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Air New Zealand crew take sign language sky-high for New Zealand Sign Language Week

Air New Zealand is proving New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) can be used anywhere in Aotearoa – even 35,000 feet in the air.

In a world-first to mark the beginning of NZSL Week, which runs from 6-12 May, the airline today operated a flight where cabin crew used NZSL to communicate with customers, including signing the inflight passenger announcements and onboard service offerings.

Customers on NZ421 from Auckland to Wellington were encouraged to give NZSL a go, with illustration cards featuring signs for popular inflight items like “water”, “cookie” and “lolly” placed on seats. The five flight attendants operating the flight all had at least a basic knowledge of NZSL.

The initiative was led by Air New Zealand’s Enable Network, an internal group supporting employees who have a personal disability or care for someone with a disability. Air New Zealand Senior Aircraft Programmes Manager and Enable Network Lead, Ed Collett, said the airline had been working hard to enable more employees to use NZSL.

“We’re thrilled we could support NZSL Week and recognise its importance as an official language of Aotearoa by encouraging our crew to show their signing skills on this flight.

“Last year, we worked with Deaf Aotearoa to create an NZSL training module for our people, giving them the opportunity to learn 30 travel-related signs.

“It’s been hugely popular, with around 400 Air New Zealanders completing it. Customers can look out for crew wearing the special NZSL Supporter lapel pin, which indicates the wearer has started their NZSL journey.”

Around 30 customers onboard the flight were travelling to Wellington to attend the NZSL Awards hosted at Parliament.

NZSL Week ambassador Jon Tai-Rakena, who was among them, said the initiative was a great step towards better inclusion for the Deaf community.

“I love to fly and go to new places, but travelling as a Deaf person can feel isolating at times. This flight demonstrates a level of inclusion that makes Deaf people feel seen and welcomed onboard. It was exciting to be part of it and I hope there will be more NZSL in the sky and on the ground as Kiwis start to adopt more of our beautiful language.”

Deaf Aotearoa Chief Executive Lachlan Keating, who was also onboard the flight, said it was great to see so many Air New Zealand crew and customers using NZSL.

“This year’s theme for NZSL Week is ‘an Aotearoa where anyone can sign anywhere’, and there was no better example of this than on NZ421 today.

“The more Kiwis incorporate NZSL into their everyday lives, the more inclusive our society is for our Deaf community.”

For more information and to get involved, visit nzslweek.org.nz

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