Friday, May 6, 2011

New Zealand encourages country to get fluent in sign language

From East & Bays Courier in NZ:

Ryan and Fallon Simchowitz (pictured) have lived in a world of silence their entire lives – but the brother and sister say that's where the difference between them and the hearing world ends.

The St Heliers residents and their parents are all deaf.

The family uses sign language as its primary form of communication. They also use lip reading, notes and even had a hearing dog – who has recently decided to retire.

It is New Zealand Sign Language Week and Ryan and Fallon are encouraging all Kiwis to do a taster class to get a glimpse into what it is like to be deaf.

"Deaf people can do anything," Fallon told the East & Bays Courier through a sign language interpreter.

"They can get through any barriers – the oppression comes from hearing people."

Ryan says people think deaf is disabled.

"But that's not what we feel. `We can do everything apart from hear."

The 21-year-old has travelled Europe by himself, nearly completed a university degree and is a keen sportsman. Fallon is also an avid traveller and is studying for a bachelor in early childhood education.

They say nothing gets in their way.

When they are shopping or travelling they will write notes on paper or on their phones if they need to communicate.

"Our parents grew up in the hearing world so they learnt how to communicate and passed that on to us," Ryan says.

Fallon says sign language is a vital tool that allows her to freely communicate with other deaf people.

When she was 11 she received a cochlear implant after watching Ryan, who has better hearing than her, communicate more easily with his friends. The 19-year-old says it's made her more confident in the "hearing world", as she calls it.

She attended Kelston Primary and intermediate, which both have a deaf unit, and went to Selwyn College for high school.

"It was really hard for me in my first year," she says.

"I grew up in a deaf school and it took me a while to move to the hearing world but I managed to make some good friends and they were interested in learning sign language.

"It's worth it to teach them so they can feel what it's like to be a deaf person."

More than 29,000 New Zealanders use sign language either fully or partially in their day-to-day lives.

Throughout NZSL Week there will be a range of regional events, school-based educational activities and free sign language classes.