Hearing impaired audience members raises their hands in the air in approval on March 21, as interpreter Amanda Smith signs the announcement by Richard Mostyn, the minister responsible for the Public Service Commission, stating an American Sign Language interpreter will be permanently publicly funded. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Yukon government makes American Sign Language interpreter job permanent

‘It opens these doors for us in our lives’

The Yukon government has agreed to permanently fund an American Sign Language interpreter making it the first government in Canada to do so.

For the last five years the government’s ASL translator has been on contract. The service was first a two-year pilot project and then extended for another three years.

Now, $170,000 per year in permanent funding will be part of the budget, Richard Mostyn, the minister responsible for the Public Service Commission, announced March 21.

The news was greeted with tears from many people in the audience.

“Becoming a permanent program, it opens up communication, it opens these doors for us in our lives,” Gerard Tremblay said. “Before, it was open a crack but we weren’t sure if that was going to be permanent, if the door would be closed or not.”

Since the program stared in August 2012, more than 5,546 hours of interpretation services were provided through 3,941 appointments, according to the public service commission.

Those who are deaf or hard-of-hearing can use the Yukon’s interpreter, Amanda Smith, for anything from doctors appointments and staff meetings to community events.

Attendees at this week’s announcement spoke about how difficult it was to be understood without these services, with no other option then to pass notes back and worth at work or even doctor’s appointments.

“I have become so much more happy, relaxed, since having interpreters here,” Neal Bird said.

Growing up in the Yukon, Bird ended up going to Edmonton for school to get access to services.

When he graduated in the 1990s and returned to the territory, the Yukon still didn’t have translation services available, he said.

“We’ve been blocked out of participating in our lives at the same level with other people. I feel like hearing people have been above us and people who are deaf, with disabilities, have been pushed down. This gives us an opportunity to show that we’re equal.”

Tremblay said having translation services helps others learn that people who are deaf and hard-of-hearing want to speak for themselves.

“Now we have an interpreter, it’s clear, we can speak on behalf of ourselves and then change the things that need improving, we can do it for ourselves and also for our future children.”

Mostyn said the community has helped him understand the importance of the program.

“The American Sign Language interpreting program provides deaf and hard-of-hearing people in Yukon with equal access to a wide variety of essential services. It helps them enjoy the same quality of life that is the right of all Yukoners.”

Tremblay said the community is grateful to the government for taking this step.

The Yukon’s ASL interpreter is the first in Canada to work as a government employee in a permanent position, he said.

Other jurisdictions in Canada have translation services but translators are all on contracts.

“This is such a shinning example for other programs across Canada in interpreting services. We hope that this is a role model for other jurisdictions to look at.”

Contact Ashley Joannou at ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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