As the rain storms outside, I’m feeling heavily cocooned in the depth of conversation; my headphones in and intently watching Sarah Maree as she passionately moves her hands.
“Why didn’t you tell us?” The employer asked, following a successful interview with Sarah Maree and her sign language interpreter. Sarah Maree tells me that she doesn’t disclose her deafness in a resume. That she secretly organises an interpreter, and gives the employer “a surprise package”. Otherwise, there is a high chance, she won’t receive an opportunity for an interview.
As a deaf woman of a certain age, the discrimination is rife. Sarah Maree lists for me the things avoided in her resume. The year of high school completion, a photo, and above all else, her deafness.
I felt guilty when I entered the cafe to meet Sarah Maree, wet and shivering. Despite the warmth of the fire and the buzz of the countryside vibe, it was overwhelmingly loud and I knew from Brett that this sort of noise could be unbearable for a deaf person with a cochlear implant.
However, today was different. We were using the Convo Australia app for our interview. An on demand sign language interpreter app, where Sarah Maree can sign to the interpreter on her phone screen, and the interpreter speaks to me through my headphones.
Sarah Maree could feel natural and unencumbered as she shared her personal story, and I could sit by the fire in cloaked bliss, nothing but Sarah Maree's story filling my ears.
Sarah Maree’s career is less of an arc, and more like a series of mountains and crevices, before finally reaching an open field. At the age of 14, watching Star Wars, Sarah Maree became passionate about pursuing a career in visual effects. Unfortunately, the job opportunities were limited, prompting a career towards Graphic Design and Motion Graphics Design, as this would increase the chances of finding work. Sarah Maree studied Multimedia Design for four years and graduated from Swinburne University.
But following a few jobs in the field, Sarah Maree needed something new, and studied a Graduate Diploma in Early Childhood Teaching. Sadly, when arriving at the job, the bullying was unbearable. Staff would yell at Sarah Maree from behind, and then get angry when she couldn’t follow instructions, which she couldn’t interpret if unable to see the speaker’s lips. They systematically stripped Sarah Maree of her dignity.
After six months, a blessing arrived in the form of a graphic design role at a small family business. “I can’t describe it,” Sarah Maree shakes her head. “They were like my family”. Despite having no deaf experience, this business systemically and beautifully helped rebuild Sarah Maree, providing the tools, support and opportunity to save herself from a life that had become too much to bear.
Following a period of redundancy, Sarah Maree then worked as a freelancer and gained employment at an advertising agency for four years, before eventually landing a job at Convo Australia. It’s relieving to feel a sense of belonging within a community that understands her specific needs, and to be enabled to do her best work by having the right tools at her disposal. I love this feeling of landing, when your personal and professional worlds collide in an unexpected and harmonious way. Sarah Maree is proficient in two spoken languages, and five sign languages.
As Sarah Maree reflects on her story, she acknowledges her own resilience and patience as a virtue. Her ability to be thrown into deep water; to sink or swim. I’m in awe of Sarah Maree’s perseverance, saddened by the discrimination, and buoyed by those businesses that want to be part of the solution. Most of all, I’m grateful to Sarah Maree for this opportunity to envelope myself in her story and the beauty of language.