A New Era in the Right to Sign

Between August 2012 to August 2013 the Commission carried out an inquiry into the use and promotion of New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL).

Terms of reference

The inquiry has focused on working with key government agencies and the deaf community around the inquiruy’s three terms of reference:

  1. The right to education for deaf people and potential users of NZSL.
  2. The rights of deaf peoples, and other potential users of NZSL, to access communication, information and services, and the right to freedom of expression and opinion, through the provision of professional NZSL interpreter services and other NZSL services and resources.
  3. The promotion and maintenance of NZSL as an official language of New Zealand.

A New Era in the Right to Sign Report

The full report of the inquiry, A New Era in the Right to Sign, was launched in Parliament by the Minister for Disability Issues, Tariana Turia, on 3 September 2013.

Recommendations

A) Education

Early childhood

That the Ministry of Education, in consultation with other relevant government agencies and the proposed interim Expert Advisory Group on NZSL and ultimately the NZSL Statutory Board:

1   increases NZSL resources and support to enable the acquisition of NZSL in early childhood by deaf children, children with communication difficulties and their families, including by:

  • increasing levels of NZSL fluency amongst staff in early intervention services including by financially recognising NZSL skills
  •  exploring options for new roles to provide NZSL support within the home
  •  facilitating the development of local language nests as an opportunity for pre-school children and their families to learn NZSL
  •  reviewing and further developing NZSL resources and promoting these to families where a child is deaf or has communication difficulties
  • ensuring the collection and analysis of early childhood data that can be disaggregated by deafness and NZSL usage and
  • continuing to promote and develop the use of NZSL in all early childhood education centres.

Schools

That the Ministry of Education, in consultation with other relevant government agencies and the proposed interim Expert Advisory Group on NZSL and ultimately the NZSL Statutory Board:

  increases access to education via NZSL by:

  • increasing levels of NZSL fluency amongst staff working in the compulsory school sector including by financially recognising NZSL skills
  • exploring options for new roles for people fluent in NZSL in the compulsory school sector
  • establishing a funding stream for NZSL interpreting (educational interpreters) within schools
  •  increasing opportunities for deaf children and children with communication difficulties to interact with signing peers and fluent NZSL users
  • reviewing and further developing NZSL curriculum resources.

That District Health Boards:

3   prioritise training in disability awareness, NZSL, deaf culture and human rights for health care early intervention staff, including audiologists, ear, nose and throat specialists, and other specialists working with children with communication difficulties.

B) Access to NZSL

That government agencies and District Health Boards:

4   develop and/or review their NZSL interpreting and translation policies, including through close consultation with the deaf community, monitor their effectiveness and share good practice models of providing access to NZSL interpreting and translation services

5   allocate sufficient funds to meet current demand for NZSL interpreter and translation services and explore options to monitor demand for, supply of and expenditure on these services (including associated travel costs and for deafblind, deaf relay and trilingual interpreting).

That District Health Boards:

6   consider a sub-regional pilot that would pool existing budgets for NZSL interpreting services and trial working with a single  booking agency to provide these services.

That government agencies:

7   explore the option of allocating current expenditure on NZSL interpreting services to an external booking service that has experience working with deaf people.

That the Ministry of Health:

8   continues to monitor the scope, uptake and value of its contract with Deaf Aotearoa and explores options for Deaf Aotearoa to report on requests for NZSL interpreters that fall outside the contract’s criteria or cannot be met within the current level of funding.

That the Ministry of Social Development:

  reviews Job Support funding including the adequacy of the yearly limit, ways to reduce the administrative burden on deaf people and the feasibility of contingency funding for situations where a person needs additional support (including access to NZSL services) to undertake their paid job

10   explores how the Training Support fund could better meet the additional costs incurred by deaf people when undertaking education or training necessary to gain employment in the open labour market.

That Workbridge:

11   monitors and reports on expenditure of Job Support and Training Support funding on NZSL interpreter and translation services, including the number and proportion of deaf people whose Job Support funding runs out before their annual funding renewal anniversary.

That the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment:

12   develops reporting mechanisms for measuring uptake of VRI, in consultation with other government agencies, to enable government agencies to make comparisons between usage of video remote interpreting (VRI) and face-to-face interpreter services.

That the Office for Disability Issues and relevant government agencies:

13   scope a project on workforce development issues for NZSL interpreters to inform the proposed NZSL strategy, in consultation with the proposed interim Expert Advisory Group on NZSL and the Sign Language Interpreters’ Association of New Zealand (SLIANZ).

C) Promotion and maintenance of NZSL recommendations

That the Ministerial Committee on Disability Issues:

14   progresses options for establishing an NZSL Statutory Board in 2014/15 to oversee the promotion and maintenance of NZSL, in consultation with the proposed interim Expert Advisory Group on NZSL.

That the Office for Disability Issues, in consultation with deaf community stakeholders and other NZSL users:

15   establishes an interim Expert Advisory Group on NZSL, with a majority of deaf NZSL users as members, by 31 December 2013, for the purposes of advising the Ministerial Committee on Disability Issues on options for establishing an NZSL Statutory Board that would:

  • develop a strategy for the promotion and maintenance of NZSL
  • advise, guide and monitor government agencies’ use and promotion of NZSL
  • provide NZSL expertise into a national languages policy.

Background

New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) has been an official language of New Zealand since 2006.  Positive things have happened in this time. These include the establishment of a video relay service, an online NZSL dictionary and some government agencies now providing information in NZSL.

However, deaf people continue to experience barriers to the full enjoyment of their human rights. Evidence to support this has been collected from:

  • complaints received by the Commission relating to deaf people experiencing discrimination in accessing and using their language (46 complaints and enquiries have been received since 2006)
  • extensive community consultations carried out in 2010-2011, policy investigations around access to information and access to political participation
  • the independent monitoring report of the Convention Coalition, partner in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities’ (the Disability Convention)  monitoring mechanism
  • reports from Disabled People’s Organisations (DPOs) such as Deaf Aotearoa New Zealand.

Deaf people have the right to use NZSL to access public facilities and services. This enables them to live independently in the community, receive education, and express their opinions and thoughts. These rights are listed in the Disability Convention. New Zealand has agreed to make these rights real.

The inquiry will assess what barriers are preventing that the full practice of these rights in New Zealand.

The Commission is a Crown entity, however, it is independent of the Government. It resolves complaints of unlawful discrimination, promotes and educates about human rights, advocates for the practice of human rights, publishes resources and guides and provides policy analysis and advocacy. The Commission can undertake inquiries if it thinks human rights have been violated.

The Terms of Reference (see above) set out what the inquiry will cover.

The Commission’s focus for this inquiry is on working with key government agencies to explore and address issues relating to effective and accessible service provision for NZSL users. As part of this, the inquiry will explore the meaning, effect and promotion of NZSL as an official language. It will build on existing NZSL work and reports.

To view the NZSL video click here.