Key Points:

New Zealand is set to become one of the first countries in the world to introduce sign language into the school curriculum.

It follows the enactment of the New Zealand Sign Language Act 2006, which made sign language an official language.

The Deaf Association has hailed it as another step forward in giving signing equal status to spoken languages.

Education Minister Steve Maharey and Disability Issues Minister Ruth Dyson will officially announce the move this morning in a ceremony at Parliament.

Mr Maharey's office said he would use sign language in parts of his speech.

The sign language curriculum, which will be optional, will start in intermediate schools, but eventually roll out to include students up to Year 10.

Sign-language teaching materials have already been prepared for students in Years 7 and 8.

Students up to Year 10 will have the option of learning sign language as a second language.

Deaf Association chief executive Rachel Noble said it would improve long-term potential for the deaf community to be able to access education and other services, and other opportunities in their lives.

"The main thing it will do is increase awareness of sign language and therefore widen the group of people with whom sign-language speakers can communicate."

She said the Deaf Association would like more inclusion in the curriculum's development and to see schools treating sign language in the same way as Maori language, which was more broadly taught.

The New Zealand Sign Language Act became law on April 10 last year.

It was developed by the Office for Disability Issues to provide official recognition for New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) as a unique language, with the same status as spoken languages.

The act aims to ensure access to NZSL interpreters in legal proceedings, and to provide deaf people with equal access to education, health, employment and public broad-casting.

Switzerland and several European Union countries, including Sweden, Denmark and Norway, have signed a resolution to recognise sign languages as official languages.


Deaf NZers

* 240,000 deaf or hearing-impaired people.
* An estimated 18,300 are children.
* 28,000 use sign language.
* 51,000 are able to lip read.