'Definitely more to do' to support New Zealand Sign Language users – Carmel Sepuloni

There's an increasing demand for New Zealand Sign Language interpreters, particularly on marae, according to the Minister for Disability Services.

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Carmel Sepuloni joined Breakfast on New Zealand Sign Language Week. Source: Breakfast

This week is New Zealand Sign Language Week, and last month marked 15 years since New Zealand Sign Language became one of the country’s three official languages.

According to the 2018 census, there are 4599 deaf people in New Zealand who use New Zealand Sign Language as a form of communication and around 20,000 people in total who use it.

Carmel Sepuloni, the Minister for Disability Services, told Breakfast there’s “definitely more to do” to support people who use the language.

“There’s been some good developments, like we’ve assured that the Relay video service is available seven days a week now instead of just five and it’s available on public holidays," she said. 

The New Zealand Sign Language Board has also seen an increase in funding "but there’s more to do - and there’s a demand to learn New Zealand Sign Language". 

Sepuloni says around 120 young people are doing New Zealand Sign Language through NCEA, which she called a “positive step”. 

There's also an increasing demand for more trilingual interpreters, particularly on marae.

“There’s a real demand on marae for Māori who are deaf to have access to te ao Māori and what’s going on in those contexts so that really does increase the demand for trilingual interpreters,” she said.

Sepuloni says while the language was seen more frequently “during the whole Covid context” and big announcements, “we need to continue to support it” outside of New Zealand Sign Language Week.

“There’s a real demand for interpreters and what we get told is they can’t always be where they need to be because there’s only so many of them - that’s why the Relay Service is important - but continuing to do that and continuing to promote it.

“It’s awesome to see so many leaders, so many public profiles actually using, celebrating New Zealand Sign Language, particularly over the course of this week.”