Debate in plenary on 22.11.2016 regarding the Joint Motion for Resolution on sign languages and professional sign language interpreters.


Dear President, Commissioner, and colleagues,

I am delighted to welcome the European Union of the Deaf who is present in the visitors' gallery.

Sign language interpreters have long been seen as ‘helpers’ for deaf people. Often the family of a deaf person functioned as the interpreter, even in official settings. In many countries this is still the case, but the situation is improving and sign language interpreting is slowly being recognised as a full and equal profession.

The Joint Resolution builds upon previous European Parliament resolutions of 1988 and 1998 and contributions from deaf and interpreters' organisations. Furthermore it is a follow-up to the conference I organised on 28 September 2016 in Brussels, where for the first time all 24 EU spoken and 31 EU sign languages were used at the same time.

I want to highlight that sign language interpreters are crucial for ensuring equal participation of sign language users. The Charter of Fundamental Rights explicitly prohibits discrimination on the ground of disability. Providing accessibility and reasonable accommodation is one way to fulfil this duty. I also refer to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which the EU and most EU Member States have ratified.

Everyone in this House knows that interpreters have demanding job. This is no different for sign language interpreters. They therefore deserve appropriate and equal renumeration.

There is still a huge shortage of sign language interpreters in all Member States. On average in the EU there is one sign language interpreter per 160 deaf people. However, this varies greatly among Member States, with averages ranging from 1 sign language interpreter per 8 people to one sign language interpreter per 2,500 deaf people!. Professional training and education opportunities for future sign language interpreters is therefore an absolute priority.

EU institutions  are receiving an increasing number of requests for sign language interpretation from Deaf citizens. However, considering the fact that there are currently not enough sign language interpreters in the Member States, I would like to ask how the Commission will deal with this problem? Are there plans to employ sign language interpreters as staff especially with sign language interpreters now being part of the AIIC, the international association of conference interpreters?

This joint resolution which will be voted upon tomorrow, is an important milestone for people with disabilities and in particular for deaf sign language users. It is the first time that the focus is on sign language interpreters as a profession. After almost 20 years, it is high time to move forward and to recognise the professionalisation of sign langauge interpreters. And EU institutions should be leading the way!