Helen Mahar, along with being the founder of Auslan For Young People in Melbourne, is a volunteer Community Visitor at the Office of the Public Advocate, and a steering committee member at the Youth Disability Advocacy Service. (She will also eat anything if it’s drowning in whipped cream). Helen recently sat down and shared with us her motivation for starting her own organisation and aspirations for the future.
Tell us the story of your project or idea. How did it start? How did you go from idea to reality?
I’m hard of hearing, so I started learning Auslan with a tutor in 2013. We met once a week but I wanted to meet other young people with whom I could practice.
I started Auslan For Young People in Melbourne in 2013 as a way for young people to learn sign language in an informal environment at no cost. There are places in Melbourne where you can fork out $200+ for a two-day class but that doesn’t ensure that your skills will be improved upon. I also feel that it’s important that young people (in this group, ages 15-30) have a comfortable space that is just for them.
All skill levels are welcome. We have people studying Auslan at TAFE, people who know nothing about Auslan; people who identify as hearing, hard of hearing and Deaf. We have one professional interpreter who has been really helpful with creating learning activities and games.
What challenges have you faced and how did you overcome them?
Money can be an issue because the group is an entirely volunteer venture. Recently I had an A-frame sign made with our logo. While the sign looks great and lets members know where we are, the price hurt a little.
Who or what motivates or inspires you? What keeps you going through the tough times?
Like any other facet of the disability community, the Deaf and hard of hearing community suffers ignorant comments and discrimination. I think that for the most part, people want to be educated and to learn; however, members of the community don’t have endless time and patience to deal with the kind of inane comments they get. (e.g. “If you’re deaf, how can you drive?” and “You don’t look deaf.”)
What events or experiences in your own life do you think were critical to getting you to where you are today?
My best friend Madeleine Sobb was a Project Officer at Youth Disability Advocacy Service; we met in 2012 when she took me on as a volunteer for the National Youth Disability Conference. She encouraged me to work in disability, to apply to the Office of the Public Advocate, and to get serious with Auslan For Young People in Melbourne, to make it something real. She passed away suddenly on May 22, and her absence will leave a hole in the disability community, where she did great advocacy work.
What are you working on right now and what are you most excited about in the next three months?
At the end of June, I’ll be starting a six-month Certificate IV in Mental Health. I’m really excited about that because I’ll meet other students who work in the community.
In one sentence, what advice would you give to other young people?
Time is a resource, so whatever it is you want to do, do it now before any more time passes.
If you are interested in learning more about Auslan For Young People in Melbourne, visit their website, or like them on Facebook. Want to share your story with us? Get in touch: communications[at]youngopportunities.org