Life is for Living 2005: 25 New Zealanders living with disability tell their stories
Tina - An unqualified NZ Sign Language interpreter
Tina lives in a provincial city and works as an unqualified New Zealand Sign Language interpreter. She is in her early 30s and would like to do the interpreters' diploma but, because of family commitments, cannot move to Auckland for the training. She is an avid reader, lives with her partner and teenage daughter and is actively engaged in hands-on house renovations.
"When I got the implants, I heard my daughter's voice for the first time. It was magic."
Tina had residual hearing as a child, then after being deaf from her teens until her late 20s she has had her hearing restored with a cochlear implant.
If I hadn't had the cochlear implant my life would be totally different. I struggled with being deaf, it was very isolating. I was born hearing and was profoundly deaf by the time I was 13. I knew what it was like to be hearing and I valued hearing. Some other people who are born deaf don't put any value on hearing. For me, I found being part of the Deaf community and signing very liberating, but it was still frustrating not being able to participate fully in the hearing world.
"I love the interpreting work. I gave up a full-time job and took a big cut in pay to do this work. If a qualified interpreter came here I would have to give it up. It means I don't have total control of my career. However, I see myself working as an interpreter a long time into the future, even though it limits my earning capacity."
I was mainstream educated with some technical support, but with no interpreter and no note-taker. As I progressed through secondary school it got harder and harder. I struggled with the work and just thought I was stupid so I left school at 16 and got married a year later.
I had no close friends in my school years - it was just too hard to connect with people. As I got older I had a circle of deaf friends and a few friendships with a group of neat hearing people who bothered to learn how to communicate with me. In our family it was easier, because my Mum and another sister were deaf and we signed at home.
My father learnt to sign quite late in his life, but he always treated me and my twin hearing sister exactly the same.
Two years after leaving school I went to the polytechnic and got a certificate in Human Services. One of the women in the class learnt to sign and interpreted for me. I wouldn't have succeeded without her help, even though I was a good lip reader and the tutor and the polytechnic were quite supportive.
It was really important for me at that time to succeed in a polytechnic course. I had my daughter two months after the course finished.
Over the next few years I did voluntary work with the Deaf Association, worked with Special Education Services supporting families with deaf or hearing impaired-children and did some teacher aiding.
When I was in my late 20s my mother and sister got cochlear implants and I decided to get one too. The Government funded the $60,000 at a time when there was money for a number of implants. It's made such a difference to my mum, my sister and me. I hope everybody who wants the implants gets them, although I realise that may involve waiting. My mum was 55 when she had the implant and it's made such a difference to her quality of life, the type of work she can do. She is now employed by our local Deaf Association.
"Because I have been deaf I know what an act of trust it is to use an interpreter. You rely on the interpreter to communicate really important and personal information. Interpreters are communicating at intimate or serious medical examinations, in situations involving legal interpretations, with the Police or with courts, or even at a funeral. The deaf person has to trust the interpreter has got it right. I really understand the responsibilities of an interpreter to be accurate, impartial and confidential."
Before the implants I could not use a phone, I could not go to any appointment and be sure about what was said. If it was important I needed to take an interpreter, or my partner, or a hearing friend. If no one was available meetings were very stressful. I was limited in what work I could do in the community. Even everyday one-to-one communication required my full concentration and I had difficulties. I limited the number of interactions I had. It was too hard, too tiring, so you end up feeling you do not belong with other people. Because the communication is difficult you feel stupid and limited.
When I was deaf I was reliant on others for day-to-day communication. If I was in the car and it broke down I had to get someone else to help me sort it out. Now I can do that sort of thing myself and the independence is very important to me. I have a much more equal relationship with my partner because there are more ways I can support him.
I have known my partner since I was 13 but we wouldn't be together if I was deaf, because he is a talker - he likes to discuss things, so a relationship where I couldn't communicate thoughts easily wouldn't have worked.
My daughter is hearing impaired, which is a grief for me. However she is mainstreamed and doing really well, with access to the support she needs.
Now she's a teenager I realise how important it is that we can just talk about the trivial things, this helps us have an easier relationship. We were always close but it's so much easier when we can talk easily.
As a teenager she doesn't like to wear her hearing aids - it's a teenage thing. But she knows that later on she can have the implant and things will be different.
I think it's really important for young people to get the implant while they have some residual hearing and not lose out on their education. There is a huge loss of socialisation and resulting loss of self-esteem as they struggle with the deafness and trying to really interact with others. The teenage years are hard enough as it is.
I would like to be fully supported by the work I do, but I still need to rely on a benefit to supplement my income. As an unqualified interpreter I can earn $15 per hour working for the Deaf Association and $30 per hour working for myself. A qualified interpreter can earn $40 per hour working for the Deaf Association and $50 per hour privately. The rates for qualified and unqualified interpreters are currently under review by the Deaf Association.
"I believe that in the next 10 years access for the deaf will get better, but how fast is partially dependent on funding. The New Zealand Sign Language Bill is in Parliament now, but there are not nearly enough interpreters, official or unofficial. In 10 years I hope I will be working as one of those interpreters, official or unofficial."
Tina teaches New Zealand Sign Language at a night class at the local polytechnic. "Who comes to these courses? Well, on each course there are two or three nursing students."
Actually, one of the nursing students I taught to sign had a big impact on my life. When I was deaf I was in a severe car accident and he was on duty. He could sign to me and it helped me give information that saved my life.
On each course there are usually some parents or family members of deaf children, some trainee teachers of the deaf, and people with an interest in learning sign language. There are not usually employers or co-workers of deaf people. I am concerned that recent changes to funding community education courses could mean that these courses are no longer run as the polytechnic cannot fund them.
I think that community and individual awareness of deaf people has greatly improved since Mum was a child and since I was a teenager, but sometimes I think deaf people are just not 'on the radar' for people without a family member who is deaf. There are people who learn to communicate in a different way, those who are open to it and would if they knew how, and people who just don't have it in them.