Introduction / History New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) is a full language, distinct from spoken English and Maori. NZSL became an official language of New Zealand in 2006. Deaf Maori also use NZSL. Maori culture is different to "pakeha" (non-Maori, predominantly European) culture. Special Maori interpreters fluent in both Maori and NZSL as well as English are required to speak on marae (Maori communities). "Maori NZSL" and "Pakeha NZSL" are the same language, but there are some differences in signing when covering Maori concepts. It is assumed that Pasifika (Pacific Islanders living within NZ) Deaf would use NZSL if they were born in NZ.
The standard method of education for deaf children was "oral" until the late 1970s. Students were expected to learn to speak English and read lips. In the late 1970s a move towards "Total Communication" came about. In turn has led to more acceptance of NZSL in the classroom—officially used first in 1993. However the use of NZSL is not always practical when trained teachers or interpreters are not available.
Awareness of Deaf communities among the general population has increased over recent years. One reason is that following the major Christchurch earthquake in 2011, half-hour media updates were broadcast showing interpreters signing. This was done on behalf of the Deaf community of Christchurch, but the decision to do so was made at government level.
What are their beliefs? Religious terminology differs from church to church and from city to city. There are currently at least five worshiping communities of Deaf Christians. These are mainly associated with hearing churches. Home study groups for the Deaf exist. The Catholic Church has four chaplains for the Deaf throughout the country including one who is Deaf, and another who has a Deaf wife.
What are their needs? Deaf congregations need to be established, rather than interpreted ministries. Encouragement of the NZ Deaf Christians is possibly one of the biggest contributions outsiders can make. Building their capacity for ministry is vital.