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Common Signs Miniconference with and for deaf and hard-of-hearing people in Hungary

On 22 September 2023, we organised the national workshop of the YouCount project case study in Szeged (Hungary), the Common Signs Miniconference. The event was organised in collaboration with the Environmental Social Science Research Group (ESSRG), the Research Centre of the Faculty of Economics of the University of Szeged and the National Association of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing People. In the spirit of communication accessibility, the conference provided written and sign language interpretation and live transcription. About 40-45 people from different organisations were present: the deaf community, the Szeged School for the Hard of Hearing, students, sign language learners, staff of the Faculty of Economics and the local government. We, as organisers, hope everyone planning an academic or public event as a hearing person will take this practice as an adaptable model for more inclusive interactions.

In the event’s first half, Barbara Mihók and Ákos Telek presented the research process to reach young people with hearing impairments. Besides the history of the participatory research process, the results of the YouCount app used in the research and the main findings of the research were presented. For hearing-impaired people, human behaviour and attitudes are among the most important factors for social ‘inclusion’. As hearing impairment is an invisible condition, hearing-impaired people are often almost imperceptibly excluded from the communication processes of their social environment. However, an open and willing attitude to learning is necessary to express themselves and their needs.

The research also shows that social ‘inclusion’ is a one-way street reflecting asymmetrical power language. We must strive to rebuild relationships and redefine the fragmentation of society as the main objective. In his presentation, Ákos Telek told his personal story as a young deaf and hard-of-hearing person and then presented the Resource Database. The database is an online platform for hearing-impaired people to share their knowledge and experiences, a collection of positive, resourceful places and services for hearing-impaired people in Szeged (e.g. entertainment, health, hospitality). The Common Signs research group, of which Ákos is a full member, plans to develop this database further.

In the second half of the event, László Tóth and Ágnes Szlivka, representing the deaf community, spoke about their personal experiences. The audience was visibly touched by how they experienced different educational institutions as deaf children. They pointed out how much accessibility has changed how they learn and how important sign language education is for them in their daily lives and jobs. ‘Don’t look at what is not there, but what is. Rather, say what we want to do, and let’s do it,’ said Ágnes. Because ‘we are the same people like hearing people, even if we do not hear, we live the same way.’ For László, ‘there is no such thing as impossible; I don’t know that word. The point is to see humanity, willpower and struggle in everyone’s situation. If you have a purpose, you should achieve it.’

After the presentations of the deaf participants, there was a discussion about services that are fundamental to enabling connectivity. Krisztina Vörös spoke about sign language interpreting services, and Zsófia Horváth spoke about the KONTAKT interpreting service. Krisztina Vörös pointed out that interpreting needs to be studied even for those with sign language as one of their mother tongues. There are many interesting and surprising features of sign language. Interpreting services for deaf and hearing impaired people and even for hearing people are similarly important. Accurate communication is essential in all cases, but for example, in health care institutions and official business, it is highly recommended to call for the help of sign language interpreters.

‘We interpret in all life situations – in court, at the police station, in educational institutions. It is not only during COVID-19 that doctors wore/wear masks. It must be understood that what the doctor says, like the plain Latin text, doesn’t get through. In interpretation situations, hearing-impaired people can ask if something is unclear or they don’t understand what the doctor is saying. It is common when they go to the doctor alone, they don’t ask back, but they ask back through the interpreter’, Krisztina explained. The sign language interpreting services are free of charge to registered clients during the hours indicated. In most cases, as sign language interpreters noted,  people in need do not take advantage of the interpreting services.

Zsófia Horváth said there are situations where a quicker, more efficient solution is needed. If a hearing-impaired person wants to deal with someone, they can use a sign language interpreter. She orders an interpreter from the sign language interpreting service 3-5 days in advance. ‘With KONTAKT Interpreting Service, the hearing impaired person only needs an iPad, laptop, or phone connected to the Internet. Through the KONTAKT app, you can access the translation assistance service. A sign language interpreter can be called this way. A sign language interpreter will appear virtually, while in person, a hearing-impaired person and the person with whom she or he speaks will be present.  The sign language interpreter will interpret online everything you wish to say. It is effective and accessible for short, ad-hoc situations. It can also help with everyday things like ordering a pizza.’

After the presentations, we took a break and continued the discussion in three small groups. Barbara Mihók and Ákos Telek discussed the further development of the Resource Database, Judit Gébert and Gál Gabriella moderated the discussion on further cooperation in Szeged, Juhász Judit Juhasz and Andreas Kostopulosz held a workshop on the accessibility of financial services.

Authors: Barbara Mihók, Ákos Telek, Judit Juhász, Judit Gébert