Deaf Student's Do Not Have to Go Without ASL Interpreters

Published: 06th April 2010
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Mariah Kowach feels like she's living on an island. She's a deaf 7th grader at Craig Middle School with no real effective way of talking with anybody. "For the class, I can't get work done, turned in," Kowach said through her limited vocalization skills.

Kowach knows sign language, but no one else in the entire school district does. Craig, like many other rural school districts across the state, has trouble hiring sign language interpreters to help deaf students. "She would have communication problems and sometimes meltdowns where she'd get real frustrated," Rod Kowach, her father, said.

Rod and his wife Karen do not blame the school district. They have done all they can, but there is a shortage of interpreters willing to work in small towns. The last licensed interpreter Mariah had in school was five years ago.

"A sign language interpreter slash para/aide has that additional help to give her," Karen Kowach, her mother, said. Rod and Karen believe that without an interpreter, their daughter's potential is literally lost without translation. "I don't want to hold her back and you look at it sometimes and realize that her potential ain't really there," Rod Kowach said.

Teachers like April Lyons do what they can. They do wear an FM transmitter which isolates their voices to be sent directly into Mariah's hearing aide. Lyons uses a lot of eye contact and one-on-one lessons. But, without a good way of explaining things to Mariah, there's only so much teaching, teachers can do.

Mariah's parents are afraid the problem will continue to get worse. "Especially getting more into middle school, high school with harder subjects and so forth, that sign language will help her bridge that gap," Rod Kowach said.

Christine Villard is the assistant superintendent of the Moffat County School District. "With other surrounding districts, we share resources. Not all of us have full-time positions, but all of us have similar needs," Villard said. Villard says the district conducts an aggressive campaign at universities around Colorado to try to recruit students who will soon be graduating.

The Sign Language Interpreter is a person specially trained to facilitate communication between the deaf, hard of hearing and hearing communities. Employment opportunities may be in educational settings, freelance, or contracted with agencies to provide interpreter services for deaf persons. Positions include those working with vocational rehabilitation, community service agencies, local school districts, gerontology, the Peace Corps, self employment as free lance interpreters, social service agencies, communication facilities, college and universities.

An associate degree is required by most employers, along with continual and periodic classes and certification. A bachelor's degree will be helpful to make one more competitive in this field.

The problem of truly unqualified interpreters being used by schools and other places, persists. These "interpreters" are not merely uncertified; they often can barely sign! A deaf mainstreamed child whose education is being communicated to him through an unqualified interpreter is being irreparably harmed. In some cases, that deaf child might actually be better off not being mainstreamed instead of getting a sub-standard education

Each state is *supposed* to define the mimimum qualifications for interpreters in public schools. Some states (IL comes to mind) have defined the minimum qualifications necessary for ALL terps in the state - except in public schools, which have been waived from the requirements. It is acknowledged that the QA system is inferior to RID certification and that RID certified interpreters have demonstrated a higher level of skill than a QA III.

However, because the cost of taking the RID examination is prohibitive to many, it is acknowledged that many QA III terps could pass the RID certification test if they wanted to pay the money to do so, not to mention travelling out of state at least twice. Thus, in 1986 public hearings were held relative to qualification standards for interpreters in public schools. (Meaning, without any date at which the "waiver" would expire.)

The board did so, but with the following requirements: Public educational agencies in MI could hire terps who do not meet the standards of the state, and still receive reimbursement for their employment on the condition that the terp would achieve the state standard within two years. After two years of waiver, the public agency would no longer be eligible to recover reimbursement for the employment of that person.

Additionally, during those two years of "grace" the candidate also had to either acquire six credit hours of courses from an approved interpreter training program (that's two classes) OR attend one of the state educational interpreter workshops (which is about 12 clock hours.)

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