Terms of Reference

The NZSL Board's primary founding document is the Terms of Reference, which were agreed to by the Minister for Disability Issues in March 2015. This document will be reviewed by December 2018.

NZSL Terms of Reference

You can read these Terms of Reference online (below), watch in NZSL, or download documents as a Word file.



Watch the Terms of Reference in NZSL

Read the 2014 Cabinet Paper proposing the establishment of the NZSL advisory board and fund.


1. The New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) Board has a vision where:

  • NZSL is a strong, vibrant language, recognised and embraced by New Zealand society.
  • The right to use NZSL as a first or preferred language is acknowledged.
  • There are sufficient opportunities and resources for Deaf people, their families/whānau, and other NZSL users to acquire and use NZSL.
  • NZSL is accessible and available to all NZSL users.


2. The following principles will guide, and provide a framework for, the work carried out by the NZSL Board:

  • Access to sign language is a human right as outlined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and other national and international legislation and policy/strategy.
  • Deaf NZSL users should collectively lead the promotion and maintenance of NZSL.
  • Deaf people have a right to dignity, equality, freedom of expression and independence.

The NZSL Board will:

  • recognise the partnership between government and the Deaf community to implement the NZSL Act 2006
  • respect and honour the Treaty of Waitangi
  • recognise and promote Deaf people’s linguistic and cultural identities
  • operate according to the principle of transparency which includes open communication, roles and responsibilities, selection of members, and areas of work.


3. The NZSL Board’s purpose is to:

  • promote and maintain the use of NZSL by ensuring the development and preservation and acquisition of the language
  • ensure the rights of Deaf people and NZSL users to use NZSL as outlined in the NZSL Act 2006 and United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and other national and relevant international legislation
  • provide expert advice to government and the community on NZSL.

Roles and function


4. The NZSL Board will:

  • lead the promotion and maintenance of NZSL
  • be responsible for oversight of the NZSL Fund, and make recommendations on the allocation of funds from it to promote and maintain NZSL
  • provide a national role and focal point of reference and support for NZSL
  • provide leadership and coordination of the NZSL sector
  • provide an expert voice on NZSL.


5. The NZSL Board will:

  • advise on measures to give effect to NZSL as an official language, including advice on matters relating to the NZSL Act, and advice on the regulation of interpreting standards
  • provide centralised, expert, high level and systemic advice on NZSL across government departments including providing advice on implementing the NZSL priorities, action plan, vision and purpose
  • refer enquiries/issues to other stakeholders or government agencies as appropriate.

Strategy and co-ordination

6. The NZSL Board will:

  • set a three year action plan and priority initiatives for the promotion and maintenance of NZSL, in consultation with the NZSL community and Government
  • co-ordinate and support initiatives that promote and maintain NZSL in consultation with key stakeholders
  • build key stakeholder relationships across public, private, and community sectors to achieve joint goals in relation to NZSL.


7. The NZSL Board will:

  • monitor and report on key government activity supporting the three year action plan and priority initiatives
  • report to the Minister for Disability Issues annually, and as required, on matters relating to NZSL
  • provide input into other key monitoring reports as appropriate, for example, on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and New Zealand Disability Strategy
  • monitor high level issues of NZSL interpreting service standards and NZSL teaching standards.

8. In supporting the NZSL Board to fulfil its monitoring requirements, the Ministries of Education, Social Development and Health, will report to the NZSL Board on their progress against the NZSL action plan and priority initiatives annually, or as required.


Composition of the Board

9. The NZSL Board has up to 10 members in total, all of whom are NZSL users, and a majority of members will be Deaf NZSL users.

10. The members will represent the diversity of the Deaf community and NZSL users. It will include, at a minimum, two members who identify as Maori and one member representing Deaf Aotearoa New Zealand Incorporated (Deaf Aotearoa) the Disabled People’s Organisation for the Deaf community.

11. As far as possible membership will also have a gender balance, and reflect the perspectives of:

  • youth
  • families
  • older people
  • Pacific peoples and other ethnic groups
  • people who use NZSL as their primary language, but do not identify as Deaf.

12. From time to time the NZSL Board will consult with experts from outside of the Board to ensure that broad perspectives regarding NZSL issues are achieved.

13. Desirable skills and attributes for NZSL Board members are:

  • personal experience using and learning NZSL
  • knowledge of communication barriers experienced by NZSL users, particularly Deaf people
  • active linkages with the Deaf community, families with Deaf members, and other NZSL users
  • a ‘big picture’ orientation, including an ability to think strategically and to prioritise
  • an appreciation of practical measures to implement strategic priorities
  • the ability to influence without dominating
  • an ability to work cooperatively as part of a group
  • sound judgement.

14. The Chair will have:

  • experience with working with government
  • an ability to facilitate meetings and support members
  • an ability to act as a credible spokesperson
  • experience in managing a wide range of relationships including secretariat, community, and Minister relations.

Appointment to the NZSL Board

15. The Minister for Disability Issues (“the Minister”) will recommend appointments to the Cabinet Appointments and Honours Committee after considering advice from a selection panel convened by the Office for Disability Issues.

16. Cabinet will be notified of the appointments to the NZSL Board.

17. Members of the NZSL Board may be removed if they:

  • are adjudicated bankrupt
  • have a conflict of interest that cannot be managed
  • are convicted of an offence under the Crimes Act 1961
  • are appointed to a permanent full time position in the public service working on issues relevant to NZSL.

18. The Minister’s initial appointments to the NZSL Board will specify the member who is to be Chair for the NZSL Board’s first 12 months. Subsequently, the Board will provide a recommendation to the Minister for Disability Issues on the preferred candidate for the Chair annually.

Term of office

19. The standard term of office for each member of the NZSL Board is three years except for members appointed on its establishment.

20. When establishing the Board, in order to provide for the staged turnover of members, the Minister may specify, when appointing members, which members are to hold office for two, three or four years.

21. At times members of the NZSL Board may need to leave prior to the end of their term of office. In such cases the Minister will consider nominations from the selection panel to identify a suitable candidate for appointment to maintain the NZSL Board’s mix of representation and background.

22. Any member may sit on the NZSL Board for a maximum of two terms (six years) consecutively except for establishment members who, at the Minister’s discretion may sit for a consecutive period of up to 8 years. All members wishing to be considered for a new term will need to complete the nomination process and be appointed.

Expectation of members

23. Members of the NZSL Board must ensure the Board acts in a manner consistent with this Terms of Reference and the priorities issued by the Minister for Disability Issues.

24. Members are expected to commit up to eight days a year on NZSL Board business, including attending meetings. The time commitment is expected to reduce after the first year to four days a year.

25. The NZSL Board will operate as a collective, rather than operating as committee of individuals representing various constituencies.

26. Board members must publicly support all actions of the NZSL Board, even if they do not privately agree with them.

This includes:

  • recommendations on funding proposals
  • work programme priorities
  • the three-year action plan, priority initiatives and strategies
  • communications strategies
  • advice to the Minister.

27. Members are appointed as individuals with knowledge and expertise of NZSL. They are expected to use their networks to understand and communicate the views of the community, but are expected to govern on behalf of all stakeholders.

28. Individual NZSL Board members are expected to:

  • attend, to the greatest extent possible, all meetings of the NZSL Board
  • examine issues before the NZSL Board from a strategic viewpoint
  • support a consensus decision-making approach
  • support and endorse the decisions of the NZSL Board.

29. In addition the Chair of the NZSL Board is expected to:

  • facilitate meetings
  • manage communications
  • ensure the objectives of the NZSL Board are achieved
  • build good working relationships with members, with the Minister for Disability Issues, government agencies, and the Deaf community.

30. A member may be removed from the NZSL Board if, in any 12-month period, in the sole opinion of the Minister, they have failed to attend sufficient meetings to appropriately take part in the board’s deliberations.

Board performance

31. The Chair of the NZSL Board is required to report to the Minister for Disability Issues on the performance of the NZSL Board and its members annually.

32. The Director, Office for Disability Issues is responsible for monitoring the NZSL Board, including its impacts and effectiveness.

Conflicts of interest

33. NZSL Board members are required to identify and declare any conflict of interest or potential conflict of interest to the NZSL Board Chair and the Secretariat in a timely and effective manner, and the Chair will hold a register of those interests.

34. If a potential or actual conflict of interest arises between a NZSL Board member (or the organisation they represent in the case of the one representative from Deaf Aotearoa) and the delivery of the Board’s objectives they must declare it at the earliest possible time.

35. In such cases, NZSL Board members should also declare the potential conflict of interest or conflict of interest to the Chair and Board at the beginning of each meeting. NZSL Board members with a conflict of interest or potential conflict of interest may participate in discussions but are to withdraw from the decision making process in relation to the area of potential conflict or conflict.

Remuneration, expenses and reimbursements

36. Each NZSL Board member will be paid per day and pro-rata for a half day, for each day that they undertake work arising from their membership of the NZSL Board, including preparation for meetings. Remuneration will be in accordance with the Cabinet Office Circular Fees framework for members appointed to bodies in which the Crown has an interest (the Fees Framework).

37. NZSL Board members will be paid allowances if appropriate. Any allowances will be paid in accordance with Annex 1 of the Fees Framework.

38. All payments will be made by direct credit to the bank account nominated by the NZSL Board member.

39. Payment for additional work should be agreed by the Office for Disability Issues in writing in advance, as the fee setting authority, before the work is undertaken. Additional work should relate to the governance role of the NZSL Board and should not cover activities that are more properly with the role of the secretariat or of a consultancy nature. The key objectives for the additional work must be clearly specified and evaluated on completion.

Intellectual property

40. Nothing will affect the rights of an NZSL member in the intellectual property owned by that member prior to entering this engagement or developed by the member other than in the performance of this engagement.


41. NZSL Board members shall at all times comply with the Privacy Act 1993 and the Official Information Act 1982.

42. The NZSL Board will be presented with a range of information and papers on aspects of NZSL. Some of this information will be commercially sensitive, or contain personal information about individuals. The NZSL Board members will need to be mindful of their responsibility to keep information confidential when this is appropriate.

43. The NZSL Board will need to ensure there are no surprises for Ministers, by ensuring that all members follow agreed processes for sharing information. Under the “no surprises” policy, Ministers expect to be informed well in advance of any material or significant events, transactions and other issues relating to the Board that may be contentious or could attract public interest, whether positive or negative

44. Other information can be shared and discussed more widely to gather feedback and ideas. These ideas can then be shared with the Board and government agency staff.

45. The NZSL Board will need to agree whether information is for sharing or to be kept private subject to the Official Information Act 1982.

46. Members shall not disclose any confidential information obtained in the course of carrying out their role as a member of NZSL Board.


47. The NZSL Board is supported by a secretariat. The secretariat provides the Board with administrative support services, policy advice and implements agreed measures to effectively promote and maintain NZSL.

48. The Secretariat will act as a co-ordination and liaison point with Government departments in respect of the Board’s monitoring and reporting duties set out in this Terms of Reference.

49. The NZSL Board and secretariat will operate cohesively to ensure that objectives are successfully delivered and the Board will delegate responsibility to the secretariat to achieve strategic objectives.

50. The secretariat will sit within the Ministry of Social Development (Office for Disability Issues).


51. The NZSL Board reports to the Minister for Disability Issues on government progress against the three year NZSL action plan and priority initiatives for the promotion and maintenance of NZSL.

52. The NZSL Board provides advice to the Minister for Disability Issues on allocation of the NZSL Fund.

53. The NZSL Board receives input and advice from government departments and consults the Deaf community and NZSL users in developing the NZSL three year action plan.

54. The Director, Office for Disability Issues is responsible for monitoring the effectiveness of the NZSL Board members and its processes.

Figure 1: Governance of the NZSL Board Governance of the NZSL Board

Governance of the NZSL Board diagram

Governance of the NZSL Board diagram


55. The NZSL Board will meet at least four times per year. The NZSL Board Chair may call additional meetings as required. Consideration of issues and related decisions can be made outside of formal meetings as required through processes agreed to by members and confirmed by the Office for Disability Issues. Members may also be required to undertake work additional to attendance at board meetings..

56. Meetings will follow an agenda which is to be circulated in draft to NZSL Board members for their consideration and comment sufficiently in advance of the relevant meeting to allow the Board to operate effectively.

57. Minutes of meetings and a record of decisions made will be kept and confirmed at the next meeting of the NZSL Board. Agendas and a summary of minutes from NZSL Board meetings will be published.

58. Papers, and NZSL translation of these, are to be circulated for NZSL Board members’ consideration in advance of the relevant meeting where possible.

59. The Board quorum shall be a minimum of 6 NZSL Board members present with the majority being Deaf NZSL users.

60. Meetings will normally be conducted in NZSL, or otherwise as agreed by the attending NZSL Board members. Interpreters will be provided as required for any meeting participants not conversant in NZSL.

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