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Deaf Parliamentarians in Europe

by In Wales Fri Jun 12th, 2009 at 03:51:03 AM EST


The European Union of the Deaf has been campaigning to support Deaf candidates across Europe who were standing in the Euro elections.  4 Deaf candidates were elected.  3 of them from centre-right parties unfortunately but one from the Greens.  More below the fold.


EUD would like to take this opportunity to announce that there are four Deaf Members of Parliaments around Europe. Never before in Deaf history, there are four at the same time in one particular area in the world. It clearly proves that sign language is no barrier in the world of politics. It will serve as an inspiration for all Deaf Europeans to follow their historical paths to serve their countries through their Parliaments.

Well, it is good news but it is something of a fallacy to suggest that this is proof that sign language is no barrier in the world of politics.  Proof that the barriers can be overcome in the right circumstances, perhaps.

The presence of interpreters in the European Parliament must be fairly high so as far as any sign language is concerned we are just talking about another language being interpreted.  

It looks as though at least two of the candidates primarily use sign language (I suspect all four do) so they would have had support along the campaign trail and also within their parties in order to access politics from the activist level upwards.  This is non-existent in the UK as far as my experience goes.  Who would pay for interpreters?  It isn't a justifiable cost.

So I have to say I would really like to know how these candidates secured the communication support they needed in order to access politics in their own countries.

One of the candidates is in the Flemish Parliament, so what was in place to support her at a national level?


Name: Helga STEVENS

Nationality: Belgian (Flemish)
Party: N-VA - New-Flemish Alliance is a Flemish centre-right political party. It is a conservative movement that strives for peaceful secession of Flanders from Belgium.

Elected in the Flemish Parliament in 2004
Re-elected in 2009
Next election in 2014

The fact is that as a Deaf person I was born without crucial rights.  I had no right to access Deaf culture or to learn BSL, to be educated through the medium of BSL, to engage in society and politics through the medium of BSL.  Deafness has only been covered under the medical model of disability since the introduction of the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act - and even then, I only have the right to have adjustments made for my disability in certain circumstances and only if it is 'reasonable'.  And there are always 100+ reasons as to why it is not reasonable. Cost, lack of interpreters, ignorance, second class citizen being too much of a burden...  

So nothing will change for Deaf people in politics in the UK who use BSL as their first language.  And it is way too difficult even for someone like me to 'get by' in the system we have here.

Here are the other Deaf Parliamentarians in Europe:


Name: Dr Ádám KÓSA

Nationality: Hungarian
Party: FIDESZ - Hungarian Civic Union (Magyar Polgári Szövetség) is a large conservative and Centre-Right political party. It is a member of the European People's Party (EPP).

Elected in the European Parliament in 2009
Next election in 2014

DoDo, have you come across him?


Name: Dimitra ARAPOGLU

Nationality: Greek
Party: LA.O.S - Popular Orthodox Rally or The People's Orthodox Rally (Greek: Λαϊκός Ορθόδοξος Συναγερμός, Laïkós Orthódoxos Synagermós), often abbreviated to ΛΑ.Ο.Σ. (LA.O.S.) is a Greek conservative populist/nationalist political party.

Elected in the Greek Parliament in 2007
Next election in 2011



Name: Helene JARMER
Nationality: Austrian
Party: The Greens - The Green Alternative (German: Die Grünen - Die Grüne Alternative, also called the Austrian Green Party). Apart from ecological issues such as environmental protection, the Greens also campaign for the rights of minorities and advocate a socio-ecological (ökosozial) tax reform. Their basic values according to their charter in 2001 are: "direct democracy, non-violence, ecology, solidarity, feminism and self-determination.

Is taking over Ulrike Lunacek's seat in the Austrian Parliament.

Next election in 2013 

This sounds a bit better, minority rights and the like...

All this brings me onto the fact that the UK has just ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which finally gives me full rights as a Deaf person in a way that I have never had before.

Explained on the Islington Deaf Campaign's blog.

Just for you here is the English translation.

Islington Deaf Campaign (IDC): UK Government News Ratification for Deaf - IDC

The Government been attending to New York today
to ratified International Treaty: UN Convention on
Right of People with Disabilities ALSO Deaf!

IDC on history that Betty (Chairperson), myself
and IDC been lots of meetings for human rights
campaign for make sure our rights are match
to equality.

We first become very interested in this Treaty
in 2006. We asked details about International
Treaty wow very important to us. We want
these rights! IDC been asking for our Islington MP
Jeremy Corbyn MP to sign with International Treaty
and he did asked the Parliament with questions
and got the answers.

The Government says they will sign the Treaty,
then finally they did in March 2007. We
realise that it is only signed which means only
support these principles from the Govenment.
Not enough. Only signed. There is no law
changing at all.  We IDC kept going and
campaign these to the Government.

Today the Government officially ratified
which means our rights we can use now -
high standard. We can tell the Government
to comply with the Treaty. If the government
ignore, we can use this treaty to show them!

The EUD have produced a DVD for Deaf people explaining what their rights are under the Convention - see some excerpts below.


Article 3 (General Principles)

- sets forth eight important principles that should be applied in the interpretation and implementation of all the other articles. They are:
a) Respect for inherent dignity, individual autonomy including the freedom to make one's own choices, and independence of persons.
b) Non-discrimination;
c) Full and effective participation and inclusion in society;
d) Respect for difference and acceptance of persons with disabilities as part of human diversity and humanity;
e) Equality of opportunity;
f) Accessibility;
g) Equality between men and women;
h) Respect for evolving capacities of children with disabilities and respect for the right of children with disabilities to preserve their identities.

Please follow the link to read the other relevant articles which cover accessibility, freedom of expression and opinion and access to information, education, Participation in cultural life, recreation, leisure and sport.  

For the first time in my life this provides me with the same rights as anyone else, in terms of having full and equal access to society, on my terms.  It will be a while before it makes that difference but no doubt case law will push things along the way.

Perhaps it will eventually lead to a more accessible political system where disabled and Deaf Parliamentarians are much more visible and influential.

Afaik, there are no deaf politicians in the swedish parliament. Actually, I do not know of any deaf swedish politician.

Though checking for deaf politicians in Sweden, I found that this spring sign language has been included in the list of swedish minority languages (giving certain rights). And apparently Stockholm university has the oldest professors chair in sign languages (from 1981).

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Fri Jun 12th, 2009 at 05:04:34 AM EST
We have Lord Ashley in the UK.

Probably the most famous deaf person in the UK, he lost his hearing in 1968 but continued to serve as an MP until 1992 when he was made a life baron.

He had a cochlear impant eventually which restored most of his hearing.  He wasn't a BSL user though.

by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Fri Jun 12th, 2009 at 06:14:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Jack Ashley was my MP when I was in high school.

If I remember correctly, his practical support was pretty much Mrs Ashley.  She used to sit next to him taking notes in shorthand for him to read.

by Sassafras on Fri Jun 12th, 2009 at 11:22:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
And it's worth noting, unfortunately, that he landed his safe Labour seat before he lost his hearing...
by Sassafras on Fri Jun 12th, 2009 at 11:29:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
So he wasn't really very well supported and wouldn't have had adequate support were it not for his wife - and it is an extremely important point that he was already an MP before he lost his hearing.  I doubt he'd have got there if he were already deaf.
by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Fri Jun 12th, 2009 at 12:08:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, in the light of recent disclosures, he would have to have been restrained indeed not to pay his wife a (fairly earned in this case) secretarial salary.  So I suppose the option must have been there to pay someone else to do the job.

But would he have been elected, had he already been deaf?  I doubt it too.

by Sassafras on Fri Jun 12th, 2009 at 12:20:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The DDA would require reasonable adjustments to be made for him.  This could be in the form of a PA, notetaker or a constant palantype service to provide live transcripts. So the service can be provided separately form him or he could be in charge of it. I'd personally disagree with this coming out of his personal MP allowance or budget but I don't know how it was paid for.  I don't think MPs are entitled to Access to Work funding that pays for the majority of the costs of reasonable adjustments.

I know in the Welsh Assembly so far, provision of BSL for people who wish to meet with an AM is paid for from the AM's budget, not from any central pot.

David Blunkett must have had a fair amount of resources set aside for him - to quickly convert documents to braille at the very least.  Maybe his parliamentary research assistants have a role in supporting adjustments for him such as helping him to get about in unfamiliar places, I don't know - this wouldn't cost any extra though, it would be part of the parliamentary assistant's role.

by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Fri Jun 12th, 2009 at 12:33:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Jack Ashley was an MP from 1966-1992, so he achieved what he did without benefit of the DDA. And what he achieved was definitely admirable.

But, like you, I guess, I'd love to see a day when the removal of barriers means it's no longer any more admirable than it would be for a hearing person.

by Sassafras on Fri Jun 12th, 2009 at 12:54:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes of course, I forgot that it was so long ago. I was thinking about what is available now, which is still inadequate because the whole thing relies on what is 'reasonable' provision and what isn't.  So it depends on goodwill and good attitudes to determine support for one individual to be reasonable.  

Somehow David Blunkett has cracked that because his blindness doesn't seem to significantly detract from his political life. So why has David Blunkett got through and not others? He can't hide his disability in the way that Gordon Brown has tried to, or Jack Straw or any other MP with a sensory impairment. He isn't able to compromise and make do.

What would it take for a first language BSL user to have full support to become an MP and do the job.... all of the Parliamentary stuff, the constituency surgeries, the events attendance, attending party meetings and conferences - the whole lot that MPs are expected to do.

by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Fri Jun 12th, 2009 at 01:29:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Er, mind if I ask where you were at school?
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Jun 12th, 2009 at 12:29:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Aged 9-18 I lived in Trentham (constituency Stoke-on-Trent South).  Why do you ask?  :)
by Sassafras on Fri Jun 12th, 2009 at 12:44:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I took my A-levels, the year Jack Ashley was elected (yes, that long ago), at Hanley High.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Jun 12th, 2009 at 01:07:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You must have been one of the last to do school-based 'A' levels-wasn't the sixth form college built around then?

I went to Trentham High, but, between the middle school system and the sixth form college system, I was only there four years.

by Sassafras on Fri Jun 12th, 2009 at 01:26:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
No, there was no sixth-form college in the offing then. Hanley High was first to sixth form, all boys. I got there in mid-fifth form, did O, A, S levels, Oxford entrance, then taught there as a "student teacher". I lived in the Potteries (different parts) from the age of 15 to 20.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Jun 12th, 2009 at 02:01:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]

Name: Dr Ádám KÓSA

Nationality: Hungarian
Party: FIDESZ - Hungarian Civic Union (Magyar Polgári Szövetség) is a large conservative and Centre-Right political party. It is a member of the European People's Party (EPP).

Elected in the European Parliament in 2009
Next election in 2014

DoDo, have you come across him?

He is the president of both the [Hungarian] National Association of the Deaf and Hearing-impaired (SINOSz) and the Council of the Association of [People] Living with Disabilities [FESzT].

He was a token candidate for right-populist Fidesz, just like Lívia Járóka (a Roma woman). However, just like in Járóka's case, that was a good thing: he is not a party member and is not ideologically attached; and emphasized having good connections both left and right when he accepted.

However, his candidacy did not feature much in the campaign. (Well, none of the persdons on the list featured big -- attacking the government and calling for snap national elections featured big...)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sat Jun 13th, 2009 at 05:12:40 AM EST

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