Student at HU University of Applied Sciences, in Utrecht, Netherlands, José Jurado is on a mission to become a sign language teacher. Born deaf, he wants to reunite his both cultures, the hearing and the deaf, to transform Europe into a more inclusive environment.
Between us, no words or sounds were exchanged. Sitting in front of me, his eyes seem to want to talk, however, his hands where doing all the action, dancing, moving, expressing themselves. These gestures are not insignificant: they are José’s words.
To present himself, the student uses two different forms: José, the Spanish name that reflects his origin, and a specific sign, a new name that defines him in his deaf community. To communicate to others, he uses the sign language of the Netherlands (SLN). And he is not the only one. In the European Union, around 500,000 people use the sign language as their official language.
This 23 of September, the United Nations celebrates the International Day of Sign Languages. Despite this recognition, sign languages aren’t claimed everywhere, as the Netherlands. Because of that, the community still encounters many barriers and is deprived of many activities.
ERASMUS, ACCESSIBLE TO ALL?
Born in a multicultural environment, the Dutch student loves learning new languages. “English, German and few words of Spanish,” he says when asked which ones he knows. Many of this were used in José’s travels, which englobe most of the European landscape: Spain, Hungary, Turkey… But what about communication problems? “It’s easy to make yourself understood with gestures,” he jokes. Abroad, José can read the indications signs and he uses his hands, as usually, to communicate.
When we talked about the Erasmus program, José frowned and wondered. Usually, deaf students don’t even think about the possibility of doing an exchange program. Even if the European Commission tries to include them in the project, it doesn’t always have an impact on the field.
According to Marlies Ngouateu, the Coordinator of the Sign Language Teacher’s bachelor in HU University, the situation is delicate. If Erasmus decides to accept deaf students, the program will have to contract an especialized interpreter for the classes and the student would have to learn the specific sign language of the country in which he/she wants to study.
A PERMANENT FIGHT
In José’s case, the barrier does not only come from these needs. In Utrecht, he is in his second year of the sign language teacher’s bachelor, but, since in Europe the linguistic communications aren’t recognized, José’s formation does not exist in all other countries.
To him, being raised in two different universes is very important for those wanting to become a teacher. He wants to encourage other people to experience these cultures and, more than ever, he desires to “build a bridge between those two cultures.“
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