App connects BC paramedics to American Sign Language interpreters for Deaf patients

Program aims to increase accessibility for Deaf community after barriers due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions

Courtesy of Provincial Health Services via Twitter.

By: Karissa Ketter, News Writer 

British Columbia Emergency Health Services (BCEHS), the Provincial Language Service (PLS), and the Office of Virtual Health (OVH) have launched an app to increase accessibility for those in the Deaf community. The app was designed to connect BC Paramedics to American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters. “It reduces barriers between our paramedic staff and Deaf, Deaf-Blind, and Hard of Hearing patients, enhancing patient care and safety,” says Sarah Morris, media relations for BCEHS, in an email statement to The Peak

According to the Provincial Health Service Authority’s (PHSA) website, the app is necessary to address the accessibility restrictions that have emerged as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The current pandemic protocols do not allow an interpreter or support person to ride in the ambulances and masks do not allow for lip reading, which many in the Deaf community rely on to communicate. 

The PHSA’s website notes that these unintended consequences of the pandemic have meant “community members [have] raised [concerns] that they sometimes had difficulty communicating with paramedics in emergency situations.”

According to Morris, the app will be installed on BC ambulance iPhones. ASL interpreters can be accessed on demand to translate for patients without charge to the patient or medical department. Some clinical areas already have access to this service.

The PHSA website notes that the interpreters “are trained to accurately convey all parts of a message without changing the content, meaning or tone, reducing errors and enhancing safety.” The PHSA believes that this service will enhance patient safety, communication and allow the patient to “focus solely on understanding their illness.”

Morris noted that this is the first time that an interpreting resource of this nature has been introduced in Canada. According to Morris, despite the app being born out of new accessibility challenges, it “will remain in place after COVID-19” and will add to the pre-existing options offered for the Deaf, Deaf-Blind, and Hard of Hearing community.

Scott Jeffrey, sign language service coordinator with PLS and a Deaf individual, noted that PLS has “created a Community Advisory Group that is made up of Deaf, Deaf-Blind, and Hard of Hearing participants to allow for ongoing engagement with the community.” 

This service is provided under the 1997 Supreme Court Ruling which mandates the Medicare Act and Hospital Insurance Act and requires “that sign language interpretation must be provided to Deaf patients in BC to comply with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

ASL interpreters are available for patient’s interactions with other healthcare workers, private physicians, and other services for medical emergencies and non-emergency situations. 

More information on how to book an interpreter can be found online.