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May 8, 2007

Deaf man seeks health board role

From: Auckland - Auckland,New Zealand - May 8, 2007

By REBECCA PALMER - The Dominion Post

Kim Robinson wants to serve on his district health board but faces a significant barrier on the campaign trail – he is deaf.

The Blenheim man, 36, will have to use sign language interpreters to help him communicate effectively with potential voters. He plans to stand for election to the Nelson-Marlborough District Health Board.

"Being deaf or having a hearing loss limits one's ability to fully participate at all levels of politics ... through gaining a seat, I would like to see the disability sector have more representation at that level."

He was not aware of any other deaf people previously serving on district health boards or councils, and understood that if elected to the board, his interpreting costs would be covered.

But Robinson would have to foot the bill for most of the interpreting costs on the campaign trail before October's elections. He said Nelson-Marlborough had no sign language interpreters, so he would need to arrange for them to be flown from Wellington.

Doing so would cost him hundreds of dollars a day in transport costs and fees.

Separate government funding would ensure candidates with disabilities had fair access when competing for elections, he said.

Disability Issues Minister Ruth Dyson said the justice system was the first area where sign language interpreters were made a legal right after the passing of the New Zealand Sign Language Bill last year. Funding would gradually be extended to other sectors such as health and education. "It was a process that we asked the deaf community to advise us on."

New Zealand's first Sign Language Week was launched at Parliament last night. New Zealand sign language was made an official language last year and about 24,000 Kiwis use it.

In 1995, Robinson faulted telecommunications providers for failing to provide a telephone relay service for speech and hearing-impaired people. A relay service was established in 2004.

Robinson has also campaigned for captioned movies in cinemas.

© 2007 Auckland