From Swimming to Swan Lake – Language and Learning Go Hand in Hand

By Brianne Braun

Whether your child is deaf, hard of hearing, or hearing, chances are they will be involved in recreational programs at some point in their childhood. For our American Sign Language (ASL) using kids, we must ensure that they have access to those same opportunities by requesting, and sometimes insisting, that a Registered Sign Language Interpreter (RSLI) be provided.

Our oldest child, Argyle, is hearing. We started parent & tot swimming lessons with him when he was just a baby and he has been enrolled in various Recreation Surrey programs ever since. When our daughter Aurelia came along, our plan to sign her up for swimming lessons and other Recreation Surrey programs didn’t change just because she happened to be born deaf.

So in early 2016, I asked our local pool to provide a RSLI for Aurelia’s parent & tot swimming lessons, and also encouraged them to create a class specifically for Deaf and hard of hearing kids. I was connected with one of the City of Surrey’s Accessibility & Inclusion workers and was thrilled to learn that the City of Surrey was willing to provide interpreting services as part of a new pilot program. That was over two years ago now and our group has expanded as new families have joined and the kids in our original parent & tot class graduated to independent lessons. Although we called Aurelia “the barnacle” when she first started swimming lessons, because she often refused to let go of Dan or I, her Saturday morning swimming lesson with her Deaf and hard of hearing friends is now one of the highlights of her week.

Aurelia also loves to dance. Countless times I would grab my ear plugs then crank the music up for afternoon dance parties, so I signed the two of us up for Creative Dance Moves, a parent participation class offered by Recreation Surrey. We did this for two seasons, with me trying to juggle between the roles of both parent and interpreter. When the lesson was over, boys and girls would start arriving for the next class, Ballet Level 1, which was not parent participation. Aurelia always lingered to watch and when she started practicing ballet moves on her own at home, I knew what to register her for next.

As ASL is Aurelia’s first language, she became accustomed to using interpreters from a young age, but usually alongside her father, who is also Deaf, or, like the swimming lessons, as part of a larger group of Deaf and hard of hearing children. This would be her first time being the only Deaf participant, with no one except the interpreter knowing any ASL. I have to admit I was a little apprehensive, but I once again reached out to the Accessibility & Inclusion folks at the City of Surrey and requested a RSLI for Aurelia’s upcoming ballet class. It was as simple as sending an email and receiving a prompt reply stating that an interpreting agency had been contacted and that I would receive confirmation soon.

On the first day of ballet, Aurelia met the interpreter and then immediately told me to “go sit on the bench with the other moms” while she turned and joined her classmates. To see that level of confidence in my three year old, I can’t tell you how proud I was in that moment. Having access through the interpreter, I watched her learn, hone her dance skills, and develop friendships with the other children. Aurelia and I are both looking forward to this fall when she will resume ballet once again. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the City of Surrey and Recreation Surrey for their ongoing commitment to ensuring that their programs and services are accessible to even the very youngest members of the Deaf community.

Whether ASL is your child’s first language, or if they prefer to use ASL for some or all of their communication in group settings/challenging listening environments, please consider requesting a RSLI for your child. And if someone tells you that it can’t be done, don’t take no for an answer. For our Deaf and hard of hearing children, having full language access makes a world of difference.

To request a Registered Sign Language Interpreter (RSLI) for your child’s Recreation Surrey program, please contact Ross MacDonald – Community Services Assistant. Phone: 604.502.6321, Fax: 604.502.6315, Email: rmacdonald (at) surrey.ca

If you need help with advocating for services in your local community, please feel free to connect with Dan and I, we are happy to offer our support.

Email: bcdhhkids (at) gmail.com

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