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May 21, 2003

Involve hearing -impaired , council told

From: Whitehorse Star, Canada - May 21, 2003

by Stephanie Waddell
A Whitehorse Star Archive story originally published May 21, 2003

There are two worlds: the world of the hearing and the world of the deaf.
Through a sign language interpreter, Lewis Hartland of the Yukon Association of the Deaf, who also operates the only sign language interpretation company in the city, addressed city council Tuesday night.
He said there needs to be interpretation and closed captioning on the WHTV telecasts of council meetings so deaf and hearing-impaired residents can participate.
"This is the law," he said, encouraging council to start the process of providing interpretation and closed captioning of its weekly meetings.
Hartland has been attending council regularly for the past 2 1/2 years since his son, Samson, was elected to council.
Samson declared a conflict on the issue when it came up for council debate. However, during his father's delegation, he signed to him, initially without telling the rest of council what he was saying.
"That's exactly what it feels like," Samson said of deaf people watching council proceedings.
Samson then told council he had asked if there are similar services provided elsewhere.
Lewis replied that in Parliament, there is both a sign language interpreter and French-language interpreter provided.
"You can easily set it up," he said.
It would take less than a week to provide an interpreter, Lewis said. However, city manager Bill Newell said it could take anywhere from four to six months based on the city's past experience.
"We can't even get anyone on the phone in a week," he commented.
Administration is proposing the city accommodate the request, which came from the association, to provide interpretive services at the weekly council meetings on demand, and that council direct administration to research the system requirements to provide a sign language telecast of council meetings and bring it forward for the 2004 budget discussions.
The recommendation also proposes that council adopt the inclusion administrative directive that was outlined last night, which is designed to help ensure all residents, regardless of ability, have access to municipal services.
Coun. Doug Graham took issue with the proposal for telecasting.
The city doesn't have an obligation to provide a live telecast, he said. Rather, WHTV has chosen to provide the live coverage, not the city. While it's a great service, the city's responsibility is to the people in council chambers, including deaf people who might attend council, Graham said.
The city also has a responsibility to taxpayers to provide services in a cost-effective matter, he added.
"It's something that we have to look at."
Graham was disappointed with what he saw as a confrontational way the issue was brought forward.
Noting one of Lewis' comments about this October's municipal election, Graham said it could've been brought forward in a more positive way.
"This is something we can all agree on," he said.
There are about 12 families with one or more deaf members in the territory, and another 300 having hearing-impaired members.
Also speaking through the interpreter, Gerard Tremblay told council he and his wife, also deaf, watch council proceedings on TV, but have difficulty understanding what's going on.
"I pay taxes as well," he said.
While there may currently be only 12 families in the Yukon with deaf members, don't forget the hearing-impaired become deaf, he added.
Coun. Dave Stockdale asked if closed captioning was provided on any other local channels. The two local channels are the rolling ads on WHTVs Channel 8 and the public service announcements on Channel 9, which airs the weekly council meetings.
Tremblay replied there are not really any channels in Whitehorse which provide closed captioning, but CBC North does, as does Nedaa, a show on the national Aboriginal Peoples Television Network channel.
Jon Breen, of the Yukon Council on Disabilities, also urged council not to sit on the issue until 2004. He questioned what the city would do if a deaf person was elected to council.
He pointed to a number of initiatives the city has undertaken over the past few years to include everyone.
The Millennium Trail was constructed to allow access to everyone, and it will soon be completed with a bridge looping both sides of the trail.
The hours for the Handy Bus service have also expanded to ensure transit is available to all.
"It may not be the same service, but it's the same opportunity," he said.
Breen said this isn't something the city should be looking at from a fiscal point of view. It's something that should be resolved as quickly as possible, he added.
The Yukon Human Rights Commission had legal counsel on-hand to answer any questions council might have about the legal side of things.
No formal complaints have been filed with the commission on the matter, said spokesman Brad Moore.
On the surface, there is an issue, and the onus would be on council to demonstrate how it's accommodating the deaf community in the public process, said Moore.
"The threshold is very high," Moore said. He pointed to a case where it was determined the CBC fell short of its responsibility in providing deaf services even though it provided closed captioning for 75 per cent of its broadcast day.
Coun. Duke Connelly asked how providing sign language interpretation was any different than providing French-language services.
Moore noted under the Human Rights Act, the city has a duty to provide services up to the point that it would result in undue hardship.
Connelly also wondered if Whitehorse went ahead with providing closed captioning of its weekly meetings, if Dawson City would also be forced to.
Moore replied that it wouldn't because the only way to force a service to be provided is when a formal complaint is launched.
"It appears to be very personal," he said of this case.
During council discussion on sign language for council meetings, Connelly noted that if the city does this, it should take the time to make sure it's done right.
Not only would services have to be provided at the weekly council meeting, but there are also numerous public meetings where deaf services may need to be provided.
"I suggest we do this proper," Connelly said.
Coun. Dave Austin also appeared in favour of taking the time to work on the matter. He noted he was surprised it hasn't come up in previous budget discussions.
While there are some issues that need to be looked at, Coun. Dave Stockdale said the city could immediately provide an interpreter on demand.
At a cost of $75 an hour, the city estimates an interpreter would cost $150 a meeting – an annual cost of $7,200.
With some modifications to the video system in council chambers, the city could telecast the interpreter. Such changes would cost approximately $4,400, and administration is unsure of delivery dates.
Newell pointed out that because the city received Lewis Hartland's request only three weeks ago, only preliminary research on the matter has been done.
Some of that research shows a complaint has been launched against the City of Toronto for failing to ensure the telecasts of city council meetings on a local channel are closed captioned.
Toronto is taking the position it's the television channel's responsibility to provide closed captioning.
Administration noted Whitehorse's request is different in that the city is being asked to provide sign language interpretation, although Newell added the city will want to pay attention to the case in Toronto.
Council will vote on the matter next week.

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