Margie Abbott's crash Auslan course

Mrs Margie Abbott was at the Deaf Society's Parramatta headquarters today to take a ‘‘crash course’’ in sign language in time for her "day without words" in September.

The prime minister’s wife is a patron of the ‘‘Week without Words’’, an awareness and fundraising initiative for St Lucy's primary school, of which 95 per cent of students live with a communication disability.

Margie Abbott was at Parramatta today to take a crash course in sign language, or Auslan. Picture: Natalie Roberts.

Margie Abbott was at Parramatta today to take a crash course in sign language, or Auslan. Picture: Natalie Roberts.

‘‘They have an event called ‘‘week without words’’ and I have put up my hand to be silent for 24 hours,’’ Mrs Abbott said.

Mrs Abbott said learning Auslan opened up ‘‘a whole new opportunity’’ for people to not only communicate with people who are deaf, but could also create employment opportunities.

During the lesson, the society’s manager of access and community development, Kate Matairavula, showed Mrs Abbott some signs and phrases and explained the basics of the Auslan system of communication through Auslan interpreter Tanya Miller.

‘‘It’s like creating pictures,’’ Mrs Matairavula said.

‘‘So there’s established signs, like ‘‘umbrella’’, then you just describe it, so for example ‘‘stripes’’ or ‘‘flowers’’ on the umbrella.’’

Mrs Matairavula explained some of the differences between English and Auslan, which she said includes terminology that ‘‘reflects a deaf person’s perspective of the world’’.

‘‘In English, you don’t call people ‘‘hearing’’,’’ she said. ‘‘So I’m deaf, and whoever’s not deaf is ‘‘hearing’’.’’

According to the Deafness Forum of Australia, one in six Australians has some type of hearing loss, whether it is for example from birth, age related or from industrial noise.

‘‘But to actually know how many are signing deaf people, that’s more difficult to find out. The Census says what language do you ‘‘speak’’ at home. Because it says ‘‘speak’’, I think a lot of people don’t answer the question.’’

Deaf Society CEO Sharon Everson said the lesson was a great way to encourage the prime minister’s wife to use some sign language during her day without words.

"If everybody used some sign language then deaf people wouldn't feel so disabled," Mrs Everson said.

During her lesson, Mrs Abbott signed ‘‘hello, nice to meet you’’ for the Sun’s readers.

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