Follow Karin O’Reilly’s Instagram account and you’ll learn a bunch of simple tips for successful food gardening – and maybe learn some Australian Sign Language (Auslan) too.
Karin is a gardener, teacher and performer from Speewah, Far North Queensland, who records and publishes all of her how-to gardening videos twice – in English with captions and then separately in Auslan.
This is because Karin is a CODA, a child of deaf adults. She grew up in a bilingual world and deeply understands the power of information presented in an accessible way for all types of people.
We spoke with Karin – who you might recognize from the 1990s morning cartoon show Cheez TV – about language, accessibility and not taking yourself too seriously online.
What is a CODA and how does it relate to your life?
Some CODAs may have only one deaf parent, others have two deaf parents.
When I was growing up, we didn’t have TV captioning, interpreters for access, social media, email, text – all of that.
I was actually trilingual, as my father was Irish – and countries have their own sign language. So I was brought up with Irish Sign Language, Australian Sign Language (Auslan) and spoken English.
For me, being CODA is my identity — we are said to belong to a “third culture”.
How did your bilingual Instagram account get started?
I was home alone for four months to finish my doctoral thesis and I was really bored! I missed the interaction and I wasn’t signing much either except for a bit of online interpreting.
I saw it as a kind of niche space, something practical that deaf people can learn through their own language.
Not that I’m a Costa or Gardening Australia expert – I just wanted to do something light and fun.
Why do you record two versions of each gardening video – one in English, one in Auslan?
It’s all about accessibility. Auslan is very visual and therefore has a very different grammar from English. Although you can speak and sign at the same time, you use sign-compatible English or sign in English.
I didn’t want to mix languages that way and be disrespectful, so I thought I’d do English versions for my hearing friends — with subtitles, so it’s still accessible — and then a second version in Auslan .
Because captioning is great, but for some deaf people, English is their second or third language. So some people struggle – their literacy level may not be of the level that can cope with subtitles. With Auslan, they get 100% access.
Who logs in to learn gardening via Auslan?
The target is not just my deaf friends and family and other deaf people. They are also CODA – they always like and comment on Auslan’s version. It’s our first language and we’re all more comfortable in Auslan, because it’s so much more expressive.
I have heard people joining them who are learning Auslan and a few have sent messages saying, “It’s really great, you have combined my two new loves – gardening and Auslan”.
And the deaf send me messages of appreciation, grateful that it’s in Auslan and so accessible.
What kind of gardening tips do you share?
These are just snippets – short, crisp and precise. I don’t care about me and my husband, Trev.
He joked with me saying, “Karin, when you get really popular, you’re gonna have to start learning all your plant names in Latin.
But I don’t want to be the expert, I just want it to be simple.
At our house we have a fenced section where we grow vegetables that we don’t want the chickens and dogs to cross. On the other side of the house, we have our row of tomatoes and our sweet potatoes. And in the back, we plant a bunch of fruit trees, because I really want all the tropical fruits.
My husband and I always say we’re not experts, we’re learning. But I now feel comfortable sharing advice on what works what time of year, what to plant, how much to water, that sort of thing.
You appeared on Cheez TV for years – did that experience help with this project?
Yes! So Cheez TV was a cartoon show every morning in the 1990s, and they always had guests.
I went on the show as the only guest of a sign language interpreter, just for fun. And then they offered me a weekly spot because they were getting so many handwritten letters – that was in the days before email.
I worked there for six years and I really think that experience helped, knowing how expressive I have to be.
I obviously can’t speak for the deaf experience, but I can speak for my intersectionality, while sharing my love of gardening.
Koren Helbig is a storyteller who practices permaculture and grows organic food in the garden of her small townhouse in Tarntanya, Adelaide.
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