Brian Foran finally got fed up waiting for a sign language interpreter to appear during Premier Stephen McNeil’s question and answer sessions with reporters.
The Timberlea resident is deaf and had gotten used to a sign language interpreter present at COVID-19 briefings broadcast on the Nova Scotia government’s Facebook page.
But hearing-disabled Nova Scotians don’t get the same service for the premier’s typically twice-monthly scrums with the media, which are also posted on the province’s Facebook account. In fact, the same is true for several videos posted to the province’s social media and YouTube channels that contain important information for Nova Scotians.
“I felt like a second-class citizen, to be honest,” said Foran, who posted on the province’s Facebook page last Thursday asking that an interpreter accompany the premier’s solo scrums with the press. The response: interpreters are available only for COVID briefings.
“To me, they’re saying, I’m not important,” said Foran.
“Any broadcast made by the government should be accessible, and closed captioning should be made available to all citizens of Nova Scotia.”
He said it shouldn’t be an either/or option. While closed captioning needs to be an option, an interpreter is invaluable in helping viewers follow along, conveying the speaker’s emotion and adding emphasis where needed.
“Sometimes in captioning, words get lost in translation, an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter paints a clearer picture of what the speaker is trying to say,” said Foran. “Some deaf people struggle with their English and use ASL, some prefer the other way around. There are deaf people who are not fluent in sign language and prefer captioning.”
The father of three teaches literacy to deaf adults in Halifax Regional Municipality. He’s among the 3,000 to 4,000 people in Nova Scotia who use sign language. According to the Society of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Nova Scotians, close to 60,000 Nova Scotians are deaf, deafened, or hard of hearing.
Mike Dull, a Halifax lawyer who practises human rights law, said an argument could be made that the province is breaching the Charter rights of Nova Scotians that rely on sign language to communicate.
“The government is essentially using these video platforms to communicate with all Nova Scotians and by not providing sign language interpretation they are failing to communicate with that segment of the population,” said Dull. “It’s arguable that their equity right could be breached.”
He said it would be relatively inexpensive to hire an interpreter to accompany these government videos and would allow the province to get in line with its Charter obligations.
Judy Haiven, a founding member of Equity Watch Nova Scotia, said that all video communication, particularly by MLAs and government officials, should include interpreters. The former Saint Mary’s University business professor said the province should be setting the example.
“It seems to be that because it’s the government in a province where one in three people has a disability, it’s important for them to come up with an interpreter for these events,” said Haiven. “It’s not expensive for the government to do this. It’s just an expense that you have to meet if you’re trying to engage everyone in the province.”
Chrissy Matheson, a spokeswoman for the Nova Scotia government, said the province is consistently exploring ways to enhance its ability to effectively communicate with all Nova Scotians and has consistently relied on sign language professionals to help deliver information during the pandemic and other times where public safety information must be delivered.
“We continue to look at ways to expand our sign language services while considering available resources,” said Matheson.