Association of the Deaf raises concerns about access to services in Latvia

The Association of the Deaf says that too few services are available for the deaf, according to Latvian Radio on December 13.

Without a translator, it's not possible for deaf people to communicate readily with state and local government institutions. Latvia currently has 35 translators, but it's not nearly enough. The association has created an online interpreter service for business use, but it's currently only in a handful of pharmacies. The deaf would like to be able to communicate in this way with government institutions.

Services for the deaf and hearing impaired are practically unavailable. This segment of the population can't enjoy cultural events or communicate with the government. The 35 interpreters isn't enough for the 2000 people in need of services. The Association of the Deaf is asking municipal governments to prepare all necessary information in sign language, but there has been little response according to association President Sandra Gerenovska.

"As a result of the project, we realised municipal governments also lack information. They were afraid – if an NGO is coming, they surely want to rip us off for money,” said Gerenovska.

“They didn't understand - how can the deaf not read information? For example, one municipality wrote a written reply that they don't want to participate in a discussion. They replied – for us everything is fine! We have a regional association we work with and support as much as we can, there's information online, we have booklets, newspapers – there's no problem!" said Gerenovska.

The online interpreter is currently available in only 21 locations, including the Apotheka pharmacy chain. Residents can request the service at their local pharmacy, but that's not enough. The association says this service needs to be available at the State Revenue Service, as well as the State Social Insurance Agency and other government institutions.

State Revenue Service Public Relations Specialist Evita Teice-Mamaja said that they only rarely work with deaf clients.

"The majority come to the client service center with an assistant or interpreter. Or they have a question, hand it in in writing on paper. And our employees reply in the same way. As far as I know there are no plans to implement an online interpreter," said Teice-Mamaja.

She emphasized that if there were more of these cases, or if a communications problem arises, then a solution will be found.

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