It was a pleasure to attend the New Zealand Sign Language Awards on Saturday 14 May, the final event in a week-long celebration with New Zealand Sign Language Week. The awards event recognised the milestone of ten years since NZSL became an official language of New Zealand.

Richard Benge, Arts Access Aotearoa, with David Lee, Wellington City Councillor, at the NZSL Awards 2016The event was a wonderful mix of Deaf community leaders and supporters with their international governance committee, and government and private business representing the multi-faceted partnerships that surround the achievements of people who are Deaf and their language.

Because of the busy lives we lead, there are always time-contingent pressures and important milestones can be overlooked. I think it’s important to acknowledge them because the meaning of “milestone” is that it is a marker on the journey to somewhere. If we miss the mark do we actually understand where we are? How far we have come? And what’s needed to get to the destination?

Cheering on from the sidelines

So all credit to Deaf Aotearoa for a superbly produced event and for including so many stakeholders who, like me, were cheering on from the sidelines.

I was delighted to celebrate the achievements of former Arts Access Award recipient Rachel Coppage, one of the recipients of the Arts Access CQ Hotels Wellington Community Partnership Award in 2013.

Olivier Lacoua presents the Arts Access CQ Hotels Wellington Community Partnership Award 2013 to one of the recipients, Rachel CoppageRachel has developed her career and talents in many ways that benefit the community and have produced remarkable results as an art tutor at Māpura Studios. As a tutor working with Deaf and other artists, Rachel guides and encourages artists to express their creativity.

At the New Zealand Sign Language Awards, Rachel was presented the NZSL in Health Award – another aspect of her ability and commitment to her community.

Included in the night was CQ Hotels Wellington. CQ is a sponsor of Art Access Aotearoa and many of our main events are held there. CQ has been on an exemplary journey, proving by example that accessibility and inclusion of people (staff and customers) can be "business as usual”.

Awards for CQ Hotels Wellington

For many reasons, including Sign Language menus, staff training in NZSL and employment of Deaf staff, CQ Hotels Wellington received both the Employer and Accessible Service Awards.

CQ Hotels is again the sponsor of the Community Partnership Award in the Arts Access Awards in August. Because accessibility and inclusion has everything to do with developing and sustaining vibrant communities, you could say that the Arts Access Awards are a natural place for CQ Hotels to be at home.

I’m sworn to secrecy but on the night of the Arts Access Awards, 10 August, be prepared for some more good news about community development, the arts and New Zealand Sign Language.

Prisoners' graduation

Next week on 20 June, I will be participating in a milestone of a different nature. I’ve been asked to give a speech at the graduation of women prisoners on completion of their course in the CareNZ Drug Treatment Unit at Arohata Prison.

Women in Drug Treatment Unit at Arohata Prison participate in a theatre projectThe women are graduating from an intensive, therapeutic process involving psychological services, combined with creative activities. Arts Access Aotearoa was pleased to partner with Corrections, CareNZ, Goethe-Institut New Zealand and Wellington City Council in February on a theatre project.

This involved women in the Drug Treatment Unit working with nine Wellington arts practitioners (theatre, music, visual arts, film) to devise and perform a powerful piece of theatre.

Graduation from the DTU is a huge milestone of achievement for these prisoners. Until the recent theatre project, most (or all) of them will not have had access to the rehabilitative and creative energy of the performing arts. A graduation event, in the presence of guests who witness and acknowledge their achievement, is important.

This too is a marker. It’s a time to reflect and take stock of how far each person has come, and how working with a range of artists has been part of the journey recognising their recovery and potential.  

Whatever you are doing and with whomever, I hope your anniversaries, projects and achievements are being acknowledged and that you take the time to say with others, “We did this!”


Acknowledging milestones


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