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Education: Access and learning support for disabled and Deaf students

Deaf students

Use of New Zealand Sign Language in schools

In 2006, the New Zealand Sign Language Act was passed, making New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) one of this country’s official languages. This came after a long history of sign language being actively discouraged through policies that favoured oral communication.

The Sign Language Act says that “government services and information should be made accessible to the Deaf community through the use of appropriate means (including the use of NZSL).” This should mean that students have access to their learning in NZSL.

However, the right to use NZSL isn’t protected by the anti-discrimination laws in the Human Rights Act 1993. Linguistic discrimination isn’t included in that Act – that issue usually arises in relation to race-based discrimination.

Deaf Education centres

Historically, New Zealand has had two Deaf Education centres, which operate as schools for Deaf students while also providing resources and support to students in mainstream schools. These are the Kelston and Van Asch Deaf Education Centres. The combined Board of both schools recently proposed to merge the schools. This will mean that both schools will legally become one, with a single Executive Principal.

The merger will take place in Term 3 2020. All the services currently offered by both schools should continue to be available. For information and updates visit the combined schools’ website:

You can get information about eligibility for enrolment from the two schools directly. Or you can contact the Ministry of Education’s Advisors on Deaf Children, who advise families of Deaf children from birth to year three at school.

Beyond year three, the Ministry has resource teachers (Deaf) who work with children, families and specialists either in the classroom or at home. The resource teachers work through the Deaf Education Centres.

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