Growing calls for the EU to strengthen accessibility for the deaf community

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02:28

Members of the European Parliament and the deaf community ask the European Commission to provide sign language interpreters for major events.

The long-standing debate was reignited last month when European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen delivered her annual State of the Union address without sign language interpretation during the live broadcast.

However, she spoke in English, German and French. The address has also been translated live into more than twenty languages.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen delivers the annual State of the Union Address. / EBS

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen delivers the annual State of the Union Address. / EBS

Katrin Langensiepen, German MEP from the Greens / European Free Alliance group, called the omission “highly discriminatory” in an opinion piece for Parliament magazine.

The criticism comes after von der Leyen stressed the inclusiveness of the European Union in his speech.

“It is a Union where we strengthen our individual freedom thanks to the strength of our community. A Union shaped as much by our history and common values ​​as by our different cultures and perspectives, ”said von der Leyen.

Despite this nod to the diversity of the EU, members of the deaf community in Brussels say they have been asking for more accessibility to these big speeches for years.

Mark Wheatley of the European Union of the Deaf. / FSN

Mark Wheatley of the European Union of the Deaf. / FSN

“The European Deaf Union was really disappointed that deaf people in Europe couldn’t access this very important address. We have worked with the European Parliament, with the European Commission for accessibility, so it’s a real shame that European deaf people have no access to this, ”said Mark Wheatley, executive director of the European Deaf Union, an organization that represents deaf people across the continent.

The first deaf member of the European Parliament, Adam Kosa, was elected in 2009. The body uses sign language interpreters to include deaf members in debates.

Yet more than a decade later, accessibility is still lacking for a key moment in the European Union’s calendar.

The first deaf member of the European Parliament, Ádám Kósa, was elected in 2009. / EBS

The first deaf member of the European Parliament, Ádám Kósa, was elected in 2009. / EBS

In a statement, the European Parliament said that “sign language interpretation for MEPs who require it to exercise their democratic mandate is ensured”. He also stressed that the speech “is always made available within written minutes after being delivered.”

Despite another year without sign language interpretation, activists say accessibility is slowly improving.

“To be fair, there are weekly press briefings and they have provided sign language interpreters. For this address it was really unfortunate because we have been advocating for access and we hope that by the next one address they will, “said Mark Wheatley, referring to European Commission press conferences.

However, when asked about plans for 2022, neither the European Commission nor the European Parliament confirmed that there will be a sign language interpreter for next year’s State of the Union address.


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