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Research studies Deaf people's lives

In New Zealand there have been few descriptions of Deaf people's life experiences and in particular very little information is available on the impact of deafness on the lives of Deaf New Zealanders. However, research undertaken by Victoria University student Patricia Dugdale for her PhD thesis is seeking to change this.

Dugdale's thesis entitled Being Deaf in New Zealand: A case study of the Wellington Deaf Community involved a detailed study of the life experiences of Deaf people in the Wellington region.

The research was even more remarkable due to the fact that Dugdale will be sixty-eight in December and has been deaf since the age of nine.

Her research reviewed the effects of deafness on language development, education, health, employment, leisure pursuits and participation in the wider community. The thesis also focused on problems of access to social services, issues in education and discrimination encountered by deaf people in their daily lives.

The nature and importance of New Zealand Sign Language is also described in the study, particularly the key role it can play in education and the provision of services for Deaf people.

Dugdale reported unsatisfactory levels of education including low levels of literacy in English among Deaf people in New Zealand. These factors combined to contribute to other problems such as under-employment and lack of access to mainstream culture and information.

In spite of this the survey found the majority of Deaf people "feel okay" about life and have a very wide variety of occupations and interests.

She also identified a need for attention to be paid to Deaf people who are Maori as they often lack access to their Maori culture, and the need for better access to mainstream mental health services for Deaf patients. The development of a full national New Zealand Sign Language interpreting service and awareness campaigns to educate the public and particularly public servants in acceptance of Deaf people were identified as measures which could be implemented to assist Deaf people.

Dugdale arrived in New Zealand from the UK in 1973 and has been involved with the New Zealand Deaf community for the past 20 years, first as a field officer for the NZ Association of the Deaf and later as a researcher, voluntary worker, and board member of the Wellington Deaf Society. She has also been the Compilation Editor of the Dictionary of New Zealand Sign Language produced at Victoria University.

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