Kathy O’Carroll

Kathy O’Carroll

Community Support Worker, Emerge Aotearoa, Hamilton
Bachelor of Arts in New Zealand Sign Language and Deaf Studies

Te Atiawa, Waitara

For Kathy O’Carroll, her passion for working with the Deaf community started more than 20 years ago and eventually led her to AUT’s Bachelor of Arts in New Zealand Sign Language and Deaf Studies.

“Going back over 20 years ago, I immersed myself into learning New Zealand Sign Language and became heavily involved in the Deaf community. At that time, I was unable to study full-time, so left it on the backburner. By the end of 2017, while working at the Hamilton District Court, I experienced a week-long jury trial involving a Deaf person. My role as a court registrar was to keep the interpreters informed of all the court proceedings. I had lengthy discussions with them about the role of an interpreter and the qualification behind it, and was surprised to find that there were few interpreters with experience in the legal arena.

“That was when I decided to leave the Ministry of Justice to study the Bachelor of Arts in New Zealand Sign Language – English Interpreting. I packed up my household and moved to Auckland to study full-time. My pathway changed during my third year and I completed my degree with a major in New Zealand Sign Language and Deaf Studies. I’ve never regretted making this decision as I can do more for the Deaf community than if I was an interpreter.”

After graduating from AUT in 2020 she now works as a community support worker for Emerge Aotearoa and loves being able to make a difference to the Deaf community of Waikato who have mental health issues.

“I advocate strongly to ensure my turi tangata whaiora receive the same treatment in all services as if they were hearing. This role brings me such satisfaction on so many levels, promoting New Zealand Sign Language, Deaf Culture and Deaf Awareness internally and externally. Observing my turi tangata whaiora as they develop into strong, more confident and independent people is incredible. We’re like their navigation systems. We provide support by keeping them on their path to recovery, but it is them who do all the hard work.”

A rewarding experience
Kathy had plenty of highlights throughout her time at AUT.

“The Deaf lecturers were incredibly supportive. One course that particularly resonated with me included writing an essay about comparing my hearing self to my Deaf self.  It was then that I discovered my identity after realising how both worlds were very similar.”

Studying during a global pandemic did have its challenges, she admits.

“Most of the 2020 classes were online, through Zoom. My study routine wasn’t easy, with no physical interaction with my peers or the Deaf community. I knew I had to overcome these hurdles, so I turned to my Deaf peers for support. After the COVID restrictions were lifted, we went out for coffees, walked our dogs and had wonderful conversations. Their encouragement gave me the strength and motivation to carry on.”

Advice for other students
Kathy has some great advice for other students who are only at the start of their university journey,

“If you hear other students say ‘C’s get degrees’, ignore it. My advice is to ‘aim high because A’s get scholarships’.”

No matter how hard it gets, don’t ever give up, she adds.

“Reach out to the Deaf community, lecturers and mentors – it will all be worth it in the end. My life has changed because of my studies. I love making a difference and changing people’s lives for the better and this is my story.”