ECR MEP Helga Stevens calls for better statute for sign language interpreters in Europe

Nov 23, 2016


The European Parliament has overwhelmingly approved a resolution which calls, among other things, for a better statute for sign language interpreters in Europe. “Due to the vague statute there is a clear shortage of sign language interpreters. 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 at regional, national and European level,” says ECR MEP Helga Stevens.

There are more than a million sign language users in the European Union, but there are only 6,500 sign language interpreters. Stevens: “This means that on average one interpreter is available per 160 sign language users. That is simply unworkable. 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 more and more countries are advancing and are recognising sign language interpreting as a full and equal profession. Yet there is still a lot of work to do. The training of sign language interpreters is essential for the equality of deaf sign language users.”

The differences between European countries are enormous. Stevens: “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 of course 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 European Union prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability. The EU Member States therefore need to take on their responsibility.”

Stevens, who is the first female deaf MEP, was one of the initiators of this resolution. “I am very pleased that we have gained the support of a broad majority in plenary. The previous resolutions dated from 1988 and 1998 and had to be re-written urgently. For that I got a lot of useful input from deaf and interpreter organisations. This is also the direct result of a conference I organised in late September and where for the first time all 31 EU sign languages and all 24 EU spoken languages were used.”