Legal Rights of the Hearing Impaired Discouraging in Iceland Skip to content

Legal Rights of the Hearing Impaired Discouraging in Iceland

Icelanders with hearing impairness are not legally entitled to interpretation services should they need to travel abroad for medical treatments or attend conferences for their work. This limits their capacity to demonstrate their professional skills.

people_psArchive photo: Páll Stefánsson/Iceland Review.

In an interview on Monday night on the evening news of national broadcaster RÚV, director Elsa G. Björnsdóttir, explained the difficulty faced by Icelanders with hearing impairness when needing to communicate with individuals using sign language in other languages than Icelandic. In general, Icelandic interpreters are not trained in other languages than Icelandic.

Valgerður Stefánsdóttir, director of the Communication Centre for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing told RÚV that the education needed to pursue training in international sign languages requires an interpreter to attend a three-year university program abroad. The usability of international sign language in Iceland is very limited and perhaps never to be used. However, skills in international sign language are largely based on rich experience of using sign language and an experience in communicating with foreign nations. International signing is an acquired skill rather than learned in academic environment.

She added that the rights of the hearing impaired are vague in terms of interpretation services. It is near-impossible to apply for employment or healthcare overseas as the deaf and hard of hearing are not entitled to receive interpretation services overseas. Attending conferences, meetings or other professional events is not an option when no one is available to interpret the spoken word using Icelandic sign language.

“We see this all the time. Hearing impaired professionals are simply not equal to their colleagues, and cannot become as efficient in professional environment,” said Valgerður. The same applies for hearing impaired individuals seeking medical services overseas.

The circumstances are vastly different in the other Nordic countries. In Scandinavia, hearing impaired individuals are generally entitled to bringing at least two interpreters on work trips. All travel expenses are paid by the government.


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