The European Union has made progress in recent years on developing the European Disability Strategy that covers the period from 2010 to 2020 and aims to implement the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities by consulting and actively involving disabled people’s respective organisations in the design and implementation of legislation. One part of the strategy is the European Accessibility Act that was proposed earlier this year as a way to ensure that people with disabilities are granted equal access to goods and services.

It is important that the deaf community is granted the same rights as other citizens across the EU- David Casa

The Disability Strategy outlines eight major goals to work towards over the next several years, including issues such as participation, equality, employment, education and social protection. This strategy intends to foster cooperation and coordination of policies across member states, which, in turn, will increase the mobility of individuals and the accessibility of jobs across borders. It is set to be evaluated in 2015 to analyse the effectiveness of the policies introduced.

One specific way in which this strategy has enhanced the lives of disabled individuals is through a growing awareness of the deaf community. In 2011, the European Commission allocated funds to the European Union of the Deaf (EUD), a not-for-profit organisation that is composed of the National Associations of the Deaf across EU member states.

Established in 1985, the mission of the organisation is to promote, advance and protect the rights and opportunities of deaf people. The EUD is based in Brussels and is one of the few European non-governmental organisations (Engo) that are represented in all 27 member states. In addition, it is the only organisation that represents deaf people at EU level.

The EUD plays a significant role in protecting the democratic rights of the deaf community because it ensures that deaf European citizens have access to information and are able to participate in the activities of the EU.

In an effort to promote this democratic process within the EU, the EUD has set itself several objectives for the long term. First of all, it aims to ensure that deaf citizens across the region have the right to use an indigenous sign language. This is important in preserving culture and providing deaf individuals with the basic rights that are granted to every EU citizen.

Secondly, the EUD seeks to empower the deaf community by facilitating access to communication and information material. The EUD’s website has hence posted videos of interviews and sessions within the different institutions of the EU that have been translated into sign language as a way to encourage active and informed citizenship.

In general, the use of social media has proven successful when it comes to connecting with the deaf community as the EUD has witnessed a rapid expansion of its traffic on both Facebook and Twitter.

Finally, the EUD also seeks to promote equality in education and employment for deaf individuals.

Another example of the progress that is being made to ensure equal rights for deaf citizens within the EU is the so-called Brussels Declaration on Sign Languages in the European Union. The declaration is centered on the idea that it is a right of individuals to learn and use sign language and, thus, supporters of this declaration argue that member states need to recognise the national sign language as an equal alternative to the spoken word.

Many member states have made great progress in providing appropriate and effective disability services. In Malta, for instance, the Ministry of Education and Employment offers specific services for individuals. In many cases, ‘teachers of the deaf’ provide assistance to teachers in classrooms and offer one-on-one support to individual students.

The Deaf People Association of Malta is based in Valletta and has set itself several goals for supporting the deaf community. Founded in 1973, and an EUD member since 2005, it wants to ensure equal opportunities for deaf citizens. It further aims to raise general public awareness so that Maltese citizens, along with citizens in other member states, can collectively find ways to better support deaf individuals.

The EU is making great strides in addressing the concerns of the deaf community across the region. The Disability Intergroup at the European Parliament seeks to make disability issues a higher priority throughout the legislation process and the deaf community in particular has moved towards the forefront of the agenda in recent times.

It is important that the deaf community is granted the same rights as other citizens across the EU to enable full and active citizenship for all those belonging to the European community.

David Casa is a Nationalist MEP.

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