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Clarence Barber shows the sign for pride. He says the ASL interpreter program in Yukon has changed his life. The program, which started as a pilot in 2012, recently received permanent funding. (CBC/George Maratos) 0 comments

Clarence Barber grew up in Dawson City, Yukon, as one of the only deaf people.

Barber is a member of the Tr’ondek Hwech’in First Nation, but didn’t really learn much about his culture until he had access to an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter through the Yukon government.

Two years ago, Barber took an interpreter to Moosehide, an Indigenous cultural gathering held every two years in Dawson City. It was the first time he could speak directly to his elders and learn about his traditions.

"I had no idea about my culture, I had no idea about Native things," said Barber. "They were so happy to be able to chat with me." Clarence Barber dancing at the Moosehide gathering in Dawson City. When he was able to bring a ASL interpreter with him to the event, he was able to learn more about his culture and history. (Clarence Barber ) The Yukon ASL program provides an accredited interpreter, for free, to any Yukoner who would like to communicate with a deaf or partly deaf person.

The program started in 2012 as a pilot, in response to demands from the deaf and partly deaf community. It was extended in 2014, and last month the Yukon government announced permanent funding for the program, at $170,000 per year.

The program is supposed to make access to the service as barrier-free as possible. Anyone who would like to use an interpreter can call, text or email Yukon’s only accredited interpreter with their request.

"When the program became permanent, it was like the door just swung wide open and we have a lot more freedom," said Gerard Tremblay, a member of the deaf community who helped create the program. He said he was very emotional at the announcement of the funding.

"My life got better [when the program started]. Before, there was so many frustrations, there was a lot of anxiety and a lot of feeling not involved and pushed aside — and I wanted that communication," said Tremblay. Gerard Tremblay, a member of Yukon’s deaf community, has worked tirelessly advocating the importance of the ASL interpreter program in the territory. Tremblay is a carpenter for the Yukon government and has lived in the territory for 25 years.

Before, he moved around, living previously in Fort Smith, N.W.T. where there was one other deaf person in the community. He struggled to find work because of his disability and when he did, he was often underpaid.

"You couldn’t really fight or stand up for yourself because there wasn’t an interpreter to voice for what you needed," said Tremblay.

Barber had similar problems getting jobs lower than his qualification as a Red Seal chef. Using the Yukon interpreter, he was able to land a job as a chef at Copper Ridge Place in Whitehorse. The interpreter

Interpreter Amanda Smith’s days are filled with things like doctor appointments, work meetings and parent-teacher interviews.

There about 14 people living in Yukon who identify as deaf or partly deaf, she says. But more people actually use the service she provides.

"The number is very large, if you think about how many interactions deaf people have with hearing people everyday," said Smith.

When Smith was 11 years old, she was diagnosed with meningitis while on holiday with her family. Her parents were told there was a good chance she would lose her hearing.She did not.But Smith became curious about what a world without hearing would have been […]

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