In 2016, PHSA’s Provincial Language Service (PLS) recognized they had gaps in their services. Many people in the Deaf, Deaf-Blind and Hard of Hearing community were not satisfied with medical sign language interpreting services in B.C., and felt their perspectives were not being valued or incorporated into how services were delivered. The points of view of those for whom the service existed were not a formal part of the decision-making processes.
PLS learned of the Deaf, Deaf-Blind and Hard of Hearing community’s concerns after undertaking a review of medical interpreting services. At the time, the delivery model for these services had not been updated in years, and many in the Deaf, Deaf-Blind and Hard of Hearing community faced challenges when accessing them.
PLS decided to take action and improve how they worked with the Deaf, Deaf-Blind and Hard of Hearing community in B.C. Their efforts have led to lasting changes in the relationship between Deaf, Deaf-Blind and Hard of Hearing people and PLS, and are now being recognized by an award from the International Association for Public Participation (IAP2), given to both PLS and Delaney – The Engagement People, the consulting firm that led the engagement process.
“It’s truly an honour to receive this award and get recognition that our community engagement was indeed inclusive and encompassing of the community’s diversity,” says Kiran Malli, director, PLS. “We began the process with a vision of what inclusion looks like and means for this community, and adjusted, based on community feedback as we went. The process was fluid to allow for more inclusion along the way.”
IAP2 is an international organization dedicated to advancing the practice of public participation. Their annual Core Values Awards recognize world leaders in public engagement. PLS and Delaney were runners up in the category of Respect for Diversity, Inclusion and Culture.
Although some people mistakenly believe that American Sign Language (ASL) is a visual form of English, ASL is in fact a completely separate language with its own unique grammar and sentence structure. Many Deaf, Deaf-Blind and Hard of Hearing people speak ASL, or another sign language, as their first language. Deaf, Deaf-Blind and Hard of Hearing people have a legal right to interpreting services when they receive medical care, and PLS is responsible for managing the contract for medical sign language interpreting in B.C.
To start building a new relationship with the community, Delaney Project Lead Emina Dervisevic and Kiran Malli led a number of engagement sessions for Deaf, Deaf-Blind and Hard of Hearing community members across B.C. In response to early feedback from the community, Delaney and PLS made sure to hold sessions in locations throughout the province, not just the Lower Mainland, and have a special session for the Deaf-Blind community.
“The success of the engagement solely rests with Deaf, Deaf-Blind and Hard of Hearing community members’ willingness to participate and provide feedback,” Kiran says. “They held space for us through giving us time and through affording us the opportunity to listen to their concerns.”
Based on what they learned from these sessions, PLS designed a new Service Delivery Framework. One of the key stipulations of the Framework was that service delivery be Deaf-led. This would represent a major change, but the PLS staff and PHSA Leadership recognized that it was crucial that Deaf, Deaf-Blind and Hard of Hearing people have an active and ongoing role in making medical interpreting services equitable and accessible in B.C.
“We felt it was critical to have the structure of the service be aligned with the vision the community put forward,” say Angela Chirinian, Executive Director, PLS, “When you want to ensure access, it is important to have those most impacted involved in informing the processes.”
The first step PLS took to fulfil this stipulation was creating a Community Advisory Group (CAG), composed of eight members of the DDBHH community from all regions of B.C. This group meets regularly to provide input on medical interpreting services and how PLS communicates with the DDBHH community.
“It has been a wonderful experience for me to serve on the Community Advisory Group for PLS,” says CAG member Gordon J. Rattray of Interior B.C. “It’s important for health care professionals to have a direct connection to Deaf, Deaf-Blind and Hard of Hearing communities by meeting face-to-face, either in person or virtually, to get a direct insight into the discussions and questions re the community’s special needs.”
PLS also hired Scott Jeffery to serve as sign language service coordinator. Scott is Deaf and has worked for many years as a Deaf Interpreter. As part of the Deaf, Deaf-Blind and Hard of Hearing community, he understands the barriers DDBHH people sometimes face when they need to access medical care, and he’s uniquely qualified to cement an ongoing relationship between PLS and the Deaf, Deaf-Blind and Hard of Hearing community.
“One of the goals of the Deaf, Deaf-Blind and Hard of Hearing engagements is to get equal access to health care for the DDBHH people,” Scott explains “Working together with health care providers, CAG members, and Deaf, Deaf-Blind and Hard of Hearing people are taking down barriers one by one to make health care more equal access. That said, the PLS engagement is successful.”
With the CAG meeting regularly and Scott in the role of sign language service coordinator, the work that started in 2016 will continue long-term. PLS is actively working with the Deaf, Deaf-Blind and Hard of Hearing community to ensure they are able to access the interpreting services they need when they need them.
The engagement process was the first step in building a new kind relationship between PLS and Deaf, Deaf-Blind and Hard of Hearing people, by showing community members that their perspectives were wanted and valued.
“We were listened to…our experiences were validated,” says CAG member Leanor Vlug of the Lower Mainland.