A trip to the United States in 1990 gave Whangārei man Kim Robinson extra motivation to seek better and equal access for the deaf community in New Zealand.
Now, that commitment to ensuring deaf people are heard and their needs met has seen him made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit (MNZM) for services to the deaf community in the New Year's Honours List.
Robinson has helped to campaign for NZ Sign Language (NZSL) to become an official language and has assisted with captioning access for cinemas, television and online content. He has ensured access is available to the deaf during Civil Defence emergencies and has lobbied for visual fire alarms to be placed in public buildings.
He has successfully campaigned for the establishment of the NZ Relay Service for the deaf community and has made submissions to numerous select committees and participated in several policy reviews.
Robinson was president of the Executive Board of the Deaf Association of New Zealand from 2008 to 2010. In 2015, he helped to establish Deaf Action New Zealand Inc, a deaf-led advocacy organisation that has sought to effect change at a local and national level.
"I started advocating for better access when I was attending high school in Christchurch in the late 1980s. My AFS year in the USA in 1990 reinforced my motivation to seek better equal access in NZ," Robinson said.
"I lived in Colorado Springs, USA, for a year as an AFS Exchange Student where I experienced access to things (captioned TV, captioned movies, sign language interpreters, telecommunications relay services etc) that I never had access to in NZ. Upon my return to NZ, I was determined that deaf people in this country shouldn't continue to be treated as second-class citizens in all areas of life. Thus began my journey to demand equal rights and access."
He didn't expect to receive such a high honour for his work and thanked those who had nominated him. But, he said, the honour belonged to the NZ deaf community that also advocated for changes.
Robinson was particularly proud the changes he helped advocate for are having an ongoing impact.
"One visible example is the Prime Minister having a NZSL interpreter next to her at all post-cabinet media conferences. This has given up-to-date, real-time information in sign language to deaf people. Before, we could only get information in the newsprint hours later based on the journalists' views of the matter. Other positive outcomes that occur from this is an increase of people wanting to learn NZSL or practise their NZSL while the sound is turned off while the post-cabinet media conferences are on."
So what's next for this stalwart of the deaf community?
"I will continue to advocate for NZSL to be included in all areas where deaf people need to access information and communication such as aircraft safety, elections, public health alerts etc."