British Columbia

Speech and language disabilities 'need more support' in British Columbia

50,000 people in the province face challenges accessing health, justice services and common compassion.

Nearly 50,000 British Columbians live with speech and language disabilities

Glenda Watson Hyatt says she is often dismissed because she uses a text-to-speech iPad application to communicate. (Glenda Watson Hyatt)

Glenda Watson Hyatt remembers a particularly frustrating situation when a doctor told her he would prefer her husband Darrell answer medical questions on her behalf because it would be faster. 

"I was shocked. No one speaks for me on something as important as my health simply because it is more convenient for them," she said.

It was just another example of the sometimes patronizing and condescending attitudes faced by the approximately 50,000 British Columbians living with speech and language disabilities.

Watson Hyatt, who lives with cerebral palsy, communicates with a text-to-speech application on her iPad. That means communication can take some time, and often, public service agents are unwilling to provide the patience required to talk with her, she said.

"There have been countless instances when people have ignored or dismissed my ability to communicate, or my method of communication," she said. 

"For example during a SkyTrain outage, I was typing a question on my iPad to ask the TransLink customer service guy and he just walked away."

Commonly Dismissed

According to Communication Disabilities Access Canada executive director Barbara Collier, Watson Hyatt's story is common for people living with speech disabilities. She is giving a presentation on this subject at an Inclusion BC conference this week.

Barbara Collier, executive director for Communication Disabilities Access Canada, says the 440,000 Canadians who live with speech and language disabilities need more support services. (CBC/The Early Edition)

"Most people can communicate. The barriers that exist tend to be in us, the people who are speaking to them," Collier said. 

"We know people who have more subtle disabilities and they do not have the supports that they need in courts, or communicating to police, or communicating to health care professionals, so we need to raise awareness about the extent of these barriers and then also what to do about them."

In communicating with people living with speech challenges, Collier encourages direct eye contact and communication, not to dismiss or ignore them and not to speak to the person they're with. She also says people should allow for more time for an interaction to take place.

Speech and language disabilities can be caused by a range of medical issues including cerebral palsy, autism, intellectual disabilities, traumatic brain injuries, Parkinson's disease, ALS and aphasia after a stroke.

To hear the full interview with Glenda Watson Hyatt and Barbara Collier, listen to the audio labelled: "No one speaks for me": living with speech and language disabilities in B.C.".