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A heart for deaf people

On 23 September, the International Day of Sign Languages is celebrated to remind people that a part of the population depends on it to be able to enter into dialogue with others. At IMC Krems, deaf staff and students are supported - sign language is part of university life.

Porträt von Monika Zwirner und Florian Katzmayr

At IMC Krems, deaf staff and students are supported - sign language is part of university life: Pictured are Head of HR Services Monika Zwirner and Florian Katzmayr.

Currently, there are an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 deaf and around 450,000 hard of hearing people living in Austria. That makes about 1,500 deaf people for Lower Austria alone. They need sign language interpreters to participate in conversations. Throughout Austria, about 150 interpreters for Austrian Sign Language (ÖGS) and German are actively working, but the necessary demand is about 600 higher. About ten interpreters live in Lower Austria - four to five times more would be needed.
DI (FH) Florian Katzmayr is responsible for software development in the IT Services Department at IMC Krems - and deaf. He knows about the difficult situation of deaf people in Austria. "More interpreters for ÖGS and German need to be trained," says Katzmayr. "ÖGS interpreting services in the provinces are subsidised in the private sector, i.e. when it comes to matters in everyday life outside the workplace, which are not the responsibility of the federal government. In the different regions of Austria different regulations apply for deaf persons, depending on their place of residence. In some cases, funding is only granted from the age of 15, sometimes depending on income, there are maximum subsidies per year and not all situations of interpreting services in the private sphere are covered."

International Sign Language Day

In 1951, International Sign Language Day was first proclaimed by the World Federation of the Deaf. The above figures illustrate the urgent need to train more interpreters. There is also a need for increased awareness of the problem. "The ORF broadcasts nationwide almost barrier-free with subtitles and interpreter insertion, but for “NÖ Heute” at 7 p.m. there is no access for deaf and hard of hearing people. But they still pay the GIS fee," says Katzmayr, citing an example of how people like him are often "forgotten".

Multifaceted need

The need for more visibility exists throughout life and starts with the youngest. In kindergartens, elementary teachers with knowledge of ÖGS and Deaf culture are needed for deaf toddlers. Especially "native signers", mother-tongue sign language users, would be needed. After all, this is where the foundation for later education and employment is laid. Only when a child develops spoken language skills does learning ÖGS ensure that young children do not experience a delay in language acquisition.
The low-threshold funded events for parental education must also integrate families with deaf and hard-of-hearing children and ensure that ÖGS course costs are covered for the parents. In schools throughout Austria, of course, there is also a need for more training and further education for deaf and hearing educators with a focus on ÖGS and inclusive education as well as deaf ÖGS language and subject teachers. From 2023/24, the Ministry of Education will introduce a new ÖGS curriculum.
In everyday life, structural obstacles also represent major hurdles for deaf people. Most door intercoms and intercom systems only serve the auditory channel. This requires operable and interactive displays for text- and video-based communication as structural measures, for example in police stations.

Diversity implemented

For IMC Krems, the integration of deaf people is a matter of course. As part of the "Diversity Charter", the university of applied sciences voluntarily committed itself back in 2013 to valuing all members of society. Structural measures and sign language interpreters are part of this to make everyday life easier for those affected.
But appropriate measures are also the goal for students. "Deaf people are just as interested in academically demanding professions such as interpreting, tutoring, support and specialist teaching as they are in manual professions," says Katzmayr. Not only training is the key to participation in the world of work, but ongoing further and advanced training must also be open without barriers, because the occupational profiles and demands on workers are developing and changing faster than ever before in the history of professional work. "Because the assumption of interpreting costs is not guaranteed unless, for example, there is a threat of losing one's job, deaf people cannot make use of the right to further and continuing training," argues Katzmayr. Therefore, he pleads for an outpatient clinic for the deaf in every province - it is missing in Lower Austria, Vorarlberg, Tyrol and Burgenland.

TIP: The Lower Austrian Association of the Deaf will participate in a vigil in St. Pölten on 28 September 2022:

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