Meet the man saving lives with sign

From September 2019 Australia suffered through a bushfire crisis never before seen, burning over 18 million hectares, destroying 5900 buildings and homes, and taking the lives of 34 Australians.

During this time, Sean Sweeney became a regular on the news, spending countless hours as an Auslan interpreter bringing life-saving bushfire updates to the deaf community. As the first child in his family to be born ‘of hearing’ in over 100 years, it’s easy to understand why Sean is so passionate about the deaf community, its language and its culture – and the importance of his job.

How do you think your community felt watching you during the recent bushfire crisis?

When you have a disability there can be huge anxiety because you don’t know what’s going on. My Dad is 80 years old and lives Callala Bay, and he was in the path of the fires. He loves watching TV and he was excited when he saw the interpreters because he finally knew what was going on. If you’ve ever seen TV captions, they just don’t work and if you aren’t a strong reader it can be even harder. We need to make sure people of all abilities know what’s going on in an emergency.

What drives your passion for interpreting?

Interpreting saves lives. It can be hard but it’s really important work. Language gives you confidence, identity and culture and when you have those three things in order you become a better person. People who are deaf are always putting together jigsaw puzzles to piece together the world – that lip movement, a simple gesture or eye gaze. Sometimes the puzzle is never complete and they don’t have full understanding. If you don’t have understanding, you can’t learn and that is the biggest challenge. 

How can interpreting create change in our communities?

People are using Auslan more and more, and it’s allowing people to learn about their culture. They go on their own journey to learn that part of their identity. It empowers them and when you’re empowered you become more confident and achieve more.

Learn more

You can find more information on Sean and his Auslan interpreting services at his website.

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Sean holding two fists out in front of him, interpreting.