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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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Deaf Education in America: Voices of Children from Inclusion Settings

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   I usually take my classes without her.

   Sometimes I had a substitute interpreter, but usually I made it through on my own if the interpreter wasn’t there. I had a
   regular class schedule, so I knew what to do for each class. Sometimes the class activities really required having an
   interpreter, and then it was hard, but at least I was there.

A disturbing trend emerged in the comments of the deaf students. The quality of interpreting and professionalism of the substitute interpreters was so poor that several deaf students would rather not have an interpreter for the day than to have a substitute. Kyle’s comments reflected a concern that unqualified interpreters may miss information presented to the class, while Zack pointed out that they were slow. Julie mentioned her frustration when the substitute interpreter did not understand her signs and incorrectly voiced her comments to the class. Ashley either chose not to have an interpreter or was not provided with one. In all cases, the consequences have an ominous impact on the academic achievement of deaf students. Having full access to classroom instruction is a primary prerequisite to the deaf students’ ability to learn.

The behavior of substitute interpreters also had a negative impact on the perceived social status of the deaf students. Julie and Leslie each related a personal social crisis that occurred because the substitute interpreter’s behavior embarrassed them—another possible indicator of the interpreter extension theory. Julie’s horror story recounted the substitute interpreter’s attempt to micromanage Julie’s activities in class. Leslie’s horror story was a result of inappropriate support in that someone gave the interpreter the incorrect schedule. In Leslie’s experience, the real tragedy went beyond the substitute’s pattern of appearing in the wrong place at the wrong time. The substitute also did not understand Leslie’s social habits in the classroom or her typical method of using the interpreter for clarification purposes. In both Julie’s and Leslie’s stories, perceived social harm occurred because the substitutes were not aware of the students’ social needs in the classroom. In all, it is clear that most deaf students have a negative opinion of substitute interpreters.

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