Annual Report 2021-2022 – Chief Executive’s Report

Chief Executive’s Report

Tēnā koutou katoa

In the year just past, Deaf Aotearoa has enjoyed a period of steady growth and development. As always, the positive period of growth and development follows a great deal of hard work. Our people at all levels from governance to frontline staff have shown great commitment and endurance in achieving what we have.

We were very pleased to receive a significant funding increase from the Ministry of Education for our First Signs service, with an additional $2.8 million over the next four years. This increased funding will see us provide an introduction to NZSL and the Deaf community to at least an additional 100 families with Deaf children. First Signs plays a critical role in language acquisition and the social development of Deaf children, and gives confidence and support to their whanau that their Deaf child will grow up to be a successful Deaf adult.

Since First Signs was established in 2014, our staff who work in the service have grown and become Deaf leaders in their own right. In particular, Natasha Cloete and Lara Draper have become recognised globally for their work with the Deaf Leadership International Alliance. Both Natasha and Lara took part in the International Deaf Leadership programme at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf at Rochester University led by former World Federation of the Deaf president Colin Allen.

Elsewhere within Deaf Aotearoa, our services continue to develop. With the establishment of two new general manager roles, for Children & Youth (Bridget Ferguson) and Adults & Seniors (Lara Draper), we can now give greater focus to Deaf people of all ages. Funding for services for people under 16 and over 65 has been traditionally difficult to access, and we are now looking to establish sustainable funding streams from outside the traditional sources.

The Covid pandemic has highlighted the need for health information to be available in NZSL. Our translation service has expanded significantly over the past three years, to the point that we have now established a dedicated team leader role to help us fully develop this important service. It is pleasing to see development across the sector in this area and we are excited to be part of this period of strong growth.

Internally, we have worked hard to ensure our staff are well supported. We engaged Strategic Pay to review salaries and benefits for all roles and have made significant progress in this area. Our staff turnover remains low, and staff who have previously worked for Deaf Aotearoa have returned after periods with other organisations. Overall, the quality and quantity of candidates applying for roles has been the strongest I have witnessed in the past 15 years.

Several staff have now been with us for long periods. Tania Stuart from our New Plymouth office celebrated her 25-year anniversary in July this year. Tania is totally committed to her local community, and we are blessed to have her as part of the team. We are truly grateful for Tania’s loyalty, wisdom and passion. Joanne Key has been with Deaf Aotearoa for over 21 years, and we were very pleased to see Joanne step up into the role of Finance Manager earlier this year. Joanne manages our accounts diligently and we are lucky to have such a committed staff member work with us for so long.

The UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities’ concluding observations included several specific references to Deaf people and NZSL. We are confident that the Government will now commit to action on several issues which remain outstanding after many years of slow progress.

Deaf Aotearoa was founded initially to advocate for better access and services for Deaf people. Over time, the expectations from the Deaf community have grown in terms of the issues that are important and need to be brought to the attention of the Government.

Deaf Aotearoa’s advocacy has, in the past, been limited by the resources available. With little government funding available for advocacy, the Executive Board has committed to increasing our advocacy work, and directed that a dedicated advocacy role be established. We were really excited to be able to appoint Rachel Hargreaves to the role of Senior Policy & Advocacy Officer, after over 20 years working in a wide range of government policy roles across several different ministries. While her work has recently been focussed on the Accessibility for New Zealanders Bill and the review of the NZSL Act, Rachel’s work will cover a wide range of topics where we know Deaf people’s input is needed.

Deaf Aotearoa’s two boards, the Executive Board and the Deaf Aotearoa Holdings Board, govern the organisation with passion, diligence and wisdom. They work many hours providing advice, evaluating progress, offering support and solutions and ensuring Deaf Aotearoa remains sustainable. I am grateful for the ongoing support from our boards and I look forward to working with the newly elected Executive Board over the next three years.

It’s been a real thrill to see NZSL, and sign language more broadly, showcased on the global stage recently, through Deaf Aotearoa’s ongoing relationships with Netball New Zealand and New Zealand Rugby. Having the anthems of visiting national sporting teams signed provides access for Deaf people both here and overseas, and further highlights our country’s leadership in the area of sign language promotion. The 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup is another opportunity to ensure Deaf people have access to important events and we look forward to working with the tournament organisers to achieve this.

The approaching years, with the establishment of Whaikaha – Ministry of Disabled People and the eventual national rollout of Enabling Good Lives, will bring about new challenges and opportunities for Deaf Aotearoa and we will need to be agile and responsive to the evolving expectations of the Deaf community and other stakeholders. I look forward to leading Deaf Aotearoa on its ongoing journey of development, growth and success.

Lachlan Keating
Chief Executive

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