New strategy to promote New Zealand Sign Language

  • Hon Carmel Sepuloni
Disability Issues

Minister for Disability Issues Carmel Sepuloni has launched a new New Zealand Sign Language strategy on the inaugural International Day of Sign Languages.

“Today is the United Nation’s day for celebrating sign languages worldwide and it’s a fitting time to announce a new strategy to promote the uptake and use of New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL),” Carmel Sepuloni said.

“The New Zealand Sign Language Strategy 2018-2023 sets the strategic direction for NZSL over the next five years. I would like to thank the New Zealand Sign Language Board for their work on this Strategy.

“New Zealand is one of very few countries where its sign language is an official language. We are recognised as a world leader for our commitment to maintaining and promoting the use of NZSL in Aotearoa and the new strategy aims to further promote the language and empower our Deaf communities.

“Language opens up a wealth of opportunities for Deaf people – including social, cultural, educational and employment opportunities. It is a matter of human rights that we embrace NZSL to promote equal opportunities for Deaf people.

The new New Zealand Sign Language Strategy will focus on

  • Acquisition – The learning of a language by children and adults.
  • Use/Access – The ability to use a language in any or all domains of society, including within whānau.
  • Attitude – The beliefs and opinions of language users and others.
  • Documentation – The systematic recording of language use for research and reference.
  • Status – How a language is regarded by its users and others.

A message from Minister Carmel Sepuloni on the strategy is here

Find out more about the NZSL Board Strategy at

NB for Reporters:

What is the purpose of International Day of Sign Languages (IDSL)?

The United Nations proclaimed 23 September as IDSL to raise awareness of the importance of sign languages for the full realisation of deaf peoples’ human rights. It acknowledges that access to learning and services in sign language is vital. It recognises the importance of preserving sign languages as part of linguistic and cultural diversity.

How is this different from NZSL Week?

The International Day for Sign Languages, starting in 2018, builds on our NZSL Week, held in May each year, and showcases NZSL on an international stage. It provides an opportunity to raise awareness of the importance of sign languages to the global Deaf community.

Who leads IDSL internationally?

The World Federation of the Deaf (WFD) will take lead on the day, on behalf of the United Nations. WFD includes 135 national associations representing approximately 70 million deaf people worldwide. Each WFD member association and country will participate in IDSL.

How many people use sign languages?

According to the WFD, there are approximately 72 million deaf people worldwide. More than 80% of them live in developing countries. Collectively, they use more than 300 different sign languages.

Statistics New Zealand notes there are 20,000 people who can use NZSL to some extent.

In addition to each country’s sign language, International Sign Language is used in international meetings and informally when travelling and socialising.

It is not as complex as natural sign languages and has a limited lexicon.