As a child, Chanelle Waite often felt she was only half involved in things at school. As an adult, while she is now on the other side of the school gates, that feeling remains.
As a profoundly deaf mother of three, Chanelle says it is hard to be as involved as she would like when it comes to school life.
"It's not easy. To go to an assembly or a performance at the school, I need to book a sign language interpreter or communicator so I can understand what is happening. The school helps, by letting me know when one of my children is doing something special or getting an award so I can organise it, but I can't just pop in to watch an assembly like the other school parents can, everything needs to be planned."
This week is New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) week, an opportunity for the Sign language community in New Zealand to showcase their language, something Chanelle is passionate about doing.
Two years ago, Chanelle started a Facebook page, Sign with Chaz, to teach people NZSL, and to raise awareness of some of the barriers deaf people can face in their communities. The page rapidly accumulated a large following, and Chanelle now also creates TikTok videos to teach sign as well. She also sells her own art work featuring the signs for I love You and other words.
"I like teaching people to use sign and have liked the responses I get on social media, people are interested and they ask questions. Some people did not know there was NZSL before seeing my page."
Chanelle wants more people to give NZSL a go.
"If everyone learned a few signs then it would make a difference. My children teach their friends at school and their friends enjoy it, they aren't scared to try it, I want adults to try it too."
Growing up as the only deaf child in a hearing household and attending a mainstream school, Chanelle says it felt as though she was only half there.
"I couldn't fully join in, I was on the outside. I used lip reading and my family also used basic sign language, but it was hard. It was when I went to a school for the deaf and learned NZSL that I could say everything I wanted."
NZSL is quicker than other forms of communication she says, as rather than follow formal English grammar rules it cuts out a lot of conjunctions and the word order is different to spoken English.
"So when it comes to learning sign, it isn't so hard as you don't need to learn as many words as you do in a spoken language."
She says she would love everyone in New Zealand to know some basic signs for words and phrases such as hello, how are you, do you need help and how was your day.
"Just things you can sign to make someone feel included and welcome."
Most importantly of all, says Chanelle, is that it doesn't matter if you make a mistake.
"Just try, even learn just one sign during NZSL week. If there is a deaf person in your community or involved in a group that you are also with, try to learn something, or use a pen and paper, a messaging app on your phone, whatever helps you communicate with them so they aren't left out of the conversation."
Need to know:
NZSL has been one of New Zealand's official languages since 2006. NZSL week runs from May 10 to May 16. To celebrate the week, and NZSL itself there are a range of events taking place around the country. According to Deaf Aotearoa, approximately 4500 deaf people in New Zealand use NZSL. This number, which comes from recent Census results, does not include those who identify themselves as hearing impaired.
To celebrate NZSL Week, people are encouraged to give their hand at learning some NZSL. There are many online resources to help people with this.
o Visit Learn NZSL, a free learning portal, at www.learnNZSL.nz
o Check out the NZSL Dictionary – online at www.nzsl.nz or free from your app store
o Visit the New Zealand Sign Language Teachers Association at www.teachsign.org.nz/learners for information about community classes
o Visit www.deaf.org.nz to find out about Deaf Aotearoa's tailored Deaf Awareness and NZSL courses
o Downloadable vocabulary sheets and other resources available at www.nzslweek.org.nz