Victorian Youth Governor Olivia Beasley feels privileged to have been born into a deaf family where everyone could communicate using Auslan.
But for the 95 per cent of deaf children who are born into a hearing family, this early access to sign language is often lacking.
“Auslan is more than important, it is like oxygen for us,” Ms Beasley said.
“We breathe and live with Auslan — without it I wouldn’t be able to express myself as who I am.”
It’s lived experience like this that’s equipped Ms Beasley with valuable insights to bring to the Victoria’s Youth Parliament, where she is now the Youth Governor.
It’s an important job, leading an institution which has seen 20 of its bills eventually becoming state law.
In her first year, Ms Beasley was part of a team that proposed the Public Transport Accessibility Bill, to ensure all announcements were captioned and staff were given training on how to collaborate with people with a disability.
The proposal passed Youth Parliament and although it didn’t become state law, it prompted Public Transport Victoria to make some improvements — an “amazing” experience for a young woman passionate about increasing accessibility.
“I have never felt that way before,” Ms Beasley said.
“When I got up to speak about my bill, I realised that my life had changed and it wasn’t going back.”
In Youth Parliament there are no parties and no electorates, so representatives are broken up into six-member teams.
This week, 20 teams will debate bills relating to pill testing, lowering the voting age, introducing female-only train carriages, boosting funding for rural psychologists and increasing the number of adolescent psychiatric wards in Victorian hospitals.
Bills that pass Youth Parliament are handed to the relevant ministers.
Olivia Vlahakis was hoping her team’s bill would be one of them.
The bill, which the Hobsons Bay team is responsible for, would give VCE and VCAL students four days off school during the year, to look after their mental health.
The bill outlines specific details, open to debate in the Youth Parliament: if a student took two days off, a student wellbeing coordinator would be notified. If three days were taken off, the school would inform the counsellor, psychologist or psychiatrist.
Like many of the ideas proposed in the Youth Parliament, it’s borne out of the experiences of the young parliamentarians proposing it.
“I started missing a few days of school because of mental health reasons, and because of that it added a lot of pressure on me,” Ms Vlahakis said.
“It gave me the idea of mental health days because there’s something about the idea of taking a mental health break that would be assuring for my studies.”
Another team member, Kate Pritchard, said the education system needed to be more accessible for people with mental health issues.
“We need to make it an approachable topic and aim to remove the stigma around mental health because it’s a huge problem that our society still faces.”
It’s an example of proposed legislation coming before the Youth Parliament that could actually lead to concrete change.
And whether or not it passes, it’s already caught the attention of Mental Health Minister Martin Foley.
“We’re only too happy to explore any ideas and have any conversations that help improve the mental health of young students,” Mr Foley said.
“If the bill passes the Youth Parliament, I look forward to meeting with members of Youth Parliament to discuss it further.”
Headspace senior clinical advisor Nick Duigan said it could help young Victorians through stressful times in their lives.
“It’s really important that young people are advocating for their needs and working through channels to … support them to live mentally healthy and engaged lives, where they can participate in their community,” he said.
The 2019 Youth Parliament concludes on Thursday.
This article originally appeared on ABC News, July 3, 2019.