Visual tech training brings new opportunities within range for the deaf community

Classes in digital technologies have opened a vital door for thousands of Australian seniors. But for those facing the communication barriers associated with deafness and age-related hearing loss, the benefits can be even more profound.
Telstra Sustainability | 10 August 2023 | 3 minute read
Group of seniors in a classroom holding up their Tech Savvy Senior certificates

If there was an award for tech skills acquisition within Australia’s deaf community, Marcia Girke-Boyle would be a leading candidate. When she’s not out shopping or socialising, the outgoing pensioner spends much of her time practising the skills she’s picked up at Deaf Connect’s Tech Savvy Seniors classes at her local library in Campbelltown. She’s forgotten how many of these classes she’s attended – “but it must be at least 20 by now”.

For Marcia, who turned 80 in June, learning new technology is less of a hobby than a necessity. “With all the new apps around these days, I don’t think I’ll ever run out of things to learn,” she chuckles. “But the benefits of these skills have been fantastic… they make every part of my life easier.”

Since Tech Savvy Seniors (TSS) began in 2014, more than 200,000 participants have accessed a rich variety of lessons in communications, shopping, banking, booking and cyber-safety skills, in up to 16 different languages. For Deaf Connect’s community accessing the program in New South Wales, the language of choice is Auslan – the national sign language, used by at least 16,000 Australians. 

Deaf Connect has run nearly 150 TSS classes since 2015, with more than 1,100 enrolments – from its main office in Parramatta, to libraries and community centres across Sydney, and out to regional centres like Gosford, Wollongong and Newcastle.

But the real boon, says program coordinator Laura Robinson, was the end of COVID-19 – when they could return to face-to-face classes.

“As Auslan is a visual language, it’s much better to provide training in person, delivered by our deaf trainers in Auslan, which is the primary language of all our participants,” explains Laura. “We suspected that enrolments would bounce back after COVID – and that’s what we’re seeing now.”

Step-by-step graphics

Deaf Connect has specially adapted our training to focus on graphic ‘how-to’ lessons demonstrating popular apps, video platforms, and other programs, with clear illustrations leading you through each step for downloading and using an app – and handouts to take home and practice yourself.

“The conversations are always very lively,” laughs Anne Bajraszewski, who teaches the Campbelltown and Bomaderry courses. “I unpack each tool and step through it, making sure the participants clearly understand everything."

“But it’s so gratifying, seeing these lovely seniors learning new apps that you know they’ll be using to buy things, book events, and stay safe online. When the class ends and they go home, they’re always beaming!”

For Laura, the close partnership between Deaf Connect, Telstra and the NSW Government means the classes will always be informed by the deaf seniors who attend them.

“Our participants want to become more confident using platforms such as FaceTime, WhatsApp and Skype, so they can connect with their deaf friends and family members,” says Laura. “And increased confidence using these platforms also naturally increases access to interpreting services as well.” 

“I think being confident when using a device is so important,” adds Anne. “If a deaf person like me has a doctor’s appointment and an interpreter is not available in person, it’s incredibly useful to be able to video-call an interpreter who can remotely interpret instead.”

For Marcia Girke-Boyle, the lessons are so valuable she keeps going back.

“I used to be very scared trying to book or buy things online, not knowing which sites I could trust,” says Marcia. “But Anne’s lessons have given me the confidence to know how to keep my details safe.

“It’s been great having the handouts too, so I can practice when I get home… There are so many new things to learn these days – but they’re not so scary anymore.”

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