Breaking through wall of silence

Deaf Community launches new poster campaign to alert emergency service staff on how to contact medical interpretive services.

Deaf Community members (from left) Bruce Skelton

An accident that occurred when his load flipped over placed truck driver Bruce Skelton in a frightening situation.

Emergency services personnel responded to the accident and he was taken by ambulance to Kelowna General Hospital.

But as a hard of hearing person, Skelton was unable to communicate with people helping him at the scene, or with nurses and doctors at KGH.

With his wallet, keys and cell phone still in the truck, Skelton was prone in a bed for more than three hours while KGH emergency staff sought out health interpretive services support to assist communicating with Skelton.

The Okanagan Thompson area Deaf Community has launched a new initiative it hopes will avoid others facing the same dilemma that Skelton endured, and serve as a first step in initiating other programs that will help lower the communication barriers for the hard of hearing from Oliver to Kamloops.

Meeting at Lake Country municipal hall on a monthly basis since January, the local Deaf Community brainstormed about different ideas and came up with two new measures.

One was to raise $250 to help produce 100 copies of a poster designed by Sandy Oslund, who is hard of hearing, which was printed at a discount rate by Wayside printing services in Vernon, to be placed at various hospitals and Interior Health emergency service centres across the Okanagan from Armstrong to Oliver.

Attached to the poster is also yellow tearaway sticky tabs to hang onto that offer contact numbers to assist the hard of hearing if at the hospital, or dealing with police or fire departments.

The poster will remain the same but the sticky tab idea offers the opportunity to update new contact numbers as required.

Deaf Community volunteer Arlene Brenner said emergency services is one of many public services that often leave hard of hearing people shut off from because of a lack of interpretative services, or simply recognition that the Deaf Community can’t access information equally to people who can hear.

Brenner said that is a process that people with hearing take for granted, but can create a wall of frustration and disillusionment for the hard of hearing.

“There are many in our community who don’t even know who there MLA or MP is, never mind how to reach out to a government system service they are in need of assistance from,” Brenner said.

As a result, they withdraw from the community and live an isolated lifestyle, which can be abruptly shattered when an emergency arises.

Besides the poster, a second project the brainstorming group, which includes hard of hearing volunteers from Summerland to Armstrong, are also working on is a 52-page waterproof-laminated booklet that offers basic sign language words for emergency personnel.

“We hope for fire departments and police, for example, it can offer basic communication sign language skills to help in an emergency until an interpreter can arrive at the scene,” she said.

That project will cost about $2,600 to print 250 copies. Anyone wishing to donate online to help this cause can do so at

Brenner added the brainstorming group has also had presentations about elder abuse and bullying.

“The presentation from a local RCMP officer about bullying was wonderful because it gave us insight into how we can better stand up for ourselves,” Brenner said.

Because the Deaf Community is small in numbers, Brenner said she and her co-volunteers have taken the initiative to step up for each other and push to remove communication barriers that exist for them within their home communities.

That communication with emergency services is a key first step, she said, but she hopes the momentum moving forward will expand into other government services as well.


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