with her students in-person.

“I attend classes with the student and interpret for them,” Cathy explained.

“Quite often I'll work one-on-one with our students, rearranging the content and explaining what it means.”

“The student will also explain it back to me in sign and then I put it into English context for their assessments.”

Cathy finds her role incredibly rewarding, watching the students complete their studies, graduate and move onto their chosen careers.

“I love seeing our Deaf student enjoying their courses and receiving their qualifications.”

“Last year we had two students that I'd been helping at TAFE Queensland’s Springfield campus graduate and it was just the most wonderful thing to see their faces at the graduation ceremony. Their family was so proud. That's the best bit.”

More recently, Cathy has been upskilling her Auslan abilities, with online training courses in Auslan now available.

“For the past 20 years, because access to training and upskilling was only available in the big cities and because of my caring responsibilities, I couldn't go.”

“But as the community has experienced change, and with COVID-19, we've got a whole new aspect to the language. So I'm happy to be able to access Auslan training online now which is fantastic.”

At TAFE Queensland, the AccessAbility Support team work with students to develop an individual support plan which may include: communicating with teachers when required, providing sign language interpreters, readers, and scribes, loaning assistive technology and coordinating alternative assessment arrangements.

TAFE Queensland has a range of other support services available to help students achieve their study goals, including access to personal and career counselling and literacy and numeracy support.