Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing: EU Institutions easing communication for millions

Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing: EU Institutions easing communication for millions

2012. 11. 20.

The European Commission Vice-President and the EPP Group MEPs presented the 'European Union Real-Time Sign Language Application' in celebration of the 300th anniversary of Charles-Michel de l'Épée, who is considered to be the 'Father of the deaf' due to his personal commitments and work devoted to the deaf in the 18th century in France.

The proposal would develop a service concept and later a technology platform and service that can be used by any deaf or hard-of-hearing citizen within the European Union to assist them with real-time live sign language interpretation by a certified sign language interpreter and/or a real-time captioning service in order to enable independent communication with the European Institutions. The proposed project, which is in line with the goals of the European Disability Strategy 2010-2020, is long-awaited. In 1988, 1998 and 2011, the European Parliament already called on the Institutions to build better communication methods with the deaf and hard-of-hearing.

"Language is a powerful means of communication and getting ideas and feelings across. And sign language is the first language, the mother tongue, of many deaf people, as well as the second or third language for their families and friends. Institutions and politicians must therefore do their best to promote the use of sign language and offer easy solutions for hearing-impaired people", said Viviane Reding. "The project being launched today is about equal access to communicating with the Institutions, irrespective of whether one is a member of a large group or of a relatively small community like sign language users. Every EU citizen has an equal right to participate in the democratic life of the Union and the European Institutions will work to deliver on this commitment", she underlined.

"This proposed project aims to ease the access to and increase the quality of free communication for the deaf and hard-of-hearing, in particular access the EU Institutions and conferences as well as meetings. In the development, apart from sign language, other written forms of communication will also be taken into account for the whole hearing-impaired population in the EU. This group in fact represents 10% of the European population", highlighted Ádám Kósa MEP, the first and only deaf Member of the European Parliament.

"Today, the barriers for deaf and hard-of-hearing people in the direct communication with Institutions – European, national or local – are very high. Access to sign language interpreters is limited, very expensive and requires long and difficult preparation. The idea behind the pilot project is to create a tool which facilitates the daily lives of every deaf and hard-of-hearing person. I hope that this tool is only the beginning of many other good ideas and useful applications and that it will boost access to services and products for disabled people in general", underlined Werner Kuhn MEP.

The final decision on the financing of the project will be made during the 2013 budgetary process.


The project is a good example of the progressive cooperation between the European Commission, the European Parliament and civil society for gearing-up the accessibility of one of the largest and hidden language minorities in Europe: the one million deaf and tens of millions hard-of-hearing sign language users. The proposal was a result of close cooperation between Commissioner Reding, Ádám Kósa MEP and Werner Kuhn MEPs. The proposed deadline for the project is set for the next EP election in 2014. The project itself is aimed to be launched with the possibility for the public institutions of Member States to join this platform-independent application and service on a voluntary basis at a later date.