Tuesday, February 10, 2009

24: Deaf Education and Interpreters: A Rant

You can't split up the two. A Deaf child cannot get an education in a public school without an A.S.L. interpreter of some sort.

The shame is that the Deaf child's interpreting needs are attacked on all sides!

The school which enrolls the Deaf child often dislikes the expidenture of a trained, certified interpreter. They look for the cheapest agency, the cheapest provision. Even colleges, right now, look for ways to save money by hiring one interpreter instead of two (A.S.L. interpreting is a pretty tough profession physically and the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) requires two for a job longer than an hour) or looking for unqualified subsitutes, who I will call 'signers.' Currently, for example, City University colleges are attempting to subvert these rules, and local groups are attempting to assess the seriousness of the problem. The situation is far more dire in public schools.

The teacher is often uncomfortable with the presence of another adult, another authority in the classroom. They do not like that there exists a bubble of communication that the teacher cannot penetrate, that the interpreter can break the rules by 'talking' at the same time the teacher does. They certainly cannot judge the quality of the 'signer' and make sure that the child is receiving the class information in an educational way. (I recall a story about a girl who took a spelling quiz. Her signer, unqualified of course, fingerspelled every word - not much of a challenge for the girl!) I do not see any resources available on RID for other organizations for teaching professionals, Deaf or hearing. I have been able to find this document, Teaching the Teachers, from the ISLR projects at the Ohio School for the Deaf.

The interpreting profession itself dislikes classroom work, calling it mean and low-quality, and so educated professionals look down on the people who need them most. RID has finally asked for A.S.L. interpreting to require a B.A. degree, but this still does not put them on a level with teachers - or give teachers a good model for how to use A.S.L. interpreters. (RID finally accepted educational interpreters as a group in approximately 2006, changing their rules to accept the results of the Educational Interpreter Performance Assessment. Their website states that "Educational Interpreters have always been an important part of the mission and programs of RID; however, it has not been until recent that we have really embraced this population of interpreters into the organization... we have taken great strides to become more inclusive to the educational interpreter and wholeheartedly welcome you into RID’s membership." (RID, 2006) Accepting the results of this test seems to be the only 'great stride' they have taken!

The 'signers' often chosen in public schools have little A.S.L. education, but they hold on to their jobs with tenacity! Usually only the student is 'qualified' (I use the word loosely) to judge the A.S.L. interpreter, but since the teacher often brings up new subjects, the 'signer' could fart three times into a hat and tell the student believably that this is the sign for cardiovascular. They would then get a round of applause from their admiring audience; 'signers' are never far from admiration for their 'abilities'!

If the 'signers' ARE qualified, they can be called interpreters. But then there's a host of other problems for the student - dealing with the Overbearing Interpreter, whose parents are deaf and who Just Wants To Take Care of Everything for You; the In Charge interpreter, who sets up the situation, chooses your partner in labs and in class based on their ease and preferences; the Glib Interpreter, who just missed that important fact in class but is too embarrassed to admit they can make a mistake and so just hide their mistake and continue on...

The pressures of adolescence, also - to not be different, to satisfy their parents, their friends - all prevent the Deaf child from fully engaging with their interpreting needs. With all these pressures, it's no wonder the highly-qualified interpreter prefers board meetings or the clinical coldness of the Video Relay Interpreting booth.

And as long as the situation is ignored, schools have no right to complain about the third- to fourth-grade reading level of Deaf students - they're contributing to the situation!

Anything to add?


Anonymous said...

Most schools pay you less than half of what you can make freelancing. I agree with you, schools need qualified interpreters, but it is so incredibly not worth it for the interpreter.

You are in a low-status job with crappy pay, and have to sit in a boring classroom all day, and take crap from pretty much all sides.

Some school districts compensate interpreters well, though.

JR said...

Most schools provide benefits, which is why the freelancing pay is higher. You have to pay for and manage your own benefits.

I don't consider the job low-status. I think the problem is many interpreters who work in schools aren't certified. That's the low status. If RID forbade uncertified interpreters to work in schools...

Then there's this: all the interesting jobs come from educated deaf people. College jobs, broadway shows... the interpreting elite thrive off those jobs. But what happens when the educational quality of the deaf population plummets? You wind up with more welfare jobs.

It's true you should be a special type of personality if you interpret in a school. You have to be prepared to work with KIDS. They don't understand the interpreter's role, and the teacher probably doesn't either, god forbid the administration does. But that goes back to RID for fostering the situation for so many years. Yay! In the 21st century, they FINALLY recognize the importance of educated deaf people to the interpreting community! (sarcasm off..)

Anonymous said...

I totally agree that interpreters working in an educational setting need training and should have certification. They are just hurting the deaf children if they do not have these things. Most teachers and administrators do not have any idea what interpreters are supposed to do. If the states would step up to the plate and pass some kind of legislation to protect these deaf children things would change. So glad to see RID finally accept people with state certifications but more needs to be done!

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more with every point you've made! I work in a mainstream program, and unfortunately came to the conclusion that an interpreted education is just.. not enough. I have dealt with every interpreter you've mentioned: The "I want to save these Deaf children" interpreter. The "Helicopterpreter" (my favorite invented word!)

Don't get me wrong - I don't think they do this because they're jerks. What I think is that most who enter this profession are the care-giving type. So then they just naturally over-help & over-control.

So.. when I get a new interpreter, I spend the first semester trying to teach the interpreter that "helping" the student needs to look much different than what they've envisioned. It needs to look more like "empowering," which is just not natural for most of those who actually WANT to be an educational interpreter. Inevitably they end up butting heads with me. Maybe they've never run into someone with such a "Deaf CAN" attitude?