The issue

Social security and assistance programs are not working to the best advantage of Deaf Canadians.

Our position

The social security system must be reformed ‘away’ from the deficit approach and ‘towards’ the difference approach. The federal government must set universal standards to combat the inconsistency of provincial programs. Deaf self-representation must be encouraged in all social security systems and programs.

Social security programs in Canada use a medicalization approach that views deafness as a deficiency that must be ‘cured’. This deficiency model must be replaced by a difference model that treats Deaf people with respect. Governments must take a pro-active approach towards dismantling the medicalization attitude, and aggressively promote an attitude that ‘sees the person, not the disability’.

Educational assistance programs discourage Deaf students from pursuing professional careers by refusing to provide them with adequate assistance to attend liberal arts universities in Canada. The priorities appear to aim at streaming Deaf students into ‘blue collar’ occupations. Deaf persons who have attained low-level status of employability often find themselves deemed ’employable’ and consequently denied support for returning to school in order to upgrade their academic status, to improve their qualifications for advancement, or to switch to more rewarding careers. In addition, the decentralization of educational assistance programs to the provincial level has resulted in inconsistency in eligibility and levels of support.

Governments need to ensure that educational assistance programs are aimed at ‘educating’ Deaf students and preparing them for progressive careers — not merely ‘training’ them for blue-collar jobs. The federal government needs to pressure the provinces to meet good and consistent standards of eligibility and minimal levels of assistance based on individual needs. Funding must be provided for the development, training, and provision of support services for Deaf people including qualified interpreters, notetakers, counsellors, and others, at any post-secondary institution in ‘Canada’.

Some social assistance programs, such as Employment Insurance, have used unfair practices in assessing a Deaf person’s eligibility for support. For example, they may count technical aids as assets instead of as necessities. In some provinces, on the other hand, the programs may actually subsidize the cost of purchasing such aids. Again, a consistent standard of evaluation and procedure needs to be established by the federal government. Assessments should be conducted by appropriately administered strategies in the communication mode preferred by the Deaf person.

We mentioned the problems ’employable’ Deaf people face in attempting to return to school. Other Deaf people anxious to take training or re-training courses often find themselves at the opposite end of the spectrum: their applications are rejected and they find themselves officially labelled ‘untrainable’, not because they actually are untrainable but because the program personnel cannot communicate with them and are unwilling or unable to provide assistance such as Sign language interpreters. This is completely unacceptable. Training programs must be required to meet the needs of Deaf students as mandated by the Charter of Rights, the federal human rights code, and provincial human rights codes, and must be provided with the resources to do so. The labelling of Deaf persons as ‘untrainable’ on the basis of their communication difference must not be tolerated; we encourage protective measures such as requiring assessment ‘by trained culturally-sensitive counsellors’ before making such judgments. Deaf persons must have access to information through Sign language.

The provision of services to Deaf people is dominated by hearing people. A lot of money and jobs are involved in these services, therefore the hearing people have strong incentive to remain in control. Federal and provincial governments must initiate a policy of insisting upon Deaf self-representation in all service providers with whom the governments do business, as well as in their own departments and programs, in order to break down this wall of oppression and exploitation of Deaf Canadians.

Recommended reading: Social and Financial Assistance for Deaf Canadians, by Gordon Ryall, Canadian Association of the Deaf, 2005.


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