Sign language interpreters needed at COVID-19 briefings, says P.E.I. Council of People with Disabilities

While interpreters are translating briefings in other provinces, there aren't any doing this during P.E.I.'s briefings. 

'They have the right to have the information in real time like everybody else'

The council's executive director says the province needs to start using a disability lens when providing services.  (Travis Kingdon/CBC)

The needs of Islanders who are deaf are being overlooked during the province's COVID-19 daily briefings, says the P.E.I. Council of People with Disabilities.

While interpreters are translating briefings in other provinces into sign language, there aren't any doing this during P.E.I.'s briefings. 

Marcia Carroll, the council's executive director, said a sign language interpreter at these briefings would be ideal and the province needs to start using a disability lens when providing services. 

Carroll said not providing the service means some Islanders may not get important information about COVID-19.

"Some folks never learn to read because the interconnection between sound and language is fundamental," she said.

"So that's why sign language is used to communicate with those folks."

Province provides closed captioning

In an email to CBC, the province said it offers closed captioning on live briefings that air on Facebook or YouTube, for those who have hearing loss.

The province said the closed captioning on these videos is generated by voice recognition and the user has to activate this setting themselves in order to see the captions.

The province offers closed captioning to those who have hearing loss during its live briefings, but the setting must be turned on. (Submitted by the Province of P.E.I.)

"Government is committed to providing Islanders with access to online information that is accessible to the widest possible audience, regardless of technology or ability," the email said. 

"Additionally, Islanders who have visual impairments can also call the toll-free COVID-19 information line to both ask questions and get information over the phone."

Caroll said more needs to be done to ensure all Islanders have access to critical public health information during this time.

"This is another form of social isolation and you know, in times that are very scary, everything's changing so quickly, so much information coming out, they have the right to have the information in real time like everybody else."

Carroll said she knows the province is working hard to get the message out to all Islanders, but more can be done. She said interpreters don't need to be in the same room as the briefing in order to do the translation — they can be anywhere in the world. 

Christopher Sutton, CEO of the Wavefront Centre for Communication Accessibility, which advocates for people who are deaf and hard of hearing nationally, said without an interpreter, many who are deaf aren't able to access information on COVID-19 in their first language. 

"This information is so critical because this is life-saving and having it in their first language in an accessible format is a matter of life or death," he said.

Carroll said she hopes the province will consider adding an interpreter to the daily briefings.

COVID-19: What you need to know

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

Common symptoms include:

  • Fever.
  • Cough.
  • Tiredness.

But more serious symptoms can develop, including difficulty breathing and pneumonia, which can lead to death.

Health Canada has built a self-assessment tool.

What should I do if I feel sick?

Isolate yourself and call 811. Do not visit an emergency room or urgent care centre to get tested. A health professional at 811 will give you advice and instructions.

How can I protect myself?

  • Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Clean regularly touched surfaces regularly.
  • Practise physical distancing.

More detailed information on the outbreak is available on the federal government's website.

More from CBC P.E.I.

With files from Travis Kingdon


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