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Four people hold up 'peace' signs or give thumbs up to the camera, in front of a sign that reads: World Federation of the Deaf, WFD

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Four people hold up 'peace' signs or give thumbs up to the camera, in front of a sign that reads: World Federation of the Deaf, WFD.

Five lessons Aotearoa can learn from the World Federation of the Deaf Congress

The beauty of being surrounded by Deaf culture at the World Congress of the World Federation of the Deaf helped Cha’nel Kaa-Luke realise how much more of it she wanted.

  • In the month of July I had one of the most fulfilling times in my life. A number of firsts for me: flying overseas (other than Australia), stepping foot into Asia and experiencing the international Deaf community. It was through flying hands, unknown faces and the beauty of being surrounded by ‘Deaf’ that I realised how much more of this I wanted.

    Being thrust into the Youth General Assembly (YGA) to represent Aotearoa and attending the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD) Congress, made me question my entire existence. The room was never silent, you couldn’t tell who was what and who was from where - we all embodied the community of what it meant to be Deaf, a sign language user, hard of hearing, a CODA, an interpreter - whichever label is used, we were it. It was our time and boy did we shine.

    WFD Congress is a major event held every four years where Deaf and hard of hearing individuals, organisations, advocates and stakeholders gather to discuss and address critical issues affecting the global Deaf community. The Congress serves as a platform for sharing knowledge, best practices and innovations related to Deaf rights, sign language recognition, education, accessibility and social inclusion. It also involves the election of WFD leadership and setting the organisation's strategic direction for the next four years. 

Image description: A group of around 30 young people smile at the camera and make a heart shape with their hands.

  • A group of around 30 young people smile at the camera and make a heart shape with their hands
  • Youth General Assembly is a specific component of the WFD Congress focused on young Deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals. It provides a dedicated space for Deaf youth from around the world to come together, share their experiences, and engage in discussions about issues relevant to their age group. The Youth General Assembly aims to empower young Deaf people, promote their leadership skills, and encourage their active involvement in advocating for their rights and shaping the future of the global Deaf community. 

    So, why on earth should Aotearoa care about this? How is it relevant to our like corner of the earth? Well, I think we could be taking some tips from an international event like this...


    The platform dedicated to Deaf and hard-of-hearing people was achieved on an international stage that takes place every four years on top of planning, communications and organisation. Should we really be waiting this long to participate and feel heard on global issues in an accessible way? What about nationally and locally - how can everyone, as a collective, be helping to strengthen these spaces? Perhaps take a page out of WFD’s book and reflect on human rights. 


    The space was set up to be Deaf-centered - I had never before seen this be done so successfully on such a large scale. Being around other people who experience similar types of issues on the other side of the world was so fulfilling. Knowing we weren’t alone in our struggles and knowing what change was being pushed for truly lifted my soul. This is a type of feeling that everyone should be privy to in their own communities. We’re strong in numbers and we feed off each other. Let this feeling be the reason you allow for people to experience these things. 

Image description: Eight young people are sitting at a restaurant table enjoying a meal and drinks.

  • Eight young people are sitting at a restaurant table enjoying a meal and drinks.
  • Networking and collaboration

    The space facilitated and gave so much opportunity to network with a variety of people across the globe from academics, film-makers, actors, journalists, educators and all round cool humans. Never had I seen a variety of jobs and industries amongst Deaf people. It gave hope and allowed for wider networks to be reached and look internationally for people you want to learn from. We’re still growing here in Aotearoa but we definitely could be helping to facilitate careers and employment opportunities where people see themselves reflected in a role. 

    Cultural preservation

    The time in this space showcased the need to recognise and celebrate the rich cultural heritage of the Deaf community - globally, nationally and locally. Just about each and every sign language and distinctive culture within them was present within the space - without question they were valued and respected. Making time and space for this type of storytelling, film-making, sign slam poetry, novels, research and socialising help keep Deaf culture and people alive and thriving. 

    We’re doing our part, now you do yours

    The WFD and Youth Section are prevalent in the mahi they do by leading the way for equality and rights for 70 million Deaf people around the world. To have access, knowledge, tools and strategies to make our way in the world. That’s slightly less than 1% (0.875% to be exact) of the world who are working to go against hearing society. This is an international organisation that can't exactly go up against the remaining 99.125% alone. So, my final tips would be: support your national Deaf associations, take up learning sign language, make more inclusive policies that could actually benefit everyone, caption things, and embrace the cultural differences of what it means to be Deaf.

    The World Congress of the World Federation of the Deaf is held every four years to share the human rights of Deaf people and the status of member countries related to education, culture, arts, and sign language.