Scope and content – should the NZSL Act be amended?

Submitters to the review sought a range of extensions to the scope of the NZSL Act. The review believes that the majority of the changes sought can be achieved without the need for legislative change, through enhanced implementation.

Greater access to NZSL interpreters in the justice system

101. Some submitters called for the right to use NZSL to be extended to other Police, Justice and Corrections-related communications eg victim support and probation (Submissions 2, 7, 15, 21, 22).

102. Access to interpreters in justice settings is already covered by the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990.

Access to education

103. A considerable number of submitters observed that Deaf children in mainstream education have poor access to NZSL. This is seen as a significant issue because access to education affects everything else in Deaf people’s lives. They say that the NZSL Act should cover the right to use NZSL in all levels of education (Submissions 2, 3, 7, 10, 15, 16, 19, 25, 26, 27, 32, 38).

104. Submitters say that the NZSL Act should reflect Article 24 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which explicitly protects the rights of sign language users in education (Submissions 7, 25).

105. Use of NZSL from birth requires access to NZSL teachers for both the deaf child and his/her family. The lack of sufficient teachers and the geographic spread of deaf children mean that, irrespective of government policy, this remains an ongoing problem.

106. The Government’s new strategy Success for all: every school, every child (2010) should help address access to NZSL in schools and early childhood education. Under this strategy, funding for specialist teachers of Deaf children will be consolidated and managed through the two Deaf education centres, which will support the needs of individual Deaf children wherever they are being educated.


107. Another large group of submitters said the NZSL Act should cover broadcasting. They said that this would give NZSL users more access to information, and also promote awareness of NZSL (Submissions 2, 15, 17, 18, 26, 27, 33, 35, and 38).

108. In New Zealand, rather than regulating industry, access to broadcasting services for people with sensory disabilities is supported by government funding via New Zealand On Air (NZOA). NZOA funds closed captioning and audio-description for programmes on free-to-air television channels. Given the need to maximise the value from the money available for disabled access, the focus is on funding closed captioning, which is less expensive and reaches a larger audience than sign language translations.

109. The use of NZSL interpreters at televised media conferences, and at the memorial service, following the February 2011 Christchurch earthquake has had a significant impact on the national level of awareness of NZSL and Deaf people. An increased use of interpreters at official events, and other events that are likely to be televised, would continue to grow this awareness.

Expanding government funding of interpreters

110. Some submitters wanted the scope of the NZSL Act extended so that government funding for interpreters could be used in more situations of daily life (such as community meetings, church services, parent-teacher interactions), and in interaction with the legal system beyond narrowly defined legal proceedings (Submissions 2, 4, 13, 14, 20, 35, 15, 36, 38).

111. The Ministry of Health increased its funding by $300,000 per year from July 2007, via Deaf Aotearoa, for NZSL interpreters for health and disability-related purposes. The Ministry of Health currently allocates $458,612 per year for the provision of interpreter services to enable Deaf people to access health and disability support services and information about their rights and responsibilities. Further increases will be considered by the Ministry of Health.

112. The Ministry of Social Development contracts with Workbridge to provide NZSL interpreters for Deaf people in employment and training situations.

113. While extension of interpreters into more situations of daily life is desirable, the priority has been and should remain in the health, disability support, and employment/training areas as interpreters are limited in availability. It is possible that new technology may allow more efficient use of interpreters and free up interpreter time for other uses.

Establishment of a Commission to promote NZSL

114 Amendment of the NZSL Act to establish a New Zealand Sign Language Commission was advocated by a significant number of submitters. Such a Commission would be responsible for the promotion and development of NZSL and resources across a greater number of government departments (Submissions 5, 15, 20, 23, 29, 32, 34, 35, 38, and 39).

115. In reporting on the NZSL Bill in 2005, the Justice and Electoral Select Committee considered that the establishment of a New Zealand Sign Language Commission was unnecessary. Instead, it suggested establishment of an advisory group that could:

  • monitor the effects of the legislation against its stated purposes
  • provide a focus for contact between government and the community
  • look at new areas in which work could be done.

116. No such advisory group has been set up to date.

117. A broader independent disability monitoring mechanism has recently been established under Article 33 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. This mechanism consists of the Convention Coalition of disabled people’s organisations (including Deaf Aotearoa New Zealand), the Office of the Ombudsmen and the Human Rights Commission.

118. In addition, the review believes that the Office for Disability Issues should increase its monitoring, under the New Zealand Disability Strategy, of departmental actions to make access to government information and services more accessible to Deaf people. A report on implementation of the New Zealand Disability Strategy is required to be presented to the House of Representatives each year.

Coverage of the Mental Health Review Tribunal by the NZSL Act

119. The Human Rights Commission notes that the Mental Health Review Tribunal is not included among the courts and tribunals where NZSL may be used, as specified in the Schedule of the NZSL Act.

120. The Mental Health Review Tribunal is established under section 101 of the Mental Health (Compulsory Assessment and Treatment) Act 1992. Section 6 of this Act provides for the use of NZSL interpreters at courts or tribunals, including the Mental Health Review Tribunal, for those whose first or preferred language is NZSL.

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