A recent strike by the Canadian Hearing Society will affect services for 36,000 individuals who receive support from 20 regional offices throughout the province of Ontario. As of Saturday, March 4th, Local 2073 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE 2073), entered into a legal strike position. After unsuccessful rounds of bargaining this past weekend, Local 2073 will commence with strike action this morning.
For the Deaf community, all communication with the hearing world will be funneled through old fashioned note exchange, family who may have limited fluency with sign language and through newer technology like Skype. Interpreters, audiologists, therapists will not be accessible to service users and neither will service users have access to equipment that supports their inclusion in myriad daily activities like medical appointments, court hearings, school or job interviews.
Freelance interpreters, that may or not be certified with Ontario Interpretive Services, may be brought in to cross the picket line or to be booked as an out of pocket expense for service users. Service users in Southern Ontario may have more alternatives during the strike in comparison to Northern Ontario where there seems to be an exaggerated shortage of options in the best of times.
Billie Skevington, pictured above, is culturally deaf and also the founder of Northern Ontario Association of the Deaf. Having relocated from Southern Ontario to the great white North, Skevington has noted that the Deaf community in Northern Ontario experiences an exceptional deficit in services.
“When I moved up here, I was not impressed with the whole concept of how a Deaf person is expected to live here.” Skevington has been advocating for greater access to support since that time.
Of the strike Skevington remarked, “I think it’s a good start to clean up the mess that the Canadian Hearing Society has created.”
Skevington faults management for what she feels is the less than adequate services provided through CHS and questions why at the helm of CHS is a hearing person. “Deaf people have been fighting for equal rights and we are still dominated by the hearing world. I think this strike will cause some serious push from the Deaf community for CHS to change. You would be surprised to find some Deaf people saying shut it down. CHS has lost the vision of who they are and they have dominated the Deaf community for so long.”
But Skevington also clarified that many CHS staff have done their best to provide top notch service despite working at a deficit in interpretive manpower. “Some staff are wonderful who believe that the Deaf community should push for change. The current management have made a lot of unnecessary changes and now they are working to cut back on wages, sick days and no union for newer employees.”
Over 50% of CHS employees are deaf or experience a degree of hearing loss.
Skevington is critical of CHS policies stating, “I support the staff at CHS who have made tireless efforts in working with the Deaf community and with elders who have hearing loss. Needless to say, CHS needs to change a few criteria in their policies –in other words, support everyone with unique needs who have experienced hearing loss at any age. CHS is a community organization and recognized as such.”
Below is a press release issued by CUPE Sunday evening:
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