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March 10, 2006

Sign language backed for implant baby

From: - Wellington,New Zealand - Mar 10, 2006

A deaf Hamilton boy's agonising wait for a cochlear implant has created a debate about whether deaf children should make more use of sign language.


The Waikato Times reported on Saturday how one-year-old James King is stranded on a public waiting list for a $50,000 implant.

Mother Robyn King called for more Health Ministry funding so children such as James can get help before their ability to learn to speak is permanently affected.

But Deaf Association New Zealand said children like James needed to learn sign language from an early age.

Spokeswoman Amanda Everitt said she was not against cochlear implants, but it was a common misconception that they were a cure for deafness. They should be seen more as a technical aid. What could help James in the meantime was sign language.

"This is a tragic missed opportunity," she said.

"If the medical profession had given Robyn and James access to New Zealand Sign Language, Robyn and James would be able to communicate with one another while they wait for a cochlear implant operation."

Miss Everitt said early use of sign language helped form linguistic, educational and social skills.

She said there were about 27,000 users of sign language, about 7000 of them deaf.

Last month Parliament's New Zealand Sign Language Bill proclaiming it an official language of New Zealand passed its second reading in parliament. Mrs King said James did use some sign language and would always do as he would be deaf when he wasn't wearing the implant.

But she preferred him to speak so he could attend a normal school.

"If you have a child wouldn't you rather the child can talk to you than use sign language?" she said.

Meanwhile, several people have approached the Times about setting up an appeal to help James. The Lion Foundation has expressed an interest, Coroglen Cafe has kicked in $100 to start. A Hamilton man who preferred not to give his name has offered a further $500.

© Fairfax New Zealand Limited 2006