At a glance
With only 10 certified sign-language interpreters in all of Kosovo, hearing-impaired people regularly encounter problems with access to basic municipal services, as well as to the police and legal system.
The problem is even worse for the hearing-impaired who happen to live outside the main urban centres, Prishtinë/Priština and Prizren.
“Of the ten certified sign-language interpreters in Kosovo, eight of them work in Prizren and Prishtinë/Priština,” says Rukije Gashi of the Kosovo Association of the Deaf. “This leaves only two interpreters to help some 9000 hearing-impaired people who need assistance in other parts of Kosovo.”
R.T., a 20-year-old from Prishtinë/Priština, and N.C., a 28-year-old from Mitrovicë/Mitrovica, are just two of the many hearing-impaired individuals living in Kosovo whose lives have been affected by the lack of available interpreters.
“I couldn’t take the final exams at my secondary school on time, as there was no sign-language interpreter available,” notes R.T. “As a result, I couldn’t enrol at the Faculty of Arts, University in Prishtinë/Priština, last year. They had accepted the maximum number of students in the first round of enrolments, and it was too late for me to even try once I got my diploma.”
Over the past four years, N.C. has tried to take a driving test seven times, but there has never been an interpreter available to assist.
Gashi says that cases like those of R.T. and N.C. are just the tip of the iceberg, pointing out that the Kosovo Association of the Deaf receives two or three requests for support a day but cannot adequately respond to them.
“There are two reasons why the Association is unable to meet the demand,” says Gashi. “First, it is often the case that there are no available interpreters. Second, there are very few institutions requesting sign-language interpretation in different parts of Kosovo that are willing or able to cover interpreters’ expenses.”
The OSCE Mission in Kosovo stepped up in June of this year, launching a five-month course in sign-language interpretation focusing on interpretation models, voice-to-sign and sign-to-voice interpreting, and also a code of ethics and professional conduct. The course has been providing this specialized training for 12 individuals who will soon join the ranks of Kosovo’s certified interpreters.
“Fortunately, the new interpreters come from seven different cities across Kosovo, so we will have much better territorial coverage in the near future,” says Valbone Demarku, National Human Rights Advisor at the OSCE Mission in Kosovo. “Once they are certified, their contacts will be provided to the Kosovo Association of the Deaf and municipal officials across Kosovo who will be able to contact them when their services are needed. This is going to greatly ease the burden on all the existing interpreters and also ensure that hearing-impaired individuals are able to get the assistance they need for their daily lives on a more-timely basis.”
“This is a training course that I have been waiting for such a long time,” says Besiana Bajrmaj, an 18-year-old from the village of Baicë/Banjica in western Kosovo. All the other members of Bajramaj’s family are deaf.
“Prior to this course, I had no opportunity to formally learn the official sign language, which made it difficult for me to communicate with, or interpret for, anyone besides the members of my immediate family,” Bajramaj notes. “Once I am done with the course, however, I will try and help as many people as I can.”
While the course will come to an end with final exams early next year, this will only mark the beginning of what could be a long process that could eventually see sign-language interpretation available in institutions throughout Kosovo.
“Next year, we’re going to organize an advanced training course for sign-language interpreters, and we’re also going to lobby for the establishment of a unit providing sign-language services within the Office of the Prime Minister,” explains Gashi of the Kosovo Association of the Deaf. “We’ll start with the Office of the Prime Minister, but, hopefully, services will also be offered in municipalities across Kosovo one day. There is still a long way to go, but we’re persistent.”
Written by Mirjana Ugrenović and Nikola Gaon