New Zealand: Deaf people being left out

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Sat Oct 6 14:17:00 UTC 2007

     Saturday, 6 October 2007
 Deaf people being left on the outer

*A shortage of sign language interpreters means as many as 7700 deaf people
are struggling to access services in their communities. *

Deaf Association national services manager Tony Blackett said there was a
"clear and definite" shortage of interpreters, and this meant that deaf
people found it difficult to connect with their communities. "It is a
significant challenge communicating and participating in everyday
situations, such as visits to the doctor and parent-teacher meetings."
Victoria University deaf studies programme director Rachel McKee said a 2001
Statistics NZ disability survey of sensory disabilities had shown there were
between 4500 and 7700 deaf people using sign language in New Zealand.  Sign
Language Interpreters Association president Alan Wendt said the number of
qualified interpreters in the country was not known but there were 54
working members in the association.

About 90 people had graduated from the two-year Auckland University of
Technology sign language interpreter course since 1994, but some had since
left New Zealand. Interpreters usually earned between $35 and $80 an hour,
depending on their experience and the nature of the job. Some were on
salaries but they were significantly outnumbered by freelancers.  Dr McKee,
who founded the AUT course, said the need for interpreters was not well
quantified in terms of how many were needed and where the shortages were.

Smaller centres such as Blenheim and Nelson felt the need more acutely, and
had to bring in interpreters from Wellington and Christchurch. There were
two factors contributing to the need - an inadequate supply of interpreters
and the inability of some agencies to pay for them. An initiative in the
2006 Sign Language Act to provide interpreters in legal proceedings had not
progressed, Dr McKee said. A policy setting out interpreter qualification
standards had merely formalised existing practice. "They haven't raised the
bar at all."

The comments come a year after sign language was made an official language
in New Zealand and the Government announced initiatives to improve the
accessibility of interpreters. Disability Issues Minister Ruth Dyson
acknowledged there was a shortage of interpreters, and said the act had been
passed to provide a framework for interpreting as a career.  "If people are
attracted to interpreting because there's more security in the job, they're
more likely to train." Ms Dyson rejected complaints of no progress in
providing interpreters during legal proceedings.

"That's not the case at all. Interpreters are provided as a right. Prior to
the legislation deaf people did not have that right." At present, only the
justice system observed the right of deaf people to have trained
interpreters. Government departments and agencies were required to report
yearly on their progress in implementing the act and some had developed
specific plans. Departments such as ACC understood the need to cater to deaf
people and had introduced measures such as informative DVDs with deaf
presenters using sign language. There was no set timeframe for departments
to implement interpreter standards, and the funding for this would need to
be found, Ms Dyson said.

"There has to be steady progress - it can't be done too rapidly because we
have to have supply to meet demand. "But it can't be done too slowly - these
people have been waiting too long already."
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