IFHOH Congress 2012 in Norway

International Federation for Hard of Hearing (IFHOH) World Congress 2012 was held in end of June in Bergen, Norway. I learned about it last year at an annual HLAA (Hearing Loss Association of America) conference that I was attending for the 3rd time. It was my first time attending an international conference outside of the USA, and also first time visiting Scandinavia.

The conference was held in the Grieghallen Concert Hall, a nice modern-looking building. The language spoken at the conference was English. All presentations were captioned in English, Norwegian, and Japanese, and interpreted into Norwegian sign language! I applaud the great work done by transcribers and sign language interpreters. I relied on English captions all time. I especially find it very impressive that transcribers could translate English right into Norwegian captions – which I think is very hard to do!

There was a great breadth of talks on various topics ranging from hearing technologies to education/employment to communication modes used by deaf and hard of hearing speakers from all over the world. I liked it that I could learn about both oral and signed languages – unlike some conferences for deaf/hoh people where the focus is either on oralism or sign language. I enjoyed learning some Scandinavian signs from their users.

Some of my favorite presentations were related to Universal Design focusing on captioning/subtitling. It was interesting to learn more about experiences of deaf/hoh people with subtitling in Europe. I was very surprised to find out that even not all Western European countries had the equal number of subtitling on TV. For example, UK, France, Netherland offer almost 100% of subtitling on TV while Finland has about 30% and Norway had to fight for access via subtitling.

More information about the state of subtitling in Europe can be found on the EFHOH website with the following links for report and videos:

My other favorites were “Internet/Social Media and Rehabilitation” by Marte Opedal Vale from Norway and “Participation Through Bilingualism – Why do we need Several Tools for Communication to Increase our Quality of Life?” by Maria Midbøe from Sweden. I really liked how Marte and Maria were encouraging the use of bilingualism (spoken and signed languages) by deaf/hoh people – regardless of their levels of hearing loss.

I also enjoyed the presentation by Japanese delegates about their experience with last year’s earthquake – “Earthquake Disaster and Barriers Surrounding Hard of Hearing People.” They were explaining about how they get their government to improve their emergency preparedness for deaf and hard of hearing people who suffered most from the earthquake due to the lack of communication access. I really liked that one of speaker who did most of the talk was signing in Japanese sign language and voiced by his interpreter.

I applaud Norway, Sweden, and Japan for providing sign language interpreters for their attendees who needed to use it. While I was glad to be able to access all presentations via captions in English, I was very disappointed when HLAA (of which I have been a very loyal member for 3 years) denied my request for ASL interpreters that I could use when speaking up during questions and answers sessions and during socials. I was told that interpreters were not needed and just watching captioning was “enough” while many deaf/hoh used not only captioning, but also looping – which I don’t think was the full and equal access for everyone.

While I can speak and lipread, not all people are easy for me to understand unless they have a very good articulation and/or know at least some sign language. So I was glad to meet and socialize with some people who are bilingual in spoken and signed languages or were patient with me using writing/typing when I could not understand them by lipreading. I hope the issue with interpreters would be resolved for the future IFHOH conferences to make more deaf/hoh attendees who need visual communication services feel more welcome.

Other suggestion for visual communication access could be Cued Speech. It is easier and faster to learn it than sign language because it is based on phonetics of a spoken language with 8 handshapes in 4 locations. It is not “better” than sign language or to replace it. It can be adapted to many spoken languages with some differences, so it could be a good idea to use Cued Speech for international events.

I was also invited as an observer at IFHOHYP (IFHOH Young People) AGM (Annual General Meeting) for attendees aged 18 to 35. I learned a lot interesting things about the organization and met a lot of cool people from all over the world. I was very impressed that many deaf/hoh young people in Europe (who use a spoken language as their primary communication mode and some also use a sign language as a secondary mode) have been getting together for a long time to participate in conferences, studies, summer camps – compared to here in the States where not many oral deaf/hoh people get together that much. HLAA has started inviting and organizing activities for younger members only 3 years ago who are now trying to get more young people via Facebook to attend the next HLAA conference next year in Portland. So I was the only deaf person under 35 from USA to attend IFHOH Congress, and as I have learned, USA is not a member of IFHOHYP yet. I hope more American youth would be able to attend IFHOH Congress and IFHOHYP events in future.

Overall, my visit to Bergen was very enjoyable – walking around in the former capital of Norway with beautiful historical places (Bryggen is the most popular), trying their national food, and getting a beautiful bird view of the city from the top of Fløyen mountain. Midnight sun was quite a sight to see! It was not as warm as in New York City (where it was hot that time), so I had to wear a jacket. Also, I was glad that it rained only on the day of my arrival, and it was sunny during the rest of the conference which was very unusual because Bergen is famous as the City of Rain in Norway! That was also mentioned during the Congress closing ceremony. They were telling a joke about a tourist asking a young boy about when it would stop rain, and he said that he did not know because he was only twelve years old.