NZSL more important than ever in an emergency 

New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) interpreters have been working hard this week to ensure Deaf people across Aotearoa New Zealand have access to critical emergency information. 

This week’s heavy rain and thunderstorms, and the tragedy they have caused, have reminded us all of the importance of being ready for emergency events. This includes our Deaf whānau. 

In 2018, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and Deaf Aotearoa signed a Memorandum of Understanding to ensure Deaf people have access to information about emergencies. 

“Everyone has the right to accessible information and support during an emergency. The Memorandum of Understanding between NEMA and Deaf Aotearoa lets us work together to lead, champion and support the use of NZSL before, during and after emergencies,” says Director Civil Defence Emergency Management John Price. 

“It’s now commonplace to see NZSL interpreters centre stage alongside elected officials and Civil Defence spokespeople in an emergency, as there is now more widespread recognition of how important accessible information is. 

“I’m thankful to all NZSL interpreters in Aotearoa for putting in the mahi during these times of difficulty. I’m also incredibly grateful to Deaf Aotearoa, who have partnered with us over the last five years to ensure Deaf people have better access to emergency information in NZSL.” 

Mr Price acknowledged that the weather comes during NZSL Week, a time for the Deaf community to stand proud as Deaf and to celebrate their language and culture. 

Deaf Aotearoa Chief Executive Lachlan Keating says, “We really value the partnership we have with NEMA, which is an exemplar in terms of government-community relationships. Through the direct lines of communication we have established with emergency management staff around the country, we can respond quickly to requests for NZSL interpreters to attend media briefings or translate written information into NZSL videos.  

“We know that Deaf people find this access to information really helpful during storms, floods, earthquakes and other civil defence emergencies.” 

Last year, for NZSL Week, NEMA, with the help of Deaf Aotearoa, launched the website in NZSL so that Deaf People across Aotearoa would have access to comprehensive advice about emergency preparedness. 

NEMA, Auckland Emergency Management and Deaf Aotearoa also launched the Let’s Talk Emergencies booklet to teach people 25 NZSL signs that can be used in an emergency. 

Through the MOU, NEMA and Deaf Aotearoa have also developed the “To Sign is to be Seen” resource, which outlines best practice for staging or filming press conferences that have NZSL interpreters translating.  

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