‘They don’t have a voice without interpreters’: sign language programs cut at Lakeland College
Published Monday, April 22, 2013 6:23PM MDT
Last Updated Monday, April 22, 2013 6:24PM MDT
Many in Alberta’s deaf community believe a move by one of Alberta’s colleges could end up with their basic human rights being violated – after news that Lakeland College is cutting a number of programs, including sign language studies, was released.
While a total of nine programs will not be accepting new students next year – the deaf community is concerned about two programs: American Sign Language and deaf culture studies, and sign language interpretation.
Both programs are offered in Edmonton at the University of Alberta.
Calvin Novak uses an interpreter to communicate, but he’s concerned about what the change at Lakeland College could mean.
“My access becomes denied, I become a second class citizen,” Novak said.
The cuts are part of efforts the college is making to deal with a $4 million deficit in the 2013-2014 year.
“There’s nothing wrong with these nine programs,” Lakeland College President Glenn Charles said in a Skype interview from Vermilion. “They are nine good programs, but we had to balance a budget.”
“To even suspend this program continues the suppression of the deaf, they don’t have a voice without interpreters,” American Sign Language student Dawn Fejell said.
Many in the community argued closing the program creates a barrier to their basic human right – protected by the United Nations – to have access to communication.
“Obviously, a deaf community requires access through sign language and interpreters, and when you cut off access to trained, qualified sign language interpreters you put them at risk,” Debra Russell said.
Some in the deaf community believe the cut translates to a broken promise from the provincial government – as it’s a direct result of $147 million cut in the provincial budget for post-secondary institutions.
When the budget was released, the province said cuts won’t affect the vulnerable.
“We feel like we’ve gone back to the dark ages,” Sign language instructor Sandra Reid said. “We won’t have the accessibility that we need.”
The program will end in 2014 – other programs affected by the change include academic upgrading, practical nursing, office administration, Bachelor of applied business: emergency services degree, and paramedic.
The college said those courses accounted for 277 of the college’s 2,216 full course load equivalents in 2011-2012.
While the programs won’t accept new students, current students will be able to complete their studies.
With files from Serena Mah