The oldest Deaf club in the country celebrates 100 years as a “home away from home” for the deaf.
The Canterbury Deaf Society started with just eight members in 1922, but now has over 400 people involved, many of whom have witnessed the huge shift in signature acceptance and deaf culture.
Among the group is a family with three generations involved: John Ferguson, his daughter Joyce Stokell and his six-year-old son, Otto.
For each of them, it’s a really important place.
“There is no other place we can go as a member of the deaf community, it is a place where we can use our own language and still be comfortable with ourselves,” said Stokell said.
When the club started in 1922, sign language was not universally accepted and was widely used in secret.
“Access has improved,” Ferguson said, “previously we were very oral, we weren’t allowed to sign, it was hidden, we hid around school buildings, we would smack if we signed.”
One of the older members, Patty Still, has similar memories.
“We weren’t allowed to sign growing up, you weren’t allowed to be deaf growing up, you had to be like a hearing person…it was hard, I just did it,” the man from 89 years old. .
Sign language has become a official language in 2006recognition that required 20 years of work.
Ruth Dyson was MP for Canterbury at the time and Minister for Disability Issues.
She said: “The passage of this bill will mark a major reversal in the suppression of the language and culture of the deaf community.
“This will be an important step towards realizing our vision of an inclusive society.”
At the time, the NZSL was thought to be used by around 28,000 people, of whom around 7,000 were deaf.
Now the government says it is the first language of five thousand Kiwis and widely used by 23 thousand.
Earlier this month, 1News revealed that the government is considering changes to New Zealand’s Sign Language Act 2006, and for the first time deaf Kiwis will be able to consult on the changes through a process in their tongue.
There are 13 deaf clubs across the country, the Canterbury Deaf Society is not only the oldest, but also one of the largest.
Members gathered earlier this month to celebrate the club’s centenary and chairman Craig Finsden said they reflect on how far they have come.
“It’s changed yes it’s adapted, we used to have a lot of sports groups now we have inclusive social events, craft events, lawn bowls, lots of different groups
“Big changes, acceptance of sign language and we’ve had to adapt as the language develops, we need to be more creative in how we express ourselves,” he said .
Always told 1News she would be lost without the club.
“It’s my home, and I don’t think I’d be happy without it.”
The club hopes it will continue to exist as a second home for the deaf community for another hundred years and beyond.