Community, Coffee & Connection
Updated: Aug 25
The Otago Deaf Society are about creating a supportive space for Dunedin’s Deaf community to connect and be themselves. We talk to committee member Amy Taylor about their NZSL coffee group and the Society’s aspirations.
What is the focus of the Otago Deaf Society?
We give time and space to people in the community…People need those face-to-face interactions and the friendship connections.
We put on regular events and provide a hall [which is] a hub for people to come. It’s a place to make coffee and for people to sit together. It’s very much a base for the Deaf community in Dunedin.
What is it like to attend one of the Society’s NZSL Coffee Groups?
I think initially it can be quite intimidating if you’re not part of the community…coming into a room with a whole lot of Deaf people who are signing, and they are loud. But once you are part of it, it’s a really awesome community.
It’s also a nice treat for people. We sponsor people to have a coffee - it doesn’t cost them anything. They just come along and everybody chats. Some of it’s in sign language and some of it’s in english... It’s about making connections and having a fun time with your friends.
It is hugely intergenerational! And, it is great for people to have that intergenerational interaction… For the older people, especially through covid, they have been very isolated. Also, a lot of younger people have more connections to the hearing community…thanks to really good hearing aids and cochlear implants... So it sort of bridges a gap.
I’ve met people I never would have met, in an intergenerational sense. There are people that come along for whom NZSL is their first language and english their second…with huge life experience. [They have] so much to give, so much to learn from.
Was the coffee group the way you first connected with the Otago Deaf Society?
Yes. I’ve got to say I stood outside the door a long time before I was brave enough to walk in. But I’m so glad I did it.
What kept you outside the door for so long?
Because I’m not profoundly Deaf, there was a long time that I felt like – am I in or am I out? I think there are a huge number of people that feel that way…There is often a stigma that goes with having hearing loss can make it difficult to want to be part of the Deaf community but… if you can put aside those stigmas you can get a lot out of it.
Why are events like this so important?
We must not underestimate the toll on mental health that being Deaf can have. What matters is the man who is profoundly Deaf, who hasn’t seen anybody all week, who has now had a conversation in his own language and a social interaction. His mental health status has been lifted. Maybe he goes out that afternoon with a bit more confidence. And maybe he feels like - I can go out in the community…and greet my neighbours.
[Coffee groups are] a very economical way of making a big difference. It’s not rocket science, it’s just a group of people getting together and speaking their own language and socialising.
Do you have tips for people wanting to get a local Deaf coffee group off the ground in their own area?
Talk to people and don’t rely entirely on Facebook or online [channels]. I think the people who came before me at Otago Deaf Society, did a lot of getting in the car and talking to people...saying ‘we are going to have this event; I can organise a taxi chit for you if you’d like to come along.’
Remember that you might have to send a letter, you won’t be able to make a phone call necessarily. If you once had a Deaf club in your local area...check the list of members, they might want to be involved again.
Also, with intergenerational [interactions]…it is important to remember that it’s different for each generation. That’s something that we in the younger generation can get wrong again and again. The younger members of the community who are more engaged with the hearing community can at times make unfounded assumptions - not necessarily hearing the voices of the older members. If you are setting up a new club, make sure you respect how things were. Things may have changed, but don’t forget how things have influenced people. We have the privilege of Deaf culture because they [the generations before us] fought so hard.
When is the next NZSL Coffee Group being held in Dunedin?
The next event is on Saturday 27th August, 2pm at Otago Museum café. All are welcome!
These events generally run on the last Saturday of the month. Find out more by joining the Otago Deaf Society’s “NZSL Users group - Dunedin” and the Otago Deaf Society’s community page on Facebook to stay up to date.