When communication is key

Darren Roberts, right, with Jay Pinkster from Wallara TV (left), Ben and Bella. 194046

By Narelle Coulter

The Casey Cardinia Region is home to the only deaf owned and operated Auslan training organisation in Australia.

The Auslan Company is the passion and the pride of Pakenham’s Darren Roberts.

Darren started his business in 2004 with two teachers, Jennie and Walter, who are still with him today. The business now has 20 teachers on its books who provide a range of Auslan language training to business, schools, childcare centres, sporting clubs and in other community settings.

“Teaching Auslan is our passion and we teach Auslan anywhere in Australia,“ Darren explained.

A former horse trainer and disability worker, Darren was born hearing but a bout of meningitis when he was four robbed him of his hearing.

He wore a hearing aid until he was in his 30s when his tinnitus started to be amplified by the aids. That’s when he “truly became a deaf person who cannot hear anything but can talk normally“.

Darren’s motivation for starting his business was simple.

“I wanted to work for myself so I could be home with my children in the school holidays and the summer holidays and I don’t like being told what to do. I’m a bad employee!“ Darren said.

“I love being creative, visionary and innovative – to do things with Auslan that others do not do.“

The Auslan Company offers courses for Auslan beginners and intermediate students and short introductory courses or longer weekly courses in workplaces.

It offers deaf cultural awareness for workplaces and teaches Auslan in childcare centres to both staff and children.

Darren’s team has also expanded their work into schools, which can now choose Auslan as a LOTE subject.

“We also teach weekly courses to staff in disability schools, in disability centres and for DHHS in group homes,“ Darren explained.

Teachers also work with families who have a deaf child through the NDIS.

To extend the reach of Auslan in the general population, the company has also created an Auslan USB learning resources for anyone in Australia to learn Auslan at home.

Darren’s customers include the Federal Government through the NDIS, local councils, universities, childcare centres, kindergartens, the Red Cross, the Apple store at Southland Shopping Centre and the St Kilda and Melbourne football clubs.

“We go into workplaces such as a luggage shop or a café and teach basic meet and greet and money signs so staff can communicate with deaf customers and get repeat business – deaf people will spread the word,“ he said.

“Auslan overcomes many language barriers and helps people unable to verbally communicate have a sign language to use instead.“

Darren’s passion for his business and its social dividend is palpable.

“I just love teaching the language and sharing my language with people who are really interested in learning. I find it amazing that so many people want to learn. It’s awesome!

“And I am inspired because many deaf people have family who do not sign to them so providing people with an opportunity to learn Auslan and to communicate with their deaf family members, friends, workmates and deaf customers is a brilliant thing. It is so inclusive and makes us belong.

“At present, each year we teach around 1000 people in our various Auslan courses but in primary schools and childcare centres through our Auslan LOTE programs we are teaching around 4000 children each week. That is amazing! And this will get bigger as more and more schools add Auslan as their preferred LOTE subject.“

The Auslan Company relies on word of mouth referral for its growth which can be a challenge.

“We are David to the Goliath of State Governments funded deaf societies who also provide Auslan community and workplace courses and get funded millions to do so and as such have a huge marketing account,“ Darren said.

Another challenge is working from home, balancing family and business time, which often necessitates evening work.

Asked where he hopes to take the company in the next 10 years, Darren’s vision is boundless and includes a series of YouTube stories where he interviews famous deaf people and a TV sports program on Wallara TV where all the presenters are deaf.

There are also plans for a pilot show for the ABC where The Auslan Company teachers teach Auslan beginners for people Australia wide to learn at home.

The company is already moving into the performing arts space and recently worked with actors who needed to be able to sign in a play.

In South Australia the company has been asked to translate 6 songs into Auslan for a primary school performance of a ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ plus create an Auslan signed version of the play to be shown simultaneously for deaf family and friends attending on the night.

Darren would also like to create a poetry and short story writing workshop group called ‘Deaf Poets Society’ and he has a book in the pipeline called My Daddy is Deaf.

“With my daughter Samantha, a Wurundjeri woman, I want to create an aboriginal inspired and deaf related series of workshops that connects the two worlds.“

It’s no understatement when he says “It’s a very exciting time“!

Darren is grateful that his disability has allowed him to not only build a successful business, but also touch people’s lives in a positive way.

“I am so grateful for the opportunity I have to make a small difference to someone somewhere out there and knowing that we are helping change people’s lives makes the work so enjoyable.“

More information can be found at www.learnauslan.com.au/victoria or email Darren at theauslancompany@gmail.com