Support in Chamber for official recognition of sign language: ‘We are not there yet after Irma’

The Dutch Sign Language (NGT) is formally recognised as an official language. A majority in the House of Representatives is enthusiastic about an own-initiative bill to improve the situation for the 15,000 Dutch people with sign language.

The law stipulates that the government must deploy a sign interpreter more often, for example at important press conferences. The oath and promise may also be taken in sign language.

Own experience

The initiators of bill D66, PvdA and ChristenUnie emphasize that the deaf and hard of hearing still often encounter incomprehension and discrimination. There is also a lack of clarity about the existing rules. D66 Member of Parliament and initiator Van Eijs is seriously hard of hearing herself and speaks from her own experience how difficult it was when she wanted to take an interpreter with her to school or to the doctor.

“Many people see sign language as a kind of aid, a stool when walking,” says Van Eijs. “That’s not it. It’s a fully-fledged language and thousands of deaf people depend on it.”

At the beginning of the debate, Chamber chairman Arib welcomed the spectators in the public gallery in a special way:

Deaf and hearing impaired people have been fighting for the recognition of their language for over thirty years. “This language is essential for their emancipation. It has come a long way,” said GroenLinks MP ร–zรผtok. The CDA, SP and SGP are also enthusiastic that sign language will become an official language in the Netherlands, just like in many other European countries. Government party VVD says it is “open” to the bill, because there are still too many barriers for this group to obtain information.

Since the introduction of Irma Sluis and her colleague Corline Koolhof at the Cabinet press conferences on the corona fight, more and more people have become familiar with interpreting and sign language. “Since Irma, interpreter training courses have been popular, but we are still not there,” says ร–zรผtok.

Some visitors to the Groningen Clubhouse for the Deaf feel that recognition comes too late. “It’s crazy!”

With the support of government parties D66, CDA and Christian Union and opposition parties GroenLinks, SP and SGP there is sufficient support in the Lower House. It is still unclear when the official introduction of the Dutch Sign Language will take effect. The Ministry of the Interior also has yet to work out what concrete measures need to be taken.