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American Annals of the Deaf

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Educational Interpreting: How It Can Succeed

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Soon after Brown, Congress commissioned what later became known as the Babbidge Report (Babbidge 1965), which showed an overall weakness in the education of deaf and hard of hearing students, primarily in the residential schools for the deaf throughout the country. These findings, coupled with the Vocational Education Act Amendments of vocational rehabilitation funding of postsecondary deaf and hard of hearing students during the 1960s, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (equal access to communication, interpreter training), PL 94-142 (Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975), and now the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1990 (IDEA) all contributed to the expanded changes in educational options for deaf and hard of hearing youngsters of public school age.

K–12 educational interpreting has a relatively short history. In 1975, Public Law 94-142 (the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975), which later became the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1990 (IDEA), placed the primary responsibility of educating deaf and hard of hearing students, with necessary related services (IDEA Sec. 140 (22)) in the hands of K–12 local education agencies (LEAs). To accomplish this goal within the least restrictive environment (LRE) (IDEA Sec. 12 (a) (5)), namely, the mainstream, LEAs have employed educational sign language interpreters to facilitate the communication between the deaf or hard of hearing student and the teacher or teachers as well as other students in the class who are unable to use sign language. As in Brown in 1954, IDEA upheld the ruling that segregation based on immutable traits was illegal and unacceptable.

Nationally, Moores (1987) reported that, between the years of 1974 and 1984, the residential school population of deaf and hard of hearing students dropped 18.3 percent while the numbers of these students attending public day classes (public schools) increased by 29.8 percent. Schildroth and Hotto (1991) reported that, between the years of 1985 and 1990, the numbers of deaf and hard of hearing students in “local schools” (public schools) gained in numbers from 62 percent to 67 percent. Today, at least 83 percent (U.S. Department of Education 1999) of deaf and hard of hearing students attend public schools. Deaf and hard of hearing individuals have become a “linguistic minority” (Dolnick 1993) as they have moved from residential schools to public schools. Winston (1985) asserts that, like it or not, this situation is the reality.

With the massive shift in numbers of deaf and hard of hearing students from the residential setting to the LEAs, the need for sign language interpreters for educational settings continued to escalate. Although the need increased, the supply did not. The number of educational sign language interpreters continues to be inadequate; the demand far outweighs the supply (Witter-Merithew and Dirst 1982; Stuckless, Avery, and Hurwitz 1989; Winston 1994; see also Schick and Williams chapter 10). Further complicating problems caused by the inadequate number of sign language interpreters has been the lack of education and skills these interpreters have brought to the job. “Few interpreters had any formal training for working in an educational setting with deaf children, and virtually none had formal preparation as educational interpreters since interpreter training programs were not oriented in this direction” (Hurwitz 1991, 20).

Although the need for interpreters has been documented and the lack of skills demonstrated, educational interpreters have a dearth of education opportunities. Carew (2001) reports in the American Annals of the Deaf that only 1 of 74 programs (1.3 percent) is designed to teach interpreting in the K–12 classroom setting. These data are typically underreported to the American Annals of the Deaf because program reporting is voluntary. Additionally, this program listing does not represent those programs that may include some type of “special topics” introduction to educational interpreting, with a cursory discussion of settings and requirements in the educational setting.


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