Deaf geographies, and other worlds.

SL Legislation is not (yet) empowerment

There’s a post today in the Limping Chicken about New Zealand Sign Language.

I remember being in NZ in 2006, before the NZSL Act was passed. I actually gave a lecture on the (proposed) Act at the University of Wellington; and on its origins in the Maori language Act, and that act’s origins in the Irish language Act.

Governments seem to do that – copy each other.

Now, I’m not a legal expert in any sense of the word, but I do have some understanding of the minority language issues involved… and I remember analysing the Act, and thinking at the time that because it had been copied, that it included a lot of rights that the government might not have wanted to give away. Many of its provisions, inherited from both the Irish and Maori settings, were explicitly designed to provide a cherished minority community with the ability to not only ‘keep’ their right… but to re-establish them against a history (perceived as unjust) of having lost them.

So, I argued – if the NZSL Act contained the same clauses, it would allow the NZ Deaf community to overturn their structural disempowerment and, if it really wanted to, pretty much force the government to provide NZSL parity with English and Maori in all spheres of life.

Indeed, that was an objection from the nay-sayers in the NZ parliament, who were concerned that the NZSL Act was simply opening the door to phenomenal, unsustainable cost.

So, it’s interesting to read in the Limping Chicken that NZ is considering adding specific empowerment tools to accompany the act. It would appear that the Deaf community are struggling to make the rights that it provides stick either at a conceptual level (ie. deciding what they might actually look like), or in the face of resistance from surrounding systems (ie. they simply can’t get people to do what the Act requires).

And that’s in New Zealand, where the culture is much more accepting of difference and diversity, and where there is a political will for change.

Move that to the UK… where the Deaf community is also campaigning for recognition, but in the face of a MUCH more stagnant public and governmental attitude to change and empowerment.

Clearly, having legislation is the first step – but legislation is not empowerment… far from it.

Getting to empowerment from legislation risks being a much longer path.

2 comments on “SL Legislation is not (yet) empowerment

  1. Laurie Sanders
    September 10, 2013

    Hi Mike. I read every blog post you write and while I don’t understand everything you are talking about sometimes, I am always interested. This post in particular interests me since I have worked in and around the legal community in the U.S. for more than 20 years now. A fascinating legal issue is raised here and I’m surprised that some lawyer in NZ didn’t raise Merry Ned over it at the time the Act was passed. Thanks for working to inform!

    • Mike Gulliver
      September 11, 2013

      Hey Laurie, further discussion on Twitter suggested that the bill was considerably watered down to get it passed… it appears that the government baulked at the potential for horrific cost, and so although it made NZSL the third official language of the country, the only place where it actually forces provision is in the courts.

      And provision is only then given through disability mechanisms…

      That’s kind of like the US agreeing to recognise Spanish as a second language, but only in law courts, and only if all Spanish speakers agree to register as ‘English disabled’ and claim the interpreting through their medical insurance.

      Welcome to the world of Deaf politics!

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This entry was posted on September 9, 2013 by in DEAF, Musings and tagged , , , .
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