Inkeri Lahtinen, Project Manager, Desk Officer, Finnish Association of the Deaf
The Finnish Association of the Deaf started co-operation with the Albanian National Association of the Deaf at the beginning of the 2000’s. At the time, neither deaf people nor sign language had any official status in Albania, and there were no services available in sign language. The deaf community lacked linguistic rights in all aspects.
At the beginning of the collaboration, we focused on developing the community and the Albanian National Association of the Deaf as well as inclusive research and documentation of sign language. The compilation of a dictionary roused the linguistic awareness of the deaf community. The first dictionary of Albanian sign language was published in 2005 and it also served to establish to the authorities that the form of language used among the deaf was a fully-fledged language in its own right.
Albania ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in 2013. At the time, Albania was also in the process of applying to become an EU member state and was required to improve the status and legislation concerning people with disabilities. As ANAD grew to be more influential as an advocate, sign language was finally officially recognised in Albania in 2014.
Two years prior to the ratification of CRPD, in 2011, the Albanian Institute of Statistics –INSTAT– had conducted a census, in which they had also collected data on the possible limitations on citizens concerning mobility, vision, hearing, cognition and communication. These were identified using questions drawn up by the "Washington Group", a working group set up under the UN Statistical Commission.
According to the census, there were 38,000 people with some or a lot of difficulties with hearing or who were completely unable to rely on their hearing. When INSTAT added further data on people who were both "completely unable to hear" and "completely unable to communicate", the total number was 5,300 people. In the light of this data, we can conclude that the number of deaf people and/or sign language users is somewhere between these figures.
Besides quantitative data, however, qualitative information on the living conditions of deaf people was also needed.