Deaf seek first aid ruling

The Okanagan Valley Association of the Deaf (OVAD) has filed a human rights complaint against St. John Ambulance for refusing to provide sign language interpretation for deaf students in its first aid courses.

"St. John Ambulance is not meeting its duty to accommodate Deaf students, and is filing the complaint on behalf of all Deaf British Columbians who have experienced harm from this absence of accommodation," said Lawyer Kate Feeney with the B.C. Public Interest Advocacy Centre.

First aid training and certification provide British Columbians with career-advancement opportunities and, most importantly, the ability to help others and save lives in an emergency. Denying deaf British Columbians equal access to first aid training and certification, therefore, limits their full participation and inclusion in our communities.

“OVAD took on this case because enough is enough. Deaf people need first aid skills just like everyone else. This could be a matter of life or death in an emergency situation.” said Gordon Rattray, OVAD treasurer.

"Deaf individuals have a right to sign language interpretation when accessing both public and private services, except where it causes undue hardship. It is, therefore, our view that St. John Ambulance – one of the largest and most recognized providers of commercial first aid training in Canada – is required to provide Sign language interpretation to Deaf students," added Feeney.

Previous cases have resulted in UBC being required to provide sign language services in class and the province providing sign language interpretation when requested in a healthcare setting. A settlement conference is the first step in the process, a full-blown tribunal could take months or years to hear the complaint.

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