A New Era in the Right to Sign

A New Era in the Right to Sign (pdf)
01 Sep 2013

In 2006, after many years of lobbying by the deaf community, the New Zealand Sign Language Act was passed, making New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) an official language of New Zealand. However, the Human Rights Commission continues to receive enquiries and complaints from deaf people about discrimination they experience trying to access or use NZSL.

The Commission began this NZSL Inquiry because of concerns about the barriers deaf people continue to experience when using their own language. Barriers restrict their quality of life and full enjoyment of fundamental human rights.

In 2008, New Zealand ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (Disability Convention). This Convention recognises sign languages as equal to spoken languages. It requires governments to progressively strengthen the status of sign language in different fields of a person’s life. These steps are necessary to respect, protect and promote the right to dignity, equality, freedom of expression and independence for deaf people and other NZSL users.

This Inquiry has considered the human rights implications of the barriers that deaf people continue to face. Its areas of focus were closely informed by priorities identified in the Disability Convention and through previous consultations with the deaf community. The Inquiry also recognises that NZSL is important for hearing people with communication difficulties, and for family/whānau, friends and others communicating with a NZSL user. Therefore the Inquiry’s three priority areas have been:

1 the right to education for deaf people and other NZSL users

2 the right to freedom of expression and opinion including the right to receive and impart information using NZSL interpreter services

3 the promotion and maintenance of NZSL as an official language of New Zealand.

New Zealand has a responsibility to promote and protect its official languages. NZSL and te reo Māori are each vital to the expression of culture and identity. There is a strong practical need for NZSL’s official status as deaf people have limited or no access to New Zealand’s two spoken official languages, English and te reo Māori. In addition, there is a deep historic justification for the official status of te reo, based on the rights affirmed in the Treaty of Waitangi.  


Page last modified: 15 Mar 2018