NZSL Community Survey Results 2022

In 2022, the NZSL Board commissioned a national survey to gather data about the NZSL community’s satisfaction with NZSL, ensuring it is responsive to the views of the community, in relation to the five language priorities from the NZSL Strategy.

  1. Acquisition
  2. Use and Access
  3. Attitude
  4. Documentation
  5. Status

The survey information is used as a baseline to help the NZSL Board monitor, evaluate, and make informed decisions on actions to maintain and promote NZSL.

You can find the full report below to download as well as summaries in NZSL videos.

There will be an online Q & A session on Tuesday 10 October 2023 starting at 7pm. This is an opportunity to discuss the report using NZSL. Please email to register and if you need an NZSL interpreter.

A summary of the report

The NZSL Board commissioned a national survey to gather data about the NZSL community’s satisfaction with the maintenance and promotion of NZSL, following the five priorities of the NZSL Strategy. This will help the Board to be responsive to the views of the community.

The Board will consider the survey findings in its recommendations for the review of the NZSL Act 2006 that will be presented to Cabinet in 2023. The survey information will also be used as a baseline to help the NZSL Board monitor, evaluate, and make informed decisions on actions to maintain and promote NZSL. 

The survey was developed in the first half of 2022 and tested with a small group of Deaf people. It was translated into NZSL, and community engagement hui were held across the country.

Sample characteristics

The sample size used for analysis was 584 individuals who knew or use NZSL. The sample was predominantly female, aged between 30-60 years, New Zealand European, and living in Auckland, Wellington, and Canterbury. 230 people identified as Deaf, 58 as hard of hearing (HH). The prevalence of a mental health condition was higher among Deaf & hard of hearing than hearing respondents. 75% of Deaf & hard of hearing respondents were proficient in NZSL compared to 46% of hearing.

While the sample is by no means representative, it has captured a wide range of issues that are currently relevant to many NZSL users and will help to grow NZSL and promote the inclusion of the Deaf community.

Priority 1 – Acquisition

Informal learning and community programmes were the most popular modes of acquisition of NZSL, followed by learning NZSL in the home as a natural language. 32% of Deaf & hard of hearing identified NZSL as their natural language and Deaf & hard of hearing were more likely to learn NZSL at school (23%) compared to hearing respondents (5%).

The figure below (Figure 11 in the report), shows the difference between Deaf & HH and Hearing respondents with regards to acquisition of NZSL.

A graph showing where NZSL users learned the language.

Number of respondents

Deaf & HH people (% of 248)

Hearing people (% of 269)

Tertiary study



Online classes



Private tutor






Community programme






Informal learning






Natural language



Respondents reported greater satisfaction with the content covered in NZSL classes and the cost of classes, and greater dissatisfaction with the location and the availability of NZSL classes.

There is a call to prioritise the acquisition of NZSL for Deaf children, and for the Deaf community to take more of a leadership role in Deaf education in New Zealand.

Priority 2 - Use and access

Deaf/NZSL events were the most popular Deaf spaces among respondents, followed by Deaf clubs. A greater proportion of Deaf & hard of hearing respondents attended Deaf clubs, Deaf organisations, and online Deaf spaces than hearing respondents. The most frequent communication contexts among respondents were with Deaf friends, followed by home, Deaf club, and the workplace.

The figure below (Figure 18 in the report), shows differences between Deaf & HH and hearing respondents with regards to their participation in Deaf spaces.

 A graph showing where people use NZSL. Full figures are in the report

Number of respondents

Deaf & HH people (% of 147)

Hearing people (% of 92)

Deaf organisations



Online Deaf spaces



Deaf clubs



Deaf or NZSL events



91 Deaf & hard of hearing respondents had trouble using NZSL, which arose in a variety of spaces and for different reasons. Difficulties occurred in all public spaces and service places, all places where masks are used, in the family home, with friends, and at work or school. The reasons identified by respondents included lack of knowledge of NZSL/lack of effort made to learn NZSL, being unaware of Deaf culture, prohibitive cost and unavailability of interpreters, large gatherings where there were multiple speakers and lots of noise.

Respondents were most satisfied with translations into NZSL provided by Deaf organisations, and reported lower satisfaction with translations by the media, and lowest satisfaction for translations provided by government agencies, and the education sector. The good news is that access to services is being reported by some - close to two-fifths of Deaf & hard of hearing respondents are extremely and very satisfied with the provision of an interpreter when accessing a government service.

Priority 3 – Attitudes

Most respondents agreed that NZSL is a valid language and equal to other languages, as shown in the figure below (Figure 28 in the report).

Bar chart showing the belief that NZSL is a valid language and equal

All respondents think NZSL is

Agree (%)

Not sure (%)

Disagree (%)


Equal to other languages




Valid as other languages




Valued by New Zealanders in general




Recognised by New Zealanders in general




Accepted by New Zealanders in general




However, as can be seen in the figure below (Figure 30 in the report), they were less likely to agree that NZSL is valued, recognised, and accepted by New Zealanders in general.

 Bar graph showing NZSL is valued, recognised, and accepted by all NZers

Priority 4 – Documentation

The most popular source of documentation was the NZSL dictionary, followed by Learn NZSL. Hearing respondents were more likely to be familiar with NZSL dictionary and Learn NZSL than Deaf & hard of hearing respondents. In contrast, a greater proportion Deaf & hard of hearing respondents were familiar with other sources e.g., Deaf short films, Sign DNA and NZSL share. This pattern is shown in the figure below (Figure 33 in the report).

Most respondents agreed it was very or usually easy to find information about NZSL signs. 7% found it hard to find information.

 A bar chart showing where users found information about NZSL

Number of respondents

Deaf & HH people (% of 144)

Hearing people (% of 144)

NZSL Reference Grammar



Research Publications on NZSL



NZSL Share



Sign DNA



Deaf Short Films



Learn NZSL



NZSL Online Dictionary



Since the NZSL online dictionary is getting good mileage, there is potential for this tool to be expanded as a vehicle of knowledge of Deaf culture in general.

Priority 5 – Status

Free text entries from respondents regarding what the government could do to support the NZSL community, and any further comments about NZSL, were analysed according to themes that corresponded to the priorities of the NZSL Strategy.

Prioritising the acquisition of NZSL will contribute to enhancing its status

Prioritise NZSL acquisition for Deaf children:

“Focus funding and resources into early acquisition of NZSL for Deaf babies, children, childcare centres and their families”

Enable the completion of education in NZSL:

“Make an education pathway in NZSL real; create a first language learner curriculum for education”

Review Deaf education in New Zealand:

“Deaf Education in NZ should be run and controlled by Deaf”

Supporting the use and access to NZSL will contribute to enhancing its status

Increase the accessibility of NZSL to ensure equal access to education, employment, health services, public services and cultural events:

“Have a database of all NZSL signers - so the govt agencies etc knowing in advance that the person is Deaf and required interpreters and/or extra assistance”

“Have iPads available at all government facilities in order for Deaf to access NZ relay instead of using up their own data to make video calls”

Consider access difficulties for Māori and for those in rural areas:

“Train more Māori Deaf to teach NZSL to the Māori Community”

“Better access to interpreters in smaller cities/towns especially in hospitals as often funding is given as an excuse not to provide interpreter.”

Capitalise on the skills of Deaf people:

“Provide Deaf interpreting training for those who are Deaf. Their NZSL is their first and natural language that NZSL & Deaf community would understand easier and clear”

Changing attitudes towards Deaf culture and NZSL will contribute to enhancing its status

Time for a public apology and reparation to the Deaf community:

“Public apology to the Deaf community for historical abuse, language deprivation, and subsequent inequities. Renumeration to the community for impact on potential earnings and damages”

“Acknowledge that years of discrimination have resulted in many Deaf people having … educational gaps create adult education programmes that are free, accessible, and safe culturally”

Communication in NZSL is a two-way street and can benefit everyone:

“Why is the onus on the Deaf community to use their [Workbridge] funding all the time? This has to be a collaboration. A hearing person/business needs the interpreter as much as the Deaf person”

Prioritise public education about Deaf history and culture:

“Include Deaf history as part of the new NZ history curriculum. Make NZSL learning a compulsory component of all teacher training”

Overall, respondents acknowledged the role of legislation, in particular the NZSL Act 2006, and protective bodies, such as a commission equivalent to the Māori Language Commission, in elevating NZSL. There was a call to establish roles to increase the presence of Deaf cultural advisors within government agencies, and ensure front line government and public service staff are educated on Deaf culture and the rights of a Deaf person.

In conclusion, respondents in this survey have expressed that a positive environment for NZSL can be achieved by focusing on the needs of the Deaf community, and enhancing general public awareness of Deaf culture and knowledge of NZSL. Communication is an act of collaboration, and the promotion and protection of NZSL through the NZSL Strategy will benefit hearing people as much as Deaf people.


The NZSL Office at Whaikaha – Ministry of Disabled People would like to acknowledge the individuals who assisted in testing the survey, and the Deaf clubs, Deaf Societies and Deaf Communities who attended community engagement hui across the country:

Northland Deaf Club, Auckland Deaf Society, Waikato Deaf Club, Bay of Plenty Deaf Club, Hawkes Bay Deaf Club, Taranaki Deaf Club, Manawatu Deaf Society, Wellington Deaf Society, Nelson Deaf Community, Deaf Society of Canterbury, Otago Deaf Society, Invercargill Deaf Community

Handwaves to all the respondents – thank you for your time!

Download the full report


NZSL Summary

1. Survey background

2. Survey results

3. Acquisition

4. Use and access

5. Attitude

6. Documentation

7. Status

8. Turi Māori

9. Conclusion


Snapshot posters

[acquisition poster] [JPG, 216 KB]

[use and access poster] [JPG, 207 KB]

[attitude poster] [JPG, 193 KB]

[documentation poster] [JPG, 220 KB]

[status poster] [JPG, 189 KB]


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