Deaf Aotearoa Position Statement on Employment

4 December 2022

General position

Deaf Aotearoa believes that Deaf people should enjoy the same employment opportunities as others in the open labour market, including salary, leadership development, promotion and career progression. To achieve this, Deaf people must be able to exercise their right to access the supports they need to undertake their role successfully on an equal basis with others.

Legal obligations of employers

Employers have legal obligations to provide Deaf people with the supports they need to undertake their paid job, and to not discriminate against an employee on the basis of disability. These obligations are articulated in the:

  • United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Article 27 – Work and Employment[1], in particular the obligation to ‘ensure that reasonable accommodation is provided to persons with disabilities in the workplace’
  • Employment Relations Act 2000[2], sections 104 (Discrimination) and 105 (Prohibited grounds of discrimination)
  • Human Rights Act 1993[3], sections 22-35 (Discrimination in employment matters).

Deaf Aotearoa urges employers to understand and give effect to their legal obligations to provide open, inclusive and accessible employment to Deaf people so that they can realise their career aspirations on an equal basis with others.

Employers remain unclear about what ‘reasonable accommodation’ means

Deaf people have the right to reasonable accommodation in the workplace

There are competing explanations of what reasonable accommodation means and employers can be confused about what their obligations really are.

Reasonable accommodation is a key concept in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Article 2 of the Convention[4] defines reasonable accommodation as:

  • necessary and appropriate modification and adjustments.
    This means changing the environment to enable a disabled person to do particular tasks or participate. 
  • not imposing a disproportionate or undue burden
    This means that the suggested accommodation should be based on fair principles, and not put anyone, or any organisation, at risk or undue cost or inconvenience in the circumstances. A request for a reasonable accommodation can be seen as reasonable but also as a burden at the time of request. It is important in a situation like this that it is not the disabled person that is the burden, rather the circumstances.  
  • where needed in a particular case;
    A reasonable accommodation may need to be made for just one person to do something, although it should be noted that once in place it may be able to support others.
  • to ensure to persons with disabilities the enjoyment or exercise on an equal basis with others of all human rights and fundamental freedoms.
    This means that disabled people can take part the same way and have the same opportunities as non-disabled people. A person should not be excluded because of their disability.

Deaf Aotearoa concurs with this definition, and alongside the New Zealand Human Rights Commission, urges employers to be aware of the obligation to provide reasonable accommodation both to staff and in all aspects of service delivery and decision-making[5].

Furthermore, Deaf Aotearoa agrees with the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities concluding observations on the combined second and third periodic reports of New Zealand (9 September 2022), in particular:

“8. The Committee recalls its general comment No.6 (2018) on equality and non-discrimination, and recommends the State party:

  • Amend the Human Rights Act 1993 to include an explicit recognition of the denial of reasonable accommodation as a form of discrimination and include a legislation definition of reasonable accommodation consistent with the meaning provided in Article 2 of the Convention”.

NZSL Interpreters and the Job Support Funds eligibility and policy settings

Deaf employees can access funding (via the Ministry of Social Development’s Job Support Funding) for NZSL interpreters (and other types of assistance) in the workplace.

According to the current Job Support Funds Operational Guidelines[6], the purpose of the programme is “to increase disabled people’s (including people with a health condition) participation in open employment by meeting the additional costs incurred as a direct consequence of their disability when undertaking the same employment or training as a person without a disability. Job Support aims to make individualised funding available to purchase employment support services, workplace modifications and provide productivity allowance wage subsidies for disabled people or people with a health condition to work in open employment while receiving appropriate rates of pay for the job. Other forms of funding or assistance, e.g., other government funding or reasonable accommodation, available for the same assistance or service, must be considered first”.

Deaf Aotearoa consider that these guidelines are largely unworkable for Deaf people. Employers and employees find the rules very difficult to navigate. For example, it is difficult to know when NZSL interpreters are supposed to be paid for by the employer versus when they are funded through Job Support Funds. The decision-making processes are unclear and, in some situations, inconsistent. Deaf people spend a great deal of time trying to navigate the system; time which is not needed to be spent by hearing employees.

Deaf Aotearoa strongly believes that the Support Funds programme is discriminatory and urges the Ministry of Social Development to rectify this situation urgently.

Employers can easily access all the information they need to employ Deaf people

Guidance for employing Deaf people (within the context of hiring disabled people) is provided within the Ministry for Social Development’s:

  • Disability Employment Action Plan[7]
    • Lead Toolkit[8]

Deaf Aotearoa affirms its position that there is no reason why employers cannot employ Deaf people on an equal basis with others.

Make sure Deaf people know about employment opportunities and are able to access job descriptions in NZSL

Deaf people may need job-related information that is provided in English (e.g., advertisements and job descriptions) to be translated into NZSL and be available online in video format. Deaf candidates should be able to access information about the job in their first or preferred language to they can apply on the same basis as others.

Deaf Aotearoa urges employers to advertise employment opportunities in NZSL alongside English.

Deaf Awareness training provides hearing staff with an introductory level of Deaf cultural competence 

Deaf culture is about language, values, traditions, norms and identity[9].

Some staff may have experience of working with Deaf people, however many wont. Some staff may be nervous or unsure about how to interact with Deaf people and would benefit from participating in a Deaf Awareness course when a Deaf employee joins their team. Ongoing training, e.g., when new staff join, or when the Deaf person’s role changes is also worthwhile. Deaf Awareness courses can be provided in-house and tailored to particular workplace settings[10].

Deaf Aotearoa believes that positive workplace culture is achieved when everyone is provided with opportunities to understand individuals within the context of their culture.

Deaf Aotearoa encourages employers to create working environments that are culturally appropriate for Deaf people.


[1] https://www.un.org/development/desa/disabilities/convention-on-the-rights-of-persons-with-disabilities/article-27-work-and-employment.html

[2] https://www.legislation.govt.nz/act/public/2000/0024/latest/DLM58317.html

[3] https://www.legislation.govt.nz/act/public/1993/0082/latest/DLM304212.html?src=qs

[4] https://www.un.org/development/desa/disabilities/convention-on-the-rights-of-persons-with-disabilities/article-2-definitions.html

[5] https://www.ombudsman.parliament.nz/resources/removing-barriers-reasonable-accommodation-disabled-people-aotearoa

[6] https://supportfunds.co.nz/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/Workbridge-Job-Support-Funds-Operational-Guidelines-July-2018-V1-FINAL.pdf

[7] https://www.msd.govt.nz/documents/what-we-can-do/disability-services/disability-employment-action-plan/working-matters-2020-spreads.pdf

[8] https://www.msd.govt.nz/documents/about-msd-and-our-work/work-programmes/lead-programme-work/lead-toolkit-jan-2021.pdf

[9] https://nzsl.tki.org.nz/Introduction/Deaf-culture

[10] https://www.deaf.org.nz/learn-nzsl/deaf-awareness-course/

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