U.S. sign language interpreter service causing critical shortage in B.C.
Local group says it can take more than two weeks to find local interpeters for the deaf.
A new U.S.-based service helping deaf people with telephone communication is contributing to a critical shortage of sign language interpreters in British Columbia because it offers better pay and flexible hours, the president of a B.C. interpreters group says. The new technology, called video relay service, allows individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to contact an operator through a video phone hooked up to the Internet. Operators are sign-language interpreters, so they can communicate with the deaf person and then relay the conversation to a third party over the phone. Utah-based Sorenson Communications, has set up a call centre in Burnaby and hired local interpreters to field calls from customers. Canada has yet to offer video relay service, so Sorenson deals only with American customers, and there are concerns it might be drawing local interpreters away from schools, daycares and hospitals.
Susi Bolender, president of the Westcoast Association of Visual Language Interpreters in Vancouver, said it can take more than two weeks for a deaf or hearing-impaired individual in B.C. to get an appointment to use the services of an interpreter. She runs a referral service and often e-mails as many as 60 interpreters in a bid to set up just a few appointments.
“The situation is very bad,” Bolender said. “They need them for medical appointments, hospital emergencies, in the court system and in schools. They need them for anything that any other person could do. It’s frustrating.”Bolender said several factors have contributed to the shortage in B.C., but one is workers choosing to leave positions in the community like daycares and schools to work for Sorenson because the pay is better and the hours are flexible. Bolender supplements the work she does in the community with shifts at Sorenson. “You can go in when you want,” she said. “I think it’s tough because most interpreters are community-minded but they also need to pay the bills.”
n addition to the provincial shortage, the American Sign Language and deaf studies program at Vancouver Community College is also under review for possible cancellation.
Ann Bardsley, director of public relations for Sorenson, said she is aware of an interpreter shortage in the Lower Mainland, but says the local problem isn’t unique. “It’s a bigger problem than just in Vancouver,” she said. “There are a shortage of interpreters everywhere. There are many reasons for the interpretation shortage, often because of a lack of social services.”
Bardsley said she couldn’t discuss why Sorenson chose to open an office in the Lower Mainland. Bolender said the usual rate of pay for a certified interpreter is about $50 an hour. Bardsley said she could not discuss how much Sorenson pays, but said its employees have flexible hours and some continue to work freelance in the community. Call centre jobs for skilled interpreters stand to increase in Canada. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission decided in January to let Telus set up video relay service in B.C. and Alberta, and Bell Canada in Ontario and Quebec, but neither company has said when it will get started.