This year’s New Zealand Sign Language Week is set for 7 to 13 May. The week is organised by Deaf Aotearoa, which promotes New Zealand Sign Language as it is an official language of New Zealand.
This year’s promotion will be remembered for an awesome flash mob dance, performed to the song No Place Like Home by Tiki Taane. This video is being filmed in Wellington, Christchurch and Tauranga (Tiki Taane’s home) over March.
The idea of the flash mob performance to promote NZSL is inspired because it is inclusive. The final cut will show children and adults from all walks of life enjoying and performing the song, using NZSL.
Around 25,000 Kiwis use NZSL every day. The first language of Deaf people, NZSL is unique to Aotearoa and also includes signs and concepts for te reo Māori. I had the benefit of being in the Wellington section of the flash mob and am really looking forward to seeing the final cut. I hope you enjoy it too, and can share it widely and take part in New Zealand Sign Language Week.
NZSL featured alongside English and Croatian languages in the remarkable play called Salonica, produced by Equal Voices Arts at Circa Theatre in February before touring to Auckland and Hamilton.
This highly visual theatre follows the moving friendship that develops between a Deaf New Zealand and hearing Croatian soldier, set against the hardship of the First World War
The performances and music were excellent. An additional value of this work was that the audience was asked to see and listen to action and dialogue not always in their first language. Cleverly, whenever NZSL, English or Croatian were used, there was a constant use of body movement, mime and audio visual slides to move forward the multiple, fast-paced scenes. There was a strong sense of inclusion of audience and performers alike, and vulnerabilities (“I can’t understand you”) became a strength.
As in Salonica, appreciation of NZSL will grow when it is included and seen across New Zealand and applied in different genres: for example, the televised flash mob video and theatre.
NZSL is the12th most used language in New Zealand and more Deaf people can attend theatre, exhibitions, conferences or public events if they are interpreted live by NZSL interpreters.
Many of the members of Arts Access Aotearoa’s Arts For All Network have used NZSL to increase opportunities for Deaf people to access live entertainment and exhibitions. For example, there's a sign interpreted performance of The Naked Samoans Do Magic at the Auckland Arts Festival at 2pm on Saturday 24 March. It's bound to be a great, very funny show for Auckland’s Deaf community to see.
I want to conclude this month with remarks about “presumption” when applied to working with others. We should never presume that because “we” (i.e. whoever is coming up with the idea at the time) understand something, that everyone else will also understand.
A most recent example of this is the NZ Census. The desire for a speedy result has resulted in the exclusion of many and a slow completion of final data. The idea that all people in New Zealand would somehow willingly and easily complete their census online (or apply for a paper copy) is one of the greatest presumptions in recent times.
There was a huge proportion of people from senior citizens and people with disabilities to low-income families and rural citizens who missed out because they don’t own or cannot use a computer or smart phone.
As a country we need confidence in our public records. Stats NZ’s website states that more than 50,000 letters “are now” following up people who did not complete their forms, and a huge effort is required to reach remote and under-resourced areas such as Northland.