Meet Your Local: Deaf Wellbeing Society
Updated: Oct 14
Natasha Jumelet is the founder of the Deaf Wellbeing Society. We sat down to chat with her for the September Issue of Hearing Matters Magazine, about the ways that her organisation combats isolation in the Deaf community.
1. What is the Deaf Wellbeing Society?
The Deaf Wellbeing Society was set up to reduce isolation in the Deaf community. At our organisation, we support people of all sorts of ages, ethnicities, and walks of life. We’ve set up a drop in center every fortnight, and we do art and cooking classes.
They love it. Generally they are at home, isolated, they have missed out on their education at school. They are able to get together and talk with one another, so it lessens the loneliness they feel.
We have Deaf staff that visit rest homes and inmates in prisons. Generally in a rest home you have one Deaf person and that can be very isolating in a hearing environment. So, generally, once a week or a fortnight I’ll visit the Deaf person at the rest home, and we both use sign language. I’ll take the person out, we’ll go to a garden, or a café.
Some of the rest home clients are very isolated, so I bring a lot of visual information to help them feel better. It might be a magazine, or something in the news.
Once a week I visit the prison, just to have that Deaf person exposed to sign language on a weekly basis, and to be able to chat in their language.
2. How long has the Deaf Wellbeing Society been open?
We established in February 2017. Committee members, and other helpful supporters worked with me to get the organisation started on a voluntary basis, at first. We slowly managed to get grants, so we were able to offer Deaf people employment as well.
3. What was the overall idea or dream for the organisation when you first began?
I worked with the Deaf community for many years, and it was really to remove barriers. For example, a client might want someone to be with them when they attended a doctor’s appointment, or court, or WINZ. So, I would support them in my role as a CSW.
We support Deaf people into employment as well. Through individual funding we are able to point people in the right direction, and help them fill out forms.
I’m getting older, I’ve been in this area for 20 years, and have a lot of experience. So what I’m looking for at the moment is a Deaf youth worker to work alongside younger Deaf people.
That’s my current dream. We’re still only three years old so everything in baby steps.
4. What is your daily routine at the Deaf Wellbeing Society?
I might be visiting the rest home, or visiting the prison. We have the drop in every fortnight, we have a cooking club; the Deaf Wellbeing Cooking Club. We started that in October 2012.
Quite often people will just be at home cooking the same thing, so it was an opportunity to learn. A lot of Deaf people don’t have access to reading recipes, so it’s all provided in sign.
They’ll work in groups or pairs, just following the recipe. At the end of that they have a new sense of confidence, because they’ve made something new to cook, and can take what they made home and show family. There’s a sense of pride. We make cakes, and all sorts of things!
We’ve provided 130 recipes in NZSL. It’s all filmed, and the recipes are online. We have gotten some funding from the New Zealand Sign Language board to provide the filming, which I do once a week.
We show them how to cook it, and find the recipes. It’s great for young people to seniors who are part of the Deaf community or hard of hearing people. There are a lot of cooking shows all around the world but New Zealand doesn’t really have any. So, it’s a very good opportunity.
5. Can you share your experience being Deaf?
I was born profoundly Deaf. My parents don’t know why, but my father thinks it was on his side. There was a great great great Aunt that was Deaf, and the next person in line was me. I hear nothing. I don’t like hearing aids, so I’ve lost those. Just happy using sign language.
I went to Kelson Deaf Education Centre, then I was mainstreamed at Glen Eden Primary, and Kelston Girls High. I worked with hearing people for a while, at the Ministry of Commerce, providing Data Entry.
Then, I left there and moved to Australia. I was in Melbourne and someone suggested I studied a Bachelor of Education in Linguistics. I did that for three years and I was working at Victoria Deaf New Expressions Australia.
In Australia, I used Auslan, and worked with clients who had mental health issues.
6. What are some unique ways that Deaf Wellbeing is operated, due to being run by Deaf employees?
It’s non-profit, there’s only a team of four of us. Me, an administrator, someone to film, and an artist. We two have two amazing hearing people that support us, there’s Yolanda and Sharon.
They work voluntarily just helping us in the drop-in centre. We’ve had AUT interpreting students come and spend time in the drop-in centre, because it’s a good sign language environment to be in.
We’d like to grow as an organisation, and provide for youth, and for other people working with Deaf clients.
7. Is there a way Deaf and HoH people can get involved with the community at DWS?
We welcome a variety of people, Deaf, hard of hearing, and other people. It is a signing environment so it’s a great challenge for hard of hearing people to attend. They can practice by looking at the videos online. There’s the odd caption, and good opportunity to learn some sign through the video. You’re always welcome - our primary focus is Deaf people whose primary language is sign language.
8. What are your plans for the future?
I’d like to see us continually grow, with a Deaf youth worker. Removing barriers, and being able to openly provide support the people who need us, in our community. Continue, of course, with our fortnightly drop-in gathering. It’s an opportunity to socialise and have a bit of fun, rather than sit at home in isolation.
9. How has lockdown affected you, and how can our community support you?
Being Auckland based, we had a great networks with Deaf Aotearoa, Auckland Deaf Society, Deaf Catholic Society. We maintained a very positive network. I know there were Deaf people in the community who were panicking, not understanding what was going on.
So, we used a lot of video calling to connect and help people feel reassured, to encourage people to watch the interpreted news, and to go with what Jacinda was saying, rather than looking at other websites and getting panicked.
Channel 200 was set up, and that was where the sign language interpreter filled the full screen and Jacinda or whoever was presenting was in the little box. So, you had the full screen of the interpreter, which was very valuable and gave the Deaf community the ability to choose which channel they preferred to watch.
With the cooking shows, normally we would invite people to watch. That was not possible during the lockdown period. So, it was a very busy time in terms of keeping in touch with the community, but unfortunately there was no way for me to visit rest homes or the prisons.
We tried to set up video calls but the access particularly with the prisons was difficult so that didn’t happen.
10. Did the NZ Government response to the pandemic include the Deaf and hard of hearing community, in your experience?
We would translate quite a bit of the information that was publicized, such as cleanliness during lockdown, washing your hands, face masks, etcetera. We had additional promotions on Facebook for the Deaf community.
I think we were very lucky to live in 2020. Just imagine if it was just 30 years ago, there was only the TTY (a device that allows Deaf people to use the telephone to type back and forth instead of speaking).
So, just imagining if we only had the TTYs, it would have caused so much frustration and depression, but now we have interpreters and captions on the news. Just 30 years ago, we wouldn’t have that.
So I imagine there would’ve been a lot of frustration and panic within the Deaf community. We managed to have pretty equal access through the lockdown through interpreters and signing.
I consider myself very lucky, actually.
Everyone would have been very lonely if we didn’t have video chatting and the internet!
We managed as Community Support Workers, to visit people at home outside, through windows! So, that wasn’t an issue. We were both Deaf, so no need to shout and scream. We just signed to each other.
We often saw cars driving by and taking a second look at what we were we were doing. I could just be talking to a Deaf neighbor and they may get the wrong impression. Maybe they thought I was some sort of crazy lady out in the street!
Learn more about Deaf Wellbeing Society on their website: https://www.deafwellbeing.co.nz/