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First-in-Canada app connects paramedics to interpreters serving Deaf, Deaf-Blind and Hard of Hearing patients

Vancouver, B.C. – B.C. paramedics can now connect Deaf, Deaf-Blind and Hard of Hearing patients with live American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters using their BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) issued iPhones.
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BCEHS, the Provincial Language Service (PLS) and the Office of Virtual Health (OVH) have launched a mobile app for a video remote interpreting service for all BCEHS ambulance iPhones. Using the app, paramedics can access certified ASL interpreters on-demand.

“This first-in-Canada app demonstrates the innovation and commitment of BC’s emergency health services towards quality care for Deaf, Deaf-Blind, and Hard of Hearing patients,” said Health Minister Adrian Dix. “Paramedics accessing on-demand ASL interpreters will mean improved communication between health care providers and patients, and enhanced patient safety thanks to the work of the BCEHS, PLS, and OVH.”

“This app makes it easy for paramedics to access American Sign Language interpreters so they can communicate in real time with patients,” said Leon Baranowski, paramedic practice leader, BCEHS.

PLS regularly engages with the Deaf, Deaf-Blind and Hard of Hearing community to get their input on the accessibility and usefulness of medical interpreting services in B.C. During these engagement sessions, community members raised that they sometimes had difficulty communicating with paramedics in emergency situations. 

These challenges became even more significant during the pandemic due to unintended consequences COVID-19 safety protocols. 
“Paramedics began wearing respiratory masks as part of their routine Personal Protective Equipment and it impacted the patients’ ability to read their lips and facial expressions,” adds Baranowski.

Protocols also mean patients can no longer have a support person ride along with them in an ambulance, and the use of pen and paper for communication is also prohibited. 

While there are different types of interpreters available within Lower Mainland health authorities, such as in-person interpreters and remote over-the-phone interpreters, this project introduces video remote interpreting as a new service for BCEHS. 

“It’s the first time in Canada for ASL interpreting services to be offered to paramedics like this,” said Benoit Morin, president and CEO of Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA). “I want to congratulate these important PHSA services for coming together and collaborating on this appropriate and innovative way for paramedics to safely communicate with patients in the Deaf, Deaf-Blind and Hard of Hearing community across B.C., particularly during the pandemic.” 

The video remote interpreting service is in addition to the pre-existing options for Deaf, Deaf-Blind and Hard of Hearing patients, and will:
  • Improve communication between health care providers and Deaf, Deaf-Blind and Hard of Hearing patients;
  • Reduce the time spent in health care services as a result of communication barriers; and
  • Enhance patient safety 
"Our team is proud to have partnered with BCEHS and OVH to implement a new standard of accessibility in our health care system by ensuring our Deaf, Deaf-Blind and Hard of Hearing patients are getting equal access to emergency care," said Scott Jeffery, sign language service coordinator, PLS. “In the event of an emergency, having the ability to communicate clearly and rapidly with our paramedics can make the difference between life and death. The VRI app will help remove language barriers during these crucial moments for Deaf, Deaf-Blind and Hard of Hearing patients and bystanders.”

A demonstration of the video remote interpreter app is available in this 30-second video. 

The Provincial Health Services Authority plans, manages and evaluates selected specialty health care services across BC, working with the five regional health authorities, First Nations Health Authority and the Ministry of Health to deliver province-wide solutions that improve the health of British Columbians. For more information, visit or follow us @PHSAofBC.

BCEHS is responsible for the delivery and governance of pre-hospital emergency medical care and inter-facility patient transfer services through the BC Ambulance Service and BC Patient Transfer Services. BCEHS is supported by the Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA). For more information, please visit or follow us on Twitter @BC_EHS.

The Provincial Language Service, a program of PHSA, provides interpreting and translation services to all B.C. Health Authorities and physician offices. The program helps organizations provide services to their linguistically and culturally diverse clients through high-quality interpreting and translation. For more information, visit

Provincial Virtual Health is a service of PHSA. It leads and provides strategic direction and innovation for the overall virtual health initiative across PHSA. It works collaboratively with clinical, operational and corporate partners, and leads organization-wide planning, and facilitates transformation, including process redesign, change management, project management, education and reporting. For more information, visit the Provincial Virtual Health webpage.


For more information or to arrange an interview:

Media contact:

Sarah Morris
Communications Officer
BC Emergency Health Services
Provincial Health Services Authority
Media line: 604-660-6925

Kris Olsen 
Communications Officer
Office of Virtual Health
Provincial Health Services Authority
Direct: 604-209-5785
PHSA media line: 778-867-7472

SOURCE: First-in-Canada app connects paramedics to interpreters serving Deaf, Deaf-Blind and Hard of Hearing patients ( )
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