With an estimated one in six Australians living with hearing loss, TAFE NSW Nowra Auslan teacher Robert Leeson is working, one class at a time, to teach people to use their hands to be heard.
Mr Leeson was born deaf and despite wanting to work outdoors found himself teaching Auslan (Australian Sign Language) at TAFE NSW 23 years ago.
In 1982, Auslan was recognised as a community language, and from then Mr Leeson said "people started to notice deaf people because they could see us communicating".
"Deaf people are invisible members of the community until they start to sign. I think people saw how nice signing looked and it became a skill they wanted to learn," Mr Leeson said.
He has noticed a growing interest in the language's popularity as an additional skill for those working with children and in the growing care and disabilities sectors, providing direct support for deaf people who use Auslan.
Mr Leeson said learning Auslan as a language took about the same amount of time and commitment as learning any other language. He teaches Certificate II in Auslan at TAFE NSW Nowra two nights a week over one year.
One of my students is a man from Ulladulla who lost the use of his voice box following surgery. Another couple, aged in their 80s, are learning because their son had lost his hearing.TAFE NSW Nowra Auslan teacher Robert Leeson
To ensure his students get real practical skills and experience he takes them on excursions to gain a better insight into life without being able to hear or speak.
"I take the students shopping for groceries, but they can only use Auslan to communicate," Mr Leeson said.
"I try to make the class fun and have a lot of activities and role play for the students throughout the year.
"Auslan isn't only for people who are deaf, it's a useful skill for people who need to communicate without using their voice.
"One of my students is a man from Ulladulla who lost the use of his voice box following surgery. Another couple, aged in their 80s, are learning because their son had lost his hearing."
Bill and Wilga Casey from Sanctuary Point enrolled in Certificate II Auslan at TAFE NSW Nowra because their son, now 53, started to lose his hearing when he was seven.
He is now deaf and his parents are learning Auslan together to enhance their communication with him.
"Our son can still speak and lip read but he also signs, it would be far easier for him to have a conversation with us if we knew Auslan," she said.
"The course has been very interesting and our teacher, Robert, makes sure everyone in the class understands each step before moving on."
For more information about studying at TAFE NSW, phone 13 16 01 or visit www.tafensw.edu.au.