Mojo Mathers gives maiden speech

JOHN HARTEVELT
Last updated 16:36 15/02/2012
Parliament TV

New Zealand's first deaf MP, Mojo Mathers, makes her maiden speech in Parliament.

Mathers
PETER MEECHAM/Fairfax NZ
Mojo Mathers

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Green MP Mojo Mathers made history in Parliament this afternoon when she delivered her maiden speech, which was the first of its kind to be translated into sign language.

Mathers, a mother of three, said there was ''still a long way to go'' before laws officially recognising sign language were implemented as they should be.

''For example, as a mother of three children, I find it unacceptable that some deaf parents are unable to attend parent teacher interviews to discuss their children's progress, as is their right, because the school will not provide New Zealand Sign Language interpreters.''

Mathers has been in a struggle with Speaker Lockwood Smith for Parliament to fund support staff to take notes for her to interpret the proceedings of the House.

The Green Party today wrote to Smith urging an early meeting of the Parliamentary Services Committee to officially mandate the extra spending  estimated at $20,000 to $30,000  which is needed for the note takers.

Mathers told Parliament that when she first stood to be an MP in 2005, she ''had no concept of what huge challenges lay ahead'' of her as a deaf candidate and activist.

''High on my list of goals for this parliament is to advocate for improved access to information and communication services for deaf, hearing and vision impaired,'' Mathers said.

''Simple things like improving captioning and audio description of television, DVDs and internet, and enabling access to our culture and to services. Until recently, New Zealand had one of the lowest rates of television captioning in the developed world. Even Uganda had higher rates than us.''

The recent introduction of closed captioning on many Sky TV channels had improved things but full access to information around the political debate and to democratic participation remained out of reach of many, she said.

''At the moment, because Parliament TV is not captioned, I am relying on electronic notetakers to follow the debate in the chamber,'' Mathers said.

''While they do an excellent job, and parliamentary staff have worked very hard getting around the technical challenges, it is not an ideal solution, in part because they will not always be available when a bill comes up that I need to speak to.''

Noting a recent $1m upgrade to Parliament's audio system, Mathers said no MP with a disability should be expected to fund their own participation in the debating as she had been.

''I am hopeful that Parliament will show leadership in this area and move quickly to resolve this, so that I can get on with the work that I was elected to do,'' she said.

It was at age two her kindergarten teachers had realised she was profoundly deaf and given her ''large aids'' that she wore in a harness strapped on to her body. 

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