Procedure : 2016/2952(RSP)
Document stages in plenary
Document selected : B8-1241/2016

Texts tabled :


Debates :

PV 22/11/2016 - 18
CRE 22/11/2016 - 18

Votes :

Explanations of votes

Texts adopted :

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to wind up the debate on the statement by the Commission

pursuant to Rule 123(2) of the Rules of Procedure

on sign languages and professional sign language interpreters (2016/2952(RSP))

Kateřina Konečná, Jiří Maštálka, Merja Kyllönen, Marina Albiol Guzmán, Paloma López Bermejo, Sofia Sakorafa, Tania González Peñas, Xabier Benito Ziluaga, Lola Sánchez Caldentey, Miguel Urbán Crespo, Estefanía Torres Martínez, Stefan Eck, Miguel Viegas, João Ferreira, João Pimenta Lopes, Ángela Vallina, Kostadinka Kuneva, Stelios Kouloglou, Kostas Chrysogonos, Anja Hazekamp, Marisa Matias, Matt Carthy, Martina Anderson, Liadh Ní Riada, Lynn Boylan, Josu Juaristi Abaunz on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group

European Parliament resolution on sign languages and professional sign language interpreters (2016/2952(RSP))  

The European Parliament,

–  having regard to Articles 2, 5, 9, 10, 19, 168 and 216(2) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) and Articles 2 and 21 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU),

–  having regard to the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU,

–  having regard to its resolutions of 17 June 1988 on sign languages for deaf people(1) and of 18 November 1998 on sign languages(2),

–  having regard to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and its entry into force in the EU on 21 January 2011 in accordance with Council Decision 2010/48/EC of 26 November 2009 concerning the conclusion, by the European Community, of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities(3),

–  having regard to its resolution of 7 July 2016 on the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, with special regard to the Concluding Observations of the UN CRPD Committee(4),

–  having regard to General Comment No 4 by the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities on the right to inclusive education(5),

–  having regard to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,

–  having regard to Council Directive 2000/78/EC of 27 November 2000 establishing a general framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation (‘Employment Equality Directive’)(6),

–  having regard to Directive 2005/36/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 7 September 2005 on the recognition of professional qualifications(7),

–  having regard to its resolution of 12 April 2016 on Erasmus+ and other tools to foster mobility in VET – a lifelong learning approach(8),

–  having regard to the European Youth Forum policy paper on equality and non-discrimination(9),

–  having regard to the proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council of 2 December 2015 on the approximation of the laws, regulations and administrative provisions of the Member States as regards the accessibility requirements for products and services (COM(2015)0615),

–  having regard to the proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council of 3 December 2012 on the accessibility of public sector bodies’ websites COM(2012)0721),

–  having regard to Directive 2010/64/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 October 2010 on the right to interpretation and translation in criminal proceedings(10),

–  having regard to the Learning Outcomes and Assessment Guidelines of the European Forum of Sign Language Interpreters (efsli) for equal training opportunities for sign language interpreters and quality services for deaf citizens across the entire Union(11),

–  having regard to the efsli/EUD sign language interpreter guidelines for international/European level meetings(12),

–  having regard to the AIIC guidelines for spoken language interpreters working in mixed teams(13),

–  having regard to the efsli report on the rights to sign language interpreting services when working or studying abroad(14),

–  having regard to Rule 123(2) of its Rules of Procedure,

A.  whereas, as full citizens, all persons with disabilities, in particular women and children, including deaf and hard-of-hearing people, including those who use sign language and those who do not, have equal rights and are entitled to inalienable dignity, equal treatment, independent living, autonomy and full participation in society;

B.  whereas the TFEU requires the Union to combat discrimination based on disability when defining and implementing its policies and activities (Article 10) and gives it the power to adopt legislation to address such discrimination (Article 19);

C.  whereas Articles 21 and 26 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union explicitly prohibit discrimination on the grounds of disability and provide for equal participation of persons with disabilities in society;

D.  whereas there are approximately one million deaf sign language users in the EU(15) and 51 million hard-of-hearing citizens(16), many of whom are also sign language users;

E.  whereas national and regional sign languages are fully-fledged natural languages with their own grammar and syntax equal to spoken languages(17);

F.  whereas the EU’s multilingualism policy promotes foreign language learning and whereas one of its goals is for every European to speak two languages in addition to their mother tongue; whereas learning and promoting national and regional sign languages could support this goal;

G.  whereas accessibility is a precondition for persons with disabilities to live independently and participate fully and equally in society(18);

H.  whereas accessibility is not only limited to the physical accessibility of the environment but extends to the accessibility of information and communication, including in the form of the provision of content in sign language(19);

I.  whereas professional sign language interpreters are equal to spoken language interpreters in terms of assignments and mission tasks;

J.  whereas the situation of sign language interpreters is heterogeneous among the Member States, ranging from informal family support to professional university-educated and fully qualified interpreters;

K.  whereas there is a lack of qualified and professional sign language interpreters in all the Member States and whereas the ratio of sign language users to sign language interpreters varies between 8:1 and 2 500:1, with an average ratio of 160:1(20);

L.  whereas a petition(21) has been lodged requesting that Parliament allow petitions to be submitted in EU national and regional sign languages;

M.  whereas the Brussels Declaration on Sign Languages in the European Union(22) promotes a non-discriminatory approach to the use of a natural sign language, as required under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which has been ratified by the EU and all EU Member States except one;

N.  whereas the CRPD makes reference to sign language in Article 2 (Definitions), in Article 9 (Accessibility), in Article 21 (Freedom of expression and opinion, and access to information), in Article 24 (Education) and in Article 30 (Participation in cultural life, recreation, leisure and sport)(23);

O.  whereas, in Article 2 of the CRPD, the definition of language includes ‘spoken and signed languages and other forms of non-spoken languages’ and, therefore, sign languages are included in all articles that mention either communication or language;

P.  whereas the level and quality of subtitling on public and private television differs considerably across the Member States, ranging from less than 10 % to almost 100 %, with highly varying standards of quality(24); whereas there is a lack of data in most Member States with regard to the level of sign language interpretation on television;

Q.  whereas the development of new language technologies could benefit sign language users;

R.  whereas, according to the CRPD, the denial of reasonable accommodation constitutes discrimination and whereas, under the Employment Equality Directive, reasonable accommodation must be provided to guarantee compliance with the principle of equal treatment;

S.  whereas there is currently no direct communication access for deaf, deafblind or hard-of-hearing citizens to Members of the European Parliament and administrators of the institutions of the European Union and, vice versa, to deaf or hard-of-hearing people from within the EU institutions;

T.  whereas, in more recent times, there has been a shift from a medical to a political and social focus in the work to secure the rights, freedom and dignity of people with disabilities, as it is often attitudinal and environmental barriers that prevent people with disabilities from enjoying their full human rights;

U.  whereas Part 1 of the European Social Charter (ESC) of 1961 states that disabled persons have the right to vocational training, rehabilitation and resettlement, whatever the origin and nature of their disability;

V.  whereas Article 15 of the revised ESC states that persons with disabilities have a right to independence, social integration and participation in the life of the community and further states that parties to the ESC undertake:

–  to take the necessary measures to provide persons with disabilities with guidance, education and vocational training in the framework of general schemes wherever possible or, where this is not possible, through specialised bodies, public or private;

–  to promote their access to employment through all measures tending to encourage employers to hire and keep in employment persons with disabilities in the ordinary working environment and to adjust the working conditions to the needs of the disabled or, where this is not possible by reason of the disability, by arranging for or creating sheltered employment according to the level of disability. In certain cases, such measures may require recourse to specialised placement and support services;

–  to promote their full social integration and participation in the life of the community in particular through measures, including technical aids, aiming to overcome barriers to communication and mobility and enabling access to transport, housing, cultural activities and leisure;

Qualified and professional sign language interpreters

1.  Stresses the need for qualified and professional sign language interpreters, which can only be met on the basis of the following approach:

(a)  official recognition of national and regional sign language(s) in Member States and within EU institutions,

(b)  formal training (university or similar, equivalent to 3 years of full-time studies, corresponding to the training required of spoken language interpreters)(25),

(c)  registration (official accreditation and quality control system, such as continuing professional development),

(d)  formal recognition of the profession;

2.  Recognises that the delivery of high-quality sign language interpreting services:

(a)  is dependent on an objective quality assessment involving all stakeholders,

(b)  is based on professional qualifications,

(c)  involves expert representatives from the deaf community;

3.  Recognises that sign language interpretation constitutes a professional service requiring appropriate remuneration;

4.  Suggests establishing a code of ethics that would secure the independence and autonomy of deaf people in situations where professional sign language interpreters are involved; points out that professional confidentiality and awareness of the duties and roles of a sign language interpreter in a given situation are fundamental to ensuring equal status between parties in a communication situation that involves interpreting; highlights that a code of ethics would help safeguard a deaf person’s right to independence and autonomy in these situations;

Distinction between accessibility and reasonable accommodation(26)

5.  Appreciates that accessibility benefits certain groups and is based on a set of standards that are implemented gradually;

6.  Is aware that disproportionality or undue burden cannot be claimed to defend the failure to provide accessibility;

7.  Recognises that reasonable accommodation relates to an individual and is complementary to the accessibility duty;

8.  Notes also that an individual may request reasonable accommodation measures even if the accessibility duty has been fulfilled;

9.  Understands that the provision of sign language interpretation may constitute an accessibility measure or a reasonable accommodation measure, depending on the situation;


10.  Stresses that deaf, deafblind and hard-of-hearing citizens must have access to the same information and communication as their peers in the form of sign language interpretation, subtitling, speech-to-text and/or alternative forms of communication, including oral interpreters;

11.  Advises the Member States to take appropriate measures to ensure that deaf, deafblind and hard-of-hearing citizens have access, on an equal basis with others, to the physical environment, to transportation, to information and communications, including information and communications technologies and systems, and to other facilities and services open or provided to the public;

12.  Emphasises that public and government services, including their online content, must be made accessible via live intermediaries such as on-site sign language interpreters, but also alternative internet-based and remote services, where appropriate;

13.  Stresses the need for Member States to ensure that frontline and emergency services are equipped and able to receive communications from deaf, deafblind and hard-of-hearing citizens; asks also that Member States look at emerging technologies with a view to ensuring that deaf, deafblind and hard-of-hearing citizens have the most up-to-date technologies available for contacting frontline and emergency services;

14.  Stresses the need to ensure that frontline and emergency services are equipped and immediately able to deal with situations, such as accident and emergency situations, when a deaf, deafblind or hard-of-hearing citizen has been involved;

15.  Reiterates its commitment to making the political process as accessible as possible, including through the provision of professional sign language interpreters; notes that this includes elections, public consultations, and other events, as appropriate;

16.  Asks the Member States to involve deaf associations in the drafting, design, and definition of policies;

17.  Stresses the increasing role of language technologies in providing equal access for all to the digital space;

18.  Recognises the importance of minimum standards to ensure accessibility, especially in view of new and emerging technologies, such as the provision of internet-based sign language interpreting and subtitling services;

19.  Notes that, while the provision of health care is a Member State competence, it should cater for the needs of deaf, deafblind and hard-of-hearing patients, for example by providing professional sign language interpreters and staff awareness training, with particular attention to women and children;

20.  Acknowledges that equal access to justice for deaf, deafblind and hard of hearing citizens can only be ensured through the provision of appropriately qualified and professional sign language interpreters;

21.  Is aware of the importance of accurate and precise interpretation and translation services, especially in court and other legal settings; reiterates, therefore, the importance of specialised and highly qualified professional sign language interpreters, particularly in those settings;

22.  Stresses the need to increase support and specific provisions, such as sign language interpretation and accessible real-time text-based disaster information for persons with disabilities in situations of armed conflict, humanitarian emergencies and natural disasters(27);

23.  Calls on all Member States to ensure that their national sign languages have legal recognition and to take all appropriate measures, including recognising and promoting the use of sign languages;

Employment, education and training

24.  Notes that the Universal Declaration on Human Rights states that everyone has the right to work; acknowledges that Member States have committed to guaranteeing this right to deaf, deafblind and hard-of-hearing citizens on an equal basis with others;

25.  Notes that reasonable accommodation measures, which include the provision of professional sign language interpreters, must be taken to ensure equal access to employment, education and training;

26.  Calls for support to be given to enterprises that provide the necessary resources for deaf, deafblind and hard-of-hearing citizens; notes that having the necessary resources when it comes to job interviews, for example, offers inclusion for deaf, deafblind and hard-of-hearing citizens;

27.  Highlights that balanced and holistic information on sign language and what it means to be deaf must be provided so that parents can make informed choices in the best interest of their children;

28.  Acknowledging that education is a Member State competence, calls for Member States to ensure that deaf, deafblind and hard-of-hearing citizens are not excluded from the general education system;

29.  Considers it necessary, while acknowledging that education is a Member State competence, for deaf, deafblind and hard-of-hearing students to be granted all the necessary technical support, including interpretation, at all stages of the education system;

30.  Stresses, while further acknowledging that education is a Member State competence, that Member States should ensure an inclusive education system at all levels, and lifelong learning provisioned for in a mode that is accessible to deaf, deafblind and hard-of-earing citizens;

31.  Stresses that early intervention programmes are crucial for children in the development of life skills, including language skills; notes, furthermore, that those programmes should ideally include deaf role models;

32.  Emphasises that deaf, deafblind and hard-of-hearing students and their parents must be provided with the opportunity to learn the national or regional sign language of their environment through pre-school services and in schools(28);

33.  Underlines that measures must be taken to recognise and promote the linguistic identity of deaf communities(29);

34.  Calls, in particular, for Member States to foster an environment where sign language and linguistic identity can thrive and is promoted for all, in schools, universities, workplaces, sports clubs and in society as a whole;

35.  Calls on the Member States to encourage the learning of sign language in the same way as foreign languages;

36.  Stresses that qualified sign language interpreters and teaching staff competent in sign language and equipped with the skills to work effectively in bilingual inclusive education environments form an essential part of deaf children’s and young adults’ academic achievement, resulting in higher educational outcomes and lower unemployment rates in the long term;

37.  Highlights the widespread lack of sign bilingual textbooks and learning materials in accessible formats and languages;

38.  Urges that the principle of freedom of movement for deaf, deafblind and hard-of-hearing people within the EU be guaranteed, especially in the context of Erasmus+ and related mobility programmes, by ensuring that participants are not disproportionately burdened with having to take care of their own interpreting arrangements;

39.  Welcomes the European Disability Card Pilot Project; regrets the exclusion of sign language interpretation in the project as this significantly hinders the freedom of movement of deaf, deafblind and hard-of-hearing workers and students within the EU;

European Union institutions

40.  Recognises that the EU institutions must represent best practice examples for their staff, elected officials and interns and vis-à-vis EU citizens regarding the provision of reasonable accommodation and accessibility, which includes the provision of sign language interpretation;

41.  Welcomes the fact that the EU institutions are already, on an ad hoc basis, providing for the accessibility of public events and committee meetings; takes the view that subtitling and speech-to-text should be considered an alternative but equal and necessary measure for hard-of-hearing people not using sign languages, and that this is also relevant to employees of EU institutions in terms of providing reasonable accommodation in accordance with Article 5 of Council Directive 2000/78/EC of 27 November 2000 establishing a general framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation;

42.  Recognises that the EU institutions have a system in place to provide sign language interpretation via their respective interpreting departments for accessibility purposes; urges the institutions to utilise such existing systems also when providing reasonable accommodation for staff and/or elected officials, effectively minimising the administrative burden on the individual and the institutions;

43.  Strongly urges the institutions to formally grant sign language interpreters the same status as spoken language interpreters in respect of the interpreting services they provide for the institutions and/or their staff and appointed officials, including access to technological support, preparatory materials and documents;

44.  Urges Eurostat to ensure that statistics on deaf, deafblind and hard-of-hearing sign language users are supplied to the EU institutions so they can better define, implement and analyse their disability and language policies;

45.  Urges Parliament’s visitors’ service to cater for the needs of deaf, deafblind and hard-of-hearing visitors by directly providing access in a national or regional sign language and speech-to-text services;

46.  Asks the institutions to fully implement the EU pilot project INSIGN, which is a response to Parliament’s decision of 10-13 December 2012 on the implementation of a real-time sign language application and service and is aimed at improving communication between deaf and hard-of-hearing people and the EU institutions(30);

47.  Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council, the Commission and the governments and parliaments of the Member States.


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