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SDHHS Radio Interview with CBC

On Radio interview available here:


00:00:00 – Stefani Langenegger:

Saskatchewan recently became one of four Canadian provinces to recognize sign languages as official languages. The Accessible Saskatchewan Act, or Bill 103, passed in December. It states sign languages are recognized as the primary languages for communication by deaf persons in Saskatchewan, including American Sign Language and Indigenous sign languages. But how will this affect classroom teaching and services for deaf students in the province? Nairn Gillies is Executive Director for Saskatchewan Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services. Alanda McLeod is a sign support professional for Saskatchewan Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services.  Sue Schmid is her translator. They join me now to tell me more about what this change means and what is still needed in our province. Good morning, everyone.

00:00:51 – Nairn Gillies:

Good morning, Stefani! Thank you for having us on.

00:00:56 – Stefani Langenegger:

Alanda – What does it mean to you that Saskatchewan recognizes ASL and Indigenous Sign Language as official languages?

00:01:09 – Alanda McLeod: 

Well, for me…I think it just changes so much for me as a deaf person because I felt there were so many barriers for me and there’s barriers to education and for myself and for deaf and hard of hearing people. It’s like, you know, fish not being able to breathe without water.

So for us to be able to communicate in our own language, it helps us breathe and live. And when we don’t have access to sign, it really does cut our quality of life. So using our sign language and partnering with others is what we’re definitely looking for.

00:01:43 – Stefani Langenegger:

Nairn, what did it take to get here?

00:01:46 – Nairn Gillies:

About 100 years of hard work on the behalf of the deaf community. 1883 or 86. They excluded sign language from the education system and the deaf community struggled for years to try and get their language acknowledged as the beautiful thing that it is and to be… to be in there at the legislature when they announced that they were going to recognize American Sign Language was absolutely shocking. I was, I was blown away. We had a staff member who is part of the deaf blind community who was there at the time and when they announced that they were going to recognize American Sign Language. She had been working on this with the deaf community across Canada, she jumped out of the chair and started screaming. It was. It was really an amazing moment and the Premier came and hugged during the opposition came and hugged her.

00:02:50 – Nairn Gillies:

They’re doing the right thing and that was pretty, pretty special to be part of that. I know when it happened in Alberta, a lot of people in the deaf community said finally, for the first time, I feel like I’m a citizen. It’s pretty hard to imagine being excluded from your own province, the place you’ve been born.

00:03:10 –  Stefani Langenegger:

Alanda, What will change as a result of this?

00:03:20 – Alanda McLeod: 

Well, when we look at learning about sign languages and having the foundation of American Sign Language and deaf culture, it’s just that knowingness. And for myself, you know, when I work with kids that don’t have access to language and I meet other kids in other provinces that do have access to language, I mean it’s remarkable the difference. And what we want to make sure is young deaf children have access to language across Canada and therefore being able to access everything about life.

00:03:58 – Nairn Gillies:

One of the things that’s really difficult to swallow in the province is being as often we meet children who have no access to any kind of language. When they closed the school for the deaf, the deaf community essentially went back to their own homes where their families were, growing up and there just wasn’t this professional supports in those communities, those small towns, those reserves that have the ability to really provide a robust linguistic

00:04:28 – Nairn Gillies: 

um, experience for deaf children. And so we would need a child in their early teens that that were unable to to read or write anything and very few words that they could identify come to something like a dragonfly camp experience where there’s a rich full deaf staff and teaching sign language and by the end of the week they’re telling stories and their parents are crying, ‘my kid can tell a story now.’ They go back to school, and the teacher says, ‘the first time he had ever engaged in literacy or  talking about books with other kids or even starting a conversation was after he had been with us at a Dragonfly camp.’ 

So honoring people’s first language and culture is extremely important. I think we learned a lot of that through the First Nations community. And and So what we’ve been doing is we’ve been building a resource base. We’ve been through positive projects that bring about positive change. Thanks to David Arnott and the Human Rights Commission, we’ve been building resource materials in sign language and I think Monday or Tuesday this week we released our first book in American Sign Language, Indigenous Sign Language, American or English and Mischief. So I think that’s probably the first one in the world.

00:05:51 – Alanda McLeod: 

If I could add to that, I mean, there’s so many resources that we worked on before. When I was growing up as a deaf person, there weren’t enough resources. But I’m really thankful that there is now. And I mean, I didn’t know how qualified my staff were with me. I mean, I thank my parents because of the support I had growing up, I had a cochlear implant. I was so, you know, pressured to do some lip reading. And then my parents knew that I could learn and that I had intelligence that it wasn’t going to be just a single track, that I should be exposed to all the options and I feel that that has helped me be as successful as I have been. And I’m really lucky here because we’re looking at the resources now. But I I feel for the kids that are isolated and don’t have the resources and supports that they need.

00:06:39 – Stefani Langenegger:

What more would you like to see change Alanda?

00:06:48 – Alanda McLeod: 

Well, I think that the EA’s and the teachers or other people need to have ongoing training in American Sign Language. And when people say, well, they don’t have the money, they don’t have, they don’t have any choice. But we want to make sure that they access that. We want to make sure that kids have access to language and that the people teaching them have access to teach them that language.

00:07:14 – Nairn Gillies: 

One of things Stefani, that we have really strongly advocated is the use of what the Canadian Association for the Deaf and their organization has a standardized interview with. They call it the ASLPI, the American Sign Language Proficiency interview and they give a rating for anybody who is working with the deaf to to kind of understand their linguistic level. 

And we trust the Canadian Association of the Deaf, we’ve worked with them for years. I know Alanda had the opportunity to go to Bob Rumble camp with a group of Saskatchewan deaf youth and kind of see the difference with a full rich exposure to language in Ontario with hundreds of kids and our kids in isolation in the small towns and in the communities where they don’t have that. 

And so you learn language in culture and in community. And so those kinds of projects when they close the school for the deaf, the recommendations for the task force was to get the community together in camps etcetera, at least 5 times a year. Well, things changed and that never happened. And so we’ve been, we’ve been trying to fill those gaps as a community and as a community based organization supportive of the deaf community and we see success every time we do it. So it’s nice to have the government actually, you know, get involved and put their shoulder to the plow and get busy. So it’s good.

00:08:44 – Stefani Langenegger:

Thank you very much to all of you for your time this morning. We really appreciate it.

00:08:50 – Nairn Gillies

Well, thank you for having us.

00:08:53 – Alanda McLeod:

Yes, thank you.

00:08:54 – SPEAKER: 1 

We heard from Nairn Gillies, Executive Director for Saskatchewan Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services, and Alanda McLeod, a sign support professional for the same organization. Her translator is Sue Schmid.

posted on April 25, 2024

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