Riverwood artist helps hearing impaired access the arts through sign language – St George and Sutherland Shire Leader

A Riverwood artist who studied at St George TAFE is using sign language to help members of the deaf community like herself gain access to the arts.

Sue Jo Wright completed a Diploma of Visual Arts at TAFE NSW St George campus in 2019 and was named a finalist in the 2020 Southern and South Western Sydney Training Awards in the category of vocational student of the year.

Having worked as an Auslan (Australian Sign Language) consultant on the ninth season of The Voice Australia, she is now putting her visual arts credentials to good use as an artist educator at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia. She also works at Art Gallery NSW where she leads Auslan tours.

Ms Wright is herself an artist who works primarily with photography, video and textiles. She founded the Sydney Deaf & Hard of Hearing Photographers (SDHP) in 2014, and hosted educational workshops and events to provide the deaf and hard of hearing community with photography skills.

“Growing up as a deaf person I missed out on opportunities due to lack of access, and this included understanding and appreciating art,” she said.

“Now, following my art studies, I feel I can empower other deaf people to develop a deep passion and curiosity for art, to broaden their minds and unlock their potential for creativity.”

She said the visual arts course strengthened her creative skills, knowledge, conceptual ability, industry consultancy and educational practices, and has allowed her to provide the deaf community with unprecedented access to the art.

“I lead Auslan tours at Sydney’s major museums with much more confidence in the interpretation of artworks, thanks to the skills and knowledge I’ve acquired through my learning at TAFE NSW,” Ms Wright said.

“Starting is always scary but the more familiar I became with the learning of artistic practice, the more confident I became in communicating and interpreting important contemporary and historical art to the deaf and hard of hearing community.

“My course has given me great practical experience working in groups and working with the hearing world.

“This barrier of communication is constant for me. My study has helped me to bridge various gaps like this, especially when working on group projects, setting up exhibitions and communicating our needs and interests.”

The Australian Network on Disability estimates there are approximately 30,000 deaf Auslan users in Australia. One in six Australians are affected by hearing loss during their lifetime.

Museum of Contemporary Art Access manager Susannah Thorne said Ms Wright provided an invaluable connection to the deaf community in her role as an artist educator.

“Sue works in collaboration with Angie Goto and together they develop and lead the MCA Australia’s Auslan tours, working on a range of programs for the deaf and hard of hearing communities,” Ms Thorne said.

“They play an active role increasing deaf awareness at the museum through sharing and embedding knowledge of Auslan and deaf culture.”

Art Gallery NSW Access programs producer Danielle Gullotta said Ms Wright was a dynamic artist and presenter who shared her passion and knowledge of arts practice and connection with the wider deaf community.

“Sue has been a contributing artist in the growth of the Art Gallery NSW monthly Auslan program, which creates a social and cultural experience for people to engage in art, group discussion and ask questions in a safe and welcoming environment.” Ms Gullotta said.

For more information on studying visual arts at TAFE NSW, phone 131 601 or click here.