Cuts to sign language studies at college anger deaf community

Many in Alberta’s deaf community say they are angered by a decision by Lakeland College to eliminate programs in American Sign Language and deaf culture studies, and sign language interpretation. The two programs are among nine being shut down at the college in Vermilion, Alta.

EDMONTON — Many in Alberta’s deaf community say they are angered by a decision by Lakeland College to eliminate programs in American Sign Language and deaf culture studies, and sign language interpretation.

The two programs are among nine being shut down at the college in Vermilion, Alta.

Some instructors and students are blaming the recent provincial budget, which cut $147 million in funding to post-secondary institutions.

When the budget was released, Premier Alison Redford promised it would not affect what she called “vulnerable people.”

Opponents say closing the programs will create a barrier to a basic human right guaranteed to deaf people by the United Nations — to have access to communication.

Sign language instructor Sandra Reid says it feels like a return to the dark ages.

“We won’t have the accessibility that we need,” she said. “It happens on a regular basis where we are invisible. We need to be heard.”

Calvin Novak uses an interpreter to communicate with the hearing world and is concerned about what the change at Lakeland College could mean.

“My access becomes denied, I become a second-class citizen,” Novak said. “The world at large will look at the deaf community and say, ’oh, well, you can’t do those things; you can’t function in the way that we do.’ And I think we’ll just get pushed aside.”

“To even suspend this program continues the suppression of the deaf, they don’t have a voice without interpreters,” said Dawn Fejell, a student in the American Sign Language program.

Administrators 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,” said college president Glenn Charles. “They are nine good programs, but we had to balance a budget.”

Advanced Education Minister Thomas Lukaszuk said all schools have to deal with their budgets with the goal of minimizing the impact to students.

Both of the programs for deaf students are offered in Edmonton at the University of Alberta.

The Lakeland program will end in 2014. New students won’t be accepted but current students will be able to complete their studies.

Other programs affected by the change include academic upgrading, practical nursing, office administration, bachelor of applied business, emergency services and paramedic courses.