How KC turned her love of a “secret language” into a career in Auslan.
Kelliemarie Lawton (“KC” to her friends) always knew sign language would be part of her life. Growing up in the UK, she says she remembers always wanting to learn it.
“Ever since I was a child, I was interested in it,” she says. “I remember thinking it was a secret language, and always thought it was so beautiful.”
Life took KC in other directions, but after having her first child, she decided to reconnect with her interest.
“I was on maternity leave, and had a day spare in a week, so I decided to learn,” she says.
KC began learning BSL (British Sign Language), but soon moved to Australia with her husband. Wanting to continue her study, she enrolled in Community Classes at Deaf Services in Brisbane to learn Auslan (Australian Sign Language).
It was a decision KC says she never regrets. She progressed through her introduction to Auslan and immediately began a formal educational pathway, progressing from Certificate II all the way to a Diploma of Auslan in 2019.
That same year, KC began attending weekend Auslan camps offered through the Deaf Services Education program. These “voice off” camps were a chance for her to fully immerse herself in the language, with all communication during the camp restricted to Auslan only.
“It was such a fun and different way of learning,” KC says. “There were so many great activities and because it’s not a classroom setting I got so much out of it.”
KC returned to the camps again and again, finding benefits not only in improving her Auslan skills, but also making meaningful social connections.
After moving from Ipswich, south of Brisbane to Moreton Bay, nearly 100kms to the north, KC says the friendships she made through the camps were invaluable.
“After my move I didn’t feel as isolated because I knew people I’d met from Auslan camps,” she says. “People come from all over to attend them as well. I’ve met people from all over Queensland and even New South Wales.”
KC has worked for the past three years as an Educational Interpreter, supporting Deaf children in primary school settings, work she describes as “very rewarding”.
Despite her role, KC says she does not encounter many Deaf people in her day-to-day life, which makes the Auslan camps that much more important for her.
“One of my favourite parts of the camps is meeting different people from the Deaf community, who are there as teachers or volunteers,” says KC. “What I love is learning is where they’re come from and their own journey to Auslan. Deaf people have such varied backgrounds – it’s not just one story.”
At the most recent camp in October 2020, KC brought along a friend who had just started learning Auslan. KC says it was a good example of how people at the camps support each other, regardless of their proficiency in sign language.
“My friend doesn’t get a lot of Auslan practice, so I suggested she come along,” says KC. “She was a bit worried at first, but by the time the camp was over she said it was so worth it. She loved it, and I think she’ll be back every year now!”
As for the future, KC says her goal is to complete a Diploma of Interpreting with Deaf Services and the Deaf Society and begin work as an Auslan Interpreter, “when I’m good enough!”
With her lifelong passion for the language and boundless enthusiasm for Deaf history and culture, it’s clear KC’s dream will be realised very soon.