The Flemish Sign Language community celebrates 5 years Flemish Sign Language recognition

Maartje De Meulder

On April 26th 2006, Flemish Sign Language (VGT) was recognised. The Flemish Parliament unanimously approved a decree which recognised VGT as the language of the linguistic-cultural minority group of Deaf people and Flemish Sign Language users in Flanders. The decree further regulated the establishment of an advisory committee for VGT, funding mechanisms for research about VGT and projects for raising awareness about VGT.

The advisory committee was established in 2008 and consists of 15 by the Flemish government appointed members (minimum half of the members must be Deaf). Its main task is to advise the Flemish government in all matters related to VGT, and formulate proposals. The Flemish government also funded the Flemish Sign Language Centre for a first period of 4 years, which functions as a ‘knowledge and information centre’ about VGT and at the moment is mainly carrying out research about VGT. The Flemish government is also annually funding several different projects and campaigns aimed at raising awareness about VGT.

Five years have passed since that memorable day in 2006, and the Flemish Deaf Association Fevlado wants to take
this opportunity to celebrate this 5 year anniversary during the week of April 26th. For this celebration week, Fevlado is working with three different partners: the advisory committee for VGT, the Flemish Sign Language Centre, and the Flemish Deaf schools.

The celebration week consists of 3 main events. On April 26th 2011, Fevlado will organise a press conference with a reception for the members of the Flemish Parliament and our partners. The Flemish minister of Culture and
different representatives of Fevlado will give a presentation at this press conference. With this conference, Fevlado aims to inform the press and policy makers about the importance of VGT recognition, while also emphasising that
this recognition is only a first step in gaining Linguistic Human Rights for Flemish Deaf people. More specifically, the recognition of VGT has not yet been of any relevance to the domains of education, information for parents of deaf children and media, three main priorities for the Flemish Deaf Association. Primary education in VGT is rather the exception than the norm in Flanders and in secondary education, if deaf children want to gain a qualification which gives them access to higher education, they are forced into mainstream education without any significant amount of VGT interpreting hours. This situation is going on for years now, and goes even to the extent that parents of deaf children submitted a formal complaint against the Flemish minister of Education, a case which will be heard by the
Court of Appeal soon. The Flemish government goes for the easy way of implanting deaf children bilaterally (and reimbursing two implants), while their parents do not receive objective and full information about their choices
and do not have any opportunities to learn VGT properly, while deaf children are denied the right to grow up bilingual. Moreover, VGT is not yet visible on the national television. While focusing on the positive message of the
celebration week, Fevlado also wants to make clear that there is still a long way to go before Deaf people can enjoy full citizenship with protection of their linguistic and cultural rights.

On April 28th, Fevlado and the Flemish Deaf schools have worked together to organise a ‘Sign Festival’ for deaf primary school children. About 180 Deaf children will attend this festival, some of them also from mainstream schools. At the moment, the children are in the process of preparing a signed song which they will sign during the competition at the Sign Festival. There are also lots of different workshops for the children to attend.

The celebration week will be closed with a big celebration for the Flemish Sign Language community on April 30, in the Flemish Parliament in Brussels. In the morning, there will be three parallel activities. There will be a mini-conference about language planning, organised by Fevlado and the Flemish Sign Language Centre. There will be workshops (virtual reality, poetry, music and fairy tales in VGT) and initiation courses for people who don’t know any sign language. In the afternoon, there will be a march through Brussels where Deaf and hearing people will walk together with colourful balloons and banners, and signing songs. The aim is to raise awareness about VGT and show that we are proud of our language and culture. After the march, there will be a competition for creative use of VGT (stories, signed songs, poetry, …) and a jury will hand over awards to the winners. During the day, there will be an exhibition where
Deaf artists will present their work to the public.

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