As Ottawa’s Canadian Hearing Society employees continue to walk the picket line, members of the local deaf and hard of hearing community are standing with them.
Gatineau resident Angèle Charlebois, 47, says she has been a client of the Canadian Hearing Society for many years.
When she moved to Ottawa 14 years ago, the first thing Charlebois did was contact CHS Ottawa, and they were able to help her find a job within a year.
“CHS has significantly contributed to the successes I have lived in my life,” says Charlebois. She is now a federal public civil servant working at Canadian Heritage, where she helps accommodate managers and employees with disabilities.
When Charlebois was around 27 years old, her hearing loss started to have a negative impact on her life. Now she wears a hearing aid and is assisted by her hearing ear dog guide, Candy.
“I consider myself an advocate for people with disabilities, both in my professional and personal life,” says Charlebois, who also does volunteer work in her community. “Going to CHS was the best thing I ever did in my life.”
Lois McIntyre, 58, is also a CHS client. Not only that, but the Barrhaven resident is also a general support services counsellor with CHS.
She considers it part of her job to advocate for the rights of the deaf and hard of hearing in Ottawa.
The strike has affected McIntyre in different ways, as both a client and an employee.
“I’ve been having trouble with one of my hearing aids lately,” McIntyre says through a translator. “Those services aren’t available to me right now. But the biggest issue is that I have trouble getting an interpreter when I need one.”
CHS vice-president Gary Malkowski says he recognizes that their clients truly value their services and despite the strike, CHS is working to reschedule appointments for clients that are in urgent need of support.
Malkowski says, in order to offer the best possible service during the strike, CHS recently expanded their services for certain programs, including counselling, hearing healthcare and interpreting.
“Some clients have directly expressed to us that they are grateful that we have been able to fill their interpreting needs despite the strike,” he says.
Ottawa’s deaf and hard-of-hearing community has been helpful by coming together to support CHS employees during the strike, according to McIntyre.
Since there’s no support group for clients available right now, McIntyre says the clients join them on the picket line instead. They also bring food and are extremely outspoken on Facebook.
“They want us to go back to work,” says McIntyre. “They want us to be able to come to a reasonable negotiation and we do too.”
Charlebois says she is happy to give back to the organization that has helped her so much over the years, from teaching LSQ (Quebec sign language) to helping her make friends and finding ways for her to get involved in Ottawa’s anglophone and francophone deaf communities.
However, Charlebois feels it’s important for people to be aware of how the strike has affected both the staff and Ottawa’s deaf and hard of hearing community.
“It is very unfortunate that CHS staff have been without a contract for four years now,” says Charlebois. “It is equally disappointing to see that talks have broken (down) between CHS and CUPE (the union that represents staff). I hope a collective agreement can be achieved sooner than later.”
Malkowski says that although there seems to be no resolution on the horizon today, he hopes CUPE and CHS will be able to come to a reasonable agreement soon.
“Everything we do is focused on the clients we serve across Ontario,” Malkowski says. “Our commitment is to ensure that no individual is at risk and we continue to work to deliver high quality professional services to the public who have trusted us for more than 75 years.”