Sign language interpreting, intervenor and CART services are available for Deaf, Deaf-Blind and Hard of Hearing patients when accessing most health care services in British Columbia.
Deaf, Deaf-Blind and Hard of Hearing individuals have a legal right to access sign language interpreters, intervenors and CART services at medical appointments following a 1997 Supreme Court of Canada ruled that sign language interpreting must be provided to Deaf patients in B.C. to comply with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
These services are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Eligible patients, family members and health care staff can request the service when needed.
The obligation to ensure communication access rests with the health care organization and health care
staff. The Provincial Language Service (PLS), as the program responsible for delivering these services, works to support health care organizations and staff to fulfil this obligation.
PLS also provides staff consultation and education and community engagement and outreach with Deaf, Deaf-Blind and Hard of Hearing communities.
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 s.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:
Read more on the court cases here.
PLS 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 2021, CART services were included as a service offering.
For questions about Provincial Medical Sign Language Interpreting Service or get access to sign language interpreters, intervenors and CART in British Columbia.
Contact Provincial Language Service
Toll-free: 1-877-BC Talks (228-2557)