2011. 03. 10.
Ádám Kósa's election as a member of the European Parliament in 2009 was a milestone for the assembly as well as for him: he had become the first deaf MEP, the first Parliamentarian to use sign language.
Sitting in his 12th-floor office with a panoramic view of Brussels, Kósa says – through an interpreter in international sign language – that he had to make several special requests when he started his new job. “I needed a computer with a web-cam, two sign-language interpreters for all official meetings, two extra seats in front of me for the interpreters, lots of little extra things for me to be able to work normally. It took a few months to get everything in place.”
That was not the only first achieved by the now 35-year-old Kósa. After completing his studies in law a little over a decade ago, he went on to become the first deaf lawyer in his native Hungary and the first person admitted to the Budapest Bar Association to use sign language.
Kósa, whose parents are also deaf, takes all this in his stride. “Growing up I never thought I was different. Friendships, parties, sports – it was just the same for me as for a hearing person,” says the MEP, whose pastimes include floorball, alpine skiing and scuba-diving, which, he notes with a chuckle, is perhaps the one area where deaf people are at a huge advantage, since they can communicate underwater in sign language.
But picking up the phone was, of course, never an option and watching television as a child was a matter of guesswork. Kósa recalls how the arrival of subtitling made such a big difference. “That's when I felt equal, normal,” he says. And at university he had to rely on his fellow students' lecture notes because there were no sign-language interpreters. “I usually relied on the women. They made concise, excellent notes. The men's notes were always such a scribble,” Kósa recalls with a laugh. The year after Kósa graduated, Hungarian universities introduced professional interpretation services.
Ensuring that those who follow him have greater access to services has been a guiding principle throughout Kósa's career. As a lawyer, he fought for the rights of the deaf and hard-of-hearing, and as the president of the Hungarian Association for the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing (SINOSZ), he sought to encourage political parties to discuss disability-related issues more. One of his achievements as president was to keep lobbying for the recognition in Hungarian law of Hungarian sign language. Success came in November 2009, after he became an MEP.
Kósa says being an MEP has allowed him to take this advocacy work from a national to a European level. “In the past, it was a forgotten element [in European legislation]. Now it is more present,” he says.
The new agenda
As president of the Parliament's ‘disability inter-group', he convenes regular meetings of MEPs from all political groups, the Council of Ministers and the European Commission, as well as the European Disability Forum, which provides secretariat support to the inter-group, and other non-governmental organisations. “In the past, few MEPs would attend the meetings. Now the room is always full,” says Kósa, who puts the increased popularity down to the “great topics” that are discussed.
Kósa also helped organise an international conference in November on the implementation of sign-language legislation.
One result was the Brussels Declaration, which calls for national sign languages to be treated in law as equal to their respective spoken languages and for people to able to use their native sign language without restriction or discrimination. The declaration hangs proudly in Kósa's office, a reminder of what he is working to achieve.
Source: European Voice