Get involved with sign language week
New Zealand Sign Language is the country’s third official language.
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 to 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.