Supermarket to trial 'sign language aisle'

The trial will start on September 14.
The trial will start on September 14. Photo credit: Getty

By Tracy Neal of RNZ

A Nelson supermarket is to trial a dedicated sign language aisle at its checkout.

The trial is being driven by Hearing Nelson, which offered advice and support to the hard-of-hearing and their whānau.

Hearing Nelson said masks and perspex screens used as barriers against COVID-19 were causing significant problems for people with hearing problems.

President Connie Charleton said many relied on lip-reading, but anyone who struggled to hear people behind masks and screens might also benefit from the trial which would include sign language posters at the checkout.

Charleton said the idea sprung from a conversation with friends.

"We were discussing COVID - as you do, and one in particular who's hard-of-hearing said how difficult it was to hear with the perspex barrier in the supermarket.

"Another piped up and said she could hear well and still had difficulty."

Charleton said the problems grew with people encouraged to wear masks.

"Being hard-of-hearing myself, I read lips quite a lot, so I got to thinking about how we could help the hard-of-hearing - which is what Hearing Nelson is all about - how can we help those people to communicate."

She said it was also a good way to mark Sign Language Week later this month. Sign language was made an official New Zealand language in 2006.

Charleton said the trial was one way to help make the hard-of-hearing feel appreciated, valued and welcomed by society at a difficult time.

She said checkout staff at the supermarket were being trained in basic sign language, and posters displaying sign language would be placed in the aisle.

"People who choose to use that aisle can talk if they wish but also use sign language to communicate.

"It will be just basic things like 'hello', and 'have you got your clubcard', 'have you got a shopping bag' - just little things like that, that make it easy to go through the checkout."

Charleton said the trial had been approved by the supermarket chain head office, and it had been embraced by the store's manager.

"I think once people get over the initial shyness of using a different language - once they get into the swing of things, it will work well."

She hoped the Hearing Nelson initiative would be taken up nationally.

The trial will start at the New World supermarket in Nelson on September 14.

RNZ