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Communtity Law Manual | Disability rights | Your rights to use New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL)

Your rights to use New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL)


NZSL is one of New Zealand’s official languages

    New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, s 20; New Zealand Sign Language Act 2006, ss 7, 9

    Anyone in New Zealand has the right to speak any language they want, at any time. New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL), along with te reo Māori, has special status as an official language of New Zealand. This means you are allowed to use it anywhere you like, and you can expect all government departments and staff to communicate with you in NZSL or to provide interpreters as necessary.

You have the right to use NZSL in a court

New Zealand Sign Language Act 2006, s 7

If you are involved in any kind of court business, in any court in New Zealand, you have the right to use NZSL. This includes not just the normal courts, but also Tribunals and other bodies like the Tenancy Tribunal and the Employment Relations Authority. You need to let the judge, or whoever is in charge, know in advance so they can organise an interpreter.

You have these rights if you are involved in any way in the case, whether you’re the one bringing the case (taking your boss to the Employment Relations Authority for example), or you’re defending the case (when you’re charged with a crime in the District Court for example), or you’re a witness in the case.

Government departments are expected to be accessible to NZSL users

New Zealand Sign Language Act 2006, s 9

As far as is practical, government departments like Work and Income, the police, and Inland Revenue must make their services and information accessible to users of NZSL, including by using NZSL themselves.

If possible, you should let staff members know in advance that they will need to provide an interpreter.

Your rights in practice

You can tell the department if you have special requirements, and they will do their best to book an appropriate interpreter. For instance, you can say you want someone of the same gender as you for a health-related appointment, or someone familiar with older or younger people’s signing styles. If they can’t provide exactly what you want, the staff should work with you to come to an arrangement that will work.

You should never need to pay for the interpreter yourself.

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