How the COVID-19 crisis impacts the deaf in the Netherlands

The coronavirus affects society profoundly, but in which ways has the pandemic influenced access to and need for sign language interpretation around the world? In our blog series “Sign language interpretation in a time of crisis” we will take a closer look at the situation in different countries. This time, we’ll focus on the Netherlands, as Karin Ursinus, CEO of Berengroep, discusses accessibility for the deaf in the country.

How extensive are sign language interpretation services in the Netherlands usually?

Text and video relay services are provided by KPN Teletolk. The text service is available 24/7 and video service is available every day from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.. Tolkcontact (contact on distance) is provided by Berengroep, the only agency that offers it.

Having an interpreter on site is also (in normal circumstances) widely available in the Netherlands. If the monthly allowance of hours are not enough, individuals can ask for additional hours, for instance at work, university, school, etc. Interpreters who work on their own may offer distance interpretation via Skype, FaceTime, etc.

Has the Corona situation affected the availability of sign language interpretation?

The call patterns have changed. Initially there was an increase since there were a lot of questions to health care providers, or to companies that were closing down.

Has the overall need for these services increased due to Coronavirus?

Because of the restriction of movement, people are not making that many calls to businesses right now. So it balances out, the number of calls is actually at normal levels. On site interpretation is not allowed at the moment due to social distancing.

In your opinion, what would the best-case scenario look like? What tools and decisions should be in place to increase accessibility for deaf people?

Improvements have been made, here are some examples:

• The government has for the first time had an interpreter during press releases, which is very popular and supported.

• Typically it has not been required, but now there is a movement to require sign language during press releases and for important information provided by the government.

• Health care on distance is more widely used, and together with Tolkcontact, an interpreter can be available for situations when an interpreter is needed (GGMD project with nWise).

Read more about Berengroep and their services here: