♦ Opening Ceremony of the ESMHD Third World Congress
on Mental Health and Deafness
Worcester, South Africa, October 26, 2005
Honorable Minister of Health of the Republic of South Africa,
Dear Mayor Johnson, President of the Organising Committee,
Dear Colleagues, members of the Organising Committee,
Dear Delegates,


On behalf of the European Society for Mental Health and Deafness (ESMHD), I have the great honour to forward our best greetings to the organising committee of this conference and to all the participants, as well as our wishes of support to all those who work to promote in all ways the development of accessible health and mental health care adapted to the needs of the Deaf population. The ESMHD always has been and will always be present besides those who fight against all forms of discrimination, for the recognition of the fundamental human rights of Deaf citizens, not only in health and mental health issues, but also in all other issues who contribute to good mental health like the recognition of human rights for all to get access to care in their language of choice, which is in Sign Language whenever needed.
Over the last fourty years, and especially wih the creation of ESMHD in 1986, considerable work has been undertaken in many countries. The members of numerous Deaf communities and health professionals have joined together and with many other stakeholders in society, in order to initiate new professional practices. In accordance with our campaigns for accessible health services, this resulted in the statement of some principles that I’ll intent to summarize in a few words.
First, we need to considerate the aims of our movement. We must considerate separately the care towards deafness and the care towards Deaf people. Deaf people suffer also like Hearing persons from diabetus, cancer, broken legs, schizophrenia or depression. Till now, most of services are not able to take this fact into consideration. Wrong diagnosis, treatment errors and in many cases lack of any kind of treatments are the rule. It is important, when one meets a Deaf person, not to focus on his ear and to see him as a whole, as a person with various needs that have to be satisfied and rights that must be respected. Among them, specifically this person has the right to express himself and to receive care in Sign Language or whatever modality he or she communicates best in.
Second, we consider that all efforts must be made in order to build bridges between Deaf communities and Hearing society. In our case this includes Sign Language training for doctors, nurses, social workers, educators, etc. This also includes the presence of interpreters, if possible specialized in health and mental health. Thus the skills in Sign Language are of highest importance. This can be best enabled when Deaf professionals participate in the teams’ everyday life and work. Deaf people are not only our patients, they must also become our partners. This means that they have to be trained in health and mental health issues.
Then, we never must forget that Deaf people need equality of access throughout the life span. Deaf children have special needs, Deaf adults have special needs and rights and, as they become older like all of us, Deaf elders have special access needs. This requires the creation of specialized services which will be the base of further national and international exchanges between professionals. These professionals will thus be able to network. At every stage of the development, the links with Deaf professionals but also with Deaf community representatives and associations are required in order to ensure global social recognition. This is why such World Congresses which give us the opportunity to meet and exchange experience and expertise, help us all to improve our understanding of specific needs, to stimulate the development of local accessible health care services. This is why, also, the First African Conference on Mental Health and Deafness last year was an important event. The African Declaration on Mental Health and Deafness, as the 2004 Bad Ischl Declaration recalls and summarizes some important aims of our movement. Obviously these are only documents agreed between ourselves. To be effective, you the Delegates have to take them back to your countries, present them to your Government Health Department, health service providers and Deaf communities as the next vital step in the campaign to change these fundamental principles into the reality of more accessible services for Deaf people. Little did we think when we held the first conference on Mental Health and Deafness in Rotterdam in 1988 that we would be meeting in 2005 with colleagues from all over the world at this wonderful 3rd World Congress on Mental Health and Deafness. ESMHD is proud of what we started in a small way all these years ago and we now pledge whatever support we can give to you all and your fight for accessible services for Deaf people in your countries.
This World Conference wouldn’t have been possible without the initiative, commitment and hard work of Attie Smit, Deon de Villiers and all of the South African Congress team. On behalf of ESMHD and all delegates, I would like to thank Attie, Deon and all the team for the hard work they have undertaken on behalf of us all. People like the team here in South Africa show us all that there is a real commitment towards ensuring the rights of the Deaf linguistic minority. Having met so many of you, I am now absolutely confident that our collaboration will lead to extending good practice in health and mental health care and services.
Before handing the floor to Dr Lauri Rush, Dr Barbara’s Brauer successor as Head of the Gallaudet University Mental Health Center who will present a tribute to Dr Barbara Brauer’s invaluable work in Mental Health and Deafness, I would like to say a few words about Barbara’s collaboration with the ESMHD. I met Dr Brauer for the first time in Paris, on the occasion of the 3rd ESMHD Congress in December 1994. At that time, I had already heard of this dynamic Lady from my colleagues in ESMHD but I didn’t know her personally. I remember my first impression when I saw her at the registration desk : she was highlighting short comings in the organization of our congress – we were only eleven volunteers to prepare it and we had had only 13 months to build the whole meeting. I immediately understood that she was a Deaf professional who knew her rights, a strong personality with an imposing character balanced by a good sense of humor. Someone one cannot forget easily! This I think was the beginning of our collaboration. Our second occasion of working together was the 4rth ESMHD Congress in Manchester. Again she made a invaluable presentation that showed the important role Deaf professionals can play in mental health services for Deaf people. Thus after the Paris Congress and the Manchester Congress and many other contacts ESMHD members were having with her, she persuaded Gallaudet University to organize a “First” International Congress on Mental Health and Deafness. She invited ESMHD. In accepting the invitation we pointed out that our ESMHD conferences were already international ones and that the next one would not be the first. She agreed with us and therefore renamed it the First World Congress on Mental Health and Deafness. This conference took place in 1998. She then went further in the collaboration by asking first Dr Brendan Monteiro who could’nt attend at the last minute and then Pr Lars von der Lieth president of ESMHD to co-chair the World Congress. I remember that it was a very moving meeting attended by many members of ESMHD. A special tribute was given to Dr John Rainer and Dr Luther Robinson, I think the first psychiatrists in the world who conceived the idea of specializing their work towards the needs of the Deaf population.
One cannot think of Barbara’s role without recalling the tremendous contribution of her partner Dr Allen Sussman, a now retired Deaf psychologist like her, who trained Deaf students in psychology during years and years in order to ensure that the Deaf professionals play their vital role in the provision of Mental Health services to Deaf people.
That meeting at Gallaudet started a series of World Congresses on Mental Health and Deafness, the second was organized by ESMHD in Copenhagen in 2000 and we are all gathered today for the Third World Congress in South Africa. By the end of the present Congress I hope that we will all be able to announce where the Fourth World Congress will take place.
I am now honoured to hand the floor to Dr Lauri Rush who will tell us much more about this Lady who stimulated the formation of this series of World Conferences.