Current state of NZSL and the need for planning
- There are approximately 20,000 NZSL users in New Zealand (Statistics New Zealand, 2013), of whom it is estimated 4,000 are Deaf.
- NZSL was recognised as an official language by the introduction New Zealand Sign Language Act (2006) (the NZSL Act). The Act was pivotal because “achieving linguistic rights is inseparable from realising basic human rights that follow from being able to communicate meaningfully in the family, at school and in civil society. Limits on such opportunities for users of an unrecognised sign language often result in the negative social outcomes familiar to colonised minorities, such as under-employment, under-participation in higher education, and reduced wellbeing” (McKee 2011).
- The New Zealand Human Rights Commission undertook an inquiry into NZSL in 2013 ), seven years after the NZSL Act came into force. The inquiry (Human Rights Commission, 2013) identified the need for strengthening the maintenance and promotion of NZSL. The Commission made recommendations to government, some of which have been implemented, including establishing an NZSL Board.
- The NZSL Board was established by Cabinet in 2015 to maintain and promote NZSL, progress priorities for the language and to support NZSL initiatives, so that Deaf NZSL users can participate fully in New Zealand society as outlined in the NZSL Act and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Board does this by providing strategic direction and expert advice on NZSL to government. This includes recommending how the Board’s annual funding is allocated to support the strategic maintenance and promotion of NZSL.
- Since the Human Rights Commission report, research has confirmed that while NZSL is now more recognised and accepted by society, a decreasing percentage of the deaf population are learning and using the language (McKee 2017). The findings mean that, in line with language endangerment and vitality frameworks, NZSL can be considered a threatened language.
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