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American Annals of the Deaf

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Educational Interpreting: How It Can Succeed

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In light of the previous discussion, I would like to call into question the very notion of “full inclusion” (Wang, Reynolds, and Walberg 1990) of deaf and hard of hearing elementary and secondary students. Qualified K–12 educational interpreters provide a vital support service to a large number of deaf and hard of hearing students who attend their local elementary and secondary schools. Without qualified interpreters, these students are denied access to the mainstream. Without qualified interpreters, “full inclusion” is a myth for these students. Deafness is not a disability within the context that most disabilities are viewed. Deaf and hard of hearing students are a “linguistic minority” (Dolnick 1993). Mediation is achieved through visual linguistic input and output. This visual communication must be accurate to allow equal access to the myriad bits of information, both auditory and visual, with which all K–12 students deal on a daily basis. IEP educational teams attempting to serve the needs of this population have not adequately addressed communication. Qualified interpreters only increase the probability of full inclusion; they do not guarantee it. As language competencies are a prerequisite to interpreting proficiency, qualified interpreters are a prerequisite to accessibility.

The pleas to address these concerns have been, until recently, largely ignored. As long ago as 1988, the Commission on Education of the Deaf stated:

It is vitally important to students who are deaf that only interpreters possessing appropriate qualifications be employed in regular educational settings. . . . A lack of minimum standards for interpreters and pervasive confusion about their role has compromised the educational services provided to many deaf students. In regular classrooms, hearing students generally communicate by speaking and listening. For many deaf students, however, interpreters are needed to facilitate communications with their teachers and classmates. EHA (Education of the Handicapped Act) requires that deaf students be integrated into regular classroom settings to the maximum extent possible, but if quality interpreting services are not provided, that goal becomes a mockery. . . . Just as a person who completes two levels of a foreign language in college would not be qualified to interpret in the United Nations, completing two levels of sign language does not make a qualified sign language interpreter in any setting. (COED 1988, 103–4)

The secretary of the U.S. Department of Education echoed this concern in 1992:

The Secretary believes that the unique communication and related needs of many children who are deaf have not been adequately considered in the development of their IEPs. . . . Meeting the unique communication and related needs of a student who is deaf is a fundamental part of providing a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to the child. . . . Any setting which does not meet the communication and related needs of a child who is deaf, and therefore does not allow for the provision of FAPE, cannot be considered the LRE for that child. . . . The Secretary is concerned that some public agencies have misapplied the LRE provision by presuming that placements in or closer to the regular classroom are required for children who are deaf, without taking into consideration the range of communication and related needs that must be addressed in order to provide appropriate services. (in Alexander 1992, 49274–75).

Winston is more specific:

The only way to determine a LRE is to view the environment from the deaf student’s perspective; no other perspective can provide an accurate assessment of the setting. (Winston 1990, 61)

Again, if 50 percent of the K–12 educational interpreter workforce is not certified, how do we know whether communication needs of deaf and hard of hearing students are being met? Are parents of deaf and hard of hearing students aware of this situation? It is doubtful.

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