Deaf community up in arms over video program end
B.C.'s deaf community is rallying against the cancellation of a high-tech pilot program that gives them the ability to make video calls with a live translator.
As technology rockets forward with tools like Facetime and Skype, deaf British Columbians feel they are being asked to go backwards with the end of the Video Relay Service.
Iranian Siamak Ashrafinia and his wife Zahra, both deaf, immigrated to Canada 20 years ago and run a small printing business in North Vancouver.
Saeed, interpreting for his father, describes the hardships he's faced in business: "It's tough for him, he looks around and he sees everybody's businesses growing and thriving -- just from a simple thing like communication -- which is so difficult for him."
The family was thrilled when Telus and the CRTC launched an 18-month trial in 2010 called the Video Relay System, which allowed the deaf to communicate face-to-face via webcam and a live translator.
But in January, the free service came to an end, forcing the hearing impaired to rely once again on the old TTY text-based technology. Hearing impaired people liken the process to changing from a Smartphone to an old pager.
"They say they shut him down, he went back to darkness. All the lines of communication that everybody enjoys and has enjoyed for a long time, taken for granted -- he doesn't have that anymore," Saeed said.
The hearing impaired community has held protests demanding the video service be restored.
The Video Relay System trial cost more than $3-million, with money used to hire 150 sign language interpreters. Telus offered the service to 311 households in B.C. and Alberta.
Shawn Hall of Telus said 76,000 calls were placed over an 18-month period, and operators logged 6,500 hours of translation.
"It is far more expensive to operate a video relay service than the more traditional text-based relay service. We did hear from trial participants, however, that it's a much superior service," he said.
The CRTC is expecting a formal report from Telus any day now, said spokesperson Patricia Valladao.
"We do not want to impose undue costs in all the Canadian telephone consumers, so we have to see what they come to us in terms of report to see what will be the next steps that we have to take," Valladao said in a telephone interview.
But that's not good enough for the Ashrafinias, who feel discriminated against by their own government.
"We're not second grade citizens. We're just like everybody else -- the hearing impaired community is just like everybody else," Siamak said through his son Saeed.
It's estimated that 10 per cent of the Canadian population is deaf – that translates roughly to 46,000 British Columbians.
The Video Relay System has been available as a free service in the U.S. since 2002, and the deaf community wants to know why the Americans can afford it in these tough economic times, but Canadians can't. The CRTC will study the results of the Canadian trial this year before deciding what to do next.
Deaf B.C. is having a town hall meeting Thursday night at Douglas College to discuss the project. It will be held from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. in Room #2201.
Watch tonight for a full report from CTV British Columbia's Lynda Steele…