About NZSL

NZSL has developed naturally, over time, through being used by the Deaf community in New Zealand. It is not an artificially created communication system.

New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) is crucial to many Deaf people's ability to learn, communicate and participate in society. The language is vital to the expression of deaf culture and identity. Deaf culture is well documented and includes shared values, norms, behaviours, history, humour, art, stories, poetry and traditions of Deaf people. Deaf culture is passed on from generation to generation through NZSL.

NZSL is one of two official languages in New Zealand, along with Te Reo Māori. NZSL has its own grammatical structure which enables users to communicate fully and express thoughts and emotions. It differs from spoke languages because it is solely visual.

There are approximately 4,599 Deaf people (Census 2018, Stats NZ) who use NZSL as their primary form of communication and approximately 23,000 people in total who use NZSL.  This includes parents who use NZSL to communicate with their Deaf child.  These figures are likely to be underestimated.

The recognition of NZSL through the NZSL Act 2006 was a major step forward in improving the lives of Deaf people. However, this recognition is still too recent to have had a significant impact on the many inequalities that Deaf people face on a daily basis.

For more information about NZSL, see Te Ara the Encyclopedia of New Zealand external external

  • NZSL Act 2006

    This is a brief history of what led up to the NZSL Act of 2006, and an explanation of the act. 

  • NZSL Act Review 2011

    The 2011 review found nine things that could make the NZSL Act work better.

  • NZSL Act Amendment 2022/2023

    Consultation on potential changes to the NZSL Act 2006. The New Zealand Sign Language Board fully endorses the review of the NZSL Act and recommended the review in its 2019 annual report to the Minister for Disability Issues.

  • Giving effect to the New Zealand Sign Language Act

    This is a practical guide for departments on how to give effect to the principles through their policies and practices in order to promote access to government information and services for the Deaf community.