Initiative bill to reInitiative bill to recognize the Dutch Sign Language cognize the Dutch Sign Language (NGT)

For more than thirty years, the deaf and hard of hearing have been fighting for the recognition of their language: the Dutch Sign Language (NGT). Now there will most likely be a breakthrough in this fight. ChristenUnie, PvdA and D66 are submitting an initiative law that must regulate recognition.

About fifteen thousand deaf and hard of hearing Dutch use the language. Interest groups have been advocating for official recognition for years.

This is a very important step for Eva Westerhoff of deaf organization Dovenschap. “You can’t tell from me that I am deaf. After the recognition of sign language, our culture and identity become more visible to everyone.” Sarah Muller, teacher and developer of NGT, adds: “It has to do with being able to express yourself in your native language. That you can tell everything that lives in you.”

Deafness causes many difficult situations in daily life.

The recognition of Dutch Sign Language is, according to the political parties, primarily a first step. PvdA MP Attje Kuiken´s points out that  they are lagging behind other countries and that  there is no excuse they cannot solve this once and for all.

The parties want sign language to become more visible on television and in the streets. For example, they want Question Time in the Lower House and the Prime Minister’s press conference to be translated by a sign interpreter from now on. This is already quite normal abroad.

An interesting point was brought up by Westernoff, “An example is the elections, a lot of information is  available on paper or through debates., but in NGT there is no information available. How should we cast our vote? This important information is not accessible to us,” says Westerhoff of Dovenschap .

On paper there are good facilities for the deaf and hard of hearing in the Netherlands. Sign interpreters are in principle available in education, at work and for private situations. But there are quite a few prejudices about this.

“Interpreters are refused in certain places, or they are put in a dark corner, where we cannot see the interpreter,” says Westerhoff. “That is tiring and it takes a lot of energy to fight that battle. So it is important that there is more awareness.”

PvdA MP Kuiken hopes that the recognition of sign language contributes to the fact that these kinds of problems no longer play a role in the future.

Jessica van Eijs from D66, the third initiator is hard of hearing herself. “You only know how essential communicating with other people is when you don’t have it. Many people see sign language as a kind of tool, a crutch when walking. But it is not, it is a fully-fledged language and thousands of deaf people depend on it. ”

Let’s hope that this bill is passed soon so that  these fifteen thousand deaf and hard of hearing Dutch finally have the same opportunities as non deaf and hard of hearing.