She has dined with Prince Charles, been in a photo shoot for Marie Claire and featured in a national Australian TV ad for Woolworths.
Being Deaf doesn’t hold back first-year UWA Arts student Drisana Levitzke-Gray who is from a family of five generations of Deaf women.
Earning status as a positive role model for Deaf people all over the world, there is no doubt that Drisana’s command of two native languages, Auslan (Australian sign language) and English has helped her to negotiate an exceptional terrain leading to achievements that truly are remarkable.
In 2015 Drisana was recognised as the WA Young Australian of the Year Award for her advocacy work for Deaf people, which later led her to the National 2015 Young Australian of the Year title. This award honours “an exceptional group of highly-respected Australians who ignite discussion and change on issues of national importance.”
To her, Deafness is not a disability as she celebrates the Deaf community and its rich culture, language, history and traditions.
She believes a part of her great grandmother, Dorothy Shaw or Dot, has lived on through her as she continues on with her legacy of pushing for important change.
“I’m very proud of the significant contributions Dot made to the Deaf community, she helped to set up the Australian Caption Centre and in 1986 she assisted with establishing the Australian Association of the Deaf, now known as Deaf Australia, Australia’s national Deaf association.
“I am like her and will continue to advocate for my rights and those of all Deaf people to implement social change that challenges stigmas still existing in our society.
“Here at UWA we need content captioning and I am working with UWA staff to ensure that we build on outstanding standards for the future. Currently I have Auslan interpreters assist me with lectures and tutorials,” Drisana said.
Her strong, energetic and persistent character means she doesn’t shy away from being the “first” to undertake new challenges on behalf of the Deaf community.
In 2014 she was the first Deaf Auslan user to fulfil her civic duty as a juror – this was hailed as a landmark achievement against discrimination for Deaf people. In 2016 she was the first person in the world to give a Ted Talk in Auslan, promoting the rights of Deaf children to learn a language.
“Research shows that being multilingual has tremendous benefits and I’m fortunate to have grown up bilingual and bicultural in Auslan and English.
“I had Deaf parents as role models who taught me to sign from birth. I produced my first sign when I was just eight months old and it’s clear to me that language acquisition was the foundation for my development that lead me to multi-lingualism.
“It’s got me where I am today but there are still many things I want to achieve in my lifetime – currently I want to graduate with a Bachelor of Arts and in the future I hope to be a TV news reporter and a Member of Parliament.
“So far I’ve ticked off getting married and in the immediate future we are looking to buy our very first home together in Perth,” Drisana said.
Her charisma and determination may have earned her respect as an ambassador for Deaf people, but above all she wants the world to accept Deaf people as fully fledged citizens of society, to be treated as equals and have Auslan respected, celebrated and freely available to Deaf children.
Her ambassadorial engagements are not about to slow down either, in June she will share her story at the ‘She Leads’ conference in Canberra and she has recently become involved in ‘Our Watch’ to help change the culture and behaviours that lead to violence against women and their children.