New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) is crucial to many deaf people's ability to learn, communicate and participate in society. The language is vital to the expression of deaf culture and identify. Deaf culture is well documented and includes shared values, norms, behaviours, history, humour, art, stories, poetry and traditions of deaf people. Deaf culture is passed on from generation to generation through NZSL.
NZSL is one of three official languages in New Zealand, along with English and Te Reo Maori. NZSL has its own grammatical structure which enables users to communicate fully and express thoughts and emotions. However it differs from spoke languages because it is solely visual.
There are approximately 4,599 deaf people (Census 2018, Stats NZ) who use NZSL as a form of communication and approximately 23,000 people in total who use NZSL. This includes parents who use NZSL to communicate with their deaf child. These figures are likely to be underestimated.
The recognition of New Zealand Sign Language through the New Zealand Sign Language Act 2006 was a major step forward in improving the lives of Deaf people. However, this recognition is still too recent to have had a significant impact on the many inequalities that Deaf people face on a daily basis.
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