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December 29, 2005

Helping Hard of Hearing Access City Services

From: Canada NewsWire (press release) - Canada - Dec 29, 2005

City of Edmonton Pilots Innovative Program

EDMONTON, Dec. 29 /CNW/ - Canada's aging population is fueling an increase in the numbers of Canadians living with hearing loss.

Projections are that the numbers of citizens living with hearing loss will increase at a faster rate than the rate of growth of the total population.

And that will have an impact on how local governments offer services to their citizens.

Mayor Mandel and his City of Edmonton Council colleagues have launched a pilot project to ensure Deaf and hard of hearing people enjoy greater access to city events, meetings and opens houses.

"Hearing loss is already the largest disability affecting the most Canadians. As we age, more of us will experience hearing loss, effectively blurring the line between what we have traditionally considered as disabled and abled," says City of Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel.

Current estimates are that up to 15% of Canadians live with some sort of hearing loss, though many Canadians experiencing decreased hearing do not readily identify themselves as hard of hearing.

American Sign Language (ASL) and Real-time Captioning services - typing words on a projected screen or monitor as they are spoken - are now automatically provided at all major civic events held within City Hall and Churchill Square, Edmonton's town square located across from City Hall.

"This is an exciting and liberating step forward for all Edmontonians," says Marilyn Kingdon, President of the Edmonton Branch of the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association, "We now know that we can go to the Grey Cup celebration or the Family Day celebration with our family and friends and be part of the event and understand the proceedings."

The services are provided as part of a one-year pilot project to gain greater insight into the number and nature of requests the City of Edmonton receives for communications services from citizens who are Deaf or hard of hearing and from citizens with other communications needs such as those who are blind or deaf and blind.

City Council approved the project in mid-October and ASL and Real-time Captioning services have been integrated into City celebrations including Paul Coffey Day, the Canadian National Finals Rodeo, the celebration of the Edmonton Eskimo's Grey Cup Championship and the International Day of Disabled Persons celebration.

The project was developed with the input of the City of Edmonton Advisory Board on Services for Persons with Disabilities and with representation from Edmonton's Association for the Deaf and the Edmonton Branch of the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association.

"All citizens have the right to access civic events and services. Though the City does provide services to people with different communications needs, we discovered that we didn't always promote that service and we didn't provide people one specific place for them to ask for ASL or captioning services. That meant that too often people had to make several calls to ask for those services. This pilot project changes that," says Mayor Mandel.

Citizen Action Centre Manager Betty Loree, whose office now takes the requests for ASL and Real-Time Captioning services says she's noticed many people read the projected words when the captioning services are offered at a meeting.

"This service makes events far more accessible for people - those that are hard of hearing and those that may be experiencing some hearing loss but haven't yet identified themselves as living with less hearing," says Loree.

Edmontonians can now request ASL and Real-Time Captioning services if they need them to participate in open houses, business meetings and other civic events. Print advertisements of city events now include a line advising of the availability of the service and the contact information for citizens to request the service.

An Assistive Listening Device (ALD) is also available upon request to help people hear during business meetings and events held within City Hall. The system is patched into City Hall's sound system and transmits sound signals through infrared to special headphones worn by hard of hearing users.

The City's Citizen Action Centre is tracking all requests for alternative communications services and the information will be used next year when the City develops a policy on providing alternative communications services.

For further information: CONTACT: Betty Loree, Communications, (780) 496-8200 (voice); (TTY/NexTalk) (780) 944-5555, Press 0