New Zealand Sign Language celebrated 10 years as an official language this week.

This is a great achievement, considering sign language's shaky past in New Zealand.

NZSL is closely related to British and Australian SL, and began here with the arrival of deaf immigrants. Like a lot of imports, it developed its own variety to reflect our culture and lifestyle.

The first school for the deaf opened 1880 in Sumner, Christchurch, followed by branches in Auckland and Feilding.


Sign language, however, was not initially permitted in classrooms and deaf students received the message it was not an appropriate way to communicate.

This didn't stop children and adults from covertly using and creating signs.

A century later in 1979, the Australasian Signed English Language was adopted as part of a new approach of Total Communication in Deaf Education.

A more positive point of view developed and in the mid-1980s local sign language was thoroughly researched, documented and named NZSL.

It has been adopted for use in deaf education since 1993, and was legally recognised as an official language of New Zealand in 2006.

But what about other methods of assisted hearing? The Whanganui Regional Museum has two very different hearing aids in the collection. One is the familiar moulded earpiece with an amplifier and battery pack. It dates from the 1950s to 1960s, and was used in the tutorial department at Wanganui Hospital.

The other is significantly older. It is an ear trumpet made by James Woolley & Sons Ltd in the late 19th century.

The brass mechanism consists of a sound-capturing bowl which directs the sound through the extendable funnel and into the Bakelite earpiece.

These are just two examples of hearing aids that have been used in the past.

Before the more discreet and streamlined models we are used to today, hearing assistance devices were large and bulky, often dysfunctional and bringing attention to the user's deafness, rather than normalising the condition.

-Sandi Black is the archivist at the Whanganui Regional Museum.