Auslan, AFL and Inclusion: Jamie and Mia's Story
While there was no doubt in Jamie Howell’s mind that she would join the Yeronga South Brisbane Devils AFL Team, she admits it took her two years to “build up the courage” to play her first game.
As an international-level track and field competitor, it was not the lack of athletic prowess that held Jamie back, nor her unfamiliarity with the sport. It was the fact that she would be the only profoundly Deaf person in the 60-person squad.
(image via ABC News)
“The first thing I learned was that AFL teams are huge,” she says. “It was quite scary, the thought of joining such a big hearing team. What made it easier was Mia.”
Jamie and Mia work closely together every week at Yeerongpilly’s Early Childhood Development Program, Jamie as an Auslan Language Model and Mia as an Occupational Therapist with Hear for Kids.
Mia Walsh had been playing for the Devils for three years and, as team captain, was instrumental in Jamie’s decision to join the team.
“Working at Hear for Kids has allowed me the privilege of working with and alongside some amazing people in the Deaf community, including Jamie,” says Mia. “She helped me understand her reservations about joining the team and the previous obstacles she overcame to play high level sport.”
Read an interview with Mia about her work here.
Born profoundly deaf, Jamie has been participating in the highest levels of Deaf Athletics since she was still in school, including the Australian Deaf Games, Asia Pacific Deaf Games and the Deaflympics.
With COVID putting an unfortunate hold her international athletics career, AFL has proven to be a welcome outlet for her skills.
“Everyone could see Jamie’s talent straight away,” says Mia. “She showed such amazing bravery to join the team. She is such a natural athlete and quickly worked her way up to the top team. It’s a testament to her commitment, drive, courage and skill.”
Jamie says she was welcomed by the team straight away.
“They were incredible right from the start, even through the small things,” she says. “When we were about to get our playing jumpers with our names on them, I asked them if my name could be spelled out in Auslan, and they did it!”
From the moment Jamie joined, says Mia, the team’s leadership group continued to work on ways they could support Jamie.
“I had thought about teaching some of the players conversational Auslan, but that proved to be a bigger job than I thought,” says Mia. “Then we came up with the idea of performing the team song in Auslan.
With help from a local Auslan interpreter, Mia and the leadership group began to teach the whole squad an Auslan version of the song, all the while keeping it secret from Mia.
“It took everyone about six weeks to learn it,” Mia says. “We’d practice in small groups online and at training when we knew Jamie wasn’t looking. It was the biggest and most exciting secret squirrel!”
Jamie says she never cottoned on to what was happening as the whole squad rehearsed.
“I had no clue,” she says. “They’d been planning it for weeks and I never caught them once!”
The team debuted the Auslan song after a big win at their home ground. The moment was captured on a mobile phone video and was posted on the Yeronga Devils Facebook page. It struck a chord with all who watched it and quickly went viral.
The video quickly racked up nearly 40,000 views and was shared more than 300 times. From there, local, national and international media came calling.
Watch the amazing video HERE.
For Jamie, it was “an absolute whirlwind”, but one with so many positives.
“The video isn’t about me ‘overcoming’ my hearing loss or achieving things ‘despite’ being a Deaf person,” says Jamie, “it's about a club who created an inclusive environment. I hope that other hearing clubs out there will see the small things that they can do for people like myself who want to join but are a bit reluctant to."
An immediate benefit has been a significant increase in people in and around the club wanting to learn the Auslan song, and more about Auslan itself.
“We made a new video of the song with our players to share with the Junior and Men’s teams,” says Mia. “Both our women’s teams now sign the song in Auslan no matter what team Jamie is playing in. It has become part of us and hopefully part of our club culture going forward.”
If you would like to find out more about learning Auslan in-person or online, go to deafservices.org.au/learntosign 🙌