FOR Sonia Pivac being deaf is a culture.
As a proud sign language user Ms Pivac aligns the struggles of the deaf community with those of immigrants looking to break down barriers of communication.
‘‘For Deaf people, our issues are often around access to information in a language we use and understand fully. So in this sense we often have more in common with Maori or migrant groups than those with disabilities,’’ she says.
Ms Pivac recently graduated from Be.Leadership, a unique course geared towards helping people with disabilities establish stronger leadership roles in the community.
She says the deaf community doesn’t ‘‘usually associate ourselves with the disability community as much as people might think’’, but the broader concept of Be.Leadership and its philosophy of accessibility and inclusion is what led to her enrolling in the year-long course.
Born hearing impaired, Ms Pivac was lucky enough to be raised in a deaf family that utilised New Zealand Sign Language, making her childhood experiences much like anyone else’s.
‘‘However, once I walk through the front door this all changed, and access to information via NZSL was very rare,’’ she says.
‘‘Looking back that fuelled my desire to improve access and resources for the Deaf community, which is what I am doing now.’’
The Kingsland resident is creative director for the Deafradio organisation, a deaf-run creative hub that aims to facilitate the spread of sign language.
‘‘Deafradio is the perfect place to spark my spirit of innovation, which gives me a rare opportunity to work on these unique projects and to shape things for the benefit of the Deaf community especially.’’
Ms Pivac says the Be.Leadership course equips participants with the tools to move deaf and disabled communities forward.
‘‘In reality there are very few disabled people in positions of wider societal res- ponsibility or power.
‘‘If we are to address this lack of opportunity, we need to start by empowering these people to lead in areas they are likely to have more knowledge about, and that’s being disabled or otherwise unique in a society rarely set up to consider these differences.’’
The Be.Leadership course was started by a Wellingtonbased organisation in 2010.
It was established to address the lack of leadership development among people with disabilities, programme manager Lesley Slade says.
Each intake has around 20 participants from varying ethnic, geographical and sector backgrounds.
They come together each month for a few days to engage in rigorous conversation, reflection and indepth inquiry into the nature of leadership.
‘‘We explore New Zealand from every facet you can imagine through a leadership and accessibility lens,’’ Ms Slade says.
Power shift: Sign language user Sonia Pivac recently graduated from a leadership course designed to empower disabled people in the community.