Ms. Probst, how did you come to join the Green Party?
My political heart has always been very green and left. For the city council elections in my city, the Executive Director of the Green Party approached me and asked if I could imagine running as a candidate. The elections took place in March 2020. Unfortunately, it did not work.
Do politicians in Germany have personal sign language interpreters who accompany them on appointments?
No, not directly. Of course, there are teams of sign language interpreters who are happy to be assigned by the parties. But so far there are no permanent sign language interpreters at parties, that is, people you can see all the time and who can be identified as “green” sign language interpreters.
How is the situation in other countries?
In New Zealand, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has her own translator and interpreter who accompanies her everywhere. You can see in a video how this business works and what it includes. But you also need to know that New Zealand Sign Language is also the official language of New Zealand.
What do you want from your party’s candidate for the position of chancellor?
I have a vision that Annalena Baerbock will be the first female chancellor to have a sign language interpreter with her in her speeches and events. This sends a strong signal to the community that communication does not only occur in the spoken language.
How is the situation in Germany classified in a global comparison regarding the interpretation of references to political speeches or debates in the Bundestag?
Bad. There is a long tradition in Germany of ignoring sign language. To this day, there is no nationwide regulation for deaf education students that they must learn sign language for their studies and that they have at least a B2 level to present at the end of their studies. Another example is that until the late 1980s, deaf children were slapped on their fingers in schools to sign.
Can you also give a very recent example?
Early on February 26, 2020, when it became apparent to me which disaster was to be expected, I asked Health Minister Jens Spahn to provide press conferences and information about Corona Barriers Free in sign language. There was no response. It was only after violent protests and a focused media campaign by me and my colleagues that they responded. Today federal press conferences are held in sign language, as are those of the Robert Koch Institute.
Is everything all right then?
No. Today we still face the problem that federal government press conferences on television are not in sign language, but are only shown in sign language on the Internet. The federal government itself does not oblige the television to send a television signal from the Federal Chancellery in sign language, and this, in my opinion, is a clear distinction. So far, the Bundestag interprets Thursday only at the time of primary debate, government survey and disability policy issues outside of primary debate time. But for a few months the Bundestag has explained more than just the basic debate.
Does this mean that in the first place issues related to disability policy are only interpreted into sign language?
Yeah. The truth is that deaf people do not only care about disability issues. I am still waiting That the Bundestag, as announced in 2018, will be interpreted entirely in sign language, on all days of meetings and discussions.
So, how much is the participation of the deaf in politics in general?
As I said: bad. It is good that around 2012 the parties gradually began to interpret party congresses. First it was the pirates, then the Greens, then the Social Democrats, the left, and the Christian Democratic Union. For the longest time, the FDP refused, and they only had sign language interpreters at their party congress in 2020 – and now the FDP has one thing less than that with the AfD: they still refuse to appear unobstructed.
How is the situation in other countries?
Well, if you look at Egypt and notice that all the news programs and political debates there are translated into sign language on television screens, you can see just how far behind Germany is. We are really a developing country when it comes to information accessibility and inclusiveness. I would not be surprised if soon Germany did again a disastrous act in vetting the country to verify compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Are the signs the same around the world? So are people from India, the United States or Australia easy to understand?
No, every country has its own sign language, which of course has its own dialects, like the spoken language. However, it is easy for deaf people around the world to understand themselves because sign languages have a fixed structure. There is also an international mark.
Are there specific references to the names Scholes, Lachette, Burbock? Who decides how?
You know “Dances with Wolves”, right? You just have to know the classics. It is the same with us as it is with the natives: it is society that defines it.
Yeah. This means that Mister Scholes doesn’t have the same gestures as anyone else called Scholes?
Can the signs change, too?
Yes of course.
For someone unfamiliar with sign language, this is hard to imagine. Is it like when someone’s surname changes?
Name tags can change. For example, if the wearer is no longer comfortable with it or has changed significantly. By the way, my name is “Long Lashes”. My significant other is bothering me sometimes so much that it might also be called “the one who rubs her nose” because I do it when I’m super focused. You were really lucky with my name tag!
What are the problems of the deaf in relation to the Corona epidemic?
I think it is important to get deaf people vaccinated, regardless of age and previous illnesses, because in terms of communication, muzzle requirements are a big problem for deaf people and medical staff. This situation is very cumbersome for both sides – a sign language interpreter can also be requested, but due to a shortage of sign language interpreters available, it may take hours to days before one can attend.
What needs to be changed in Germany in order for the deaf to be more integrated?
Germany should simply follow the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities strictly, and nothing more than the federal and state governments are doing. Our luck for us people with disabilities was that at that time, in 2009, the federal government didn’t understand at all what it was actually expecting. In doing so, it has given us the right to rights that we should not have had, if we listened to the debates in the Bundestag.
What else do you wish for in order to be able to participate more politically?
Recognition of the deaf as a cultural minority that has its own language and German Sign Language as the official language in Germany. Until now, unfortunately, it has only been legally recognized as an independent language. As I said, I have a vision that future Chancellor Analina Burbock will take sign language to a new level on April 27, 2022, after exactly 20 years of legal recognition of sign language as an independent language: with sign language as an official or minority language and recognition of the deaf as a cultural minority. Maybe this will be true? We are trying to see the election manifesto of the Green Party now. It’s going to be a gigantic step up and a great showcase of a new policy that really wants to take everyone away.