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Access to the telecommunications system, and involvement in new technology and services, are issues of vital importance to Deaf Canadians.
New telecommunications technology must include access for Deaf people, and current technology that is not accessible needs to made so. This accessibility can only be achieved through the active and equal participation of Deaf people in all aspects of the technology, including development, regulation, and distribution.
The Canadian Association of the Deaf is proud of our many achievements in the telecommunications field. Our advocacy work in the 1990s and early 2000s brought Deaf Canadians deep discounts on phone calls, one of the earliest and largest Message Relay Services (MRS) in the world, tax deductions for the purchase of assistive devices, a national three-digit access phone number for MRS (i.e., 711), and improved pay-phone access.
All of these improvements were achieved by advocating for changes to inaccessible technology. Unfortunately, new technology continues to be developed, regulated, and distributed without any Deaf involvement. Making changes for Deaf access as an afterthought (i.e., retrofitting) is difficult and expensive. Inclusion from the start is a better approach; but until Deaf people are included in meaningful roles in all aspects, this will remain a dream.
Video communication (video conferences, video mail, web-stream video, etc.) is one of the most important new developments for Deaf people, as it allows us easy communication via Sign language. Video Relay Service (VRS) which allows Deaf and hearing people to communicate in their own languages (Sign for the Deaf, and voice for the hearing) is one of the best and most exciting developments. Other countries have enjoyed this service for years, but the CAD had to work long and very hard for a decade to force Canadian telecoms and the CRTC to allow it in Canada. The regulatory and telecom business in this country has changed from a dynamic world leader into a slow, unresponsive, unimaginative dinosaur uninterested in providing equality of access to the kind of technology that changes the lives of Deaf people.
One reason why Canadian telecom businesses and the CRTC have become obtuse and resistant towards new technology is that they continue to refuse to hire Deaf people into positions where our eager grasp of new communications technology can be used to put Canada back on the cutting-edge of progress. No one is faster or more savvy about discovering, testing, and using new communications than Deaf people, because it is our lifeline to the hearing world; we proved that by being the quickest community to adopt texting devices such as the Blackberry, and then by being the quickest to adopt those smartphones which included real-time video capabilities That Canadian companies and agencies persist in ignoring this fact and refusing to hire Deaf employees is unfathomable.
The quality of telecom services is another concern. Many of these services are contracted out to companies that have no Deaf employees or consultants. They acquired the contract by tendering the lowest bid, with every facet of the service being designed towards the absolute reduction of expenses (“cost-effectiveness”). The CRTC and other regulators -- none of whom have any Deaf employees in meaningful roles -- have utterly failed to enforce high standards of service that would recognize the fact that Deaf services are not a “retail feature” like call-display or call-forwarding, but rather are a legal right, an essential service, and a public good.
In view of the powerful benefits for Deaf people, the Canadian Association of the Deaf insists that Deaf persons must be involved in the development, marketing, and regulation of information and communication technology.
APPROVED: 23 JULY 2012
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:
The Canadian Association of the Deaf
303- 251 Bank Street
Ottawa, Ontario K2P 1X3