Sign Language Becomes Official National Language
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
April 10, 2006
WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND--It's official.
Sign language is an official language in New Zealand.
To be more precise, the country's parliament voted overwhelmingly last Thursday to pass a bill recognizing New Zealand Sign Language as the nation's third official language, right behind English and the native language Maori. On Monday, Governor-General Dame Silvia Cartwright signed the bill into law.
On one level, the NZSL Act 2006 means that the estimated 28,000 New Zealanders who communicate primarily through sign language will have better access to education, health care, employment services, and the justice system.
"When people are arrested or go through the court proceedings or have dealings with the prison services . . . they really do have to have an interpreter in their own language," Minister for Disabilities Issues Ruth Dyson told TVNZ.
The achievement is a matter of pride to members of the deaf community who have spent the last 20 years advocating for their language to be formally recognized.
Karen Pointon, a deaf studies teacher at Victoria University, said that when she was a child, deaf children in segregated schools were forbidden to use sign language, which shared many features with Maori.
"We weren't allowed to use sign language. We were only taught through speech which was really hard," said Pointon, who has been deaf all of her life.
News sources noted that deaf visitors packed the gallery in parliament Thursday, waving their hands in the air to silently applaud lawmakers for their vote.
New Zealand Sign Language Bill (New Zealand Office for Disability Issues)