Appendix 4: Implementation of the NZSL Act by key government agencies

The following information was provided by selected government agencies. While all core government departments are included in the legislation, the following selection was chosen as these government agencies provide important services used by Deaf people.

Department of Building and Housing

For Tenancy Tribunal mediations under the Residential Tenancies Act 1986, the Department of Building and Housing provide an option on their application form for people to indicate if a NZSL interpreter is required at the mediation. A NZSL interpreter is then engaged and mediation is scheduled to be face-to-face rather than by phone conference. During the mediation, the mediator may also use tools such as a whiteboard or other written methods.

Department of Corrections

The Department of Corrections facilitates the use of NZSL interpreter services and other communication techniques where effective communication is desirable and necessary in criminal justice settings. Interpreter services are provided to offenders on a case-by-case basis and in specific circumstances where important decisions affecting the offender are being considered. Circumstances where interpreter services are most likely to be engaged are:

  • the reception and induction of offenders
  • the provision of health assessment and treatment
  • disciplinary matters
  • psychological assessments
  • Parole Board hearings
  • the provision of pre-sentence reports.

Key support people may be also used to interpret more informal interactions with offenders who are hearing impaired. The Department contacts the nearest Deaf Association to make necessary arrangements to engage the services of a sign language interpreter. The Department funds the provision of this service, which can also involve travel costs as there may not be an interpreter available in the local area.

Ministry for Culture and Heritage

Ministry for Culture and Heritage facilitates work that supports the New Zealand Disability Strategy, including making all information and communication methods offered to the general public available in formats appropriate to the different needs of disabled people.

Ministry for Culture and Heritage has supported the production of an official NZSL version of the National Anthem and has approved that the NZSL version of the anthem be put on the Ministry’s website, alongside the English and Māori versions.

Creative New Zealand

Creative New Zealand funds Arts Access Aotearoa which works towards a society where all people are able to participate in the arts, whatever their circumstances, and provides resources and guidance to arts organisations and artists wishing to make their art accessible to people with disabilities, including the Deaf community.

NZ On Air

The Broadcasting Act 1989 requires NZ On Air to provide programming for disabled people. NZ On Air has been engaging with the Deaf and hearing impaired community for its 21 years of operation and engages a NZSL interpreter as and when necessary.

NZ On Air has provided funding for the captioning service since 1989. This year, $1.65 million has been allocated for programme captioning on TVNZ and TV3.[1]

Ministry of Economic Development

The Ministry of Economic Development funds 20 scholarships per year to support students who want to become qualified NZSL interpreters, and to contribute to building a qualified national NZSL interpreter workforce to staff a Video Relay Service. Uptake has not been strong and in two years funds have been returned to the Crown. The main reason appears to be that the students did not want to work in a call centre. Scholarship recipients must be willing to make reasonable efforts to be employed at the Video Relay Service Centre for a reasonable period of time following graduation from the Diploma of Sign Language Interpreting or the Bachelor of Arts programme. This attitude may change now that the Video Relay Service is permanent and the NZSL interpreters who have worked in the service are positive about it as a part of their profession.

In 2004 the Government established a national relay service for the Deaf, hearing impaired and speech impaired communities of New Zealand. The NZ Relay Service is operated by Sprint International New Zealand (Sprint), with the telephone relay centre operating 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

The Ministry of Economic Development requires that NZSL interpreters employed for the Video Relay Service be qualified with a minimum of the Diploma in Sign Language Interpreting. The Supervisor must be similarly qualified and have at least 5 years community interpreting experience. These requirements will remain but will also be expanded to allow entry of people qualified with a BA in Sign Language Interpreting as graduates emerge from AUT’s new BA programme.

The Minister for Communications and Information Technology announced on 28 July 2011 that Sprint had been awarded a new five year supply contract to provide all the existing relay services and video relay services commencing on 1 October 2011, to replace the existing contract when it expires. In some cases there will also be an increase in hours of service availability.

Sprint will provide the services from a new call centre in central Auckland.

The new supply agreement includes the following new relay services to be progressively introduced from late 2011:

  • captioned telephony through the fixed telephone network or the Internet
  • instant messaging from cell phones (ie text to speech equivalent)
  • international calls by Internet relay via use of a prepaid calling card.

The supply agreement provides for the introduction of Video Remote Interpreting (VRI) service via the Sprint video telephone relay service call centre, subject to government agreement and the availability of funding for such a service.

Ministry of Education

New Zealand promotes an inclusive education system for children with special needs. Every child has the right to attend their local school (Education Act 1989) and funding is provided to schools and specialist services to provide the appropriate supports to meet the learning needs of children.

Over $30 million per year is provided through special education resourcing to support hearing impaired children. This is in addition to general school funding.

In recognition of the highly specialised needs of hearing impaired children, New Zealand has two Deaf Education Centres: Kelston in Auckland and van Asch in Christchurch. These function as both schools for the deaf and as national providers of specialist services. Each is funded to provide:

  • a base school
  • specialist itinerant teacher services which support children to access the curriculum from their local schools
  • residential services at the base schools
  • resource and technical services to support access to the curriculum eg listening devices and NZSL resources
  • early childhood centres.

There are around 2400 deaf and hearing impaired children aged 0–21 years (March 2007), enrolled at approximately 560 schools. This is a small and widely dispersed population in New Zealand. The majority of these children are in satellite units in mainstream schools. 106 students are enrolled at Kelston DEC base school and 28 are enrolled at van Asch DEC base school (July 2010 school rolls). Approximately two thirds of deaf and hearing impaired students live in the greater Auckland area.

NZSL interpreters are an option for a small number of students who are fluent NZSL users and able to work with a teacher through the medium of an interpreter.

Critical mass in language development has to be available through frequent language exposure. A child needs to have enough users of a language around them in their family and whānau and other children from whom they can learn, both in their home, school and community environments.

Special Education is structured at a funding and policy level to view deafness as a level of educational need rather than as cultural or ethnic groupings. Māori Deaf people sit on the boundaries of both Māori and Deaf worlds and are often more disadvantaged in gaining full access to their communities.

Following the Review of Special Education in 2010, the Government approved a four-year action plan to achieve fully inclusive education systems, called Success for All – Every School, Every Child.

From 2012, teacher and teacher aide time for students with a hearing impairment will be transferred to the two Deaf Education Centres for allocation nationally. This means the DECs will have more flexibility to customise the specialist resource needed by students with a hearing impairment. This could mean more specialist resource teacher time, note-takers or interpreters for deaf children, or the creation of new, specialist roles.

The Ministry of Education funds up to 12 NZSL interpreter scholarships a year.

  • 2010 - 6 scholarships awarded
  • 2009  - 8 scholarships awarded
  • 2008 - 4 scholarships awarded
  • 2007 - scholarships reviewed
  • 2006 - 4 scholarships awarded
  • 2005 - 3 scholarships awarded
  • 2004 - 4 scholarships awarded
  • 2003 - 2 scholarships awarded.

In 2010, 1000 DVDs for adults to build NZSL skills for communicating with NZSL users were produced at a cost of $33,000. In 2010, the resource and technical services funding to support deaf and hearing impaired children to access the curriculum was $1.7 million.

Ministry of Health and District Health Boards (DHBs)

Under the Crown Funding Agreement with DHBs, DHBs should have:

“an accessibility plan that addresses physical and non-physical access for people with disabilities, including an outline of how they are responding to the New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) Ac t (for example, having a written New Zealand Sign Language policy that includes consideration of other forms of communication with deaf people to remove barriers to accessing information and services).

DHBs will make specific provision for consumers with a mobility, sensory or communication disability available and make the provision known to consumers. DHBs will make services available to people who are deaf through the provision of interpreters and devices to assist communication.”[2]

District Health Boards are also bound by the Code of Health and Disability Services Consumers’ Rights 1996. The Code includes two particularly relevant areas. The first, Right 5: Right to Effective Communication, outlines that “[e]very consumer has the right to effective communication in a form, language, and manner that enables the consumer to understand the information provided. Where necessary and reasonably practicable, this includes the right to a competent interpreter”. The second, Right 6: Right to be Fully Informed, is relevant in regards to Deaf people being able to give informed consent.

At the national level, the Disability Support Services Unit in the Ministry of Health has a contract with Deaf Aotearoa to provide support services for Deaf people. Deaf Aotearoa is contracted to provide interpretation services for Deaf people to enable them to access health and disability support services and information on their rights and responsibilities. The service includes a national booking system for NZSL interpreter services.

Deaf Aotearoa prioritises access to this service to meet the needs of as many Deaf people as possible within the resources of the contract. It needs to use qualified and experienced interpreters, but if suitable interpreters are not available it may use the services of trained communicators.

Department of Internal Affairs

Citizenship ceremonies

Public citizenship ceremonies are held for applicants who have been approved for the grant of New Zealand citizenship. In general, local authorities make the necessary arrangements for conducting citizenship ceremonies, while the Department of Internal Affairs provides guidance and support to the local authorities. Citizenship Office staff have helped to arrange a sign language interpreter at ceremonies where they have been requested by applicants, and will continue to do so. At these ceremonies new citizens are required to take the oath or affirmation of allegiance. The Citizenship Amendment Bill, which is currently before Parliament, includes an amendment that would allow the oath/affirmation of citizenship to be made in any of the official languages of New Zealand, including NZSL.

Civil Defence and Emergency Management

The Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management’s resources on New Zealand’s hazards, and what people should do to prepare for an emergency, include information specific for people with a hearing impairment. This information is provided in NZSL and is also captioned for those who don’t use sign language.

Copies of the resource have been sent to all local authorities for their use and it is also offered as part of the What’s the Plan Stan? schools’ education package. Copies have been distributed to about 100 public libraries through the National Library and the resource is available online on the Get Ready Get Thru, Deaf Aotearoa, and the National Foundation for the Deaf websites.

The Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management’s Get Ready television advertisements are also captioned on TVNZ to promote the messages to those with a hearing impairment. Their website Get Ready Get Thru has a link to the Deaf Aotearoa website where civil defence information can be found in a series of NZSL DVDs.

Following the February 2011 earthquake, sign language interpreters supported the regular media briefings and community meetings.

Official ceremonies

The Department of Internal Affairs organises and co-ordinates visits of guests of government, State, ministerial and other official functions and national commemorative events, such as Anzac Day.

Visits and Ceremonial Office staff arranged for a signing interpreter during the Christchurch Earthquake Memorial Service in March 2011, and received positive feedback about this. Similar arrangements will be considered for future events where appropriate.

Web accessibility

The Department of Internal Affairs administers the New Zealand Government Web Standards. At the level of compliance required for New Zealand Government agencies, delivery of spoken content via NZSL is not required. Instead captions are required for spoken content in online video, and text transcripts are required to accommodate users with hearing impairments.

The Department is about to undertake a review of the Web Standards programme, and intends to engage with representatives of the disability community during the course of the review, to determine how well the Web Standards meet the needs of their community.

Ministry of Justice

The Ministry of Justice provides interpreters for specific courts and tribunals. In these settings it provides and pays for qualified interpreters, including NZSL interpreters, for:

  • the individual parties (the person who is bringing the case and or the person who is defending the case)
  • any witness
  • any member of the court or tribunal
  • the lawyers or other person representing a party in the proceedings
  • anyone else if the Judge or person in charge agrees.

The Ministry of Justice does not routinely provide interpreters for other people involved in the court system eg family members of a Deaf witness. People seeking NZSL interpreters are requested to fill in a form for an interpreter a reasonable length of time before the court proceedings, to give time for the court to arrange an interpreter. This information is set out on the Ministry of Justice website.

The Ministry of Justice is in the process of reviewing its policy and revising its publication. It is intending to develop a complaints mechanism for interpreter services.

Ministry of Social Development, including Work and Income

The Ministry of Social Development has contracted with Workbridge to administer support funding for disabled people. This funding is available to help with any additional costs directly relating to a person's disability when entering or retaining a job, training, or self-employment. It includes the provision of interpreters for Deaf clients. To maximise the funding, an annual limit is placed on the amount available to each client. The Job Support funding limit for each individual is $16,900 in any 12 month period. The $16,900 limit is inclusive of any other Work and Income grants or subsidies being received for similar purposes, eg Skills Investment Subsidies or Modification Grants.

Work and Income has developed policies for interacting with Deaf people and processes for hiring NZSL interpreters, including contracting with iSign and training its frontline staff on their use. iSign is an online booking service connected to Deaf Aotearoa, that provides a national online NZSL interpreter booking system.

Deaf people have the option of asking Work and Income site staff for an interpreter or contacting the Central Processing Unit (CPU) of Work and Income. The CPU has a small team who manage the communication channels for Work and Income's Deaf clients. The team will set up the appointments with local case managers, book the interpreter through iSign, and then advise the client.

Deaf clients can contact Work and Income via TTY machine, text, e-mail or a dedicated Deaf fax line. NZ Relay also relay some calls through to Work and Income from Deaf clients.

In June 2011, Work and Income started a trial using Video Remote Interpreting for Deaf clients in Northland and Auckland. Community Links/Service Centres do not have NZSL interpreters on site. Some areas of the country are not well serviced by trained independent interpreters and there can be significant delays (and costs) involved in accessing the service.

The Office for Disability Issues within the Ministry for Social Development is the focal point for government contact with disability groups, including Deaf people. It is responsible for monitoring the Disability Action Plan, which is the delivery mechanism for the New Zealand Disability Strategy, and collating information on New Zealand’s implementation of the United Nations Convention on the rights of disabled persons and reporting though to the Ministerial Committee on Disability Issues.

Information on the NZSL Act and other material is available in NZSL on the Office for Disability Issues’ website.

NZ Police

NZ Police has done a significant amount of work around engaging with deaf communities and individuals since 2006, both at a district and national level. Partnerships have been built with key national groups such as Deaf Aotearoa and the National Foundation for the Deaf.

NZ Police has produced counter cards for deaf people to alert Police to their impairment. The counter cards also feature some reminder advice to police staff on how best to respond to people who are hearing impaired.

Police are also in the process of producing cards that hearing impaired people can keep on the sun visor of their car, or in their wallet, to advise police of their impairment and the best way to respond to them.

Police are supporting the National Foundation for the Deaf to remake the 1996 video resource "Deaf People and the Law". The new DVD resource, "You and Criminal Justice - A Guide for People who are Hearing Impaired or Deaf", has been filmed and is in the post-production stage.

A 111 text service commenced accepting registrations from deaf and hearing impaired members of Deaf Aotearoa in October 2010. In an emergency a deaf person who is registered for the text service can text for access to Police, fire and ambulance. It has been well received.

The Police website includes a signed video explanation about the 111 text service by a Community Constable and a Deaf Aotearoa NZ staff member. The Community Constable is proficient in NZSL and fields calls from within her District, and nationally, to assist deaf people with Police related queries.

During the 2010 NZSL week numerous NZSL 'taster' classes were run in Police stations around the country, delivered to Police officers and staff, including at Police National Headquarters and  Wellington Central Police Station.

Police officers will contact the local Deaf Association to source an interpreter if a deaf person is the victim of crime, a potential offender, or a witness, and statements need to be taken. NZ Police pays for the cost of the interpreter.

In day-to-day interactions such as in the watch house, at the front counter, with a community constable, or at the roadside, every effort is made to facilitate effective communication in a timely fashion, according to the principles of Service First.[3]


ACC policy is that it will meet the needs of Deaf clients who need an NZSL interpreter.

ACC also has a dedicated email for Deaf clients:

Telephone calls to ACC claimants using the NZ Relay service are only made if the claimant has specified that this is how they want to be contacted. New Zealand Relay’s video telephone service is used by ACC for phone calls with its Deaf clients. The service is provided free to the caller, and at no cost to ACC.

Housing New Zealand Corporation

Housing New Zealand Corporation policy is that it will address the communication needs of Deaf clients through the provision of a NZSL interpreter and/or through the provision of written information. These services are provided free to deaf clients.

When a tenant or potential client has hearing difficulties, when English is not the first language of the customer, or the customer is Deaf and uses sign language, Housing New Zealand Corporation can arrange for an NZSL interpreter. Housing New Zealand Corporation's process is to contact the nearest local Deaf Association and arrange a sign language interpreter, which is paid for if necessary by Housing New Zealand Corporation.

Housing New Zealand Corporation also provides information about its products and services in publications and on its website and provides a dedicated 0800 fax line for Deaf customers, which is listed on all external publications about the Housing New Zealand Corporation’s services.

[1]    Ministry for Culture and Heritage monitors NZ On Air to ensure it meets its statutory requirements with regard to captioning.


[3]    Service First (Te Mea Tuatahi) aims to improve the quality of Police services provided to communities and individuals by promoting a culture of citizen-centred policing.

Tell us what you think

Page last updated: