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December 24, 2003

Belleville - City urged to help the deaf

From: Stirling Community Press, Canada - Dec 24, 2003

by Mark Niblett

With a spirited presentation made through an interpreter, David Wren came before the December 15 meeting of city council to urge extra measures be taken to ensure deaf people are included in the social and political life of the city.
A sign-language interpreter conveyed his sentiments on a variety of issues confronting those with hearing problems, and they covered a wide range. Council could start by looking around them at the way City Hall is set up, he said.
"You've spent millions of dollars to make this more accessible to the disabled, but not a penny to help the deaf," he said.
He pointed out there's not a single phone in City Hall or any municipal department—or anywhere else in the city, for that matter—with TTY capability. This technology allows the deaf to use a teletype device to communicate through phone lines, but there has to be a device at both ends for it to work. Unless the city installs one, this method of communication is useless to the deaf. In a more immediate example, Wren pointed out that he had to bring his own interpreter to the council meeting because none is provided.
"I've been trying for years to get you to run captions on the tapes [of council meetings] but nothing has happened," he complained.
While nobody mentioned it at the time, the tapes are actually the property of a private company, Cogeco, which broadcasts them on local cable. It would require modifications to their equipment to provide "crawls" or captions, and the prospect of the city funding such changes seems remote. Wren also referred to the failure of the provincial authorities to provide any facilities for the deaf during the recent election campaign—and the municipal election was no better, he added.
"We want to know why deaf people have been excluded from all these proceedings," he said. "It's a real affront to us."
The situation could be actively dangerous in the event of a train derailment which released toxins into the environment, he said. There are no emergency plans in place to ensure deaf residents would be evacuated when necessary, said Wren. He suggested council set up a committee to review the entire situation and give deaf people the same breaks the city has provided for those with difficulty walking, for example.
Councillor Selma Bochnek referred to a recently established committee to examine issues related to Ontarians With Disabilities. It's still in "a learning stage," she admitted, and members are just now trying to identify areas where action needs to be taken.
"Some of the issues are provincial jurisdiction, others are federal," she said. "But we still have an obligation related to City Hall and other amenities, without trying to do it all in one year."
Council seemed generally receptive to the idea of looking into Wren's concerns, and Councillor George Beer pointed out that Fire Chief Gord Gazley was on hand "and will no doubt be thinking about this." Mayor Mary-Anne Sills suggested the issues raised by Wren be referred to the committee, and council voted to do so. Wren and his interpreter remained in the council chamber for some time, with her translating the proceedings for him.

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