New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) is the main language of the Deaf community in New Zealand and has been an official language since April 2006. According to the latest census, more 20,000 people use NZSL with 4,500 Deaf New Zealanders using it as their first language.
Awareness of NZSL continues to rise. Every May, Deaf Aotearoa organises New Zealand Sign Language Week to further awareness as well as a time for the community to celebrate their language and culture.
This year, the theme is a word that I’m sure everyone is very familiar with – ‘Essential’.
The NZSL Week website notes that there are multiple meanings behind the theme. Essential puts a spotlight on essential workers who are deaf and also references that NZSL is essential for Deaf people in education, health and workplaces to be able to participate equally in society.
At Manawanui, we want to ensure that our customers who are Deaf receive the same immediate access to information as other customers. To achieve this, we have an NZSL translator present on all our Facebook livestreams.
Rachel Tate is our fantastic livestream interpreter who has been a friendly face on our weekly livestreams for a while now. We posed some questions to Rachel, to get to know her a little better and understand how NZSL has impacted her life for the better.
What motivated you to become a NZSL interpreter?
As a child, I remember watching Deaf people sign with each other and I found it to be such a beautiful language. The desire to learn Sign Language always stuck with me. The time came for me to take myself off to night classes and start with the A,B,C's. I absolutely loved learning and as I continued to grow in fluency, I found there was a need in our country for NZSL interpreters. I felt nudged towards furthering my studies at the university level and have now been working as an NZSL interpreter for fifteen years.
What is the best part of your job?
Working primarily from home in this new Covid world, I have realised just how much I miss the face-to-face aspect of interpreting. Interpreting a 3-dimensional language on a 2-dimensional screen is just not the same! I miss the interpersonal aspect of the job, spending time with Deaf people and interpreter colleagues too.
How has learning NZSL changed you?
Learning NZSL and being given the opportunity to work as an interpreter has been humbling and it is a real honour to be trusted in this role. Deaf people invite interpreters into many aspects of their lives. Learning NZSL has opened up my world to a beautiful new community of people and friends.
What does the NZSL week theme 'Essential' mean to you?
If we truly want to treat one another with dignity and if we want to uphold the value of equity, authentic access to information is paramount. To me, the theme of NZSL being ‘essential’ means that full participation of Deaf people in society is only possible when we choose to honour the language and its use, whenever and wherever we can.
What is your favourite sign Word or Phrase?
That’s a tough one! The entire language is so expressive and it’s hard to pick a winner. This week I think I would have to choose the phrase "I love you", which is incorporated into one sign and recognised throughout the world. To see it for yourself, check out the online NZSL dictionary by clicking on this link:
We want to thank Rachel for the amazing work she is doing and for answering our questions. With passionate people like Rachel, we hope to see a continued growth of NZSL and people to recognise how essential NZSL is.