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.

What's on this page


In 2022, the Ministry for Social Development and the Office for Disability Issues at Whaikaha - Ministry of Disabled People engaged with the Deaf community to understand their views on some ideas for changing the NZSL Act 2006.

Public consultation on the possible changes to the NZSL Act opened for over two months from 8 September and closed on 11 November 2022. 

There were three ways the public provided feedback:

  • attending open community meetings, in-person and online, using “NZSL first” approach
  • attending hui for Turi Māori and their whānau conducted in NZSL
  • sending their submissions and feedback in NZSL or written format.

Information on the meetings and ideas can be found in this discussion document which you can download (PDF 3.5 MB)

On 29 March 2023, Cabinet agreed to make changes to the NZSL Act, following what was heard through consultation. You can find the full Cabinet paper and associated documents, including in alternate formats, here: 

The summary of key themes from the consultation on the changes to amend the NZSL Act 2006 are below.

This report that recommended changes to the NZSL Act was commissioned by the NZSL Board and can be found here:


Whaikaha – Ministry of Disabled People

  • Whaikaha - Ministry of Disabled People is a new ministry set up to work in partnership with disabled people and Māori to improve their lives.
  • Whaikaha plans to implement the Enabling Good Lives approach, which aims to give disabled people and their families more choice, control and flexibility in their lives.
  • The Office for Disability Issues (ODI) is part of Whaikaha. The Deaf community meetings were led by the NZSL team which is part of ODI. 
  • You can find more information about Whaikaha on the Whaikaha website external.

The NZSL Act

  • In 2006, the NZSL Act became law.
  • The purpose of the NZSL Act is to:
    • promote and maintain the language by declaring it an official language
    • provide for the use of NZSL in legal proceedings
    • allow the making of regulations setting competency standards for the interpretation of NZSL in legal proceedings
    • state principles to guide government agencies in the promotion and use of NZSL.
  • You can find out more about the NZSL Act here and find information about the Act principles here.

Why change the NZSL Act?

  • The NZSL Act could be changed to strengthen Deaf community leadership of the maintenance, promotion, and acquisition of NZSL.
  • The NZSL Act can be changed to better align with:
    • The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Disabled Persons (UNCRPD)
    • the establishment of the NZSL Board in 2015
    • the development of the NZSL Strategy 2018-2023.
  • We have also heard that the NZSL Act should address the Government’s responsibilities as a Te Tiriti Waitangi partner, specifically in relation to Turi Māori.

The Accessibility for New Zealanders Bill

  • The Accessibility for New Zealanders Bill establishes a new system that aims to provide a way for the New Zealand Government to address accessibility barriers that prevent Deaf and disabled people, tāngata whaikaha and their families or whānau, and others with accessibility needs from living independently and participating in all areas of life.
  • The Bill creates a new leadership structure including an Accessibility Committee led by disabled people and tāngata whaikaha and their families or whānau.
  • The best way for NZSL accessibility barriers to be addressed is through the Accessibility Committee. If the Bill becomes law, you can tell the NZSL Board about the barriers you would like to see addressed.
  • Submissions on the Accessibility for New Zealanders Bill closed 7 November 2022. You can find more information in NZSL about the Accessibility for New Zealanders Bill here external

Ideas to change the NZSL Act

Proposal 1: Statutory Ministerial Advisory Group

  • The NZSL Board is currently a non-statutory group because it was established by an agreement from Cabinet. The Board doesn’t have any powers in law.
  • The NZSL Board could become a statutory Ministerial advisory group under a changed NZSL Act. This would mean that the Board’s existence and functions are described in law.
  • This idea could strengthen leadership of the Deaf community as it would give more mana, status and credibility to the Board and its work.

Proposal 2: A mechanism to monitor the Act

  • Currently, there is nothing in the Act that monitors how well it is working.
  • There is a lack of information about what is working and what could be improved regarding the promotion, maintenance, and acquisition of NZSL.
    • The Act could:
      • give the Board the authority to request information from government agencies
      • require that government agencies report on actions to progress NZSL.
  • These changes could lead to:
    • more information for the Board when providing advice to the Minister of Disability Issues.
    • government agencies may work with the Deaf community more or provide more information in NZSL.

Proposal 3: Embedding Te Tiriti o Waitangi

  • The Government understands that Turi Māori would like to see Te Tiriti o Waitangi reflected in the NZSL Act and in NZSL leadership by Turi Māori.
    • Here are some examples, but we are open to hearing other ideas. These examples could be in the Act or achieved in other ways.
      • Requirements on how government and NZSL Board should act to better reflect Te Tiriti o Waitangi.
      • Requirements on how the NZSL Board should reflect Turi Māori leadership.
      • Requirements on how the NZSL Board should reflect Turi Māori voices.

How you could have had your say 

Feedback and submissions closed 11 November 2022.

Any New Zealander could provide feedback by making a submission on the proposals. There were ways for the Deaf community to do this. 

A combination of in person and online meetings were held to gather feedback. To make the submissions accessible, NZSL interpreters for the meetings and translations of the NZSL videos were provided. 

Written submissions were also accepted.

Privacy of your information

The information given to the Ministry for Social Development and ODI will be used to understand your views about the potential amendments to the New Zealand Sign Language Act 2006 and inform the development of final proposals to amend the Act. Your submission will be analysed for key themes, compiled into a report and presented to Cabinet for consideration. The ODI may publish a summary of that report on its website. The reports will contain no information that can identify you.

Your information will be collected, held, used and disclosed by MSD in accordance with the Privacy Act 2020. You have the right to access and correct any information MSD holds about you. 


An update on the NZSL Amendment Bill

Video transcript

In January 2024, Ministry of Social Development (MSD) and Whaikaha officials met with the new Minister for Disability Issues, Hon Penny Simmonds to discuss her priorities regarding the NZSL Act. Minister Simmonds has decided not to progress the amendment of the NZSL Act at this time.

Given this outcome, work amending the NZSL Act has officially stopped.

While work to amend the NZSL Act has stopped, the Government, MSD, NZSL Board and Whaikaha remain committed to supporting the Deaf community and the vitality of NZSL.

MSD will continue to consider the needs and aspirations of the Deaf community, including Tāngata Turi Māori, as part of our work programme to improve outcomes for disabled people. Whaikaha will continue to work with the Board on the promotion and maintenance of NZSL, including through the development of a refreshed NZSL Strategy this year.

MSD and Whaikaha would also like to acknowledge and thank the Deaf community and Tāngata Turi Māori for their significant time and effort engaging in community consultations on potential amendments to the NZSL Act 2006.