Growing up in a Deaf family, advocacy came naturally to Drisana Levitzke-Gray. Here's her first-person account of what is already a well-traveled, adventurous career.
My family has always been involved in the Deaf Community in one way or another. The five generations of Deaf women in my family were all heavily involved in either Deaf sports or politics, so if you like to put it that way, they advocated in all areas. My great-grandmother, Dorothy Shaw, founded the “Concerned Deaf for Total Communication in Education” group many years ago, promoting the use of both sign language and English in Deaf schools. Dot lobbied for (and assisted with the formation of) the Australian Caption Centre, the launch of Telephone Typewriters (TTYs) in Australia, and the research and development of an Auslan dictionary and the recognition of Auslan as the official language for the Australian Deaf Community. The most significant organisation she established, with the assistance of others, was the Australian Association of the Deaf (A.A.D) in 1986, which is now known as Deaf Australia, Australia’s national Deaf association.
Her daughter, my grandmother, Danielle Shaw, was actively involved in sports, especially Ten Pin Bowling and won the World Deaf Ten Pin Bowling Championship twice.
My mother, Patricia Levitzke-Gray, has been a major influence in my life, encouraging me to be independent, informing me of my rights and what my choices are. She’s worked for the community service of the WA Deaf Society for 21 years this June 2014, and has been involved in all areas of advocacy, in her other work as the secretary of WAAD (Western Australian Association of the Deaf), as a board member of Deaf Australia, and has advocated for the rights of Deaf Community in many ways.
Photo courtesy of Ms. Levitke-Gray
I grew up proud of who I was and cherish my first language – Auslan. I am proud of the Deaf Community of Western Australia who shaped me into the person I am today. I went through my fair share of discrimination growing up and with those experiences and outcomes, it made me realise my capacity to advocate for our rights as a linguistic minority to have equal access to society. My heart is in the Deaf Community, the advocacy that I do, I do all for all Deaf people in the hope I can effect positive change.
I went through the regular procedure when I received my Jury Summons in the mail, I emailed the Sheriff’s office at the Perth District Court to inform them that I would need to have a professional-level nationally certified Auslan/English Interpreter to be able to fully participate in the proceedings.
At first they were unsure of this as they have never encountered this in the past, often encouraging Deaf people of their option to be excused from Jury Duty, or in most states of Australia, to deny them outright despite requests by Deaf people to participate, due to which many have made complaints and challenged the courts. However, in Western Australia, I went back and forth with the court via email answering their questions (eg. was I fluent in English, etc.), and eventually they booked an Auslan Interpreter and on the court day, I went in and I was ballot-selected alongside 43 other potential jurors for a particular case about to go on trial that morning. This means I made it through the initial summons stage and the preliminary ballot stage, which no other Deaf Auslan user in Australia has managed to go through.
With another ballot they chose the next 14 people to stay for the duration of the trial (which included the charges “aggravated burglary” and “causing grievous bodily harm”). I was one of the 30 people who were not selected at that time, but this is a random number-selection process, so I had just as much of a chance as others in the group of being selected.
For Australia, this is the first, and a massive, milestone for our Deaf Community, having one of our members to get through the jury summons stage, which has never been achieved until the 14th of January 2014. I am in progress of working with the Perth District Court as to how we can improve things further for future Deaf people who are summoned for Jury Duty. Australia now joins USA and New Zealand as the only handful of countries where Deaf people have been allowed to perform their civil duty for jury service.
I have my own Website (www.drisanalg.com), which is a vlog site, that followed me across my year of studying/travelling abroad, where I grabbed opportunities to interview a bunch of people including Deaf people with Ph.D.s talking about what the latest research says about Sign Language. Deaf business owners such as the Italian restaurant in San Francisco, Mozzeria, appear, and I also check out “Deaf Village Ireland” in Ireland. All the videos are in Auslan with English captions to provide access for all!