A city provides swimming lessons for deaf children.

Imagine an indoor, public pool: bare feet and colorful swimsuits, the smell of chlorine, the sound of splashing and the echoes of children’s excited voices. Now picture two small boys taking it all in.

Are they excited? Nervous? They watch people circle the pool with bare feet, and they smell the ever-present chlorine. But while they see the cascade of water, they don’t hear the splash. They see smiling children in colorful swimsuits, but they don’t hear their excited voices.

That’s because those two little boys, Nishan and Nirav, are deaf. And while the first day of swimming lessons can be daunting for any child, it’s especially so for the two brothers, ages five and six.

“They feel like they’re not prioritized, and that they’re the bottom of the pack,” said their mother, Amandeep Saggu.

Frustrated by Swimming Lessons

That’s because they can’t easily communicate with the swim instructor. They have to wait patiently for their turn. They have to be extra observant of what’s happening when the other kids take their turns, because the brothers can’t hear the instructions.

For Nishan and Nirav, as well as for their mother, it was frustrating. Saggu knew that her boys could learn to swim just like any other child.

But, after a few sessions of sitting on the sidelines, they no longer wanted to go to swimming lessons. It wasn’t that they were afraid to get in the pool—it was that they felt left out.

According to ASL interpreter Robyn Lavender, in many situations, it’s not about what a deaf child can or cannot do. “I think it’s more a matter of feeling welcome in a space,” she said.

Access Is Important

And a public pool is just one of those spaces where people who are deaf or hard of hearing could use some extra help. So the city of Edmonton, Alberta, decided to run a pilot program to support these people in their community. The one-year-long project provides communication services and technologies to deaf members of the community in places where they need it most. 

Heather Craig, the program manager, explained how people who need the service drive the service offering. “We have some people who like to use interpreters and some people who like to use real-time captioners. We’ve also had requests to just have additional staff come in and do more demonstrations.”

Saggu requested an interpreter to assist her sons in their swimming class, and she says it has made all the difference. The boys now look forward to going to the pool. “They have people to look up to,” Saggu said. “It’s not just about the fact that they’re deaf. They’re there and they’re participating and they can play and do the same things as the other kids.” 

ASL interpreter Robyn Lavender agrees. She learned sign language in order to be able to communicate with a childhood friend. She’s now a full-time interpreter for Edmonton’s pilot project. While the pool may be an unusual workplace, Lavender’s goal is the same: to give deaf people the tools to learn and engage like anyone else.

Granting their deaf and hard-of-hearing citizens the same services as the rest of the population is the goal of the city’s new program. They hope it will be of value to citizens and remain an offering for years to come. 

Access is important. It allows all people to participate and to feel a part of their community. By offering this program, the city has opened its arms a little wider and made itself a better place to live.

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