Deaf community joins forces to deliver critical services

Being deaf in New Brunswick can be isolating, but two long-running organizations are joining forces with the aim of connecting the community.

Interpreters, other essential services to be provided by New Brunswick Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services

Outreach worker Wanda Berrette and executive director Lynn Leblanc of New Brunswick Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services Inc., a new organization that will merge existing services for the province's deaf and hard of hearing community. (Julia Wright / CBC)

Being deaf in New Brunswick can be isolating.

"Literacy is a big issue," said Wanda Berrette, an outreach worker for the province's deaf community, speaking through an American Sign Language interpreter.

Many people don't realize that "English being a second language, our writing skills aren't up to par with our peers," she said.

"There's a big difficulty in getting the mainstream community to understand how to write English so that we can understand it, and be more open to having an interpreter there."

New Brunswick Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services Inc. is a merger of two organizations that have served the province's deaf community for decades. (Mark Lennihan/AP)

New provincewide organization

There are about 750 individuals who are deaf in New Brunswick.

Negotiating work, school, medical appointments, and other essential services often depends on the availability of interpreters in American Sign Language, known as ASL, and its francophone equivalent, Langue des signes québécoise, or LSQ. 

Outreach work, early intervention, life skills and employment support services are also crucial.

'We, as hearing individuals, tend to think that everyone is like us. Because deafness is an invisible disability, it's easy to forget.' - Lynn Leblanc,  New Brunswick Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services Inc.

This spring, two organizations serving the province's deaf community are merging with the aim of improving access to those services.

In June, South-East Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services, which served the Greater Moncton and southeast region, and Saint John Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services will officially become New Brunswick Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services Inc.

"It's a quadrilingual organization," said executive director Lynn Leblanc. "It's English and French, as well as ASL and LSQ."

The interpreting sign in American Sign Language. (Shutterstock/Matt Antonino)

Better French services

Merging the two organizations, founded in 1979 and 1982, "makes it easier for the people that we serve. There's one point of entry," Leblanc said. 

"We have 12 interpreters throughout the province that work for us, but a lot of them are tied up with post-secondary contracts. So, out there in the community at any given time, there are about six [interpreters] serving a population of about 750 across the province."

A big recent development, Leblanc said, has been the ability to bring in more interpreters for New Brunswickers who use Langue des signes québécoise.

"Whereas before they were virtually getting no services, the interpreting services in the northern part of the province have increased by 80 percent," Leblanc said.

"We're working on it. It's an expansion that's life-changing for the francophone population."

More accessible health care

When New Brunswick Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services Inc. is officially consolidated this spring, the organization hopes to move toward a partnership with the two health networks, Horizon Health and Vitalité,​ to educate health-care providers on the need for interpreting services within the health system, and how to adapt procedures for deaf patients.

The group also hopes to work with more families on early intervention for language acquisition.  

"A lot of people don't realize the impact that having a significant hearing loss causes," Leblanc said. "We are social beings. Taking the 'social' out of the 'being' becomes isolation, which turns into mental health issues, which can turn into serious mental health illnesses."

A child wears an auditory brain stem implant to hear. (UNC Health Care/Associated Press)

"We, as hearing individuals, tend to think that everyone is like us. Because deafness is an invisible disability, it's easy to forget."

Berrette agreed.

"English is my second language," she said. "I am quite proficient in it but not to the level that might be necessary. … I do read lips a little bit, but there is still a lot of misunderstanding when I am reading lips.

Having an interpreter there allows me to get the information the way that anyone else would. I don't have to depend on anyone else."

About the Author

Julia Wright

Julia Wright is a reporter based in Saint John. She has been with the CBC since 2016.