Deaf Aotearoa was established in 1977 by Deaf people for the purpose of improving the lives of Deaf people through advocacy and services. Initially focusing on welfare services and advocating for interpreting services, Deaf Aotearoa has grown and evolved with the times, now advocating for equality for Deaf people across all areas of their lives.

The goal of equality and full participation for Deaf people is outlined in Deaf Aotearoa’s constitution and Strategic Direction. The Deaf community provide input to Deaf Aotearoa’s Strategic Direction which drives all Deaf Aotearoa’s advocacy work.

To help achieve this goal, Deaf Aotearoa works closely with Deaf communities, the Government, government agencies and other organisations to increase awareness, promote NZSL and strengthen the rights of Deaf people.

The Strategic Direction focus areas include:

  • Promoting NZSL and Deaf culture
  • Strengthen Deaf Aotearoa’s role as a Disabled Peoples Organisation (DPO)
  • Supporting Deaf community sustainability
  • Ensuring access to government, community, health and social services
  • Ensuring access to education in NZSL
  • Partnerships with allied organisations.

Advocacy happens at the local, national and international levels.

At a local level, Deaf Aotearoa staff advocate daily for service users’ rights to access the services and support they need and want, and for their local Deaf communities to access what they need and want. Examples include advocating for Deaf employees when there has been a breakdown in communication that could cause a Deaf person to lose their job; or working with local Work and Income offices to ensure NZSL interpreting services are provided for Deaf people’s appointments.

At the national level, Deaf Aotearoa works closely with the Government and government agencies to ensure that legislation and policy enables equitable lives for Deaf people. Deaf Aotearoa is the government-recognised DPO representing the interests of Deaf New Zealanders, and is a founding member of the DPO Coalition. Through its work with the DPO Coalition, Deaf Aotearoa ensures the voice of Deaf people is represented in the Government’s Disability Action Plan and in the implementation and monitoring of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD).

At the international level, Deaf Aotearoa works with the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD) to promote the human rights of Deaf people in New Zealand, Pacific Island countries and beyond. Currently, Deaf Aotearoa is supporting two New Zealand Deaf people to work closely with WFD, Victoria Manning, MNZM has been elected to the WFD Board 2019 – 2023; and Mark Berry has been re-elected President of the WFD Youth Section Board 2019 – 2023 after serving an initial four-year term from 2015.

Some examples of Deaf Aotearoa’s recent advocacy and advice at the national level includes:

  • Working with government to increase access to information in NZSL across 38 government agencies
  • Working with Ministry of Health Disability Support Services around ongoing policy changes to disability supports – System Transformation and the focused many workstreams under the System Transformation work
  • Representing the interests of Deaf people on the Ministry of Education Sector Advisory Group
  • Representing the best interests of Deaf people in the development of the Government’s new Disability Action Plan 2019 – 2022
  • Representing the best interests of Deaf people on the New Zealand Sign Language Board, including the development of the Government’s NZSL Strategy 2018 – 2023
  • Working with Statistics New Zealand to ensure that data on Deaf people and NZSL is captured and reported on, and also working with Stats NZ around the learnings from the inaccessible 2018 Census and planning for the next Census
  • Working with the Electoral Commission to ensure changes to Enrolment services are accessible to Deaf people
  • Implementing our Memorandum of Understanding with the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management, including providing ongoing advice and reviews on Deaf people’s access to emergency information and providing advice on the draft Disaster Resilient Strategy
  • Providing advice to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment on ensuring future telecommunications services for Deaf people provide more equitable access to the phone
  • Working with Fire & Emergency Services NZ to include increasing accessible information for Deaf people and training for Fire and Emergency staff
  • Providing advice to the Department of Internal Affairs on the Digital Inclusion Strategy and implementation of the Digital Inclusion Blueprint.
  • Advising the Social Investment Agency on their work to strengthen data on disabled and Deaf people
  • Working with the Māori Language Commission.