The Sign Language Interpreters Association of New Zealand (SLIANZ Inc.) was incorporated in 1997.
The first training course for interpreters was offered in 1985, under the NZ Association of the Deaf. No further pre-service training was held until 1992, when a two-year Diploma course at Auckland University of Technology (formerly Auckland Institute of Technology) was established.
In 2011, the Diploma programme was replaced by a three-year Bachelors degree at AUT, re-setting the national standard for entry to the profession as a degree.
Unlike some countries, New Zealand has never had a stand-alone testing system to accredit sign language interpreters; qualification is by completion of the training course at AUT.
Since the early 1990s, the profession has grown steadily and standards of practice have advanced as local expertise has developed and exposure to international models of practice and training have increased. Nevertheless, challenges remain in meeting the level of demand for interpreting services, and in increasing consumer understanding about the role and value of interpreters as professionals who are trained to facilitate communications between Deaf and hearing people. Formal standards for, and recognition of, advanced or specialised interpreting skills is another challenge yet to be met.
In April 2006 the New Zealand Sign Language Act gave official recognition to NZSL, alongside Māori and English. For most of the 20th century, NZSL was stigmatised within society, leaving Deaf people reluctant to use sign language in public. The NZSL Act did not directly increase provision for interpreting, but highlighted the Deaf community's historical exclusion from proper access to education and public life through sign language. The development of interpreting services, and of a professional identity via SLIANZ, have in turn helped raise the profile of NZSL and contributed to changing public understanding about Deaf people by enabling greater participation in public domains.
Deaf New Zealanders now generally regard communication access via an interpreter as their right, and hearing people interacting with Deaf people are increasingly likely to consider this the right thing to do. The expectation of using qualified, competent interpreters is strengthened by the NZSL Act, especially in the government sector.
SLIANZ maintains partnerships with consumer and professional interpreter organisations nationally and internationally that share the goal of achieving quality interpreting service as a key component in advancing the human rights of Deaf sign language users.
Dr Rachel Locker McKee
Founding president of SLIANZ