Academic journal article Sign Language Studies

On-Demand American Sign Language Interpreting Services: Social Policy Development in the Yukon

Academic journal article Sign Language Studies

On-Demand American Sign Language Interpreting Services: Social Policy Development in the Yukon

Article excerpt

Abstract

In 2012, a two-year pilot project was implemented throughout the Yukon to provide free, on-demand professional American Sign Language (ASL/English) interpretation services to all members of the Deaf community. Following extensive community consultation, this project was developed to meet a growing concern that a denial of ASL interpretation services was limiting the ability of Deaf Yukoners to exercise their rights of citizenship. After eight months, the first project evaluation indicated enhanced communications in medical services, employment, and quality-of-life activities for a majority of Deaf community members in the Yukon.

My research (Woodcock and Pole 2007: Harmer 1999; Winn 2007) had indicated that Deaf individuals are often limited in their ability to reach their employment goals, obtain satisfactory medical services, and live according to their desired quality of life (QOL) because of the challenges of communicating with hearing people. Although a relatively narrow range of ASL interpretation services is provided at no charge by federal, provincial, and territorial governments, the Yukon is the first Canadian jurisdiction to implement a comprehensive model of communication as described in this article.

Most Canadian governments have been struggling to meet the legal requirement to provide free ASL services to Deaf community members within a relatively narrow range of services, principally medical ones.1 However, theYukon has pursued an innovative and broaderbased approach by making this assistance available at no charge for whatever purposes the Deaf community members deem useful. These services are provided by an ASL interpreter who is accredited by the Association of Visual Language Interpreters of Canada and employed by theYukon government. In so doing, theYukon has also taken a significant step toward ensuring full participation and citizenship for this community (Khan and Chovanec 2010).

Communication challenges are typically the underlying cause of ineffective medical services for Deaf patients (Steinberg et al. 2006). Similarly, communication is the most significant impediment to successful employment (Murray, Klinger, and McKinnon 2007). As one Deaf community members notes, "I don't have to always use pen and paper to communicate, which usually results in miscommunication because English is not my first language."

One of the benefits of social policy development in a small jurisdiction such as theYukon is that it is often as economical and feasible to test a theory by means of a pilot project as it is through an extended evaluation of theoretical considerations (Breen 2000). Such was the case with this project. It was first conceptualized in the wake of the Yukon Deaf community's passionate request for a legitimate opportunity to participate in community life. Individuals voiced their plea at the Six Steps to Success conference, an international meeting on issues of employment and disability in Whitehorse,Yukon, in 2011.

The Deaf community of theYukon is relatively small. However, our office was in contact with a minimum of sixteen adults and family members, all of whom communicated in ASL and English. At least two also communicated in Quebec Sign Language, which is the French-language equivalent.

Over a period of several months, theYukon government, through its Workplace Diversity Employment Office, partnered with members of the Deaf community to create a working group that would define the terms of the project. A proposal was developed and presented to the executive level of the Yukon government for consideration. The proposal was favorably received, and funding for the project was provided internally by several departments of theYukon government for a period of two years. These agencies were the Public Service Commission, the Department of Health and Social Services, and the Department of Education. The operational mandate included a requirement to evaluate the program in order to determine whether there was sufficient benefit to the Deaf community to consider the continuation of this service as an ongoing program. …

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