petra rezar vinko trinkaus deaf blind
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Cankarjev dom – CD Cultural and Congress Centre recently hosted solemn academy From banned to constitutionally enshrined sign language and language of the deaf-blind marking historical turning points for the deaf, hearing impaired, and deaf-blind. We talked to Petra Rezar, MA, president of the Slovenian Association of Teachers of the Deaf which is in 2022 co-organising the 11th conference Deaf History International together with Croatian association Dlan.

Besides both of the events, Petra Rezar talks also about the level of event organisation in Slovenia when it comes to adapting the event to the deaf, hearing impaired, and deaf-blind. She also gives clear suggestions on how to properly prepare the event to not exclude any visitor, she describes the steps, and warns on the necessity to include fairly and respectfully everyone, no matter the sensory impairment, into events and their organisation. Petra Rezar also highlights the lack of awareness that we possess about deaf-blind people around us. Hopefully, the recently enshrined sign language and language of the deaf into the Slovenian Constitution will bring some change as well as much-needed awareness.

Q:  How would you assess the organization of events in Slovenia regarding the needs of the deaf-blind?

A: This area is still under development. We still have not completely internalized the fact that there are people with deaf-blindness among us, and we are not aware that certain things need to be adjusted.

In case of events, it is best to agree in advance how to prepare and adapt the space according to the individual needs of a person with deaf-blindness. Most often, this would be an additional person accompanying the deaf-blind person. Sometimes it is also necessary to add a table for a laptop and wiring so that a person with deaf-blindness can follow the events described in large letters. Lighting is as well especially important element for proper monitoring of events. Also, the seating order should be set in a particular way what can cause a problem in case the seats are fixed in place. There are a huge number of factors that affect the quality of accessibility of the event.

We cannot imagine the horrific consequences of the decision from 1880 stretching to nowadays; the many lost generations of the deaf whose basic rights to language were violated the same as when whole nations are being oppressed and denied their right to expression.

Q:  What do event organizers need to pay special attention to when preparing an event?

A: Event organizers need to pay attention to many things, so it is best to arrange these things by adopting certain rules, which are then used as an implemented practice. Cankarjev dom – CD Cultural and Congress Centre has an exceptionally good practice, the technical staff is very flexible in terms of lighting and other needs for the disabled or deaf. Thus, interpreters often coordinate themselves so that visitors can follow to what is happening on stage. In the future, it is highly desirable to ensure that events would be equipped with live subtitles, as among visitors there are also deaf people or people who do not know sign language. It is also necessary to provide an on-screen video interpreter in large halls to reach all people with deafness or to reserve certain seats for people with special needs. An example of wrong people interfering with the preparation of the event was recent. An interpreter in agreement with the technical staff from Cankarjev dom arranged the perfect space and lighting, but then the organizer of the event, not related to Cankarjev dom, intervened and switched to total darkness and left the lighting only on stage. Imagine how a deaf person felt. These are things that simply should not happen.

Q:  With whom should event organizers consult before preparing the event?

A: The organizers should consult with interpreters and with technical staff who take care of the space as they may have rich experience, recommendations. Above all, the organizers must be aware of their target group, to which event is intended for and adjust the accessibility of the event according to the needs of individual target groups. In this case, it can also be a person with a disability. If the person is a deaf person, he or she can discuss with the interpreter beforehand on the most appropriate solution, layout, lighting, subtitling of the event, preparation of additional materials, texts for the interpreter and for the deaf person, or a person with deaf-blindness. If it is a theatre play, it is also recommended to read the text ahead, or to provide subtitling. Information is always best if it is obtained directly from deaf people or sign language interpreters. Organizers can also turn for information to organizations that are specialized in aiding people with disabilities professionally.

Information is always best if it is obtained directly from deaf people or sign language interpreters. Organizers can also turn for information to organizations that are specialized in aiding people with disabilities professionally.

Q:  Which event or institution would you rate as an example of good practice and why? 

A: Cankarjev dom is one of the most flexible institutions adapting to the needs of visitors. It has spatial conditions, the technical staff do not just easily adapt to the wishes and needs of the visitors, but they are also highly motivated to participate. Another good example is the Španski Borci theatre.

It is important to ensure free admission for accompanying persons or interpreters. Event can be expensive and only few can afford it. Thus, it is important to make it easier for the people with special needs to be able to attend it as often they are economically weaker than people without disabilities. Then it can also happen that there are good events out there, but the deaf people do not attend them as they are not sure what the event is about. Hence, it is important that the information about the event is out there and that it is presented in the way proper to attract also deaf visitors.

A very interesting example was the exhibition of French history of the deaf in Panthéon in Paris. The exhibition was a combination of play through videos and exhibited photographs, documents, and statues. It was accessible to a wider audience and was viewed by a large number of people.

Q:  You also organize events. What is your personal experience with organizing events in Slovenia?

A: Yes, we have already held various events several times, and we succeeded with the help of a well-established team of volunteers. It really takes a lot of time to prepare and connect volunteers. The head of the organization, which recognizes the potential of the volunteers and directs them to the right places, is also important. Therefore, it is particularly important that the team is well connected and knows how to jump in where needed. We were extremely limited with the funds; we were also very attentive to the possibilities of using the premises. For the best possible response from visitors, the location, and the accessibility to the premises (elevator, stairs) are especially important. Technically ideal solutions are not always possible.

For deaf visitors the space, which should have stepped seats, is also particularly important, as well as a raised stage, a projector, a camera for projecting the interpreter on the screen and appropriate lighting that adapts to the happening. With an incredible amount of enthusiasm and the passion of the team, we managed with minimal resources to make the event at a high level, of what we are immensely proud of.

Event organizers need to pay attention to many things, so it is best to arrange these things by adopting certain rules, which are then used as an implemented practice.

Q:  On 28 May 2021, Cankarjev dom hosted an academy titled ‘From banned to constitutionally enshrined sign language and language of the deaf-blind’ … it marked significant turning points in history.

A: Yes, the academy was a solemn event on the 90th anniversary of the establishment of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Clubs Association of Slovenia. At the same time, the event was dedicated to the recognition of sign language and language of the deaf-blind in Slovenian Constitution. The title of the event refers to the International Congress on the Education of the Deaf in Milano in 1880 where they passed a resolution that banned the use of sign language in education around the world. We cannot imagine the horrific consequences of that decision stretching to nowadays, the many lost generations of the deaf whose basic rights to language were violated the same as when whole nations are being oppressed and denied their right to expression. The consequences of that decision will probably never be really eliminated. At the same time, the generations of deaf are changing as the snail implants, which are changing the culture of the deaf, are on the rise.

Q: In 2022, you are organizing the 11th conference Deaf History International.

A: Yes. We will co-organise the conference with the Croatian association Dlan. Organising this event is a great challenge for us. We sincerely hope for some support with the implementation of the event in order to carry it out in the highest quality, both organizationally and technically. The content covers the history of the deaf of the 20th century with many global changes. I wish that the providers of the space will be flexible regarding adaptations to visitors with sensory disabilities and will go hand in hand with them in the preparation of premises and the implementation of events. Often, these events are very costly for our small organizations, but at the same time they are crucial for active participation in society. Namely, many are not aware that such an event has a much broader significance for the community at the local or national level or even internationally, so any support for such event is especially important in the long run.

THE RIGHT TO SIGN LANGUAGE ENSHRINED INTO SLOVENIAN CONSTITUTION:

The right to use and development of the Slovenian sign language was enshrined in the Slovene Constitution in May. The constitutional law sets down that a free use and development of the deaf-blind language is governed by law. “The use of these languages and the status of their users are governed by the law. A free use and development of the language of deaf-blind persons is governed by law,” reads Article 62.a of the Constitution. This decision has made Slovenia the fifth country in the EU to have enshrined the right to sign language in the Constitution. Austria, Finland, Hungary and Portugal had already done this. Moreover, Slovenia is now the first country in the world to recognise the status of tactile sign language by deaf-blind persons in the Constitution. Deaf-blind persons make up 0,2% to 2% of Slovenian population. Around 450 have a cochlear implant, some 100 are deaf-blind persons who use a tactile sign language and about 75,000 use a hearing aid.