Yesterday I posted a series of signed Stories on Instagram. I did this for two reasons: to give hearing people a taste of what it’s like to be singled out.
Mostly, I did it because, given the context, it was more appropriate to explain in sign language.
Since moving back to BC, I had been putting off getting on the waitlist for a family doctor knowing the outcome was likely to be upsetting.
This has been the worst thing about getting older as a deaf person: I’ve become hideously jaded. Our success rate of fighting for access is so marginal. Well-meaning family and friends try rooting us on, “You should complain! You should put all your heart into fighting this stressful thing that I didn’t even know could be an issue.”
To get waitlisted, I had to make a phone call. As a deaf person, I have access to video relay service, which lets me connect with voice telephone users via a sign language interpreter. This is a great service but has its drawbacks. To use it, I need a reliable internet connection and either a computer with a webcam or a smartphone with a front-facing camera. I have both.
The only time I use this service is to connect with government services, such as Revenu Québec or HealthLink BC, which often have hours that coincide with regular working hours. It’s not as simple as making a phone call at work during my break: I need to wait until I’m home to make the call. I must call because government services don’t have the option of using email. It’s for security reasons, they say. But please do file your tax return online! Your personal information will be protected!
Medical Interpreting Services is another government-funded service available to sign language users. This service was implemented after three deaf people took their case to the Supreme Court of Canada in 1997. (Eldridge v. British Columbia) This meant before 1997, sign language users had to rely on the goodwill and signing skills of their friends or family members. Many sign language users struggle to communicate in writing as access to education isn’t great for many deaf people.
Although I am comfortable with communicating via the tedious paper and pen method, I have found that many doctors are impatient and end up doing the bare minimum. I don’t remember ever having a full conversation with a doctor without a medical interpreter present.
To book an interpreter for a medical appointment, though, requires having an appointment. Therefore, I cannot make use of the medical interpreting service for walk-in clinic visits.
The first call I made was to HealthLink BC. They informed me that there is such a shortage of family doctors in Victoria that there is no waitlist. Books closed! I then explained to them how walk-in clinics aren’t accessible to me because I wouldn’t be able to get a medical interpreter. The person I conversed with suggested that I call a few different clinics to request that they make an exception and set up an appointment for me.
I do this. The receptionist at the first walk-in clinic I called was thrown off by the video relay interpreter who went on to explain how the service worked. After I made my case for getting an appointment, this receptionist put me on hold to have a chat with their manager. A few minutes later of awkwardly staring at the video relay interpreter, the receptionist said:
“We cannot make an exception for you. If we do this, we’d have to do it for everybody else.”
In their mind, I was asking for preferential treatment. But, I do not have the privilege of visiting a walk-in clinic and getting full access to medical services, like most Canadians.
The receptionist attempted to sympathize with me by telling me that they had a deaf brother. This is like having men tell women that they understand how threatened women feel when men harass them on the streets because they have a wife/mother/sister. Besides, the initial confusion over the video relay service call was a clear sign that this person wasn’t familiar with accessibility issues, deaf relative or not.
They also suggested that I do it the old fashioned way by recruiting a friend or a family member to act as an interpreter. NOT AWKWARD AT ALL! (This is how my mother learned that I was secretly taking birth control pills behind her back in 2000. You can read about this here.) I should have asked the receptionist if they could interpret for me.
I got a recorded message from the second clinic I called. The third clinic told me that they couldn’t help.
Fuck it. I was maxed out on disappointment for the day and it wasn’t even noon.
I have been told by hearing people, that I need to “wait in line like everybody else.” But there’s no line for me to wait in. The fucking door is locked.
Sure I could “wait in line like everybody else” to receive half-assed medical service from a doctor who has no clue how to communicate with me and cannot be arsed to spend extra time communicating by paper and pen.
ALSO, HAVE YOU SEEN DOCTORS’ HANDWRITING?
I do not want to give hearing people the expectation that all sign language users can make do without an interpreter. This matter was taken to the Supreme Court of Canada for a reason!
Seriously, is the idea of getting an appointment at a walk-in clinic so fucking awesome that hearing people would give up their hearing for this “perk”? If so many people feel so strongly about fairness, where are they when it comes to disabled people gaining access to all the things abled people have? Be consistent, dammit.
PS- If anyone uses their proximity to me to be shitty to disabled people, I WILL FUCK THEM UP.