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After decades of crusading for NZ's deaf community, Auckland woman honoured as 'local hero'

The New Zealander of the Year will be announced tonight and as part of it, a number of local heroes have been recognised.

One of them is Aucklander Victoria Lessing, who has been deaf her whole life and has spent 20 years raising the profile of New Zealand sign language.

Two years ago, her passion developed into a company called Merge NZ, which she runs alongside her business partner, Jaime Brown.

With Ms Brown interpreting her sign language, Ms Lessing told 1 NEWS, "We really want to normalise sign language and get this beautiful language spread out to society and educate New Zealand".

The pair produce videos to be shared on social media, and teach at schools and businesses right across the country.

They've also helped develop a curriculum for NZSL tutors and set up NZSL tutor training in the hopes of increasing the supply of qualified sign language tutors.

"We've set that up throughout the country to really encourage people who are already fluent in sign language to become sign language tutors," Ms Lessing said.

Being recognised as a local hero shocked the Merge NZ co-director.

"It's a really nice recognition because not many deaf people have that recognition," she said. 

“I’m just doing this from my heart - this is what comes naturally to me,” Ms Lessing said.

She says she's advocating for a language and community she feels has long been hidden, and hopes her award will raise further awareness.

The announcement of the New Zealander of the Year finalists will be livestreamed on 1 News Now this evening from 9pm.

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Victoria Lessing is set to be recognised as a “local hero” at tonight’s New Zealander of the Year awards. Source: 1 NEWS