Get in­volved with sign lan­guage week

South Waikato News - - Backyard Banter -

New Zealand Sign Lan­guage is the coun­try’s third of­fi­cial lan­guage. By

New Zealand has three of­fi­cial lan­guages: English, Te Reo and (the fre­quently for­got­ten) New Zealand Sign Lan­guage (NZSL). That’s right, it be­came an of­fi­cial lan­guage in April 2006.

The gov­ern­ment in­vests $1.25 mil­lion a year into the New Zealand Sign Lan­guage Fund, which sup­ports com­mu­nity-led ini­tia­tives to cre­ate a stronger NZSL com­mu­nity.

So we know the gov­ern­ment is do­ing its part to bet­ter-in­te­grate NZSL into Kiwi cul­ture. But are our com­mu­ni­ties?

Think back to tele­vised cov­er­age of the after­math of the Christchurch earth­quake in Fe­bru­ary 2011 and you might re­mem­ber ‘‘the sign lan­guage guy’’. Along­side im­por­tant brief­ings from mayor at the time Bob Parker and for­mer prime min­is­ter John Key – even Prince Wil­liam – stood a quiet and unas­sum­ing guy in­ter­pret­ing ev­ery­thing that was said with fluid, nim­ble and full-of­ex­pres­sion NZSL.

Deaf Ki­wis im­pacted by the quake were granted com­mu­ni­ca­tion along­side hear­ing Ki­wis, es­pe­cially im­por­tant in a time of such up­heaval. We’d never re­ally seen it on the TV be­fore, and the nov­elty of it re­sulted in a Face­book fan page set up in homage of sign lan­guage in­ter­preter Jeremy Bor­land that at­tracted al­most 22,000 likes – not to men­tion a greater ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the strug­gles that some New Zealan­ders face ev­ery day.

In De­cem­ber last year, a cafe called CO-OP opened in the Fair­fax Me­dia build­ing in Auck­land’s Pon­sonby. Not only does CO-OP pro­vide a caf­feine hit for just a cou­ple of dol­lars, it’s also a deaf-friendly cafe and train­ing en­vi­ron­ment de­signed to im­prove diver­sity in the work­place.

‘‘The only way for peo­ple to un­der­stand diver­sity is to see it in ac­tion,’’ says An­na­marie Jamieson, cor­po­rate so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity pro­gramme direc­tor at Fair­fax Me­dia. ‘‘Teach­ing peo­ple a bit of NZSL around or­der­ing a cof­fee is a fun way for peo­ple to get en­gaged – it was so good to see 340 peo­ple learn a smat­ter­ing of signs within a few days.

‘‘Peo­ple can see that it’s not hard to em­ploy some­one who is deaf – even in a front-fac­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tion role like a barista. We have even re­cruited in other areas of our busi­ness which is ex­actly what we wanted the pro­gramme to do.’’

But Vic­to­ria Man­ning from Deaf Aotearoa says some em­ploy­ers use com­mu­ni­ca­tion as an ex­cuse to not em­ploy deaf peo­ple.

‘‘Hear­ing peo­ple are of­ten wor­ried they will of­fend deaf peo­ple, or think they will be un­able to com­mu­ni­cate with deaf peo­ple, so they avoid in­ter­ac­tion,’’ she says. ‘‘This per­ceived com­mu­ni­ca­tion bar­rier is what wor­ries po­ten­tial em­ploy­ers most about em­ploy­ing deaf peo­ple.’’

‘The sign lan­guage guy’ may have un­wit­tingly in­tro­duced thou­sands of New Zealan­ders to the nov­elty of sign lan­guage back in 2011, but since then it’s be­com­ing far more main­stream – and it needs to be. ‘‘Learn NZSL!’’ says Vic­to­ria. ‘‘Learn a few signs like ‘hello’, ‘my name is …’ or ‘would you like a cof­fee?’’’

New Zealand Sign Lan­guage Week started on May 8th. For more in­for­ma­tion about NZSL events hap­pen­ing near your place, check out nzsl.org.nz or Neigh­bourly.co.nz.

Je­nanne Bur­nell from the Neigh­bourly team signs for her mocha with CO-OP deaf barista and Sign Lan­guage Week rep­re­sen­ta­tive Joe Tusa.

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