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Quebec in desperate need for sign language interpreters in French and English

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Quebec has a desperate need for sign language interpreters, in both French and English.

There are currently only around 250 interpreters across the province, but advocates say there needs to be double that number to meet the demand.

"If we don't have a pool of interpreters to feed the system, then the system is always going to be at a loss," said Cynthia Benoit, at Service D'Interprétation Visuel et Tactile (SIVET).

SIVET is a non-profit that recruits and places sign language interpreters for health-care and government services.

Benoit is Deaf and works with an interpreter. She says the lack of interpreters greatly impacts deaf people, especially when they need to go to school or the doctor.

"The doctor's not able to explain everything clearly to the patient. For example, the consequences of the diagnosis or the treatment. And so it affects not only the deaf person, but also that health-care professional just trying to do their job," she told CTV News.

According to advocates, there has been a 350 per cent increase in the demand for interpretation services since 2016 because of video relay service.

The service allows people with hearing disabilities to use sign language to communicate over the phone.

"It became like 24/7. So you need more and more interpreters like to be ready to answer the call and translate," said Valerie Fontaine, Federation du personnel de soutien de l'enseignement supérieur president.

Fontaine is the president of a union representing interpreters working at CEGEPs and universities.

Out of its roughly 150 members, only one does American sign language (ASL), and he's set to retire soon.

Fontaine says the shortage is catastrophic on the English side. There are only about seven full-time ASL interpreters in the entire province.

"(The) English Deaf community will not be able to have service as good services, professional services, and they won't be able to make it at school, at colleges and universities," said Fontaine.

She says there are no American sign language courses offered in Quebec, and Quebec sign language interpretation is not widely promoted as a career.

Benoit believes sign language needs to be taught at a younger age, perhaps starting in high school.

"Start sign language training there so that those students could become interested in becoming an interpreter," said Benoit.

The training is needed so all Deaf people can get the services they need, and are legally required to get, no matter the language they speak. 

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