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May 8, 2017: Do unto Others as You would Have Them Do Unto You

September 27, 2016: Making Room for AODA: Visiting Museums

February 1, 2016: Making a Well-Informed Choice about ASL Courses

November 16, 2015: ODF’s Perspective on PSB’s Hiring of the New Superintendent


May 8, 2017: Do unto Others as You would Have Them Do Unto You

ODF’s View Paper on Videotaping ASL Conversations at Picket Lines

Do unto Others as You would Have Them Do Unto You

While the Canadian Hearing Society (CHS) strike continues into its 10th week, the disturbing practice of “monitoring” ASL conversations on the picket line has emerged. It exposes the inequality of current law that prohibits possession of surreptitious recording devices for the purposes of intercepting private conversations, yet it does not prevent video recording of ASL conversations employees engage in on the picket line. That the street is a public place is irrelevant as the law must offer equal protection and equal benefit without discrimination according to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Are we seeing apparent unfairness and inequality of the law and by implication, a possible violation of the strikers’ human rights?

At the beginning of the strike, it was discovered that CHS hired private investigators (PIs) to monitor a local picket line with a video camera. CHS has its reasons to monitor its striking workers, but it appears that it has gone too far, and perhaps beyond legal boundaries. Reliable sources report that the PIs targeted Deaf strikers and recorded their ASL conversations, initially, without the picketers’ knowledge. Several disturbing implications arise from this practice of singling out striking Deaf workers and their hearing colleagues who can converse in sign language.

In Canada, it is illegal to possess surreptitious recording devices for purposes of intercepting private conversations. We can record our own conversations but we cannot legally record a conversation between two other persons without their consent (except for police who obtain a warrant from a judge). While CHS’s private investigators respect the Criminal Code’s prohibition of using surreptitious devices for the purpose of recording spoken conversations by hearing CHS strikers, they obviously had no scruples about videoing the ASL conversations of the Deaf and hearing CHS strikers whenever opportunities for a good video shot presented itself. There are serious, potential legal considerations that the human rights of the Deaf people may have been violated.

First, Section 183 of the Criminal Code defines “private communication,” as one “made under circumstances in which it is reasonable for the originator to expect that it will not be intercepted by any person other than the person intended by the originator to receive it.” CHS’ private investigators were in fact intercepting private ASL conversations until strikers discovered that the PIs were video-recording their conversations.

Second, apparently CHS did not inform the striking employees that they would be under video surveillance, so if this is the case, then neither CHS nor its PIs had the consent of the striking workers to record their private ASL conservations (At one site, a PI standing in close proximity to the picket line was reporting on his cell phone the spoken conversations of the strikers. Given that the PI was doing it openly, this was not an illegal act). ASL-using strikers would be within their rights to consider their conversations private until the discovery of video surveillance by the PIs, especially since almost no one in a public place can understand American Sign Language (ASL) except for in a Deaf community setting.

Third, but not least, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is of great import because it states that the law is to be applied with fairness and equality to all, “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.” It is apparently not against the law to surreptitiously video ASL conversations in a public place but it is illegal to use surreptitious devices to record voice conversations. This makes for an uneven playing field. Moreover, the law currently does not protect ASL-using CHS picketers from the prying eyes of “legal” surveillance technology. On other hand, its prohibition of surveillance technology for the purposes of recording conversations, without consent, protects picketers and their voice conversations from prying ears.

Sign languages can be understood at a greater distance than spoken words, so signers have a reduced proximity of privacy than hearing speakers. Privacy of their freedom of expression is effectively compromised. When told of this disadvantage, a few Deaf strikers said they could turn their backs to block the video-recorder view. Why should they have to do this at all, though? It is indeed an indignity to continually have to protect one’s freedom of expression in ASL from snooping video-recorders. However, keeping silent about this would be the worst thing to do.

The Canadian Hearing Society provides a highly valuable service to our society and its Deaf, deafened, and hard of hearing members. Its professionally trained and dedicated staff play an essential front line role, by providing counselling and interpreting services, etc., to some of society’s most vulnerable citizens. CHS declares that it is “committed to treating all people in a way that allows them to maintain their dignity and independence.” This statement appropriately sets the bar of conduct highest possible towards others, however, the practice of intercepting ASL conversations on the picket line undermines this statement.

Striking CHS employees, Deaf and hearing, and their union, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), can protest the interference with Deaf signers’ freedom of expression on the grounds of the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination. The principle essential to this issue is “to do unto others as you would have them do unto you”; the protection of law should apply to all citizens, hearing and Deaf, and their freedom of expression. If nothing is done to close this legal loophole to halt the interception of ASL conversations, it tramples on the freedom of expression for all Canadian people, a great democratic tradition that must continue to reverberate into the 150th anniversary of our nation’s birth and beyond. If not, a part of the gentler side of our Canadian society will disappear, perhaps forever.

 


September 27, 2016: Making Room for AODA: Visiting Museums

For general interest, this article is reproduced from the 2017 Deaf Ontario Community Calendar.


Museum
Making Room for AODA:
Visiting Museum
Here’s what you can do to help make museums aware of their responsibility to provide accessible information for the enjoyment of their Deaf and hard of hearing visitors. It includes asking museums for a partial refund of your admission price if they fail to make all audio information available in a captioned format.

How many times have you travelled far only to be disappointed to find some museum information available only in sound? What can be done when you inform the museum that a video has no captions or that you cannot hear an audio device?

The museum will likely say they are sorry that the captions are not available, and ask you to complete a comment card, which they say will help them improve their service. This response costs the museum nothing at all. Ask them for a refund for a part of your admissions price. If a museum means what they say sorry, they will give you a reasonable refund to make things right.

The museum may offer you a copy of the transcript. If it is the correct transcript, it will provide you with the informa)on but it is not a satisfactory substitute as you will miss out on the impact of the visual presentation supported by cap)ons. The more of you report about unavailability of captioning, the more museums realize the need for captions. Don’t stop with just gettinng a refund. Tell them, in a positive and courteous way, about the Accessibility for Ontarians with

Disabilities Act (AODA). You will be surprised to know how many museums are not aware of their responsibilities to comply with AODA’s accessibility requirements.

Museums do need a positive nudging. Encourage them to look up the AODA communication and information accessibility standards at www.aoda.ca. If you can’t remember this link, refer the museums to ODF because this ar)cle is displayed on ODF’s own website.

Making museums ‘hear’ your desire to know what is said through captions can help them in multiple ways. Captions can be brought to the fore in planning and design of exhibits. In their procurement of new videos, the requirement for captions can become the norm for museum purchases or they can require that captioned videos be provided when an exhibit from another museum will be loaned to them.

In the end, you will have helped the Deaf community benefit from beSer access to information through captions. With AODA legislation, it is past the time for the language of the mouth and it is now time to see the language of the heart respond with actions!

 



February 1, 2016: Making a Well-Informed Choice about ASL Courses

ASL

Choosing an American Sign Language (ASL) Course
in Your Local Area

The source of the following information is the ASL Community Club of Hamilton’s Facebook page. It has been edited to remove local references.

Do you want to learn basic sign language to better communicate with your Deaf friends or family? Are you a professional or tradesperson who needs to acquire skills in interacting with Deaf people? Or do you want to learn ASL for interest sake?

Whatever your goal for learning ASL, it will be to your advantage to take an ASL course from a trained, native-like user of ASL. These Deaf individuals live as members of the Deaf community and have been specially trained to teach ASL courses. If you want to communicate with a variety of Deaf people, these qualified instructors are your best teachers.

A few tips!

Use the course criteria below to inquire of the ASL course providers in your area —Six different criterion define the ideal standards that any ASL course and its instructor should meet.  The criteria is worded in the yes/no questions. 

Ask for recommendations — If you know friends or colleagues who have taken an ASL course before, ask them for recommendations. Their first hand experience will allow you to find out what you need to know when considering the different courses to choose one.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions — Contact the course providers asking any questions you might have. If you want to know more about the instructor’s experience, don’t be afraid to inquire.

ASL Instructor/Course Evaluation Chart

Those interested in taking an ASL course should contact the ASL course providers and inquire to see how their courses stand in relation to the ASL course criteria below.

Questions to Ask

    1. Does instructor actively participate in an ASL linguistic group, its culture, and its community?

    2. Does instructor hold at least a Level 3 rating in the ASL Proficiency Interview (ASLPI)?

    3. Does instructor participate in professional development activities such as those offered by Deaf Access Simcoe Muskoka or the ASL Instructors of Ontario?

    4. Does the course provide an immersive learning approach without instruction in a spoken language?

    5. Does the course include the instruction of ASL classifiers, grammatical structures, discourse structures, and conventions?

    6. Does the course use a standard ASL curriculum such as the Vista Signing Naturally Curriculum?

ASL Instructor/Course Criteria

    1. Participation in an ASL community indicates that Instructor is engaged in a cultural-linguistic milieu in which ASL, like any other language, evolves, and adapts to the needs of its users. The ASL instructor is able to instruct and model contemporary and conversant ASL language to students.

    2. The American Sign Language Proficiency Interview (ASLPI) is a language evaluation program used to determine a user's ASL proficiency. Instructors should possess at least Level 3 on the ASL proficiency scale. It is defined as “Able to sign ASL with sufficient structural accuracy and vocabulary to participate effectively in most formal and informal conversations pertaining to practical, social, and professional needs.”

For further information on the ASLPI, click on the link:

www.deafculturecentre.ca/Public/Default.aspx?I=120&n=ASLPI.

    3. Participation in professional development activities indicates a sincere interest by the Instructor to maintain appropriate skills and knowledge and to learn and implement the latest developments in the field of ASL instruction.

    4. An immersion ASL learning experience without using voice creates a superior learning environment in a classroom. ASL learners benefit the most when they learn to comprehend and connect ASL within its lexical and grammatical structures through their eyes when instruction in a spoken language is not used.

    5. ASL is more than just signs. Learning ASL involves learning about ASL classifiers, grammatical structures, discourse structures, and conventions in a daily life, conversational setting.

    6. The course must use a well-recognized curriculum that plans and structures ASL instruction into units of knowledge and skill. An ideal ASL curriculum provides cultural information about the community and heritage of the Deaf people.

What is American Sign Language (ASL)?

American Sign Language is a visual, spatial language primarily used by members of ASL culture in Canada and the United States. It uses a distinct grammatical structure not derived from any spoken language or written form. Contrary to popular misconceptions, ASL is not gestural system, nor is it a universal language that can be understood anywhere around the world. Deaf communities in other countries possess their own different signed languages, just as the First Nations and indigenous peoples around the world have their own distinct, spoken languages.

How are ASL Courses Organized?

In a classroom setting, learning ASL is a structured process using appropriate textbooks and video resources. Course outlines and lesson plans are designed to provide students with ASL instruction at a certain pace while offering approximately increasing levels of knowledge and skill.

Improving Your ASL Skills outside the Classroom

Interaction with the community of ASL users is necessary in order to practice your ASL skills outside the classroom. Textbooks and videos can help only so much. Course instructors can suggest opportunities where you can interact with Deaf people in your local area.


 

November 16, 2015: ODF’s Perspective on PSB’s Hiring of the New Superintendent

The Fallen Ladder

Once again, the Provincial Schools Branch (PSB) has selected a hearing person rather than a Deaf person for the position of Superintendent.  It has sparked a controversy, but there is more to the story than meets the eye.  

The unsuccessful Deaf candidate is the recipient of Excellence in Leadership Award in recognition of her twenty-five years dedicated professional service characterized by compassion, discretion, fairness, persuasiveness, and a work ethic that goes above and beyond the call of duty.  Her successful climb up the corporate ladder has been brought to an abrupt end: the ladder has been knocked out from under her and its significance needs to be understood. 

Schools for the deaf are important cultural, language, educational and social institutions that contribute to the survival of Deaf people’s distinct heritage.  Within this context, Deaf peoples’ expectations grew with the Deaf candidate’e every step up the corporate ladder in anticipation that after 145 years of Deaf education in Ontario, a well-qualified person, one of their own, would occupy the Superintendent’s chair. Finally, a Superintendent who would be a reflection of themselves; one who embodies the Deaf experience, and who champions the values and philosophy of Deaf culture and language and bilingual-bicultural education. 

Professionally qualified Deaf individuals should be at the helm of the education of deaf children, in the same manner that First Nations and French-speaking communities immerse their children in their own language and culture while offering them an education.  It is time for this much needed political, social and educational change. 

Fallen LadderThe direction in which the corporate ladder has fallen from under the Deaf candidate’s feet points directly to the crucial role that the PSB has played in the selection of the new Superintendent.  In a Youtube vlog, Rose Etheridge, a Deaf mother with two children, one of whom attends the E.C. Drury School for the Deaf in Milton, related a meeting with Dr. June Rogers, the newly appointed (hearing) director of PSB.  She requested that Dr. Rogers include parents, students, the alumni, and the Deaf community in the interview process in order to ensure the suitability of the candidates.  Ms. Etheridge reported that Dr. Rogers indicated that the Ontario Public Service competition process could not accommodate this request.  It dictates that the qualifications of each member of the Superintendent’s interview panel are required to be at the Superintendent level or above.  

We are once again reminded that the provincial public service, of which PSB is a part, exists in a different world, manacled to its internal regulations, while maintaining a discreet distance from the public. When Deaf people pressed former Superintendents as to who made unwelcome decisions concerning their schools, they would sometimes point up with a shrug of the shoulder, indicating the bureaucracy of the public service.

Every time a decision-making bureaucrat departs, ASL and Deaf culture and their time-tested, beneficial roles in education of deaf children have to be explained in a never-ending, patience-straining process to bureaucrats and outside educators who take their place.  Recently, when the Deaf community learnt that a new superintendent would be soon announced, they made haste to send their petitions in support of a Deaf superintendent.  Alas, this indicates a sad reality: school stakeholders are viewed as a mere after-thought.  

As well, it underscores the unsatisfactory state regarding governance of the schools for the deaf.  Much of the trouble lies at the root of the present paradigm that has long-guided the Ministry of Education in its management of the schools for the deaf.  The time has come for a paradigm shift to occur.

First, in order to achieve this change, the Deaf community, its leaders, and its supporters are urged to look beyond the fallen ladder — without taking it out of the picture — and build a bigger ladder leading to a higher location where conditions can be created for a Deaf person with the required leadership qualifications to become Superintendent.

Second, this new paradigm would recognize the schools for the deaf as community schools, and would adopt the US approach of vetting candidates via a fair, transparent and due process that invites community-wide input.

The Ontario Deaf Foundation (ODF) exists to promote a positive image of Deaf people, their culture, and their community.  It observes that society is not as kind or as just towards Deaf people as it once was.  Recently, the Executive Director of the Ontario Association of the Deaf (OAD) remarked that society’s treatment of Deaf people is worsening.  He hears stories of the plight of many Deaf individuals on an almost daily basis — so many cases of callousness, discrimination, and exploitation. In a nutshell, society is becoming disproportionately self-oriented.  In an era of globalization, people are not disposed to make room or time for Deaf or less privileged people in fast-paced, high-pressure workplaces.  In this era of materialism, pleasure takes priority and strips away at one’s ability to identify with needs of others, much less a community.

Against this backdrop, a Deaf Superintendent at the helm of Ontario provincial schools would be a prestigious symbol conveying a constructive message to society about Deaf people.  It would help mitigate negative social forces, and help change negative perceptions of Deaf people.  Further, it would encourage Deaf people to climb ladders found in all aspects of society; to strive for higher levels of achievement.  This has been accomplished in the United States to a significant degree.  It must be accomplished here.

The reverberations of the Deaf candidate’s fallen ladder are being felt throughout the Deaf world.  It is a familiar, but unacceptable shock wave.  It is time for change, a re-structuring of the paradigm that governs schools for the deaf in Ontario.  It is time.