Deaf Entrepreneurs

Helga Stevens

What, Where? All Entrepreneurs
Belgium
Law, politics, lobbying

"Helga Stevens was born deaf (on 9 August 1968) and grew up in a hearing family in the Dutch speaking part of Belgium. At first she attended a school for the Deaf in Hasselt. At the age of ten, Helga Stevens was mainstreamed into a regular school in her home town Sint-Truiden. After obtaining her high school degree in 1987, she spent one year in Saint Louis, Missouri, United States as Rotary Exchange Student. While she was visiting Gallaudet University, she met a deaf lawyer who convinced her to study law, as she was in doubt whether this was possible for a deaf person.

Upon return to Belgium, she enrolled at the Catholic University of Leuven. Helga Stevens was the first deaf person in Belgium to receive a law degree (Licentiate in Law) in 1993 from the Catholic University of Leuven and a Master of Laws degree (LL.M) in 1994 from the University of California in Berkeley, USA, where she had enrolled as Fulbright Student. During her law study in Leuven, she also spent 6 months as Erasmus Exchange Student at the University of Leeds, United Kingdom. In 1994 she started to work as attorney in training in a Brussels law office. Currently she is a honorary member of the Ghent Bar.

In 1996 she started to work for the European Union of the Deaf on the Sign Languages Project. Later she moved on to become General Secretary and then Director. As Helga Stevens entered into politics in 2004, she retired as EUD director. She was President of EUD from 2005 till 2007.

She has been a Member of the Flemish Parliament for 2 consecutive legislatures: from 2004 till 2014 (re-elected in 2009). From 2007 till 2014 she was also a ‘Community Senator’, meaning that she combined two mandates: sitting in both the Flemish Parliament and the Senate. During the July 2010 elections for the Senate Stevens (placed 2nd on the N-VA list for the Senate) scored as the 10th most popular politician in Flanders and 16th most popular politician in Belgium. Helga Stevens served as Vice President of the Belgian Senate from July 2010 till October 2011.

On 25 May 2014 Helga Stevens won a seat in the European Parliament and became a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) as of 1 July 2014. Her party N-VA joined the political group European Conservatives and Reformers (ECR) of which she became Vice President. In the European Parliament she is a Member of the LIBE Committee (Civil Liberties, Home Affairs and Justice) and the EMPL Committee (Employment and Social Affairs). She is also Co-Chair of the Disability Intergroup.

Helga Stevens has also held a local mandate: she got elected into the Ghent City Council in 2006 and was re-elected in 2012. But she left that position in August 2014 since it was difficult to combine this local mandate with her position as MEP."

from: http://helgastevens.eu/en/97/238/Helga's-Bio

Click here for a video interview with Helga Stevens, by EUD Executive Director, Mark Wheatley.

  • Deaf Enterprise Survey

    "Keep an open attitude; co-operate with other Deaf business people. Use 'we' instead of 'I'."

  • Deaf Enterprise Survey

    "Don't be afraid to make mistakes. Making mistakes is okay and you learn most from this. Don't afraid to ask for help if something is wrong."

  • Ramon Woolfe (Trainer at the UCLan workshop)

    "There are plenty of opportunities for Deaf people to set up their own business not just in the traditional areas of teaching sign language and interpreting services but also in all areas of the economy from retail, to service industries such as restaurants, leisure such as a gym.

    I really would like to see more Deaf entrepreneurs showing that they can do it.

  • Deaf Enterprise Survey

    "Keep fighting, don’t give up!"

  • Deaf Enterprise Survey

    "You can do anything if you put your mind to it. Your deafness does not define your business skills. You are thinking with your brain, not your ears."

  • Deaf Enterprise Survey

    "Go for it. Follow your dream. Keep persisting and ask lots of questions. Don’t give up. Seek advice from friends, family and look outside the box."

  • Deaf Enterprise Survey

    "I only will say: Go on! Use help from everybody, both from government and in your network. A lot of people are helpful with sharing informations and so on."

  • Participant Deaf Enterprise Workshop (IT)

    "The Deaf Enterprise workshop has been incredible: each one of us worked intensively on understanding the way to take to achieve our dreams; each one of us was able to express their doubts regarding talents and difficulties we might encounter.(..) Each one of us was able to contribute so as to find the key to unlock our personal journey and fulfil our dreams."

  • Ramon Woolfe (Trainer at the UCLan workshop)

    "By the end of the workshop they all displayed a renewed confidence to be able to go home and act upon their aim of setting up their business idea."

  • Deaf Enterprise Survey

    "Perseverance and guts! Develop resilience to deal with adversity as this will help you get stronger and believe in your business."

  • Deaf Enterprise Survey

    "Most of all, be passionate! Know and love your subject well!"

  • Deaf Enterprise Survey

    "Try it, nothing to lose."

  • Deaf Enterprise Survey

    "Asking Feedback is important. Then I look back and ask different people about their experiences. What is going well? What can be done better? I often hear new things and I learn. That helps your company improve."

  • Deaf Enterprise Survey

    "I will only say: Go on! Use help from everybody, both from government and in your network. A lot of people are helpful by sharing information and so on."

  • Deaf Enterprise Survey

    "Don't be afraid to make mistakes. Making mistakes is okay and you learn most from this. Don't afraid to ask for help if it's something wrong."

  • Clark Denmark (Trainer at the UCLan workshop)

    " Therefore, without Deaf role models being here it would be difficult for many Deaf participants to imagine and believe in what they could achieve."

  • Participant Deaf Enterprise Workshop (IT)

    "It has been amazing, I am really satisfied because I have learned so much during these days and I think I have looked into myself and found very interesting insight which will be useful for my life. I believe this is the same as all other participants feel."

  • Clark Denmark (Trainer at the UCLan workshop)

    "The workshop was extremely worthwhile; especially when one considers there has been nothing of its type in the UK before."

  • Participant Deaf Enterprise workshop (IT)

    "It is now no longer matter of dreaming: we have discovered we have so many ideas it is a matter of putting them into practice! This workshop was an important opportunity, with many useful presentations and group discussions. I hope this same opportunity can be given to deaf individuals in other cities in Italy."

  • Jakob Gade (DK)

    "The best way to create more jobs for deaf people? More businesses run by deaf entrepreneurs!"

  • Clark Denmark (Trainer at UCLan workshop)

    "In the past Deaf people have had to travel many miles to find a course which is then predominantly hearing people and hearing led. This has made participation and involvement very problematic for Deaf people who have said comments such as: “I didn’t understand what the trainer was saying.” Also, “I found it difficult to mix with others in the group.”

  • Deaf Enterprise Survey

    "Talk to other business owners, ask them about their successes and their failures. Don't be scared to ask for help. You do not need to do it by yourself."

  • Ramon Woolfe (Trainer at the UCLan workshop)

    "The level of quality engagement was so great that we often would not have enough time in the day to discuss all the points the participants wanted to discuss and would often spill over into our tea break or lunchtime to continue the discussions.

    All of which shows how great the need is by Sign language users to have this direct dialogue in their own language."

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