Imagine being treated in hospital but not fully understanding the medication and treatment you are receiving. Imagine being arrested without the right to explain your side of the story in your language. Imagine experiencing an earthquake and not being able to listen to the radio or understand fully what people are saying by their lip pattern.
I don’t think I would be alone in saying that Deaf New Zealanders should be entitled to the same rights as any other New Zealander. When information is not provided in sign language, Deaf people are not able to participate equally in society.
Confusion, misunderstanding and sometimes personal safety is threatened. That is why the Deaf Community must be joined by every day Kiwis in their goal to preserve, promote and protect New Zealand Sign Language. This is being achieved by developing a strategy that ensures full participation in political and public life on an equal basis with others.
New Zealand Sign Language is the natural language of the Deaf community in New Zealand; but it is also one of New Zealand’s Official Languages. It reflects the country’s culture by including signs for Māori concepts which cannot be found in other sign languages or countries. As one of the country’s official languages, more than 24,000 New Zealanders use NZSL daily. But why aren’t other languages recognised in the same way? Other languages (e.g. Samoan, Tongan, Mandarin, Cantonese) have recognition in their country of origin. Like Māori, NZSL is strictly home-grown. There are hundreds of sign-based languages in use around the world, but NZSL is only found here in Aotearoa.
While preparing for New Zealand Sign Language Week I found some awesome words from Deaf Aotearoa. They suggest that perhaps the way we see Deaf people and the way they see themselves are quite different. They inform us that people who are Deaf see being Deaf as a difference not a disability; they are proud to be Deaf. They communicate visually and see the world in a beautiful way. They come from all walks of life – new immigrants, Deaf blind, young, elderly, and Maori – all united through their shared experience of seeing the world.
I would hope that all New Zealanders, and all Kiwi Kids especially, would take this information on board, respect it, and learn from it! If someone in your life has a hearing impairment or is Deaf, learn more about it. Don’t pretend it doesn’t exist, accept that it does and be understanding. Help them get the most out of the everyday experiences we may take for granted. But beyond that, let them help you. There are countless invaluable lessons we can learn from the Deaf People of Aotearoa. They see the world in a unique and special way.
New Zealand Sign Language week is being held this year between the 6th and the 12th May. NZSL Week is an opportunity to not only promote the language and culture of the Deaf community, but to raise awareness of the challenges and issues that its members face every day. This year, Deaf Aotearoa is inviting people to “Learn 7 Signs in 7 Days” – something that should be achievable for most of us. Welcome back Kiwi Kids, let’s get involved!
Critical Thinking Questions:
- What is the most common reason that people are Deaf?
- Can you become Deaf after hearing well? Can you hear well after being Deaf?
- Do people who are Deaf see the world in a heightened way, just like people who are blind usually hear better than the average human?
Practical Thinking Questions:
- If you know someone who is Deaf, ask them respectfully about their hearing impairment and how they believe their life is different because of it. If you don’t know anyone, do some research online and in the library and see what you can find.
- Be sure to join Deaf Aotearoa and Learn 7 Signs in 7 Days this New Zealand Sign Language Week.
- What else are you going to do for New Zealand Sign Language week? Think of something awesome to promote it, and get out there and do it!