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Cantabrians show NZSL signs of acceptance

Elizabeth Robinson
New Zealand Sign Language Week 2021  Best Awards

Over 880,000 New Zealanders are deaf or hard of hearing, and according to the 2018 census, around 24,000 people use New Zealand Sign Language.

And this week Aotearoa is celebrating those who use the country's third official language - sign language. 

Deaf Aotearoa has organised the week-long event every year since it was made the country's third official language in 2006. 

Lachlan Keating, chief executive of the organisation, said he hoped the week would not only highlight NZSL but also showcase the achievements of deaf people around the country. 

He said because sign language was New Zealand's official third language, all New Zealanders should know at least some basic signs, just as they should all know some basic Te Reo Maori. 

Hellen Robinson from National Foundation for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing said this week was an opportunity for the deaf community in New Zealand to celebrate their language.

She encouraged all New Zealanders to give it a go, and take part in the NZSL challenge. 

"The week is important because not only does it raise awareness for what is a vital and beautiful language, but the week-long celebration is testimony to the leadership and perseverance that led to NZSL being recognised as an official language in New Zealand in 2006." 

Robinson explained the Government's use of interpreters at press conferences had put a spotlight on NZSL, and enabled the language to become more mainstream. 

"It has really increased the general public’s interest in the value of NZSL and their desire to learn to sign. However, there is still so much work that could be done to make New Zealand a more inclusive society that is supportive of our deaf and hard of hearing community."

One thing Robinson NZSL could be offered in schools as it wasn't currently taught as part of the country's mainstream curriculum. She said it would be great to see this change in the future. 

"A lot more could be done to promote and enable access to NZSL in schools, workplaces and public spaces. It is after all, one of three official languages in this country." 

Keating agreed, but explained it was more important for deaf students to have the access they needed to learn, and there were a limited number of qualified NZSL teachers. 

"The best way to learn is through community classes and online classes." 

Community classes are available throughout Canterbury. Victoria Green, who is deaf herself, runs a sign class at Rolleston Community Centre.

She's been teaching NZSL for around 10 years, and explained the importance of this week in supporting deaf people around the country and enabling others to communicate with them. 

She said it was fun to learn another language and her students, as well as students at Hagley College's evening sign language classes, agree. 

During this week, there are sign language advertisements on television and social media, a breakfast in Parliament, free online introductory courses, and leaders including Jacinda Ardern have posted videos signing as part of the leaders' challenge.