London

London needs sign language interpreters, STAT, advocates say

The London non-profit ATN Access Inc. says they don't have enough sign language interpreters to staff their employment programs, or enough funds to pay these interpreters. As a result, they say deaf Londoners are being shut out of the job market.

Employees at ATN Access Inc. say they don't have enough sign language interpreters

Joe Coreno says his organization suffers from a lack of sign language interpreters, and funds to pay for them. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC News)

Officials at London non-profit ATN Access Inc. say they don't have enough sign language interpreters to staff their employment programs, or enough funds to pay these interpreters.

As a result, Londoners who are deaf are being shut out of the job market.

"One of the first challenges is we want to provide them with the opportunity to get the skills they need to be on the same playing field as hearing individuals," said Joe Coreno, who experienced deafness for part of his life and works as an employment specialist with the organization.

"Even basic entry-level jobs like a cook or a dishwasher, we want to have them access courses like first aid, CPR, safe food handling and smart serve. Just for a deaf individual to access that in sign language is very difficult."

A lack of interpreters in the province means it can be challenging for ATN to staff these programs, Coreno said.

The deficit means that qualified interpreters will go where the need is greatest, and may have to cancel appointments or classes at the last minute to provide emergency services elsewhere.

"That means that individuals who have an interpreter lined up for an employment interview can find themselves sitting in front of an employer and having to write notes back and forth," said Vicki Mayer, executive director of ATN.

"It really does deplete their opportunities."

High cost of interpreters

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

Compounding the problem is the high cost associated with hiring interpreters.

Coreno said an average interpretation fee is around $45-$55 per hour. Any workshop that runs longer than two hours requires two interpreters due to the demanding nature of the work.

"So for example first aid training, for a two-day course would cost about $1000 to have interpreters available for that," he said.

And the funds aren't there for ATN.

Mayer said her organization doesn't receive enough funding for interpreter services, and that the conditions attached to this funding from the provincial government can be too stringent.

"There's got to be a Canadian Tire that has a job opening that says, 'If this individual gets the WHMIS training they have a really good opportunity of getting that job,'" said Mayer, adding that the link between training and a given employment outcome is often not that straightforward.

Employment rates

According to the Canadian Association for the Deaf, 40 per cent of deaf Canadians were not working and 60 per cent were precariously employed in 2015 and 2016.

"That's right. 100 per cent fall into one of those two categories," said executive director Jim Root.

In comparison, the unemployment rate for all Canadians in Dec. of 2016 was just about seven per cent — a full 33 percentage points lower than for deaf Canadians.

"It doesn't have to be this way," said Mayer and Coreno. But a two-fold problem requires a two-fold solution, through both increased funding and an increased pool of interpreters.

They said high schools and post-secondary institutions should do a better job of promoting sign language interpretation as a career path.

The Ministry of Community and Social Services (MCSS) said more funding won't solve the problem.

"In 2016 and 2017, MCSS provided $7,098,405 in funding to support Interpreter Services in Ontario. This funding has increased by 437% since 2004 and 2005," spokesperson Kristen Tedesco said in a statement.

"The ministry is aware that there is demand for interpreter services and a shortage of interpreters across the province. Increased funding will not address capacity in the sector," she said.

Sign language is for employers — and for everyone

Dominique Ireland thinks that employers—and all Canadians—need to educate themselves about sign language. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC News)

Some say that a real solution doesn't just rely on having more sign language interpreters, but in teaching sign language to Canadians in all sectors.

23-year-old Dominique Ireland was born deaf and works with Coreno on employment services for deaf clients.

Ultimately, she wants to enter the field of social work, filling the gap in social workers who understand both deaf and Indigenous culture.

"Hearing social workers don't know what to do and how to make things accessible. Normally they would have an interpreter come but they don't understand the culture at all," she said. 

Ireland said she wants more employers to step up and learn sign language themselves — along with the rest of society.

"If you believe in social justice and equality, you would be supportive of helping to spread sign language," said Ireland.

About the Author

Paula Duhatschek

Reporter/Editor

Paula Duhatschek is a reporter with CBC Kitchener-Waterloo. You can reach her at paula.duhatschek@cbc.ca.