Meet Drisana Levitzke-Gray, interpreter and Australian of the Year

By Megan Beasley

Interpreting runs in the family for Drisana Levitzke-Gray, the Young Australian of the Year for 2015.  It is believed that this is the first time that Deaf interpreting has run in a family for three generations, and this isn’t the only first in the family. 

Drisana is among the first Deaf students to graduate from the Diploma of Interpreting (Auslan) at North Metropolitan TAFE, which is a NAATI approved course.

Her mother, Patricia Levitzke-Gray, is one of the first two Deaf interpreters to have been awarded NAATI Deaf Interpreter Recognition, in December 2013. 

Drisana is delighted with NAATI’s introduction of Deaf Interpreter Recognition is 2013, saying that NAATI’s recognition of the status of Deaf interpreting is the first step towards showing that Deaf interpreting is just as valuable as interpreting in the spoken languages. 

She points out that NAATI is a leader in many areas, and also benefits from international advances, with the USA having certified Deaf Interpreters for many years. Once she has gained her NAATI credentials, Drisana plans to work officially as a Deaf Interpreter.

2015 was a busy year for Drisana.  Not only did she tirelessly fulfil duties all over the world as a Deaf advocate and Young Australian of the Year, she also studied for and was awarded her Diploma of Interpreting (Auslan) at the end of the year, being the top student in her cohort. 

Drisana expressed her gratitude towards her lecturers, who were very supportive and gracious about her frequent comings and goings. She found that her presence benefited the hearing students as well, since they needed to use their interpreting and language skills all the time.  

Drisana is full of passion for the Deaf community.  A Deaf person herself, and the child of Deaf parents, she is acutely aware of the different roles played by Deaf and hearing interpreters, and the way in which all interpreters work together for the good of the client. 

The different skills possessed by Deaf interpreters, who may interpret multiple sign languages, work in harmony with the skills of the hearing Auslan/English interpreter.

The Deaf community is varied, with members coming from a wide variety of backgrounds, upbringings and languages. Drisana herself knows six languages.

She has always pushed for Australian languages other than English to be more fully included in school curricula and Australian communities, envisioning a world where children in Perth schools learn the Noongar language and the Australian Sign Language. 

Shenton College, where Drisana went to school, has offered Auslan as a LOTE for three years, and she has noticed that Deaf and hearing students there communicate freely with each other, with Deaf students feeling fully part of the school community. 

With Auslan added as a LOTE to the new National Curriculum, Drisana sees a fantastic opportunity for children of all ages, both Deaf and hearing. 

“Not only is it likely to be a major influence increasing the pool of accredited Auslan interpreters in the future, but it will also increase the number of bilingual professionals” she said. 

Looking forward, Drisana believes the future is looking very bright indeed.

Author Megan Beasley is NAATI’s State Manager for Western Australia. 

Published: 20/07/2016