Approximately 24,000 New Zealanders are able to use New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL). Of these, some 7,700 partially or completely deaf adults live in households that use NZSL and/or Signed English.

1. The best estimate of the number of people who use NZSL as their primary means of communication is 4,000.[1] , [2] Geographically, they are spread across the entire country. This is the group that the New Zealand Sign Language Act 2006 (the NZSL Act) is intended to support.

2. NZSL Act came into force on 11 April 2006 to promote and maintain the use of NZSL. The development of the NZSL Act is detailed in Appendix 1.

3. The NZSL Act seeks to promote and maintain the use of NZSL in four ways, by:

  • making NZSL one of New Zealand's official languages
  • allowing Deaf people to use NZSL in legal proceedings and requiring that a competent interpreter is made available
  • allowing the Government to make regulations about matters in the NZSL Act, including competency standards for NZSL interpreters
  • stating three principles to guide government departments on the use of NZSL. These are that:
    • the Deaf community should be consulted on matters relating to NZSL (including, for example, the promotion of the use of NZSL)
    • NZSL should be used in the promotion to the public of government services and in the provision of information to the public
    • government services and information should be made accessible to the Deaf community through the use of appropriate means (including the use of NZSL).

4. As these are principles rather than directions, government departments also consider the reasonableness of these actions in terms of the magnitude of cost, resourcing and timeliness.

5. Section 10 of the NZSL Act authorises the Minister for Disability Issues to report on progress in implementing these principles. The legislation allows these reports to be included in the annual report on implementation of the New Zealand Disability Strategy.

6. Section 11 of the NZSL Act requires the Minister for Disability Issues to review the Act, as soon as practicable, three years after it came into force. A copy of the review must be presented to the House of Representatives.

7. The review of the NZSL Act is required to consider:

  • how the NZSL Act has been operating
  • whether any changes to the NZSL Act, either to its content or to what it covers, are necessary or desirable.

[1]    The Deaf Way Report, Deaf Aotearoa, Wellington 2010.

[2]    This group is referred to as Deaf people with a capital D.

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