In the first post of this series, we looked at a technology that is catering those of us who have vision impairment. So, today I thought we would look at a technology that has helped people with hearing impairment. I refer to video relay service (VRS). Now, while this technology has been around in the United States over 25 years, it has only recently been offered in Canada as of 2017. And this technology has improved the lives of hearing-impaired people incredibly since then.
VRS basically functions as an assisted translation service. Essentially, it allows a person without hearing impairment to call someone who needs to use sign-language and the VRS acts as the interpreter. For example, verbal words are heard by the interpreter who would then use ASL or LSQ to relay the message over video the hearing-impaired person. Then the reverse would happen to relay a message back to the listening party through the interpreter. What this means is that two people with different abilities can communicate over long distances.
Back in 2019, the service had over 300 certified interpreters and over 7,000 registered users in Canada. This shows that it is a popular service. According to CBC, a user stated that they “feel more equal” in a world that is often catered more to the hearing-abled than the hearing-impaired. Of course, there are some limitations of the service like confidentiality because the interpreter is a third party, but otherwise the service has been a resounding success. It really is amazing what can be accomplished when our society comes together and removes the self-appointed barriers that exist for others with different abilities.
However, I argue that we should go a step further. When a lot of us were children in Canada or the United States, we likely were required to learn French or Spanish as part of the school board’s curriculum. This makes sense as each of those respective countries have recognized national languages other than English. However, why didn’t we learn American Sign Language (ASL) or Langes des signes Quebecoise (LSQ)? According to CBC, Ontario is the first province in Canada to begin offering ASL and LSQ courses as part of their official curriculum in September 2021. While this is a step in the right direction, it does not go far enough. Individual school boards do not need to offer all curriculum courses in their school jurisdiction. But why not? Why do we include mandatory French courses in Ontario, but not ASL or LSQ?
Imagine a world where hearing-impaired people feel fully included in communications because everyone knew sign language. A person waiting for the bus could step onto the bus and ask the driver using ASL if this bus was going north or south, and the driver could respond with ASL. Those of us who are hearing-abled can sometimes forget how privileged we are compared to those without hearing. It is therefore our responsibility to help make the playing field more equitable for all people, and we can start by making learning ASL and LSQ mandatory in all public schools. Perhaps one day, VRS will not be needed because everyone can use video chat and communicate with people of all hearing abilities.