The issue

Deaf Canadians are not taught or trained to participate in politics; they find the Canadian political system difficult to fully understand; their rate of participation and activity in politics is very low; political/public forums and meetings are usually inaccessible for them.

Our position

Deaf Canadians must be provided with the training, information, and opportunities to become knowledgeable and active political players.

In 1992, the Canadian Association of the Deaf – Association des Sourds du Canada conducted the first-ever Canadian survey and study of the political participation and activity of Deaf and disabled people. The results found that Deaf people in particular are socialized by family, school, society, and the media to be passive, lacking in knowledge of politics, uninterested in the subject, and convinced that “politics is a hearie thing”.

These findings were later confirmed by a Master’s thesis in political science which was eventually published as The Politics of Visual Language: Deafness, Language Choice, and Political Socialization (James Roots, 1999, Carleton University Press).

Political training begins with the family. Deaf children are usually left out of family negotiations and decision-making, even where the decision being made is one that affects only the deaf child, such as the decisions about whether s/he will be taught Sign language, and whether s/he will be schooled at centralized Deaf schools or in regular schools. The consequence is that the child comes to believe s/he has no power over his/her own fate and has no say in the decisions affecting his/her life.

Schools reinforce this feeling of political inefficacy (powerlessness). Lessons may be taught in languages which are not the child’s own, i.e. English/French instead of ASL/LSQ: this tells the child his/her language has no political recognition. Deaf role-models, teachers, and administrators are not present except in provincial schools for the Deaf: this tells the child that Deaf people have no political role. Deaf culture and history are not taught: this tells the child it has no political validity. Even student council politics may be discouraged or abolished: this deprives the Deaf child of an opportunity to gain political experience and understanding.

Elections Canada has made good efforts to improve the accessibility of elections for Deaf people, but there are still problems with the lack of captioned political programming and advertising on television and websites. Election debates are not difficult to stream online with accompanying optional Sign language interpretation, yet broadcasters in Canada continue to whine falsely to the CRTC that the technology is beyond their capabilities. In provincial and municipal elections, Deaf people are still required to bring and pay their own interpreters at the polling-station; Elections Canada is working towards changing this situation by providing remote video interpreting … in time for the 2019 federal election!

The political parties of Canada have made no effort to address Deaf issues or to recruit Deaf people for candidacy. When Deaf organizations or individuals ask their elected representatives to speak out on Deaf issues, the representative will usually do so once, so s/he is “on record” as having championed Deaf Canadians; there is no follow-through even if the Deaf organization or person continues asking, probably because the representative does not see enough votes in any Deaf concern.

Local riding associations are especially poor at seeking and welcoming Deaf participation. No financial support is provided for nominees who require interpreters, live captioning, or other support services. Even school councils actively discourage the participation of Deaf persons by claiming they cannot afford the costs of providing interpreters for meetings.

Working for the government is also being a part of the political process. According to the federal Treasury Board, only 1.1 percent of federal employees in 2001 were Deaf or hard of hearing. This is totally unacceptable. Most of these Deaf employees are low-level employees, temporary workers, and contract workers, a situation that makes them “last to be hired, first to be fired”. Action must be taken by all levels of government to move Deaf workers into positions of equality and authority with non-Deaf workers.

The Canadian Association of the Deaf – Association des Sourds du Canada made sixty recommendations for action in its 1992 study, PAH!-litics, including the following:

  • early childhood intervention should include teaching the parents how to include their Deaf child in the family politics, and how to recognize the politics involved in any situation touched by the fact of deafness;
  • there should be compulsory courses in Canadian politics in all schools (Deaf and non-Deaf alike), taught by teachers trained and qualified for political education, and employing innovative and challenging methodologies;
  • real power should be given to student councils, with participation being worth academic credits;
  • universities should create Deafness political studies, and hire Deaf people to teach them;
  • governments should enact strong, pro-active legislation requiring fully accessible political broadcasting, employment equity practices in the media, and the integration of Deaf/disabled programming and issues;
  • financial and resource support should be provided to Deaf and disabled consumer organizations to enable them to carry out non-partisan political workshops for their membership at least biannually (every two years);
  • full accessibility of political party organization meetings and information must be provided;
  • political parties should undertake the active recruitment of Deaf members and election candidates;
  • Elections Canada and the provincial and municipal election authorities should provide 100 percent reimbursement of extra expenses undertaken during an election campaign by candidates who are Deaf or disabled, regardless of the number of votes they receive;
  • there must be greater representation of Deaf and disabled people in government, civil service, business and unions, regulatory agencies, and commissions;
  • training programs for the Deaf must be provided in the fields of self-awareness, self-assertion, empowerment, independence, participation, leadership, networking, information analysis, and implementation.

It is a sad comment on Canadian politics that the findings and recommendations we made nearly 25 years (and five Prime Ministers) ago are still entirely valid today.

Recommended reading: “PAH!-LITICS”: Deaf and Disabled Political Participation and Activity, by James Roots, Canadian Association of the Deaf, 1992.

Recommended reading: The Politics of Visual Language: Deafness, Language Choice, and Political Socialization, by James Roots, Carleton University Press, 1999.


The Canadian Association of the Deaf – Association des Sourds du Canada
606 – 251 Bank Street
Ottawa, ON K2P 1X3
(613) 565-2882