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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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Access: Multiple Avenues for Deaf People

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education) is mandated, the requirement that teachers meet a standard acceptable level of sign mastery is not.[3] For example, some school districts provide training to hearing teachers who want to understand how to properly utilize interpreters, how to better work with Deaf students, how to design their classroom to properly accommodate their Deaf students, and how to have a better understanding of Deaf culture. The fact that teachers may be signing a “language” that is not standard and is not the language used by their students is a non-issue to several district administrators with whom the authors have worked in the past.

Until recently, there have not been laws in place that regulate the quality of interpreters for Deaf people. This includes interpreters in public schools where Deaf students might be included in the regular education curriculum and roster. As a high school student in the early 1990s, the second author was fully mainstreamed with an interpreter in academic classes along with three Deaf classmates. The following is one of his experiences.

Because the high school program at a local school for deaf people was disbanded, my Deaf classmates and I had to enroll in a public high school that offered deaf/hard of hearing classes and interpreters for students who wanted to be mainstreamed into “hearing” classrooms. At the time, there were about seventy-five Deaf and hard of hearing students, many of whom had been mainstreamed since they were in kindergarten. We were either enrolled in a deaf/hard of hearing classroom with a teacher who used sign language or mainstreamed partly or fully in regular academic classes. Four of us attended full-time regular academic classes along with other hearing students. Unfortunately, we experienced several incidents with unqualified interpreters.

One time, in history class, the interpreter was unable to understand our signs well enough to translate them into spoken English. This interpreter could not fully or accurately interpret most of what the hearing students said during class, and most importantly what the history teacher lectured during the class. This resulted in the four of us understanding very little of what occurred in the classroom—vital exchanges of information between peers and educational lectures, comments, as well as anecdotes from the teacher were totally lost to us. We knew we had to have this interpreter removed. However, the administrators in the high school had never encountered a situation where Deaf students demanded a change in the interpreters because their needs were not being met. Ultimately, our families had to get involved and ensure that their request was heeded and met. Eventually, that interpreter was replaced with a more acceptable interpreter for the rest of the year. However, the former interpreter remained on the staff of the school.

This interpreter was not new to the school; there were students before us who endured weeks, maybe years, of misunderstanding and miscommunication. The students who preceded us probably did not know of their right to request a change of interpreters if they felt they did not understand the interpreters, or vice versa. Parents cannot be found at fault for not informing their Deaf children, because they may not have been told by school districts about their right to remove interpreters that have poor signing skills.

Almost ten years later, I returned to my high school on a work-related visit and was astonished to see this very same interpreter still on staff and working as an interpreter for students in mainstreamed classes. Through my conversation with this interpreter, it became clear that this person had not updated and enhanced her signing (either receptive or expressive skills) through ASL workshops or even attended any Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (a national organization for registered and qualified ASL interpreters) trainings for professional development.

School districts frequently hire educational interpreters who are not certified or are unqualified to interpret for Deaf children in schools because of fiscal concerns. For example, a mother of a deaf child mentioned that she was upset to learn that her child’s interpreter had inadequate training; this interpreter had taken only two basic ASL courses prior to interpreting for this child full-time in school. This lack of training is obviously unacceptable; not only did the interpreter not get the extensive training in the countless academic signs that she needed to master for effective classroom interpretation, she also did not have the courses in the interpretation major that would have trained her in the ethics of interpreting. The mother did not discover this atrocity until about three months into the school year. Even worse, this interpreter had never encountered a Deaf child prior to this assignment; in other words, this interpreter had never spoken to or practiced signing with a Deaf child prior to starting this very important job.

3. Some schools (usually all-Deaf day or residential) require that their teachers meet the requirements of an ASL Proficiency Interview (ASLPI). They are required to have their abilities scored and documented and are monitored for progress in their language skills.
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