The deaf community have started a petition to add New Zealand sign-language interpreters to the election debates.

The lack of interpreters was an act of excluding deaf people from the democracy, said Kim Robinson, who is the chairman of a deaf advocacy group called Deaf Action and who started the petition.

Over 800 people have signed the petition, including Mana party leader Hone Harawira who has a deaf niece. It will be presented to TVNZ at the end of August.

Kim Robinson wants the deaf community to have equal access to political debates. Photo / Supplied
Kim Robinson wants the deaf community to have equal access to political debates. Photo / Supplied

The election debates to be held on August 31, September 8 and September 20 will be live-captioned but will not have a NZSL interpreter.


Robinson, who is deaf, said NZSL needed to be recognised as it is an official language of New Zealand. Captions moved fast, were sometimes hard to read and devoid of the debaters' emotion and expression, Robinson explained.

He said as a result deaf people sometimes found it harder to be informed and could be easily influenced by others telling them who to vote for.

"You get more feeling and emotion through an interpreter than what would be portrayed through the captions.

"We've got the right to vote as well and we need to receive a clear picture of what's presented by each of the parties."

A TVNZ spokeswoman said while they recognise some hearing-impaired Kiwis would prefer to see a sign language interpreter rather than on-screen captions they were not set up to provide that.

"I can advise we won't be incorporating sign language into this year's live coverage.

"The TVNZ 1 debates, Election night coverage and the two-hour Q + A special the day after the election will be live-captioned, however."

New Zealand's only deaf MP Mojo Mathers fully supported the petition as it was essential everyone had access to political debate to cast an informed vote.

"Because of the lack of captioning or NZSL cover, deaf and hard of hearing people are too often excluded from this conversation.


"It is completely unacceptable to have such inadequate access to the political debate in this era of modern technology."