Law on sign language: two decades’ of struggling

The Hungarian government has postponed for years to pass a law that grants the right of sign language use for the deaf - though the people concerned have been requested such a law many times. The parliament will discuss the draft motion in September, which, if approved, would ease the education of tens of hundreds of children and would assure the accessibility of public services, labour and information for tens of thousands of deaf. Magyar Hirlap interviewed Mr Adam Kosa, MEP of Fidesz, President of Hungarian Association of Deaf and Hard of Hearing persons in Hungary (SINOSZ).

The Hungarian government has promised to work out a draft motion for a law that declares the sign language as the mother tongue of the deaf. The parliament will discuss the motion this autumn. If approved, to what extend would it change the situation of the deaf?

The most important development would be the declaration of the freedom of using sign language and that the value of the Hungarian deaf culture would be uttered as well. If the law was passed, the deaf and hard of hearing could use the Hungarian sign language as their mother tongue in every field of life, including education, labour and public services. The education of deaf children and the introduction of the bilingual school model that applies the Hungarian sign language is a significant leap forward. Another crucial point is the teaching of sign language first of all to the parents of deaf children, to the persons hard of hearing and to all who are interested. The motion intents to change the law on media as well: it would prescribe the major TV companies to assure four hours of subtitled broadcasting per day. 

How many people does the absence of the law affect adversely?

Statistically we know about sixty thousand people, but the majority of these people are not aware of their rights unfortunately. Let us hope that they will enforce their rights.

Why did the government defer to pass the law?

The definition of the status of sign language was a generic question. SINOSZ has always been struggling to have the Hungarian sign language adopted as the primary language of the deaf and persons hard of hearing. The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was a great help for our project, since it prescribes the states that ratified the Convention to recognize the sign language. The twenty years’ fight of SINOSZ has now come to its final stage – we hope that it will be fulfilled in autumn.

You were the first to give a speech in sign language in the European Parliament, and what is more, you talked about a very delicate issue, the Slovak language law. What feedback did you get regarding your speech?

Only positive ones. The Slovak MEPs have not given signals of reservation either, since I linked the discriminative regulations of the language law with the disadvantages suffered by the deaf, indicating that disability is something which has to be dealt with on the European level.

What changes do you urge to improve the living conditions of the people with disabilities?

I will urge the ratification of the UN Convention, since only 9 member states have approved it. Furthermore, I would like to be rapporteur in the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs to report on the situation of the sign languages and on the employment opportunities of people with disabilities.

Hungary has ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of persons with disabilities in 2008. Does the government carry out its engagements?

If the parliament passes the law on sign language, the application of the Convention gets started. However, there are other obligations to realize in other fields. I hope that in spite of the economical crises, the people with disabilities will not be neglected.

The creation of an ombudsman position for disabled people is one of your long standing purposes. Is the project realizable in your opinion?

The UN Convention appropriates an independent check mechanism for the execution of the regulations. Together with the disability organisations I think that an ombudsman would assure the appropriate control. As far as I am concerned, the idea is dealt with.