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Legal Rights

Duty to accommodate communication access for Deaf, Deaf-Blind and Hard of Hearing

In 1997, as a result of a Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms challenge (Eldridge v. British Columbia), the Supreme Court of Canada ruled equitable communication access for Deaf, Deaf-Blind and Hard of Hearing patients was required when they access health services in B.C.  

The Eldridge Decision arose from two separate actions, which concerned patients who were born Deaf and whose preferred means of communication were sign language. In both cases, the patients stated that the absence of sign language interpreters impaired their ability to communicate with their doctors and other health care providers and thus increased their risk of misdiagnosis and ineffective treatment. 

Ultimately, their Charter right to equality, on the ground of disability under section 15 of the Charter, was violated by failing to provide such services.

The court found a constitutional right to effective communication in health care settings. As a result, in B.C., sign language interpreting services, where the following three factors are simultaneously present, are accessible at no cost to the patient:

See Eldridge v. British Columbia for more.

The Provincial Language Services expanded services to include health care services provided by any B.C. health authority. Since 2014, access to sign language interpreting has expanded beyond Medical Service Plan and Hospital Insurance Act. In 2022, Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) services were included as a service offering.

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