09/30/2013 11:59 EDT | Updated 11/30/2013 05:12 EST

Manitoba increasing funding for deaf athletes after human rights complaint

WINNIPEG - Manitoba will set aside up to $40,000 a year to help deaf children participating in amateur sport communicate with their teammates, coaches and game officials following a human rights complaint.

Two parents of deaf children initially approached the Manitoba Human Rights Commission complaining that lack of money for sign language services made it harder for some deaf children to participate in sports. The parents said the lack of interpretive services meant their children couldn't participate fully in sports, develop leadership skills and have the same advantages as their peers.

All parties agreed to mediation through the commission and came up with a solution. While some funding is already provided through the Manitoba Deaf Sport Association, the province will now spend up to $40,000 a year specifically for interpretation services to help young athletes communicate with their coaches and game officials.

Jeff Hnatiuk, president and CEO of Sport Manitoba, said the organization became aware of the challenges facing some deaf children when the complaint was raised.

"Making sport accessible and increasing participation is really the goal of our organization so if this is a program that we can put in place to assist that, then we see this as an extremely positive step forward," he said Monday.

The next step is figuring out how the sign-language support will work, Hnatiuk said. It's not clear how many children will benefit from the increased funding, he said. Manitoba appears to be breaking new ground since there are few similar programs in place in Canada, he added.

"It's really an unknown to us," Hnatiuk said.

Kyra Zimmer, one of the parents who lodged the complaint, said they were pleased with the resolution.

"Interpretation services will now be provided to deaf children at every step of amateur sports activities from try-outs to competitions," she said in a statement.

Yvonne Peters, vice-chair of the human rights commission, said the commission was pleased all parties were able to come to a solution through mediation rather than through a formal complaint process. It took some time but Peters said the solution will hopefully remove any barriers preventing deaf children from participating in sports.

"This is a systemic issue," she said. "Obviously barriers were being encountered by deaf children and we wanted to make sure the settlement really addressed the systemic nature of the possible complaint.

"We are very pleased with the solution."