It was a cool, Friday evening in the Fall. I had just finished my dinner and was catching up on my new favourite T.V. show, when my work phone began ringing. As I glanced at my phone, I realized that it was DBCS’s Emergency Intervenor Services (EIS) calling.

The EIS program provides 24/7 access to intervenor support for DBCS clients in Ontario in emergency situations.

My heart was beating fast, as this was the first emergency intervenor call that I had ever been available and able to take. The dispatcher provided a few details and asked if I could take the assignment, and I accepted.

I notified my manager and supervisors right away, and then quickly got my things together and went to support the client. This was not someone I had ever worked with before, but with the support of my manager, I was provided with some necessary information to ensure I could be as prepared as possible before working with this individual. I knew this was an American Sign Language (ASL) user, and so my manager also provided me the name and number of the Canadian Hearing Services (CHS) Emergency Interpreter just in case I might require extra support.

Sometimes when communicating complex concepts like legal terminology or medical information, an interpreter can provide additional support in reducing barriers to communication and understanding.

Because the client was a high-level ASL user who needed to communicate some complex health information, I had a feeling that I might need that extra support. During the time of the visit, virtual interpreters were primarily used due to COVID-19 restrictions. Once we were connected virtually with the interpreter from CHS, we got to work straight away.

When the doctor came in to assess the client, I worked as a team with the interpreter to try and communicate as best we could between the client and the doctor, but we were having some challenges. After the doctor left, the client was referred to see an in-house specialist who would be available shortly. The interpreter quickly said, “Bethany, I have been doing this for 18 years, and I need to tell you – we need a Deaf Interpreter.” While Deaf and hearing interpreters both provide high levels of interpretation for consumers, there is a difference between the interpretation style of the two. Deaf interpreters are native signers from birth, which means there are cultural norms, phrases and words that are incorporated into each message, providing a higher level of understanding for a consumer and natural fluency.

Having a Deaf interpreter during a medical emergency can provide level of clarification that can help to ease potential anxiety or stress of a person in that situation.

Once again, my heart started beating fast. I had never been in this situation before, but I was ready to do whatever was necessary to support the client. It was past midnight at this point, so I said, “If you can find someone that’s still awake, let’s do it!”

The CHS team was amazing and was able to get a Deaf Interpreter very quickly. 30 minutes later, when the specialist appointment happened, we were all set up and began working as a team. The specialist was extremely patient as we had quite a communication pyramid happening: When the client signed, the hearing interpreter would relay what the client said to the Deaf Interpreter, and then the Deaf Interpreter would sign directly to the client and clarify any information. I would then use tactile ASL, a method of communication that relies heavily on touch, with the client to reinforce any additional information and share anything else of relevancy with the interpreters.

An intervenor demonstrates how tactile ASL works with a client. The signer communicates using ASL, and the person receiving uses their hands to feel the signs as they are made.
An intervenor demonstrates how tactile ASL works with a client. The signer communicates using ASL, and the person receiving uses their hands to feel the signs as they are made.

While this felt intense at the time, it was exhilarating to work with such a supportive team in a high-stress environment. A few months earlier, DBCS had set up some training for intervenors led by a seasoned interpreter, and that training really helped me feel prepared for this situation. I ultimately felt empowered as an intervenor, but most importantly, I was grateful to work with a team so that we could support each other to eliminate any barriers through the use of communication and technology, and ensure the client was able to access information through their preferred communication style.

As I reflect on this experience, I know it will stay with me throughout my career as an intervenor, and I am grateful to DBCS for their continued support in providing training to intervenors so that we can be prepared for any situation.

A headshot of BethanyBy: Bethany Cleghorne