A profoundly deaf woman’s experiences with aged care have left her feeling broken, isolated and forgotten.
A lack of funding for sign language interpreters has seriously affected the quality of 68-year-old Elizabeth Karn’s life, a reality shared by her deaf friends.
“As a deaf elder, I am exhausted and feel broken along with my friends who are in the same situation as me,” Ms Karn told the aged care royal commission on Friday. “We feel excluded, neglected and now isolated because of our disability and age.
“We just want the right to gain access to services and funding that allows deaf elders the right to communicate freely in our country.”
The NSW woman missed out on assistance through the National Disability Insurance Scheme because it was rolled out in her region after she turned 65.
She tried the aged care system but was told interpreters were not provided for sign language, only for spoken languages.
“I felt really excluded,” Ms Karn said through an Auslan interpreter, while about 20 members of the deaf community sat in the Melbourne hearing room. “It is like they forgot deaf people. They don’t provide any kind of support.”
Senior counsel assisting the royal commission Peter Gray QC backed the call for access to sign language interpreters through the aged care system.
“The absence of Auslan interpreting services in the My Aged Care framework is disturbing and unacceptable,” he said.
Ms Karn and her husband Walter, who is also profoundly deaf, rely on a daughter who lives an hour-and-a-half away to act as their interpreter. An Auslan interpreter costs $240 for up to two hours.
Ms Karn said deaf elders want access to an interpreter through the aged care system, in the same way their deaf peers who are under 65 now have the NDIS.
“The government is not considering us. They’re not considering our needs. “My Aged Care is not providing for us the way they do for other people our age.”