Manitoba boosts funding for deaf athletes after complaint

The father of a deaf athlete from Winnipeg says he is pleased to hear Manitoba will now be providing interpreters to help other deaf players communicate.

Province to spend up to $40K a year for interpreters following human rights complaint

Rick Zimmer holds up a photograph on Monday of his son, Cody, who is currently playing football at a school for the deaf in the United States. (Leslie McLaren/CBC)

The father of a deaf athlete from Winnipeg says he is pleased to hear Manitoba will now be providing interpreters to help other deaf players communicate.

The Manitoba government will set aside up to $40,000 a year to help deaf children participating in amateur sport communicate with their teammates, coaches and game officials, following a human rights complaint.

Two parents of deaf children initially approached the Manitoba Human Rights Commission complaining that lack of money for sign language services made it harder for some deaf children to participate in sports.

The parents said the lack of interpretive services meant their children couldn't participate fully in sports, develop leadership skills and have the same advantages as their peers.

One of the complainants, Rick Zimmer, says his son, Cody, wanted to play soccer but couldn't because there was no interpreter available for him and other deaf players.

"Cody, when there was an interpreter that couldn't make it … refused to participate," Zimmer, who is also deaf, explained through an interpreter on Monday.

"I realized that the interpreter was instrumental to him having access in being involved in that environment."

'It was a barrier'

Cody Zimmer wanted an interpreter on the field because he wanted to know what the coach and others were saying around him, his father said.

Photographs of Cody Zimmer as a young soccer athlete are posted on the refrigerator at his parents' home Monday. (Leslie McLaren/CBC)

"I asked the club [if they would] provide an interpreter and they said no, they didn't have the funds," Rick Zimmer said.

"Essentially it was a barrier to my son to be involved."

All parties agreed to mediation through the commission and came up with a solution.

While some funding is already provided through the Manitoba Deaf Sport Association, the province will now spend up to $40,000 a year specifically for interpretation services to help young athletes communicate with their coaches and game officials.

Jeff Hnatiuk, president and CEO of Sport Manitoba, said the organization became aware of the challenges facing some deaf children when the complaint was raised.

"Making sport accessible and increasing participation is really the goal of our organization so if this is a program that we can put in place to assist that, then we see this as an extremely positive step forward," he told The Canadian Press.

The next step is figuring out how the sign-language support will work, Hnatiuk said.

Breaking new ground

It's not clear how many children will benefit from the increased funding, he said. Manitoba appears to be breaking new ground since there are few similar programs in place in Canada, he added.

"It's really an unknown to us," Hnatiuk said.

Yvonne Peters, vice-chair of the human rights commission, said the commission was pleased all parties were able to come to a solution through mediation rather than through a formal complaint process.

It took some time, but Peters said the solution will hopefully remove any barriers preventing deaf children from participating in sports.

"This is a systemic issue," she said. "Obviously barriers were being encountered by deaf children and we wanted to make sure the settlement really addressed the systemic nature of the possible complaint.

"We are very pleased with the solution."

Cody Zimmer started late but eventually got to play, his father said.

As for how Cody feels about the latest development, Zimmer said his son didn't know about it right away as he is currently playing football at a school for the deaf in the United States.

"I'm sure that he will be happy and he will say that this is a tremendous decision for all of the other young athletes that come after him, that they may not have to experience what he went through," he said.

"I'm sure he'll be thrilled."

With files from the CBC's Leslie McLaren and The Canadian Press


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