Boosting deaf participation in construction

6 June 2024

3 minutes to read

The many opportunities available to deaf New Zealanders in the construction industry have been focused into one place, with a new website launched by BCITO.  

Unveiled to coincide with New Zealand Sign Language Week in May, BCITO launched its Building Abilities site aimed at demonstrating the opportunities for Deaf New Zealanders in the construction industry. 

The Building Abilities site features stories of Kiwis who have succeeded in BCITO apprenticeships and gone on to careers in the building trades, alongside resources from BCITO and Deaf Aotearoa to help learners and employers. 

There are more than 4,500 Deaf users of New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL), and around 23,000 New Zealanders across the country use it regularly. However, lack of awareness about Deaf people’s abilities remains a significant barrier to work. 

“Sometimes employers have no experience or knowledge of Deaf people and/or NZSL, so they are hesitant. Yet more often than not, Deaf people begin a job, and the employer realises that the Deaf individual is more than capable of doing the same work as their hearing workmates,” says Lachlan Keating, Chief Executive of Deaf Aotearoa. 

While exact figures around the number of Deaf people who are unemployed or underemployed are unknown, the employment rate for all New Zealanders with disabilities is half that of the general population. This includes members of the Deaf community. 

“Providing all learners with the right resources to have meaningful careers in construction is our reason for being, and we’ve focused on developing strong partnerships with organisations such as Deaf Aotearoa to break down those misperceptions and barriers," says Greg Durkin, Director of BCITO.

"At a time when the industry is still facing a shortage of skilled workers, we need to do everything we can to inspire and empower more people to consider a trades career or gain a trade qualification." 


Barry (Baz) Kay is one of the former BCITO apprentices whose story appears on the Building Abilities site. Profoundly deaf since birth, he spent more than 20 years filleting fish because a lack of support during schooling had left him with literacy issues and a perception that he’d only be able to do low-skilled work. 

Through a family friend who happened to be a builder, he found a position as an apprentice at Invercargill’s Trent Builders and received support from BCITO to complete his qualifications in 2019. 

“My Training Advisor, Andrew Green (BCITO Principal Advisor - Learners with Disabilities), supported me through the process. He visited me every two weeks to go through the things that were challenging me. This included using imagery to define building terminology and explaining certain words that I wasn’t able to understand. My wife would help out by translating into sign,” Baz explains. 

Since then, he’s become a highly skilled carpenter and valued employee, and he’s keen to help dispel the misconceptions employers can have about how much Deaf people can do. 

“Deaf people have very good eyes – they’re very visually orientated and are very good with their hands. A lot of Deaf people do have barriers in employment, so it’s worth giving people an opportunity and treating Deaf people the same as hearing employees as well, because the only difference is that we can’t hear,” Baz says. 

To access the Building Abilities website and find out more about opportunities for Deaf people in the trades, visit 

Related articles