• June 2, 2017
Second year Bachelor of Arts in New Zealand Sign Language student Lisa Thompson Photo. Supplied / Stanton Dunn
A university student is being praised for pushing to make sign language an option at all New Zealand high schools.
Auckland University of Technology (AUT) student Lisa Thompson started a Facebook campaign to promote the cause when she was just 15. The page now has 6600 likes.
The page was created to spread awareness about the importance of sign language around the country.
New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) became an official language for the deaf in 2006.
“I wanted a career with New Zealand Sign Language so I thought I need to be studying it in high school. I had a lot of friends and other students who were approaching me saying ‘I want to learn sign language, where can I learn to sign?’,” said Miss Thompson.
The 19-year-old made a documentary, which spread across social media featuring experts in sign talking about why the language in high school is needed.
“We just need people who can sign in general to communicate with deaf people and it’s an official language of our country so it’s really important that it is offered,” she said.
The second-year university student also said she was honoured to be the recipient for the 2016 NZSL in the Media Award.
“That came as a big shock to me last year, I had no idea I was going to win that award. I never thought that anything I did was worthy of an award,” said Miss Thompson.
Miss Thompson said there was a high demand for interpreters but not enough awareness for New Zealanders to learn.
According to Statistics New Zealand, the 2013 census shows 20,235 people have the ability to use the language, which is 16 per cent fewer than in 2006.
The Ministry of Education’s acting deputy secretary for early learning and student achievement, Karl Le Quesne, said in an emailed statement learning a language could be an enriching experience for students and could benefit the wider community through learning about another culture.
Mr Le Quesne wrote, “the curriculum recognises the importance of sign language and encourages schools to incorporate it into their own programme.”
General manager of Deaf Aotearoa, Victoria Manning said the organisation supported Miss Thompson’s campaign.
She said after 11 years many New Zealanders were still not aware sign was an official language.
“We still have work to do in terms of raising awareness, and starting with students, making sure students are taught this when they are young goes a long way,” said Mrs Manning.
Green Party MP and New Zealand’s first deaf MP Mojo Mathers said the opportunity to have sign language in high school would have helped removed a communication barrier.
“I know of many hearing students who would love to have the option…because they want to be able to communicate with deaf people who use sign,” said Ms Mathers.
Freyberg High School in Palmerston North is the first school in New Zealand to offer the option to non-deaf students.
New Zealand Sign Language Week was held in May.