Deaf community celebrates 10 years of NZSL Week

New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) is an official language of our country, and is celebrated every May during NZSL Week. This week, the Ministry of Education joins the Deaf community in marking 10 years since the passing of the NZSL Act 2006.

NZSL Week 9-15 May

The week is marked around the country with a wide range of events. These include a signed tour of a chocolate factory in Wellington, a peanut butter factory in Nelson and an NZSL interpreted Auckland Comedy Festival.

Go to the NZSL Week events web page to find out what’s happening in your region.

NZSL Week is important to the Ministry of Education because:

  • it acknowledges its commitment to NZSL and deaf education
  • it improves educational achievement of Deaf learners
  • it lifts the public profile of NZSL as an official language, and gives hearing people a chance to experience some of the language and to learn more about the Deaf community
  • it recognises those who are striving to nurture, sustain and grow the use of NZSL
  • it profiles Deaf people as the high achievers they are, and recognises those who achieve excellence.

NZSL is the key to lifting the aspirations for many young Deaf learners, according to Brian Coffey, Group Manager for Special Education.

"There are many others who could benefit from using this language, and in order to create the best environment for NZSL to flourish, it’s important that hearing New Zealanders are familiar with it too," he says.

"We are all celebrating this tenth NZSL Week. Deaf people, those who are hard of hearing, as well as hearing people, are all included because they are all part of the bigger picture.

"In short, we have a lot to be proud of," he says.

Taking a partnership approach

The Ministry is supporting Deaf Aotearoa in their national celebration, and affirming the Ministry’s commitment to NZSL as an important part of deaf education.

Due to the ongoing commitment of the various organisations involved, deaf education is experiencing more success in New Zealand, says Brian Coffey.

"The recent progress has been made possible by the deaf education sector working with the Deaf community," he says. "The Ministry is listening to the community, and all the providers and contributors are at the table working together.

"This collaborative approach has redefined how deaf education should be and what better time to celebrate and acknowledge this than during NZSL Week?"

The role of the Sector Advisory Group

The Ministry of Education’s Sector Advisory Group was established in 2013 with Secretary of Education Peter Hughes as chair. This role has now been passed on to Dr David Wales, National Director for Special Education.

The Advisory Group meets quarterly to advise on and guide the NZSL work programme. The group includes representatives from the Ministry, Deaf Aotearoa, New Zealand Federation for Deaf Children (NZFDC), Deaf parents, Māori Deaf, Victoria University of Wellington, the Deaf Education Centres and their combined Board of Trustees, NZ Principals Federation, NZ Secondary Principals’ Association, Ministry of Health, and the NZSL Board.

The Advisory Group provides feedback on deaf issues, opportunities and successes from the groups they represent as well as advice on prioritisation, preferred approaches, and sector engagement.

Many of the Ministry’s initiatives for deaf education are developed in partnership with the sector. These initiatives include a National Youth Hui, a National Parent Hui, First Signs, NZSL@School and the establishment of NCEA Achievement Standards in NZSL.

The Advisory Group also advises on other Ministry activities, such as support for the NZSL Online Dictionary (a Victoria University of Wellington initiative) and funding of Study Awards (for training for Advisors on Deaf Children, Resource Teachers of the Deaf, Interpreters and NZSL Tutors).

A spotlight on New Zealand

Brian Coffey says that New Zealand is attracting strong international interest in deaf education because of the collaborative approach that is taken here.

"This is a second reason why the World Federation of the Deaf is holding its annual board meeting in New Zealand. Celebrating the 10th year of NZSL as an official language and sharing in our 10th NZSL Week is their first reason.

"There is international spotlight on collaboration between our government (via the Ministry of Education) and the New Zealand Deaf community.

"They see us as achieving the impossible – as a model for how other international government agencies can cooperate."

Deaf Aotearoa: working for the community


New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) Week 2016 is being marked throughout the country from May 9-16.
Deaf Aotearoa facilitator Nicolette van Vuuren with Addison Blundell and Jireh Winiata.

Deaf Aotearoa is the recognised national Disabled Persons Organisation for Deaf people in New Zealand. It works closely with the Deaf community, government agencies and other organisations to increase the awareness of NZSL and the people who use it.

Deaf Aotearoa offers a range of services to support the Deaf community, including First Signs. Funded by the Ministry, First Signs is available throughout New Zealand for families and whānau with a deaf or hard-of-hearing child aged 0–5 years. It provides families with the opportunity to include NZSL as a language in their home, helps them to develop communication early, to connect with professionals and other families, and to access information.

The First Signs service has a number of flexible components and families can design their service to meet their needs throughout their time with the service.

Contact your local Ministry Advisor to find out about being referred to the service. For more information about First Signs, contact your local Deaf Aotearoa office or go to the First Signs information on the Deaf Aotearoa website.


NZSL@School brings an increased focus in regular classes for students who communicate in and access the curriculum through NZSL. This initiative is led by Kelston and van Asch Deaf Education Centres and will provide a seamless pathway for ‘graduates’ of First Signs. Staff work to understand each student’s needs and provide the best available resources and support.

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