Saturday, 15 October 2011

Why I'm disappointed in the NZ Sign Language Act Review

In 2006, the New Zealand Sign Language Act was passed, making NZSL an official language, which was a great victory for Deaf people, whose indigenous language was finally recognised in this country. But to be honest, that's about all the new Act provided - official recognition of NZSL. It did say that Deaf people were allowed to have competent interpreters in legal settings (already a right), and that there would be some principals set out about govt departments using NZSL. The act is available on this website. (Interestingly enough, there wasn't an NZSL format of the act until about 2 weeks ago, after the review. Until this time it was only available in English.....)

A review was set for 2009. Somehow this review got delayed until now (late 2011.) In the review process the Deaf community was consulted and had great ideas like;

·        creating a NZSL Commission to promote and monitor the use of NZSL, like the Māori Language Commission does for Māori
·        adding broadcasting, so that there was more use of NZSL on television and movies
·        creating a right to use NZSL for Deaf people in early childhood, primary, secondary, or tertiary education
·        requiring access to NZSL interpreters in other parts of the justice system, like in reporting a crime to the Police
·        making the use of NZSL a requirement for social and cultural matters, such as for funerals, weddings, or parent-teacher interviews at schools
·        adding in Crown entities, such as hospitals, schools, ACC or Housing New Zealand Corporation, to those government agencies covered by the NZSL Act.
(emphasis mine, from here). 

It seems outrageous to me that using NZSL in education setting is not already in law. How else are Deaf NZSL using kids gonna access education....? All the other ideas seem sensible and fair too.

So which ideas did the govt decide to act on....?

.... um... none. Thats right, NONE.

The review states that these things can happen without changes to the act. Really?! If there is no lawful provision for NZSL access in education, an NZSL commission or needing NZSL in social/cultural matters, then it seems to me very unlikely these things will happen (I would love to be proven wrong.)

Instead the review suggests 9 things that could be done to make the Act work better, like
  •    Minsters could promote the use of NZSL by signing a greeting at the start of speeches, in a similar way to how Māori greetings are used (tokenism anyone?)
  • Ministers in charge of Crown entities that provide services could remind them that they should not discriminate or treat people badly just because they can’t hear (should not? What about just don't! sigh)
  • government departments should tell the Office for Disability Issues each year how many meetings with Deaf people they had and whether NZSL interpreters were used (statistics are great, but is this really going to do anything?)

Overall, not much is happening, no new provisions means no change. Personally, as an NZSL interpreter, this means no more work for us, as there is no new funding, or expectation of access to NZSL in any areas. For Deaf people that means the same struggles and barriers for years to come.

I'm really disappointed that this opportunity wasn't used to further enhance and put in place legal thresholds around the use and access to NZSL. Of course its great that NZSL is an official language here, but that's no longer enough. Progress needs to be made, and it doesn't look like its coming from the government.

In the past months, the most progress I have seen around NZSL promotion has been led by Deaf people themselves (NZSL week, interpreters around the Christchurch earthquakes, NZSL anthem at rugby games etc) These initiatives are great, but it would be so much more powerful if the government acted like it cared and took some of the responsibility too.


  1. Hi. I just found your blog this week so I'm catching up. I just wanted to tell you that my kids school this year made it compulsory to learn a language at year 9, and sign language is one of the options to learn. I thought this was a great move.

    1. That is a great move Stacie, so glad to hear it :)


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