International Disability Day: Masking communication

Many people with disabling hearing loss are suffering from isolation and exclusion, because they cannot interact easily when wearing a face mask; transparent masks provide a solution, writes Ádám Kósa.
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By Ádám Kósa

Ádám Kósa (HU, EPP) is a co-chair of Parliament’s Disability Intergroup

03 Dec 2020

I continue to work in the European Parliament in these extraordinary times and, thanks to technological developments, online work does not pose a challenge for me and my sign-language interpreters, compared to other MEPs who may have found it more difficult to work remotely.

My language is based on visual contact, and video platforms allow me to communicate freely.

However, one barrier remains: with the outbreak of the Coronavirus and the compulsory masks that we now wear, it has become more difficult for deaf people and people sensitive to non-verbal language, such as those with autism or trisomy, to communicate with their relatives in their daily life.

Wearing a mask that protects against Coronavirus makes lip-reading impossible. However, the solution could be to use a transparent mask.

“In order to communicate through lip reading and facial gestures, they are using non-approved transparent masks, putting their health at risk”

There are 34.4 million adults in the EU with disabling hearing loss. Many of them are suffering from problems of isolation and exclusion because they cannot interact easily when wearing a face mask.

In order to communicate through lip reading and facial gestures, they are using non-approved transparent masks, putting their health at risk. Others barely leave their homes because of the anxiety and depression suffered over fears of not being able to communicate.

Transparent masks are an effective solution, since they help people who normally communicate in sign languages to see the facial expressions and gestures that accompany the movement of their hands.

I urge the European Commission to take steps to approve transparent masks in the European Union. I have been a co-chair of the Disability Intergroup since 2009, and am now shadow rapporteur on the report on the implementation of the Council Directive on equal employment.

I hope to help establish a general framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation in accordance with the UN’s Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

Persons with disabilities are often denied their right to engage in work on an equal basis with others, and this must change. But how can we achieve such an ambitious goal, one might ask?

I urge the EU institutions and Member States to build on the expertise of disabled persons’ organisations and to actively involve them in all disability-related decisions, which I have been doing since I was elected as an MEP in 2009.

Expert organisations representing people with disabilities can help define the most suitable digital tools or software for the individual needs of the person with a specific kind of disability.

This is of the utmost importance during the COVID-19 crisis. I believe that Member States should ensure that people with disabilities have access to affordable digital tools and software that are bespoke and cater to their individual needs and career paths.

“Persons with disabilities are often denied their right to engage in work on an equal basis with others and this must change”

The European Commission has not yet published its new Disability Rights Strategy, as consultations with the cabinet of Equality Commissioner Helena Dalli are still ongoing.

However I hope that the new strategy will not only summarise what has happened in the last 10 years but will also provide guidance on what needs to be done in the next 10, in all areas of EU policy, based on the recommendations of the UNCRPD Committee.

It is important to strengthen both policy mainstreaming and monitoring. And when I say strengthening, I mean that we need adequate financial resources for both implementating and monitoring the post-2020 strategy.

I believe that the Commission will present a comprehensive, ambitious and long-term plan that clearly identifies priority areas and covers all parts of the UNCRPD Convention. But it is crucial that the document include definitions of key concepts; in particular, the definition of what constitutes a “disability”.

Moreover, we need guidelines to ensure equal access to services (for example, health, education, public transport, housing, culture and sport).

We should also not forget that the best legislation is only as good as its implementation.

Therefore, Member States must also fully implement, and constantly monitor, all existing accessibility regulations, including the European Accessibility Act, the Audiovisual Media Services Directive, and the Web Accessibility Directive.

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