Simon Collins

Simon Collins is the Herald’s social issues reporter.

Deaf kiwis seek help to communicate

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

New Zealand's most silent minority - deaf parents of hearing children - are seeking help to communicate with their children's teachers and other hearing people.

They say schools get special needs funding for deaf children, but there is a big gap when it comes to sign language interpreters for deaf parents of hearing children.

About 4000 adults use NZ Sign Language, and those with children have a 95 per cent chance that their children will be able to hear.

More than 80 families with deaf parents and hearing children gathered at Carey Park Christian Camp in West Auckland during the weekend for the country's first conference of deaf parents.

"I need to know what's happening at school," said organiser Monica Leach of Titirangi before the conference.

She and her husband Stephen are both almost totally deaf - a common situation for deaf parents, who often meet through the deaf community and communicate with each other by signing.

Their three sons aged Felix, aged 14, 5-year-old Oliver and 3-year-old Jack can all hear. They are bilingual in English and sign language, and use more touching than other children to get their parents' attention.

"The children always tap us. Felix will tap on the table - or bang on the table," Mr Leach said.

But because the boys can hear, the family gets no help for interpreters for parent-teacher interviews, school picnics or attending school assemblies.

"I have to get a voluntary interpreter for meetings with school, and sometimes I have had to resort to students who are still in training," Mrs Leach said. "It's not fair."

The family has had "fantastic" support from the Titirangi playcentre, which Mrs Leach attends on two days a week with Jack, and from Oliver's Titirangi School, which also has another family with deaf parents of hearing children.

Titirangi principal Gary Pearce pays for signing interpreters out of the school's operational grant at $95 an hour plus a callout fee, but said a Ministry of Education official had recognised that the lack of funding for such services was "a little hole" in the system.

"There is only a very basic level of funding for interpreters on maybe two occasions a year," he said.

"But the NZ curriculum states that we should aim to be engaging parents in the education of their children, and the research evidence is pretty conclusive that where parents and families can engage with schooling, that delivers better outcomes for children."

Mr Leach, a database administrator, gets Workbridge funding for signing interpreters at his work meetings.

Victoria University programme director of deaf studies Dr Rachel McKee said funding was also available for interpreters in healthcare and in the legal system.

"But usually the interpreting is funded when the deaf person is the recipient of the service, rather than their children," she said.

"One of the problems is that very often the children themselves end up doing the interpreting. It's not uncommon for children to be interpreting their own parent-teacher interview, for example."

Mrs Leach, who came here from Britain in 2004, said Britain's disability living allowance was high enough for deaf parents to pay for interpreters when needed, but there was no equivalent in New Zealand.

"There are many times I feel excluded because my children are hearing," she said.

Mr Leach said: "Having an interpreter is about being included in the wider society."

Deaf parents

* 4000 adults use NZ Sign Language.

* If they have children, they have a 95 per cent chance that their children will be hearing.

- NZ Herald

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