Deaf turn out for their MP

By Amelia Romanos

Members of the deaf community filled the public gallery in support of Mojo Mathers. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Members of the deaf community filled the public gallery in support of Mojo Mathers. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Without words or even sound, members of the deaf community cheered Green MP Mojo Mathers as she made her history-making official introduction to Parliament.

Ms Mathers delivered her maiden speech with assistance from a sign language interpreter in the chamber - a first for the House.

"My election on the Green Party list under MMP means that the hearing-impaired, deaf and people with disabilities have representation in Parliament by someone who shares with them many of the same experiences and challenges that they face," Ms Mathers said.

"It is a huge honour to be representing this community in the House, and I take this responsibility seriously."

The public gallery was filled with deaf supporters, who were joined by MPs in applauding Ms Mathers by waving their hands - the sign language equivalent of clapping.

The MP spoke about the difficulties she had faced because of her disability.

"I was 2 years old and without speech when teachers at my kindergarten picked up that I was profoundly deaf and I was provided with large aids that I wore in a harness strapped onto my body."

Without help from an "amazing and totally dedicated" mother, as well as support throughout her childhood, including three years at England's Mary Hare School for the deaf, Ms Mathers said she would never have caught up with her peers.

"I believe that it is the right of every child with a disability to have the access to the level of early intervention and quality education that I had, so that every child can reach their potential," she said.

Ms Mathers also touched briefly on the controversy that erupted this week over the funding of a note-taker, who provides the MP with an instant transcript of parliamentary debate.

Speaker Lockwood Smith has said the note-taker should be funded from Ms Mathers' support budget, but the Green Party argued that other MPs do not need to dip into their budgets to participate in Parliament, and making Ms Mathers do so would amount to discrimination.

"I am hopeful that Parliament will ... move quickly to resolve this, so that I can get on with the work that I was elected to do," she said.

Ms Mathers said she wanted improved access to information and communication services for the deaf, hearing and vision impaired, such as improving captioning and audio description of TV, DVDs and internet.

"Until recently, New Zealand had one of the lowest rates of television captioning in the developed world. Even Uganda had higher rates than us."

Ms Mathers called for captioning of Parliament TV.

- APNZ

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