The Sunday Magazine

Your letters about the struggle deaf Canadians face in finding full-time work

Here's your response to our interview last week about the chronically high unemployment rate for deaf Canadians.
Jim Roots is the Executive Director of the Canadian Association of the Deaf. (Submitted by Jim Roots)

The Sunday Edition received several letters in response to our interview on our program of June 3, 2018, about the chronically high unemployment rate for deaf Canadians. Here is a transcript of what Michael Enright read on air:

Deaf Canadians do not think of themselves as disabled. That was one of the points Jim Roots made last week. He's the Executive Director of the Canadian Association of the Deaf, and we spoke with the help of an American Sign Language interpreter, Roxanne Whiting.

We talked about the challenges the deaf face in getting meaningful, full-time work. Their unemployment rate has been hovering for decades around 40 per cent. Here are a few of the letters we received about that interview. 

The Deaf and Hard of Hearing are not broken individuals who need to be 'fixed.'- Brien Holmes

The first is from Brien Holmes of Orangeville, Ontario:

"I had the good fortune to discover some deaf and hard of hearing students in one of my writing classes years ago. What followed was a crash course in a culture that I had been blissfully unaware of, for decades.

"My students patiently educated me about Deaf Culture, and politely dealt with my ignorance. I took an introductory course in American Sign Language (ASL) so I could communicate with them.

"Of the many lessons learned, the most important was the fact that the Deaf and Hard of Hearing are not broken individuals who need to be 'fixed.'

"As Jim noted, the assumed illiteracy of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing is just that, an assumption by the ill-informed."

Signed Brien Holmes, Orangeville, Ontario.

Technology has erased many of the communication barriers the deaf once faced. A video relay service like this one makes it easy for the deaf to communicate by phone with someone who can hear. (George Skene/Orlando Sentinel via AP)

Anne Johnston wrote from Vancouver:

"I was served at the Apple store recently by a deaf young man and was successfully taken care of. It took a little patience and understanding on my part, but it was a wonderful experience for both of us."

This email is from Paula Brandt in Ottawa:

"Years ago, I was responsible for hiring people as part of Ontario's Employment Equity Program. I had limited ASL training and worked with a couple of deaf employees. 

"You would be surprised how easy it is to communicate with the deaf community. For short communication, we would write notes to each other. For longer meetings, the deaf employee and I would sit in front of a computer and type messages to each other, no different than two people playing music on a piano.

"Now, with email and texting, it's even easier. It was one of my most rewarding experiences."

From Paula Brandt in Ottawa.

The diligence and spark of a deaf worker would impress most employers.- Bryan Hutnick

Bryan Hutnick sent this from New Liskeard, Ontario:

"Compliments are in order for you and Roxanne Whiting during your interview with Jim Roots. 

"The deaf waste years of childhood in the arduous task of gaining a mastery of speech. It would be easier to imagine a fifth dimension. 

"Since we learn to speak by hearing, much of what we spout is in an illogical order and full of redundant words. So Roxanne was not only changing the sentence order, but was filling in missing words while you waited patiently for each response.

"I have two deaf nephews, both married to deaf spouses. Despite huge barriers, both couples have managed to raise hearing children who are wonderful. 

"One solution to the high rate of unemployment might be a few roaming interpreters who could start folks out at job-sites, and provide both employer and employee consultation from time to time. 

"The diligence and spark of a deaf worker would impress most employers."

Signed Bryan Hutnick in New Liskeard, Ontario.

Judith Lowes sent this from Huntsville, Ontario:

"When I was a parole officer many years ago, I took ASL lessons, as we had a hearing-impaired client. I retain a bit of what I learned, but most was forgotten when I didn't need it anymore.

"I understand the frustration of the community, but I do not support making ASL an official language. Official languages must be 'spoken' by all federal employees, which would be a huge cost for very limited use. As I mentioned, it is a 'use it or lose it' skill."

That's from Judith Lowes in Huntsville, Ontario.

We asked last week's guest, Jim Roots, for a response. He said the deaf community has reassured government workers about this. Recognition of ASL and LSQ as official languages would not require all public servants to be fluent signers. It would mean that goods and services would be accessible.

For example, at the passport office there might be a video display in ASL explaining how to fill in an application. And if one-on-one communication is necessary, there might be a remote video link on site, with an interpreter standing by to help.

Our final email is from Tracy Hetman of Edmonton:

"You acknowledged Roxanne Whiting as Jim Roots' ASL interpreter. Why is she his ASL interpreter? Why isn't she your English interpreter? Or better yet, why not say she was our ASL-English interpreter?

"Do you see how this subtly perpetuates the power imbalance, communication imbalance?  He needs an interpreter, yet you do not?"

That was from Tracy Hetman in Edmonton.

We hadn't considered that choice of words, and we asked Jim Roots about it. He sent this:

"I'm smiling at this comment, because the person is parroting back at me what I have been saying for decades: that interpreters are for the benefit of non-Signers.

"In the case of a remote radio interview, however, this perspective didn't apply. We were both equally in need of the interpreter in that situation. Michael can't read my Signing, and I'm not getting any visual communication directly with him, so I need an interpreter as much as he does."

Thanks to Tracy Hetman in Edmonton, and to everyone who shared their thoughts about this story.