English-speaking seniors throughout Quebec feel lost and isolated, largely because of a lack of access to services and information in English, says the results of a federally-funded study by Seniors Action Quebec.
The SAQ is a non-profit group that acts on seniors priorities.
The results of the project Building Community Capacity: From Evidence to Action, conducted to gauge the priorities of English-speaking Quebec seniors and develop action and advocacy plans, were revealed last week during a press conference at the Côte St. Luc Aquatic and Community Centre, presided over by the SAQ president Ruth Pelletier. Consultations were held in 17 communities, from the Gaspé to the Outaouais, and including Montreal, with 300 seniors.
The priorities were found to be centralized information in English on local services and events for seniors, home support and living arrangements, access to health programs and services in English and transportation. Many respondents are not bilingual, whether because of the lack of French immersion when they went to school or not needing to know French because they were not in the workforce decades ago.
Regarding information in English for services , “everywhere we turned, the issue was ‘I can’t get information in English,” said project lead researcher, Dr. Joanne Pocock. “I am lost, I can’t find my way around, even when I know what I need, I don’t know where to get it, I feel excluded, I feel left out.”
Pocock added that many respondents are “terrified” to move from their home to a long-term care facility.
“One of the issues for them is the language barrier, so it’s quite frightening for them to think of ending up in a situation where they may be frail and vulnerable in many ways, but are not able to communicate and don’t have their language,” she explained.
Another issue is that, unlike francophone seniors, many anglo seniors do not have family living close by, as a result of the exodus of anglophones from Quebec in the 1970s.
Regarding access to health programs and services in English, Pocock said this was a very high priority.
“The stories I heard over and over again were, the confusion when it comes to navigating the health and social service system, and we’ve just gone through another period of restructuring, and that’s just got everybody lost again,” she explained.
Pelletier said the results of the study demonstrate that SAQ “has a lot of challenges, working with organizations on common objectives.
“We’re going to find additional funding to implement an action plan to the best of our ability,” she added. “One thing seniors do not want to have happen is being consulted and it sits on a shelf. We really want to move forward on this.”
Pocock and Pelletier told The Suburban that some designated institutions provide service in English as provided by Bill 101.
“But there’s no necessary guarantee, and they do try — there’s been moves forward to have more bilingual staff,” Pelletier said. “But still, we are a minority in a majority situation.”
What about more immediate pressure on government entities to include English information, at least, where the law allows, we asked.
“We certainly are working with all the different ministries to sensitize them that there is a need,” Pelletier said. “Some of it is not only the austerity and budget problems, but also that there is no clear understanding. They assume that having been through the last 40 years, every anglophone is completely bilingual. Well, the 80 and 85-year-olds, their circumstances” did not enable that.