Speech for New Zealand Sign Language Act Celebration

Thank you Kim and the team at Deaf Action for this opportunity to celebrate the New Zealand Sign Language Act 2006 with the Deaf community.

Tonight is a celebration of and by the Deaf community. It feels really special for me to also be able to be a part of this.

The passing of the New Zealand Sign Language Act on April 6, 2006 was widely celebrated in New Zealand and internationally for its official recognition of our signed language and the right to use it. 

I want to acknowledge the people in the Deaf community whose advocacy and tenacity contributed to seeing NZSL recognised in legislation as one of Aotearoa’s two official languages.

I also want to acknowledge again Kim Robinson for his ongoing commitment to a better New Zealand for the deaf community and Rhian Yates, a member of the New Zealand Sign Language Board. And to Cruze Kapa for MC-ing this event, as well as Milton Reddy/ Eric Matthew for the opening karakia.

This is an important opportunity to recognise the importance of sign language for the lives and wellbeing of the deaf community.

Language is integral to developing our culture and identity, and it is also a tool that ensures we can communicate with each other, and everyone can access all a society has to offer.

I am pleased that New Zealand Sign Language is an official language here. Government has responsibility for promoting and protecting our official languages. Both New Zealand Sign Language and te reo Māori are vital to our expression of culture and identity in Aotearoa.

We are recognised as a world leader for our commitment to maintaining and furthering the use of our sign language. Through New Zealand Sign Language we can promote equal opportunities for Deaf people and work toward a more inclusive Aotearoa.

This Government is committed to the promotion and maintenance of NZSL. You will have seen recently efforts to ensure there is more New Zealand Sign Language in the public media, in particular during events of national significance. We have also made post-cabinet briefings more accessible by having sign language interpreters present. It is exciting that more people are seeing sign language and more people are interested in learning about it.

These changes are an important part of this Governments commitment to a more inclusive and accessible New Zealand. At the end of last year Cabinet agreed to a policy work programme to accelerate accessibility and consider how legislation may contribute to that. This will be a collaborative work programme including a range of disabled people, older people, organisations, businesses and officials.

From my experience meeting and working with the Deaf Community- it is a passionate and diverse group of people. There are many people and organisations playing a unique part in maintaining and promoting New Zealand Sign Language. I am glad to be here to help celebrate your achievements.

This is a critical time to work together to strengthen NZSL as a core part of Deaf culture and as an official language available for all New Zealanders.

Education is an area that I am keen to see is continuing their work on lifting access to New Zealand Sign Language. 

Government provided more funding in Budget 2018 to lift sign language support for those using it when very young and in school, particularly for those whose first language is New Zealand Sign Language.

This is helping our children and rangitahi, and their whānau and educators, to learn New Zealand Sign Language and to use it for their communication and learning.

I am excited to hear about the success of First Signs and NZSL@School, and am looking forward to seeing how our service model for deaf education can continue to improve. 

Another area that I am pleased to see progressing is the review of the Telecommunications Relay Services. I hope that you have all taken the chance to have your say about the proposed changes for the Relay services, in particular the Video Interpreting Service.   It is important that the future service is user-friendly, reliable and up to date. 

The NZSL Board is also continuing to work hard to promote sign language across New Zealand with the distribution of five million dollars through the NZSL Fund over the past four years. This has supported local community events, the development of resources such as LearnNZSL, and key strategic work needed for the long term health of NZSL, such as the Online NZSL Dictionary. 

Announcements about Round five of the NZSL fund will be made soon, giving us another opportunity to celebrate.

The New Zealand Sign Language Board has an important role in maintaining and promoting NZSL.  The Board has been well served by the current members and past members.  However the time has come to appoint new members to the Board and I expect in mid- April there will be a call for new members.  The Office for Disability Issues will have information on their website about the process.  Applications will be welcomed from people who are fluent in NZSL, with good judgement, and who are committed to the maintenance and promotion of NZSL.

I look forward to another opportunity to celebrate sign language during New Zealand Sign Language Week. The week of celebrations keeps getting better each year and continues to support a growing awareness and acceptance of NZSL, making it more visible to everyone in New Zealand.  

A lot has changed for New Zealand Sign Language over the past 20 years thanks to the passion, skills, knowledge and expertise of this community.  The Government is keen to work alongside the Deaf community so that we can achieve more for the current and next generation of NZSL users.