Every European citizen ha got equal rights in participating at the active and democratic life of Europe. Nevertheless, some of them meet difficulties that able-people must ensure to eliminate.
Language is the most important instrument to communicate and convey ideas and feelings. For this reason, since Sign Languages are the mother tongues of many deaf people, it is important to promote the use of Sign Languages in every context in order to facilitate deaf people.
Thanks to the resolution of the European Parliament (17/06/1988), and with the sustain of the European Commission, the Sign Languages have been recognized as languages used by deaf people and so their right in using them. This resolution encourages European Countries in promoting the use of Sign Languages and realizing projects to sustain Sign Languages and teach them to hearing people.
The communication right was then enshrined in 2006 by UN and, in 2007, it has been recognised for deaf people, too. Sign Languages are laid down in the Constitution of four European Union countries – Austria, Finland, Portugal. In other countries such as Belgium, Czech Republic, Cyprus, Estonia, France, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Ukraine, Hungary, there are two levels in the recognition within a specific law. In Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, Denmark, Netherlands, Poland, Bulgaria, Sing Languages are not laid down in a law, with official recognition, even if its use is permitted and guaranteed (source: www.fondazionegualandi.it/effeta/consigli-di-lettura/sing-language-legislation-in-the-european-union#sthash.QpN1nZ4Y.dpuf)
Italy is one of those European countries – Denmark, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherland, Poland, Bulgaria – where there is not a recognition for this essential communication instrument, although UN Convention required each Member State to recognize the national Sign Language within their territory.
It is important that every country, as required by the UN Convention to its Member States, recognizes the national Sign Languages within their territory, since it is an essential communication instrument, in order to guarantee freedom in using it in various context.
Signs in Europe
Signs in Europe is a project planned by a team of people composed by two experts in Italian Sign Language, both qualified as Communication Assistant for sensory disabilities; a youth worker with great experience in youth exchange and non-formal education; the projecting team of Eufemia Association.
The Director of The Turin Institute for the Deaf (coordinator of services and project of the Institute, professor in Sign Language level II at the Faculty of Foreign Languages and literatures, Regional Secretary of the National Institute for Deaf) had also an important part of the project, providing spaces and seminars, a three hours Lis course for the participants and other activities that involved deaf people from the Institute, too.
Signs in Europe have seen two editions. The first one in September 2014 with the participation of three countries – Italy, Belarus, Turkey. It was a Youth Exchange and it took place in Turin from 15 to 25 September 2014.
The second edition has been a greater project involving eight countries – Italy, Belarus, Turkey, Armenia, Romania, Macedonia, Latvia, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
A total of nearly one hundred people, hearing and deaf, participated at the two edition. Plus, we must count all the people that this project reached thanks to its dissemination in Turin and in all the other countries that took part to it.
Why a project for the integration between deaf and hearing people?
In 2012, Eufemia, an Italian non-profit organization, for social promotion in the cultural field, was partner of a Youth Exchange, within the Youth in Action, Erasmus + programme. That Youth Exchange planned the participation of young disabled people, suffering from Down’s syndrome. That project was the first Eufemia Association took part in experiencing disabled people inclusion.
From that moment on Eufemia has been developing a greater attention to disability. Now, Eufemia has got workers specialized in working with disabled people, and youth workers that have been working especially in local projects.
In 2014 Eufemia carried out its first project dedicated to deaf people, aiming to their integration with hearing people, and the dissemination of the “deaf culture”.
Eufemia’s objective was to exchange experiences and good practices in dealing with the integration between deaf and hearing people and trying to break down communication barriers.
We speak about barriers in communication to speak about those barriers that preclude deaf people to get in contact with people surrounding them. Deafness separates deaf people from hearing people and vice versa. These barriers can be crossed by many modes, but especially by using Sign Languages.
With Sign in Europe, in 2014, Eufemia wanted to increase awareness of deaf culture and Sign languages, but not only. It was meant to highlight the importance of different ways of communication that everybody must be free to choose. If communication was easily accessible for everybody, everybody could live a completed integrated life. Nowadays this is not possible: deaf people cannot communicate with people that do not know Sign Languages, and hearing people cannot communicate with people that are not able to speak producing sounds.
In Turin and in the Piedmont region, in the North West of Italy, there are two important institutions for deaf people: the Turin Institute for the Deaf, and ENS – National Institute for the Deaf. In fact, in Turin and in Piedmont there are many services for deaf people. In fact, the team that worked on the Signs in Europe project, did not want to promote only the deaf culture, or services for deaf people, but the integration between hearing and deaf culture, hearing and deaf people, because it was evident that this two communities get in contact quite rarely.
Aims of Signs in Europe
Signs in Europe principal aim was to bring together and integrate young deaf and hearing people from many different nations in order to promote an exchange among cultures participating in training, play, recreation, cultural activities, always following principles of non-formal education.
The objectives of the project were:
– to break down the barriers of communication in every context of daily life and help disseminate best practices for accessibility;
– to remain vigilant on the concepts of identity, language and culture, stimulating a reflection on deafness which invests not only the deaf community but also hearing people, so as to encourage dialogue and debate;
– to promote the integration deaf and hard of hearing . Promote active knowledge of deaf culture. Deafness is not only a disability but a real culture;
– valuing differences. To counteract discrimination;
– to combine diversity and creativity;
– to raise public awareness on the issue of deafness and communication for a new reading of disability as different skills;
– to encourage language learning and promoting linguistic diversity and intercultural awareness.
Signs in Europe I (Belarus, Turkey and Italy) has been the first step for the integration between deaf and hearing culture and for ten days thirty boys and girls, tried to go beyond language and disability limits, sharing everyday life. Workshops, debates, ice braking games, city hunting, team building games, and a signed song were only some of the activities the group did together during the exchange.
The group also organized a final event with a flash mob in front of the University of Turin and in the most important squares of Turin. A big structure representing the acronym LIS – Italian Sign Language – with the photos of the participants and the activities of the project, was installed in Piazza Vittorio.
Eufemia, also with the inspiration and the support of Fialta and Ebagem – Belarus and Turkey organizations – wanted then to continue with a new project of integration, not only limited to the youth exchange but that creates concrete actions within the participating countries.
Hence, Eufemia organized Signs in Europe II, where the youth exchange was only the final step. It was outlined in four phases. The first one in January 2016: three days in Turin for youth workers to exchange good practices, strategies and experiences in working with deaf people. Young deaf people were invited too, in order to understand better their needs, desires and to get suggestions and personal experiences.
Once returned in their countries each organization had the task of think about and create a local activity for deaf people.
Fialta (Belarus) carried out a language tandem project – English – Sign language.
S4YD (Romania) carried on with its projects, consolidating its European dimension in its institute and young participants.
Ebagem (Turkey) continued with its activities supporting disabled people, giving its youth workers a great experience in working with deaf people.
KPNK (Macedonia) has the possibility to develop new educational and social inclusion methods for sensory and cognitive disables.
Since Armenia faces many difficulties in creating services for deaf hearing and their involving in those that already exist, Armenian group proposed to plan more accessible services that can reach this kind of disability also in rural realities. At the end of March, they already had 15 people taking part to their group.
Latvian group was already very active in services involving disabled people that can be available both from deaf and hearing people. Services could be sport, culture and arts activities, with an active participation of both communities.
Bosnia and Herzegovina acted a theatre course led by deaf people performing shows for hearing people, especially for children.
What about Italy?
In Turin, during the phase of the local activities, Eufemia realized a theatre – with percussion – course. During this course, participants were both deaf and hearing and they could train in various theatre techniques. They became more self-confident and aware of their abilities discovering that their disability can be a resource and not a hindrance.
In June, at the end of the youth exchange, the Italian theatre group with the three workshop groups, that took place during the previous 10 days (theatre, photography, cooking), gave life to an involving show in front of institutions and a diverse audience.
Today some of the people that worked at Signs in Europe and a deaf girl that participate to the theatre course, decided to create an association called LISten. Many are the services and the activities of LISten for deaf and for hearing people living or working with deaf people: counselling service once a week; a chatting evening were deaf and hearing people can meet and chat; once a month a dinner night where eating and chatting together; a study aid service; art and creative courses such as theatre and arts, are only some of the activities of the association (https://listenassociazione.wixsite.com/listenintegrazione).
In conclusion, Eufemia, LISten and the team that worked at Signs in Europe and that continue working for the integration between deaf and hearing people, still believe it possible and the new theatre course or the after dinner chatting are evidence that, if people are willing to meet and create something together, differences are not obstacles but something precious that must be enhanced.