Conversation with Harry Knoors

At the Dutch Kentalis blog, Harry Knoors, one of the leading figures in Dutch and European Deaf education, has given his perspective on the accessibility issues during the ICED conference in Athens last week. He was responding to a discussion thread initiated by a Dutch deaf person, Juliette, which was quickly followed by other responses from deaf people.

Knoors’ response is in Dutch but because it is so revealing I think it deserves a wider audience. Here is the English translation. (Original in Dutch and the other responses are here.)


Dear Juliette and others,

I really understand your emotions, but I think your reactions are too one-sided, too much departing from the perspective ‘we Deaf people are entitled to that’. And I’m wondering how far you can go with that. That has nothing to do with being denigratory towards Deaf people, it has also nothing to do with audism, it has to do with having a different opinion about something. I think that should be possible. Sometimes you may think you are entitled to something, but there are some practical barriers to overcome first.

Let me first say this. There is no such thing as an ICED organisation. There is only a committee (of which I am a member) which every 5 years chooses from the proposals where the next conference will take place. It is this place and organisation, in 2015 Athens and Patras University, in 2020 Brisbane and the Australian Teachers for the Deaf, who will arrange everything further. They are responsible for the costs. So ICED is not like the WFD, an own organisation with its own budget.

Of course we could reduce the number of presentations or parallel sessions. But then fewer people would come! Because a lot of people can only participate in conferences abroad when they give a presentation. And less participants means less income. A frustrating dilemma.

An alternative option is looking for sponsors. In our world actually there are only a few sponsors which have money: the CI companies. Well…

After the conference, the committee had a meeting to discuss criteria for the countries and organisations organising the conference in 2025. We decided there that the conference needs to be 100% accessible for Deaf people (but also for deaf people and hard of hearing people, because we need to take them into account as well), exactly like you want. Preferably in Brisbane already. But every member of the committee, including Deaf people present, is very much aware that this will be very hard to afford. And at this meeting, representatives from developing countries told us that the right to 100% access Deaf people from Western countries claim they are entitled to, will lead to discrimination of participants from developing countries, because in that case, they won’t be able to pay the conference fees anymore. So it is a little bit more complicated than you, Juliette, sketched in your first post.

You said that the ICED organisation (which doesn’t exist!) should be reflecting on what happened. And I wrote that Deaf people should do that too. To nag you? Not at all. Because I, just like you, would like to have 100% access, but I also want to keep the conference affordable. Because otherwise, there will be no ICED conferences anymore. And that would be a pity. And this is why I present you this idea. I do not speak Chinese. But quite often, I receive invitations to go to conferences in China. Where Chinese is the conference language. In such a situation, am I, as a Dutch person, entitled to an interpreter Dutch or English? Or am I responsible for that myself? And do I maybe need to (partly) pay for it myself? And so what is the difference with Deaf people?

Kind regards,


4 thoughts on “Conversation with Harry Knoors

  1. Additional comment from Harry Knoors translated:

    “My point is that the financial feasibility is really an issue. Because ICED is a conference about education of deaf and heard of hearing people, not about education of Deaf people. So an ICED conference does not only need to provide access to International Sign, because that does not help the vast majority of all deaf and hard of hearing people. Example: in England only 2% of all deaf and hard of hearing people uses BSL, the rest is using English, but does also want access (and rightly so!). So access does also mean CART and acoustical accommodations. Right?”

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