My Perfect Family: The Fergusons Part 1

The Fergusons are an average family of five; they have fun, they fight, but mostly they get along. The only difference is that three of them are deaf, and yet they all communicate using NZSL.

The Ferguson family of five does not use English as their main way to talk to each other. Instead, they use New Zealand Sign Language. Three of the tight-knit five are deaf which means the family has come up with unique ways to make life work.

Starting the day, Dad Oliver uses a ‘shake-awake’ alarm clock which vibrates under his pillow and if he is in the toilet too long a note will get slid under the door telling him to hurry up.

 Mum Bridget comes from a hearing family. She became interested in sign language in her teenage years. She learnt the skills to become an interpreter and did so for the All Blacks. She met Oliver at a rugby function as he was playing for the New Zealand deaf rugby team.

The Ferguson family eating at the dinner table.
The Fergusons' use NZSL even at the dinner table.

Oliver and his family are all deaf which passed on to two of his children, Zoe and Carter. Elijah can hear and is bilingual in sign language and English.

Both Oliver and Bridget are heavily involved in the deaf community working for Deaf Aotearoa, she is the general manager of services and he the president.

When they had their eldest Zoe they did not know she was deaf until Bridget’s mother pointed it out. They took her to get tested and eventually she was confirmed to have a moderate to severe hearing impairment.

Carter smiling.
The Fergusons' decided not to give Carter cochlear implants.

But Zoe can still hear some things, if she plays music at full volume she can hear the beats and rhythm.

Her parents decided they wanted her to have the best start to education possible. For her first two years of school they lived in Sydney, Australia so she could go to an Auslan school.

Upon returning to New Zealand Zoe had a teacher with a basic understanding of sign language and made friends easily.

Zoe and her friend sitting on a couch in the school library.
Zoe is an advocate for NZSL and even leads a club at school.

In year 4 her parents self-funded an interpreter to help with her learning. Zoe has had Angela interpreting throughout her school life.

Although, Bridget explains gaining funding was not easy.

"$17 an hour for a teacher aide is not going to pay for a professional interpreter. We ended up battling through the human rights commission and got it funded."

She has noticed the impact this has had on her daughter. 

"It means Zoe is just able to become this adult who is able to facilitate communication and build independence."

Zoe is proud of what her parents have achieved for her, but she laments they will have to fight for her three-year-old brother Carter. 

"For all the doors that have been opened for me, why can't that just already be there for Carter."

"For all the doors that have been opened for me, why can't that just already be there for Carter."

Middle child Elijah is described by Zoe as shy but clever and prefers to use sign language over speech.

Since Zoe attended the UN youth declaration in Auckland she has become interested in advocacy. Now she is working towards uniting young deaf people to create a community.

After attending the World Federation for the Deaf in Turkey in 2015, Bridget decided the family would go to the next conference in Paris.

Zoe smiling, wearing her school uniform.
Zoe looks forward to representing NZ at the World Deaf Congress.

The Fergusons will be representing the Deaf Foundation in Paris later this year. Zoe is on an advocacy board and will be presenting about youth.

"It’ll be cool to learn more about International Sign Language."

Bridget is excited for her daughter too and believes it will be a phenomenal experience.

Until then, family dinners will keep getting cold as they are all too busy chatting with sign language.

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