Appendix 3: Summary of responses to the questions posed for the review of the NZSL Act

Question 1: How successful has recognition as an official language been in promoting New Zealand Sign Language?

Number of submitters who commented on this section: 27.

Some submitters felt that recognition has resulted in an increase in visibility or awareness of NZSL among the wider community, although overall community knowledge of NZSL as an official language was low.

Recognition as an official language was seen as giving the Deaf community more pride and confidence.

There was a general view that more action and resources are needed to promote NZSL.

Some submitters felt that recognition has had little impact, particularly in the government sector.

Among the factors considered to have limited the impact of NZSL recognition were:

  • the lack of broadcasting and media exposure
  • the lack of resources to teach children and family members NZSL
  • the lack of funding to promote NZSL.

Question 2: What are some examples of the effect of recognition of NZSL?

Number of submitters who commented on this section: 12.

Official status was seen as having contributed to the success of New Zealand Sign Language Week, which has attracted growing interest and strong participation.

NZSL is now sometimes used in the media and TV advertising, suggesting more awareness of the language. Particular reference was made to use of NZSL interpreters in media briefings around the Canterbury earthquakes.

Official status was observed to have lent weight to requests for government departments, courts and hospitals to pay for interpreters.

Question 3: How successful has the NZSL Act been in ensuring NZSL is used in legal proceedings when a Deaf person is involved?

Number of submitters who commented on this section: 11.

The NZSL Act was largely seen as successful, as the majority of submitters believed that NZSL is available in courts when a Deaf person is involved and most courts were seen as trying to meet their statutory obligation to arrange interpreters.

Both positive and negative experiences in the legal settings were reported in terms of provision and the quality of interpreters. The standard of interpreting services provided was seen as variable. Submitters said the effectiveness of NZSL provision was hindered by the insufficient availability of qualified interpreters, and by some administrative inconsistencies. Submitters report that some types of legal proceedings eg victim support, pre-trial discussions with lawyers, were not being covered. This was seen by some submitters as adversely affecting the validity of ensuing proceedings.

For Deaf people who are not defendants or witnesses (eg interested family members) NZSL interpreters are not provided.

From what submitters reported, it appears to be unclear between Police, Justice and Corrections who should pay for respective interpreter services.

Question 4: What examples do you know of where the use of NZSL has been allowed or not allowed in legal proceedings?

Number of submitters who commented on this section: 18.

The analysis of submissions includes a range of specific examples, such as:

  • interpreters provided in the Emma Agnew murder case in Christchurch
  • interpreters provided in tenancy and small claims tribunals in Wellington
  • interpreter not provided because the court did not know the person was Deaf
  • a communicator (ie a non-qualified interpreter) provided in court when a fully qualified interpreter was required
  • Police not using NZSL interpreters in situations involving Deaf people (3 cases)
  • Deaf people being excluded from Waitangi Tribunal proceedings
  • the Māori Land Court not paying for interpreters
  • the Deaf parent of a defendant not having an interpreter provided in court
  • the family of a murder victim attending court denied an interpreter
  • a Deaf person ordered by the court to attend counselling, but no interpreter was organised.

Question 5: Is there anything else needed, or that could be done differently, to ensure the right to use NZSL in legal proceedings?

Number of submitters who commented on this section: 20.

Some submitters noted a lack of awareness of Deaf culture and protocol in legal proceedings. When a Deaf person is in court, there is more to consider than just ensuring that an interpreter is provided.

Submitters suggested more awareness training is needed for all court staff, Judges and Police about Deaf people’s right to access NZSL.

Some submitters wanted the right to use NZSL to be extended to other Police, Justice and Corrections-related communications relating to legal proceedings (eg victim support and probation).

Accountability and monitoring of interpreting in courts was identified as a concern. Several submitters were concerned at the lack of ability to check the accuracy of the translation.

The lack of ability of Deaf people to choose who they want as their interpreter was raised by several people. The quality of interpretation can vary greatly depending on the interpreter provided. This was an issue across all government agencies, not just those in the justice sector.

Question 6: What examples do you know of where NZSL has been used, or not, in other stages of the criminal justice process (eg Police, pre-court meetings, Corrections)?

Number of submitters who commented on this section: 13.

Submitters reported some positive experiences with Police. However, with Police, there is still an issue of consistency. For example, Police were reported as not providing an interpreter when a Deaf person reported a crime.

Submitters noted a general lack of NZSL access, and Deaf cultural awareness, in the prison system.

Question 7: In other stages of the criminal justice process, was a NZSL interpreter provided free of charge?

Number of submitters who commented on this section: 7.

Some submitters said “yes”.

Some said “sometimes”.

Police/courts/Corrections are said by some submitters to be avoiding responsibility for funding interpreters’ pre-and post-court appearances eg Police interviews, preparation of court reports, probation meetings.

Question 8: How successful have the Ministry of Justice’s instructions been on minimum requirements for NZSL interpreters, in ensuring that a competent interpreter is used?

Number of submitters who commented on this section: 17.

Submitters were aware of situations where non-qualified interpreters were used in court. This may be due to supply and demand issues with the interpreter workforce, and/or lack of understanding by courts staff of interpreting standards.

Interpreters who work in court were seen to need specialised training and mentoring for this work.

Despite setting a requirement for qualified interpreters, submitters identified that this requirement is not always followed. There is no monitoring or complaint mechanism to ensure accurate, competent translation has occurred. Deaf people are unable to check trial transcripts.

Question 9: How well are government departments using NZSL to tell people about government services?

Number of submitters who commented on this section: 22.

Four submitters say “not very well” although a definite improvement was seen by four other submitters. Others commented on the lack of NZSL or captioning on video products from various government departments.

A few government agencies have provided NZSL material on their websites, but submitters believe that more NZSL information on websites is needed.

Three submitters said that the NZSL Act should be made available online in NZSL.

Question 10: What is your experience of being able to access government services or information in NZSL?

Number of submitters who commented on this section: 21.

The Ministry of Education is not considered to be doing enough to make its services available in NZSL. While individual schools are Crown entities, they are funded and resourced by the Ministry of Education. It is said to be very difficult for children at primary and secondary school to get access to teaching or interpreting in NZSL.

Experience varies according to government agency and also within agencies.

Submitters suggested that many government departments would benefit from guidelines, resources and awareness training for dealing with Deaf people.

Submitters noted and gave examples of an inconsistent approach to interpreter funding and management of Deaf clients. Work and Income is reported by a number of submitters to have not provided NZSL interpreters when required. Yet Work and Income is considered by others to set a benchmark for other government departments.

District Health Boards are reported as not always willing to call or pay for a NZSL interpreter when required.

Deaf parents of school children have experienced difficulty getting schools to provide interpreters when required for meetings with teachers.

Question 11: Do you think that government agencies have increased their use of NZSL to promote their services and make information publically available since the NZSL Act came into force?

Number of submitters who commented on this section: 14.

Four submitters said “no”.

Seven submitters said “yes, but there is still a long way to go”.

Five submitters identified particular services and sectors that they believed more NZSL should be provided in.

Question 12: Do there need to be any changes to the NZSL Act – either to its content or to what it covers?

Number of submitters who commented on this section: 34.

A considerable number of submitters observed that Deaf children in mainstream education have poor access to NZSL. They said that the NZSL Act should cover the right to use NZSL in all levels of education, as access to education affects everything else in Deaf people’s lives.

Some said the NZSL Act should include more coverage of interpreting in legal-related situations – services before and after court that require interpretation.

A number of submitters say the NZSL Act should cover broadcasting. This would give NZSL users more access to information, and also promote awareness of NZSL.

Some assert the need for the NZSL Act to strengthen the rights to NZSL in healthcare services, with more interpreters for medical, hospital and mental health appointments.

Others would like to see the NZSL Act extended to ensure that Deaf people have full access to NZSL to cover all aspects of life, including non-public services.

Amendment of the NZSL Act to establish a New Zealand Sign Language Commission is advocated by a number of submitters. Such a Commission would be responsible for the promotion and development of NZSL, monitoring its use, and managing funding for use across a greater number of government departments.

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