New Zealand Sign Language programs receives $11 million boost

Asia-Pacific, September 2 2014

Deaf Aotearoa are thrilled with Education minister Hekia Parata’s announcement this week that $11 million in funding will go towards a range of New Zealand Sign Language initiatives, including First Signs – a program that involves sign language facilitators working with families of newly identified children with hearing disabilities aged up to 5 years.

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A man and a woman conversing in sign language. (Photo: Victoria University of Wellington)

Deaf Aotearoa Chief Executive, Lachlan Keating, says, “Deaf Aotearoa are really pleased to see this funding be confirmed, and expect to see some wonderful outcomes for Deaf children and their families as we roll out First Signs across the country over the next four years.”

There are currently about 400 children with hearing disabilities under 5 years old and another 1400 children aged between 5 and 18 years old across New Zealand. In New Zealand, more than 24,000 people use New Zealand Sign Language as their primary language.

The First Signs service has been created to enable parents and whanau of children who are Deaf  to learn New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL), and support their children’s language development. The program ensures parents have extra opportunities to support their children’s development, such as connecting with other parents or the local Deaf community.

First Signs objectives include strengthening Deaf awareness and inspiring strong positive aspirations for children who are Deaf. Key aspects of the service include linking families with local networks of families with children with hearing disabilities within their local community and working with early childhood education providers to support continuity of access to NZSL, are key aspects of the service.

First Signs Team Leader Bridget Ferguson, says “Through the establishment of First Signs, Deaf Aotearoa will ensure that parents, families, and whānau feel confident, well supported and equipped to support their deaf children, and that children will develop strong early language skills.”

In many instances, early childhood education providers will also be supported by the service to ensure that the child is well supported across all learning environments.

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