Deaf Aotearoa, New Zealand’s leading organisation advocating for the rights and well-being of the deaf community, is holding a panel discussion with deaf families on 29th September, following on from this week’s International Week of the Deaf, running from Monday 18th to Sunday 24th September, with Saturday, September 23rd being celebrated as International Day of Sign Languages.
Deaf Aotearoa has invited deaf families from across New Zealand to participate in this panel to gain insights into the future needs and concerns of deaf young people. By doing so, the organisation aims to pave the way for a more inclusive future, offering better opportunities for deaf youth in tertiary education and the job market.
Lachlan Keating, Chief Executive of Deaf Aotearoa, expressed the significance of this project being led by Deaf Aotearoa’s Youth Board, stating, "This panel is about linking with the community, learning from older deaf individuals to improve the prospects of the next generation. We aim to facilitate better access, increased social support, and play a pivotal role in revitalising New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL). Additionally, we seek to educate hearing individuals on the importance of understanding and supporting the deaf community. We encourage everyday Kiwis to give NZSL a try, learn a few signs, and be allies to deaf people they encounter, as a way to play their part in shaping a brighter future in our country for young deaf people."
Deaf Aotearoa Youth Board President Zoe Ferguson (22), knows full well the highs and lows of going through life as a deaf young person. She experienced strong support during her mainstream high school years, having a professional interpreter in all classes. However, when she transitioned to studying her Bachelor of Applied Management at Ara Institute of Canterbury in Christchurch, her experience changed dramatically. With new interpreters and classmates, Zoe had limited access to materials in NZSL, which required her to put in extra effort throughout her three years at university.
Zoe expressed her challenges, saying, "I had to work really hard to get access in the classroom and connect with other students. I couldn't sit back and slide through my studies; it was a lot of additional work throughout my three years there." While Zoe appreciated her learning experience, the lack of professional interpreters and limited knowledge of the deaf community among her hearing peers posed additional challenges.
Zoe emphasised the importance of creating more opportunities for deaf youth to socialise and interact, stating, "Deaf young people don't need to feel isolated; they can hang out with and make deaf friends the same age as them." Zoe's commitment to making a difference led her to join the Deaf Aotearoa Youth Board at the age of 15, ultimately becoming its president one year ago.
The recent COVID-19 lockdowns had a profound impact on deaf young people, making them more cautious about face-to-face interactions. Zoe explained, "Deaf kids are more shy and nervous about going back to face-to-face events. They didn't have exposure to school or deaf club, which impacted their social skills." However, the pandemic also accelerated the adoption of online communication, opening new doors for deaf youth to connect with their peers.
Deaf Aotearoa's Youth Board is actively working to expand deaf clubs, enhance online interaction, and provide information on services available to deaf young people to help them thrive in life. Inspired by international experiences, including participation in the World Federation of the Deaf Youth Camp, the organisation is determined to bring similar support and inspiration to deaf youth in New Zealand.
Looking ahead, Zoe aims to pursue a career in the corporate sector and fulfil her dream of travelling. She believes that all young Kiwis, regardless of their hearing status, should have the same opportunities and experiences.