From 14th – 15th June 2023, the 16th session of the Conference of the State Parties to the UN CRPD (COSP) was held. The overarching theme of this year’s COSP was “Harmonizing national policies and strategies with the CRPD: achievements and challenges” with 3 sub themes:
- Ensuring equal access to and accessibility of sexual and reproductive health services for persons with disabilities
- Digital accessibility for persons with disabilities
- Reaching the under-represented groups of persons with disabilities
EUD followed the conference online, however a representative from the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD), Ms Susanna Stiglich, was scheduled to make the intervention on its behalf in-person on the EU’s lack of recognition of its national sign languages at the EU level, in line with the CRPD and its Article 21(e). However, due to insufficient time, it was not presented in the general debate. Nevertheless, EUD will send it to the UN ‘estatements’ and it will be included in the final report of the 16th session of the COSP.
EUD followed the general debates and the 3 roundtables of this year’s COSP. The conference was introduced by high-level players in the disability movement, such as Ms Getrude Oforiwa Fefoame, Chairperson of the CRPD Committee, and Mr Gerard Quinn, UN Special Rapporteur on Disability. Mr Antonion Gueterres, marked the progress that has been made since the adoption of the Convention in 2008, with 186 countries having ratified it since then. However, Mr Gueterres mentioned that State Parties have only reached 30% of the goals in terms of CRPD implementation, and stressed that there is a great deal more to be done to fully implement all of its articles.
Ms Fefoame emphasised the need for the medical and healthcare approach to be substituted with a human rights approach, which is embedded in the Convention. Indeed, the CRPD Committee is acting with urgency to ensure the ending of practices of forced contraception and sterilization of women and girls with disabilities. Mr Quinn, highlighted the risks and opportunities posed by AI as it has significant implications for persons with disabilities. For instance, AI can makes decisions which can potentially side step the concept of reasonable accommodation.
The International Disability Alliance (IDA), reinforced the message that climate change has and will continue to have disproportionate effects on people with disabilities. To combat this, we need disability-inclusive funding and disaggregated data. However, there have been several natural disasters that have affected persons with disabilities and there is no information on the name, place of living or disability group impacted by natural disasters. The 16th session of the COSP was an informative conference which provided insight to EUD in terms of the most pressing issues facing the disability community today. Accordingly, EUD will continue to work toward ensuring the deaf perspective is mainstreamed and accounted for in all policy and legislative developments, to further implement the UN CRPD at EU and national level, on topics such as gender equality, climate change, data collection, health, AI and more.
“The European Union of the Deaf (EUD) – the representative organization of all deaf people in the European Union – welcomes the 16th Session of the Conference of the State Parties and its commitment to renew all efforts towards harmonising national and regional policies with the CRPD. The EU, as the only Regional State Party to the CRPD, should further efforts to implement all its provisions, particularly Article 21(e) CRPD obliging States Parties to recognise and promote the use of national sign languages aligning with the EU Disability Rights Strategy.
Deaf people in the EU face significant barriers when exercising their rights under the CRPD: information is not imparted in their national sign languages and the opportunities to communicate through their preferred languages are limited. This is caused by a structural lack of recognition of national sign languages as full languages by the EU preventing them to address the linguistic human rights challenges of deaf people. The EU presents a linguistically rich and diverse landscape with 24 spoken languages and 31 national sign languages. Yet, it has not recognised its national sign languages as EU languages despite having ratified the CRPD and its 27 Member States have already legally recognised their national sign languages.
In this regard, during the 5th European Parliament of Persons with Disabilities in May 2023, EUD and the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD) issued a joint statement to call for the legal recognition and promotion of national sign languages as official EU languages.
By recognising and promoting national sign languages, the EU will break down communication barriers, foster inclusivity, and ensure that deaf people have equal access to information, services, and opportunities across all EU Member States. Furthermore, the EU will be a leader in regional recognition of national sign languages and will be the first regional entity to do so. This will pave the way to an inclusive European society where all deaf people can enjoy their fundamental human rights.