Equal opportunities project approved: initiation of Flemish Sign Language for deaf migrants and raising awareness

Deaf people of foreign origin are a difficult to reach group. Due to language and cultural differences, they are not always easily connected to social life or to the Flemish deaf community. Deaf newcomers such as refugees, economic migrants and people fleeing here because of their sexual orientation or for other reasons, are also among the most vulnerable groups in society.

In the past year, Doof Vlaanderen has strongly focused on expertise and network building through the Deaf & Migration project, subsidised by the Ministry of Culture, through the Flemish Sign Language Advisory Committee. We have established contacts with deaf people of foreign origin and have gained insight into their situation and needs through interviews and focus groups. This has led to a documentary and website. On this website you can watch the documentary and find basic information in four languages ​​(Dutch, English, Flemish Sign Language and International Sign). We formulated a series of recommendations in six domains:

  • the need for expertise with regard to being deaf within services and organisations that come into contact with deaf migrants;
  • the accessibility of services and organisations by, among other things, using Flemish Sign Language interpreters, using VRI services and hiring staff that knows sign language;
  • the need for recognition and training of deaf interpreters who are often needed as an intermediary for interpreting between the sign language of the deaf migrant and Flemish Sign Language;
  • granting the right to Flemish Sign Language interpreters in private situations more quickly;
  • the need for adapted language courses in Dutch and Flemish Sign Language;
  • the recognition of the commitment and expertise of local deaf clubs and deaf volunteers who now offer support to deaf migrants;

Based on some of the recommendations above, we have submitted a new project to the Ministry of Equal Opportunities, which has also been approved. The central objective of this new project is to launch an initiation course on Flemish Sign Language for deaf migrants, as a gateway to the Flemish deaf community and wider society, and as a stepping stone to learn Dutch afterwards. In concrete terms, this means we shall offer a series of fifteen teaching days starting in the beginning of 2020. The aim is to teach the basic grammar and basic lexicon of VGT on the one hand and on the other hand to familiarise the participants with the daily life of a deaf person in Flanders: what are deaf clubs, what do Flemish Sign Language interpreters do, how does one use an interpreter, what is VRI, what services are available, ...? We consider this as "integration information" specifically for deaf people.

In addition, we want to convert the information from the "Deaf & Migration" project into an accessible workshop for local Flemish deaf clubs. They are often faced with deaf people of foreign origin and members voluntarily go to services to support them or even to interpret for them. With this workshop we want to offer them a framework: what is the situation of deaf newcomers? What can a club offer them? How far can individual members go in guiding deaf people of foreign origin? How can they deal with ethnic-cultural diversity in the range of activities for their members?

Finally, we will also develop a workshop for services that come into contact with deaf migrants. They need information different from deaf clubs: often no expertise about being deaf is available and the first task is to inform them about this. Many services question how to work with deaf people of foreign origin, so this subject is a good starting point for sketching the wider picture.