Deaf since birth

Deaf since birth

Service loss silences mom and daughter

Deaf since birth, Arlene Brenner communicates via American Sign Language, reading lips, social networking and e-mail

Arlene Brenner is used to living in a silent world.

Deaf since birth, the Vernon-raised resident communicates through various means including American Sign Language,  reading lips, social networking and e-mail.

Although she is able to speak, Brenner, who now lives in Lake Country, cannot use the telephone in the same way as those in the hearing world can. Having to rely on Facebook and texting to communicate with friends and colleagues, Brenner cannot call the person most important to her.

That’s because Brenner’s mother, Isabel, who lives at Coldstream Meadows, is blind.

Since 2009, Brenner has relied on the video relay system (VRS) to communicate with her mother when they have been apart.

Used in the U.S., the VRS was introduced to Canada as a feasibility study done by the Canadian-Radio Television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).

The service involves a deaf person signing via a videophone linked through the Internet to a sign language interpreter. The interpreter then relays the conversation vocally to the hearing recipient.

For the past 18 months, Telus offered the service on a trial basis, providing approximately 300 people in B.C. and Alberta with video phones and access to the service.

However, as of Jan. 15, funding for the VRS was cut off, and now both the deaf community and their families are rallying the Radio Television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to reinstate the service.

With the lines silenced, Brenner is worried about how she is going to be able to speak with her mother, but also with others in the hearing world.

“I can’t text or e-mail her because she can’t see and I don’t want to overwhelm or confuse  her with new technology. She is very angry and sad that the video relay service is cut off in B.C. and Alberta,” said Brenner.

“Video is the best for hearing and deaf people to communicate because of the visual language.

We’re hoping to have VRS wireless across Canada.”

Brenner has been in Vancouver the past two weeks campaigning the federal government and the CRTC to reinstate the VRS.

She attended a rally in front of the CRTC’s office in Vancouver Jan. 13, and has since been communicating with politicians, the media (including The Morning Star) and her mother using a friend’s TTY (teletypewriter).

The TTY user types out his/her message which is relayed via a telephone operator who then relays the text vocally to the hearing recipient. Telus still provides the service here in B.C.

“We were using the VRS the last two weeks to contact MPs in the Vancouver area. Now we’re trying to reach them by TTY, which is like going back to the 1970s. It is so slow and very hard to get your message across,” said Brenner, adding her TTY at home is broken and will cost too much to repair.

“Last year I had a flat tire and I couldn’t contact BCAA because there was no service or TTY number. Without this service, I can’t make a doctor or dentist’s appointment. I have to drive everywhere and have to see them in person. I’m often asked why I can’t call, and I have to explain to people that I can’t hear.

“There is also no other way to communicate with my blind mom and no way for her to contact me either.”

Brenner and fellow campaigners are hoping to reach at least 25 MPs to sign a petition by Jan. 29.

So far, Brenner and her fellow campaigners have met with New Westminster MP Peter Julian and a scheduled appointment with Okanagan-Shuswap MP Colin Mayes had to be postponed, she said.

“His assistant is requesting me to email him and I will do that… and the same with MLA Eric Foster,” said Brenner.

“We want to push harder to bring back the VRS forever, and include service in French, English ASL and LSQ (Quebec Sign Language).”