How to be heard: the story behind Sign Language Week

Breaking down language barriers to engage all New Zealanders in a conversation with our deaf community is a challenge. But that’s exactly what Deaf Aotearoa New Zealand (DANZ) and Wellington design agency Creature hope to do with their new campaign for New Zealand Sign Language Week 2011 that proudly states ‘I am Deaf, Let’s Talk.

Behind this year’s campaign is a journey of nearly seven years in which agency and client have worked together to create a positive and proud brand around being deaf.

“We’ve seen DANZ move from a place where they were not clear about how to be heard, to a place now where they know their message and have found their voice,” says Creature’s design director Janelle Rodrigues. “And what they’re doing now will be challenging attitudes within the hearing community.”

During New Zealand Sign Language Week, which runs from 2-8 May, Kiwis will see a range of initiatives from billboards and bus shelter visuals to video clips, inviting them to engage in a conversation with the deaf community. One initiative is a series of street-level posters featuring three ‘deaf heroes’ —Meghan, Rhian and Karishma—signing ‘I’m Deaf, Let’s Talk, with the final poster in the series containing a link to the campaign website and supporting videos.

For DANZ, which launched New Zealand Sign Language Week in 2007 with minimal funding, this year’s campaign is a dream come true and part of the grunt behind the campaign is a substantial increase in Community Trust funding. Air New Zealand has also come on board and a full-page advertisement will run in Kia Ora magazine’s May issue.

“We are a non-for-profit organisation and have been limited with our marketing capability. Creature has supported us as our team has grown over the past few years,” says the appropriately named DANZ marketing and communications manager Kathryn Heard. “Every year has seen New Zealand Sign Language Week grow and grow not only in terms of funding but in terms of our clarity around our messages and how we get them out to our different audiences. Creature has played a key role in making this happen.”

For Creature, coming on board in 2006 presented them with the unexpected challenges of learning to understand and work with a unique culture, using a whole new language.

“All our meetings have always been in sign language using interpreters, which took a while to get used to. Likewise, it has taken time for us to learn about the organisation and the deaf culture and what it means to be Deaf,” says Creature account director Brooke Ashton-Taylor.

Creature’s original brief was to review the campaign logo and ‘make it look better’. What was obvious was that the organisation and New Zealand Sign Language Week were being marginalised because it had no brand or clarity around its offering.

“Over this period briefs for various jobs came our way. There wasn’t a specifically client-led strategy in place. It was more of an organic process. Creature had a vision to take DANZ and the deaf community to a place where they could own deafness, rather than fighting a battle to be heard. So we worked to align all briefs to what we thought was best for the organisation. I guess it’s about proving that we think about what we are doing and that no client work is completed in isolation of the bigger picture.”

New Zealand Sign Language Week 2011 is not only the realisation of Creature’s vision, but the successful meeting of two cultures with two different languages.

“Creature has become a partner, rather than just a creative agency,” says Heard. “They think holistically about our brand and what messages we need to get out there and have really helped us realise our own strength.”


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