Young Deaf people in Northern Ireland are demanding better access to services today after a recent visit to Hungary.
They will head to Stormont to ask MLAs for better legislation to support sign language after discovering that more needs to be done here to improve services.
The Hungarian visit, which was organised by the leading deaf youth charity in Northern Ireland, Action Deaf Youth, saw 18 young deaf people from Northern Ireland take part in a bilateral youth exchange with SINOSZ, Hungary’s national deaf association.
Aged 16 to 25, they were able to discover and explore cultural diversity, the rights of deaf people, and the sign language differences between both countries. They also learnt how Hungarian legislation has helped improve the quality of life for those hard of hearing.
The project was made possible after the organisation received €25,376 through Eramsus+ — the EU’s flagship programme for education, training, youth and sport — and will also see a reciprocal group from Hungary visit Northern Ireland in August.
The programme, which is managed by British Council and Ecorys UK, also saw the young people explore access issues in Hungary, with a visit to the Hungarian Parliament.
Speaking about the importance of the visit, Michael Johnston, Director of Action Deaf Youth said: “In 2009 Hungarian sign language was recognised by law under the UN Convention enabling deaf people to be treated with respect and dignity. I was there when the agreement was signed and it's important for our young people to see its impact.
“It has enabled deaf people in Hungary to receive better access to education, health, jobs and culture, with even two of their MPs being from, and representing, the deaf community. That is unheard of here in Northern Ireland and currently almost impossible to achieve. They have people in government with the power to make positive change, which is something our young people can now aspire to.”
Today Hungary is one of the world leaders for the deaf community, with low unemployment, a better education system and free transport.
Michael said: “In Northern Ireland unemployment for deaf people is 63%, which is extremely high and something that needs to change. We need to modify our legislation so we can provide a better education system, reduce unemployment and provide better access to transport.
“Every citizen should have access to services as a human right, and until there is adequate provision, the deaf community will continue to be discriminated against and there will be constant invalidation.”
Members of the youth group were so inspired by the visit, that today (Monday,May 18) they will head to Stormont to put forward an action plan for Northern Ireland to MLAs.
Michael explained: “10 members of our youth forum will talk to some of our leading MLAs about what needs to be done so we can move forward to create a fairer and more just society. They were amazed that although we have a better standard of living in Northern Ireland, it’s actually better to live in Hungary if you are part of the deaf community. To change this, deaf people must be included in society through better employment opportunities and access to services.”
The visit will coincide with the launch of a consultation response from Northern Ireland’s ten deaf associations in a bid to lobby for change.
Michael said: “Whatever today’s outcome, we understand that this will be a long and arduous process, but if we all work together; there’s every chance we can create change and a better Northern Ireland for everyone.”
Action Deaf Youth is just one of around 70 organisations in Northern Ireland to benefit from Eramsus+, with more than €6.3m being allocated in the first year of the programme. To mark this, next Thursday, May 21 2015 organisations from around the UK will gather at Belfast’s MAC (Metropolitan Arts Centre) for the first major Erasmus+ event to be held in Northern Ireland. Several of those organisations receiving funding will highlight what the funding is helping them to achieve.
Erasmus+ offers a wide range of opportunities for pupils, students and teachers to participate in partnership and exchange activities across Europe. The programme aims to boost skills and employability while modernising education, training and youth work.
The EU has committed £12 billion to Erasmus+ between 2014 and 2020. During this period Erasmus+ will provide opportunities for over 4,000,000 Europeans to study, train, gain work experience and volunteer abroad.
The Erasmus+ Programme is just one of a number of programmes available to organisations through British Council Northern Ireland. For more information visit http://nireland.britishcouncil.org,www.erasmusplus.org.uk or follow on Twitter at @BCouncil_NI