Interpreting Services works hard to advocate and educate on behalf of the Deaf Community to ensure that:
All levels of government and their associated ministries are aware of and in compliance with their accessibility policies with respect to equal communication access.
Individuals, organizations and government departments recognize the value of and financially support the use of professional interpreting services to facilitate communication.
This information outlines important law and legislation surrounding communication access.
Rights and Responsibilities
It’s the law. The Canadian Human Rights Act recognizes that persons with disabilities have a right to full integration and participation in society and that includes the right to accessible workplaces, health services, public transit as well as all public buildings.
According to the Supreme Court of Canada, all health regions, employers and service providers have a legal duty to accommodate people with disabilities to enable them to work or to access an essential service such as health care.
Legislation Regarding Access
Deaf and Hear Alberta Interpreting Services has Staff Interpreters to meet the needs in the community where funding permits. Deaf and Hear Alberta supplements their Staff Interpreters by hiring Freelance Interpreters whenever possible to meet the demand in the community. Agencies, business, government and service providers have a responsibility to provide access to their services. Deaf and Hear Alberta charges a “Fee for Service” for the provision of sign language interpreting. There are several court decisions that have been made over time which support the need for equitable communication access. In addition, the policies of Deaf and Hear Alberta are in accordance with the existing Human Rights legislation. They are as follows:
HEALTHCARE – The Eldridge Decision
On October 9, 1997, in a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court of Canada ordered the Government of British Columbia to pay for sign language interpreters when Deaf people access health care services. The failure to provide sign language interpretation where it is needed for effective communication in the delivery of health care services violates the rights of deaf people. The Supreme Court ruling followed an appeal by three B.C. Deaf individuals who were denied the services of an interpreter during medical treatment. They argued that sign language interpreters are an essential part of health care for Deaf people, and that the health care system must accommodate their needs under the equality provisions in the Charter of Rights.
The Eldridge ruling has far- reaching implications. The Supreme Court decision went beyond ensuring interpreters for deaf people in medical situations. It stated that governments cannot escape their constitutional obligations to provide equal access to public services. Within reasonable limits, no disabled person should be prevented access to a government service. Education, training, health care, social services, all are affected by this landmark decision. The decision requires the removal of barriers that prohibit full participation from all members of the community.
EMPLOYMENT – The Duty to Accommodate
The duty to accommodate refers to an employer’s obligation to take appropriate steps to eliminate discrimination against employees, prospective employees or clients resulting from a rule, practice, or barrier that has — or can have — an adverse impact on individuals with disabilities. The duty to accommodate is written into s.2 and s.15 of the Canadian Human Rights Act; it stipulates that accommodation is required, short of undue hardship.
In order to establish an exception to the duty to accommodation it must be established that accommodation of the needs of an individual or a class of individuals affected would impose undue hardship on the person who would have to accommodate those needs, considering health, safety and cost.”
Accommodation is not a courtesy — it’s the law. An employee who has been denied accommodation can file a complaint under the Act. Failure to provide accommodation short of undue hardship may be found to be discrimination on the basis of disability.
LEGAL MATTERS – The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms – Section 14 & 15 (1985)
Section 14A: party or witness in any proceedings who does not understand or speak the language in which the proceedings are conducted or who is deaf has the right to the assistance of an interpreter.
Section 15 – Equality Rights: Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.
Subsection (1) does not preclude any law, program or activity that has as its object the amelioration of conditions of disadvantaged individuals or groups including those that are disadvantaged because of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability. This section of the Charter makes it clear that every individual in Canada – regardless of race, religion, national or ethnic origin, colour, sex, age or physical or mental disability – is to be considered equal. This means that governments must not discriminate on any of these grounds in its laws or programs. The Supreme Court of Canada has stated that the purpose of section 15 is to protect those groups who suffer social, political and legal disadvantage in society. For more details on the Charter go to www.pch.gc.ca
ACCESSING GOVERNMENT SERVICES – Federal Landmark Decision
On August 12, 2006, the Federal Court of Canada released a decision that has significant implications for access of deaf, deafened, deaf-blind and hard of hearing Canadians to the federal government. “It is fundamental to an inclusive society that those with disabilities be accommodated when interacting with the institutions of government.” The decision included three important declarations:
- Where a deaf or hard of hearing person receives services or participates in programs administered by the Government of Canada, sign language interpreters are to be provided.
- Where the Government of Canada engages in public or private consultations with non-governmental organizations in the development of policy and programs in which the deaf and hard of hearing have identifiable interests, sign language interpreters must be provided where organizations of deaf and hard of hearing people wish to be involved.
- In the above circumstances, the Government of Canada is responsible for the cost of access.
In Alberta this is managed by the Access to Government Publications, Meetings, and Services – Alternative Communications Policy:
“The Government of Alberta will ensure equitable access to the information intended for the general public in its publications, public meetings and services, to persons with alternative communications needs. Information will be provided within a reasonable time and at a cost that will not exceed that charged to persons without alternative communications needs. Information will be provided in the most cost-effective format possible to meet the communication need of the individual client.”