There are around 4,000 people in New Zealand who prefer to communicate visually. Most are prelingually Deaf and are likely to be Deaf community members.
While the numbers of Deaf people are gradually decreasing because of medical advances and interventions, it is clear that there will always be people who prefer to communicate visually. Deafness is a normal part of life.
Delays in developing language and the resulting social isolation of Deaf children in families are thought to have huge impacts on their mental health and understanding. Despite having a normal range of intellect, roughly 40% of Deaf people receiving service have high social needs, with low literacy and both minor and complex social problems, and require social support, counselling and habilitation as a result. This is both unnecessary and tragic.
This research has confirmed that there is huge unmet need not only for specific Deaf groups (e.g. immigrants, elderly, children, deafblind) but for the whole Deaf population in terms of communication and social support. Deaf people feel misunderstood by or invisible to the New Zealand public and New Zealand public services. Whole communities as well as individuals need support and development.
New Zealand is not alone. The issues facing Deaf people in New Zealand are also experienced internationally. Deaf services in some developed countries however have a much broader range of services available, such as social work or intensive service coordination, peer support, training in Sign Language as well as services for Deaf people with physical or intellectual disabilities or mental illness. Roughly a third of all people born with hearing loss also have another disability, providing additional challenges to the strong need for communication.
Some international models provide advocacy rather than direct service provision. Nearly all focus on the needs of deaf disabled and have strong strategic alliances within the deaf and disability sectors.
Deaf Aotearoa New Zealand (Deaf Aotearoa) services have traditionally struggled to provide a large range of services with a small amount of resource and have been of variable quality. Services for deaf and hearing impaired are separate but are not working together closely enough to ensure consistent and collaborative approaches. Many key relationships within the Deaf and related sectors have been tense for a long time now and need improvement.