President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) upset some people with disabilities yesterday by failing to have a sign-language specialist interpret his New Year’s address.
Taiwan Association for Disability Rights secretary-general Wang Yuling (王幼玲) said that no sign language interpreter was hired to translate Ma’s speech on the first day of the new year, nor the slogans the president shouted during the flag-raising ceremony held in front of the Office of the President.
The television stations broadcasting these events did not provide subtitles for the speech either, she added.
“Developed countries around the world all offer sign-language interpretation whenever the head of the state makes an important announcement,” Wang said. “By not providing this service, Taiwan really does not look like a civilized country that honors human rights.”
Wang said that thousands of people with disabilities took to the streets last year to demand equal access to information and cultural events, urging that the news and other televised programs be made accessible to all people. They also requested that press conferences hosted by the government agencies feature sign-language translation.
“We are surprised that Ma set such a terrible example on the first day of the year,” she said.
Wang said this was not the first time that the president had ignored the equal access to information rights of the hearing impaired.
During the inauguration ceremony for his second term last year, Ma’s address was neither interpreted in sign language nor broadcast with subtitles, she said.
After receiving complaints, the Presidential Office promised to improve, but did not make good on this promise during yesterday’s New Year’s address, Wang added, saying the Ma administration should list “barrier-free access to information” as a criterion in the evaluation of all government events.
The association said that the Ma administration has signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, both of which state that all individuals have the right to participate in public affairs and receive information on an equal basis.
This right is further enshrined in the People with Disabilities Rights Protection Act (身心障礙者權益保障法), which also states that access to public information should be barrier-free, the association said.