The world's most complex sign language bill passed in Hungary

01 Dec 2009

Sign Language Law at Hungary

The act - being the second in this respect among the member states of the European Union after Finland - stipulates that the community of the Deaf constitutes a linguistic minority, while the rights of Deafblind persons is set down in legislation for the first time in Hungary.

The particularity of the act lies in its complexity and that the Republic of Hungary adopted it with regards to the provisions of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. By recognising Hungarian sign language, the act creates the foundation for the attitude shift that will facilitate us to think of the community of the hearing impaired in the future not only as people with disabilities, but as members of a linguistic minority.

The act also sets forth the right of deafblind people to learning special communication systems as well as to interpretation by the application of such means. In the course of debating the bill, dr. Ádám Kósa, president of SINOSZ took the floor as Member of the European Parliament in sign language for the first time in the history of the Hungarian Parliament.

As of 1 September 2017, Hungarian sign language teaching to deaf children will be obligatory in the schools for the Deaf, while for hearing impaired children in integrated education institutions it will be optional even if only one child's parent selects this option. As of the said date, it will be obligatory to organise bilingual education for the child or children selecting it in schools for deaf children. Another important provision of the act is that educational institutions have to organise sign language courses for the parents of hearing impaired children - in the case of having no less than five entrants - so that they can communicate in the primary language of their children.

The act also displays progress in the field of enlightenment - and we can proudly state that this, in an unprecedented way, concerns not only the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, but also every person with disabilities - for it henceforth stipulates that as soon as the disability of an infant is diagnosed, the doctors are liable to inform parents without delay using an unbiased information material prepared collectively by the competent ministry and the advocacy organisations concerned. SINOSZ hopes that this increases the acceptance of Hungarian sign language, because Hungarian psyhisicans have no such information liability at the moment.

The sign language interpretation service will partly be transformed in pursuance of the provisions of the act as of 1 January 2011:  the persons entitled may use an unlimited amount of free sign language interpretation services in the course of the public service activity. Pupils in secondary education will receive 120 hours, students in higher education 60 hours per term and in adult education 20% free of charge interpretation of the total training hours. In addition to the above, 120 hours of discretionary free interpretation will be available for the hearing impaired and deafblind persons.

The National Nomenclature of Sign Language Interpreters to be set up in 2010 will provide great help to the professional recognition of sign language interpreters by raising the to the same par with other foreign languages. As of 1 January 2011, only interpreters registered in the nomenclature may accept state financed interpretation assignments.

The act brings an important change for public service television channels and those with national reception area by making subtitles or sign language interpretation of communications of public interest and news programmes obligatory as of 1 July 2010, as well as that of films, children and youth programmes, and programmes for people with disabilities for at least 2 hours per calendar day in 2010. Following that, the said subtitling or interpretation liability increases by 2 hours every year until 2014 - following the example of Briatin and the Netherlands - then full subtitling or sign language interpretation is to be provided starting from 2015.

The new law provides strong support to higher education institutions committed to the development and accrediting of the training programs for students at the Hungarian Sign Language Departments and those attending bilingual education. We hope that the first group of Hungarian Sign Language teachers and education professionals capable of participating in bilingual education can start their work on 1 September 2017.

The adoption of the Sign Language Act ended 20 years of struggle of the Hungarian Association of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. The World Federation of the Deaf (WFD), the European Union of the Deaf, various national and Hungarian fellow associations, politicians, linguists and many advocacy professionals assisted our struggle. In comparison to that the Government representative at the Invisible Culture Festival organised by SINOSZ on 19 September 2008 said that the current practice and situation did not justify the creation of a separate sign language act, the ensuing international and Hungarian outcry and media presence as well as the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities triggered the legislative process after all, and this time the staff of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour showed exemplary co-operation under the leadership of SINOSZ. The parliamentary parties were involved significantly in the legislative process, every party submitting progressive amendment motions in the course of debating the bill, which resulted in the enactment of the world's most complex sign language act.