N-VA calls for a better professional recognition of sign language interpreters in Europe.





The European Parliament has overwhelmingly approved a resolution which calls among other things for a better statute of sign language interpreters in Europe. Due to the poor recognition of the profession and the low renumeration of sign language interpreters, there is a clear shortage of sign language interpreters in Europe. As a result, many deaf people are unable to fully take part in society. This resolution is a milestone for deaf people and sign language interpreters alike and constitutes an important policy tool at the regional, national and European level.

In the European Union there are more than a million sign language users, but there are only 6,500 sign language interpreters. This means in practice that on average there is only one interpreter per 160 sign language users. That is simply insufficient. Sign language interpreters have long been seen as “helpers” of deaf people. Traditionally, the family of a deaf person functioned as an 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. There is still a lot of work to do. The training of sign language interpreters is essential to guarantee the quality of interpreters’ work.

The differences between European countries are signigficant. In some countries there is only one interpreter per 2,500 sign language users. In Slovakia the hourly wage of sign language interpreters is barely 2.60 Euros. This naturally does not attract young people who are interested in pursuing such a career. However, sign language interpreters are essential for ensuring equal participation of sign language users in society. The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability. The EU Member States therefore need to take responsibility.

As one of the initiators of this resolution. I am very pleased that we have gained almost unanimous support in plenary. Previous resolutions date back to 1988 and 1998, and urgently needed updating. To this end I welcomed contributions from deaf and interpreter organisations. Finally this resolution is the direct result of a conference I organised in late September when for the first time, all 31 EU sign languages and all 24 EU spoken languages were simultaneously used.