New Zealand Sign Language

This section has information about the New Zealand Sign Language Act 2006.

New Zealand Sign Language Act 2006

The purpose of the New Zealand Sign Language Act is to promote and maintain the use of New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) by:

  • declaring NZSL to be an official language of New Zealand
  • providing for the use of NZSL in legal proceedings (such as courts)
  • empowering the making of regulations setting competency standards for the interpretation in legal proceedings of NZSL
  • stating principles to guide government departments in the promotion and use of NZSL.

The NZSL Act also requires that a report must be prepared three years after the Act came into force (at some time after April 2009) on:

  • the operation of the NZSL Act since its commencement; and
  • whether any amendments to the scope and contents of the Act are necessary or desirable.

The NZSL Act is consistent with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Article 21 of the Convention requires States Parties to take all appropriate measures to ensure that persons with disabilities can exercise the right to freedom of expression and opinion, including the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas on an equal basis with others and through all forms of communication of their choice by (among other things) accepting and facilitating the use of sign languages in official interactions, and by recognising and promoting the use of sign languages.

Principles to guide government departments

The NZSL Act includes principles to guide government agencies so to promote access to government information and services by the Deaf community. In summary, these principles state that:

  • the Deaf community should be consulted on matters relating to NZSL (including, for example, the promotion of the use of NZSL)
  • NZSL should be used in the promotion to the public of government services and in the provision of information to the public
  • government services and information should be made accessible to the Deaf community through the use of appropriate means (including the use of NZSL).

Using NZSL in legal proceedings

NZSL can be used in legal proceedings in courts and tribunals by people whose first or natural language is NZSL.

New Zealand Sign Language Board

The Government has a New Zealand Sign Language Board to promote and maintain the use of New Zealand Sign Language. It is based on recommendations from an experts advisory group that were developed with the Deaf community over 2013-2014.

Experts Advisory Group on the promotion and maintenance of New Zealand Sign Language 2013-2014

A advisory group of experts in New Zealand Sign Language was set up to work with government agencies on what can be done, in the longer term, to promote and maintain the vitality of New Zealand Sign Language. It provided recommendations to the Ministerial Committee on Disability Issues in April 2014. In May 2014, the Minister for Disability Issues announced that the Government had commited $6 million over four years to establish a New Zealand Sign Language Board, based on recommendations from the Experts Advisory Group.

New Zealand Sign Language Fund

A new fund has been established to support projects that increase New Zealand Sign Language use and proficiency.

Using interpreters

Find out how to book and pay for New Zealand Sign Language interpreters, and more information about working with Deaf people, in the online guide:

2011 review of the NZSL Act

In October 2011, the Minister for Disability Issues released the review of the NZSL Act. The review looked at:

  • the operation of the NZSL Act
  • whether any changes to the Act are needed to ensure that it fulfils its aims.