Recreation centers in Edmonton are making a splash by offering tools to help deaf swimmers

Nishan and Nirav Saggu work with an ASL interpreter during their swimming lessons at the Meadows Recreation Center.  (Caitlin Hanson/CBC - photo credit)

Nishan and Nirav Saggu work with an ASL interpreter during their swimming lessons at the Meadows Recreation Center. (Caitlin Hanson/CBC – photo credit)

Learning to swim can be a daunting task, but for the Saggu family, the rite of passage was an added frustration.

Amandeep Saggu and her sons, six-year-old Nishan and five-year-old Nirav, are deaf. Something like a swimming lesson in the pool can become an overwhelming experience.

“You feel like you’re not being prioritized. And they’re like the bottom of the pack,” Saggu said in an interview conducted by an American Sign Language interpreter. “You have to be patient. Try to figure things out. And it’s not easy.”

They now have additional support with the help of a city pilot program: ASL interpreter Robyn Lavender.

She joins the boys in the pool for their weekly swim class, signing alongside their instructor and giving them the freedom to learn like everyone else.

“It was really wonderful for my sons. They know they will come; they look forward to it,” Saggu said. “Before there was a lot of frustration. And now they like to come.”

Caitlin Hanson/CBC

Caitlin Hanson/CBC

The year-long pilot, launched by the city in April 2022, provides access to communications services and technology for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Eight families have signed up so far, but the city hopes to expand it into a permanent program.

A city spokesman said the 2022 pilot cost about $12,500 and the city has allocated $30,000 to the pilot to support requests.

Program manager Heather Craig said it could be customized to meet a variety of needs.

“We have some people who like using interpreters and some people who like using real-time closed captioning,” Craig said.

“We’ve also had requests to just bring in extra staff and do more demonstrations. So it’s really geared towards what works for that person.”

Lavender first learned sign language to communicate with her childhood friend. She was hired on a full-time contract as an interpreter for this project.

A pool is different than their usual settings, but their goals are the same.

“I think deaf children can do what any other child can do. I think it’s more about feeling welcome in a space,” Lavender said.

“Access is important so that deaf people feel they can come and participate. They can come and feel part of something and feel like they are just like everyone else. The only thing they cannot do is listen.”

Caitlin Hanson/CBC

Caitlin Hanson/CBC

Saggu said the new level of convenience offered by the interpreter has allowed her sons to excel in class.

“They have people to look up to. It’s not just that they’re deaf. They are there and participating and they can play and do the same things as the other children.”


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