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Published Monday 8 May 2017

Our focus at the DHB is to provide support for all of our patients. New Zealand Sign Language Week, which is celebrated from 8 May to 14 May, gives us the opportunity to consider how deaf people who use NZSL access health services.

Each May, Deaf Aotearoa runs New Zealand Sign Language Week, celebrating one of New Zealand’s official languages. NZSL Week raises awareness of New Zealand’s Deaf community and provides a platform for Deaf people to proudly promote their language and culture.

NZSL is the natural language of Deaf New Zealanders and is used daily by more than 20,000 Kiwis. Rather than simply being a signed representation of spoken English, NZSL is a separate language, with its own structure and grammar.

We know that 380,000 people report being affected by a hearing impairment, where hearing aids or other aids don’t allow full access to society. The majority of this group became deaf later in life or after they had developed speech. These people may call themselves hearing impaired, hard of hearing or deaf. This group doesn’t generally use New Zealand Sign Language.

However, a small percentage identify themselves as ‘deaf’ and use New Zealand Sign Language as their primary form of communication. International research shows us that deaf sign language users encounter barriers to healthcare and have worse outcomes than the general population.

How does the DHB support deaf patients?

The 3DHB Disability team began exploring the experiences of deaf people within our local hospitals in 2015 and are now working on a 5 year action plan based on feedback from the deaf community, NZSL interpreters and DHB staff.

This year, to raise the profile of NZSL as the preferred language of the deaf community in New Zealand, Deaf Aotearoa is running a taster class at the hospital for our health care workers.

If there is any support you need when visiting the Hutt Valley DHB, please let us know.