Sign Here, Please?

Accessibility is at the heart of the Canadian medical system. We often think of accessibility as our ability to receive medical care regardless of geography, income, or if you’re a persons with a disability. For a moment, I’d like you to think about accessibility in terms of wait time. After all, doesn’t increased wait time impede our access to health care?

Now, I’m not writing about how long it takes Canadian’s to see a doctor; space here is limited. I’m writing about the wait time faced by the hearing impaired. Imagine this: you arrive at the hospital needing urgent care. You sign to the triage nurse that this is an emergency. The nurse responds in pseudo-sign language the “one moment please” finger while she furiously tries to find an American Sign Language trained staff member. After 30 minutes, you are finally able to get the care that you need. You breathe a sigh of relief.

This is a problem faced by over 310 000 Canadians. Language services providers (LSP) have found a solution. It’s what those in the industry have dubbed VRI or Video Remote Interpreting. For the first time, doctors and nurses will be able to access an American Sign Language interpreter almost instantly; an invaluable tool in those crucial moments. But VRI isn’t limited to sign language only.

Here’s how it works. Let’s say an emergency room physician gets a patient that speaks only Tamil. The doctor would sign into a web-based application, where they would request a Tamil to English interpreter. They would then be linked through a two-way video interface to the interpreter. This is significant because visual cues are sometimes critical in aiding the doctor’s diagnoses of the issue.

Basically, what we are seeing here is the on-demand aspects of over-the-phone interpretation coupled with the amount of information that can be processed by an onsite interpreter. No longer will clients have to choose between quickness and descriptiveness. They can have both.

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