Deaf people in Malta feel there are not enough sign language interpreters that could help them gain better access to services, according to George Vella from the Deaf People Association.

There are about 400 deaf people but the association only has one full-time interpreter, he said, adding that only about 100 people speak sign language on the island.

“One-and-a-half years ago the Education Ministry granted the association €90,000 a year, for three years, for interpreting. But the problem is that there are not enough interpreters,” Mr Vella said, getting his message across with the help of the association’s interpreter.

He said the association wished the government would officially recognise Maltese sign language as a legitimate language as that would open the door to more inclusion and would also help with the interpreter shortage.

Mr Vella, former president of the association, was speaking outside the Italian embassy in Floriana where about 20 deaf and hearing-impaired people gathered for a silent protest.

The protest was held in solidarity with their Italian friends whose government is refusing to recognise sign language as an official language.

The Italian government proposed changing the words “Italian sign language” to “language of mime and gestures” in the law. A final decision is expected today.

This has been deemed offensive by the international deaf community and protests were also held at Italian embassies and consulates in Germany, Italy, Spain, the UK and the US.

Mr Vella and association president Matthew Pace pointed out that the Maltese deaf felt the need to join the protest for various reasons.

Apart from the fact that Malta was geographically close to Italy, if the Italian Parliament did not recognise the official sign language, this could have repercussions on the entire inter­national deaf community as there was no telling what other governments would do.

The association expressed its concerns in a letter sent to the Italian Ambassador and copied to the Italian Parliament and deaf club.

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