As Greece slashes costs, the deaf left unaided

By Derek Gatopoulos

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Dec. 16 2011 12:00 a.m. MST

At previous funding levels, deaf people were offered 25 hours a year with interpreters. If the program is restarted next year, they will receive no more than 10 hours, Gargalis said.

"The amount of money we are asking for is laughable," he said, speaking through an interpreter. "This is a matter of survival for us."

Interpreters for the deaf need six years of training to get their license, and are paid below-minimum wage to crisscross Greek cities daily and provide help communicating.

"People generally become interpreters because they are interested in the subject," registered interpreter Costas Christodoulakos said.

"Now they are obliged to look for other work and take on other commitments, often unrelated to their interpreting jobs," he said. "What else can they do?"

Greece's debt-shackled economy has been kept alive by international rescue loans for the past 19 months, and creditors are pressing for more aggressive spending cuts, as the Socialist government continues to miss deficit-cutting targets and heads into a fourth year of recession in 2012.

Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos promised this week to submit protesters' demands to the country's new prime minister, and invite disabled groups to join negotiations on a major new tax code due to take effect next year.

Health care is facing major cuts this year — down from €7 billion originally planned to €5.6 billion ($9.4 billion to $7.5 billion), excluding state insurance subsidies.

Since the debt crisis started in late 2009, store closures have exceeded 20 percent in some commercial parts of Athens, while more than 275,000 people have lost their jobs nationwide, the vast majority in the private sector, pushing the unemployment rate to more than 16 percent.

"The unemployment rate among disabled people is normally more than double the national average ... so there is an urgent need for disabled people to be protected (from the cuts)," Yiannis Vardakastanis, leader of the National Confederation of Disabled People, said in an interview.

"The effects of the initial (government spending) cuts were not immediately obvious. But the cuts being made now have brought parts of the care system to a state of near-collapse."

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