Around 1990 the New Zealand Association of the Deaf (NZAD; Deaf Aotearoa as it is known today) Executive was debating how to develop the capacity for New Zealand Deaf people to teach NZSL more successfully, meaning more hearing people could learn the language and staff and interpreters could also benefit. Initial plans included hiring a “Communication Trainer” to support existing tutors to improve their skills, and to develop new tutors. Finding a suitable trainer proved to be too difficult, and so instead from 25th February to 8th March 1991 eight Deaf New Zealanders travelled to London to attend a special intensive two-week training course designed for the Kiwi trainees. Those attending were Dulcie McKie, Paul Buzzard, Rebecca Williams, Ngaire Doherty, Shaun Ruffell, Lindsay Jones, and Royce Flynn.
‘Talking Hands, Listening Eyes’ states that there was much discussion at the national dictionary meeting in May 1990 to decide on a process for nominating those eight attendees.
This video is an edited summary of 11 tapes containing full day recordings of the City Lit (City Literary Institute) proceedings, totalling almost 29 hours of footage. This has been edited into a shorter 10-minute version. The full version is available on request from the archive; please get in touch with SignDNA.
The event had a profound effect on some attendees, with Dulcie writing in her life story, sent to the Victoria University of Wellington Deaf Studies Research Unit towards the end of her life:
“While in London for the training at City Lit, during breaks, I would be out shopping – window-shopping, book browsing or the markets, especially the Convent Garden market. No matter where I went, be it the people on the streets or shop assistants, I found them to be able to communicate and helpful. I felt I was a person in my own right and not a number. It was nice to have a feeling of ‘pride’.
Dulcie also said that after the City Lit training in London, she began to change her style of teaching from Signed English to NZSL.
Upon their return the trainees attended three follow-up workshops in New Zealand, and Melinda Napier, the trainer from City Lit, was brought to New Zealand to assess their progress and provide further training.
The New Zealand Sign Language Tutors Association (now the ‘New Zealand Sign Language Teachers Association’) was formed in 1992, a year after the attendees returned from London, with two attendees in the Steering Committee (Paul Buzzard as Chairperson, and Ngaire Doherty as a committee member).
As a side note, Dulcie described one occasion of realisation during the City Lit training: “At City Lit in London, during a lesson on ‘Food and Drink’ signs, Lindsay Jones of Palmerston North made the New Zealand sign for ‘Coke’ (Coca-Cola). Melinda Napier, our teacher, shot out her index finger asking, “What’s that” with a shocked look on her face. Lindsay was puzzled and fingerspelt “C-O-K-E”. Melinda was horrified and said that the same sign in British Sign Language is rude, meaning SEX. Whereupon a dawn of realisation was on Lindsay’s face. We all said, “What’s the matter?”. Lindsay said, “Now I know why”. Apparently during the World Deaf Games, held in Christchurch in 1989, he was escorting an English Deaf lady, one of the sports people taking part in the Games, and her friend to a pub. He asked what they would like to drink, and the two ladies were dithering, didn’t know what to ask for. Lindsay, trying to be helpful, suggested “Coke” making the New Zealand sign. They both bolted and Lindsay couldn’t understand what he had done wrong. Now he realises the reason…”