Deaf Aotearoa Position Statement on the Rights of Deaf Children

10 February 2024 

General position 

As a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), the New Zealand Government has a commitment to recognise the importance of New Zealand Sign language (NZSL) and to promote its use. The UNCRPD also recognises Deaf people’s rights to their specific cultural and linguistic identity, which includes sign language and Deaf culture.  

Deaf Aotearoa affirms that being allowed to develop their cultural and linguistic identities – especially in educational settings – is a key right of Deaf children. 

World Federation of the Deaf (WFD) Declaration on the Rights of Deaf Children  

In 2023, at the WFD’s XXI General Assembly in South Korea, members approved the Declaration on the Rights of Deaf Children. This declaration contains the following 10 articles proclaiming the rights of all Deaf children around the world. This declaration is an essential tool for promoting the rights of Deaf children. 

  • Article 1: All Deaf children, like all humans, are born free and equal in dignity and rights. 
  • Article 2: All Deaf children have a right to a sign language. National sign language(s) are the only fully accessible language for Deaf children from birth onwards.  
  • Article 3: the right of Deaf children to their national sign language(s) shall not be infringed. 
  • Article 4: All parents, carers and family members of Deaf children must be provided with free instruction in their national sign language(s). 
  • Article 5: All Deaf children have a right to quality, inclusive, multilingual education in their national sign language(s) and the national written language(s). 
  • Article 6: All Deaf children have a right to learn the linguistic identity and culture of the Deaf community. 
  • Article 7: All Deaf children have the right to protection from language deprivation. Not providing access to the national sign language(s) to all Deaf children constitutes discrimination. 
  • Article 8: All Deaf children have a right to fluent national sign language models, including teachers in education. 
  • Article 9: All Deaf children have a right to express their views on all matters affecting them. 
  • Article 10: All of the above declarations must be implemented for all Deaf children immediately and without delay. 

Deaf Aotearoa fully endorses the above Declaration and calls on the Government to implement it as a matter of urgency. 

Inclusive education 

With respect to creating the conditions to achieve the above, Deaf Aotearoa refers the Government to the International Disability Alliance’s (IDA) report – “What an inclusive, equitable, quality education means to us”.  

Deaf children are unique due to the intersection of their language and education rights, and of being at risk of language deprivation. Language rights are realised by ensuring that Deaf babies and children learn sign language from fluent sign language users and in sign language rich environments from birth and throughout their schooling and life. 

A truly inclusive education experience for Deaf children provides for their right to language and their right to education concurrently.  

Deaf Aotearoa affirms the following statement made by the IDA in their report (referenced above). 

“Quality inclusive education for children who are deaf must contain all the elements listed here:  

  1. Early acquisition and ongoing learning of the national sign language(s) in language rich environments provided to the child who is deaf and their family from the time of identification of the child being deaf and throughout their school years;  
  1. Education, including ECEC and schools for children who are deaf or deafblind is provided in quality bilingual sign language schools and educational settings that:  
  1. Provide quality education in the national sign language(s) and the national written language(s);  
  1. Provide sign-language rich environments that bring together sign-language fluent role models, including peers who are deaf or deafblind, teachers who are deaf and other children and education personnel fluent in sign languages, including tactile sign languages;  
  1. Follow the national inclusive education curriculum with an additional teaching curriculum that teaches sign language and Deaf culture;  
  1. Foster, respect and celebrate the cultural and linguistic identity of children who are deaf or deafblind;  
  1. Provide teachers who are deaf and/or teachers fluent in the national sign language(s), thus ensuring a natural language environment and pedagogy that meets the needs of multilingual students;  
  1. Provide sign language teaching materials and resources.  
  1. People who are deaf or deafblind can equitably access teacher training programmes and do not experience barriers to becoming qualified and registered teachers”. 

Relationship to the CRPD’s Concluding Observations 

In September 2022, the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) made 60 recommendations for the New Zealand Government with respect to its implementation of the UNCRPD. 

One such recommendation included: 

develop an inclusive education strategy that includes measures for the devolution of segregated education settings into a mainstream inclusive education system, to transition funding and resources from specialist education to inclusive education, to prioritise inclusive education in teacher training, to establish uniform, inclusive education policies and guidelines, to develop an inclusive education curriculum and to promote and raise community awareness”. 

Deaf Aotearoa supports this recommendation for disabled learners, but recommends that Deaf schools not be phased out; but instead be supported in their transformation into quality inclusive bilingual schools with the elements listed above. 

Further information can be found in our Position Statement on Bilingual Education (dated 4 December 2022). 

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