'We miss out': Deaf Māori plead for more trilingual sign language interpreters

Standing beside the Prime Minister, working in times of disaster, but also entertainment at concerts like Eminem's - sign language interpreters often find themselves in the spotlight.

But for New Zealand's deaf community, it's helping with everyday tasks that makes the work of interpreters crucial.

However there is a shortage of interpreters, in particular those who are trilingual - speaking English, sign language and te reo Māori.

Sign language interpreter Shannon McKenzie says the freelance profession is highly rewarding for those who make it their job. 

"In hospitals, court, at doctor's appointments, things like that, it can be really interesting stuff, you know, you can be part of an arrest," he said.

"When you really nail it, even if it was something bad happening, they were equal and there weren't barriers."

Sign language became an official language of New Zealand in 2006, but there are only about 110 interpreters - a number Disability Issues Minister Carmel Sepuloni admits is "not enough".

It takes three years of training to become an interpreter, and there's a huge need for interpreters who can speak Te Reo.

Sign language user Eric Matthews said there have been lots of experiences when he's gone to his local marae and found it "really tough".

"There are not many Māori trilingual interpreters, so we really feel blocked and that we miss out. There's a gap there," he said.

Eric Matthews is deaf and learned sign language when he was four. He says there's only one trilingual interpreter in the country, and that creates a huge barrier for deaf Māori.  

"What I'd really like to see in the future is lots of trilingual interpreters, so that we can book a variety of people to come and we don't get stuck in the same way we do now," Matthews said.

The Minister is aware of the problem and says it's something that needs to be given more consideration.

It's a crucial job that ensures everyone can be part of the conversation.


Contact Newshub with your story tips: