First deaf eurodeputy takes a new message to EU assembly

17th July 2009, Comments 0 comments

On Wednesday, Adam Kosa from Hungary had the privilege of being the first speaker to take the stand in the first debate of the assembly's new five-year term, which was on respect for minority tongues.

Strasbourg -- In the clamour of the European parliament's inaugural session this week, one deputy, Adam Kosa from Hungary, did not have to shout to be heard.

On Wednesday, the 34-year-old trained lawyer had the privilege of being the first speaker to take the stand in the first debate of the assembly's new five-year term.

But the address of the parliament's first-ever deaf lawmaker was given in none of the European Union's 23 official languages. Rather, his appeal for the respect of all minority tongues in Europe was made in sign language.

A French colleague quickly called for all parliamentary debates to be broadcast live in sign language on televisions inside the house in Strasbourg.

"This is a huge building. People are running around like spiders on the ceiling, as we say in Hungary," he told AFP later, in his office, visibly impressed by his new surroundings.

"People who meet me treat me as an equal. It's really something new compared to Hungary," he said, through two interpreters, one who translated his sign into Hungarian, and another who passed the message on in French.

On his desk, the telephone rang out. Several times. But Kosa did not react.

All eyes in the room fixed the phone, disturbed by its ring, but not his.

"That thing is a decoration as far as I'm concerned," he said, once it became clear why the conversation had stopped. "People have to think to contact me by text message or email."

President of Hungary's association for the deaf and hearing impaired for five years, Kosa is not a member of any political party.

Hungary's opposition Fidesz party, which came top in his country in the European parliament elections last month with 56.37 percent of the vote, came looking for him. And he jumped at the chance.

Kosa, who is a minor celebrity among the deaf, particularly on the Internet, is on a mission.

"This is a huge challenge for me and an incredible success for the deaf," he said. "But I'm also interested in all those who have disabilities."

He said he had found four or five members of the European parliament with disabilities. "Yet one European in 10 has a disability, so there should be 70 of us, at least," he said.

Kosa will sit on two parliamentary committees, for social affairs and employment, and transport.

"I've come here to work in sign language," he said, "and prove that a deaf person can do the same work as his colleagues."

On those committees, he will add his unique voice to a project on assistance for the disabled in public transport. Or another measure aimed at ending day-to-day discrimination against the aged and disabled, or against people based on their religious beliefs and sexual orientation.

"If I'm skilful, I should be able to help move things forward," he said.

But getting his message out will not be easy.

Each country and therefore each language, has its own sign language.

"I hope that within five years interpreters of sign language will be treated the same way as any other interpreter," he said.

Kosa's parents, like the new eurodeputy himself, are deaf, as is his wife.

His two boys, aged five and two, are also unable to hear, like almost one in three children born to a deaf parent.

"What's important is to be able to live in a world that's accessible," he said.

Catherine Marciano/AFP/Expatica

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