Interpreter Jonathan Oslund of Kelowna at the Lake Country all-candidate's meting

Election 2015: Lake Country deaf advocate finally informed to vote

Arlene Brenner fights for interpreters and Lake Country Chamber steps up at last week's forum

For the first time in her lifetime, Arlene Brenner is fully informed and ready to vote in this year’s federal election.

The Lake Country resident, legally deaf since birth, says this year’s election campaign, including Wednesday’s all candidate’s forum in Lake Country, was the first time she truly was able to follow an election forum.

A pair of interpreters provided sign language at the forum, held by the Lake Country Chamber of Commerce and featuring the three candidates for federal office in Kelowna-Lake Country.

“It was a wonderful learning experience,” Brenner wrote in an e-mail to the Lake Country Calendar. “Now I know who to vote for. It’s the first time in my life. I have not been able to attend because they were not communication accessible for years.”

Brenner, who ran for municipal council in Lake Country last year, has been an advocate for the deaf, hard of hearing and people suffering with late hearing loss, and has been pushing for more accessible meetings and the ability to follow things like council meetings, all candidate’s forums and other events.

During last year’s municipal election, she was unable to follow questions during meetings as no interpreters were provided. But she kept pushing and with the help of the Lake Country Chamber, she was able to get informed about the federal election this time around.

“In the last municipal election we became aware how difficult it was going to be to have Arlene aware of questions and of what her fellow candidates were saying in answering these questions,” said Chamber manager Corrinne Cross-Franson. “When we started planning this federal election forum Arlene worked with us to see about funding for an interpreter.”

After finding a pair of Lake Country sign language interpreters and working out the funding of who would pay (the Chamber picked up the tab) Brenner and others in the hard of hearing community were able to understand what was taking place.

Brenner says it’s an ongoing issue that she has been fighting for her entire life. She says people take for granted their hearing and many public events don’t take into account the fact that there is a large hard of hearing community, not just people who are deaf but also seniors and others who have hearing loss. She says the next step is having closed captioning available for those who are hard of hearing and can’t understand sign language.

“Arlene is a great advocate and has certainly brought awareness of the challenges she faces to our attention,” said Cross-Franson.

As for Brenner she says she is ready to vote and it is a great relief to finally be fully aware and informed to cast her ballot.

“I’m very pleased with everything,” she said. “I’m hoping next time we will be better prepared with funding for interpreters and having real time captions for everyone.”