Deaf Aotearoa

Deaf Aotearoa is a national organisation representing the voice of Deaf people in NZ, and the national service provider for Deaf people in New Zealand. The organisation has 14 offices throughout NZ and provides services to the community, meeting the needs of Deaf people of all ages. Adult Community Education is an important part of the services they have on offer.

The community education courses are coordinated by the staff in the local offices and are in response to community need. Bridget Ferguson is the General Manager, Services. She says the courses on offer vary from region to region and aim to meet the needs of the local Deaf community. In the past year they provided over 8000 learning hours on a range of courses – for example men’s health, understanding wills and planning funerals, first aid training and upholstery.

It is a challenge to be able to pull all the staff together and provide opportunities to learn from each other and upskill. Although the organisation has video technology that allows staff to connect via Skype, nothing, says Bridget, beats face to face learning and interactions.

Last year, with a professional development grant from ACE Aotearoa, Deaf Aotearoa ran a two day workshop for all the facilitators. It was led by Bridget (who is a trained teacher and has worked in the Deaf sector for over 25 years), along with Pollyanna Ferguson an experienced Deaf teacher of the Deaf and Dr Rowena Brown from MSD. The focus of the professional development was learning about the importance of being a reflective practitioner and the direct benefits that reflection can have on work in the community. They also discussed the role of tutor, especially in relation to weaving literacy and numeracy through all courses. Now the facilitators have an understanding of the importance of developing learning opportunities that teach literacy and numeracy through a variety of topics.

During the training sessions the staff had time to work in small groups and discuss how the new learning applied to their work in the organisation. The facilitators were guided through discussions to reflect on how the organisation can better meet the needs of the diverse range of needs within the Deaf community.

Since the training the facilitators have worked under the guidance of their team leaders to incorporate what they have learned into their daily practice. Through Deaf Aotearoa’s internal online network and through service team meetings it is now possible to provide more follow-up and support for facilitators, so if someone has an issue that they are struggling with the team can work a solution out together – and staff working in isolation can get all the support they need.

“Reflective practice,” says Bridget, “not only benefits the tutors, it benefits the learners too. We’ve found that since the national workshop our tutors are far more confident. If they are not getting through to a particular learner they can discuss the problem and fix it. Learning with peers is the key and I think we are far more responsive to the community now.”

Learner benefits are already apparent. When the tutors for the community courses are more effective, Deaf learners become more confident.

“For many we’ve opened up their educational sphere,” says Bridget. “So it is important for mainstream ACE providers to create accessible learning environments for Deaf and hard of hearing learners. This can be done via iSign interpreters, but ideally the learning is more effective when the instruction is direct and presented in NZSL by a Deaf presenter or a person fluent in NZSL to the Deaf learner.”

ACE tutors can find an interpreter through iSign:

Article from ACE Aotearoa Autumn Newsletter 2018.