How dare you go out without an interpreter!! Acknowledging alternative and equal ways of communication

April 7th, 2016

Maartje De Meulder and Annelies Kusters

First this: we both have extensive experience with using sign language interpreters and we are very much in favour of using them in specific situations. We see interpreters as central to our professional and personal lives: we use them to participate in meetings, conferences, seminars, to conduct interviews and for parent-teacher meetings at our children’s schools, for social activities, for medical health appointments and for making phone calls (VRS service), to name just a few situations. That a deaf person does bring an interpreter but this is not recognised, or is denied the right to an interpreter, is happening much too often and is important to address. In this blog post though, we address the very opposite situation, namely being denied services when very consciously not bringing an interpreter, which we experience as equally humiliating.

Indeed, sometimes we prefer not to use an interpreter. That does not mean that instead we prefer to speak and lipread. All our lives we have experienced that generally this is not conducive to good and effective communication, especially with strangers. However, in those situations when we are not accompanied by an interpreter, we often get the following responses.

The first one is, yes indeed: “can you lip read?”, to which we reply “no, please write”.  In fact, we are able to lip read some people, but it does not guarantee that we get full information, and people do not realize how little information is gained through lipreading especially when it is not combined with gestures, sign language or writing. People also tend to be misled by our speaking skills, assuming that having (good) speaking skills equals understanding speech. Because we are multilingual people competent in several written and signed languages, we feel that writing notes back and forth is an equally good and effective way to communicate in some situations. It makes us feel more independent, it puts us on an equal footing with the other person, and, let us be honest, it saves us the time and efforts of looking for and booking an interpreter which, as we all know, can be arduous sometimes. Furthermore, when writing, we do not miss the crucial information we unavoidably miss when lipreading.

That is, if people are prepared to collaborate. Because when we ask to write notes, the next response is often a dumbfounded expression and general reluctance. Writing notes?? People behave as if they do not know how to use pen and paper or type on a computer, even when that is in fact a central feature of their jobs.  They say it’s time consuming, not effective, difficult. And they often write too much: full sentences instead of a few words which are often enough. This of course makes it very inconvenient, especially in situations where there is a queue waiting right behind you.

The next response: bring an interpreter. Below, we describe three situations where this has happened, and which triggered this blog post.

Situation 1: Public service counter.

Maartje recently went to wait in line at a public service to request information. The service was open 8.30 to 12.30 and did not work with appointments, so you just had to queue until a staff member was ready to talk to you. Maartje went well-prepared: she had pen and notes ready, and a printed copy of earlier e-mail conversations with that service. First question when she made clear she was deaf by pointing at her ears and shaking her head: “can you lipread?” “No sir, please write with me.” The official shuffled through the papers, clearly unsure about what he needed to do next. So Maartje started writing down again, in Dutch (this situation took place in Flanders, Belgium) why she was here, and what kind of information she needed. Next question: “Do you have an interpreter? That would be much easier to explain everything. Please come back with an interpreter.” When asked if in that case it would be possible to make an appointment, since an interpreter is not someone Maartje can nor does want to have at her side the whole day: “No we don’t work with appointments, please just bring the interpreter.” Basically, the conversation was over then. Maartje asked if there were any more papers she needed to bring the next time, and with an indulgent smile of “here we go again, I will do my last effort”, the official wrote down what she needed to bring. And that was that. Well, he said, “I’m sorry”, as if he couldn’t help it and really didn’t know what else to do.

Situation 2: Gynaecologist.

When Annelies, a Flemish deaf woman with Dutch as her first language, was pregnant with her second son, she was laying on the doctor’s chair, with her legs open, for an internal sonography. The doctor wrote “genetics” on a piece of paper. Annelies was instantly worried: did the child have a genetic illness? She requested more information but the doctor refused to write more, and Annelies felt utterly helpless and discriminated. When sitting with the doctor in her office afterwards, the doctor told her to return with an interpreter. Annelies asked for more information on the genetics issue: what was it exactly? But the doctor refused to give more information. Since this situation happened in Germany, and Annelies does not know German Sign Language, she prefers not to bring interpreters to doctors, but to communicate in written German and English instead. The doctor refused. She went back with a bilingual (German-English) colleague later, who wrote instead. The doctor told her that since she and her husband Sujit are deaf, they should have a genetics test to see if the child is deaf or not. The doctor was very insistent upon this test, saying that it was of utmost importance for the child’s health (!). Annelies and Sujit objected. It was a doubly discriminating situation: the doctor forced them to have this test and refused to communicate directly with them. This is not an isolated incident. On multiple occasions, doctors in Germany have told Annelies that they would not see her if she came without an interpreter. She then found herself in the absurd situation of having to ask colleagues to accompany her (an infringement on her privacy) and write down what the doctor was saying, which was certainly not less time-consuming than when the doctor would have written him/herself (either in German or in English). Often, the doctor said much more than the colleague could reasonably write down, and Annelies experienced this talking over her head as discriminating and infantilizing. It took her several years to identify doctors who were willing and able to write (in English and German).

Situation 3: Town house.

Sujit is an Indian deaf person and Annelies’ husband, and since 2013 they live in Germany with their two sons. Sujit’s residence permit has to be extended regularly and for this, they have to visit the Ausländeramt (foreigner’s office) at the townhouse. Actually, Sujit preferred to go alone and to write in English with the officials (which is not their first language, but neither his), but since many people in Germany are not comfortable writing in English, Annelies accompanied him since she can read German and write basic German. They had prepared all the necessary documents and papers, so their application was perfectly in order. They had an appointment, as had several others. One after the other, the others were called in, but Annelies and Sujit kept waiting, with their second son who was a very small baby then, and very fussy. Suddenly, Annelies got a text message from her boss’ assistant: the official had called her work place (!) to tell them that they could not receive Annelies and Sujit without an interpreter, even though their application was complete and they did not need to have a lengthy conversation, just bring in the documents.

In contrast, Annelies and Sujit have lived in India for three years (and Sujit was raised there). There, in contexts of customer interaction, interactions with officials, and service provision, they communicated via writing (and many people did not have English as their first language), gesturing and signing, even during the delivery of their first baby. Nobody expected them to bring an interpreter, and nobody expected them to speak or lipread. Many people were even illiterate or not literate in English, but in most situations, communication worked out. These ways of communication were performed without question. (These ways of communication are documented in the movie Ishaare, which you can go and watch in Antwerpen on 29 April 2016).

These are just some of the many situations we have encountered in our personal lives, going out on ourselves (how dare we!) without an interpreter. We are receptive, flexible and cooperative women, but we often feel we are punished when we try to make use of our broad range of communication and language skills. If we are denied services when we do not bring an interpreter, we feel that our independence is not respected. This is in stark contrast with our professional and family lives, where we successfully carry out multiple responsibilities; it feels infantilizing and dehumanizing to be sent away if we do not adhere to mainstream communication ways. We do not ask that people try to sign if they do not sign, or gesture if they are utterly uncomfortable doing so. We just have the reasonable expectation that two people literate in a certain language, can and do accept to write in that language and are partners in trying to find alternative ways to communicate (writing, typing, using an online dictionary, which Sujit often does when meeting German-speaking people who do not know English), that are perfectly within people’s capabilities and possibilities.

Doctors, public service officers, and others insisting on bringing an interpreter is not a way to include people in society. In our view, inclusion means trying to cope with diversity (within certain parameters), rather than relaying this responsibility to cope with diversity to a third person (i.e. the interpreter, or a colleague). Do not misunderstand us, it is very important to us to be able to use interpreters, since they enable us to share our work with non-signers for example, and we appreciate and very much respect the fact that other deaf people will have other preferences with regard to the precise contexts in which they wish to use interpreters.

But we feel that in some situations, the scale has tipped, and interpreters in themselves have become tools of discrimination. This, we think, has never been the goal of interpreting services, and has never been the goal of most deaf people either. We do not see interpreters as our extended selves. We want to have the choice and opportunity to not use them in some settings, and we appeal to people to try and be flexible and cooperative in communicative situations. That, and not the forced use of interpreters is, in our view, a feature of an inclusive society.

De illusie van inclusie: de VRT en Vlaamse Gebarentaal

February 23rd, 2016



Zo’n week geleden, naar aanleiding van Valentijn, zond Ketnet een filmpje uit van wrapper Sien die uitlegde hoe je in gebarentaal kan vertellen dat je iemand leuk vindt. Het filmpje is ondertussen niet meer online beschikbaar, maar ging zo. Sien: “Vrienden van de romantiek, een Ketnet Swipevol liefde was dat vanmorgen met Leonard. We hebben tips gegeven over hoe je iemand verwent die je graag ziet. Je vindt ook veel knutseltips op Maar het belangrijkste is dat ik vind dat de liefde geen taal heeft. Nee, liefde moet je vooral tonen. Letterlijk, en dus wil ik jullie leren hoe je in gebarentaal zegt: ‘ik vind jou leuk’”. “IK JOU LEUK” (met bijhorende instructies hoe dit te gebaren). “En dan moet je ook heel hard lachen met je gezicht om de boodschap over te brengen.” Waarop ze overgaat naar het volgende item, “een heel speciale taal”: Braille.

Het filmpje werd op sociale media gepost en meteen kwam er reactie vanuit de dovengemeenschap. Gebarentaligen namen het door Ketnet gemaakte verband tussen “liefde kent geen taal” en gebarentaal op de korrel en de verwarring tussen lichaamstaal en gebarentaal, het gebruik van “tonen” in verband met gebarentaal, alsof het een tekensysteem is, de vertaling “IK JOU LEUK” die grammaticaal niet correct was, en de aanname dat Braille wel een taal zou zijn. Danny De Weerdt vatte in VGT goed samen wat precies de problemen waren met de clip.

Ikzelf, Danny De Weerdt en Fevlado gaven deze opmerkingen formeel door aan Ketnet en aan de cel Diversiteit van de VRT, en vroegen om een rechtzetting. Een greep uit het antwoord van de netmanager van Ketnet:

“Wij verwachten van onze medewerkers en schermgezichten dat ze standaard-Nederlands kennen en gebruiken. Wanneer onze mensen, schermmedewerkers of microfoonmedewerkers die geen professionele tolken zijn, enkele zinnen in een andere taal gebruiken, dan is dat uit goodwill, om inclusie na te streven (VGT) of om een Russisch, Duits, Frans of Engels kleurtje aan te brengen in onze uitzendingen.”

“Dan gebeurt het wel eens dat er een taalfout insluipt. Niet-moedertaalsprekers maken nu eenmaal af en toe een fout in een taal die niet hun moedertaal is. Wij kunnen niet verwachten dat onze gewone medewerkers in dat geval vlekkeloos VGT, Duits of Frans gebruiken. We zullen dus ook niet telkens een rechtzettingsclip maken, we appreciëren juist dat onze collega’s creatief en inclusief te werk gaan.”

Men vond het spijtig “dat wij zo zwaar tillen aan een creatieve poging” omdat het toch maar om een “vluchtig filmpje” ging. Een rechtzetting vond men niet nodig en zelfs “vreemd”.

Hadden wij de missers in het filmpje op zich nog kunnen relativeren met een eerlijk antwoord dat deze fouten toegaf, het antwoord dat we kregen is helaas symptomatisch voor de manier waarop de VRT omgaat met Vlaamse Gebarentaal (VGT): als object van inclusie en “toegankelijkheid”. Merk trouwens op hoe VGT gelinkt wordt aan “inclusie” maar men door het gebruik van Russisch, Duits, Frans of Engels “een kleurtje wil aanbrengen” in uitzendingen. En dat het Journaal hoofdzakelijk getolkt wordt naar VGT door niet-moedertaalgebaarders, “die af en toe een foutje maken”.

Alle middelen zijn geoorloofd als het om “inclusie” gaat, en wat “inclusie” is wordt eenzijdig bepaald door de gevestigde machten (in dit geval de VRT) en niet door de minderheidsgroep (in dit geval de Vlaamse dovengemeenschap). Wanneer er bedenkingen geuit worden op deze aanpak door de minderheidsgroep zelf wordt dat vaak op onbegrip onthaald, want hoe kan je nu tegen inclusie zijn? “Inclusie” wordt in zo’n geval gebruikt als reden om de bedenkingen van de groep op wie de inclusie gericht is, af te doen als “radicaal” of “onrealistisch”. Hetzelfde gebeurt vaak als men het heeft over de “inclusie” van dove kinderen in het regulier onderwijs. “Inclusie” betekent op deze manier eerder “feel good diversity”: “kijk eens hoe inclusief wij bezig zijn”; wat de groep op wie de inclusie gericht is er zelf van denkt, of welk voordeel ze er zelf uit haalt, is minder van belang.

Op dezelfde manier negeert de VRT de vraag van de dovengemeenschap om eigen media in VGT en blijven ze inzetten op louter “toegankelijkheid” van hun programma’s. Inclusie werkt daarbij in één richting: een minderheid krijgt toegang tot de inhoud en het perspectief van de meerderheid. Het Journaal wordt getolkt in de Vlaamse Gebarentaal. Dat is geen inclusieve of interculturele televisie, trouwens belangrijke speerpunten van de VRT. De Vlaamse overheid engageerde zich 10 jaar geleden door de decretale erkenning van de Vlaamse Gebarentaal tot “de bescherming en luister van de taal”. De aanpak van de VRT ligt niet in lijn met dit engagement. Dove gebarentaligen verwachten een ander gebarentaalbeleid van de VRT, dat aandacht heeft voor hun perspectief en hen media aanbiedt, gemaakt door henzelf, direct in VGT (niet via een vertaling). Denk aan een VGT-journaal, een kindermagazine en/of een talkshow in VGT.

Dat is géén “doelgroepentelevisie” of “niche-televisie”, zoals de VRT het graag voorstelt. Wat ze precies bedoelen met “doelgroepentelevisie” is trouwens niet duidelijk. Een programma als Eigen Kweek, dat een specifiek aspect van de Vlaamse cultuur in beeld brengt (in een bepaald dialect dan nog) is blijkbaar geen doelgroepentelevisie, maar een programma in VGT, dat een andere aspect van de Vlaamse cultuur in beeld brengt, is dat wel. Nee, media in VGT is interculturele, inclusieve (!) televisie, die via voice-over of ondertiteling bovendien “toegankelijk” en “inclusief” is voor niet-gebarentaligen. Voorbeelden van good practices in het buitenland zijn er genoeg.

De nieuwe beheersovereenkomst 2016-2019 heeft helaas de illusie van inclusie niet kunnen doorprikken. De aanpak van de voorbije vier jaar werd gewoon bestendigd, en de voorstellen i.v.m. een eigen media gezien als “onwenselijk”. De reactie van Ketnet op het Valentijnsfilmpje van wrapper Sien – hoe goedbedoeld ook – heeft deze illusie helaas alleen maar bevestigd.

Op 26 april 2016 zal het tien jaar geleden zijn dat de Vlaamse overheid de VGT wettelijk erkende als taal van een cultuur-linguïstische minderheidsgroep. Die erkenning is nog ver te zoeken bij de VRT.

British Sign Language (Scotland) Bill passed final hurdle – translation to British Sign Language

October 15th, 2015

(This blog post has appeared in English here.)

British Sign Language (Scotland) Bill passed final hurdle

September 17th, 2015

Today, just a few hours ago, the Scottish Parliament passed the British Sign Language (Scotland) Bill (which will become an Act after receiving Royal Assent).

With the passing of this Bill, Scotland becomes the first region of the UK where British Sign Language (BSL) is given legal status. The often mentioned 2003 “recognition” of BSL by the UK government was actually merely a statement that BSL is a language in its own right (like all languages are, indeed), and in March 2011, the then Scottish minister of public health made a similar statement, accepting BSL as a language in Scotland. But until today, BSL did not have legal status in any part of the UK. The passing of the BSL Bill is thus a milestone for Scotland and for the UK as a whole.

The Bill was introduced in the Scottish Parliament by Member of Scottish Parliament Mark Griffin in October 2014, after two public consultations to gauge support for it and allow different stakeholders access to the decision-making process. In the following months, the Education and Culture Committee of the Parliament scrutinized the Bill, holding three evidence sessions which were live streamed on the Internet, interpreted into BSL and English and provided with captions. During those evidence sessions, BSL signers engaged in direct dialogue with members of the Scottish Parliament. The Parliament not only put in great efforts to make the process accessible for BSL signers, but also to consult with them. In this spirit, they set up a Facebook page in November 2014 to invite BSL signers to share their views on the Bill, in BSL. Hundreds of videos were shared by the group and it has over 2.500 members. In a later stage, proposed amendments were considered (debate again viewable online with BSL and captions) and today, the Bill passed the third and final stage.

Different motivations guided the development of the Bill, the first one being that BSL deserves to be on an equal legal footing with Scotland’s other autochthonous minority languages like Gaelic. Another major motive was the perceived ineffectiveness of existing equality and disability legislation, especially the Equality Act 2010. This legislation was seen as ineffective because it labels deaf people as disabled and tries to fit linguistic issues into legislation that is designed for disability. There also have been problems with the implementation of this legislation and with the very concepts it is based on, eg. reasonable accommodations. Other motives were the deplorable state of deaf education and the absence of educational linguistic rights for deaf children, problematic access to health care and social care for deaf people, and the lack of information for and rights of parents of deaf children. These motives are not unique to Scotland but common motives for sign language recognition legislation (I wrote about this in this upcoming book published by Gallaudet University Press).

The BSL (Scotland) Bill is an example of a “planning-based” model of language planning and language legislation, just like the Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act which was passed in 2005. “Planning-based” means that the BSL  Bill is based on the development of so-called “BSL plans”, which set out what the Scottish Government and the public authorities listed in the Bill, plan to do in relation to the promotion of BSL. It is important to read that right, “plan to do”, not “do”. The Bill only makes provisions for the publication and review of those plans. It does not state what the plans should include, it does not make provisions for implementation of the plans, and it contains no absolute rights for BSL signers.

The Bill itself is very technical and full of legalese. Below, I will try to explain its aim and provisions in an understandable manner (which will still be technical, I’m sorry!). The full text of the Bill as passed is available here.

In short, the British Sign Language (Scotland) Bill aims to promote the use and understanding of British Sign Language principally by means of BSL plans, which are to be published by the Scottish Ministers and specified public authorities. Public authorities (or public bodies) are organisations funded by the Scottish Government but not forming part of it. They have far-reaching functions and play an important role in the delivery of public services in Scotland. Their functions range from health and social care to the arts, culture and the built environment. Examples listed in the Bill are the local councils, local health boards under the National Health Service, further and higher education institutions, but also the Scottish Parliament itself, the Scottish Commission for Human Rights and the Scottish Housing Regulator to name just a few. These plans will be reviewed and updated by the publication of Progress Reports.

The British Sign Language (Scotland) Bill is thus based on three pillars: the National Plan, the Authority Plans, and the Progress Reports.

National Plan

The National Plan sets out the strategy of the Scottish Ministers in relation to the promotion, and facilitation of promotion, of BSL. It also sets out what the Scottish Ministers consider that relevant authorities should or could do to promote, and facilitate the promotion of, the use and understanding of BSL, within their areas of responsibility. The content of the National Plan needs to be publicly available, also in BSL. In preparing the National Plan, the Scottish Ministers need to consult on a draft of the plan, in particular with (a) “persons who use BSL” and (b) “persons who represent users of BSL”. The consultation needs to be accessible for BSL signers, also for those who are deafblind. The first National Plan needs to be published two years after the Act comes into force; subsequent National Plans need to be published at intervals of no more than six years since the publication of the most recent National Plan.

Listed Authorities’ Plans

An Authority Plan sets out measures that a listed authority will take in relation to the use of BSL and sets out timescales for when these measures will be taken. The aim is to achieve consistency between the National Plan and the Authority Plans. The consultation requirement is similar to that for the National Plan. These plans also need to be publicly available, also in BSL. A listed authority’s first Plan is to be published as soon as possible after the publication of the first National Plan (and no later than 12 months after). Subsequent Authority Plans must be published as soon as possibly after (and no later than 6 months after) each subsequent National Plan.

Progress reports

Progress reports set out the Scottish Ministers’ views about the progress made, based on the National Plan and the Authority Plans. The first Progress Report must be published within 3 years after the publication of the first National Plan and subsequently at intervals of no more than 6 years. Progress reports include an account of measures taken and outcomes attained, examples of best practice and, if there are any, of poor performance.

While retaining collective responsibility of ministers, the Scottish Government will assign BSL to Dr. Alasdair Allan, Scottish Minister for Learning, Science and Scotland’s languages, who will have responsibility for updating Parliament on the progress of the National Plan and the public authority action plans.

Another innovative feature of the Bill is that it also recognised the deafblind community’s distinct needs, and the tactile form of BSL. This is a major step forward for deafblind people in Scotland, of whom many attended the debate today.

These are the provisions of the BSL (Scotland) Bill. This blog is not the place to analyse and evaluate the Act’s purpose and provisions; I have made a first attempt in this article which you can read if you want to know more.

Member of Scottish Parliament Liam McArthur during the 2nd evidence session very well summarized the relevance of the Bill:

“The clear message is that the situation is patchy, despite the Equality Act 2010, the Disability Discrimination Act 2005, the human rights framework and the range of services that already exist. The Deaf community is telling us that there is frustration that the patchiness exists despite those legislative levers – which are, let us face it, significantly more substantial than those proposed in the Bill. The Deaf community is saying that the Bill offers an opportunity to identify and symbolise the importance that we attach to BSL. Then, through the levers in the Equality Act 2010 and the human rights framework, we should start to see a more consistent approach to improving access for the deaf and hard of hearing community.”

That is exactly what the Bill will probably lead to: by feeding into equality and human rights legislation, achieve a more consistent approach to improving access for BSL signers. It will also act as a flagship, a symbol, for BSL, make BSL more visible and raise awareness about the language and the people who sign it, just like this happened for Gaelic. Deaf people should not have to declare themselves disabled to exercise their right to linguistic access. It’s a right thing the Bill moves away from this model, and views BSL as a minority language. A lot will also depend on what exactly will be in the first National Plan, and the Authority Plans. Consultation with the Scottish Deaf community will be very important in this regard, and it is hoped that this consultation will happen through the establishment of a National Advisory Group with a majority of BSL signers in it.

The Bill is a first step. It does not confer any absolute rights on BSL signers or obligations on public authorities. The experience with language schemes in Ireland, Wales and Scotland (for Gaelic) have showed that there are several pitfalls to be avoided and that they can only be a useful tool for language planning under certain conditions. The Bill is thus a stepping stone towards improving services.

That is not to be underestimated. (Better) access to services can make a lot of difference to the daily lives of deaf people in Scotland. And that, after all, is what sign language legislation should aim to achieve: improve deaf people’s lives. Create the space for us to continue to use sign language, make the language important for our social and cultural capital. Scotland as a whole will be a better country for it.

Congratulations to the Scottish Deaf community and everyone involved!


“Diversity” discourses as a way to deny access – post-ICED reflection

July 18th, 2015

(blogpost by Annelies Kusters and Maartje De Meulder)

What happened to “Nothing about us without us”? “You are too diverse so there is no other way, it has to happen without you!”

Diversity is a buzzword, and it has been used in diverging ways. A few months ago, we (together with Michele Friedner and Steve Emery) wrote a working paper on diversity and inclusion, evaluating the promises and perils of using those two concepts in academic and policy realms, such as in the WFD and UNCRPD discourses. We argued that in order for these concepts to be useful for deaf people in the achievement of rights, we need to foreground a specific understanding of inclusion as societal inclusion, and diversity as needing a group rights-based foundation. The working paper is open access, you can find it here. It has also been translated in German in the most recent issue of Das Zeichen.

However, “diversity” can also be used in a way that’s actually oppressive. This is what happened during and after the ICED conference in Athens two weeks ago. The controversy around statements made by Harry Knoors (Knoors is one of the leading figures in Dutch and European deaf education and heavily involved in ICED) with regard to access during the ICED conference, reveals this. Knoors used the concept of “diversity” in a way that is very counterproductive for us deaf people. Reacting to deaf criticisms that not all the parallel sessions during ICED were interpreted into International Sign, Knoors argued that deaf people are so diverse (calling them: ”Deaf, deaf and hard of hearing people”) that it is virtually impossible to cater all these communication preferences (such as IS interpreters, CART, acoustic devices), hence it is not possible to provide access for all. In such a statement we see the concept of “diversity” being used as an excuse for the inability to provide access.

Knoors further commented that the right to 100% access deaf people from Western countries claim (!) they are entitled to, would lead to higher conference fees and as such discriminate against participants from developing countries because they wouldn’t be able to afford to pay the fees anymore. Knoors is invoking the global South here as a way of showing failure or inability. Secondly, what about access for those deaf participants from developing countries? Between the lines Knoors’ discourse makes signers look like a small marginalised group; he referred to “only 2% of deaf people using BSL in England”. Here we see “diversity” operating differently— signing deaf people are such a small minority that it is not necessary to accommodate them in the sea of diversity.

So, again, “diversity” is used as an oppressive term here: differentiate us to such extent as to be able to say: “You are so diverse it’s not possible to provide access for all of you!” Thus, here it seems that diversity functions as an excuse for not being able to provide access or accommodation or to deny the possibility of access or accommodation happening.

This line of thinking is not specific to Harry Knoors; we are reacting to a broader pattern here. The ICED’s conference theme was: ”Educating Diverse Learners: Many Ways, One Goal”. Following the conference on Twitter (check #ICED2015) and Facebook revealed specific (and powerful) discourse of “teaching diverse learners”. The conference was opened by Greg Leigh (Australia), stating: “There is no one size fits all, and those who say there is will be looked at with Argus’ eyes”. Several speakers at the ICED conference used “diversity” of deaf children to justify their discourse of “we need to look at every child individually, they all have diverse needs, there is not one teaching language”, “deaf children with a CI don’t sign”.

How did it happen that our communication ways are so diverse? What is the reason that, according to Knoors and his colleagues, so few deaf people know a sign language, or International Sign? Here we come back to the very topic of deaf education. It’s because deaf education (both in deaf schools and in mainstreaming attempts) has diversified us to that extent. The idea is that when “including” deaf children and adults in mainstream education and mainstream jobs, such individual language and other preferences (a sign language interpreter, CART, acoustic modifications, etc…) can be catered to. However, when such “individually included” deaf people come together such as in the context of a conference (or a deaf community event), it becomes hard to cater to such diverse needs. Mark Marschark (one of the other ICED keynote speakers) in his presentation referred to “what we really know (and we think we know)” about deaf education. Well, here is what we know: had deaf education been bilingual during the past few decades, the situation would have been entirely different. Many more deaf people would know one or more sign languages, and as such be better equipped to understand and use International Sign or national sign languages such as ASL.

We are talking about a very oppressive mechanism here, a “divide and rule” mechanism: first deaf education systems diversify us to that extent that there are different preferences and needs, and then this diversification is used to deny us access. Earlier we have argued that “diversity” is a concept that offers potential for recognising sign languages (not to be confused with “sign supported speech”). Instead, at ICED it has been used as one of the new oppressing terms. The same is happening with the concept of “inclusion”. This can be interpreted as: “make deaf people as hearing as possible so that they can function in a diverse mainstream society” OR as: “provide deaf people with sign language education and sign language access so that they feel included as a diverse group in a diverse mainstream society”. The latter seems to be the WFD’s interpretation of the concepts “inclusion” and “diversity”, however their discourse needs to be strengthened, as we argued in our working paper (and as we will talk about in International Sign during the WFD conference in Istanbul next week).

In short, here, diversity becomes a problem instead of something that needs to be valued, nurtured and supported. It is also important to note that it is not just deaf people who are denied access; hearing conference attendees are also denied access to deaf people’s presentations, and to deaf people’s comments and thoughts following hearing attendees’ presentations. Thus, access to diverse visions and perspectives is minimalized and the whole academic and educational community loses out (a point also made by another deaf blogger talking about ICED).

The theme of the WFD conference in Istanbul next week is “Strengthening Human Diversity”. We want to ask people to be critical of how the term is used: in favour of our rights, or in a way that can turn against us?

Annelies Kusters and Maartje De Meulder


Conversation with Harry Knoors

July 15th, 2015

At the Dutch Kentalis blog, Harry Knoors, one of the leading figures in Dutch and European Deaf education, has given his perspective on the accessibility issues during the ICED conference in Athens last week. He was responding to a discussion thread initiated by a Dutch deaf person, Juliette, which was quickly followed by other responses from deaf people.

Knoors’ response is in Dutch but because it is so revealing I think it deserves a wider audience. Here is the English translation. (Original in Dutch and the other responses are here.)


Dear Juliette and others,

I really understand your emotions, but I think your reactions are too one-sided, too much departing from the perspective ‘we Deaf people are entitled to that’. And I’m wondering how far you can go with that. That has nothing to do with being denigratory towards Deaf people, it has also nothing to do with audism, it has to do with having a different opinion about something. I think that should be possible. Sometimes you may think you are entitled to something, but there are some practical barriers to overcome first.

Let me first say this. There is no such thing as an ICED organisation. There is only a committee (of which I am a member) which every 5 years chooses from the proposals where the next conference will take place. It is this place and organisation, in 2015 Athens and Patras University, in 2020 Brisbane and the Australian Teachers for the Deaf, who will arrange everything further. They are responsible for the costs. So ICED is not like the WFD, an own organisation with its own budget.

Of course we could reduce the number of presentations or parallel sessions. But then fewer people would come! Because a lot of people can only participate in conferences abroad when they give a presentation. And less participants means less income. A frustrating dilemma.

An alternative option is looking for sponsors. In our world actually there are only a few sponsors which have money: the CI companies. Well…

After the conference, the committee had a meeting to discuss criteria for the countries and organisations organising the conference in 2025. We decided there that the conference needs to be 100% accessible for Deaf people (but also for deaf people and hard of hearing people, because we need to take them into account as well), exactly like you want. Preferably in Brisbane already. But every member of the committee, including Deaf people present, is very much aware that this will be very hard to afford. And at this meeting, representatives from developing countries told us that the right to 100% access Deaf people from Western countries claim they are entitled to, will lead to discrimination of participants from developing countries, because in that case, they won’t be able to pay the conference fees anymore. So it is a little bit more complicated than you, Juliette, sketched in your first post.

You said that the ICED organisation (which doesn’t exist!) should be reflecting on what happened. And I wrote that Deaf people should do that too. To nag you? Not at all. Because I, just like you, would like to have 100% access, but I also want to keep the conference affordable. Because otherwise, there will be no ICED conferences anymore. And that would be a pity. And this is why I present you this idea. I do not speak Chinese. But quite often, I receive invitations to go to conferences in China. Where Chinese is the conference language. In such a situation, am I, as a Dutch person, entitled to an interpreter Dutch or English? Or am I responsible for that myself? And do I maybe need to (partly) pay for it myself? And so what is the difference with Deaf people?

Kind regards,


‘Sign Language Act’ approved in Finland

March 12th, 2015

This afternoon, the Finnish Parliament voted in favour of the ‘Sign Language Act’. Now the first thing you might think when you read this is ‘Wait a minute, didn’t they already have recognition legislation’? And you’re right. Finland has had constitutional recognition since 1995. Section 17 of the Constitution on the ‘Right to one’s language and culture’, which makes regulations for Finnish, Swedish, Sami and Romani also states that “the rights of persons using sign language and of persons in need of interpretation and translation aid owing to disability shall be guaranteed by an Act”.

The Sign Language Act which was passed today, is actually a natural consequence of that constitutional reference. The Finnish signing community was the only language group mentioned in the constitution (apart from the Roma), which didn’t yet have designated language legislation (Finnish and Swedish are regulated in the Language Act, and Sami in the Sami Language Act). Special legislation already contains numerous provisions on sign language, but they are scattered and their interpretation is discretionary. Also, the absence of language legislation meant that the legislative status of sign language (and signers) in Finland was not clear. This meant that, when devising new special legislation, Finnish signers were often not taken into consideration and that often, rights and services are only granted on the basis of signers’ assumed disability status.

The Sign Language Act is aimed at changing this. First of all, it defines sign language as Finnish Sign Language and Finland-Swedish Sign Language, the two sign languages used in Finland. The latter has only 300 signers left and no schools, and is included in the UNESCO list of endangered sign languages. The Act will hopefully assist in its much-needed revitalisation process. A signer is defined in the Act as a person “whose own language is sign language” – a definition open to include both deaf and hearing people, which is very innovative and indeed internationally very rare, as Markku Jokinen said in a statement published on the website of the Finnish Deaf Association today.

The main purpose of the Act is to promote the realization of the linguistic rights of signers as required by the Constitution and international human rights conventions (Finland is expected to ratify the UNCRPD soon, at last). Authorities (eg. courts, municipal authorities, bureaus of the Parliament etc.) must in their activities promote the opportunities of signers to use their own language and receive information in their own language (cfr. also UNCRPD Art. 21). The Act also intends to increase authorities’ awareness of signers as a linguistic and cultural group. The Act further re-establishes signers’ right (enshrined in special legislation) to receive teaching in their own language and in sign language as a subject, and their right to use sign language or interpretation and translation arranged by an authority.

The Act does not create any new rights, but rather aims to promote the linguistic rights signers already have, in practice, and clarifies their status as a language and cultural group. Its intention is comparable to the intentions behind the development of the UNCRPD, which doesn’t create any new rights for persons with disabilities either, but frames, specifies, reinforces and aims to realize their human rights into practice.

In addition to the Act itself, the Parliament also approved a statement from the Constitutional Committee, which calls for the Government to take measures to ensure the linguistic rights of signers in such a way as intended through legislation. This is a step towards ensuring deaf children and their parent’s right to sign language which is not explicitly in the Act itself but which was nevertheless seen as very important by both the Education and Culture Committee and the Constitutional Committee.

Challenges now will be proper monitoring and supervision of the Act, implementing it within Finland’s current strict economic situation with limited resources for municipalities, and continuing the work and developing the legislation further in the next government’s term (eg. set up an Advisory Board for Sign Language Affairs).

The Sign Language Act passed today may not be a sufficient step to guarantee signers’ linguistic and cultural rights, but it definitely is one in the right direction.

Congratulations to the Finnish Deaf Association, the Finland-Swedish Deaf Association and the signing community in Finland!





Recognition of Danish Sign Language

May 13th, 2014

Today the Danish Parliament unanimously recognized Danish Sign Language (Dansk Tegnsprog) by passing Law 61 amending the law on the Danish Language Council (Dansk Sprognævn). The law was initiated by Lars Barfoed of the Conservative People’s Party. Denmark already has a form of implicit recognition with several pieces of legislation mentioning sign language but up till today there was no formal legal recognition.

Basically, the recognition means that a Danish Sign Language Council (Dansk Tegnsprogsråd) will be established resorting under the Danish Language Council. The Danish Sign Language Council will consist of 5 members, appointed by the Minister of Culture for 4 years (with possibility of reappointment): 2 representatives from the Danish Language Council, one from the Danish Deaf Association (DDL), one representative from the Education and Research Ministry and one from the Ministry of Children, Equality, Integration and Social Condition.

The main task of the Danish Sign Language Council will be to research and document Danish Sign Language and provide information and guidance on the language. This will be done by the secretariat which will have one full-time staff and a yearly budget of about 130.000 euros (1 million Danish kr.).

With this recognition, Denmark places itself in what seems to be a Nordic tradition. Norwegian Sign Language is part of the Norwegian Language Council, Swedish Sign Language of the Swedish Language Council, Iceland has a separate Icelandic Sign Language Council and Finnish Sign Language and Finland-Swedish Sign Language resort under the Research Institute for the Languages of Finland (KOTUS).

This recognition is an important step for Denmark. At first sight it seems a rather ‘limited’ recognition granting no substantial rights to the language nor its users. It is. But by adopting this law, Danish Sign Language is recognized as a language in Denmark, on equal footing with Danish. This is no small thing in a country without any language legislation. This made it very hard for the Danish Deaf Association to find a way to recognize Danish Sign Language. On top of this, the last few years Denmark has lost much of its former appeal as one of the ‘great’ Nordic countries which lead by example. Denmark became associated with “99% of all deaf children receiving a cochlear implant”, “closure of deaf schools” and “auditory verbal therapy”. It became a (sometimes caricatural) illustration of how things are changing for the worse. Recognition of Danish Sign Language seemed a far-fetched dream.

But the dream came true, and while this law will probably not have the power to change the alarming situation in Denmark, it can give a boost of confidence to the Danish Deaf people that things can change for the better, and that there is a brighter future ahead. Let’s hope it is a first step towards more positive changes.

So, tillykke to the Danish Deaf Association and the Danish Deaf community!




Goedkeuring BNM-decreet

November 14th, 2013

De Vlaamse Regering keurde op 8 november het ontwerpdecreet over belangrijke en noodzakelijke maatregelen voor leerlingen met specifieke onderwijsbehoeften (het BNM-decreet) definitief goed.

Conform het principe “nothing about us, without us” uit het VN Verdrag inzake de Rechten van Personen met een Handicap, organiseerde het kabinet Onderwijs overleg met de verschillende belangengroepen over het ontwerp van decreet.

Fevlado was één van de belangengroepen die geconsulteerd werden, alsook VLOK-CI. De ouderorganisatie herhaalde opnieuw dat de meeste van hun leden “absoluut geen vragende partij” zijn voor bilinguaal-bicultureel onderwijs voor dove en slechthorende kinderen, aangezien hun kinderen vaak geen of slechts weinig VGT kennen.

Punt 5 van hun reactie gaat als volgt:

5. Vanuit VLOK-CI geen vraag naar bicultureel en bilinguaal onderwijs.

In het ontwerpdecreet is er sprake van bicultureel en bilinguaal onderwijs. De meeste van onze ouders zijn hier absoluut geen vragende partij aangezien hun kinderen, zoals hierboven reeds aangegeven, vaak geen of slechts weinig VGT kennen. Wij zijn er ook van overtuigd dat de nieuwe generatie doven en slechthorenden steeds vaker bij elkaar terecht zullen kunnen voor wat betreft hun identiteitsontwikkeling aangezien zij met andere, nieuwe, specifieke problemen geconfronteerd worden. Uiteraard kunnen VGT, Nederlands met Gebaren of elke andere vorm van communicatie alsook begrip en respect vanuit de maatschappij een waardevolle aanvulling zijn.

De bijdragen van Fevlado, VLOK-CI en de andere belangengroepen zijn integraal beschikbaar via deze link.

“Gebarentaal in tijden van stroompanne”: reactie op de nieuwsbrief van VLOK-CI

August 22nd, 2013

April 2013. De Standaard publiceert een interview met dokter Van Kerschaver, de toenmalige hoofdarts van Kind & Gezin. Ik schrijf vervolgens op dit weblog een reactie op dat artikel, en die tekst wordt een week later in dezelfde krant ook als opiniestuk gepubliceerd.

Juni 2013. VLOK-CI, “een vereniging van en voor ouders van dove kinderen, deze met een CI in het bijzonder” schrijft in haar maandelijkse nieuwsbrief ook een opiniestuk als reactie op wat zij noemen de “open oorlog in De Standaard”. Na lang overwegen, wil ik toch op die tekst van VLOK-CI reageren. Omdat ze mijn mening verkeerd voorstellen, en omdat hun reactie een aantal onwaarheden en foutieve informatie bevat. Dit verdient rechtzetting. (De reactie van VLOK-CI is online te vinden via de juni 2013 nieuwsbrief van ONICI).

VLOK-CI vat het belangrijke debat over het CI en gebarentaal voor dove kinderen uitsluitend op als de tegenstelling tussen twee zogezegde “kampen”, waarbij ze mij in het ene “kamp” plaatsen en dokter Van Kerschaver in het andere. Ze schrijven hierover:

“We betreuren in de eerste plaats dat deze polemiek opnieuw het exclusieve of-of-verhaal op de spits drijft. Door de beide kampen wordt namelijk een extreme keuze voorgeschoteld: ofwel laat je je kind implanteren ofwel voed je het op in Vlaamse Gebarentaal (VGT)”.

Ik bestrijd ten zeerste deze voorstelling van “kampen”, en de opgeklopte tegenstelling tussen Vlaamse Gebarentaal (VGT) en CI. Nergens in mijn opiniestuk zal je die tegenstelling terugvinden, en ik pleit dan ook voor nuancering in dit belangrijke en gevoelige debat. Ik verwijs opnieuw naar mijn opinie:

“Dit is géén pleidooi tegen het CI, maar vóór Vlaamse Gebarentaal. Het is die tegenstelling waar ouders van dove kinderen vaak verkeerdelijk voor worden geplaatst: of een CI, of ‘aangewezen’ zijn op gebarentaal (lees: ‘falen’).”

(Terzijde: de media polariseren graag en stellen verschillende meningen graag zwart-wit voor. Deze discussie in De Standaard maakt daarop geen uitzondering. De krant gebruikte sensationele titels bij de artikels (“Hij redde Vlaamse kinderen van doofheid”, “Doven zijn geen mislukkelingen”) en ze werden voorgesteld als twee uitersten. Dat zijn echter slechts titels, en niet representatief voor de inhoud. Ik heb bovendien op 8 april nog een extra stukje gepost op mijn weblog als verklaring bij de ongelukkige toelichting die De Standaard boven de titel van mijn opiniestuk plaatste.)

Ik begrijp dat ouders van dove kinderen kiezen voor een CI. Aan die keuze zou echter altijd, zonder onderscheid, het recht van dove kinderen (en ouders) op VGT toegevoegd moeten worden. Dit recht omgezet in de praktijk: het nadrukkelijk stimuleren (op een positieve manier) van ouders van dove kinderen om VGT te leren en gebruiken. Uiteraard moet dit, veel meer dan nu, gekoppeld worden aan mogelijkheden om dat te kunnen waarmaken:  voldoende cursussen VGT, voldoende mogelijkheden voor kinderen en ouders om VGT te gebruiken, voldoende contact met dove rolmodellen, etc. Eigenlijk zou er zelfs geen sprake mogen zijn van een “nadrukkelijke stimulans”, of een “keuze” voor VGT. Het feit dat een doof kind ook VGT leert zou zo vanzelfsprekend moeten zijn dat we daar zelfs niet meer over denken in termen van een “keuze”.

De tegenstelling tussen het CI en VGT in twee zogezegde “kampen” wordt uitsluitend gemaakt door VLOK-CI zelf, en ik laat mij niet in zo’n “kamp” plaatsen. Een CI en VGT gaan volgens mij perfect samen. Hierbij is een CI een hulpmiddel. Gebarentaal niet.

Dan: onwaarheden en foutieve informatie in de reactie van VLOK-CI:

– VLOK-CI stelt dat als we doofheid zouden zien als een beperking, dat dan vooral een beperking is in relatie tot de maatschappelijke context, nl. een maatschappij die voornamelijk is ingesteld op functioneren via gesproken taal en geluid. Ik ga daarmee akkoord. Waar wij waarschijnlijk van mening verschillen, is hoe we met die beperking omgaan. Men kan de maatschappelijke context maximaal trachten aan te passen (waar ik voor pleit): ervoor zorgen dat kinderen vanaf hun eerste levensjaar VGT kunnen verwerven door er bijvoorbeeld voor te zorgen dat ouders de eerste maanden thuis een dove persoon hebben die hen kennis laat maken met VGT en met het kind communiceert in VGT, door kinderopvang te voorzien in VGT en tweetalig basisonderwijs. Door ervoor te zorgen dat horende mensen meer in contact komen met VGT. Dat is toch wat anders dan de visie die VLOK-CI heeft op het aanpassen van de maatschappelijke context, namelijk het kind “vanaf de eerste dag in de opvang tot de laatste dag van zijn leven” voltijds “te laten bijstaan” door een tolk. Men kan ook de maatschappelijke context dezelfde laten, maar in tegendeel baby’s/kinderen aanpassen zodat ze in die context “passen”. VLOK-CI beschrijft in hun opiniestuk tot mijn verbazing deze integratie volledig in termen van kostenefficiënte maatregelen waarbij een CI volgens hen kostenefficiënter is “dan een maatschappelijke ondersteuning van VGT voor een volledige integratie van doven in de horende wereld”. De beschikbare middelen moeten volgens hen zo ingezet worden dat met een minimum aan inspanning een maximum aan welzijn bereikt kan worden. Ik verzet me ten stelligste tegen deze visie: het doel is inderdaad een “maximum aan welzijn” (waarbij ik graag met VLOK-CI in gesprek zou gaan over hun definitie van “welzijn”). Maar moet dat echt met een “minimum aan inspanning”?? Dat deze inspanningen redelijk moeten zijn, en niet buitensporig, zou ik kunnen volgen, maar dat “minimum” gaat er bij mij niet in. Volgens mij gaat het er hier niet om wat het meest of het minst kostenefficiënt is, al zou het niet slecht zijn dat VLOK-CI haar argumentatie staaft met resultaten van longitudinaal wetenschappelijk onderzoek, en cijfermateriaal. Ik verzet me ertegen dat het leven van dove kinderen door VLOK-CI in hun opiniestuk uitsluitend gezien wordt in termen van kosten en baten.

– VLOK-CI stelt in haar reactie:

“[…] de basis van de informed consent is au fond eigenlijk eenvoudig. Indien het plaatsen [van het CI] voor het tweede levensjaar gebeurt dan is de kans op integratie in het gewoon onderwijs 90%. Deze kans daalt met 20% per levensjaar dat de beslissing uitgesteld wordt (Dovennieuws, 2007). Op basis van de informatie die ouders krijgen moeten ouders dan effectief het recht hebben om te kunnen kiezen voor een CI zonder gebarentaal, een CI met gebarentaal, of een loutere opvoeding in gebarentaal. Het zelfbeschikkingsrecht blijft een fundament waar niet aan geraakt mag worden.”

Ik ga ervan uit dat VLOK-CI de kortfilm “Mijn baby is doof” bekeken heeft, en een aantal recente wetenschappelijke publicaties doorgenomen heeft die informed consent en informatieverstrekking aan ouders behandelen, specifiek voor de Vlaamse situatie (Hardonk et al. 2010; Matthijs et al. 2012). Daaruit blijkt telkens weer hoe weinig informatie ouders krijgen in Vlaanderen, en hoe eenzijdig de weinige informatie is die ze krijgen. De beslissing die ouders nemen is dus in de meeste gevallen helemaal niet “informed”, maar een pure sprong in het ongewisse. VLOK-CI stelt echter:

“Ouders kunnen in alle sereniteit en met de juiste, genuanceerde duiding beslissen wat de beste keuze is voor hun kind. Zowel de voor- als de nadelen worden doorgaans wel duidelijk uitgelegd”.

Waarom pleit VLOK-CI niet voor een betere voorlichting voor ouders van dove kinderen?

– VLOK-CI stelt dat het voor horende ouders “een onmogelijke opdracht is” om hun kind in VGT op te voeden. Ik ga ermee akkoord dat het een grote uitdaging is, maar niet onmogelijk. De bijna-onmogelijkheid zit ‘m op dit moment in de maatschappelijke context: ouders worden niet gemotiveerd of actief ondersteund om VGT te leren, en mogelijkheden op maat van ouders om VGT te leren zijn veel te beperkt. Het is niet zo dat horende ouders intrinsiek onbekwaam zouden zijn om in zekere mate een gebarentaal te leren. Er zijn genoeg voorbeelden van horende ouders in het buitenland die hier goed tot uitstekend in geslaagd zijn. Het is inderdaad zo dat ouders op hun leeftijd nooit meer de vlotheid zullen bereiken die iemand heeft die op vroege leeftijd een taal leert. Maar niemand verwacht van hen dat zij voor hun kinderen het perfecte en enige taalrolmodel zijn. Net daarom het enorme belang van activiteiten zoals “VGT doe mee” en alle andere activiteiten die het gebruik van VGT stimuleren, aanmoedigen en plezierig maken.  Net daarom het belang ook van betrokkenheid van dove taalrolmodellen, dove leerkrachten, peers, … Het is een gedeelde verantwoordelijkheid. Niet alleen van de ouders, niet alleen van de Dovengemeenschap, maar beiden. (Ik schreef hier trouwens al eerder over op deze blog.)  Wat doet VLOK-CI op dit moment om ervoor te zorgen dat de volgende generatie ouders van dove kinderen (en kinderen zelf) makkelijker VGT leert?

– VLOK-CI stelt “eerder sceptisch” te staan tegenover “een voorgestelde algemene tendens naar een bilinguale opvoeding”, omdat de noden van het kind centraal moeten staan. Ik zou erg graag eens met hen in gesprek gaan over hoe zij precies een bilinguale opvoeding zien als ingaand tégen de noden van dove kinderen met een CI. Wat is er mis aan opgroeien met en onderwijs krijgen in/over twee talen? En hoe lost VLOK-CI de behoefte aan een gegarandeerde eerste taal op een andere manier op? Opnieuw: het is heus niet alleen de verantwoordelijkheid van de ouders om een bilinguale opvoeding te voorzien. Net daarvoor is een positief samenwerkingsverband (en dialoog!) met de Dovengemeenschap noodzakelijk. Ik ben zelf van harte bereid en geïnteresseerd om dit samenwerkingsverband tussen ouders van dove kinderen en de Dovengemeenschap mee uit te bouwen. Ik heb mij daar trouwens al heel actief voor ingezet door het mee oprichten van “VGT doe mee” (dit gebeurde trouwens oorspronkelijk in samenwerking met VLOK-CI, tot zij de samenwerking eenzijdig opzegden). Er zijn horende ouders van dove kinderen die niet sceptisch staan tegenover een tweetalige opvoeding en tweetalig onderwijs. VLOK-CI vertegenwoordigt hen niet. Meer nog, met dit soort reacties jaagt ze hen zelfs weg.

Op het einde van het opiniestuk komt de aap uit de mouw: voor VLOK-CI speelt VGT (en dan nog enkel een basiskennis) enkel een rol “als defensieve aanvulling” in tijden van “een langdurige stroompanne, collectieve verarming of oorlog”.


  • VLOK-CI geeft er de voorkeur aan (enkel) het kind aan te passen in plaats van de omgeving omdat dit volgens hen kostenefficiënter is voor de overheid,
  • ouders krijgen volgens hen alle informatie die ze nodig hebben en kunnen “in alle sereniteit” beslissingen nemen voor (over) hun kind,
  • het is volgens hen voor horende ouders onmogelijk om hun kind in VGT op te voeden,
  • VLOK-CI staat “eerder sceptisch'” tegenover “een voorgestelde algemene tendens naar een bilinguale opvoeding”, omdat dit volgens hen niet in het belang is van het kind, en
  • een basis VGT kan als “defensieve houding” in een periode waarin de continuïteit van het CI niet verzekerd kan worden, bvb door “een langdurige stroompanne, collectieve verarming of oorlog”.

Er staan nog uitspraken in de reactie die de wenkbrauwen doen fronsen maar mijn tekst is al lang genoeg.

Dit is de oudervereniging die de belangen van ouders van dove kinderen bij de overheid verdedigt. Want ja, VLOK-CI doet ook lobbywerk. VLOK-CI is echter geen representatieve organisatie, ze vertegenwoordigt niet alle ouders van dove kinderen (met of zonder CI). Ze beweert ook niet om representatief te zijn, al is er nergens informatie te vinden over hun ledenaantal (cijfers welkom!). Ook het taalgebruik in hun reactie laat er weinig twijfel over bestaan dat zij zichzelf zien als “de” organisatie van ouders van dove kinderen. Het is belangrijk te beseffen dat VLOK-CI dat niet is, en dat er heel wat “zwevende”, “dakloze” ouders van dove kinderen zijn. Zij kunnen zich niet aansluiten bij de bestaande organisatie van dove ouders (DOV) omdat ze horend zijn, maar willen zich om bepaalde redenen ook niet aansluiten bij VLOK-CI.

Er zijn dus jammer genoeg in Vlaanderen drie groepen van ouders van dove kinderen, met elk een andere visie (of met helemaal geen of een onduidelijke visie wegens een totaal gebrek aan informatie). Van deze drie groepen is echter enkel VLOK-CI de officiële gesprekspartner van de overheid. Welke gevolgen die situatie heeft op beleidsniveau is voor een andere blogpost.

Wat zeker is, is dat Vlaanderen behoefte heeft aan een oudervereniging die opkomt voor de belangen van ouders (informed consent) en van dove kinderen (recht op taal) en dat doet op basis van wetenschappelijke inzichten, zonder oorlogsretoriek.