Stressing the uniqueness of the Hungarian language, the Prime Minister said that “we Hungarians often feel that the specialness of our language separates us from the outside world, locking us into our own world”. Drawing a parallel with sign language, which he described as a special treasure, he noted that one third of the Hungarian nation lives in minority communities outside the country’s borders, struggling from day to day to use their own language.
He said he finds it remarkable that deaf people are fighting for the cause of sign language, and want the right to use their own sign language in every country in the world and in every walk of life, and to promote and develop deaf culture.
Mr. Orbán told his audience that they had come to a country where the deaf and hard of hearing have worked extremely hard to be considered a valued element in society. He informed conference attendees that the Hungarian Constitution adopted in 2011 contains a passage devoted to Hungarian sign language, clearly stipulating that it is part of Hungarian culture. He added that Hungary was the first country to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and in 2009 introduced legislation on sign language; this is the world’s most comprehensive, regulating all aspects – including education, interpreting services and the teaching of sign language.
“In our country, the deaf have the right to use their own language in every area of life”, the Prime Minister said. As an example he said that Hungarian television channels are required – at their own expense – to enable people with disabilities to access all their programming.
Among the tasks still to be accomplished, the Prime Minister mentioned introduction of bilingual education for the deaf, noting that the Research Institute of Linguistics at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences has already started the preparations for this. He pointed out that young deaf people must be enabled to acquire skills and knowledge which provide them with guaranteed access to the labour market.
Mr. Orbán further observed that a number of members of the Hungarian Association of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing are involved in Hungarian public life, showing courage, providing encouragement and setting an example for other young deaf people. He mentioned the following by name: Ádám Kósa, a respected Member of the European Parliament; Gergely Tapolczai, who performs an important job in the Hungarian parliament; and László Lovász, whom the Hungarian government has asked to represent people with disabilities at the UN.
The Prime Minister also said that Hungary stands up for the objectives identified by the World Federation of the Deaf, and supports an initiative for an international world day for sign languages. He said that this year saw the first Day of Hungarian Sign Language on 9 November, the anniversary of the adoption of Hungary’s law on sign language.
This year the Hungarian Association of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing is celebrating the 110th anniversary of its establishment. Its president, Ádám Kósa, told the attendees of the Budapest conference that they were pooling their knowledge in areas which include bilingual education, the relationship between family and sign language, the opportunities offered by assistive technologies and employment.
Colin Allen, President of the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD), stressed that every child has the right to be taught in their national sign language – each of which is a language in its own right. At the same time, he described education and literacy as also important in terms of integration and future career goals.