David Burke waited over 60 years to be able to communicate with the world. And with the help of relatively new technology, that wait is over. Burke is deaf.
The 66-year-old Winnipegger said that for most of his life he had very few options when it came to connecting with people. "If I was sick I would still have to physically go to work, inform them that I was sick and then return home. If I wanted to go visit a friend I would have to physically go to them and see if they're home, and if they weren't home, I would have to come back," Burke said. But that's all in the past.
Burke now uses the Canada Video Relay Service (VRS) — a national telecommunication service that allows people who are deaf or hard of hearing to make direct phone calls to anyone in North America. He said it has changed his life forever. "I remember my first call. It was so clear. I was so happy and thankful," Burke said. "I feel more equal to the hearing population." David Burke, who is deaf, says new technology known as Canada Video Relay Service has changed his life forever. (Submitted by David Burke) Burke said deaf people prefer to use their first language — which is usually sign language — instead of their second language because they're more comfortable signing and communicating that way.
According to Canada VRS's website, interpreters are available to provide services in four languages: ASL, LSQ, English and French. He said text and email don't allow for the same freedom of communication. VRS is the closest he's ever come to speaking directly with the hearing community. "For me, I have my computer open and there is a video that I see the interpreter who has a headset on in order to communicate [with the person on the phone] and can be hands-free in order to communicate with me. The interpreter can see me signing and I can see them signing and they can hear [the person] speaking and [the person] can hear them speaking." VRS was introduced across Canada in 2017.
Today it has over 300 certified interpreters and over 7,000 registered users. It's available 24/7, year-round. It allows the user to make and receive phone calls, as well as take and leave messages. Battle for better communication Diane Underschultz, a community outreach specialist for Canada VRS, said this technology has been widely available in the U.S. for over 25 years but it was a bit of an uphill battle to bring it to Canada. "The deaf community tried to advocate with the [Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission] and they were the one's kind of rebelling against it," Underschultz said. "It was all about the money." But the community didn't give up.
Underschultz says the Canadian Association of the Deaf spent over a decade in negotiations with the arm's-length federal telecommunications regulators before finally gaining approval and funding. Now, the national commission provides funding for private call centres to hire certified interpreters. For deaf users, the service is completely free. All they need is a device and a connection to the internet.