Sign language in the spotlight in Aotearoa more than ever this year

One of our official languages has been in the public eye more than ever this year, and this week is the time to celebrate it. 

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Sign language is one of New Zealand’s official languages and has been in the public eye more than ever this year. Source: 1 NEWS

New Zealand Sign Language has featured in the daily Covid-19 updates, and last night there was live interpretation of the first televised leaders debate this election season.

Deaf Aotearoa President Oliver Ferguson says for those in the hearing impaired community, it's been an amazing experience.

"It's important that the deaf community has information that's up to date and live like the rest of the community."

"I am very proud of this because New Zealand is a world leader, the world is look at what we've achieved here ... in terms of our language awareness, NZSL week celebrations", he said.

"I'm very proud of my language, and to see awareness growing and the respect for our community gives me so much pride".

His four-year-old son Carter, who's also deaf, says, "I like seeing signing".

Ferguson told 1 NEWS last night's sign language interpretation of the leaders' debate was a "spine tingling moment".

"It was an opportunity for me to pulled in by the politicians, their message, and their character ... for me I think it was the first time I had access to more than just the surface level of written articles that come out after the event has happened," he said.

Interpreters like Jenn Gilbert, that've been working on the daily Covid-19 updates, make it all possible.

But she told 1 NEWS it's just a privilege to share the deaf community's language with them.

She said, "As an interpreter it's unusual for us to be in the spotlight, cause it's not about us".

Ferguson thanked those who've been standing beside politicians and the Director-General of Health, "to ensure the deaf community has access to the information they need".

"I really take my hat off to those interpreters who are really doing work in a difficult time. It is not an easy job", he said.

Gilbert admits "the questions can be a bit of a challenge because they're a bit faster and so that's one of the reasons we swap every 15 minutes, because it's really tiring, our brains are at capacity".

The Covid-19 pandemic's also seen new vocabulary arise.

Ms Gilbert explained sign language is based on meaning, rather than word for word translation.

"So what we do as interpreters is we don't make up language ourselves, we look to the deaf community to see what language they're using", she said.

She says at the initial stage of the outbreak, "we would spell coronavirus cause there was no sign".

But interpreters soon noticed the deaf community has adopted a sign, and that's when they could pick it up in the daily briefings.

The Ferguson family hopes more Kiwis will start using sign language.

Ferguson said, "For example you might go to the supermarket or a shop and someone might have some basic sign, like thank you or good morning, and that really just makes deaf people feel part of the community."

Deaf Aotearoa says there's a website for anyone wanting to learn

The organisation says it’s also excited that as part of New Zealand Sign Language week, a number of TVNZ commercials, for the first time, feature an interpreter.