- Mental health
- European Disability Card
Looking for a job is not always easy. When you are having troubles finding a job, you can rely on the services offered by VDAB and GTB. In Flanders, VDAB is the most important organisation when it comes to supporting people in finding a job. GTB is a service which belongs to VDAB and is specifically aimed at disabled people who are looking for a job. Once registered at VDAB, you are granted various benefits: matching job vacancies will be e-mailed to you, you will be supported in judging each job vacancy you encounter, you will qualify for employment premiums and measures, and you will be able to have more opportunities to work by attending specific training programs. To be able to make use of these benefits, you do, however, have to meet the following conditions: you actively have to look for a job yourself, you are not allowed to refuse a matching job, support or training program offered to you by VDAB, you always have to attend meetings with your job counselor and must actively cooperate as well as be available through e-mail and mail.
Once employed, you will pay taxes which the government uses to provide social solidarity. This means you will have the right to governmental support when you are ill or lose your job. Even if you have a parttime job and do not earn enough money, you will be granted a supplementary income under certain conditions.
In Belgium, an anti-discrimination policy is being adopted. This means that legislators are not allowed to discriminate based on race, gender, religion, disability, sexuality, etc. However, when you feel you have been discriminated after all at work or in search for a job, you can go to Unia and press charges against the discriminator.
Below you can find an overview of various settings in which you have the right to be supported by an interpreter, and how you can obtain these rights. All information in Dutch and Flemish Sign Language is available on the CAB Vlaanderen website. CAB Vlaanderen is responsible for managing interpretation in Flanders.
In Flanders, deaf and hard-of-hearing people have the right to a certain amount of 3 kinds of interpreting hours:
- Interpreting hours in educational settings (called O and VO-hours)
- Interpreting hours in work settings (called A, S and B-hours)
- Interpreting hours in private settings (called L-hours)
O-hours can be used in education (from preschool to higher education) whereas VO-hours are meant to be used in adult education. You have the right to a number of interpreting hours that is equal to the number of hours you spend in class. A, S and B-hours are work related. You are granted A-hours to be used at work, S-hours to be used during job interviews and B-hours to be used during professional training programs. Each year you have the right to be supported by an interpreter during 10% of your total amount of working time. This 10% can be dubbled if necessary. With regard to job interviews you have a yearly right to 18 S-hours. In case you are attending a training program organized by VDAB, you can make use of an interpreter during all classes, similar to the system in educational settings. L-hours are additional to the other types of hours and are meant to be used in private settings, such as family gatherings or extra courses on topics on which the government does not provide its own courses.
Obtain the right to interpretation hours
O and VO-hours
Interpreting hours for educational settings must be applied for by the educational institution. When applying for the first time, you must proof your hearing loss by submission of a recent medical certificate including an audiometric report or audiogram (recent means aged under 1 calendar year). The audiogram must mention the mean value on the Fletcher index and be prepared by a recognised rehabilitation centre of service, a recognised university service for audiometric research or by an ENT physician. When you were already using O or VO-hours during the past academic year, you do not need to submit such a proof of hearing loss.
Apart from the right to interpreting hours, you can also get a small budget to copy fellow students’ notes.
A, S and B-hours
The right to A-hours can be obtained in two ways:
- When you already have a right to L-hours granted to you by the VAPH (Flemish Agency for Disabled People), you do not need to submit another specific application at the VDAB. Being an employee, you have to provide the CAB with an employers’ certificate. This certificate mentions your actual amount of working time per year. Being a freelancer, you have to provide the CAB with a “certificate of honor” mentioning the amount of time you work each year. Once the CAB has received your certificate, it will automatically give you the right to A-hours. As such, you will immediately be able to apply for interpreters in work settings.
- When you have not been granted L-hours yet, you first have to ask your specialised physician for a certificate which you must then send to the VDAB provincial department “DABP”. More information on the application procedure and medical conditions is available at www.cabvlaanderen.be. Once you have obtained the right to L-hours, you also have to provide the CAB with an employers’ certificate or a certificate of honor.
To obtain the right to S-hours you must be registered at the VDAB as someone who is looking for a job. In case you are already using other types of interpreting hours (L or A-hours), you do not have to do anything additionally. As soon as you ask the CAB to book an interpreter for you for a job interview, the CAB will automatically assign 18 S-hours to you. In case you have not been using any type of interpreting hours so far, you do have to send a medical certificate prepared by a specialised physician to the VDAB provincial department “DABP”.
When users are unemployed and want to attend a vocational training recognized by the VDAB, they can ask VDAB whether or not they can apply for the right to interpreting support in order to make the training accessible. In that case the VDAB will assign so-called B-hours with regard to a VDAB training contract; the condition therefore being that the user must be registered at the VDAB as being a person who is looking for a job. In case you are already using other types of interpreting hours (L or A-hours), you do not have to do anything additionally. In case you have not been using any type of interpreting hours so far, you do have to send a medical certificate prepared by a specialised physician to the VDAB provincial department “DABP”.
L-hours need to be applied for at the VAPH (Flemish Agency for Disabled People). To be able to rely upon support by the VAPH one must reside in Flanders or in the Brussels Capital Region. In concrete terms, this means that you have to meet these two conditions:
- You are subscribed into the local population or foreigners register and you are actually currently residing there.
- Prior to the application, you have been residing in Belgium for an uninterrupted period of 5 years (or during a period of 10 years throughout your life).
The first condition is obligatory, the second one can be derogated from.
Being a migrant you will first be subscribed into the foreigners register. Only when you have successfully ended the naturalisation procedure and, as such, officially have become Belgian, you will be subscribed into the population register. Being subscribed into the foreigners register you are granted the same rights as those being subscribed into the population register.
Once you have gone through the CGVS procedure and received a positive reply, i.e. you are allowed to reside in Belgium, you will be entered into the foreigners register. During this procedure, therefore, you do not have the right to interpreting hours in private settings. As soon as you are entered into the foreigners register, you can ask the VAPH to recognize your disability. Then, however, you are not yet meeting the second condition. The obliged 5-year residence period does not start until you are entered into the foreigners register. In that, the period in which you were already residing in Belgium but were still going through the CGVS procedure does not count. Nevertheless, this condition can be derogated from. That is why we recommend you to apply for L-hours anyway and clearly state what it is you would like to use these hours for, e.g. for interpreting support during medical research or parent-teacher meetings at school.
Interpretation during meetings with government agencies
As long as you are not entered into the foreigners register, you do not have any right to interpreter hours and are therefore not able to directly book an interpreter yourself. However, during each part of the CGVS procedure you do have the right to an interpreter that is booked by CGVS itself. When you know Flemish Sign Language, a Flemish Sign Language (VGT) interpreter can be booked. When you use another sign language the VGT interpreter can be accompanied by a deaf interpreter who will interpret from VGT to the sign language you have knowledge of and vice versa. E.g. when a migrant using German Sign Language (DGS) is going through the procedure the hearing interpreter will translate the content from Dutch to VGT and the deaf interpreter will translate this interpreted content from VGT to DGS, and vice versa. Also if you are ignorant of any sign language or if no interpreter skilled in the sign language you know is available at that particular moment, you still have a right to a deaf interpreter and a VGT interpreter. When you know a written language, you have the right to be supported by a speech-to-text interpreter in order to make all information accessible to you. In case no interpreter(s) is being supported upon during the procedure, you can mention this to Unia, i.e. the Centre for Equality of Opportunity.
Starting from the age of 2-and-a-half years children can attend preschool. When they turn 6 they will attend primary school and then school becomes obligatory until they are 18 years old. Deaf children can opt for both mainstream as well as special education at primary level. Special education is meant for children who are in need of temporary or continuous specific support. The type of support can be based upon a physical or mental disability, severe behavioural or emotional problems, or severe learning disabilities. Special education at primary level consists of 8 types, each one of them matching a particular group of children’s educational needs. Type 7 in particular focuses on deaf and hard-of-hearing children. Schools which offer this type of education are also known as deaf schools.
When primary school which lasts for 6 years is over, children will start attending secondary school. Secondary school is divided into 3 levels each of which consists of two years of school attendancy. The first level offers basic education. From the second level onwards children can opt for general secondary education (ASO), technical secondary education (TSO), artistic secondary education (KSO) or vocational secondary education (BSO). Children experiencing a difficult physical, psychological, social or intellectual development due to either a disability, or learning or educational issues, can attend special education at secondary level (BuSO). A special school will offer these children temporary or continuous specialised support and education that matches their needs. Due to the lower level of education this type of schools usually offers and because of the fact that this level is sometimes too low for disabled children, they can also integrate into mainstream schools (GON). Integration into mainstream secondary education requires a special school and a mainstream school to cooperate with one another. As such, disabled children are able to attend classes and school activities within the mainstream school while being supported by special education experts. This support can be either temporary or continuous with regard to a part of or all the courses.
In short, deaf children can opt for either a deaf school (BuSO) or integrated education (GON). A deaf school focuses on deaf and hard-of-hearing children whose needs are met in class. Some schools prioritize Flemish Sign Language over spoken Dutch whereas other schools focus on spoken Dutch. It is important to opt for a school at which your child feels at home.
An overview of all deaf schools in Flanders is available here.
Mainstreaming means a deaf child will attend classes alongside hearing children at a mainstream school. A deaf child does have a right to be supported by a speech-to-text interpreter or a Flemish Sign Language interpreter in order to make the classes accessible. Also, a deaf child can weekly count on some hours of extra support. The disadvantage of mainstreaming lies in the fact that deaf pupils often feel isolated. However, mainstreaming is still a popular choice as deaf children can obtain a degree at a mainstream school which they cannot at a deaf school.
Higher education in Flanders offers courses which you can obtain a bachelor’s and master’s degree with. Bachelor degrees in Flanders are either professionally or academically oriented.
Professionally oriented bachelor degrees are mainly focusing on professional practice while aiming students to reach a general and specific level of knowledge and skills which they need to independently practice a profession or category of professions. As such, these courses make it possible for students to find a job in the labour market as soon as they are graduated. These courses as well as bachelor-after-bachelor trainings are only offered within colleges of higher education.
Academically oriented bachelor degrees which are offered at colleges as well as universities, focus on broadly oriented academic education or education in arts. All courses, all based on scientific research, aim to make it possible for students to add a master’s degree to their record or find a job in the labour market.
Master’s degrees focus on advanced scientific or artistic knowledge and skills which students need to independently practice science, art or a profession. Master’s degrees are concluded by writing and submitting a Master’s thesis. Academically oriented bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees and postgraduate studies are offered at both colleges as well as universities.
Adult education is not linked to one’s initial school career. Students can attend adult education to obtain a recognised diploma or certificate. Only adults aged at least 18 years old and youngsters who have finished their fulltime compulsory education career can enter an adult educational training. Depending on the training you opt for you have to meet some particular conditions of entry.
Adult education consists of:
- Basic education
- Secondary adult education
- Professionally oriented higher education
- Specific teacher training
Right to education
Children aged 6 to 18 years old have the right to education. Moreover, education is compulsory for them, irrespective of their immigration status or papers. At the latest on the sixtieth day after having been entered into the foreigners register, the population register or the municipical waiting register, children must be enrolled into a school and attend classes regularly. Parents are responsible for this to be settled.
Non-native newcomers are able to attend reception classes which are sometimes organised separately from other classes. Reception education mostly aims at teaching Dutch (along with Flemish Sign Language in deaf schools) and integrating new pupils within their class and within society.
In Belgium, health insurance is included in social security. This insurance is required for everybody as well as subscribing into a recognised health insurance fund of your own choice. When you do not want to become a member of a health insurance fund, you can join the ‘Hulpkas voor Ziekte- en Invaliditeitsverzekering’ (Fund for Health and Invalidity Insurance) for free.
Health insurance funds and mutual insurances pay financial refunds with regard to:
- medical care,
- disability benefits,
- pregnancy benefits.
Health insurance funds and mutual insurances also organize other services such as:
- Home care services (housekeeping, family and elderly care)
- Material supply for patient care at home
Under these circumstances you are obliged to join a social security fund:
- you are older than 25 years old,
- you are younger than 25 years old and have a job,
- you are younger than 25 years old, are unemployed and receive unemployment benefits.
Which medical issues are (partly) refunded by your insurance are set by law. The main categories are:
- visits and consults by general practicioners and specialised practitioners
- care by physical therapists
- care by nurses or home nursing services
- dental care
- birth care
- prosthesis, wheel chairs, plaster casts and implants
- hospital care
- elderly care within rest homes
- rehabilitation care
Migration is a major change in which you encounter an entirely new environment, new languages and a new culture. This change may negatively impact your mental health. When you feel less and less comfortable in your own skin, it is important to look for psychological support. In Belgium, a number of places offering psychological support are accessible for deaf people. Which ones can be found here.
In West-Flanders, deaf people can also rely on Welzijns Advies Doven (Advice on Well-being for the Deaf, WAD). This initiative aims to make the already existing support accessible for deaf and hard-of-hearing people in the region of West-Flanders. Volunteers working at WAD are all skilled in sign language, trained and coached in supporting deaf people when they are looking for a support service that matches their needs. More information is available here.
When you are suffering from severe mental health issues, you can go to here.
European Disability Card
The European Disability Card aims at improving the accessibility of cultural, sports and leisure activities for people with a disability. You can apply for the card for free. It offers various benefits in the above mentioned categories, such as discounts and guided tours in Flemish Sign Language. At the moment, the European Disability Card is valid in 8 European countries: Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, Italy, Malta, Slovenia and Romania.
In Flanders, public transport is being organised by the companies De Lijn and the NMBS. De Lijn offers public transport by bus whereas NMBS offers public transport by train. Deaf people have the right to a free public transport pass to use De Lijn’s service; this pass is called a MOBIB-card and can be applied for on De Lijn’s website as soon as you are registered as a disabled person by the VAPH (Flemish Agency for Disabled People). When applying for the card you must pay € 5,- once to produce the card that is then valid for a period of 5 years.
More information is available here
NMBS does not provide deaf people with benefits. The company does, however, offer benefits to blind and deafblind people. Also other groups of people such as the unemployed and children are offered discounts by NMBS.
There are two possibilities in which you can be granted a Belgian drivers license. You can either convert your foreign drivers license into a Belgian one, or you can take an exam here and, if you pass, immediately get a Belgian drivers license that way. However, not everyone must possess a Belgian drivers license in order to be allowed to drive a car in Belgium. A drivers license that was issued to you by a European Member State, Norway, Iceland or Lichtenstein is valid in Belgium too. In that case you are not in need of a Belgian drivers license. Also having an international drivers license gives you the right to drive a car in Belgium.
When you have a foreign drivers license, you can go to the town hall of your registration to apply for convertion of your license to a Belgian one. When it concerns a drivers license that was issued within Europe this convertion is superfluous and, as such, optional. Your passport is the only other document apart from your foreign drivers license to be able to obtain a Belgian drivers license. The town hall official could ask you for a translation of your license. This can be done at the town hall. Next, the town hall official will check whether or not you meet the conditions set to be granted a Belgian drivers license. Afterwards, you will receive your license within 6 weeks. More information on this matter is available at the website of the town you live in.
When you do not own a drivers license yet, you will first have to pass a theoretical and practical drivers exam. This can be done in an examination centre. Starting from the age of 17, you can do a theoretical drivers exam. Only when you have turned 18 or older you can take the practical drivers exam. Deaf and hearing people need to meet the same conditions in order to obtain a drivers license. However, deaf people can apply for specific accomodation such as support by an interpreter during your practical exam. You can use your own L-hours to pay the interpreter or ask the examination centre to book the interpreter itself.
Pay attention: a Belgian drivers license is only valid for certain types of vehicles. E.g. when you want to be granted the right to drive a truck, you need another license than the one you need to drive a common passenger car.
More information on other rights (for people with a disability) is available at www.rechtenverkenner.be. This website offers an overview of all rights you can exercise depending on where you live.