Conclusions and recommendations

As observed by the Human Rights Commission, while the NZSL Act is not functioning as well as it might, this may be the result of poor practice rather than being attributable to the NZSL Act itself.

122. The review believes that promoting best practice, and closer monitoring of implementation activities, is an appropriate way to address many of the issues identified by submitters.

123. NZSL has clearly gained in status since the NZSL Act was passed. More non-Deaf people are now aware of NZSL. Promotion, through New Zealand Sign Language Week and the use of NZSL interpreters at televised earthquake media briefings, has enhanced community awareness to some degree.

124. Despite its status as an official language of New Zealand very few government departments are including NZSL in official events.

125. NZSL interpreters are being used in legal proceedings but submitters said that practice was sometimes wanting. The Ministry of Justice are about to issue new instructions on the use of interpreters in legal proceedings and to introduce a complaints process which will help identify and remedy poor practice.

126. While a few government departments have translated information on their services into NZSL, this is still a very limited practice. Departments have obligations not only under the NZSL Act but also under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to ensure Deaf people have access to key public information. This may be done through the use of NZSL and through other means of making information more accessible to wider audiences eg Plain English and Easy Read versions.

127. Government departments that tend to have face-to-face interactions with Deaf clients have policies on the use of NZSL interpreters. These appear to be appropriate and to demonstrate the principles set out under the NZSL Act for government departments. However, it appears that some staff may be unaware of their department’s policies, or are not applying them. This situation needs to improve. Departments need to have, and to implement, clear processes for interacting with Deaf clients and for the use of NZSL interpreters.

128. There is a shortage of appropriately qualified interpreters and this is more pronounced in some parts of the country, especially rural areas. Existing training at tertiary institutions and greater use of new technologies (such as video remote interpreting) should help.

129. To address the problems identified by submitters the following actions are recommended:

  • government departments organising official events continue to work on incorporating greater use of NZSL and/or provide NZSL interpreters
  • Ministers take up opportunities to model best practice by including a NZSL greeting in speeches, alongside use of Māori
  • Ministry of Justice monitor complaints about the use of NZSL interpreters in legal proceedings and take steps to remedy any problems identified
  • government agencies that provide services produce accessible information on their services, including in NZSL, and place it on their websites
  • government departments that provide services used by Deaf people ensure that their staff are trained on how to communicate with Deaf people and how to engage NZSL interpreters. They need to have clear processes for hiring and/or funding interpreters
  • to address the shortage of NZSL interpreters, the Ministry of Social Development will work with the Ministry of Economic Development to investigate options for making the use of video remote NZSL interpreting available to government departments
  • Crown entities that provide government services, including ACC, Housing New Zealand Corporation, and District Health Boards, be reminded by Ministers that they are bound by the Human Rights Act 1993 to not discriminate against Deaf people. They are also required to have regard to relevant provisions of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

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