Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has given the New Zealand sign language (NZSL) interpreters who have been sharing important Covid-19 information to deaf people a well-deserved shoutout for their dedicated work.

It comes after the Deaf Aotearoa and the Sign Language Interpreters Association of New Zealand (SLIANZ) revealed in a statement that the NZSL interpreters were facing added stress from online parody videos and memes that have been disrespectful over their work.

READ MORE:
Diploma in Sign Language Interpreting
Sign language interpreter becomes symbol of New Zealand's inclusive response to attack
Whangārei celebrates first kiwi with Māori sign language name
Taupō sign language student Diane Smith becomes a teacher

During today's press conference, Ardern took the time to share her gratitude the NZSL interpreters who have been sharing information to the deaf community during the live press conferences.

Advertisement
 Sign language interpreter Jenn Gilbert in action during Prime Minister Jacina Ardern and Finance Minister Grant Robertson's media update at the Beehive Theatrette. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Sign language interpreter Jenn Gilbert in action during Prime Minister Jacina Ardern and Finance Minister Grant Robertson's media update at the Beehive Theatrette. Photo / Mark Mitchell

She said 4000 to 5000 are deaf and relied on sign language and pointed out that it's one of New Zealand's three official languages.

"Remember their singular focus is to make sure as many New Zealanders as possible to know what is going on, not just here in Parliament, but in New Zealand and around the country," she said.

She added that she acknowledges there has been an increase of interpretation work as video conferences become the new normal.

"It is an exceptional feat and at a vital time when we need the information to reach as many New Zealanders has possible.

Covid19.govt.nz: The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website

"I know a few of our sign language interpreters have rightly gone viral, and I hope what will also go viral is our gratitude for the incredible role and important work that they do.

"Thank you," Ardern while looking directly at the interpreter who was signing at the time.

Oliver Ferguson, President of Deaf Aotearoa, said there are currently six highly-skilled and experienced NZSL interpreters working on the Government Covid-19 response.

Advertisement

They work seven-hour shifts and are rostered across a seven-day week.

SLIANZ acknowledged that the interpreters have become a focus of attention recently as the daily presence of NZSL on our screens during times of crisis can be a novelty to many.

It said, however, that recent comments made on social media have been particularly disrespectful, such as calling the interpreters "distracting" or "unnecessary" and making fun of them.

Micky Vale, president of SLIANZ, said: "Sign language interpreters are working in a very fast-paced, challenging environment and this requires a high degree of skill.

"In providing access to deaf people in this way, interpreters are having to place themselves in the limelight which can be stressful in itself and NZSL interpreters do not need the added stress of being made the butt of jokes or negative comments."