Most people take for granted answering their phone or asking a shop assistant which aisle the milk is down.

For Pixie Neame, these are some of the small inconveniences she has found ways of getting around.

Sitting in the lounge of her home she is renovating, Neame has her laptop perched in front of her with an interpreter translating every word, showcasing how simple life can be without the ability to hear.

"I'm very proud to be deaf. I was born deaf so it's very natural and normal to me," she says.


Advances in technology have made her life easier in communicating with the hearing world through her language, New Zealand Sign Langauge (NZSL).

NZSL was made an official language of New Zealand 13 years ago, with te reo Māori first in 1987 and English just last year with the English an Official Language of New Zealand Bill.

Something Neame uses every day is the NZSL Video Interpreting Service (VIS), the most in-demand government-funded relay service which provides an interpreter who translates to others.

It's open from Monday to Friday between 8am and 8pm, and from July 1 it will be made available on weekends and public holidays.

"We don't have to drive to town to make an appointment," she says. And phone calls and conversations are had with ease.

Disability Issues Minister Carmel Sepuloni says VIS is a vital tool for NZSL users.

"The ability to communicate with others is important for living a successful and rewarding life, and is something we all should be able to take for granted," Sepuloni says.

While there are good resources for those who were part of the deaf community, Neame says there is a lack of education and exposure to deaf culture, and this is not specific to New Zealand.


This could lead to people being patronising, she says.

"Lots of people think you can't drive or get married ... I can. I just can't hear," she says.

Her husband and two children can all hear and use NZSL.

"Sometimes, when my kids were young, I thought it would be nice to know what kind of voice they had," she says.

"I've never been sad about not being able to hear, I've more been interested in what hearing would be like."

Language was a passion of hers and she became a sign language tutor after achieving a Certificate in Deaf Culture at the University of Wellington.

Deaf culture is an identity and way of life for people who use NZSL to communicate and socialise.

From catch-ups about the news, sports with flags instead of whistles and church services, it was a "sense of belonging", she said.

She now works with deaf and hearing children and supporting teachers and teacher aides.

She supports families of deaf children, teaches NZSL and deaf culture classes to people of all hearing abilities.

Being profoundly deaf, the occasional times she uses hearing aids provides faint sounds of loud noises such as a concert.

Neame explains how she enjoys music; feeling the vibrations through the loud speakers, or watching the way people around her are moved by the rhythm.

It was more an appreciation of the skills of the guitarist or the mood of the singer.

Being deaf is not a lonely and debilitating impairment that takes away a sense of the quality of life, she says.

Rather it is a different culture altogether with people getting a bit more creative in getting the richness out of life.