By Ally Mullord
New Zealand was one of the first countries to recognise sign language as an official language, but would you be able to sign the national anthem?
As part of New Zealand Sign Language Week 2011, which started on Monday, Deaf Aotearoa have produced a DVD with performances of God Defend New Zealand in English, Maori and NZ Sign Language (NZSL).
The DVD was launched with a performance on the steps of Parliament this morning - the first time the anthem has been sung there in all three official languages.
A spokesperson for Minister of Disability Issues Tariana Turia acknowledged the effort put in by the organisers and participants who had made the DVD possible, calling the event “a significant day in our history”.
She also praised the increase in the usage of NZSL, in particular the introduction of interpreters at Waitangi Day services and during the daily media briefings after the Christchurch earthquake.
“Not only were Deaf people in Canterbury and around New Zealand kept informed about the emergency, but the whole population became aware of the Deaf community.”
Part of the role of New Zealand Sign Language week is to encourage people to take up learning NZSL.
Sarah Carson started learning NZSL after a friend recommended the course at the Wellington Adult Community Education Centre and is now about to start on a second eight week course.
Ms Carson says one of the main benefits in learning sign language is to “open up communication between hearing people and Deaf people, so that Deaf people aren’t alienated from a hearing society.”
She doesn’t plan to become an interpreter but looks forward to becoming fluent enough to hold a conversation.
“I haven’t had a chance to speak sign language… if it came up in conversation, that would be ideal. I get a lot out of it for myself, too.”
New Zealand Sign Language Week continues until May 8, with events being held across the country.
An events calendar and DVD ordering information can be found on Deaf Aotearoa’s website.