National Week of Deaf People: Shirley's Story

As Expression Australia’s Senior Auslan Teacher, Shirley Liu has a wealth of experience adapting different cultures and languages.

Raised in North West Sydney, Shirley was born deaf to hearing parents who had just resettled from China. Her parents spoke Chinese and knew no English and had no knowledge of Sign Language. Growing up, Shirley learnt Auslan through tutors at when she was a year and half old, progressed through school and eventually graduate with a Bachelor of Design (Visual Communication).

“Growing up in a household where my family’s first language was Chinese meant that it was hard for me to communicate at times.” Shirley explained. “My brother was a massive help, translating the more difficult conversations from Auslan into Chinese. I grew up experiencing three different Languages (Chinese, English and Auslan) and three different cultures (Chinese, Australian and Deaf culture).”

In 2016, a full time job opportunity opened for Shirley at Expression Australia. No stranger to taking on challenges, she relocated to Melbourne and started working as a Marketing and Communications Officer and has since changed roles to become the Senior Auslan teacher.

“My role includes a variety of things such as recruiting new Auslan teachers, developing our current teachers and ensuring that they have the necessary resources to teach Sign Language.”

With the demand for Auslan classes increasing, Shirley teaches as well, travelling all around Melbourne so that everyone can have the opportunity to learn her first language, Auslan.

“I love working for Expression Australia because I am always meeting new people in a Deaf friendly environment where my language is understood and respected along with my Deaf culture.”

Shirley is also a board member for the World Federation of the Deaf Youth Section (WFDYS) and has recently become the secretary. The WFDYS advocate for the human rights of Deaf youth all around the world allowing Shirley to travel to numerous countries to fulfil her duties.

Surprisingly, Shirley only found out about the WFDYS in 2013 when she applied to become a leader at the WFDYS Junior Camp in Rome, Italy.

“It was such an amazing camp. I met so many new people and experienced international Deaf culture for the first time. I learnt about how to advocate for Sign Language, Deaf culture, human rights and the importance of Deaf leadership.”

The experience motivated Shirley along with other Australian Deaf leaders to set up Deaf Youth Australia, so that Australian Deaf youths can have the same opportunity to experience international Deaf culture and learn about their Deaf identity.

As Expression Australia celebrates National Week of Deaf People (23 – 29 September), Shirley believes that the education that this one week can achieve will have a big impact on society.

“There’s 365 days in a year and hearing people go through nearly all of them with no knowledge of Sign Language. Having just one week every year where Sign Language is celebrated on a national stage is beneficial for everyone. Hearing people can have the opportunity to see how Deaf people communicate and possibly learn some Auslan themselves!”

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