Providers and partners

Assistance for deaf or hard of hearing (DHH) students

Signer (SR – signer)


Many DHH students are capable readers in English or Te Reo Māori and will need no assistance to read assessment questions.

An entitlement to a signer can be approved by NZQA where the student:

  • uses New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) as their first or most accessible language
  • has a lower reading age than their hearing peers and will need assistance to read assessment questions

The signer can use a combination of reading/translation techniques to support the student based on the student’s specific needs. This can include New Zealand Sign Language, Sign Supported English or Clear Speech Techniques.

Where the full text is translated into NZSL, two exam assistants may be needed: the reader and the signer.


In addition, some DHH students will face writing barriers, particularly those students for whom NZSL is their preferred language. For these students, an entitlement to a signer can be approved by NZQA.

To address the writing barrier, the student will sign the answers to the signer. The signer can either

  • write the answers signed by the student or
  • speak the answers to enable a writer/ typist to write/type the answers. In this case, two exam assistants will be needed (the signer and the writer/typist).

Care needs to be taken to accurately translate the student’s sign production into its English equivalent to ensure authenticity.

In some cases, a student may choose to write for themselves as this best supports their thinking process but, where spelling is a barrier, they may request fingerspelling support (the representation of individual letters using the NZSL alphabet).

Supervisor who is capable of signing (SS – signing supervisor)

In assessment sessions where a DHH student is using a signer, the student will be separately accommodated. The signer will be able to communicate any assessment instructions, respond to general questions and communicate any emergency instructions.

In assessment sessions where one or more DHH students are being supervised but signing support in reading and/or writing is not required by the students, an entitlement to a signing supervisor can be approved by NZQA.

The signing supervisor ensures that any spoken instructions given to all students are signed for DHH students, that DHH students can communicate any questions they may have and that DHH students can receive any instructions in an emergency. 

Separate Accommodation for DHH students

Considerations for DHH students auditory and visual needs can include:

  • Adequate lighting for accessing visual cues, lip-reading on reader’s face including backlighting considerations- e.g. bright sun behind reader will mean face is darkened.
  • Limiting visual distractions e.g. movement from outside the room
  • Familiarity with the reader’s voice- pitch, volume, accent.
  • Seating arrangements to ensure optimal visual and auditory access e.g. does the reader sit alongside or across from the student. This needs to be done in consultation with the student.


New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL)

This is a Visual-Gestural language that has a different linguistic structure to English. The signs that are used convey meaning through hand-shape, orientation, movement and location.

Accompanying these signs are facial grammar, expression, use of space, a system of body posture and usually the absence of voice.

Sign supported English 

An oral mode of communication with the addition of key signs. These signs provide visual access to words and phrases which allows the student to utilise his/her visual literacy skills.

The signs are used simultaneously with speech to provide the most meaning during communication. The linguistic structure of Sign Supported English is English.

Clear Speech techniques

These include the reader speaking words and sentences in a precise, accurate and fully formed manner. It is normally a little louder and slower than everyday speech. Clear Speech strategies can include:

  • acoustic highlighting
  • pointing to text while reading
  • awareness of matching tone and facial expression to reflect the meaning of the text (you may need separate accommodation to ensure other students are not disturbed).
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