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Report of inquiry into New Zealand Sign Language

Commission releases report of its inquiry into New Zealand Sign Language

The Commission launched the report of its inquiry into New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL), A New Era in the Right to Sign, this afternoon. It presents the findings of a year-long inquiry into issues surrounding the use of NZSL since it was made an official language in 2006.

The Commission began its NZSL inquiry because of concerns about the barriers deaf people continue to experience when using their own language. “The Disability Convention ratified by NZ recognises rights to communicate, including the right to use sign languages,” said Disability Rights Commissioner Paul Gibson. “Before and during this Inquiry we received many stories of people being denied their right to communicate using NZSL, and children and families being discouraged from learning it.”

The Commission worked in consultation with government agencies and the deaf community to concentrate on three main areas: education; accessing communication, information and services through NZSL; and the promotion and maintenance of NZSL as an official language of New Zealand.

One of the main findings was the need for families to be exposed to and learn NZSL alongside their child as soon as possible after the identification of hearing (and in some cases speech) impairment. Another key finding was that deaf people and other NZSL users are often not able to access their right to education. Staff working with deaf students often receive minimal training in NZSL and deaf culture. Access to NZSL interpreters can be difficult not only in education but in healthcare and other essential services. There is also no monitoring of the quantity and cost of NZSL interpreters within government agencies, which makes it difficult to identify gaps in access for deaf people.


The Inquiry report contains 15 major recommendations that suggest ways to take down the barriers for deaf people and other NZSL users, including increasing NZSL resourcing in early childhood and schools, and prioritising training in disability awareness, deaf culture and NZSL for health care early intervention staff.

Another key recommendation is the creation of an Expert Advisory Group on NZSL and ultimately an NZSL Statutory Board to champion the value, use, promotion and maintenance of NZSL alongside New Zealand other official languages.

“I look forward to a time when NZSL is constantly visible in our streets, schools, hospitals and on TV,” said Mr Gibson. “Hopefully the implementation of the report’s recommendations will go some way towards achieving this.”


Read A New Era in the Right to Sign:
View the Foreword, Executive summary and Recommendations in NZSL.
A New Era in the Right to Sign (Word 860Kb)
A New Era in the Right to Sign (PDF 1.7Mb)

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