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How B.C.'s accessibility act will change life for the deaf, hard of hearing community

·3 min read
Lisa Anderson, who is part of the B.C. Deaf Accessibility Caucus, said the deaf community doesn't identify as disabled but would like to be recognized as a cultural linguistic group.  (Submitted by Lisa Anderson - image credit)
Lisa Anderson, who is part of the B.C. Deaf Accessibility Caucus, said the deaf community doesn't identify as disabled but would like to be recognized as a cultural linguistic group. (Submitted by Lisa Anderson - image credit)

This week, a new piece of legislation in B.C. aimed at improving accessibility for those with disabilities will go through a second reading.

If passed, the accessible British Columbia Act will remove barriers and create accessibility standards throughout the province, which according to the B.C. government, would help 900,000 British Columbians.

Lisa Anderson, who is part of the B.C. Deaf Accessibility Caucus and helped work on the legislation, said the deaf community doesn't identify as disabled, but would like to be recognized as a cultural linguistic group.

"We don't refer to ourselves as people with a disability, but people with a specific linguistic and cultural identity," she told All Points West host Kathryn Marlow, with the help of an American Sign Language interpreter.

Accessibility, Anderson said, means having interpretation services to allow for communication.

Anderson, 50, was born deaf. To illustrate her case, she points to a situation that arose when she was 18 years old, after she broke her teeth in a skiing accident. She had to go to several dental appointments, none of which made an interpreter available. As a result, she says she was unaware of her dental issues and other factors that affected her well-being.

"For mental health and for health, access to interpretation is absolutely essential," she explained.

Pandemic shines light on challenges

The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a light on some of the challenges faced by the deaf, deaf and blind, and hard of hearing community, particularly when it comes to wearing masks and trying to communicate through plexiglass.

Sign language interpreter Kristi Falconer hopes that will encourage lawmakers to push the legislation through.

"What it has done is allowed people to, if you will, sort of have a slight moment of immersion into the barriers that many hard of hearing and deaf individuals have every day," said Falconer, who is also the manager of communication services at Island Deaf and Hard of Hearing Centre.

ASL interpreter Nigel Howard, right, is seen at a coronavirus press conference alongside B.C.'s Provincial Medical Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Adrian Dix, the province's health minister, on March 17, 2020.
ASL interpreter Nigel Howard, right, is seen at a coronavirus press conference alongside B.C.'s Provincial Medical Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Adrian Dix, the province's health minister, on March 17, 2020.(CPAC)

Seeing interpreters as part of COVID-19 briefings has also made people more aware of those communication barriers, Falconer said, adding that making interpretation services commonplace is key in creating inclusion.

'Scarce' employment opportunities

Until recently, Anderson was living and working in Ottawa. She lost her job due to COVID-19, and moved home to Victoria to be with her parents.

"As a deaf person, it is really not easy to find employment," Anderson said.

"The opportunities are very, very scarce. And it's about do people understand what deaf people can do? Are they willing to give us a chance to hire us? Typically not."

When she lost her job, she had to access CERB, which, while helpful, she found difficult to navigate as a deaf person; she described the video relay service as "cumbersome" and "frustrating."

Eventually, Anderson did find work, but she had to move to Vancouver.

"It's very challenging to try to sell yourself to employers as a good employee. And we, like everybody else, we have to earn money. We have to pay our bills. We have to survive."

Education

Anderson said education is key, especially for non-deaf parents who have a deaf child.

"Those parents need the right information right from the start, they need to get on board with providing accessible language acquisition for their deaf children," she said.

That means making sure they have strong sign language skills from a young age.

"We don't hear, but our lives are very similar to yours," Anderson said.

"The only time we encounter barriers to what we can do is when it's about communication and language, and so that is what we're asking for when it comes to accessibility, interpreting services, intervenor services and just to see more and more aspects of society offered and made accessible through interpreting and intervening.

"Please include us."

Read a transcription of the All Points West interview with Lisa Anderson and Kristi Falconer below:

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