Back to listing

Meet Rodney Adams, a Koori deaf researcher taking in Summer School

Summer School

Date: 27 November 2018

Rodney Adams is a lecturer, researcher, a Koori – and deaf – and he’s at the Centre’s Summer School this week.

An Adjunct Lecturer in Auslan and Deaf Studies at the University of Newcastle, Rodney is also a Research Affiliate with the Centre for Disability Research and Policy at the University of Sydney. He is researching Indigenous sign languages and issues impacting deaf and hard of hearing (DHH) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people such as health, education and social and emotional wellbeing.

When he was asked to be a keynote speaker at the recent Deaf History International Conference, Rodney says that he began to understand more research was needed to unlock the potential of learning Indigenous sign languages for DHH communities. 

“A reason for coming to the Summer School was that I really wanted to get a greater understanding of Indigenous spoken languages so that it can better support my own understanding of the many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island sign languages that were once so prevalent in our communities before colonisation,” Rodney says.

But he adds that our knowledge of the sign languages of Australia’s Indigenous communities is very limited compared to our knowledge of Indigenous spoken languages. Every day we use the equivalent of 400 Aboriginal words in English, but only a minimal lexicon of signs from Indigenous Sign Languages in Auslan.

“There is a 'Sign Nullius' mentality that currently exists in Auslan communities regarding their knowledge and understanding of the sign languages of the first peoples of this country,” Rodney says. “For reconciliation and decolonisation to occur, we need to focus on the sign languages of Australia to better understand that it was once a continent immensely rich with Indigenous sign languages.” 

To help overcome this situation, he and fellow deaf Aboriginal and Torres Strait colleagues recently launched the Koori Deaf Mob during the National Week of Deaf People in October to bring much needed focus to DHH Kooris. This year, the United Nations declared 23 September as the International Day of Sign Languages, ahead of the International Year of Indigenous Languages in 2019.

Rodney is able to participate in Summer School thanks in part to a grant for captioning services from the Garrurru Education and Employment Strategy of the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific. The service involves live captions being relayed via the presenter and translated into text on his laptop for him to follow and read along.  This option has the benefit of a transcript which  Rodney will use to further his studies. 

“As a deaf person, it’s really hard to access these type of conferences because of the cost of using interpreters or captions,” he says. “I am very grateful to the ANU for supporting my endeavours in this area so that I can further use the knowledge to tap into a language and communication system that was once a way of life in our indigenous communities.”


(Main image: The Koori Deaf Mob, Co-founder Rodney Adams is second from left.)

  • Australian Government
  • The University of Queensland
  • Australian National University
  • The University of Melbourne
  • Western Sydney University