The word essential has taken on a new level of importance in recent years, with essential workers coming under the spotlight as New Zealand Aotearoa has navigated through Covid-19 lockdowns, traffic light settings and other rules and requirements.
For Chris Waite and his family, however, essential doesn't just refer to Chris's work as a tanker driver, it's also the focus of this year's New Zealand Sign Language Week which took place last week, and is a language Chris, his wife Chanelle and their three children all use fluently.
Chris and Chanelle were both born profoundly Deaf, meaning sign language really is essential in their day to day communication with each other and their three sons. When it comes to communicating with other people however, it would be great if more people were able to use New Zealand Sign Language, says Chanelle.
"The more people use sign language, the easier Deaf people can access more of the society around them, which helps with our well-being. People don't realise how many barriers we face, and this has got worse during Covid-19 with masks making it hard for us to lip read for example. Not everyone takes their mask off when we ask, and this can be frustrating."
Learning sign language isn't hard says Chris, and would make life "nicer" for the many Deaf people in our communities.
Chanelle says Deaf people can come across barriers in many aspects of daily life other people might take for granted.
"Because people don't know the background, or that you are Deaf when you first want to contact them, it can be hard. We were looking for a new rental for example and to talk on the phone to rental agencies or private landlords we use an interpreter service which works via a phone call to the person. If the landlord doesn't know in advance, they may not accept the call from the NZ relay service when it comes, making it hard for us to even enquire about properties fast enough before they get taken."
Chanelle is passionate about encouraging more people to learn New Zealand Sign Language, running a Facebook page "Sign with Chaz" that has rapidly gained followers since she started it three years ago. She also creates TikTok videos to teach sign and is always happy to help people learn even just a few words or phrases they can use in daily life.
It is 16 years since New Zealand Sign Language became one of New Zealand's national languages, and Chanelle says it really is essential people become familiar with at least a few phrases or words.
She says if essential workers in hospitals, schools and supermarkets could learn even a few simple phrases they would make a big difference to members of the Deaf community.
"Learning sign language isn't that hard, so please, have a go and try."
Follow Chanelle's Sign with Chaz Facebook page: www.facebook.com/signwithchaz and give Sign Language a go.