Signs of change

Imagine living in a community where almost no one speaks your language, and where you cannot understand what goes on at a play or a city council meeting.

Amanda Smith and Bayani Generoso have a conversation using signing.

Amanda Smith and Bayani Generoso have a conversation using signing.

Imagine living in a community where almost no one speaks your language, and where you cannot understand what goes on at a play or a city council meeting.

Members of Terrace’s Deaf community live with this reality daily, and while some assistance is available, the burden of finding that help is often left up to the person seeking it.

In the past two years this has begun to improve with the arrival of American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters in the northwest.

ASL is a recognized language where whole concepts are expressed through hand motions.

Amanda Smith and Bayani Generoso are full time interpreters at Northwest Community College (NWCC).

Smith arrived two years ago and Generoso has been in Terrace since last September. Both plan to take their interpretive services beyond their work of translating for students at NWCC.

Smith and Generoso have been opening access for members of the Deaf community in Terrace by signing at local activities such as aboriginal events, at an Enbridge information session earlier this year and, more recently, at the federal election all-candidates debate.

And now the pair wants to expand the service to all kinds of activities and events.

Before their arrival something as simple as participating in  a funeral would require a deaf person to send a request for sign language interpretive services to Community Interpretive Services (CIS).

CIS is the booking service for the Western Institute for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, and provides interpreters for all events that are non-medical. If a request is approved, an interpreter is flown to Terrace from Vancouver.

And while Terrace may now have local interpreters, the money to pay for their services – outside of their work at NWCC – still comes from Vancouver.

Generoso and Smith want to see this change and have local money be available for their services.

They recently approached the City of Terrace, asking that local money be made available. If the city was able to help out, the two would set up a local service, cutting through the red tape that currently exists to receive assistance from Vancouver.

They say the city is listening. City council recently invited Generoso back to speak more on the subject.

“They are very interested in providing more access for various disabilities around the community, and Deaf people are amongst one of their mandates,” Generoso said.

Paula Wesley and Thomas Wick are two members of Terrace’s Deaf community. The couple share a son Drakon who is a hearing person, but at nearly four years of age, is already using sign language with his parents.

Wesley describes the process of requesting an interpreter or money though CIS as time consuming and arduous.

“It is not feasible for last minute things,” Wesley said explaining that requests may also be denied as CIS has limits of two events per month.

“There might be four or five events in a month that I want to participate in, and I am not able to do that because of their rules,” she said.

Wesley is an art student at the Freda Diesing School of Northwest Coast Art at the NWCC campus here.

The art school program is unique in that it is available only in Terrace. Wesley credits Smith and Generoso as essential factors in her ability to attend the art school.

Wesley said even to say hello with out an interpreter can be a struggle because you have to rely on gestures or writing back and forth on paper. It’s something she said other people are not necessarily always comfortable with.

Wesley decision to go back to school was instrumental in setting out the need for two interpreters.

Simply put, the more Deaf students enrolled at NWCC – the more interpreters the college will hire to accommodate them.

Smith explains that due to a national shortage of interpreters, having two in Terrace is amazing. But, this number also may grow as Wick prepares to join Wesley at NWCC this fall.

“I hope it all works out in the future, and that the Deaf community here in Terrace will flourish because of the fact that we have services,” Wick said.

According to Smith and Generoso interpreting can be an intensive job. In order to provide full-coverage at events two interpreters are often necessary.

Interpreters feed off each other, making sure that no content is missed and providing each other breaks in a job which Smith describes as a mentally exhausting at times – given all of the nuances of language communicated along with information.

“We translate everything no matter how menial,” Generoso said, explaining this includes conversations going on around a client, and even back ground noise such as a truck driving by.

“We let them know everything,” he said.

And their services are certainly appreciated.

“Bay and Amanda are available and it’s wonderful, I am hoping to take advantage of the fact that they are here so I can be more involved in the community,” Wesley said.

“Hearing people have all this opportunity and access, and I just want it to be the same for the Deaf community, we want to be equal,” Wesley said. “It doesn’t matter if you are deaf or hearing – we all want the same things in life.”

And this is certainly the direction in which both Generoso and Smith are working towards.

“The Deaf people in this community have a voice,” Generoso said. “And now they can speak for themselves.

Readers will notice the capital ‘D’ in ‘Deaf’  on occasion within this article. In doing so, ‘Deaf’ it refers to a person’s identity or group identity as opposed to a condition resulting in deafness.