Deaf elementary student yet to be assigned an interpreter for the school year

·4 min read
Allison Chandler with her mom Heather, dad Andrew and brother Leland. (Submitted by Heather Chandler - image credit)
Allison Chandler with her mom Heather, dad Andrew and brother Leland. (Submitted by Heather Chandler - image credit)

Imagine trying to learn in a classroom without sound.

That's the reality for deaf students like Allison Chandler who heavily rely on the support of educational interpreters.

As of Wednesday, she had yet to be assigned one for her Grade 5 year at Rothesay Elementary, according to Allison's mom, Heather Chandler.

Heather said if arrangements aren't made before classes start on Sept. 6, she will be keeping her daughter at home.

"Why would we send her there to be isolated completely from everybody around her and then have it in her face constantly that she is not valuable enough to be able to access what's going on in the classroom," she said. "I do not support that whatsoever, so she will not be going to school."

Interpreters hard to find

Educational interpreters use spoken and sign language to communicate information between hearing people, including teachers, and students who are deaf.

These services are organized through the Atlantic Provinces Special Education Authority, or APSEA,  It's an interprovincial co-operative agency that provides educational support for children and youth who are deaf, hard of hearing, blind or visually impaired in Atlantic Canada.

No one with the agency was available for an interview.

In a statement, New Brunswick Department of Education spokesperson Morgan Bell said it's important that every child has equal opportunity, but educational interpreters are hard to come by.

"There are currently three educational interpreter positions in the province. Due to a nationwide shortage of trained American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters, one of the three positions is unfilled," the statement said.

Success, then an end to help

Chandler said Allison, who communicates in American Sign Language, was paired with both an educational interpreter and a deaf professional in kindergarten and Grade 1.

Unlike the interpreter, the deaf professional is a member of the deaf community and uses ASL as their first language.  Heather said this person was able to fill in the blanks for Allison during the school day as she learned the language.

"It was wildly successful," Chandler said. "Her language took off. I was, like, left in the dust trying to keep up with her, and then they told me that they didn't want to do that anymore, and they felt that she had good enough language."

In Grades 2, 3, and 4, Allison had an educational interpreter, but Heather said without the deaf professional she wasn't fully accessing the classroom.

This year, Heather is wondering why nothing at all has been lined up for her daughter.

"I understand the resources are low, but I don't feel that it's a surprise that Allison's going into Grade 5," she said. "I'm not sure why this is a last-minute thing."


Joann Bourque is a member of the Saint John deaf community and spent 13 years working for the special education authority. For a time, she was Allison's deaf professional.

Bourque said too frequently deaf children in New Brunswick head into the school year without an interpreter.

"School ended in June, they should have been out looking for interpreters, but generally what happens is APSEA waits until the last minute and that raises concerns," she said in ASL, which was then conveyed into spoken English through an interpreter.

"It's an added stress for parents and kids."

Bourque was born deaf and went through three grade levels before going to the school for deaf children in Amherst, N.S., where she learned ASL. Based on her experience, she said it's impossible for deaf students to receive a quality education without an interpreter.

Can't learn without interpreters

"If they don't have an interpreter, how are they going to learn? There's no communication, so you're just watching a teacher in front of the classroom and not getting the information. They must have an interpreter present at least so they know what's going on in the classroom."

Bourque said this lack of support can lead to serious consequences for deaf students, such as mental health challenges and a lack of job opportunities.

Submitted by Heather Chandler
Submitted by Heather Chandler

Allison is anxious about starting school in a couple of weeks, according to her mother.

"She's waking up every day saying, 'I don't have to go to school, right? I'm not going back there, right?'" Chandler said. "It's not a fun place for her to be."

Chandler said an educational interpreter is the bare minimum her daughter and other deaf students deserve.

"This just reeks of undervalued," she said. "It's been so disheartening."