“No one ever imagined that a signing deaf could be an MEP at all”
People who are hard of hearing still remain “excluded” in the EU institutions. That’s the damning indictment of Adam Kosa. And he should know, because he became the first ever deaf MEP when he was elected in 2009. Born in Budapest, Kosa’s parents are both deaf and he has not been able to hear since birth. He wanted to become a lawyer ‘to do away with discrimination’, but there was no sign language interpretation for his university classes. He made efforts, borrowing the notes taken by classmates, and realised his dream in 2005.
Even if he was doing his best for his clients, he could not change the social realities where the arenas for such people to work and live were limited. So when he was unexpectedly given a chance to enter into politics, there was no hesitation.
Although he cannot utter a word, he spoke through sign language to explain to us the many difficulties still facing the physically challenged. So, what are the practical difficulties he´s encountered doing his job as an MEP?
“Before my arrival,” he says, “no one ever imagined that a signing deaf could be an MEP at all”. No one knew how to deal with me. Some people tried to speak louder or others started to write everything down on pieces of papers.
“Sign-language interpreters are not regarded as real translators but personal assistants, which creates some problems. Spontaneous meetings with other MEPs, speaking in English or French are still difficult for me since there is no official international sign language interpretation in the European Parliament. My colleagues still have to explain this situation several times a day to people asking me for an interview or a meeting. This is an additional administrative burden for my team which makes it more difficult for them to concentrate on their professional and legislation-related work.”
Despite this, Kosa, who is president of the parliament’s Disability Intergroup and was voted MEP of the Year 2013, says he has not experienced any “negative attitudes at all.” He adds, “No one knew that different sign languages can be found in each and every EU member state. No one realised that there are existing obligations and needs to be met which have been enforced by the new UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability since 2006. The EU itself is a party to the Convention since 2010, which means that it is obliged to provide disabled people with reasonable accommodation: in my case with sign language interpretation.”
How difficult then is it for him to operate and function as a Euro politician? “As in my life generally, I and my colleagues have to work more than others to achieve the same quality of work. Having received the MEP award, I think the additional efforts are now acknowledged.” He goes on, “Due to the shortage of opportunities in terms of communication, we have to plan everything in due time paying attention to almost everything. My colleagues, for example, also have to arrange for two sign language interpreters every week who do not belong to the registered staff of the parliament but have to travel to Brussels or Strasbourg from Hungary.”
Could facilities in Parliament (and Brussels) for people with hearing impairment be better and, if so, how?
He replies, “For me, it is reasonable because the Parliament covers travelling and accommodation costs of my two Hungarian sign language interpreters. Regarding international events/conferences, though, there are still no international sign language interpreters provided for my work. As for the hearing impaired in general, hard of hearing people are even less accommodated than me – there is no captioning or subtitling at any meeting at all except when my team organizes one with the support from an outside contributor. Subtitling is very expensive because we have to finance the skilled personnel to get here and type for us.”
Kosa says,”The fact is that the hard of hearing still remained excluded in the EU institutions since their disability is less visible but definitely not easier to be dealt with.” On a recent visit to Tokyo, Kosa was disappointed that there are no deaf politicians in Japan. It makes his achievements all the more remarkable.
So what advice does he have to say for ambitious people who find themselves in a similar position to himself? He pauses and thinks carefully before answering, “Courage, strong commitment and persistence.” Three words that seem apt for Adam Kosa himself.