Speech for New Zealand Sign Language Week Breakfast

Fa’atalofa atu, malo e lelei, Kia ora koutou katoa

Thank you all for being here today to mark the start of this year’s New Zealand Sign Language Week.

It is wonderful to see so many members of the Deaf community and other New Zealand sign language users here.

We are here together to celebrate New Zealand Sign Language Week and to recognise all of your efforts in the promotion of New Zealand Sign Language and the importance of Deaf culture and the Deaf community.

Celebrating New Zealand Sign Language Week is a key part of continuing the positive shift in attitude that we have seen nationally.

Thank you to everyone who made this year’s New Zealand Sign Language Week happen. In particular to Lachlan Keating, Oliver Ferguson and the team from Deaf Aotearoa. Deaf Aotearoa is the largest national organisation representing the voice of the Deaf community in New Zealand and does great work to further the rights and wellbeing of Deaf people.

The Deaf community is small, with many people and organisations playing a unique part in maintaining and promoting New Zealand Sign Language. I also recently enjoyed celebrating the passing of the New Zealand Sign Language Act in 2006.

I want to acknowledge all Deaf people whose passion and hard work contributed to seeing New Zealand Sign Language recognised in legislation as one of Aotearoa’s official languages, including my colleague the Honourable Ruth Dyson, for her work on getting this legislation through the house.

I want to acknowledge some other attendees here today: Mayor of Wellington, Justin Lester, Disability Rights Commissioner Paula Tesoriero, and National MP Dr Shane Reti. 

New Zealand Sign Language Week keeps getting better each year and I am again looking forward to this national celebration of New Zealand Sign Language.

This week continues to be an important part of growing awareness and acceptance of sign language by making it more visible to everyone in New Zealand. 

The week-long celebration has continued to gain in strength over the past 13 years by promoting New Zealand Sign Language at local events and in the media. 

Last year the Flash mob with Tiki Taane and his song ‘No place like home’ showcased a national music icon and New Zealand Sign Language as an official language.  It sent a strong message to the Deaf Community that they are a valued part of NZ society, and to the general public that New Zealand Sign Language is our language. 

As national languages, both New Zealand Sign Language and te reo Māori are vital to our expression of culture and identity in Aotearoa. This week is a time for all New Zealanders to celebrate New Zealand Sign Language as national taonga.

The status of New Zealand Sign Language and the progress made in New Zealand is being noticed around the world. It has encouraged other countries to give their sign languages official recognition. 

This Government is committed to the continued promotion and maintenance of New Zealand Sign Language.

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 Government’s 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 to 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.

To further highlight the value we place on New Zealand Sign Language, this Government is supporting Deaf Aotearoa’s bid to host the World Federation of the Deaf congress in 2023. If the bid succeeds, we look forward to working with the Deaf community to promote New Zealand Sign Language in New Zealand, celebrating and sharing our progress internationally and learning from the experience of Deaf people in other countries. It will also be an important opportunity for us to work with our Pacific neighbours and get to know their Deaf communities.

The New Zealand Sign Language Board has an important role in maintaining and promoting New Zealand Sign Language. They have been well served by the current members and past members.  However the time has come to appoint new members to the Board and applications are now open.  Information about the process is available on the Office for Disability Issues website.  Applications are welcome from people who are fluent in New Zealand Sign Language, with good judgement, and who are committed to the maintenance and promotion of New Zealand Sign Language.

The New Zealand Sign Language Board has distributed five million dollars through the New Zealand Sign Language 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 New Zealand Sign Language, such as the Online NZSL Dictionary. 

As we think about the future, I am excited about where New Zealand Sign Language will go next, given the progress that has been made over the last 20 years. New Zealand Sign Language is now celebrated by all New Zealanders as an official language, it is promoted and maintained across different domains in New Zealand, and children who are deaf, and their families, are supported to embrace and use New Zealand Sign Language throughout their education years.

I look forward to seeing more of New Zealand Sign Language Week this year and continuing to work with many of you here in this room on the issues that matter to the Deaf community and New Zealand Sign Language users.

I declare New Zealand Sign Language Week 2019 Open!