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Symbolic Gestures Do Not Support Deaf

Symbolic Gestures Do Not Support Deaf - NZSL Act Review leaves Deaf powerless and voiceless

Five years on the passing of the New Zealand Sign Language Act (2006), the Deaf community remains powerless and voiceless.

The 2006 NZSL Act has just been reviewed. Deaf Aotearoa Chief Executive Rachel Noble says the review points out nothing new and offers no solutions to how government agencies could better work with the Deaf community to address the issues.

“While there have been some advancements, overall Deaf people are no better off than they were before the Act was written,” says Ms Noble.

“By offering no solutions to major issues, like accessibility to sign language interpreters, this review denies Deaf people the ability to have a voice, to act as a partner or even to have a lead role in improving their status in New Zealand society”.

The review was conducted to assess how government agencies are implementing the aims of the Act and suggest improvements that may be needed. Deaf people and groups throughout the country made submissions to the Office of Disability Issues highlighting key areas of concern, including the need for Deaf people to have a leadership role in Deaf issues, a strong NZSL infrastructure and improved access to interpreters.

“In 2006, the Deaf Community of New Zealand rejoiced in the passing of the NZSL Act. We celebrated the recognition of our language and culture, the acknowledgement of the history of oppression experienced by the community and at last, held high hopes for improved access to information and services for Deaf,” says Ms Noble.

“However, the NZSL Act review fails to respond to the overwhelming call from the Deaf community to broaden the scope of the Act beyond justice to include sectors like education and health. Neither does it address the systematic barriers and inefficiencies around the provision of sign language interpreting services.”

Ms Noble says the review ignores the need for a national sign language strategy, which would link all activities related to Deaf culture and use of NZSL across all government departments. Instead it suggests that some 'tweaks' within government departments is all that is necessary.

“With no sign language strategy in place each department does its own “thing” so there is no consistency or linkages, plus decisions are made by hearing non-NZSL users.”

Also of concern for the community is the blatant disrespect for Deaf people as equal citizens in New Zealand.

“ The key principle of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the New Zealand Disability Strategy, 'nothing about us without us,' is ignored. The review suggests that Government Ministers could model best practice by including a NZSL greeting at all official events, as is done in Maori, whether or not the content of the minister's portfolio is relevant to Deaf people.”

“We Deaf are not interested in symbolic use of NZSL at the beginning of ministerial presentations, we are more interested in the content of the Minister’s portfolios and their plans to engage with the Deaf community to find effective solutions to our issues.”

Ms Noble says every day Deaf Aotearoa meets people who have been failed by the system, whose children experience substandard education, who cannot access health care in sign language and who do not enjoy equal access to employment.

“Our issues are not trivial. Deaf experience barriers such as equal access to health, education, employment and information in their daily life that can significantly reduce quality of life in comparison to their hearing peers”.

Community initiatives, like the annual NZSL Week in May, have seen an improvement in general awareness of New Zealand Sign Language.

Ms Noble says the Deaf community is calling for the Disability Ministerial Committee to engage with them, to understand what the submitters were saying.

“They need to know what the reality is and work with us, to make the solutions happen.”


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