Jennifer Brain received the Queens Service Medal in 2007 for services to the New Zealand Deaf Community. Jennifer is well known for her leadership with the New Zealand Association for the Deaf (NZAD). Jennifer became the first Deaf Leadership Tutor promoting community and Deaf youth leadership, before becoming the first Deaf Chief Executive Officer in 1999. Through her work, Jennifer was ahead of her time with the strategic planning of many Deaf community projects including Deaf awareness and Deaf leadership. She advocated for Deaf rights, education and the improvement of communication between Deaf and hearing people. Her tireless efforts strengthened the Association to become a Deaf-led organisation.

  • Life Stories/People

Jennifer as a School Dental Nurse

Jennifer as a Dental Nurse, 1964.

Jennifer Brain with her husband, Ken Brain. 1991 Deaf View Conference. (Source: Kelston Deaf Education Centre)

Jennifer Brain (nee Shearer) studied at the Auckland School of Dental Nursing for two years and received the State School Dental Nurse Diploma. This was exceptional because it was extremely rare for a Deaf person to achieve at tertiary level in New Zealand at that time as there were no interpreters or notetaker services available. Jennifer began at the Kelston Primary School dental clinic, just a walking distance to Kelston School for the Deaf. Both Deaf and hearing children came into her clinic, and this was the start of her passion for working with Deaf children.

Jennifer in Deaf Education

1992, Kelston staff get together for a student and family support meeting. (Source: Kelston Deaf Education Centre)

Deaf Leadership Training led by Phil Harper on September 13, 1991. (Source: Kelston Deaf Education Centre)

1991, Jennifer with Melinda Napier, a Sign Language Tutor from England. (Source: Kelston Deaf Education Centre)

After many years of raising a large family, Jennifer returned to work at the Kelston School for the Deaf as a full-time residential social worker (RSW), looking after Deaf students in the boarding school and then in the residential village. Jennifer was soon promoted to an Acting Senior RSW role. Jennifer worked hard to create links between Deaf residential students, parents and professionals and to introduce Deaf adults as role models for the students. With a new restructure of the centre, Jennifer was appointed as a Deaf Resource Co-ordinator. This unique role saw Jennifer work with Deaf children throughout the northern half of the North Island, from Northland to Turangi. Jennifer introduced the new concept of Deaf Awareness training workshops to change societal attitudes towards Deaf people and NZSL. She later developed Deaf youth leadership programmes to develop confidence and leadership in Deaf students.

The first Deaf Chief Executive Officer

New Zealand Association for the Deaf Friends for the Young Deaf team. (Source: Chris Blum)

1991 Deaf View Conference Committee. (Source: Kelston Deaf Education Centre)

Jennifer Brain as the CEO of the Deaf Association of New Zealand, 2001. (Source: Talking Hands, Listening Eyes)

Jennifer started her involvement with the New Zealand Association for the Deaf (NZAD) when she became a delegate for the New Zealand Deaf Children’s Network in 1982-1983. Jennifer was then elected as vice-president of the board in 1984 and again in 1988 before becoming President in 1991-1993. Through her Deaf education connections it was a major breakthrough for the NZAD to work with Deaf education services, and it gave them and the Deaf community a strong voice in Deaf education for the first time. In 1994, Jennifer became the first Deaf Leadership tutor, promoting community and youth Deaf leadership throughout New Zealand. Jennifer progressed in various roles before becoming the first Deaf Chief Executive Officer of NZAD in 1999. She initiated many various programmes related to Deaf awareness and advocacy. Her significant achievements were the strategic development of NZSL tutor training, the NZSL Dictionary, developing training for sign language interpreters, community leadership and developing Deaf Awareness Week. A highlight of her leadership was the hosting of the first Deaf View conference in 1991. Deaf View had a strong impact on Deaf awareness, acceptance and pride in Deaf culture and identity amongst the Deaf participants from all over New Zealand.