Young Queenslander of the Year Yassmin Abdel-Magied
Young Queenslander of the Year Yassmin Abdel-Magied
3 June 2010

Giving deaf children an opportunity to be heard has earned UQ graduate and current PhD candidate Dimity Dornan the Queenslander of the Year Award.

The Young Queenslander of the Year award went to third-year UQ Engineering student Yassmin Abdel-Magied in recognition of her work with Youth Without Borders.

Mrs Dornan, a speech pathologist, founded the Hear and Say Centre in 1992 and Hear and Say Worldwide in 2007.

She said being named Queenslander of the Year had given her and her team a "huge buzz", but the improved outcomes for deaf children were the real cause for celebration.

"Deaf is not deaf anymore," she said.

"When you consider that hearing loss is the most common disability in newborns worldwide, and that we know how to treat it, we really are standing at the point where the treatment of polio was 20 years ago."

The Hear and Say Centre teaches deaf and hearing-impaired children to listen and speak, aiming for children to be in the normal range for speech and language by the age of six.

It has services for 400 children in six centres across Queensland, as well as a telemedicine program for families living in regional and remote locations.

In 2007, Mrs Dornan started Hear and Say Worldwide, and there are now over 250 people who have trained with the organisation in 11 countries.

It is mainly a training operation, equipping local speech pathologists and teachers with the skills to help deaf children progress, but also supports new hearing projects for children where possible.

For example, in Negros, a very poor island in the Philippines, the Centre has teamed up with the Christian Brothers and the Ken Fletcher Foundation to establish a newborn hearing screening program at a local hospital, plus a new early intervention unit.

Mrs Dornan's concept has come a long way over the past 18 years: the Centre began with six children working around a card table in her private office.

"Hear and Say has and will continue to be driven by child need," she said.

While her role now is mainly in management, she said nothing could beat the feeling a speech pathologist experiences when they meet parents who have just been hit with the news that their baby has a hearing impairment.

"I'm able to say to them 'your child will be able to listen and speak, your child will be able to go to a normal school, your child will drive a car and you will hear your child say I love you'.

"Gradually you can help them to turn their broken dreams into spoken dreams."

Throughout her career, Mrs Dornan has strived to quash traditional and entrenched beliefs that deaf children can not learn to hear, listen and speak well enough to be clearly understood.

These myths have been disproven through her own PhD research, which compared children with severe hearing impairments to children who had normal hearing.

The results showed there were no differences between the two groups in terms of their progress in listening, speech, language, reading, mathematics and self-esteem.

Mrs Dornan completed a Bachelor of Speech Pathology in 1976, and thinks she may be the first graduate of the UQ program.

"I claim to be the dinosaur as I was in the first year the course was offered," she said.

"My last name then was Crist, so I was the first one to go through alphabetically."

She is completing her PhD through the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, and will present the final research paper at the Newborn Hearing Screening conference in Como, Italy and the Alexander Graham Bell 2010 Biennial Convention in Orlando, Florida this month.

Like Mrs Dornan, Young Queenslander of the Year Yassmin Abdel-Magied is dedicated to supporting people in need.

The 19-year-old runs Youth Without Borders, an advocacy group that strives to empower young people to work together and implement positive change in their communities.

She founded the organisation in 2007, the same year she was named Australian Muslim of the Year.

Originally from Sudan, Miss Abdel-Magied said she was passionate about helping people with big ideas achieve their goals.

“Everyone has their key passion, but I’m interested in helping whoever I can help in whatever way possible,” she said.

“I’m passionate about getting people to work together to help others.

“I am trying to get all young people involved, not only Muslim women.”

Youth Without Borders has several projects currently underway, including a mobile library in Indonesia and sending medical products to women in Africa.

Miss Abdel-Magied said she hoped winning the Young Queenslander of the Year award would help her organisation increase its profile and expand its volunteer base.

She will complete her engineering degree in 2011, and would like to consider her options after graduating.

“Who knows?” she said

“I didn’t expect this to come along and it’s opened so many opportunities.

“I think engineering’s got quite a versatile skill base. It gives me problem solving skills and initiative.

“I would like to work with a global company that has a social conscious, so I can combine engineering and humanitarian work on an international scale.”

Media: Penny Robinson at UQ Communciations (07 3365 9723,