Signing for solidarity

Signing for solidarity

As we marked NZ Sign Language Week, Janet Stokes, one of our first Deaf delegates, told Te Mahinga Ora about her mahi for the union and Deaf community.

Can you tell us about your work as a delegate?

I strongly advocate for my members and ensure that all documents are translated for our Deaf members whose first language is NZ Sign Language (NZSL). I make sure that information is given in an accessible way for all our members, and also ensure their terms and conditions are being met.


Ko Taku Reo is basically a Special Residential School for Deaf children.

I have had various roles within the school over the past 24 years.

I was originally employed as a Language Assistant, Deaf Bilingual Bicultural Associate and now Deaf Studies Support. I used to work directly with Deaf students on site. Currently my job involves creating resources and running the museum archives.


At work we have Deaf staff and Deaf students, and hearing staff. NZSL is recognised in our workplace and is strongly encouraged by all.

I am a fluent user of both NZSL and English so I can communicate in both languages. It really depends on the people and whether I can understand them or not. If I can’t understand the person I will resort to writing or typing the message, or get an interpreter.

For my delegate work, I always have an interpreter present as I cannot follow group conversations. Lip-reading is not an exact science – about 80% is guesswork and filling in the blanks.


I was born Deaf and will be all my life, and my husband is Deaf too. We use NZSL daily to communicate with each other and the Deaf Community.

I also use other technologies such as flashing lights and vibrations for alarms and notifications. I make phone calls via a relay centre that uses Skype or Zoom to make calls. The centre has NZSL interpreters on standby to interpret the calls.


It helps raise awareness of our language and our Deaf community and culture, in the same way as Māori or Pacific language weeks.

Main photo caption: Delegates from Special Residential Schools including Janet Stokes (seated right) sign solidarity during bargaining

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