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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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Educational Interpreting: How It Can Succeed

Elizabeth A. Winston, Editor

Part Two
Interpreting and Interpreters

Competencies of K-12 Educational Interpreters:
What We Need versus What We Have

Bernhardt E. Jones

During the late 1700s and early 1800s, the education of deaf and hard of hearing students and the use of sign language was a common occurrence. Sign language was viewed not only as an educational tool but also as a method of communication. The methods of teaching that used sign language were based on methods used to educate deaf and hard of hearing children in France. Sign language was the mode of communication in the first public school for deaf students, founded in 1755 by the Abbé Charles Michel de l’Epée (Gannon 1981). L’Epée is considered by many to be the father of modern day sign language. L’Epée’s purpose was to modify signs that were naturally used by deaf people in Paris (i.e., French Sign Language, or FSL) “in such a way as to develop a visual analog of written French” (Stedt and Moores 1990, 2). In his book, The Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb by Means of Methodical Signs, l’Epée (1801) referred to this sign system as “Methodical Signs.” These were natural FSL signs produced in the syntax of spoken French (what we in the United States might call “Pidgin Signed English” or “contact signing”). L’Epée wrote in 1801,

We have only to introduce into their minds by the eye what has been introduced into our own by the ear. These are two avenues at all times open, each presenting a path which leads to the same point. . . . (L’Epée 1801, 1)

In the United States, sign language interpreting (for adults) can first be traced to the year 1816 when Laurent Clerc traveled to the United States as a guest of Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet to establish the first school for the deaf (Lane 1984; Frishberg 1990).

The middle of the twentieth century marked a significant change to public education for deaf and hard of hearing students that has affected sign language interpreting dramatically. In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 started a major trend toward the removal of barriers to educational access heretofore erected to exclude minority groups (Turnbull 1990). Although the minority group in 1954 was African American, all minority groups benefited from this decision, including individuals with disabilities.


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