Sign Language Interpreting in Europe, 2016 edition
Although the sign language interpreter profession has undergone considerable changes since the last publication of ‘Sign Language Interpreting in Europe’ in 2012, many challenges remain.
The ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) by the EU in 2010 calls for fundamental change. The EU now must implement the UNCRP in all EU member states and make society accessible for all EU citizens. So far, twenty-seven EU member states have ratified the UNCRPD, leaving Ireland as the last member state to undertake ratification. One of the important elements of the UNCRPD is the recognition of the national sign languages. So far, twenty-three EU member states have recognized their national sign language(s). Bulgaria, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands still have to follow suit.
In order to make society accessible for sign language users, we need qualified, trained, and properly remunerated sign language interpreters. There is still a considerable shortage in most countries and regions participating in this survey. For example, in Croatia there are not enough qualified and trained interpreters; Finland reports a shortage of interpreters in rural areas. There are also countries which require more interpreters with specialized skills, such as working from a foreign spoken language, or expertise and skills in mental health settings. In addition, survey respondents indicate that there are not enough trained and qualified interpreters for deafblind persons throughout Europe.
Overall, governments are increasingly aware that equal access implies that governments recognize and implement the right to qualified interpreting services. In some countries this right is ensured through legislation or regulations. However, the legal right to an interpreter does not necessarily provide full access to education, justice, employment, healthcare, and leisure activities. The interpreters need to be formally trained, registered through a continuous quality monitoring system, and must be paid proportionally to their training, expertise, experience, and skills. The majority of the countries surveyed provide some form of training, but often there is no qualification or registration ensuring that deaf persons have a qualified interpreter.
The enduring challenge is to see interpreters invest in training, acquire qualification, and work as professionals, not just now but well into the future. Governments should acknowledge and support this. In many countries and regions sign language interpreting is still not perceived or recognized as a profession. Governments should consider sign language interpreter services an economic investment. After all, making education and employment accessible to deaf persons through qualified and trained sign language interpreting will increase active participation and satisfactory life fulfillment of citizens to their society.