Sign Language
at European Level
by dr. Ádám Kósa
Member of the European
Chair of the
Disability Intergroup
DCAL, University College London,
On the topic
Sign languages in the EU MSs
Structure of the EU (short overview)
About the European Parliament
European Disability Strategy
Sign language act in Hungary
INI report on mobility and inclusion of PwD
On the European Union
Since 1952 many treaties have been shaping the
European-wide cooperation in economic, social as
well political issues
Since 1992 (Treaty of Maastrich) we call this
cooperation European Union
Today: the EU is partly an intergovernmental
cooperation, partly binding integration among the
European nations
There are 27 members of the EU, Iceland and
Croatia are about join
EU institutions (diagram)
On the institutions of the EU
European Commission
European Council (NOT: Council of Europe!)
European Parliament
European Court of Justice
European Court of Auditors
Status of Sign Languages in EU
• Sign Language mentioned in the constitution
– Austria, Finland, Hungary, Portugal
• Sign Language mentioned in a language act or
– Belgium, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland,
Hungary, Latvia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden
• Sign Language mentioned in other acts or legal
– Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Finland,
France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Lithuania,
Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Spain,
Sweden, UK
• Sign Language formally recognized by the
government or parliament
– Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia,
Finland, Germany, Hungary, Lithuania, Romania,
Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, UK
European Union and sign language
Resolution of the European Parliament on sign languages for
deaf people (1988)
6. Calls upon Community institutions to set an example by
making provision, as a matter of principle for sign language
interpretation at meetings organised under their auspices and
attended by deaf people;’
Resolution of the European Parliament on sign languages (1998)
‘8. Calls on the Commission and the Member States to ensure
that public meetings organised by EU institutions are
accessible to deaf people by providing a sign language
interpretation service on request;’
‘11. Calls on the Commission to introduce measures to ensure
universal design in multimedia applications so that deaf people
are not excluded from new applications;’
Why is the EP important to us?
We can be at the legislation of the EU
Big public attention and new contacts
Increasing the activity of the European Commission
Gearing up the adoption of the UN Convention on rights of people with
disabilities as well as sign languages
Political message: „Nothing about us, without us”
What has the EP already practically
• To me as the first deaf MEP the EP ensured
financially the sign language interpreters
• Provided me with lighting indicator (lamp) in my office
in Strasbourg
• I can bring free of charge my interpreters
• I received the largest MEP office for having the
interpreters to be at my disposal
What has the EP already legally done?
• two res on sign language in 1988 and 1998
(mentioned earlier)
• res. in 1995 on the human rights of disabled people,
• res. in 1996 on the Rights of Disabled People,
• res. In 1997 on equality of opportunity for people with
• resolution of 23 June 2003 on Towards a United
Nations legally binding instrument to promote and
protect the rights and dignity of persons with
• Resolution on EU2020 with expressed reference to
disabled workers
Oral question to the
EU Commissioner
in December 2009
The aim: the EU should have a common
standard for professional cooperation and
services based on the fundamental policies
of the EU on anti-discrimination and free
(question and answer by the EU Commissioner on language diversity:
Background of the oral question
• the High Level Group on Multilingualism made
numerous recommendations on multilingualism. It
stressed that multilingualism also extended to sign
• The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with
Disabilities Article 30 of which includes the following
provision: 'Persons with disabilities shall be
entitled, on an equal basis with others, to
recognition and support of their specific cultural
and linguistic identity, including sign languages
and deaf culture.'
„Bearing in mind the Flensburg
Recommendations of 2000, which refer inter
alia to sign languages, what will the
Commission do to promote the recognition of
sign languages and their appropriate use in
the European Institutions?”
Answer by the Commission to oral
„According to Article 165 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the
European Union it is the responsibility of the Member States to
put into practice at national and regional level concrete
measures to promote language policy, and this applies
likewise to the recognition of sign languages.”
„However, if the use of sign language becomes necessary to
enable deaf people to access employment, career
advancement or training, the issue could possibly fall
under the scope of Council Directive 2000/78/EC of 27
November 2000 establishing a general framework for equal
treatment in employment and occupation.”
United Nations convention on the rights of
persons with disabilities
what does it say in general?
Article 8 - Awareness-raising
1. States Parties undertake to adopt immediate, effective and appropriate
a) To raise awareness throughout society, including at the family level,
regarding persons with disabilities, and to foster respect for the rights
and dignity of persons with disabilities;
Measures to this end include:
b) Fostering at all levels of the education system, including in all
children from an early age, an attitude of respect for the rights of
persons with disabilities;
d) Promoting awareness-training programmes regarding persons with
disabilities and the rights of persons with disabilities.
What does the UN Convention say
on accessibility?
Article 9 – Accessibility
2. States Parties shall also take appropriate measures
e) Provide forms of live assistance and intermediaries,
including guides, readers and professional sign
language interpreters, to facilitate accessibility to
buildings and other facilities open to the public;
And there are articles on education, sport, leisure time, etc…
What does the UN Convention say
on access to information?
Article 21 - Freedom of expression and opinion, and
access to information
b) Accepting and facilitating the use of sign
languages, Braille, augmentative and alternative
communication, and all other accessible means,
modes and formats of communication of their choice
by persons with disabilities in official interactions;
Article 2 – Definitions: "Language" includes spoken
and signed languages and other forms of non
spoken languages;
Why difficult to develop and
There is no reliable data and comparable pieces of
information on the national practices and structures;
There is no interchangeablility between educational
levels and (with) national sign languages also differ
from one another;
There is no adopted and formalised international sign
language interpreters’ education.
Hungary is a good example in
1. The new law on the rights of people with communication
disabilities focusing on sign language and sign language
interpreters’ services means a new and serious impetus;
2. Strong co-operation and close partnership between civil
organizations, political parties, service providers and
3. Within the self-advocacy organizations basic sign language
courses are provided;
4. Since SINOSZ alone maintains 12 centres for sign language
interpreters’ in the country, in many counties the so-called
self-advocacy activities and services are in harmony.
2009 Act on the Hungarian Sign Language
and the use of Hungarian Sign Language
• World’s most complex sign langauge law
• Sign Language recognised as a language in
its own right
• Guarantees interpretation services
• Makes it compulsory to educate Deaf
children in sign language or bilingually
• Provides equal access to public services
• A sign language interpreter is to be provided
during criminal proceedings
• Amending the Radio and Television
Broadcasting Act by specifying how many
hours should be interpreted to sign
language (e.g. 4 hours per day in 2011)
New European Disability Strategy (EDS)
- Adopted on 15.11.2010
- It’s complementary
- Adopted action programme till 2015
- Based on MSs’ competencies
- 8 priority:
5th Priority – education and
• „Increase knowledge on education levels and
opportunities of people with disabilities”
• „Support policy developments towards the goal
of inclusive and quality education and training
within the framework of the Youth on the move
initiative „
• „Increase the mobility of people with disabilities
through enhancing their participation in the
Lifelong Learning Programme and the Youth in
Action Programme”
INI report on mobility and inclusion
of PwD 1/2
• Civil and human rights
• The importance of data collection and
consultation with stakeholder
• Demographic changes and a barrierfree environment
• Free movement and barrier-free
• Equal opportunities
• Investing in people with disabilities
• Lifestyles
• The fight against poverty
INI report on mobility and inclusion
of PwD 2/2
Some new and innovative aims:
Stresses the importance of research into new therapeutic methods which
further facilitate the integration of people with disabilities into society;
calls on the Commission and the Member States to guarantee their rights
and take measures to improve their quality of life by providing, inter alia,
access to practical information on everyday issues, including by familiarising
them with skills-building procedures and services which have an impact on
family life
Urges the Commission to take the necessary measures to help the visually
impaired to carry out business transactions;
Calls on the Commission to increase efforts to achieve individually-tailored
navigation-based services for the blind and those with serious visual
Calls on the Commission and the Council to improve access for people with
disabilities in the field of copyright;
Calls on the Commission to prepare a study with people with visual
impairments in mind analysing the characteristics of the digital displays
(interfaces) of industrial and domestic products and alternative, equivalent
information solutions for blind people;
Calls on the Member States and Commission to recognise sign
language as an official language in the Member States; notes that the
Member States should therefore work towards the possibility of such a
recognition, in accordance with the Brussels Declaration of
19 November 2010
General conclusions
- MEPs should focus on European
Employment Strategy and the relevant
flagship initiatives of EU2020;
- MEPs may follow the consultations on
National Reform Programmes with special
regard to people with disabilities
- MEPs should care about the disabled
people without skills needed in an innovative
world regarding the disadvantages of
- More attention should be paid to following
the programmes of the European Social
Fund and European Regional and
Development Fund and their future
Alone or together?
Lack of awareness on rights is a feature of the deaf and hard of
hearing community?
Does it explain a communication blockage in the background?
The answer is clear: ONLY TOGETHER!
The majority of people with disabilities cannot stand up for their
Defending rights can be successful without partners or how
much can a lonely stakeholder be successful?
Thank you for your

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