This year I was presented with the unique and wonderful opportunity of attending the XVII Australian Deaf Games hosted in Adelaide. The Games are arguably the biggest event on the social calendar of the Deaf and hard-of-hearing community in Australia, taking place every two years. Athletes compete in a variety of sports over the seven days of the Games and while these sporting competitions are at the heart of the Games, I soon realised that the spirit of the Games is much broader than sport. The Games provide the opportunity for the Deaf and hard-of-hearing community to come together and celebrate their shared history and achievements in sport, culture and accessibility.
Arriving at Adelaide Airport from Sydney on Saturday 9th January, I was thrilled to spot two people communicating in Auslan, Australian Sign Language, while collecting their luggage. As a student of Auslan for the past six years, I am always excited to see people using the language when I’m out and about. In the hustle and bustle of Sydney, it can be weeks or even months between Auslan sightings for me (excluding of course when I attend Deaf community events). When I saw another group of people using Auslan while I waited for a taxi from the airport to the hotel, I realised that this was no coincidence and must be due to the Australian Deaf Games!
This became one of the delights of the Games – meeting and communicating with hundreds of Auslan-users all over the city of Adelaide. At the sporting venues, there were even kiosk staff selling food and drinks who were able to communicate in Auslan, or were aware of the communication strategies that make transactions smooth when they communicated with Deaf and hard-of-hearing people without Auslan. It is by experiencing all of this that I realised what a wonderful and rare opportunity the Deaf Games are for the community. A chance for Deaf people to live for a week in a world that knows, understands and celebrates their language and their culture. It reminded me of a video I’d seen in which a Deaf man is surprised to wake up one morning to a world where everyone is fluent in his sign language: Watch here
The Opening Ceremony of the Australian Deaf Games took place that same evening. The atmosphere was buzzing and the crowds filled the stadium stands to the brim. The Athletes' Parade included teams from each Australian State, and there were also two international teams, New Zealand and Fiji. This was Fiji’s first time competing in the Games, and they were received with a very warm welcome from the crowd. The Athletes' Parade was followed by exciting, colourful and vibrant performances including a circus dance routine by the Deaf Kids and Cirkidz groups, a ceremonial Fijian dance, and an Auslan children’s choir performing the Australian National Anthem.
For the first few days I spent most of my time in the Games Hub, where there were information stalls about accessibility services and products available to the Deaf and hard-of-hearing community. I enjoyed hosting our Ai-Live stall and having the time and opportunity to talk one-on-one with people in Auslan about the captioning services we provide at Ai-Media. Our main message was to let everyone know that live captioning is not just for television, but is available for individual’s everyday lives as well. Ai-Live continues to make an impact in people’s schools, universities and workplaces and it was wonderful to share this with the community at the Games. Ai-Media was proud to be the official captioning sponsor of the Australian Deaf Games in 2016.
I also had the opportunity throughout the week to visit sports venues around Adelaide and watch the competition in action. The range of sports at the Games was diverse, including tennis, netball, rugby, cricket, ten pin bowling, lawn bowls, darts, golf, athletics, beach volleyball, eight ball, table tennis, touch football and futsal. Even as a person who rarely watches sport at home, I was instantly swept up into the atmosphere and enjoyed watching the skill of the athletes. I did have to Google what “futsal” was though...
It turns out that futsal is a form of soccer with just five players a side, played on a smaller, indoor court. I assumed this meant the game would be a bit more laid back than soccer, but I couldn’t have been more wrong! It turns out that the smaller pitch size means the same level of action is packed into a smaller space, and the ball still flies with the same ferocity from one end of the pitch to the other. The indoor aspect also meant that the ball often rebounded off a wall and sometimes into the crowd. There was great excitement watching futsal, but it was vital the crowd watched the ball at every moment so they knew when to duck!
The Games were also host to a variety of cultural activities, including Auslan-interpreted tours of the Art Gallery of South Australia, State Library of South Australia and the South Australian Museum. These tours provided accessibility to in-depth information in Auslan about the items on display. It was fantastic to see Auslan tours offered at these locations, and the awareness it brought to the people working at each venue about Auslan and the interest that offering accessible tours generates.
Attending the Australian Deaf Games was an incredible experience and I was honoured to be a part of it and be given such a friendly welcome by the community. Thank you to everyone who stopped by our stall, appreciated our passion about accessibility and who shared their stories and experiences with us.
Did you attend the Australia Deaf Games this year? Do you plan to attend in 2018? Let us know in the comment section below.
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