Supporting deaf people at work beyond Sign Language Week video

Stuff.co.nz

Deaf Aotearoa is encouraging Kiwis to support the deaf community beyond Sign Language Week, which is happening now across New Zealand.

The advocacy group wants to see more workplaces become inclusive environments where deaf people can work alongside hearing colleagues.

Team leader Natasha Cloete said anyone could learn the basics of New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) if they were prepared to put in some time.

Joe Tusa (L) and Natasha Cloete are both deaf, and supporting Sign Language Week in New Zealand.
JOSEPHINE FRANKS/FAIRFAX NZ

Joe Tusa (L) and Natasha Cloete are both deaf, and supporting Sign Language Week in New Zealand.

"There are lots of people who think deaf people are difficult to communicate with, and it will take a lot of effort, however it's just about taking time, energy and effort, and being interested in learning the language," she said.

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Fairfax Auckland has hired deaf baristas since moving into new premises in Ponsonby in 2016.

Joe Tusa works as a barista at Fairfax in Auckland, and communicates with customers using sign language.
JOSEPHINE FRANKS/FAIRFAX NZ

Joe Tusa works as a barista at Fairfax in Auckland, and communicates with customers using sign language.

Annamarie Jamieson, Fairfax director for corporate social responsibility, said the company had been searching for ways to support those with disabilities in the workplace.

"I was talking to somebody about this concept, and they said to me 'oh, you wouldn't employ somebody who was deaf'," Jamieson said.

"And I said 'why not?' It doesn't matter what kind of disability you have, we'll make it work for them'. That's how it became the deaf baristas, and we taught everybody to sign for their coffees."

Fairfax worked with Deaf Aotearoa to find people in the deaf community who wanted to train as baristas.

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Jamieson said there had been a rapid uptake from staff, who quickly learned how to use the basics of sign language when ordering their coffee.

Cloete said the project was a good example of how workplaces could take a proactive approach to supporting deaf people.

"It's about promoting awareness so that other people can see that real deaf people don't have barriers to work," she said.

"It's a fantastic opportunity for people to come and communicate face to face with deaf people."

Jamieson said promoting diversity and inclusion played a big part in Fairfax's social responsibility as a company.

"If Fairfax is representing the community, then we have to represent that community within our own four walls," she said.

"There's a breadth of thinking with a diverse workforce that helps bring in different perspectives."

NZSL has been an official language of New Zealand since 2006.

The government invests $1.25 million a year into the New Zealand Sign Language Fund, which supports community-led initiatives that help create a stronger sign language community.

New Zealand Sign Language Week started on May 8. For more information about NZSL events happening near your place, check out deaf.org.nz or Neighbourly.co.nz.

 - Stuff

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