Fiona Perry


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‘The Sign Language Lady’

Never elected, she never stood for public office but Fiona Perry has one of the most recognised and trusted faces in Western Australia. But it’s her fingers that likely saved lives during the Covid pandemic.

As one of WA’s leading Auslan interpreters, and often referred to as the “sign language lady,” Fiona stood beside Premier Mark McGowan, the Minister for Health and various health officials during hundreds of media conferences ensuring the deaf and hard of hearing community received vital and real time information about the pandemic and introduced a whole new way of communicating to a main stream audience.

In doing so, Fiona reinforced the critical need for people with hearing disability to be included in the communication especially during a crisis. In the process “the sign language lady” became a reluctant star. Regularly stopped by people in the street, in restaurants and shops.

Fiona is not deaf but her high profile during the pandemic sparked a renewed interest in Auslan taking it even further than the hearing- impaired community.

Born in Scotland to profoundly deaf parents, Fiona communicated in Scottish sign language from birth. At a very young age she was the “family interpreter” as her parents were living in an era where sign language was not recognised as an accepted form of communication. This meant that her extended family, including her grandparents, could not communicate with her mum and dad so Fiona became the “conduit” at all family gatherings. This extended to everyday communication within the community for her parents and their deaf friends.

At the age of nine Fiona’s parents decided to immigrate to Perth so along with her brother, they made the journey to a new life, leaving the extended family in Scotland. Moving to Australia brought new challenges for the family which included learning a new language in the form of Australian Sign Language, referred to as Auslan. Fiona continued to interpret for her family however without the support of her grandparents she found herself maturing quickly and supporting her parents in aspects of life; medical appointments, banking, house purchases, job interviews, just to name a few. At this time interpreting was not an official profession there were no professional services her parents could access.

These experiences created a love for sign language and the deaf communities the language and associated culture belongs to. After attempting employment in nondeaf related fields it didn’t take long for Fiona to realise her passion was to work in the deaf space. At age 16 Fiona was given an opportunity to work as a receptionist at what was then known as the Western Australian Deaf Society. By age 18 she was promoted to welfare worker and her journey to the interpreting profession began.

In the 1980s Fiona was a pioneer in joining the national push for Auslan interpreting to be formalised as a profession. She was a founding member of the Australian Sign Language Interpreters Association (ASLIA) National, volunteering as their Treasurer and later the President of the Western Australian branch of ASLIA WA.

In 1996 she was the first Auslan Interpreter to be awarded the NAATI Interpreter of the Year and in 2000 she was the second winner of the Dr Harry Blackmore Award, behind the inaugural winner, Dr Harry Blackmore.

Fiona’s more recent focus has been on expanding the number and quality of Auslan interpreters within Australia. She has been a lecturer of a variety of deaf related studies for Auslan students and mentored both interpreting students and up and coming profession level interpreters. Providing professional development in the areas of personal growth, mental health awareness and employment sustainability is also a passion for Fiona.

Marrying a profoundly deaf man, Auslan continues to be the main form of communication for Fiona at home. Together they have two adult children, one of whom followed her mum into the interpreting profession. Deafness even extends to one of the family dogs!

Outside of deafness, Fiona is passionate about increasing the awareness of living with type 1 diabetes. In the early 1980s Fiona had a traumatic diagnosis experience which led to time in intensive care and was told she would never be able to have a family or sustainable employment. Clearly, she has proven otherwise.


Fiona is a much sought-after speaker who has an amazing story to tell which is motivational, inspiring, informative and entertaining and covers a range of topics including:

  • Communication
  • Mental Health Awareness
  • Development of Personal Growth
  • Overcoming the Odds
  • Employment Sustainability
  • Fiona’s own journey.


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