Aotearoa Deaf Clubs (Round 6)

A review was completed of all 13 Deaf Clubs in New Zealand. Each club received a summary of their own findings and general comments.

Main points that resulted from the review:


  • The population of each region was obtained from Statistics NZ 2022. There is no data available around the number of Deaf per region, only the number of hearing impaired, which was obtained from the 2013 Disability census. The number of NZSL users was obtained from the 2018 Census.
  • Membership fluctuates across the various clubs, with one club, Deaf Society of Canterbury, reporting a constant increase in membership with now over 400 members. Several of the clubs were deciding whether to charge a fee or provide free membership. Deaf Society of Canterbury reported that when they charged a fee, they had only 80 members, once it was free, the membership grew every year.  Some clubs reported that they are struggling with membership as it is steadily declining, and they worry about the future of their club.

 Deaf children

  • Most of the clubs had some connections with Parents of Deaf Children groups or First Signs and other organisations, or they provided a variety of family activities to encourage children to access the club with their parents and be exposed to more NZSL.
  • Otago Deaf Club has a combined Christmas party with the Otago Parents of Deaf Children.

 Māori Deaf

  • There were only two clubs who reported a strong connection with their Māori Community.  Many clubs reported that there was a lack of interest from Maori Deaf members and a lack of Deaf leadership. There are not many clubs engage with Tu Tangata Turi.


  • Many clubs struggle with getting volunteers for their Boards or committees. There were comments from some of the larger clubs, around ensuring that they have the right skilled people on the Board, and that Boards need to undertake Governance training on a regular basis.
  • Funding was a major issue, with many clubs relying on one or two people to keep the club active. This impacts their ability and time to apply for funding from various organisations.  If the key people in these clubs step down, the clubs face closure unless there are people willing to take over. Also, many clubs reported that their funding applications were often declined, and it would be good to see perhaps the NZSL Board have more funding streams, for things like equipment, admin support, rather than mainly focusing on projects
  • Clubs are finding it a challenge to keep the clubs relevant to the community, with a rise in technology that young people are embracing
  • Only four clubs felt that their club was financially healthy


  • All the clubs except for South Auckland, either had a Facebook page, newsletter, or website. Only three clubs had websites, other clubs expressed a desire to set one up, but lacked the funding or expertise on how to do this
  • Covid had a major impact on clubs, due to the lack of being able to get together.  Some clubs used zoom and other technology to stay in contact, however some older people in the Deaf community were not familiar with the technology


  • Most of the clubs are struggling to encourage youth to attend or get involved. This is the future of Deaf clubs, without the youth connecting with the clubs, the future is uncertain. Wellington Deaf Society had coordinated an annual National Deaf Youth camp where people could meet other Deaf youth, develop a strong identity, and generate an interest in the Deaf community and Deaf clubs.
  • Many clubs expressed a desire to connect more. Some felt the Aotearoa Deaf Club Facebook page wasn’t well supported and there seemed to be a lack of commitment and responses. There is an opportunity to be able to make the page full of important and relevant information sharing for all clubs.
  • There were various clubs offering NZSL classes, such as ADS (Auckland Deaf Society) that runs 14 classes, connecting with tutors who then often encourage students to attend Deaf club.

 Deaf sports

  • Most of the clubs reported that they have far fewer sports teams now, than in the past, often due to lack of leadership or people to coordinate. There was not a lot of sports competitions between the clubs.

 Suggestions or initiatives reported during the review:

  •  South Auckland sometimes runs classes for men on things like domestic duties, cooking or changing nappies, to help empower their members.
  • Deaf Society of Canterbury has positioned itself as a ‘hub’ for emergency management, disaster planning and communication
  • Otago Deaf Club combines their Christmas Party with Otago Parents of Deaf Children
  • There seemed to be various skills within the leaders of different Deaf clubs, and an opportunity for people to be able to share their skills with the wider Deaf clubs in NZ.  For e.g. – there are accountants within the leadership of some clubs.  Their skills and ability could be shared across all Deaf clubs, using a central hub of information in NZSL.  There could be a variety of NZSL videos that clubs could access if they needed more information, such as:
    • Constitutions and requirements
    • Legalities and obligations of being a Registered Charity
    • How to set up bank accounts
    • Human Resources
    • Strategic Planning
    • Governance
    • How to apply for funding and from where
    • Setting up websites or social media
    • It would great to see clubs engaging with each other and sharing information and ideas between clubs, about what is working well and what isn’t.

General comment

Many Deaf clubs are finding it very difficult to find new leaders and people willing to commit to the running of the clubs. Without succession plans in place, and the willingness of people to step into coordinating roles, some clubs could face closure, especially when we have an ageing population and require new young people to take over. 

 All of this impacts the access to, and use of NZSL in Aotearoa.  Without Deaf clubs as a space where the culture and language can thrive, there is a risk for NZSL in the future.  There is a great opportunity for Deaf clubs to be supported to thrive, with extra funding and access to appropriate skills and learning.