As the only hearing member of his family, Titirangi-based Damiano Agnew truly understands the importance of sign language, having learned from birth how to communicate using hands and facial expressions.

The 18-year-old New Zealand Cadet Forces (NZCF) cadet and Green Bay High School student said he didn’t think it was unusual as he knew no other way to talk to the rest of his family.

“We are probably the largest deaf family in New Zealand and I’m the only hearing member. It felt normal as I knew nothing else. I actually didn’t speak much until I got to primary school.”

New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) became an official language of New Zealand in 2006 and 21-27th September is New Zealand Sign Language Week. Approximately 11,000 deaf people use NZSL as their primary form of communication and in total about 20,000 New Zealanders use it.

Cadet Agnew is also a qualified sign language teacher and takes classes to show how important it is to be able to converse with people who have a hearing impairment.

“It’s hard for deaf people to get work, for example.”

Cadet Agnew is in his final year at Green Bay High School and is looking at a few options for the future. He has applied to join the Royal New Zealand Air Force and is also looking at biomedical engineering at Auckland University.

He joined No. 3 Squadron Air Cadets because he was fascinated with all things military.

“I’ve always been drawn to the military. It’s been something I’d looked at for a long time. When I joined Cadets three years ago it was an interesting option to be involved and have exposure to something different and I’ve really enjoyed it.”

There’s always the option of a career in beekeeping too.

“I love bees, they’re fascinating. My father got a job as a beekeeper and I started going along with him and it’s brilliant.”

Whatever the future holds for him, New Zealand Sign Language is going to remain a large part of his life.

“The deaf community is very tight and I’m very proud to be part of it.”

For more information on New Zealand Sign Language go to www.deaf.org.nz(external link)

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